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OPERATION BEAN, Arakan Coast, Burma, 23rd November 1944



Background

In late October 1944 3 Commando Brigade concentrated at Teknaf which lies on the Bay of Bengal coastline in today’s Bangladesh, near the border with Burma (today called Myanmar).  The Brigade was positioned there ready for an amphibious assault further south on the Myebon Peninsula east of Akyab (today named Sittwe).  South-east of Teknaf the 74th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 25th Indian Division was facing the Japanese on the Arakan coast.

74th Indian Infantry Brigade Headquarters needed to withdraw units from the line in order to train them for forthcoming operations down the coast, and 3 Commando Brigade offered to take over some of the Indian forward positions whilst the training took place in a rear area.  This offer was welcomed and for three weeks during November the Commando Brigade held a patrol base at West Chiradan.  As the India/Pakistan Official History states: “Under the command of 74th Indian Infantry Brigade the Commandos did some extremely good patrolling and had to their credit the first Japanese prisoner of war taken by 25th Indian Division”.

Above: Map showing Chiradan and Hinthaya



OPERATION BEAN – the participants

The Commando Brigade mounted OPERATION BEAN over the 22nd and 23rd November and allocated a total of 22 officers and 293 men from Nos. 1 and 5 Commandos.  The breakdown from these two units was:

1 Commando: Commando HQ, 3 and 6 Troops complete, one section of 4 Troop and one Medium Machine Gun detachment of 2 Troop.

5 Commando:  4 Troop complete and one mortar detachment of 6 Troop.

Supporting units were ‘W’ Battery of 8th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, and ‘V’ Force.  The gunners provided Forward Observation Parties to accompany the Commandos on the ground, whilst the guns were positioned safely to the rear.  ‘V’ Force, a covert unit, provided one officer and 10 local scouts. 

The enemy troops in the area were a brigade sized force known as the Sakura Detachment, named after its commander Major General T. Sakurai, supported by groups of renegade former Indian Army soldiers commonly referred to as ‘Jiffs’ (Japanese-Indian Fifth Column). Most of these Indians had been taken prisoner in Malaya or Singapore and for a variety of reasons they had elected to serve on the Japanese side in a force titled the Indian National Army. 




OPERATION BEAN – the fighting

At 1730 hours on 22nd November the OP BEAN group moved south-eastwards towards the enemy positions.  Headquarters 1 Commando split the force into three groups each with different objectives.  This narrative follows the activities of 3 Troop under the command of Captain John Garner-Jones, Welch Regiment, whose objective was a Japanese-defended village named Hinthaya, and whose mission was to bring back a prisoner.

Doubtless with the help of ‘V’ force guides, 3 Troop, accompanied by the gunner observation party and the Medium Machine Gun detachment, moved through the dark jungle unchallenged and waded across a river named the Ton Chaung.  On the far bank a defensive perimeter was established for the remainder of the night.  Thirty minutes before dawn 3 Troop moved and positioned itself 500 yards east of Hinthaya.  At first light the gunner Forward Observation Officer brought accurate artillery fire down on the enemy location and the Medium Machine Guns joined in.  Two ‘Jiffs’ were seen to run out of the village. 

At 0715 hours John Garner-Jones, leaving his wireless and 2-inch mortar with Nos. 1 and 3 Sections, led his Troop Headquarters and No. 2 Section in a spirited attack on the north end of Hinthaya, clearing it of enemy as far as a track crossing the village.  Beyond the track enemy opposition stiffened and the remainder of the Troop was called forward and deployed.  Covered by No. 1 Section, No. 3 Section advanced and Private Leslie Cyril Olver, The Buffs, enthusiastically and impetuously got ahead of the remainder of his sub-section which was moving in extended order.  Leslie Olver saw a group of up to a dozen Japanese on his left and fired at them with his Tommy Gun (Thompson submachine gun), hitting one who appeared to be an officer; the other Japanese dragged the wounded man under cover.  Olver’s immediate commander, Corporal Jenkins, called for the extended line to be straightened and as he turned to comply Leslie Olver’s magazine dropped off his gun. 

At the same moment he spotted a V-shaped trench 30 yards away containing four enemy; instinctively Leslie Olver immediately lobbed a grenade into the trench, and the resulting explosion gave him time to re-load his gun.  Then, supported by fire from his sub-section, he fired 16 rounds into the trench.  A ‘Jiff’ Sikh was shot in the stomach and two Japanese were hit in their backs, a fourth Japanese was unwounded but stunned.  Immediately seizing this opportunity, Sergeant James Crowe, Seaforth Highlanders, dashed forward and pulled a Japanese out of the trench but saw that this man was dying.  Noticing the stunned Japanese soldier in the trench, James Crowe and two of his men pulled this enemy soldier out and restrained the man to prevent him from committing suicide.  No. 3 Troop had taken its prisoner.

But the task now facing John Garner-Jones was to get the prisoner back alive and extract his troop from what was now a fierce fight.  For the next 30 to 40 minutes Garner-Jones deployed his men and machine guns to fight against enemy trenches and bunkers, Japanese snipers tied into tree tops, and against longer-range light machine gun and sniper fire that was trying to kill the prisoner.  These longer-range snipers were accurate and were probably ‘Jiffs’ as the Indians were better marksmen than the Japanese.  A group of Japanese attempted to outflank the Commandos on their left, but a sub-section positioned there by Garner-Jones stopped this enemy move.  Meanwhile the prisoner, a strong man, was struggling violently and had to be gagged to stop his shouts; finally he was trussed and carried off the battlefield.  No. 1 Commando Headquarters then gave 3 Troop the order to withdraw, and John Garner-Jones fought a withdrawal action back over the Ton Chaung; the Medium Machine Guns being used effectively against the Japanese tree-snipers.  Doubtless the ammunition expended during the fighting, particularly by the Medium Machine Gun detachment, led to lighter loads and an easier march back except for the unfortunates carrying the prisoner.
Above: Thompson submachine guns



OPERATION BEAN – other tasks and withdrawal

Whilst 3 Troop had been fighting its private battle at Hinthaya two other troops had been sent on different tasks.  No. 6 Troop reconnoitred other enemy positions and then covered 3 Troop’s withdrawal from the north.  No. 4 Troop of 5 Commando, again probably using ‘V’ Force guides, made a very slow and difficult night march to a village named Kaingyi along a pig track in dense jungle where the mud was two or more feet deep.  The Troop needed three hours to cover one mile of track.  When Kaingyi could be observed the estimated enemy defences near there were fired upon for an hour by the Forward Observation Officer with the Troop; the Troop then withdrew to No. 1 Commando Headquarters location.

When the OPERATION BEAN force was assembled back at 1 Commando HQ a head-count established that no casualties had been suffered.  One enemy prisoner had been taken, and verified enemy casualties were 6 killed and eight wounded, including an officer; there was a strong possibility that 6 other enemy soldiers had been hit.  The force then withdrew on foot and reached its base by noon.  The prisoner provided useful information, as in fact did most of the few Japanese captured in the campaign once they realised that they were not going to be killed.  (However it has to be said that in less well-disciplined British units Japanese and sometimes ‘Jiff’ prisoners did not stay alive very long.)


Citations for the three awards made to 1 Commando personnel for gallant conduct displayed on OPERATION BEAN

A.    MILITARY MEDAL to 6286825 Private Leslie Cyril OLVER. At HINTHAYA, ARAKAN on 23 November ‘44 this young soldier, in action for the first time, in his excitement got ahead of his sub-section.  A party of some ten Japanese crossed his front.  He engaged them with his TMC, wounding their leader who was an officer.  He then saw an enemy section post about 30 yards to his left manned by four men.  He threw a grenade at them, stunning one, and then killed the other three with his TMC.  This enabled his sub-section to capture a prisoner, who was not much hurt and who gave most valuable information. His skill-at-arms and his dash were a magnificent example to the men of the sub-section.  

B.   MILITARY MEDAL to 313358 Corporal (Acting Lance Sergeant) James CROWE. At HINTHAYA on 23 Nov 44 L/Sgt CROWE was commanding a sub-section in action for the first time in an attack on strongly held enemy positions.  His tasks were to secure identifications and to take a prisoner.  When a hand grenade was thrown into an enemy trench and appeared to have disabled the occupants, this NCO rushed forward and pulled out one Japanese who died almost immediately.  Another had been temporarily stunned.  L/Sgt CROWE tackled him and after a hard struggle secured him with the aid of two of his men, preventing him from committing suicide.  During this engagement he was under constant fire from enemy machine guns and well concealed snipers.  His coolness and determination in carrying out his tasks were an inspiring example to his sub-section and resulted in the capturing of a prisoner, who was in excellent physical condition and who has given valuable information.  

C.  MILITARY CROSS to 92411 Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) John GARNER-JONES On the night 22/23 November this officer by a skilful night march crossed the TON CHAUNG and surrounded a Japanese platoon in HINTHAYA.  He led his troop to the assault at dawn, achieving complete surprise.  He drove the enemy from strong bunker positions.  His Troop killed six, wounded eight and took one live Jap prisoner.  Captain GARNER-JONES himself accounted for several of the enemy.  During this action he was everywhere exposing himself without the least regard for personal danger.  He inspired his men by his courage and by his sound tactics.  After this success he withdrew his men without loss being himself the last to leave.  


SOURCES:

Indian/Pakistan Official History. The Arakan Operations 1942-45 edited by Bisheshwar Prasad (Pentagon Press, New Delhi, reprinted in 2012).
British Official History. The War Against Japan. Volume IV. Edited by Major General S. Woodburn Kirby. (A reprinted version is available in paperback from Naval & Military Press).
The Forgotten Army by Peter Ward Fay. (University of Michigan Press 1996).  The best book on the Indian National Army.
Citations from The National Archives.
Documents displayed on the CVA website.

 
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