3 Cdo Bde, timeline of the Hill 170 battle

Account of the action fought by Nos. 1 and  5 Army Commandos and 42 RM Commando on Hill 170 on the 31st January 1945. 

National Archives Document number WO218/81
Copy of Original document:  John Mewett
Transcribed by:  Jennie Barlow
Ref. Map Sheet BURMA 84 [? over 8] 1" to 1 mile.

The narrative has been kept true to the original with abbreviations etc.


SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

PHASE I
(a)   0545 hrs.     4 Tp 1 Cdo attacked by Japs.
(b)   0930 hrs.     P1 'W' 42 RM Cdo and P1 3 Tp 1 Cdo counter-attack.
PHASE II
(c)   1230 hrs.      "X" Troop 42 RM Cdo counter-attack.
(d)   1400 hrs.      6 Tp 1 Cdo counter-attack.
PHASE III
(e)   1530 hrs.      Arrival of 4 Tp and 1 Tp 5 Cdo.
(f)    1730 hrs.      Disposns for night 31 Jan/1 Feb 45.
PHASE IV
(g)   1930 hrs.     Relief of 1 Cdo forward Tps by 2 Tp 5 Cdo.
LIST OF APPENDICES
Appendix 1        Orders for counter-attack at 12.30 hours.
Appendix 2        Account of Am Sups.
Appendix 3        Account of medical arrangements.
Appendix 4        Sp. Arms.
Appendix 5        Jap tactics and deceptions.

NARRATIVE

PHASE I
(a)  Attack on 4 Tp 1 Cdo posn.
0545 hrs.    Jap started shelling area NORTH BRIGHTON (514497) heavily until 0605 hours.
0610 hrs.    Green verey light fired NW of BRIGHTON which was taken to be 42 RM Cdo recognition signal.  .
0615 hrs.    Intense M.G. fire and grenade discharger shells on 4 Tp posn. possibly mortars as well.  Lt. Semple, O.C. 4 Tp. had ordered 'Stand to' and now gave instructions that fire was to be held until targets could be clearly seen.
0630 hrs.    Enemy had apparently some old Bren gun pits of 12 Tp 1 Cdo on extreme N slope of BRIGHTON.  With intense M.G. fire an attack was launched on 4 Tp posn from N.  This attack was beaten off by forward P1 of 4 Tp Comd. Lt. Knowland.  A number of casual-ties was suffered and Lt. Knowland asked for more amn and men.  These were then sent up from the rear P1 (Lt. Wight).  Lt. Semple went forward to see the situation for himself.  Enemy next heard digging vigorously on extreme N slope of BRIGHTON, and 4Tp was then subject to MMG fire which, it was estimated came from W.finger (512505).
Thereafter the enemy made repeated attacks in mass on N. BRIGHTON.  These were again and again beaten off and heavy cas inflicted on the enemy.
An attempt was made to assault the W flank of 4 Tp but this too was beaten off successfully.
0830 hrs.    4 Tp was by now suffering a number of cas, and was running low and there were scarcely any grenades left.  Lt. Semple asked for help.
The forward Sect was partly over-run and fought on until every man was either killed or wounded.  Lt. Knowland who was with the forward Sect was last seen firing the 2 inch mortar from the hip at point blank range at the oncoming enemy.  The F.O.O. who was also forward with his party was badly wounded and subsequently died, and his wireless set put out of action.  One of his gunners was also wounded in the legs but insisted on staying.  He was found next day still alive though his trench had been occupied by Japs.
Fire orders for Arty were subsequently relayed by voice control to the Tp HQ set.
(b)  P1 (W(Tp 42 RM Cdo and P1 3 Tp 1 Cdo counter-attack
0930 hrs.    C.O. arrived in 4 Tpposn.
P1. of (W)Tp 42 RM Cdo arrived  to help 4 Tp 1 Cdo, one Sect of 5 Tp 1 Cdo under L/Sgt. Perry came up to thicken up the posns vacated by (W)Tp 42 RM Cdo and protect the E. flank of 4 Tp which was subject to heavy and accurate sniping by the enemy.  Tanks were asked to protect the left flank against infiltration by the enemy.
The Sect of 5 Tp remained in posn all day until relieved by 5 Cdo in the evening, accounting during its stay for a party of six Japs and one MMG.   Gnr. Baker of this Sect. after killing two Jap snipers was himself killed.
P1. (W) Tp. 42 RM Cdo with Capt. Smith, who readily placed himself under command of Lt. Semple, then took over  some of 4 Tps posns with one Sect, where there had been cas.  The remaining two Sections under Capt. Smith were ordered to clear the slope W. and N. of enemy.  After moving about 20 yards along the slope the party which was 12 strong came under MMG fire and suffered 6 cas.  Capt. Smith decided to withdraw and reported to Lt. Semple.  It was agreed then that the remainder of P1. (W)Tp should occupy some of 4 Tps posns on the NW and to stay and hold the posn.

At the same time as 42 RM Cdos counter-attack on the W. flank No. 1 P1 of 3 Tp (Lt. Crewe) had arrived and was ordered by Lt. Semple to clear the E. slope of the posn. Lt.
Crewe and two sections moved across the E. slope leaving P1. HQ and the third Sect. under command of Sgt. Lander to reinforce 4 Tps E. flank and shoot N. along the crest. The attacking Sects. moved with L/Sgt. Sincup's Sect. leading in extended order on the slope, and Cpl. Edman's Sect. behind.  Lt. Crewe was on the left of Sgt. Sincup's Sect.
At the bottom of the hill L/Bdr. Toft saw 4 Japs in trenches, and the Sect. advanced after Sgt. Sincup had thrown a grenade and killed 3 Japs.  7 Japs then bolted from a dug-out and 6 of them were killed, the seventh running away into some bushes in the paddy.  Cpl. Hobbs was then shot in the jaw and went back alone.  Lt. Crewe came down the hill to Sgt. Sincup and said he had been wounded in the leg.  The P1 continued to  advance over the bodies of the dead Japs and in one trench two made up demolition charges each of about 7 to 10 lbs. together with a Jap sword were seen.  After advancing about another 30 yards the Sect. came under M.G. fire and grenades were thrown down on them from the top of the hill.  Lt. Crewe was hit in the foot and Sgt. Sincup took over the two Sects.  At this stage Gnr Beaney who had gone off to contact Sgt.Lander was wounded.
As the P1 was suffering cas Sgt.Sincup decided to draw back until he was in line with the remainder of the force on top of the hill.  On the way back Gnr.Beaney was found wounded.  Attempts to rescue him were unsuccessful as he was covered by snipers.  The     Sects then took up posns protecting the E. flank of 4 Tp where they remained until evening when they were ordered by the C.O. to come under comd of Capt. Evill.
Immediately after the counter-attack by (W(Tp and 3 Tp the C.O. after discussing the situation with Lt. Semple went back to report to the Brig.
1015 hrs.    The Brig came fwd with the C.O. and saw the situation.  It was decided to clear the feature with a (Blitz) counter-attack by (X)Tp 42 RM Cdo.  This was to take place at 1230 hrs. supported on the left flank by one tank of 19 L.  Capt. Smith of (W)Tp was ordered to go in the tank to direct the shooting on to the NW. slope.
The C.O. remained fwd.
From now on the enemy continued to attack furiously but with little success, though the posn was subject to further intense and accurate grenade discharger fire.  The situation was kept well in hand and by now then amn was arriving steadily and the evacuation of cas continued throughout.
The first amn party to arrive came from 5 Tp 1 Cdo, who also helped to prime grenades, fill magazines, and distribute amn forward.
PHASE II
(c)  (X)Tp 42 RM Cdo counter-attack.
1230 hrs.    The counter-attack went in as planned (see Appendix 1 for detailed orders).  Very heavy case were suffered by the leading P1 from intense MMG fire (the enemy now had three MMG on the ridge).  The second P1 which was to have gone through was pinned by fire on top of the posn and was ordered to remain, occupying trenches where 4 Tp had suffered cas.  These Tps then remained in posn for the rest of the day until ordered withdraw by Lt. Col. Trevor.
(d)  6 Tp 1 Cdo counter-attack.
1300 hrs.    6 Tp comd Capt. Evill was ordered fwd from their posn to 4 Tp area where Capt. Evill was given instructions to thicken up 4 Tp posn with a view to holding the feature. However after (X)Tps counter-attack there was a brief lull in the battle and it was decided to put in an immediate counter-attack with one P1 to regain 4 Tps fwd posns.
1400 hrs.    Lt. Palmer now brought up his P1 and after a recce with Sec Comds the attack went round the R. flank, with two 2 inch mortars and all available Brens in support on the crest.
After working round the E. flank for some 30 yards the leading Sect. came under intense MG fire and showers of grenades flung down from above.  The P1 suffered about 50% cas as a result of this heavy fire and the C.O. ordered it to withdraw.  Lt. Palmer, Sgt. Morris MM and Fus. Andrews were then reported missing.
At this moment Lt. Larcher's P1 (6 Tp) arrived.  They were ordered to send all Bren teams fwd to thicken up 4 Tp posns and replace cas, the remainder maning posns in 4 Tp area on the E. Flank.  Several men helped to evacuate cas and with the amn supply.  As men in the fwd posns became cas so others were called fwd to take their place on the Bren guns. 6 Tp remained in posn until finally relieved by 5 Cdo.
During this time the call for amn and grenades from the fwd posns put a constant strain on the resources.  The filling of mags, priming of grenades and the distribution of all types of amn was very smoothly and efficiently organised by Lt. Wight, Lt. Larcher and Sgt. Evans.  Together they kept a constant stream of all types of ammunition going forward, and handled the constant trickle of casualties who were coming back
1500 hrs.    The Brigadier ordered that no further counter-attacks were to take place before nightfall, and every effort was to be made to hold the position as it was.  Col. Trevor asked Bde for reinforcements.
PHASE III
(e)  The arrival of 4 Troop and 1 Troop 5 Commando.
1530 hrs.    Lt. Col. Pollitt, MC Comd 5 Commando and Capt. Burr Comd 4 Troop 5 Commando came forward with 4 Troop 5 Commando to see Col. Trevor.  Col. Trevor asked to have this Troop made available as close as possible for immediate action.
Bren Groups of 4 Troop (5 Commando) were sent forward to reinforce the front of 4 Troop 1 Commando.  The remainder of the Troop was employed in carrying casualties and  ammunition.  Sgt. Flatley and 6 men of 4 Troop 5 Commando were sent forward on the EAST slope to deal with enemy snipers who were active on the flank.  Casualties were inflicted on the enemy.
1 Troop 5 Commando moving up behind 4 Troop 5 Commando was ordered by the Brigadier to send one platoon onto the EAST spur on the flank of 4 Troop 5 Commando.  The other Platoon of 1 Troop 5 Commando was engaged at the foot of the EAST slope, where further casualties were inflicted on the enemy.
1630 hrs.    Col. Pollitt was wounded when returning from 4 Troop 1 Commando position.
(f)  Dispositions for night 31 Jan/1 Feb 45.
1700 hrs.    Major Stuart 5 Commando who had taken over from Col. Pollitt came forward to see  Col. Trevor, and received orders to (box) 4 Troop (5 Commando) on the EAST flank of 4 Troop (1 Commando).  4 Troop 5 Commando then commenced digging in.
At this stage the enemy's furious attacks had ceased and only a few snipers remained active.  Col. Trevor then set about re-organising the elements of 3, 4 & 6 Troop (1 Commando) who were still in that area.  The personnel of (X) and (W) Troops 42 Commando were withdrawn under command of Capt. Smith and ordered by Col. Trevor to report to Major Davies 1 Commando.  The Section of 5 Troop 1 Commando was relieved by 1 Troop 5 Commando and rejoined its Troop.
The composite force of 3, 4 & 6 Troops 1 Commando which occupied 4 Troop's position came under command of Col. Trevor himself, and the Brigadier ordered that the position should be thus held during the night.
Col. Trevor then handed over temporarily to Capt. Evill and left the position to find the Brigadier.

PHASE IV
(g)  Relief of 1 Commando forward Troops by 2 Troop 5 Commando.
1830 hrs.    Col. P. Young, DSC, MC came forward to see the position, when he met Col. Trevor who was on his way back.  After holding a conference with Col. Trevor and Major Stuart, the latter readily agreed to bring up a fresh Troop to relieve 1 Commando who had had no rest that day.
1945 hrs.    2 Troop 5 Commando Comd Capt. Beard arrived to relieve 1 Commando forward Troops, who were withdrawn to old positions for the night.  The responsibility for the defence of NORTH BRIGHTON then passed to 5 Commando.


APPENDIX 1

ORDERS FOR COUNTER ATTACK OF (X( TROOP 42 COMMANDO
AT 1230 HOURS 31ST JANUARY 45
by Lt. Colonel K.R.S. Trevor, Commanding, No. 1 Commando

1    Own Troops in position     EAST flank    ?   Platoon 3 Troop 1 Commando centre    ? 4 Troop 1 Commando
      WEST flank   ?   Platoon (W) Troop 42 Commando.
2    Intention.  To clear NORTH BRIGHTON of enemy.
3    (X) Troop 42 Commando Comd Capt. Jones to move forward with one Platoon forward and one Platoon back, with track as dividing line between leading sections.
4    H ? 5 to H ? 2" Mortars to put down smoke.
5    Tanks at call to fire uphill from ?hour under direction of Capt. Smith.
6    All Brens to move forward to 4 Troop 1 Commando to fire on the following programme:
      H ? 5 to H ? 2    slow rate
      H ? 2 to H        rapid
7    Start Line ? Rear of 4 Troop 1 Commando positions.
8    H hour 1230 hrs.

APPENDIX 2

ACCOUNT OF AMMUNITION SUPPLIES ON 31ST JANUARY 1945
At approx 0830 hrs. 4 Troop 1 Commando asked for ammunition of all types.  5 Troop 1 Commando sent forward their reserves of grenades and other types.
At approx 0945 hrs. mortar platoon asked for more H.E. as they had already expended 80 bombs.  Cpl. Young Mortar Platoon with a small party of men made three attempts to reach the bomb dump but this was under enemy machine gun fire and they were driven back.  In the last attempt Cpl. Young was hit and subsequently died of his wounds.  Pte.Boyes attempted to reach Cpl. Young but was unable to do so owing to the heavy fire.  It was impossible to get ammunition from this source to the 3" mortars.
At approx 1100 hours. ammunition of all types was again called for.  The only personnel available to carry ammunition to the forward Troops were No. 1 Platoon of 12 Troop 1 Commando.  This was a dangerous mission as the ammunition party was continuously under fire enemy snipers.
It is impossible to assess the ammunition expenditure but some idea of the amount can be judged by the fact that each Troop had a reserve of 3,000 rounds 303, 1,000 rounds 300, 2,000 45 and 72  36 grenades and by 1200 hrs. the Brigade dump was unable to continue the supply of types required.
Fortunately RSM Powell was able to contact Capt. Gardner 1 Commando A.O. who immediately set about the task of ferrying ammunition from the beach.  This ammunition arrived in time to supply the forward troops with everything they required.  The supply was effectively maintained by the untiring efforts of 12 Troop 1 Commando who not only carried forward the ammunition but evacuated casualties on the return journey when there were not sufficient stretcher bearers available.  It must here be mentioned that only 6 ORs of 12 Troop could be used at any one time as their position still had to be manned.
At 1500 hrs. as the ammunition party was busy evacuating casualties to the M.D.S. it was found necessary to get more men to carry ammunition.  RSM Powell contacted a party of Indian Engineers who willingly supplied 12I ORs as ammunition carriers.
Towards evening the men from 12 Troop who had been working all day then volunteered to take as much water as they could carry to the forward Troops, in addition to the normal ammunition supplies.
At no time were the forward troops desperately short of ammunition.

APPENDIX 3

ACCOUNT OF MEDICAL ARRANGEMENTS ON HILL 170 ? JANUARY 1945
At about 0700 hrs. 1 Commando R.A.P. moved to 4 Troop 1 Commando H.Q. and there treated some 15 casualties which had occurred during the enemy's initial assault.  They were evacuated satisfactorily by Indian stretcher bearers.
The R.A.P. stayed in this area until 1030 hrs. when Troops moving in and the intensity of the enemy's fire made it necessary to clear all wounded from the position as rapidly as possible.  The R.A.P. therefore withdrew to the area of 42 Commando H.Q., leaving the Medical Sgt. forward who supervised essential first aid.
However at 1200 hrs. as casualties were increasing in number and as the M.D.S. was close at hand, the R.A.P. moved forward again to the saddle at the rear of 4 Troop 1 Commando.  Here it was able to supervise essential first aid and to organise evacuation from 4 Troop in front, and the Troops on the flanks.  From 1200 hrs. to  1500 hrs. during the counter attacks put in by 42 Commando and 6 Troop 1 Commando, 42 Commando came up to augment 1 Commando R.A.P., assisting at the time of the intensest flow of casualties.
The Indian bearers worked well until midday.  After this time only about 4 parties were seen at the R.A.P. and most of the bearing was done by 12 Troop 1 Commando.  The Indian bearers were difficult to marshal owing to the language obstacle.
Troop orderlies worked forward with the defending or counter-attacking Troops and did excellent medical work under difficult conditions.  Casualties in the medical section were killed 1 L/Cpl, and wounded 1 Sgt.  The former had gone forward to the front trenches early in the battle and having dressed four men who were wounded manned one of the Brens but was killed when his position was overrun.

APPENDIX 4

1    Arty (25 pdr& Med)
      Tanks
      Aircraft
2    Artillery:    The Arty was used throughout the day (a) to neutralise enemy supporting fire on FINGERS, (b) as harassing fire on THAMES CHAUNG.  This was controlled by F.O.O. from the forward position until about 1600 hrs. when fire control was directed from MILFORD, whence whence reports had come of enemy movement across the chaung.  (c) On NORTH end of BRIGHTON 300 yards in front of enemy position, later reduced to 150 yards.
The F.O.O. on BRIGHTON was seriously wounded at 0800 hrs. and his set was put out of action.  His place was taken by the battery commander who sent his orders back on the Command net.  The battery commander was wounded twice and his place was taken by another F.O.O. in the afternoon.
3    Tanks:    Of the 3 tanks on the bridgehead 1 was destroyed by enemy action at 0600 hrs. and a second partially disabled at the same time.  The third took part in the action throughout the day.
At 0830 hrs. the tank was asked to give support on WEST flank of 4 Troop 1 Commando who were at that time hard pressed.  At 12.30 hrs. the same tank was used to supplement the fire power for (X( Troops counter-attack.  It had one periscope shot away.  At 1330 hrs. the tank withdrew to replenish ammunition and POL returning at 1430 hrs.  It continued to fire ME effectively with three bursts on NORTH end of BRIGHTON.  Shells were ranged to burst 50 yards in front of 4 Troops 1 Commando position.  This was undoubtedly extremely effective in countering Jap infiltration on the left flank.
4    Aircraft:    These were not used in direct support until the culminating point of the battle when a heavy strike was made by Thunderbolts at 1700 hrs on FINGER.  This caused heavy casualties among the retiring enemy.
5    Navy:    At 0700?hrs. 1 LCA with 13 Brens went up THAMES CHAUNG to clear the banks.  This was followed by an M.L. at about 1030 hrs. which opened fire on fingers and the banks of the chaung.

APPENDIX 5

JAPANESE DECEPTIONS
Many of the usual tricks of the enemy were employed, such as shouting names of officers and senior NCOs.  Further to these during the day were:
(a)    Shouts of 'withdraw Commandos' and 'cease fire'.
(b)    Six Japanese were seen wearing Green Berets, and one dead Jap was subsequently found wearing a Green Beret.
(c)    Fire crackers were used to give the impression of heavier fire power.
(d)    Cries of 'I am wounded'. 'Help' and 'Come and get me out', etc.

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