Battle of the Tennis Court
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|Battle of the Tennis Court|
|Part of Battle of Kohima|
The tennis court and terraces of the District Commissioner's bungalow in Kohima.
|Indian XXXIII Corps||Japanese 31st Division|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Montagu Stopford||Kotoku Sato|
approx. 1 Infantry Brigade
2 Infantry Divisions
1 "Chindit" Brigade
1 Motor Brigade
|1 Infantry Division|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of the Tennis Court was part of the Battle of Kohima in North East India from April 4 – June 22, 1944. The Second World War Japanese advance into India was halted at Kohima in April 1944 and Garrison Hill, on a long wooded ridge on a high ridge west of the village, was the scene of perhaps the most bitter fighting of the whole Burma campaign when a small Commonwealth force held out against repeated attacks by a Japanese Division. The fiercest hand to hand fighting took place in the garden of the Deputy Commissioner's bungalow, around the Tennis Court.
Kohima Ridge was about a mile long and about 400 yards wide, with a series of hills and gullies that ran alongside the road from Imphal to Dimapur. The steep slopes along the road made the ridge a formidable target for attackers, but it was a narrow space from which to repel an enemy attacking in strength. By April 6 the British, Nepalese and Indian soldiers of Kohima Garrison had been surrounded on the Kohima ridge. As the siege began the Kohima Ridge was defended to the south (facing Imphal) by the 1st Assam Regiment on Jail Hill. The centre ground of the ridge was mainly defended by by 4th Royal West Kents. The North West of the Ridge, known as Hospital Spur, was defended by the 3rd Assam Rifles who were facing the road to Dimapur. The North East of the Ridge on a sharp corner in the road was where the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Charles Pawsey's Bungalow and Tennis Court was situated. This was guarded by a composite group of soldiers.
The Japanese launched a series of attacks into the north-east region of the defences on April 8, and by April 9 the British and Indians there had been forced back out of the DC's Bungalow to the other side of the tennis court. The other positions came under heavy attack and the perimeter shrunk.
On April 13, the troops defending near the DC's bungalow and the tennis court came under increasingly heavy artillery and mortar fire, and had to repel frequent infantry assaults. This area was the scene of some of the hardest, closest and grimmest fighting, with grenades being hurled across the tennis court at point-blank range. But on April 14 the Japanese did not launch an attack and on the 15th the British and Indian troops on Kohima ridge heard that the British 2nd Division was attacking along the Dimapur-Kohima road and had broken through Japanese road blocks.
On the April 17, the Japanese tried one last time to take the ridge. They successfully captured the FSD to the Garrison Hill positions. But on the morning of April 18 British artillery opened up from the west against the Japanese positions, which stopped the Japanese attacks. Elements of the British 2nd Division, 161st Brigade and tanks from XXXIII Corps pushed into the area north-west of Garrison Hill and forced the Japanese from their positions. The road between Dimapur and Kohima had been opened, and the siege was lifted.
The Japanese who had been fighting to capture Kohima did not retreat at once, many of them stayed in the positions which they had captured and fought tenaciously for several more weeks. By the morning of May 13, most of the positions in the Kohima region had been re-taken by the British and Indian forces; a few, among them the DC's bungalow, were still holding out against the Dorsets and their supporting tanks. The Allied breakthrough that finally ended the Battle of the Tennis Court is depicted in a 1982 painting by Terence Cuneo which is displayed in the Kohima Museum in Imphal Barracks, York.
Around May 15 the Japanese 31st Division began to withdraw and fresh the British and Indian troops from XXXIII Corps began to reinforce and relieve members of the 2nd Division and 33rd and 161st Indian Brigades. The battle of the Tennis Court was over and troops of the British Fourteenth Army began an advance, with the relief of Imphal, which would continue until Burma had been recaptured.
The fighting within the 6th Brigade's area was documented by Major Boshell, who commanded 'B' Company, 1st Royal Berkshires, in the 6th Infantry Brigade:
|“||To begin with I took over an area overlooking the Tennis Court... The lie of the land made impossible to move by day because of Japanese snipers. We were in Kohima for three weeks. We were attacked every single night... They came in waves, it was like a pigeon shoot. Most nights they overran part of the battalion position, so we had to mount counter-attacks... Water was short and restricted to about one pint per man per day. So we stopped shaving. Air supply was the key, but the steep terrain and narrow ridges meant that some of the drops went to the Japs. My company went into Kohima over 100 strong and came out at about 60.||”|
This battle was ultimately to prove to be the turning point of the Battle of Kohima which was the turning point of the Burma Campaign. Earl Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in the theatre, described Kohima as
|“||probably one of the greatest battles in history... in effect the Battle of Burma... naked unparalleled heroism... the British/Indian Thermopylae.||”|
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- Anonymous 2004, p. 3.
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