Operation Tarzan

This was a British unrealised plan for operations in the northern part of Japanese-occupied Burma by forces based in India (dry season 1943/44).

Prepared by the staff of General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the commander-in-chief in India, ‘Tarzan’ was submitted to the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff on 27 September 1943, and proposed a triple thrust each preceded and then supported by long-range penetration groups. In overall terms the ‘Tarzan’ plan called for the Chinese ‘Y’ Force in Yunnan to take the area of Lashio and Bhamo, for Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command to move from Ledo against Myitkyina before advancing on Bhamo and Katha, and for British airborne forces to take Indaw and then hold it through the monsoon season with the aid of air support. Subsidiary to these main operations, but nevertheless important as a means of pinning the Japanese defence, would be advances by Lieutenant General G. A. P. Scoones’s Indian IV Corps from Fort White and Tamu to the Chindwin river, and by Lieutenant General A. F. P. Christison’s Indian XV Corps in the Arakan western coastal region to the line linking Kyauktaw and Indin.

Only the British part of the operation was planned in any detail, and this envisaged the 'Thursday' movement of three long-range penetration groups into Burma on or about 15 February 1944, one advancing toward Gangaw and Pakkoku, one toward Katha and one toward Bhamo and the Gokteik Gorge.

Diverted by these and other operations (such as those of the Indian IV and XV Corps beginning in January), the Japanese would then be unable to contest a landing by two airborne battalions at Indaw on about 15 March. With the airfield thus secured, two brigades of a division previously withdrawn from the Arakan front would be flown into Indaw during the following week, the third brigade moving overland from Imphal. The staff assessment was that some 20 transport squadrons (500 aircraft) would be needed for the operation, which though schemed with Chinese and US participation in mind, was not wholly dependent on the co-operation of ‘Y’ Force and the Northern Combat Area Command.

Auchinleck fully appreciated that lack of such support would severely curtail the offensive impact of the Indaw operation, even though it was unlikely that the Japanese could defeat the division in the area given the nature and strength of Allied air power over Burma. The initial reaction to the plan was one of guarded approval with the proviso that it needed to be recast with significantly reduced airlift requirements, and by October Auchinleck had revised his scheme to the level of 11 or 12 squadrons (275 to 300 aircraft).

The Chinese were unhappy with the plan, though, especially as it placed great responsibility on them without a concomitant burden on the British. For this reason Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek asked for the plan to be revised as a scheme for the complete reconquest of Burma. This was clearly impossible for a variety of logistic reasons, and ‘Tarzan’ was cancelled in January 1944 at the suggestion of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten, heading the South-East Asia Command, in the hope that ‘Gripfast’ and ‘Pigstick’ could be substituted so that the Allies could undertake at least some offensive action in Burma during the early part of 1944.