Operation Romulus (ii)

(mythological founder of Rome, and brother of Remus)

This was a British operation to clear the Arakan western coastal region of Burma as far to the south as Akyab in preparation for ‘Talon’ to capture Akyab (13/31 December 1944).

The operation was ordered by Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command in November 1944 as a major change from the previous policy of containment on this front, for Mountbatten now needed to be able to withdraw formations from the Arakan front for use in other theatres. Thus the successful conclusion of ‘Romulus’ (ii) and ‘Talon’ was to be followed by the immediate release to other duties of Brigadier C. R. Hardy’s British 3rd Commando Brigade, followed in February and March by two divisions to be nominated nearer the time.

The detailed planning and execution of ‘Romulus’ (ii) was entrusted to Lieutenant General Sir Philip Christison’s Indian XV Corps which, in October 1944, had comprised four infantry divisions, one tank brigade, one commando brigade and one infantry brigade with which to oppose Lieutenant General Tadashi Hanaya’s 55th Division of Lieutenant General Shozo Sakurai’s 28th Army. From July onward, however, Sakurai ordered the bulk of the 55th Division to fall back toward the estuary of the Kaladan river, leaving only Major General Tokutaro Sakurai’s ‘Sakura’ Detachment to oppose the British formations.

General Sir Henry Giffard, commanding the 11th Army Group, then ordered Lieutenant General Sir William Slim’s 14th Army to pave the way for the thinning of the Indian XV Corps by going over to the offensive and achieving decisive local results. This was ‘Romulus’ (ii), in which the Indian XV Corps would advance to the capture of northern Arakan in a triple thrust with Major General G. N. Wood’s Indian 25th Division on the right by the sea, Major General H. C. Stockwell’s 82nd (West Africa) Division in the centre in the valley of the Mayu river, and Major General F. J. Loftus-Tottenham’s 81st (West Africa) Division on the left in the valley of the Kaladan river. Christison anticipated that Japanese resistance would stiffen along the line from Donbaik to Myohaung via Rathedaung, and therefore proposed that while his three forward divisions pinned the Japanese along this line with determined attacks, the 3rd Commando Brigade would land in the Japanese rear on the Myebon peninsula, followed by Major General C. E. Lomax’s Indian 26th Division, after the light warships of the Arakan Coastal Forces had severed Japanese maritime communications. The assigned forces would then invade and take Akyab island in ‘Talon’ and so free the formations required for service elsewhere.

In preparation for the offensive proper, Christison launched his divisions on a number of preparatory attacks designed to provide the Indian XV Corps with adequate start lines after the end of the monsoon. The Indian 25th Division cleared the coast around Godusara and moved to the east of the Mayu range to a position astride the road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung to cover the assembly area of the 82nd (West Africa) Division in the valley of the Kalapanzin river. The 81st (West Africa) Division started a sweep down the valley of the Kaladan river as early as October 1944 to reach its concentration area around Tinma by the end of November.

With the ‘Sakura’ Detachment fully engaged in the Mayu region, Sakurai during November ordered Lieutenant General Shigesaburo Miyazaki’s 54th Division to form Major General Toba Koba’s ‘Matsu’ Detachment to hold the Kaladan river valley.

Christison’s final plan was formalised on 23 November, and called for a general advance starting on 13 December. In this advance Brigadier J. E. Hirst’s Indian 74th Brigade of the Indian 25th Division was to advance to the south along the coast with naval support and naval supply, and the rest of the Indian 25th Division was to push down the Mayu range and the western bank of the Mayu river before crossing this river to take Rathedaung. The division was then to be concentrated for a drive to Foul Point at the tip of the Mayu peninsula. The 82nd (West Africa) Division was to move to the south along the eastern side of the Mayu river to take Htizwe before advancing via Kanzauk to relieve the 81st (West Africa) Division in the Kaladan river valley, and then to move to the south along this river in boats to take Myohaung and Minbya.

At this stage ‘Talon’ was to be unleashed by the 3rd Commando Brigade followed by Lomax’s Indian 26th Division and one regiment of Brigadier G. H. N. Todd’s Indian 50th Tank Brigade. Thereafter there was to be a general exploitation against the 28th Army in the area of the Kaladan river valley.

The offensive began on time and, after some brisk fighting, began to secure its objectives in advance of the schedule envisaged. The Indian 74th Brigade reached Foul Point on 27 December, and by the end of the year the 81st (West Africa) Division held an ideal base area in the area of Teinnyo and Myohaung area against the ‘Matsu’ Detachment, and was awaiting the arrival of the 82nd (West Africa) Division for the major drive down the Kaladan river valley.