From India Wavell's Men Move into Burma

Why We are Invading Arakan

The War Illustrated, Volume 6, No. 150, Page 632, March 19, 1943.

The military operations in the Burmese maritime province of Arakan are the prelude to large-scale offensives to reconquer Burma, the key to the Orient. Since it occupies a highly strategic position in the Far East, Burma's reconquest is essential to the United Nations before any general counteroffensive can be launched against the Japanese on the Asiatic mainland. With Burma once again under the control of the Allied Powers, Japanese hold on the neighbouring countries would become precarious, the famous Burma Road would be reopened, and the Chinese would be free to complete the Burma-Yunnan railway, under construction at the time of the Japanese invasion of Burma last year. From Burma, combined American, British and Chinese forces would be able to launch offensives against Siam and French Indo-China by way of the Kawkareik Pass and down southern Burma into Malaya.

Thus, as a preliminary to full-scale military operations to retake Burma, Field-Marshal Wavell has launched an attack against the Japanese in occupation of the Burmese coastal province of Arakan, which forms the eastern arm of the Bay of Bengal. Japanese forces in Arakan, with its strategic harbours and air bases, which are less than two flying hours away from Calcutta and the industrial centres of Bengal, where 70 per cent of India's war industries are to be found, constitute a threat to India, much more so than their presence in Northern Burma and the Chindwin Valley.

Wavell's immediate objective is Akyab, an important Japanese base situated at the mouth of the Kaladan River and only 65 miles to the south-south-west of Maungdaw, the Burmese frontier town, now in British hands. Several thrusts are being developed towards Akyab from Maungdaw and Buthidaung near the coast and on the Mayu River. But the main drive on Akyab is bound to be directed along the coastal track, supported by light naval forces from the sea, owing to the difficult nature of the country in Arakan, with ranges of forest-clad hills running north and south and sending out spurs and sub-spurs almost to the sea coast. The Arakan coast strip is also intersected by a labyrinth of tidal creeks, and as a result has a highly developed system of inland waterways, which is the chief means of communication in this Burmese maritime province.

Seventy-five miles south-south-west by boat from Akyab is Kyaukpyu, situated on Ramree Island. Here the large expanse of water between Ramree Island and the mainland affords an excellent harbour, over 3 miles wide and 30 miles long, large enough to take the entire Japanese fleet. It would be surprising, indeed, if Kyaukpyu harbour and the deep, narrow, salt water tidal creeks in the mainland opposite, which are ideal for submarines, are not being used by the Japanese as a naval base.

Occupation of Arakan, with its strategic air and naval bases at Akyab and Kyaukpyu, would not only remove the threat of a Japanese invasion of India; it would also serve as a jumping-off ground for an attack on the heart of Burma and her capital of Rangoon. Though Arakan is isolated by the Yoma mountains from the rest of the country, there are two mountain passes, the An and the Taugnup, which lead into the interior of Burma. A 100-mile-long motor road, one which has been greatly improved by the Japanese, runs through Taungup Pass, 2,800 feet above sea level,. from Padaung on the River Irrawaddy to the near coastal town of Taungup. From these geographical details the importance of the present operations in Burma can be appreciated.