Operation Nation (ii)

This was the British plan for Aung San’s Japanese-inspired Burma National Army to defect from Japanese to British control (1945).

The Burma National Army was the military wing of the Anti-Fascist Organisation, the main Burmese nationalist group, and although the Special Operations Executive’s Force 136 had tried since late 1943 to establish contact with the Anti-Fascist Organisation, it was only at a time late in 1944 that this objective was attained, whereupon the Burmese informed Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command that they planned an armed uprising against the Japanese during 1945.

The British were extremely wary of the Burma National Army’s longer-term political objectives for an independent Burma under a left-wing government, and thus decided that no weapons would be provided to this organisation as such, though smaller groups within the Burma National Army were given weapons. The British also sought to persuade the Burma National Army against an early rising against the Japanese, which could be construed as the Burmese liberating themselves from the occupation forces, but the planned rising went ahead in Rangoon on 27 March 1945.

Aung San was cautious about the meeting proposed by Lieutenant General Sir William Slim of the 14th Army, and delayed for as long as he could before going to Meiktila on 16 May. By this time Lieutenant General Shihachi Katamura’s 15th Army and Lieutenant General Masaki Honda’s 33rd Army had disintegrated, and only Lieutenant General Shozo Sakurai’s 28th Army, in the south-western part of Burma, was left as an effective fighting formation of General Heitaro Kimura’s Burma Area Army, so Slim could see little operational virtue in the Burma National Army, which was however a distinct political menace to the British as it considered itself the provisional government of a liberated country yet refused to undertake such responsibilities as policing. There followed a protracted period of intermittent negotiation before Aung San decided in June that the Burma National Army (now renamed the Patriotic Burmese Forces) could be incorporated into the new British-led Burma Army. The process of enrolling elements of the Patriotic Burmese Forces into the Burma Army began during August 1945, but soon ran foul of Burmese political ambitions, so that the Patriotic Burmese Forces went underground with their weapons, laying up trouble for the future.