31st Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
|Active||1943 - 1944|
|Country||Empire of Japan|
|Branch||Imperial Japanese Army|
|Engagements||Battle of Kohima|
In 1944, under Japanese operation U-GO, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi ordered the 31st Division across the border of Burma into British India as part of the overall Battle of Imphal. Its assignment was to capture Kohima, thus cutting off Imphal, and then exploit to Dimapur. The 31st division's commander, Lieutenant General Kotoku Sato was unhappy with his role. He had not been involved in the planning of the offensive, and had grave misgivings about their chances. Sato and Mutaguchi had also been on opposite sides during the split between the Toseiha and Kodoha factions within the Imperial Japanese Army during the early 1930s, and Sato distrusted Mutaguchi's motives. In addition, along with many of the senior Japanese officers in Burma, he considered Mutaguchi a "blockhead".
Starting on March 15, 1944, the 31st Division crossed the Chindwin River near Homalin and moved northwest along jungle trails on a front almost 100 kilometers wide. The left wing of the division, the 58th Regiment, commanded by Major General Shigesaburo Miyazaki clashed with Indian troops of the Indian 50th Parachute Brigade under Brigadier Hope-Thompson at Sangshak, on the northern approaches to Imphal on March 20. The battle continued for six days, and Miyazaki was handicapped by lack of artillery. Eventually, as the IJA 15th Division's troops joined the battle, Hope-Thompson withdrew. The battle cost Miyazaki about 400 men and delayed his attack on Kohima by a week.
Miyazaki's troops were probing Kohima on April 3, completing siege preparations by April 6. He then launched a series of attacks into the north-east region of the defenses on April 8, and by April 9 the British and Indians had been forced back driven into a small perimeter into what came to be known as the Battle of the Tennis Court. By the night of April 17, the defenders' situation was desperate. However, on the morning of April 18 British artillery opened up against the Japanese positions, which stopped the attacks. To support their counterattack, the British had amassed 38 3.7-inch mountain howitzers, 48 25-pounder field guns and 2 5.5-inch medium guns. The RAF also bombed and strafed the Japanese positions. The Japanese could oppose with only 17 light mountain guns, with very little ammunition. The road between Dimapur and Kohima had been opened, and the siege was lifted.
The Japanese did not retreat at once, but stayed in position and fought tenaciously for several more weeks. By the morning of May 13, most of the Kohima region had been re-taken by the British forces. Around May 15 the 31st Division began to withdraw, pursued by troops of the British Fourteenth Army.
After ignoring orders for several weeks, Sato was removed from command of the 31st Division early in July. The entire Imphal offensive was broken off at the same time. Lieutenant General Slim had always derided Sato as the most unenterprising of his opponents, but Japanese sources blame his superior, Mutaguchi, for both the weaknesses of the original plan, and the antipathy between himself and Sato which led to Sato concentrating on saving his men rather than driving on distant and indefensible objectives.
The surviving remnants of the 31st Division continued to oppose the British reoccupation of Burma, but for all practical purposes, the 31st Division had largely ceased to exist after the Battle of Kohima.
The order of battle for the 31st Division included:
IJA 31st Division
- 31st Infantry Brigade
- 58th Infantry Regiment (Takada)
- 124th Infantry Regiment (Fukuoka)
- 138th Infantry Regiment (Nara)
- 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment
- 31st Engineering Regiment
- 31st Transportation Regiment
Reference and further reading
- Madej, W. Victor. Japanese Armed Forces Order of Battle, 1937-1945 [2 vols] Allentown, PA: 1981
- Louis Allen, Burma: The longest War 1941-45, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1984, ISBN 0-460-02474-4
- Jon Latimer, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7195-6576-2
- Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory, NY: Buccaneer Books ISBN 1-56849-077-1, Cooper Square Press ISBN 0-8154-1022-0; London: Cassell ISBN 0-304-29114-5, Pan ISBN 0-330-39066-X.
- United States War Department (1991) [reprint of 1944 edition]. Handbook on Japanese Military Forces. David Isby (Introduction) and Jeffrey Ethell (Afterword). Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0-8071-2013-8.