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First Burma Campaign (Hardback)

The First Ever Account of the Japanese Conquest of 1942

WWII Frontline Books Japan & the Pacific Front Frontline: WWII Military

By Col E C V Foucar
Frontline Books
Pages: 384
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526783219
Published: 18th August 2020

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Shortly after the British and Indian forces had withdrawn from Burma in the face of the Japanese onslaught in 1942, Colonel E.C.V. Foucar MC was instructed to undertake a ‘special duty’, namely seek out documentary material and information from the various officers involved in the First Burma Campaign. The final element of Foucar’s task was to write an account of the fighting, based on these many eyewitness accounts, for the Director of Military Training.

This fascinating narrative sets out the challenging geographical, climatic and political conditions the British were faced with in Burma as war became an increasing possibility throughout 1940 and 1941, before turning its attention to the dramatic events when the Japanese launched their ground assault on the country in January 1942.

There followed the ‘Disaster’ at Sittang Bridge, the fateful evacuation of Rangoon, and the march to the River Irrawaddy in an attempt to try and secure the north of Burma and its oilfields. But the loss of Rangoon meant the army was cut off from its supply base and the troops faced starving to death. With the Japanese closing in on the beleaguered British force, the decision was taken to abandon Burma and try to reach India. ‘The odds were we might escape either the Japanese, the failure of our supplies, or the monsoon, but our chances of avoiding all three were slender,’ declared General Alexander. His commander, General Wavell, wrote that, ‘operations were now a race with the weather as with the Japanese and as much a fight against nature as against the enemy’.

Along nothing more than rough country tracks up rugged hills and across rickety bridges constructed only of brushwood or bamboo the ragged, disease-ridden troops battled to reach India just as the monsoons broke. This, one of the most dramatic tales of the Second World War, was first described in detail by Colonel Foucar just after the events described and is now available for all to read.

This is a fascinating and detailed account of a little recognised episode from the Second World War - the attempt by the British, along with Gurhka and Chinese forces - to hold the front in Burma and to repel the Japanese attempt to progress into India. Shortly after the British and Indian forces had withdrawn from Burma in the face of the Japanese onslaught in 1942, Colonel E.C.V. Foucar MC was instructed to undertake a ‘special duty’, namely seek out documentary material and information from the various officers involved in the First Burma Campaign.

The campaign was in some ways a failure, as the troops had to withdraw, leaving the Japanese in control. They were hampered by poor supply chains, horrific jungle conditions, some antagonism or lack of c0-operation from the Burmese and struggles between the commanders, especially over who should command the combined forces. However, it did delay the Japanese, holding them in Burma until the monsoon, allowing India time to prepare its defence.

That the men fought bravely was not denied. However, Colonel Foucar does seem to see the events purely from the view of the British officer. He is quite disparaging on occasions about the efforts for the Gurkhas, Indians, Chinese and other natives. He also only records officers as individuals, the rest were just 'the men', and while he credits them with achievements and effort, he does not see them as individuals. However, he was writing as a contemporary, in the accepted style and mindset of that time.

NetGalley, Sue Andrews

This is a interesting book. Having never heard about this forgotten battle, i was Intrigued to know more. This book extensively explains all the details during and after the battle. It also, prior to the battle details, gives you a good introduction to Burma as a country. Intensive at time, but worth the read for any history buffs.

NetGalley, Kamila Bouvier

A detailed historical account which gives a glimpse of some of the factors and consequences of the conflict between the Japanese and British in Burma in 1942.

NetGalley, Rebecca Kearon-Wiles

About Col E C V Foucar

Born in 1894, during the First World War EMILE CHARLES VICTOR FOUCAR was serving in the London Regiment as a Second Lieutenant when he was awarded the Military Cross, this being announced in The London Gazette on 26 September 1917. After the war, Foucar returned to Burma where he as a lawyer based in Rangoon; he was the fourth generation of his family living in the country. Rejoining the Army in the Second World War, by 1942 had risen to the rank of Colonel. In October that year, he was appointed to a General Staff post for the purpose of assembling the records and writing a narrative of the First Burma Campaign.

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