22. Marauders, Nphum Ga

When last we left the Marauders, they had triumphed over the Japanese at Walawbum, albeit after some very hot fighting that left the 2nd Battalion shaken.  In the aftermath of that battle, the men were ravaged by disease caused by Chinese contamination of their drinking water and, later, by outbreaks of typhus.  Despite these outbreaks, the men were ordered onward to once again establish roadblocks against which to smash the Japanese 18th Division, this time by splitting the unit.  The 1st Battalion was to set up at Shaduzup, while the 2nd and 3rd established positions at Inkangahtawng, against which the Japanese would be smashed by a Chinese attack on a third front. 

Unfortunately, as is often the case when units are split and success rests in units arriving in disparate places simultaneously, or near-simultaneously, things went wrong rather quickly.   This 2nd and 3rd Battalions, impelled by news of a Japanese withdraw, raced down the road to Inkagahtawng, arriving three days earlier than planned.  Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion fell badly behind schedule.  The terrain on their route was incredibly rough with innumerable steep hills and jungle so dense that men could become lost if they strayed even a dozen feet off the trails.  On one particularly grueling day, ten hours of struggling only netted them one mile of forward progress.  To top it all off, they also had to deal with Japanese units fighting delaying actions, and the loss of their radio, crushed by an errant supply drop.  Despite it all, the 1st succeeded in their mission, working with the Chinese to drive the Japanese away from Shaduzup, achieving a near complete victory.

While the 1st Battalion slogged through the jungle, the 2nd and 3rd attacked Inkangahtawng as planned.  The judgment that such an attack would succeed had been made with the assumption that the Japanese would be simultaneously menaced by Chinese forces and the 1st Battalion’s roadblock, but they were early and the 1st, along with the Chinese, was late.  Since neither the Chinese nor the 1st were in place, this meant the Japanese could focus the whole of their attention on the attack at Inkangahtwang, and the Marauders there quickly found themselves at risk of being cut off and destroyed. 

There was no choice but to abandon the attack and pull back as rapidly as possible to Nhpum Ga, a straggly village of about five huts which had been taken earlier in the campaign and overlooked an airstrip that was needed to ensure the Marauders could be resupplied and to evacuate the wounded.   The 2nd Battalion, my grandfather’s unit,* was tasked with holding the line.  Exhausted from their retreat, from the delaying actions they’d been forced to fight along the way, and from the still-raging outbreaks of disease, the men of the 2nd occupied the high ground of Nhpum Ga and dug in. 

The Japanese attacked that day.

The next day, General Merrill suffered a heart attack and was evacuated.  Col. Charles Hunter took over.  One of only two men of the original 2500 who entered Burma who was not hospitalized or killed during the campaign, he would lead the unit until its dissolution following Myitkyina.**

The 2nd Battalion quickly found themselves surrounded, besieged, without access to water and capable only of being resupplied by air.  Under constant artillery bombardment, they repulsed wave after wave of infantry attacks, their lines contracting, men dying.  Dysentery raged through the ranks, who scraped by on barely adequate rations, virtually no water, and less sleep.  On the fourth day of the siege, the 1st Battalion was able to re-establish radio contact and, hearing of the dire straits of their fellow Marauders, raced back to help, knowing it would take at least three days to reach Nphum Ga.  Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion attempted to break through the Japanese lines, but were driven back after two days of heavy fighting. 

On the evening of April 7th, Good Friday, after four days of forced marches, the 1st Battalion returned. The march had taken its toll, however, and only 250 of the footsore, exhausted men were still capable of fighting.  Nevertheless, they, along with the 3rd, attacked the next day, desperate to relieve their brothers.  After a full day of fighting, they carved their way to within a half mile of the 2nd Battalion’s lines. 

That night the Japanese withdrew, and on Easter Sunday, just after dawn, elements of the 3rd Battalion walked unopposed through Japanese camps, with cookfires still smoldering, and into the perimeter of the 2nd Battalion. 

The Marauders lost 57 killed, 302 wounded, and 379 evacuated for disease at Nphum Ga.  The 2nd Battalion accounted for more than half of the casualties, losing 460 men.  From the 2500 men in the 5307th, 1400 remained, the majority of whom were wracked by some variety of disease, badly undernourished, and horrifically exhausted. 

Less than three weeks after Nphum Ga, the Marauders were ordered onward, to Myitkyina.

*Unfortunately, I know nothing about his participation in this or any other battles.  I mentioned in the first post his own reticence to discuss his time in the war, and my failure to seek out his story, and many of the documents chronicling the Marauders have been lost as the intelligence officer who collected those records was killed during the campaign. 

**I strongly recommend his book, Galahad on the Marauders.  By all accounts he was a great leader, and the deep loyalty he inspired was one of the only things that kept his men going during their darkest hours. 

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