Battle of Imphal

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Imphal and the Siege

Tulihal Airfield, the site of the current Imphal Airport. This was among the three all-weather airfields in the Imphal Valley in 1944. Tulihal Airfield, the site of the current Imphal Airport. This was among the three all-weather airfields in the Imphal Valley in 1944. Photo by Ranjit Moirangthem

Ironically, the city of Imphal saw little fighting during the 1944 battle to which it lends its name. Clashes raged all around Manipur’s capital and even occurred as close as Nungshigum to the north and Maibam Lokpaching in the south. Perhaps what affected Imphal most was that it was cut off from the rest of the world by land for over two months – thanks to the blocking of the all-important Imphal-Kohima Road on March 28, 1944, and the blowing up of the suspension bridge over the Leimatak River on the Silchar-Bishenpur Track on April 15. Thus until June 22, 1944, when the Imphal-Kohima Road was re-opened, the city was effectively under siege, with supplies being flown in to airfields in the Imphal plain (See The Air Battle section).

Militarily, of course, Imphal remained the nerve centre from where the British 4th Corps headquarters directly ran and coordinated the Battle of Imphal, under the overall command of 14th Army and General Slim in Comilla (in present-day Bangladesh). Slim gives a sense of what it was like for Lieutenant General Scoones, the commander of the 4th Corps in Imphal, at the time: ‘…it should be remembered that encounters on all of the spokes [leading to Imphal] were going on simultaneously. At no time and in no place was the situation, either to commanders or troops, as clear even as I can make it now. Into Scoones’ headquarters, from every point of the compass, day and night, streamed signals, messages, and reports, announcing successes, setbacks, appealing for reinforcements, demanding more ammunition, asking urgently for wounded to be evacuated, begging for air support.’

14th Army headquarters moved from Comilla to Imphal for a few months towards the end of 1944 to coordinate the unfolding operations in Burma. The cottage in which Slim stayed can still be seen in the Kangla Fort Complex in Imphal today. The city is also home to two Second World War cemeteries maintained by the UK-based Commonwealth War Graves Commission – the Imphal War Cemetery and the Imphal Indian Army War Cemetery.