Operation Screwdriver

This was a British two-part operation (‘Screwdriver I’ and ‘Screwdriver II’) to clear the area of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in the Arakan western coastal region of Japanese-occupied Burma (11/14 March 1944).

Within this overall plan ‘Screwdriver I’ (11 March) involved a landing by No. 44 (Royal Marine) Commando on the Arakan coast, and ‘Screwdriver II’ (14 March) a landing by No. 5 Commando at Ton Chaung, in both cases from the launches of the Indian navy’s 55th and 56th Motor Boat Flotillas from their base at Teknaf.

In November 1943 No. 44 Commando had become part of Brigadier C. R. Hardy’s 3rd Special Service Brigade and sailed for the Far East for service against the Japanese in Burma. The brigade’s other elements were No. 1, No. 5 and No. 42 (Royal Marine) Commandos.

Late in February 1944, after the Japanese had launched their ‘Ha’ (iv) operation against Major General H. R. Briggs’s Indian 5th Division in Arakan, Nos 5 and 44 Commandos had reached Bombay and there embarked in the large infantry landing ship Keren for movement to Cox’s Bazar, which they reached on 5 March. Nos 1 and 42 Commandos were delayed in Ceylon by transport difficulties. By this time the British and Indian units in Burma had managed to stop the Japanese counter-offensive and had themselves resumed offensive operations.

As Lieutenant General A. F. P. Christison’s Indian XV Corps cleared the road linking Maungdaw and Buthidaung road, Nos 5 and 44 Commandos, which had reached the theatre together and spend some time at Cox’s Bazar to acclimatise themselves, were now tasked with landings behind the Japanese front. On 5 March No. 44 Commando established itself at Nhili on the Teknaf peninsula, and six days later took part in ‘Screwdriver I’, in which it landed at Alethangyaw with the task of taking the town as the essential prerequisite for the rest of the 3rd Special Service Brigade to pass through it and advance into the surrounding hills to engage the Japanese. The landing was resisted fiercely by the fire of emplaced machine guns and snipers, and for the next 48 hours No. 44 Commando was involved in a succession of running battles with the Japanese and also carried out a reconnaissance of the surrounding hills. The undertaking claimed some 40 to 50 Japanese dead for the loss of four commandos declared missing believed dead. No. 44 Commando was then tasked with the 21 March crossing of the Naf river by barge with the objective of raiding Nahkaungdo, Lambaguna and Hinthaya. The operation was a success, but following a number of small skirmishes the Japanese drafted in reinforcements and No. 44 Commando was withdrawn to Maungdaw on 23 March, its place being taken by No. 5 Commando which carried out a number of attacks on key terrain after its ‘Screwdriver II’ landing.