Popularly recalled as Battle of Kangla Tongbi, the Battle of Imphal took place in the region around the city of Imphal, the capital of Manipur from March to July of 1944

Wars tend to have had complicated results in history. On one hand, wars have resulted in irreversible havocs for both mankind and civilizations. On the other hand, the aftermath has also resulted in the laying of foundational stones for the building of new civilizations. History is the sole witness to the fiercest battles ever fought in this world. One such battle is the Battle of Kangla Tongbi.

While some battles resulted in mild destruction, others left a severe impact on future generations.

Considered one of the fiercest battles of World War II, the platinum jubilee of the Battle of Kangla Tongbi War was commemorated on April 7, 2019, by Army Ordnance Corps at Kangla Tongbi War Memorial near Imphal honoring the valiant brave hearts of Ordnance Personnel of 221 Advance Ordnance Depot who made their supreme sacrifice in the line of duty during the battle of World War-II on the night of April 6, 1944.

The siege of Imphal and the resultant failure of the Japanese to take Imphal in 1944 was to have a major impact on the war in the Far East.

 Imphal, along with the unsuccessful attack on the nearby garrison town of Kohima stopped the Japanese from entering Delhi. The failure of the Japanese to take Imphal and Kohima also signaled the start of the Allied reconquest of Burma.

Image: Wikipedia

The battle of Kangla Tongbi

Japanese forces had planned a three-pronged offensive to capture Imphal and the surrounding areas. At KanglaTongbi, a small but determined detachment of 221 AOD put up stiff resistance against the advancing Japanese forces. 

The position of 221 AOD was not at all sound from a tactical point of view and was exposed to the enemy from all sides and had to rely on its own combatant manpower for its defense. However, their combatant role shook the enemy and forced the Japanese to withdraw leaving many dead.

During the Second World War in 1942, the Japanese Army occupied Burma by defeating the Commonwealth forces and then reinforced their strategic strength in Burma using it as the “staging ground” for the attack on Imphal and then Assam with the intention of containing the Chinese air operations across the Himalayas. 

After the defeat in Burma, the British army divisions had retreated to Imphal in India since it was the easiest route from Burma.

The British reinforced the army infrastructure at Imphal by forming the 23rd Indian Division stationed in Manipur and new airfields were built. Commonwealth forces were reinforced with more army and air force units, and a general hospital also started functioning in November 1944. 

In view of Imphal’s strategic importance, the Japanese forces attacked Manipur in the spring of 1944.

They started bombing Imphal, severed a part of the road link between Imphal and Dimapur, and held siege over Imphal for over three months.

The 14th Army of the Commonwealth Forces fought fiercely and many casualties of the Japanese forces were caused. The siege of Imphal was lifted in the summer of 1944, with the battle concluding on June 22, 1944, when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109. 

For the Japanese army the control over Imphal, in the “bloody plains” was very expensive in terms of casualties as nearly 50,000 of their soldiers died here. This battle has been termed as the “Normandy of the East”. 

It is reported that during the Second World War, the number of dead in the Kohima and Imphal sectors in India, put together, was 65,000 Japanese troops and 18,000 British and Indian soldiers.

Also read: Ten beautiful queens of modern times who shaped the chapters of Indian history

Insights of the battle

On their failed attempt to destroy the Allied forces at Imphal and invade India, the Japanese were driven back into Burma facing heavy losses. The battle was the turning point of the Burma campaign. The battle was also a part of the South-East Asian Theatre of the Second World War. 

The Japanese had sustained 53,000 casualties while the British had lost 17,000 men killed and wounded, while the Allies suffered 12,603 casualties.

Lt. Gen. Renya Mutaguchi had sacked all of his divisions’ commanders during the battle and both he and Lt. Gen. Musaku Kawabe were themselves subsequently relieved of command.

Significance of the battle of Kangla Tongbi

The Battle of KanglaTongbi is one such battle fought during the Battle of Imphal which shook the imperialist motives of Japan and made them reconsider.

Although Japanese armies attempted to destroy the Allied forces at Imphal and invade India, they were driven back into Burma with heavy losses. 

The defeat was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history with many of the Japanese deaths resulting from starvation, disease, and exhaustion suffered during their retreat.

Anwesha Mishra
Anwesha hails from Odisha and is pursuing her bachelor's degree in English Literature from Ravenshaw University. She is a voracious reader and a writer. Apart from that, she's also a singer.


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