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Troops boarding Douglas
Troops boarding Douglas "Dakota" aircraft of No.435 Squadron, RCAF, Burma, December 23, 1944.
Photo : National Defence

The Burma Campaigns, 1941-1945

Many Burmese, resenting Britain's hold over their country which went all the way back to the nineteenth century, cooperated when the Japanese invaded in December 1941. The Japanese saw Burma as a stepping-stone to India as well as protection for their troops fighting in the Malayan peninsula and in Singapore. At little cost, by May 1942 they had driven the British Indian troops west into India. The Japanese occupation of Burma cut the Burma Road from Mandalay in north central Burma to China; the Americans had been using that route to supply Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces, engaged in their own war against Japan ( see War in China, 1937-1945 ).

British attempts to get Burma back in 1942 and 1943 were unsuccessful. The Japanese gave some independence to Burma in 1943, but forced local workers, along with prisoners of war, to build the Burma Railway. Over 100,000, a third of the labourers, died from overwork, malnutrition and disease.

In March 1944, the Japanese tried to invade India from Burma, through the hill tea plantations of Assam. British-led Indian Army troops held the Japanese at Kohima and Imphal for more than eighty days, until the monsoon rains started. One third of the Japanese force of nearly 85,000 died of disease, the greatest defeat of the Japanese army to that point of the war.

Toward the end of 1944, the British Fourteenth Army began the offensive which led to the recapture of Rangoon in April 1945. Nos. 435 and 436 Squadrons, RCAF, flew their Dakota transport aircraft on supply-dropping missions for the British army, which was very dependent on air support in an area with few roads. Many other Canadian aircrew also served with RAF squadrons in southeast Asia.

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