Philip Jowett, The Battle for Burma 1942-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2021)
Philip Jowett argues that Burma was a strategic sideshow with the main Allied purpose of keeping Nationalist China in the war. The Japanese too fell into this country that held no strategic value to them. But the intense and sustained combat that ripped through this theatre belied Burma’s importance. In this photograph heavy account, part of Pen and Sword’s Images of War series, Jowett takes us on a wild ride along the Cinderella Front.
Jowett is keen to point out how massive and inhospitable Burma was with mountains, jungles, and monsoons to contend with along with the constant struggle against various diseases. And it is with that in mind that he begins his narrative with the Allies having retreated into India and China in 1942, and the Japanese in full control of Burma and ready to jump forward again into India. The Allies, however, were intent on recovering Burma. Thus, Jowett describes a series of offensives, including the Arakan – one failed, one successful – Chindit and Marauder operations behind enemy lines, and the over-optimistic 1944 Japanese offensives on Kohima and Imphal that ended in disaster. The subsequent Allied pursuit of the Japanese proved relentless, even through the monsoon and across many swollen rivers, until Mandalay fell in March 1945. That opened the road to Rangoon on the coast, which proved to be Japan’s last major holdout in Burma. Jowett also considers the air war, which like all other aspects of war in this theatre, had swung towards the Allies by the end of 1944.
The Battle for Burma is thicker than the usual Images of War series books. That is mainly because of the numerous excellent photographs that accompany Jowett’s engaging text. A second unusual feature is the amount of combat photographs Jowett includes, which are mostly from the Allied side, as you might expect, but also some from the Japanese perspective. Jowett also highlights the roles of the Chinese Nationalists, Americans, Indians, East and West Africans, and native Burmese, illuminating the joint Commonwealth and Allied war effort that it took to defeat the dogged Japanese. As an avid reader of the Burma campaigns, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it.