Triumph at Imphal-Kohima

How the Indian Army Finally Stopped the Japanese Juggernaut

Raymond A. Callahan

In the spring of 1944, on the eastern front of India near the Burmese border, the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Japanese Army suffered the worst defeat in its history at the hands of Lieutenant General William Slim’s British XIV Army, most of whose units were drawn from the little-esteemed Indian Army. Triumph at Imphal-Kohima tells the largely unknown story of how an army that Winston Churchill had once dismissed as “a welter of lassitude and inefficiency” came to achieve such an unlikely, unprecedented, and critical victory for the Allied forces in World War II.

Long the British Empire’s strategic reserve, the Indian Army had been comprehensively defeated in Malaya and Burma in 1941–1943. Military historian Raymond Callahan chronicles the remarkable exercise in institutional transformation that remade the British Indian forces to reverse those losses. With the invaluable help of the American DC-3 on the Burma front, Slim overhauled the British XIV Army with the Imperial Japanese Army's strategic weaknesses in mind; namely, an utter disregard for logistics and an unrelenting addiction to the attack. Callahan shows how, on an enormous battlefield—over five hundred miles from north to south—the XIV Army surmounted the challenges of terrain, disease, wretched communication, and climate to draw the Imperial forces under Lieutenant General Mutaguchi Renya ever deeper into ever stronger British defensive arrays until the Japanese Army’s vaunted offensive aggression finally exhausted itself.

“An astonishingly good and much-needed book, written by a master in his field who is also blessed with the rare skill of brevity. Callahan has poured a lifetime of research about the Indian Army and the tumultuous events of the war in the Far East between 1941 and 1942 into a brief but remarkably rich tome. Placing the campaigns in Burma and India into long historic context Callahan makes easily understandable the essence of the British-run Indian Army, and piece by logical piece explains the causes of its failures in 1942–3, together with the reasons for its astonishing success at Imphal-Kohima in 1944. As Callahan makes clear, only the Red Army from 1943 was able to make the astonishing transformation effected by the Indian Army in 1943–4. The book is lively and beautifully written and his judgments about the Japanese, British, and American commanders are sound. It is written both for historians and a much wider readership.”

—Robert Lyman, author of Slim, Master of War and Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India, 1944

“This is a gem. While Callahan’s study is remarkable as an analytical narrative, it offers far more to scholars and general readers than the portrayal of a little-known campaign in what generally has been considered an insignificant theater of operations in World War II. Callahan brings to bear a lifetime of scholarship on the history and culture of India to place the complex story of the years leading up to the triumph at Imphal in the context of the waning years of the Raj, the class and status tensions associated with reshaping the Indian Army to meet modern circumstances, the amorphous and often conflicting goals of the Anglo-American coalition over the course of the Pacific War. He also engages the reader via a crisp prose style, thoughtfully chosen anecdotal material, and effective recourse to irony and wry humor. It represents a major contribution to this important dimension of World War II.”

—Theodore A. Wilson, author of The First Summit: Roosevelt and Churchill at Placentia Bay, 1941
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Following this epic battle from build-up to aftermath, this book brings overdue detailed attention to Lieutenant General William Slim’s handling of perhaps the most complex battle any Allied commander fought during World War II—and to the long-belittled British Indian Army that became the magnificent fighting force that triumphed at Imphal-Kohima and went on to reconquer Burma.

About the Author

Raymond Callahan is professor emeritus at the University of Delaware. His many books include The East India Company and Army Reform 1783–1798; Burma, 1942–1945; and, also from Kansas, Churchill and His Generals.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series