20th Infantry Division (India)

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Indian 20th Division
Active 1942 - 1945
Branch British Indian Army
Engagements Burma Campaign
War in Vietnam (1945-1946)
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Major General Douglas Gracey

The Indian 20th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Indian Army during World War II, formed in India, and took part in the Burma Campaign during World War II. In the immediate aftermath of the War, the bulk of the division reoccupied French Indochina.

Formation[edit]

The division was formed at Bangalore in April, 1942. It was commanded by Major General Douglas Gracey and at first it consisted of the Indian 32nd, 51st and 53rd Brigades. In July that year, the 51st and 53rd Brigades were detached to form the Indian 25th Infantry Division, and replaced by the Indian 80th Infantry Brigade and Indian 100th Infantry Brigade (the latter brigade being transferred from the 34th Division which had recently disbanded in Ceylon). The division was intended from the start for operations in jungle and mountain and was on a Mixed Animal and Mechanical Transport establishment for maintenance in rough country.

The division's insignia was a hand wielding a tulwar, in white on black.

After training in Southern India and Ceylon, the Division joined Indian XV Corps at Ranchi in Bihar in December, but from July, 1943, it was transferred to IV Corps in Imphal.

Battle of Imphal[edit]

At the start of the Battle, 20th Division was deployed forward to Tamu in the Kabaw Valley. To avoid being cut off, it retreated to the Shenam Saddle in the hills surrounding the Imphal Plain. Because Indian 17th Infantry Division was in difficulty in its sector, 32nd Brigade was temporarily detached to 17th Division. With other detachments, 20th Division was reduced to only five battalions to defend the Saddle against the Japanese Yamamoto Force.

During April and the first part of May, 20th Division held the saddle against attacks by infantry, tanks and heavy artillery. It was then relieved in place, and ordered to counter-attack north-east from Imphal to Ukhrul. The monsoon had broken, and movement was very difficult. After several Japanese counter-attacks, at the start of July the division was transferred to Indian XXXIII Corps and slowly eliminated large numbers of Japanese in and around the village (which had been made into a Japanese communication and logistic centre).

Battle of Central Burma[edit]

During the remainder of the monsoon, the division rested around Dimapur. As the monsoon ended, it moved into a bridgehead across the Chindwin River at Kalewa. It attacked southward on December 4, and cleared Japanese rearguards from Monywa.

On 13 February 1945, the division made a crossing of the Irrawaddy River 20 miles west of Mandalay. The boats used were leaky, and other items of equipment already worn out. The first precarious footholds were counterattacked every night for a week, but were eventually linked up into a single solid bridgehead. On 13 March, 20th Division attacked southward, gaining immediate success against the understrength Japanese 31st Division. A column formed from the divisional reconnaissance unit and an attached tank unit, known as Claudecol, reached far into the Japanese rear before turning north and mopping up the disorganised enemy.

Southern Burma[edit]

In early April, two of the division's brigades were converted to lorried infantry by acquiring the vehicles from the British 2nd Infantry Division which was being withdrawn to India. The division fought its way southward along the east bank of the Irrawaddy until linking up with units of the Indian XV Corps which had occupied Rangoon in Operation Dracula.

During this period the 22nd (East Africa) Infantry Brigade was attached to the division, from 28 June to 11 August 1945.[1]

Indochina[edit]

In August, 1945, the Japanese surrendered after two atomic weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allied South East Asia Command's area of responsibility was expanded to embrace several countries including French Indochina.

While Chinese troops occupied the northern part of the country, Gracey's division occupied the southern part in what was codenamed Operation Masterdom. The division's tasks were the release of former Allied prisoners of war and the disarming and repatriation of occupying Japanese units. Later, the division was instructed to hand over to the returning French regime before returning to India. There were several battles with Viet Minh who were intent on achieving independence. Gracey, never one to mince his words, criticised the French for their dismissive attitude towards his Indian and Gurkha units.

The division was disbanded in India in 1946.

Order of Battle (as of March 1, 1944)[edit]

General Officer Commanding: Major General Douglas Gracey
Commander, Royal Artillery: Brigadier J.A.E. Hirst
32nd Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier David Alexander Laurance Mackenzie)
1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment
9th Battalion, 14th Punjab Regiment
3rd Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles
80th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Stuart Greeves)
1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
9th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment (Major Mian Hayauddin MBE)
3rd Battalion, 1st Gurkha Rifles
100th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier William Arthur Lester James)
2nd Battalion, Border Regiment
14th Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles
4th Battalion, 10th Gurkha Rifles
Divisional Units
4th Battalion, 3rd Madras Regiment (Divisional reconnaissance unit)
Machine Gun Battalion, 9th Jat Regiment (Divisional Machine gun unit)
9th Field Regiment, RA
23rd Mountain Regiment, IA
55th Light Anti-Aircraft/Anti-Tank Regiment, RA
92nd, 422nd, 481st Field Companies, IE
309th Field Park Company, IE
20th Indian Infantry Division Signal Regiment
604th Field Security Section

References[edit]

  1. ^ "20 Division units". Order of Battle. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]