44th Airborne Division (India)
|44th Airborne Division|
|Active||1944 – 1947|
|Branch||British Indian Army|
|Winged Pegasus on a Scarlet background with India underneath|
The Indian 44th Airborne Division was a formation of the Indian Army during World War II, created in 1944. It provided a parachute battalion for one minor airborne operation but the war ended before the complete formation could take part. (Most of its subordinate formations and units had already seen action before the division formed).
The division's creation was a protracted affair. The division was first converted from the 9th Airborne Division (itself built around the core of the disbanded Indian 44th Armoured Division), at Secunderabad in India, on 15 April 1944.
Within a fortnight, the division HQ and such supporting units as had been allocated were used to form the Indian 21st Infantry Division, as an emergency measure during the Japanese invasion of India (which was codenamed Operation U-Go, and which resulted in the battles of Imphal and Kohima). By 15 July, the crisis was clearly over, and the airborne division's formation was resumed.
On 15 September 1944, the existing 50th Parachute Brigade was allocated to the division. Later in the year, it was decreed that the Chindit formations were to be broken up and some of them were to be converted to airborne formations. The British 14th Airlanding Brigade became part of the division on 1 November 1944, and the Indian 77th Parachute Brigade on 1 March 1945.
The conversion of 77th Brigade to a parachute formation was accompanied by the creation of the Indian Parachute Regiment which absorbed the existing Indian and Gurkha parachute battalions, and the formation of two British battalions of the Parachute Regiment around the cadre of troops which had already fought as Glider infantry during the Chindit campaign; 15th Parachute Battalion from 1st King's Regiment (Liverpool), and 16th Parachute Battalion from 1st South Staffordshire Regiment.
The division was still in the midst of formation, reorganisation and training when it was called upon to provide a parachute force to take part in Operation Dracula. This was an amphibious operation intended to capture Rangoon, the capital and principal port of Burma, which was reinstated at short notice after being earlier cancelled.
A composite Gurkha parachute battalion was formed from the two Gurkha battalions of the Indian Parachute Regiment, and landed behind Japanese coastal defences at the mouth of the Rangoon river on 1 May 1945. During the Battle of Elephant Point they cleared Japanese rearguards from the defences, but the main Japanese garrison had evacuated Rangoon several days previously. The subsequent landings from the sea were unopposed.
The division was preparing to take part in the projected invasions of Malaya and Singapore when the war ended unexpectedly. The division provided small airborne parties which landed in Japanese-occupied territories ahead of the main Allied forces, locating camps containing Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians, and delivering emergency relief supplies.
The division was then redesignated the 2nd Indian Airborne Division, and was retained until the Partition of India, when it was disbanded on 14/15 August 1947. One parachute brigade and some divisional units went to Pakistan and the other two brigades and the remaining units went to India.
Order of Battle, as of 1 May 1945
- General Officer Commanding - Major General Earnest Edward Down.
- Commander, Royal Artillery - Brigadier Reginald John Kirton.
- British 14th Airlanding Brigade - Brigadier Francis William Gibb.
- Indian 50th Parachute Brigade - Brigadier Edward Galbraith Woods.
- Indian 77th Parachute Brigade - Brigadier Claude John Wilkinson.
- 15th (King's) Parachute Battalion.
- 2nd Bn. Indian Parachute Regiment.
- 4th Bn. Indian Parachute Regiment.
- Divisional Units.
- 123 Light / Airborne Regiment RA.
- 159 Field Regiment RA.
- 23rd Light Anti-Aircraft / Anti-Tank Regiment RA.
- Renaldi and Rikhye 2011, p.35