11th Army Group
|11th Army Group|
|Active||November 1943 to November 1944|
|Role||Army Group Headquarters|
|Size||2 Field Armies|
|Part of||South East Asia Command|
The 11th Army Group was the main British Army force in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. Although a nominally British formation, it also included large numbers of troops and formations from the British Indian Army and from British African colonies, and also Nationalist Chinese and United States units.
The Army Group was activated in November 1943 to act as the land forces HQ for the newly formed South East Asia Command (SEAC). Its commander was General George Giffard, who had formerly been Commander-in-Chief West Africa Command and Commander of Eastern Army (part of GHQ India). The headquarters was first situated in New Delhi, eventually moving to Kandy, Ceylon. Its responsibilities were limited to the handling of operations against Japanese forces, while GHQ India was made responsible for the rear areas and the training of the British Indian Army, although there was often overlap between the headquarters' responsibilities and (in the first year of Eleventh Army Group's existence) conflicts between their planners.
Eleventh Army Group's main subordinate formations were British Fourteenth Army and the Ceylon Army. The Indian XXXIII Corps, training in Southern India for amphibious operations, also came under Eleventh Army Group for some purposes. It would have been logical for the Army Group to have the American-led Northern Combat Area Command, under General Joseph Stilwell, under its control also, so that the whole front in Burma would have been under a single commander. The initial idea was that as General Stilwell would be commanding several Chinese divisions which advancing from Ledo in India to Myitkyina in Burma to cover the construction of the Ledo Road and had loose control over the large but amorphous Chinese forces attacking out of Yunnan province from the East, he would be commanding a large army. If his command were placed under the Army Group at the same level as the Fourteenth Army, the attacks could then be co-ordinated at Army Group level.
Stilwell however refused to submit to control by Eleventh Army Group. He and Giffard were very different personalities and found it almost impossible to work together. Stilwell objected to taking Giffard's orders as, among other grounds, Stilwell was also Deputy Supreme Commander of SEAC and therefore Giffard's superior.
- Stilwell, however bitterly resisted it,...To watch Stilwell, when hard pressed, shift his opposition from one of the several strong-points he held by virtue of his numerous Allied, American and Chinese offices, to another was a lesson in mobile offensive-defence.
At a meeting to solve the problem of command, Stilwell, under intense pressure from the Admiral Lord Mountbatten, Supreme Commander of SEAC, astonished everyone by saying "I am prepared to come under General Slim's [officer commanding Fourteenth Army] operational control until I get to Kamaing". Rather than sack him, Mountbatten reluctantly agreed to this, but it was a dangerous compromise. It created a complicated chain of command whereby Slim theoretically had to report to two different commanders; Giffard for Fourteenth Army actions and Mountbatten for Stilwell's formations. However, Slim was able to work with Stilwell and "this illogical command set-up worked surprisingly well".
Once Stilwell's forces reached Kamaing on May 20, 1944, this arrangement ceased and Stilwell took orders only from Mountbatten, who lacked the staff (and experience) necessary to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Land Forces.
Allied Land Forces South East Asia
On November 12, 1944, Eleventh Army Group was redesignated Allied Land Forces South East Asia (ALFSEA). General Sir Oliver Leese succeeded Giffard in command. (Mountbatten's Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Pownall, had been lobbying for some time for Leese to be appointed, but Leese could not be relieved of command of Eighth Army for several months.)
Many of the land command problems in South East Asia had been relieved when General Stilwell was recalled to Washington on October 19, at the behest of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. His replacement as commander of NCAC and the administrative HQ U.S. Forces, India-Burma Theater (USFIBT) was Lieutenant General Sultan. (Stilwell's replacements for his other responsibilities were Lieutenant General Wedemeyer as Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-Shek and General Wheeler as Deputy Supreme Commander, SEAC.)
As part of the reorganisation, NCAC was placed directly under ALFSEA, although they were also subject to directives from Chiang. Indian XV Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Christison, was removed from command of Fourteenth Army and subordinated directly to ALFSEA. The Corps was responsible for operations in Burma's coastal Arakan Province, and had its own separate lines of communication and supply. Fourteenth Army, still under Slim's command, was the largest component of ALFSEA, making the main attack into Central Burma.
After the capture of Rangoon in May 1945, British Twelfth Army was formed in Burma, and became part of ALFSEA. Indian XV Corps reverted to the command of Fourteenth Army, which was preparing amphibious operations to recover Malaya. NCAC had previously ceased active operations. Leese was relieved and replaced as commander of ALFSEA by General Slim.
After Japan surrendered in August 1945, ALFSEA was responsible for deploying troops into Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Thailand and French Indo-China to disarm Japanese forces and repatriate Allied prisoners of war. The headquarters was closed down later in the year.
- Slim, pp.205-207
- Allen, p.277
- Allen, Louis (1984). Burma: The Longest War. Dent Paperbacks. ISBN 0-460-02474-4.
- Latimer, Jon (2004). Burma: The Forgotten War. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-6576-2.
- Slim, William (1956). Defeat into Victory. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-29114-5.