Royal Marine 3rd Commando Brigade in Burma 1945

Royal Marines played a significant role in helping the Royal Navy and the Allies succeed with many different operations during the Pacific War and in the lead up to VJ Day. Fleet Marine detachments aboard Royal Navy warships were fighting in the Far East from the beginning. 

In January 1942, 210 surviving Royal Marines from HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales combined with survivors from the 2nd Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Their unit was nicknamed the ‘Plymouth Argylls’, after the football team, and helped defend Singapore.

Later, Royal Marine pilots flew with the British Pacific Fleet, and joined Special Operations forces like Detachment 385, which specialised in small-scale raids on Japanese occupied territory.

Two Royal Marine Commandos, 42 and 44, arrived in India at the start of 1944 as part of 3rd Special Services Brigade (later renamed 3rd Commando Brigade). Intensive training and small-scale operations introduced them to jungle fighting, which was very different to their previous experience in the Mediterranean.

Major H H Dales of 42 (RM) Commando conducting a briefing prior to the landing at Akyab, Burma, January 1945. Akyab is now Sittwe and Burma, Myanmar.

In early 1945 the Brigade carried out a series of landings on the coast of the Arakan, in Burma, supporting 14th Army by attacking the flanks of the retreating Japanese. Amphibious landings in the jungle were no joke, as John Owen, a young officer with 44 RM Commando recalled:

‘It seemed to be all mangrove swamp. We had to wade in four or five hundred yards which took nearly three hours. We were exhausted and covered from head to foot in mud which sucked our boots off.’

Poster, screen printed, entitled: 1945 Battles of Myebon and Kangaw (one of nineteen designs produced by Leo Swain for teaching recruits Corps History), 1955.

3rd Commando Brigade’s first two assaults, at Akyab and Myebon, were basically rehearsals, as most of the Japanese had left, but the attack on Kangaw led to a brutal fight for a feature named Hill 170. The Battle of Hill 170, the climax of the Arakan operations, was a battle between the British 3rd Commando Brigade and the Japanese 54th Division during the Second World War. It focused on securing the southern Chin Hills, a key supply and escape route for the Japanese, as well as protecting Allied troops that had landed on the Myebon Peninsula.

John Owen again:

‘We were hot and tired and regrettably many of us did not dig in as well as we should have done. Suddenly all hell was let loose. Shells were bursting everywhere. I remember seeing a marine hit in the pouch where he had a phosphorous grenade. Terrible.’

Mike Banks, an officer with 42 RM Commando and later a famous climber, described the Japanese artillery fire at Kangaw as ‘the most frightening night of [his] life.’ In total, 3rd Commando Brigade lost 45 dead and 90 wounded on Hill 170. 340 Japanese were killed.

3rd Commando Brigade was preparing for Operation Zipper, the invasion of Malaya, on VJ Day.

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