Battle Honour 'YENANGYAUNG 1942'.

Sat, 04/18/1942
YENANGYAUNG 1942 Battle Honour
Battle Honour 'YENANGYAUNG 1942'.

The Battle Honour YENANGYAUNG 1942, awarded to The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and carried forward by The Royal Irish Rangers, is now emblazoned on the King's Colour of The Royal Irish Regiment.

Faced with a superior Japanese force in Burma in 1942, Lieutenant General Slim's Burma Corps was to withdraw towards the Indian frontier, and also deny the Burma Oil oilfield complex to the Japanese by destroying the installations at Yenangyaung. Unknown to Slim, the Japanese 214th Regiment, with artillery support, had bypassed the Burma Division and established itself around the ford of the Pin Chaung River, north of Yenangyaung. The ford was the only suitable exit for vehicles retreating north. The Yenangyaung oil fields were burned on General Slim's order on 15 April. At midnight on l6/17 April the Japanese engaged and blocked withdrawing elements of the Burma Division, with the Division's main body some twelve miles to the south.

On 16 April, the Burma Division, including the 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, continued to withdraw north towards the oilfields. As the Battalion's vehicles halted at Milestone 349 north of Magwe, a sudden air attack destroyed two vehicles and killed two Fusiliers. Meanwhile, as the dismounted Battalion marched cross country north to the area of Milestone 341, it too was bombed and machine-gunned by Japanese aircraft. There were no casualties because the Battalion had already learned, when dismounted, to move well dispersed. It continued on to concentrate at Milestone 349 by 1900 hours, as the enemy advanced from the south.

The following day, the Inniskillings' vehicles were unable to move to the waiting area on the withdrawal route exiting north from Yenangyaung. The Japanese had also infiltrated into the town and the Inniskillings moved to a selected bivouac area just south of Yenangyaung. Orders were received that evening for the following day's attack to outflank the Japanese positions in the town and effect a breakout to the north. The 38th Chinese Division was approaching from the north and on 18 April would cross the Pin Chaung Ford to attack the Japanese.

Below, Yenangyaung's oilfield's electricity and generating plant's million-gallon oil tanks ablaze; the plant produced power for 85 per cent of the oil production in Burma and its demolition prevented any Japanese extraction of oil for at least a year. (Image © IWM (K 2202))

OilfieldsAt 0600 hours on 18 April, 13 Indian Brigade moved to the start line for the attack with the Punjabs and Gharwalis leading and the Inniskillings in reserve; the final objective was Hill 510, a ridge commanding a bypass road out of the town and close to the expected Chinese force. The first bound was taken and the advance continued by 1300 hours, but resistance was met from Hill 501 and the lead Indian battalions were held up. The Inniskillings, ordered through, continued the attack. Some ground was gained but owing to thick vegetation and a strong point occupied by the enemy, the situation became confused. On the left flank, B and C Company had reached the top of the ridge and consolidated a position. The Battalion was likely unaware that the Chinese had attacked and cleared a large section of the Pin Chaung by 1000 hours, but had refused to advance further before conducting reconnaissance.

The Inniskillings had lost contact with A and D Company on the right, after they had advanced towards Twingon to link up with the expected Chinese. When they did approach a group of Chinese soldiers, they exchanged agreed recognition signals, began to fraternise and then exchange cigarettes. When the Chinese tried to take their rifles from them, fighting broke out before they realised that the ‘Chinese’ were in fact Japanese. The Japanese began to bayonet the Inniskillings. Some Inniskillings were able to flee, but those not killed, or who failed to escape, were taken into the village that was under attack, stripped of everything but their clothes, and held in the top storey of a bamboo house.

Unaware of these events, attempts were made, around 1700 hours, to reorganise the Battalion's remnants within a formed perimeter and bring up food and water. The day had claimed the lives of three officers and a number of other ranks killed in close fighting; burials were carried out during the night. The acting Commanding Officer, Major S B McConnell, organised a defensive perimeter for the night. Darrell Berrigan, an American war correspondent with the Inniskillings described the scene that night:

'An Inniskilling Major with two other officers and myself, walked forward to inspect the outposts. We passed groups of men resting beside the road, dark shadows from which a voice quietly said "A Company , sir", "B Company , sir". There were other lumps of black shadow which were silent, Irish, Indian and Japanese dead, lying in heaps off the road ... . Returning, we stopped beside a derrick where the Major struck a match; for a fleeting moment it flickered over the bodies of two dead Inniskilling Officers. The tired voice of the Major came from the darkness; "These officers must be buried according to regimental custom, tonight"'.

At 0400 hours on 19 April, following a night of successful Japanese infiltration into the Brigade area, the enemy attacked from the village and there was intense and effective sniping from many directions. The Brigade, using all available, resumed attacks on the Japanese positions at 0700 hours. Strong resistance was met and the Japanese sniping that was targeting all commanders soon claimed the acting CO, Major Samuel McConnell, who was hit early in the morning and died some hours later at the Regimental Aid Post. The enemy then attacked the ridge, coming out into the open on its slopes. The Inniskillings, with artillery support, broke up the Japanese attack. The two companies forward had not made contact and still nothing was known of them.

The Chinese 38th Division attacked into Yenangyaung at 0800 on 19 April, and despite progress, there was no contact with the now exhausted Burma Division. A further attack in the afternoon made steady progress and around 1600 hours, the Japanese fell back to the south and east. The order was given to break contact and bypass any Japanese to the east. Breaking contact, the Battalion's remnants reached the main road running North from Yenangyaung after 1800 hours.

There, the Battalion established an RV point at Milestone 370 where stragglers collected, and it was there that some 80 men of A and D Company rejoined the Battalion and reported the circumstances of their capture on the night of 18 April, and their subsequent escape and evasion of the Japanese. During the night of 19/20 April, stragglers continued to come into the perimeter camp area and the remnant of the 1st Battalion was now commanded by Captain J A Clifford. The Battalion marched to the Brigade assembly area near Milestone 374 and spent the afternoon reorganising and resting. Later that night, the Battalion was ferried by vehicle to Milestone 404 near to Mount Popa, arriving there at 0500 hours on 21 April before marching on to bivouac on its lower slopes around 1000 hours. It would be almost three days before the 1st Battalion would once again join the long retreat to India.

To continue with the story of the retreat from Burma,
please click on BURMA 1942-43.