yorkshire regiment

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The Battle of the Admin Box -  5 to 23 February 1944. 

After two years of victories against British forces in the Far East - who were now guarding the doorway into India - the Japanese launched Ha-Go. Countering a British advance, they drove a wedge between the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions. Expecting to successfully open the path for an offensive into India within 10 days, to their complete surprise they failed to panic defenders for the first time. 

While the situation was troubling, General William Slim, new leader of the British Fourteenth Army, had already switched the whole of the now cut-off 7th Division onto air supply, with ten days’ rations for 40,000 men packed and awaiting airlift. When the first Dakotas of the joint USAAF/RAF Troop Carrier Command had to turn back due to Japanese fighters, Brigadier General William Old got into an aircraft and personally led the next attempt. Operations continued thereafter day and night, bringing with them the most intense dogfights seen over Burma. But as newly arrived Spitfires brought down 65 Japanese Zeros and Tojos for just 13 of their own, fighter resistance quickly evaporated.

On the ground, the 7th Division dug-in, forming a defensive square. Early on the morning of the 6th, the 7th Division headquarters was overrun after fierce hand-to-hand fighting around the tents. General Frank Messervy (pictured bottom) found himself in the thick of it. With mortars now raining down, he judged his position untenable and with grenade in hand led the last group out, he and his staff fighting their way back through the Japanese lines to the ‘administrative box’. Within days Japanese papers claimed ‘The British In Full Flight’; Tokyo Rose, broadcast to American servicemen in the Pacific, claimed ‘the war in Burma is all over’. It wasn’t. It is quite possible that no-one in fact, has ever been more wrong.

The focus of the battle quickly came to be the ‘admin box’, were Japanese forces expecting a rapid victory were now in a protracted battle and burning through supplies at an alarming rate. For the British the place was a bugger to defend. It hadn’t been prepared to face an onslaught by thousands of well trained soldiers. It was also surrounded by hills, now occupied by the enemy and moreover, filled with fuel, ammunition dumps, mules, trucks and administrative troops - not men who fight wars. However, those men, now under a hail of mortar and artillery fire, had in fact been trained to fight wars at ‘Bill’ Slim’s insistence. Orderlies, cooks, clerks, personnel from the officers shop and even the mule company had been trained in the basics and now found themselves on the perimeter - were they fought like veterans.

That perimeter was continually breached and restored. On one pitch-black night Japanese soldiers infiltrated the main dressing station, bayoneting thirty-one wounded on their stretchers and executing four doctors. Slim noted that such brutality only strengthened the resolve of the defenders. By 13 February he was quietly confident. The 5th Division were fighting to reconnect with the 7th who were themselves sending out aggressive patrols to cut enemy communication lines. On the 14th and 16th three Japanese battalions screamed their way to the perimeter and were beaten back. The only Japanese success came with the taking of a hill overlooking the new hospital, but the West Yorkshire Regiment with tanks from the 25th Dragoons rapidly retook the position. Using bayonets they dispensed with the last of the Japanese, who Bill usually called ‘little yellow bastards’.

By 21 February the Tanahashi Force was reduced to 400 men, mostly casualties. For the first time since December 1941 the wave of Japanese forces had crashed and broken upon a British breaker. Moreover, their tactics of infiltration and encirclement had completely failed, and, with over 3000 killed and 2000 wounded, they had suffered massively. In contrast, for the first time, British Empire forces had been well led, well trained and damn well equipped. Air supply organisation under William Slim was so well mastered and run that special orders, an extra large pair of boots for instance, were delivered usually within a day, while Japanese forces watched on, starving. When the 7th Division headquarters was abandoned, staff left behind spare clothes, razors and the like. Replacements for all were flown into the ‘admin box’ within 48 hours. Frank Messervy even retrieved his lost cap, with a distinctive red band, when it turned up on the head of a captured Japanese soldier a few weeks later.

The ‘admin box’ proved what could be done, the Japanese would not be left invictus, not while William Slim was in Burma. It set the stage for Imphal and the return of the British to the Far East.

One of the strongest women I have ever known husband was on ITV tonight he is apart of the Yorkshire Regiment that left yesterday. Can you all wish him and all the other soliders luck for them to keep safe and come back home soon. I know it would mean so much to those who are on their way to Afghan and to those patiently waiting for them to return. Stay strong Emily wishing you both luck, he’ll be home sooner than you think!!!

©Colin Templeton

Doncaster locomotive works - April 1982. 

After 20 years of revenue-earning service for British Rail, and with nearly four million miles on the clock, Deltic number 5, affectionately nicknamed “The Prince”, stands abandoned on the scrap line. In their day, the Deltics were the fastest, most powerful diesel locomotives in the world. They were designed exclusively to haul express passenger trains between London and Edinburgh. 

The fleet of 22 locomotives were individually named after either regiments or racehorses. Number 5’s full name was “The Prince Of Wales’s Own Regiment Of Yorkshire”. It languished at the works for a further year after I took this shot, before being cut up for scrap metal.