Operation Battle of Meiktila and Mandalay

The 'Battle of Meiktila' and the 'Battle of Mandalay' were fought concurrently between British-led and Japanese forces in central Burma (January/march 1945).

These were decisive undertakings near the end of the Burma campaign of World War II and are also known collectively as the 'Battle of Central Burma'. Despite severe logistical difficulties, the British-led forces were able to deploy large armoured and mechanised forces in Central Burma, and also possessed air supremacy. A large proportion of the Japanese forces in Burma were destroyed during the battles, allowing the British-led forces later to recapture Rangoon, the Burmese capital, and to reoccupy most of the country against only minimal organised Japanese opposition.

In 1944, the Japanese had sustained several defeats in the mountainous frontier regions of Burma and India. In particular, at the 'Battle of Imphal' and 'Battle of Kohima', Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi’s 15th Army had suffered disastrous losses as a result primarily of disease and starvation.

Their disastrous defeats prompted the Japanese to make sweeping changes among their commanders and senior staff officers in Burma. On 1 September 1944, Lieutenant General Hyotaro Kimura was appointed commander of the Burma Area Army in succession to Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe, whose health had broken down. At this stage of the war, the Japanese were in retreat on most fronts and were concentrating their resources for the defence of their homeland. Kimura had formerly been vice-minister of war, and had held other posts with responsibility for the mobilisation of Japanese industry for the war effort. It was hoped that he could use the rice fields, factories and oil wells of Burma to render the Japanese forces in that country self-sufficient in logistical terms.

Lieutenant General Shinichi Tanaka was appointed as Kimura’s chief-of-staff with day-to-day responsibility for operations. He had formerly commanded the 18th Division in northern Burma, and had a reputation for inflexible determination. (In a reversal of roles in the aftermath of the Imphal disaster, the Burma Area Army's former chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Eitaro Naka, became commander of the 18th Division.)

As noted above, the Japanese losses in Burma and India during 1944 had been catastrophically severe, and in numerical terms were offset by the arrival of drafts of conscripts, many of whom were not of the best physical categories. Kimura’s staff decreed that the divisions in Burma should have a strength of 10,000 men by comparison with their establishment strength of nearer 25,000 men, but most divisions mustered barely half this reduced strength. Moreover, the Japanese divisions lacked anti-tank weapons, and to face attack by massed armour would be forced to deploy their field artillery in the front line, which would affect their ability to give concentrated fire support to the infantry. Expedients such as lunge mines (an explosive charge on the end of a long pole), or suicide attacks by men wearing explosive charges, were not effective if, and this was generally the case, the British armour had the close support of infantry.

The Japanese were further handicapped by other losses. Their 5th Air Division, deployed in Burma, had been reduced to only a few dozen aircraft with which to face some 1,200 Allied aircraft, anbd the 14th Tank Regiment possessed only 20 tanks.

Kimura accepted that his forces stood little chance against the numerically and materially superior British-led forces in open country, and thus planned that while the Lieutenant General Shozu Sakurai’s 28th Army held the Arakan western coastal area, relying on the difficult terrain to slow the Allied advances, and Lieutenant General Masaki Honda’s 33rd Army continued its rearguard actions against the Chinese and US forces which were trying to open a land route from India to China, Lieutenant General Shihachi Katamura’s 15th Army would withdraw behind the Irrawaddy river in central Burma. Kimura hoped that the Allies would be overstretched in attempting to overcome this obstacle, perhaps to the point at which the Japanese might even find themselves in the position to attempt a counter-offensive.

On the Allied side, Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command had begun to make plans for the reconquest of Burma as early as June 1944 even as the 'Battle of Imphal' was still being fought, although the outcome of this battle had by now become clear. Three main options were proposed. One was to reoccupy northern Burma only, to allow the 'Ledo Road' to be completed, thus linking India and China by land. This concept was rejected on the grounds that it could use only a fraction of the available forces and would fulfil only an out-of-date strategic aim. A second option was to capture Rangoon, Burma’s capital and main sea port, by means of an amphibious invasion. This was also deemed to be impractical as it would require landing craft and other resources which would not be available until the end of the war in Europe. By default, the plan adopted was for an offensive into central Burma by Lieutenant General Sir William Slim’s British 14th Army to retake Burma from the north. The operation, originally codenamed 'Capital', which was intended to capture Mandalay in central Burma, was then renamed 'Extended Capital' to include a subsequent pursuit to Rangoon.

In support of the 14th Army’s offensive, Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison’s Indian XV Corps would advance in the coastal province of Arakan. The corps was also ordered to seize or construct airfields on the coast and on its coastal islands, which could be supplied by sea and which would be used as bases from which aircraft would supply Slim’s troops. The American-led Northern Combat Area Command, commanded by Lieutenant General Daniel I. Sultan and comprising mainly Chinese troops, would continue its advance to link with the Chinese armies attacking from Yunnan province in south-western China and thus complete the 'Ledo Road' linking China and India. It was hoped that the operations of the Indian XV Corps and the Northern Combat Area Command would distract as many Japanese troops as possible from the decisive front in central Burma.

The chief problems faced by the 14th Army were of a logistical nature. The advancing troops would have to be supplied over crude roads stretching for far greater distances than were ever encountered in Europe. Although expedients such as locally constructed river transport and temporary all-weather road surfaces (coarse hessian sacking material impregnated with bitumen and Diesel oil) were available, transport aircraft would be vital for the supply of forward units. Disaster threatened as early as 16 December 1944, when 75 US transport aircraft were abruptly transferred to China, where the Japanese 'Ichi' operation was threatening US airfields. Although aircraft were hastily transferred from the Mediterranean theatre to replace those despatched to China, continuing threats to deprive 14th Army of the support of US transport aircraft were to be a constant factor in Slim’s thinking during the forthcoming battles.

The 14th Army was supported by Air Vice Marshal S. F. Vincent’s No. 221 Group of the RAF, which operated North American B-25 Mitchell twin-engined medium bombers, Hawker Hurricane and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt single-engined fighter-bombers, and Bristol Beaufighter twin-engined long-range fighter-bombers. The group could also call upon the Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engined heavy bombers of the Far Eastern Strategic Air Force. The most important aspect of air support was probably the Combat Cargo Task Force, which included both British and US squadrons of transport aircraft, in particular the ubiquitous and wholly essential Douglas C-47 Skytrain/Dakota twin-engined machine. The 14th Army required 7,000 sorties by transport aircraft every day during the maximum intensity of the fighting.

Most of Slim’s divisions were on a mixed animal and mechanical mransport establishment, which allowed them to operate in difficult terrain but restricted their tactical speed of movement to that of marching men or mules. In anticipation of fighting in the open country of central Burma, Slim reorganised two of his formations, Major General D. F. W. Warren’s Indian 5th Division and Major General D. T. Cowan’s Indian 17th Division, as partly motorised infantry and partly air-portable infantry formations.

At this stage of the war, few British infantry reinforcements were available and, despite the adoption of expedients such as drafting anti-aircraft gunners into infantry units, the strength of 14th Army’s British formations and of the British units in its Indian formations was dropping, and Indian and Gurkha units were increasingly to bear the brunt of the actions which followed.

In the forthcoming campaign, both the Allies and Japanese were to suffer from lack of intelligence about the enemy, and make incorrect assumptions about their opponent’s intentions.

The Allies had undisputed air superiority. In addition to the results of aerial reconnaissance, they also received reports from behind Japanese lines from reconnaissance units such as 'V' Force and 'Z' Force, and from the Force 136 resistance liaison organisation. However, the British-led forces lacked the detailed information available to commanders in Europe through the 'Ultra' results of radio intercepts and decryptions. Japanese radio security was good: rather than cipher machines such as the German Enigma machine, which the 'Ultra' system was able to decipher on a major scale, the Japanese made use of code books and then extremely tough enciphering methods to conceal the coded text. Japanese formation headquarters also sent far less compromising radio traffic than their German or, indeed, Allied counterparts. Only near the end of the battle, when the Japanese signal and staff arrangements had largely collapsed, did the Allies gain significant signals intelligence. Also, the Allied armies in the field had too few Japanese linguists for the translation of intercepted messages and captured documents.

On the other hand, the Japanese were almost without the benefit of intelligence. They had very few aircraft with which to fly air reconnaissance missions, and received little information from a Burmese population that was becoming disillusioned and restive under Japanese military authority. Some formations had set up their own intelligence organisations: the 28th Army, for example, had created a branch of the Hikari Kikan liaison office responsible for relations with the Azad Hind, known as the Hayate Tai, whose agents lived deep under cover in the frontier regions of Burma and in some of the remoter regions of southern Burma. However, these agents could not acquire or report information quickly enough to be of any tactical utility in a fast-moving mechanised battle.

As the monsoon season ended late in 1944, Lieutenant General Sir Montagu Stopford’s Indian XXXIII Corps of the 14th Army had made use of Bailey prefabricated bridges to establish bridgeheads on the eastern side of the Chindwin river at Sittaung, Mawlaik and Kalewa. Based on past Japanese actions, Slim assumed that the Japanese would fight in the Shwebo plain, as far forward as possible in the region between the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers. On 29 November, Major General T. W. Rees’s Indian 19th Division launched the offensive of Lieutenant General Sir Frank Messervy’s Indian IV Corps' from the northern bridgeheads at Sittaung and Mawlaik, and on 4 December, Major General D. D. Gracey’s Indian 20th Division spearheaded the offensive ofv Stopford’s Indian XXXIII Corps out of the southern bridgehead at Kalewa.

Both divisions made rapid progress in the face of minimal opposition. The Indian 19th Division in particular neared the vital rail centre of Indaw, 80 miles (130 km) to the east of Sittaung, after only five days. Slim realised at this point that his earlier assumption that the Japanese would fight in the area to the west of the Irrawaddy river was incorrect ands, as only one of the Indian IV Corps' divisions had so far been committed, he was able to make major changes to his original plan. The Indian 19th Division was transferred to the Indian XXXIII Corps, which was to continue to clear the Shwebo plain and attack toward Mandalay. The remainder of the Indian IV Corps, strengthened by the 14th Army’s reserve divisions, was switched from the army’s left flank to its right. Its task was now to advance along the Gangaw valley to the west of the Chindwin river, cross the Irrawaddy river near Pakokku and seize the vital logistic and communication centre of Meiktila by a rapid armoured thrust. To persuade the Japanese that the Indian IV Corps was still advancing on Mandalay, a dummy corps headquarters was established near Sittaung, and all radio traffic to the Indian 19th Division was relayed through this installation.

To allow the main body of their divisions to retreat across the Irrawaddy, the Japanese had left rearguards in several towns in the Shwebo plain. During January, the Indian 19th Division and Major General C. G. G. Nicholson’s British 2nd Division cleared Shwebo, while the Indian 20th Division had a hard battle to take Monywa, a major river port on the eastern bank of the Chindwin river. The Japanese rearguards were largely destroyed. The Japanese also retained a foothold in the Sagaing hills, to the north of the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay.

Meanwhile, the Indian IV Corps began its advance along the Gangaw valley. To conceal the presence of heavy units of the Indian IV Corps for as long a time as possible, the advance of Major General G. C. Evans’s Indian 7th Division, which was ito launch the assault across the Irrawaddy river, was screened by the 28th (East African) Brigade and Brigadier P. C. Marandin’s improvised Lushai Brigade. Where these two lightly equipped units met Japanese resistance at Pauk, the town was heavily bombed by Allied aircraft to soften the defenders.

The route used by the Indian IV Corps required upgrading in several places to allow the passage of heavy equipment, and at one point the trail of vehicles stretched from Pauk to Kohima, 350 miles (560 km) to the north by road.

Rees’s Indian 19th Division had slipped units across narrow stretches of the Irrawaddy river at Thabeikkyin on 14 January and at Kyaukmyaung 20 miles (32 km) to the south (and only 40 miles/64 km) to the north of Mandalay on the following day. The division faced a stiff fight for some weeks against attempts by the reinforced 15th Division to counterattack its bridgeheads. The downstream crossings, where the river was considerably broader, would require more preparation. The assault boats, ferries and other equipment for the task were in short supply in the 14th Army, and much of this equipment was worn out, having already seen service in other theatres.

Slim planned for Gracey’s Indian 20th Division of the Indian XXXIII Corps and Evans’s Indian 7th Division of the Indian IV Corps to cross simultaneously on 13 February, so as to further mask his ultimate intentions. On the Indian XXXIII Corps' front, the 20th Division crossed 20 miles (32 km) to the west of Mandalay and established small bridgeheads, but these were counterattacked nightly for almost two weeks by Lieutenant General Uchitaru Kawada’s 31st Division. Orbiting patrols of fighter-bombers knocked out several Japanese tanks and pieces of artillery, and eventually the Indian 20th Division expanded its footholds into a single firmly-held bridgehead.

In the Indian IV Corps' sector, it was vital for Slim’s overall plan for the Indian 7th Division to seize the area around Pakokku and quickly to establish a firm bridgehead. The area was defended by the 72nd Independent Mixed Brigade and units of Shah Nawar Khan’s 2nd Division of the Indian National Army. The 33rd Division's 214th Regiment held a bridgehead at Pakokku.

The crossing by Indian 7th Division, which was delayed for 24 hours so that repairs could be effected on the assault boats, was made on a wide front. The 28th (East African) Brigade made a feint toward Yenangyaung to distract the e]72nd Independent Mixed Brigade while another brigade attacked Pakokku. However, both the main attack at Nyaungu and a secondary crossing at Pagan (the former capital and the site of many Buddhist temples) were initially disastrous. Pagan and Nyaungu were defended by two battalions of the Indian National Army's 4th Guerrilla Regiment, with another battalion held in reserve. At Nyaungu, 2/South Lancashire Regiment suffered heavy losses as its assault boats broke down under the machine gun fire that was sweeping the river. Eventually, support from tanks of the 116th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, firing across the river and from massed artillery suppressed the Indian National Army's machine gun positions and allowed the 4/15th Punjab Regiment to reinforce a company of the South Lancashire which had established a precarious foothold. On the next day, the remaining defenders were sealed into a network of tunnels. At Pagan, the 1/11th Sikh Regiment’s crossing fell into disorder under machine gun fire from the Indian National Army's 9th battalion, but a boat carrying a white flag was seen leaving Pagan: the defenders had decided to surrender, and the Sikhs occupied Pagan without resistance.

Slim later noted that this action was 'the longest opposed river crossing attempted in any theatre of the Second World War'. Unknown to the Allies, Pagan was the boundary between the 15th Army and the 28th Army, and this delayed the Japanese reaction to the crossing.

Starting on 17 February, Brigadier C. E. Pert’s Indian 255th Tank Brigade and the motorised brigades of the Indian 17th Division began crossing into Indian 7th Division’s bridgehead. To distract Japanese attention still farther from this area, the British 2nd Division began crossing the Irrawaddy river only 10 miles (16 km) to the west of Mandalay on 23 February. This crossing also threatened to become a disaster as a result of the boats' leaky condition and faulty engines, but one brigade crossed successfully and the other brigades crossed into its bridgehead.

At this point, the Japanese were hastily reinforcing their central front with units from the northern front, where the US-led Northern Combat Area Command had largely ceased its operations as its Chinese units were recalled to China, and with reserve units from southern Burma.

Cowan’s Indian 17th Division broke out of its Nyaungu bridgehead on 20 February and had reached Taungtha, halfway to Meiktila, by 24 February. The division comprised of the Indian 48th Brigade and the Indian 63rd Brigade, both of which were fully motorised, with the Indian 255th Tank Brigade, less one regiment left with Indian 7th Division, under command.

By chance, on 24 February a Japanese high-level staff meeting was being held in Meiktila to discuss the possibility of a counterattack to the north of the Irrawaddy river. The Japanese command was undoubtedly surprised by the Allied attack. An agitated officer on Mt Popa signalled that 2,000 vehicles were moving on Meiktila. Staff of the 15th Army or Burma Area Army assumed this to be a mistake and trimmed the report to 200 vehicles, thinking that the attack was merely a raid. The Burma Area Army had also ignored an earlier air reconnaissance report of a vast column of vehicles moving along the Gangaw valley.

On 26 February, the Japanese became aware of the true size of the threat, and began preparing the defence of Meiktila. The town lay between lakes to the north and south, constricting any attacker’s front. The defenders numbered about 4,000 men, and comprised the bulk of the 168th Regiment of Lieutenant General Saburo Takehara’s 49th Division, and anti-aircraft and line of communication troops. While its units attempted to construct defences, the Indian 17th Division captured an airstrip 20 miles (32 km) to the north-west at Thabutkon. The air-portable Indian 99th Brigade was delivered by air to the captured airstrip, and fuel was dropped by parachute for the armoured brigade.

Three days later, on 28 February, the Indian 17th Division attacked Meiktila from all sides, supported by massed artillery fire and air attacks. Moving on foot, the Indian 63rd Brigade established a roadblock to the south-west of the town to prevent Japanese reinforcements reaching the garrison, while the main body of the brigade attacked from the west. The Indian 48th Brigade attacked from the north down the main road from Thabutkon, although it was delayed by a strong position around a monastery on the edge of the town. The Indian 255th Tank Brigade, with two infantry battalions and a battery of Sexton self-propelled 25-pdr gun/howitzers under command, left another roadblock to the north-east and made a wide sweep around the town to capture the airfields to the east and attack the town from the south-east. The bulk of the divisional artillery, in harbour to the north-west of the town and protected by units of the 99th Brigade, and air attacks supported the Indian 255th Tank Brigade’s attack.

After the first day, Cowan pulled the tanks out of the town during the night, although he left patrols to defend the area already captured. During the following day, 1 March, Cowan had Messervy and Slim, the corps and army commanders, watching anxiously over his shoulder at his headquarters, both the senior commanders being concerned that the Japanese might hold out for weeks. In the event, and despite desperate resistance, the town fell in less than four days. Although the Japanese had much artillery, they were unable to concentrate their guns' fire sufficiently to stop any single attacking brigade. Additionally, their lack of anti-tank weapons gravely handicapped the defenders. Slim later described watching two platoons of 1/7th Gurkha Rifles, supported by a single M4 Sherman medium tank, overrun several Japanese bunkers and eliminate their defenders in a few minutes, with only a few casualties to themselves. In an attempt to improvise anti-tank defences, some Japanese soldiers crouched in trenches, clutching 551-lb (250-kg) aircraft bombs, with orders to strike the detonator when an Indian tank loomed over the trench. Most were shot by an officer of the Indian 255th Tank Brigade and Indian soldiers.

The Japanese troops hastening to reinforce Meiktila were dismayed to find that they now had to recapture rather than garrison the town. The Japanese forces engaged were the 49th Division (106th Regiment, remnants of the 168th Regiment and 49th Artillery Regiment), the 18th Division (55th Regiment, 56th Regiment, 18th Mountain Artillery Regiment, 214th Regiment attached from the 33rd Division, 119th Regiment attached from the 53rd Division, and the attached 'Naganuma' Artillery Group. Also available were the 4th Regiment of the 2nd Division and the 'Mori' Special Force that was a battalion-sized long-range raiding force.

Many of the Japanese regiments, especially those of the 18th Division, were already weak after heavy combat in the preceding weeks. The Japanese force totalled some 12,000 men and 70 pieces of artillery. The Japanese divisions had no contact with each other, and lacked information on the Indian and British forces and even proper maps. In Meiktila, the Indian 17th Division mustered 15,000 men, about 100 tanks and 70 pieces of artillery, and was to be further reinforced during the battle.

Even as the Japanese forces arrived, columns of Indian motorised infantry and tanks sortied from Meiktila and attacked concentrations of Japanese troops while at the same time attempting to clear a land route back to Nyaungu. There was hard fighting for several villages and other strongpoints, and the attempt to clear the roads failed, so the Indian 17th Division withdrew into Meiktila.

The first attacks by Lieutenant General Eitaro Naka’s 18th Division from the north and west failed with heavy losses. From 12 March, the division attacked the airfields to the east of the town through which the defenders were supplied by air. The Indian 9th Brigade of the Indian 5th Division was flown into the airfields from 15 March to reinforce the defenders of Meiktila. The landings were made under fire, but only two aircraft were destroyed, with 22 casualties. The Japanese fought their way steadily closer to the airfields and from 18 March, Cowan suspended air landings, although casualties could still be evacuated in light aircraft from a separate, smaller, landing strip, and supplies were dropped by parachute.

Meanwhile, on 12 March, Kimura had ordered Honda, commanding the 33rd Army, to take command of the battle for Meiktila. Honda’s headquarters staff took control on 18 March but, lacking signals units, could not effectively co-ordinate the attacking divisions, and the Japanese attacks continued to be disjointed. The Japanese were using their artillery in the front line with their infantry, and while this tactic accounted for the destruction of several Indian tanks it also resulted in the loss of many of the guns. During a major attack on 22 March, the Japanese attempted to use a captured British tank, but this was destroyed and the attack was repelled with heavy losses.

While Meiktila was under siege, the other major formation of the Indian IV Corps, the Indian 7th Division, was engaged in several battles to maintain its own bridgehead, capture the important river port of Myingyan, and to aid the 28th (East African) Brigade against counterattacks on the western bank of the Irrawaddy river. As Major General Tsunoru Yamamoto’s 72nd Independent Mixed Brigade, reinforced by some units of the 54th Division from the Arakan, tried to retake the British foothold at Nyaungu, the 2nd Regiment of the Indian National Army under Prem Sahgal, reinforced by the remaining troops of the 4th Guerrilla Regiment which had opposed the initial crossings of the Irrawaddy river, were now tasked with protecting the exposed flank of Kimura’s forces, as well as pinning the British and Indian forces around Nyaungyu and Mt Popa. Lacking heavy arms or artillery support, Sahgal’s force used guerrilla tactics, working in conjunction with small units of the Kanjo Butai, a regiment detached from the 55th Division, and was successful for some time.

The Indian 7th Division now faced the additional task of reopening the lines of communication to the besieged Indian 17th Division through the two roads that ran through the region, and was forced to call off the attack on Myingyan. Around the middle of March, the leading motorised brigade of Indian 5th Division reinforced the Indian 7th Division and began clearing the Japanese and Indian National Army troops from their strongholds in and around Mt Popa in order to clear the land route to Meiktila. Once contact had been established with the defenders of Meiktila, the Indian 7th Division resumed the attack on Myingyan, which was captured between 18 and 22 March. As soon as they had been taken, the port and the railway linking Myingyan and Meiktila were repaired and brought back into use for supply vessels using the Chindwin river.

During the period late in January, the Indian 19th Division had cleared the western bank of the Irrawaddy river and transferred its entire strength into its bridgeheads on the eastern bank. By the middle of February, the 15th Division opposing the Indian 19th Division was very weak and spread decidedly thin, and Rees launched an attack to the south from his division’s bridgeheads in the middle of February. By 7 March, his leading units were within sight of Mandalay Hill, crowned by its many pagodas and temples.

Lieutenant General Seiei Yamamoto, commanding the 15th Division, opposed the idea of defending the city, but was received unequivocal orders from higher headquarters to defend Mandalay to the death. At the headquarters of the Burma Area Army, Kimura was concerned about the loss of prestige should the city be abandoned, andalso by the fact that there were still large supply dumps in the rea to the south of the city, which could not be moved and which the Japanese could not afford to abandon.

The 4/4th Gurkha Rifles, commanded by an officer who had served in Mandalay before the war, stormed Mandalay Hill on the night of 8 March. Several Japanese held out in tunnels and bunkers underneath the pagodas, and were slowly eliminated over the next few days, although most of the buildings survived substantially intact.

Fighting its way farther into the city, Rees’s division was stopped by the thick walls of Fort Dufferin (as the ancient citadel had been named by the British), which were surrounded by a moat. Medium artillery and bombs dropped from low altitude failed to make much impression on the walls and an assault via a railway tunnel near the angle of the northern and western walls was driven back. A 'skip bombing' attempt was made to breach the walls with 2,000-lb (907-kg) bombs, but this created a breach only 15 ft (4.6 m) wide. The Indian 19th Division prepared to make another assault via the sewers on 21 March, but before this could be made, the Japanese abandoned the fort, also via the sewers.

Elsewhere on the Indian XXXIII Corps' front, the Indian 20th Division launched an attack to the south from its bridgehead. The 31st Division with part of the 33rd Division facing the Indian division had been weakened by casualties and detachments to the fighting elsewhere, and were thrown into disorder. A tank regiment and a reconnaissance regiment of the Indian 20th Division, grouped as 'Claudecol', drove almost as far to the south as the Meiktila fighting before turning north against the rear of the Japanese facing the bridgeheads. The British 2nd Division also broke out of its bridgehead and attacked Mandalay from the west. By the end of March, the 15th Army had been reduced to unco-ordinated remnants trying to move to the south in order to regroup in the Shan States.

On 28 March Tanaka, Kimura’s chief-of-staff, conferred with Honda at the headquarters of the 33rd Army, and was informed by Honda’s staff that the army had destroyed about 50 British and Indian tanks, half the number of tanks in Meiktila. In doing so, the army had suffered 2,500 casualties and lost 50 pieces of artillery, and now had only 20 pieces left. Tanaka accepted the responsibility of ordering Honda’s army to break off the siege of Meiktila and prepare to resist further Allied advances to the south. It was already too late. The Japanese armies in central Burma had lost most of their equipment and all of their cohesion. They would be unable to stop the 14th Army’s subsequent exploitation to within striking distance of Rangoon. Furthermore, with the loss of Mandalay, the Burmese population finally turned against the Japanese. Uprisings by guerrilla forces and a revolt by the collaborationist Burma National Army, which the Japanese had formed two years earlier, would contribute to the eventual Japanese defeat.