Jon Diamond, Burma Victory 1944-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2022)
The Burma front provided some of the most vicious combat in the whole of World War II, and it was often fought in the most inexplicable terrain imaginable. Burma Victory surveys the Allied fightback in 1944 after being pushed to the border of India just two years previously. It is a story told in words and photographs in the latest Pen & Sword Images of War series.
Diamond establishes the background to 1944’s Allied offensive with an overview of the Far East theatre and the different plans on either side. Along the way, we meet many of the major players in the fightback, including Stillwell, Slim, and Wingate. It is the latter’s command of Operation Thursday and Stillwell’s assault on Myitkyina that Diamond describes next. These involved the famous Chindits and Merrill’s Marauders, but also the local Kachin forces whose help for the Allies proved crucial. Diamond pauses his narrative to take a closer look at the commanders on both sides and their armies. We get back on track with the incredible Allied defence of Imphal and Kohima from March 1944, where the Japanese came within the width of a tennis court from breaching the Allied lines but fell back in disarray. From then on, the Japanese retreat gained momentum with the Allies in hot pursuit. Diamond returns to American operations south of Myitkyina and the building of the famous Ledo (Stillwell) Road, linking Burma to China, before signing off with poignant photographs of graves and Allied officers awaiting their Japanese counterparts to surrender their forces in Burma.
For an Images of War book to succeed, it must illuminate and inform visually and through its text. Burma Victory does that more than satisfactorily. Diamond’s text doesn’t set the heather on fire, but it is functional and tells the story well. The selection of photographs also does its job, highlighting the problems the Allies faced from the weather and terrain as much as the Japanese. We should also note the maps Diamond sprinkles throughout the text, which prove useful to follow what was quite often a complex campaign. The most significant aspect of this book, however, is Diamond’s willingness to emphasize the roles of the many different nations and cultures that fought the Japanese in Burma. Thus, we see photographs and read about Ghurkhas, Sikhs, Africans, and, of course, the Burmese in addition to the British and American soldiers. That alone makes this book stand out as a more than useful introduction to the latter half of the Burma campaign.