The War Illustrated No. 226, Vol. 9, February 15th 1946

V-Force Acted as the Fourteenth Army’s Eyes Many Burmese tribesmen had never seen a white man, yet in their thousands they flocked as volunteers to V-Force to fight the Ja p s—an enemy they had never seen. The dramatic story of this Force, which remained secret until December 1945, is told in this article specially written for “The War Illustrated ”by one of its leaders, ANTHONY IRWIN ,author of “Burmese Outpost.” 7 -force !What on earth's that ?”\/1 can’t begin to count the number "of times that question has been put “tome. V Force! What was i t?”In short, it was !i private Army informed April 1942 when the Jap seemed certain to push, from his newly-conquered possessions in Burma, over the lndo-Burma frontier into 'ndia proper. Its name is derived from the «oman figure V (five). It was a partisan force, led by British Army officers and local planters, policemen, forest officers or the like. The rank and file were all Burmese. Many tribes were repre­sented, for the country in which this Force operated stretched from the China border down to the Bay of Bengal, 800 miles as the crow flies. Though some of those tribesmen are known to a few Englishmen, others have never been heard of. We had Nagas from cast of Assam, Karens from just cast of the Yoma country, Lushais and Chins, Kachins and Mughs, Maraughsand Khumis, Mussclman Arakanese from east of Bengal too many to enumerate in full. There were tens of tribes and tens of thousands of volunteers. Many of these people had never seen a white man, some had never heard of one, few had ever seen a modern rifie or thought possible the existence of the aeroplane. Yet, when we called upon them to turnout from their homes and fight aji enemy they had never seen, they came willingly and fought with skill and daring. Spy Service in Dense Jungles The original plan for this Forcc was that in the event of an invasion of India from Burma, parties of patriots should stay in the hills with their white officers and harry the Japs until fresh forces from overseas could drive the invaders back the way they had come. Fortunately, the Jap failed to cross the vast jungle frontier that separates India and Burma, in any strength, and soother work was found for us. One of the most important of these tasks was to act as eyes to the 14th Army. In that thick jungle country a man cannot sec more than ten yards tracks are strange to him maps arc faulty the aircraft cannot pick out the hiding enemy as it can in the West for both sides movement behind the lines is made secret by the very thickness of the jungle. A commander cannot fight his troops efficiently unless lie has full knowledge of the movements and dispositions of his enemy. That was where we came Within. our partisans we would pin-point Jap positions, note his movements and inform our Army Commanders. To do this we had what really boiled down to a glorified spy service :thousands of agents overspread the whole vast area occupied by the enemy. They lived in his villages, even in his camps, acting as his coolies or contractors, some filling important posts for him, such as magistrates or police chiefs or headmen of townships. These agents would send back their information to their British commander, who lived 011 some lonely hill in the wild jungle ahead of our Army and often behind the enemy’s lines. These messages would come to us by hun­dreds of queer routes. Sometimes a man would walk into a camp and throw a bamboo stick through the doorway of my hut and pass on without a word. When that stick was broken open a message would be found Sometimes messages came wrapped up in -cigarette, or inside a melon. One o\cr zealors runner brought one tome in his mouth. He had travelled many miles over impossible country and was so deadbeat when he arrived that in his excitement he swallowed the message ashe staggered into my hut. He returned to his agent that night, and within 48 hours was back with a copy of the message. Risks these agents and messengers ran was enormous. If the Jap caught one he received short shrift. And short shrift from a Jap is indeed an unpleasant experience. One of my agents, a man of sixty, was caught, transfixed to the ground with bayonets and, in front of all his village, skinned alive. Eighteen scouts were captured by a large patrol of Japs in 1943. They had been waiting for their officer, who. had swum across the Chindwin to try to find the whereabouts of the Jap Corps H.Q. When he returned he BURMESE SCOUT U A GNU ,whose tribe, the Khumi, lives to the north of Arakan. He had six Japanese to his credit whiie serving with V-Force. See also facing page. found that the Japs had tied each to a tree and castrated them. To a man they bled to death, a longish business. Yes, the risks were indeed great and the results of being caught unmentionable. The promises of reward were slim. We officers used often to protect ourselves against capture by strapping a grenade 011 to the backs of our belts. Then, if the worst came to the worst, a sharp lug, the locking-pin dropped from the grenade, and we were safe from immediate hell. Th'or you to realize fully the loyalty of our men, here is something about the people I knew best. I worked with two tribes, the Musselman Arakanese and the Khumis. The latter come from the northern reaches of the Kaladan River and the former live in Arakan, that country which lies south and cast of Bengal and is cutoff from Burma proper by the Yomas, a great chain of moun­tains stretching from India down to Rangoon. These Musselmen are an insular people who alive hand-to-mouth existence. They came into the country 200 years ago, at the time PAGE 648 of the decline of the Arakan Empire. They arc traders and cultivators. They come under the jurisdiction of the Burma Government and are ruled by the District Officers through their own appointed headmen. When the War came to them they knew nothing about guns or bombs and very little about real national hate. They had not had a particularly fair deal from the Burma Government, being tucked away in a corner of territory geographically more in India than in Burma. Yet when the Jap invaded Arakan they flocked to join us. Once in, they stood by us through every disaster. They watched two British offensives fail, and they twice saw the Jap plundering their homes. They hated the Jap. hated him far more than they loved us, and it was on account of that hate that they joined us and fought. After a time they came to respect and befriend us, until at the end I firmly believe they would have followed us any­where. They were not given the chance: as the Army left their country and went on into Burma the Musselman Arakancse re­mained behind, and today I wonder whether they are forgotten. Big Price on Officers' Heads The best way to understand this extra­ordinary loyalty is to realize that most of the officers were “wanted” by the Jap. So much were they wanted that the Jap put a big price on our heads, money enough to keep a man and his family secure for many years. Although this was known throughout the length and breadth of Arakan, only three men to my knowledge tried to earn that reward and it was the three m en’s own villagers who caught them and brought them to us and insisted on their execution. Times without number we had to put ourselves incompletely the hands of villagers, trusting implicitly in their loyalty. T twas not uncommon for an officer, accom- panicd only by half a dozen unarmed scouts (perhaps, in some cases, they may have had one rifie and a couple of 12 -bore shotguns between them) to walk into a Jap- occupied township in broad daylight, togo the headm an's house, call a conference of the elders of the village, stay the night, sleeping peacefully, kill a couple of Jap sentries before breakfast and then start off" home again. Everyman and woman, and even the children, would know of the officer’s presence, but not one would consider walking the few yards necessary to tell the Japs about it and earn the large reward. Such was their loyalty, and their courage and endurance kept pace with it. For three long years they faced dangers new and terrible their homes were destroyed because they fought with us, and we did not build them again their country became the home of disease because an Army had passed that way, and though the Army brought doctors and medicine both moved on with the Army and only the disease remained. Now that the War is finished and we talk glibly of Freedom, we must all remember that Burma is avast country comprised of many different tribes. If-frecdom is given to Burma it is given to the largest tribe that will not bring freedom to the millions who makeup those other smaller and varied sections of the community who live amongst the tattered war-torn hills of the lndo-Burma frontier and those were the people who stood by us and succoured us and, by their fortitude, saved many thousands of British lives. We must never forget this.
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