Battle of the Tennis Court

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Battle of the Tennis Court
Part of Battle of Kohima
IND 003483 tennis court at Kohima.jpg
The tennis court and terraces of the District Commissioner's bungalow in Kohima.
Date April 8 - May 13, 1944
Location Kohima, Nagaland, India
Coordinates: 25°40′04″N 94°06′11″E / 25.66770°N 94.10297°E / 25.66770; 94.10297
Result Allied victory
British Raj Indian XXXIII Corps Empire of Japan Japanese 31st Division
Commanders and leaders
Montagu Stopford Kotoku Sato
at start:
approx. 1 Infantry Brigade
at end:
2 Infantry Divisions
1 "Chindit" Brigade
1 Motor Brigade
1 Infantry Division
Casualties and losses
4,604 5,764
Kohima Ridge

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.[1]


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.[2] By April 6 the British, Nepalese and Indian soldiers of Kohima Garrison had been surrounded on the Kohima ridge.[3] 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 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 initially guarded by a composite group of soldiers.[3]


The Japanese launched a series of attacks into the north-east region of the defences on April 8, including two attacks on the DC's Bungalow area. The Japanese suffered massive losses, but poured in reinforcements to prepare for another attack. Some Allied soldiers manned a Bren gun to cover the withdrawal from the DC's Bungalow to the other side of the asphalt tennis court 12m higher up the hill. They held on to the last round but were then overrun, bayoneted and shot.[4] At this stage the Battle of the Tennis Court could be said to have begun with the area being rapidly reinforced by A Company of the 4th Royal West Kents.[5]

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 Field Supply Depot (FSD) Hill and Kuki Piquet. 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. It is not entirely clear when the battle for the Tennis Court was won, however it seems that tanks operating from the road supported an infantry attack that captured the Tennis Court area on 10 May 1944.[6] By the morning of May 13, most of the positions on the Kohima ridge had been re-taken by the British and Indian forces. On that day the DC's bungalow was finally recaptured by the Dorset Regiment supported by Lee Grant tanks firing from the Tennis Court.[7] The lead tank was driven by Sergeant Waterhouse of 149 Royal Tank Regiment, firing his 75mm main armament into Japanese bunkers at no more than 20 yards range. This tank was supported by two platoons from the Dorset Regiment commanded by Sergeants Given and Cook.[8] This Allied breakthrough that 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.[9]

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:


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.

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


  1. ^ CWGC staff 2015.
  2. ^ Keane 2010, p. 226.
  3. ^ a b Keane 2010, p. 232.
  4. ^ Street 2003, p. 65.
  5. ^ Lyman 2010, p. 47.
  6. ^ Lyman 2010, p. 68.
  7. ^ Lyman 2010, p. 11.
  8. ^ Colvin 2012, p. 200.
  9. ^ Your Paintings team 2008.
  10. ^ Anonymous 2004, p. 6.
  11. ^ Anonymous 2004, p. 3.


Further reading[edit]

  • Graham, Gordon (2005), The Trees Are All Young on Garrison Hill, Marlow, Buckinghamshire: The Kohima Educational Trust, ISBN 0-9552687-0-2 
  • Lowry, Michael (2003), Fighting Through to Kohima: A Memoir of War in India and Burma, Leo Cooper 

External links[edit]