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Liberation of Rangoon - Operation Dracula

Unit/ Formation: 48 Cdo RM

Location: Burma

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1945

Date/s: 2nd May 1945

The invasion of Rangoon was given the codename Operation Dracula. The importance of its success is evident by the number and range of troops deployed. Included in the order of battle was the 26th Indian Division and the 2nd British Division, each comprising approximately 20,000 troops including armoured and artillery units along with the full complement of engineers, signals and medical units. The armoured complement alone consisted of 50 Stuart, Valentine and Sherman tanks. Leading the assault would be 5,000 paratroopers of the Gurkha Parachute Battalion. As many as 201 ships including battleships and aircraft carriers would take part.

The docks at Rangoon / Yangon shattered by allied bombing, Burma Campaign, 1945

Overhead, 451 aircraft from 224 Group RAF and USAAF squadrons would provide air cover.

Although meticulously planned, by the time troops arrived at Rangoon on May 1, 1945 the majority of the occupying Japanese had evacuated. Although the landings were largely unopposed, Dracula was an essential component of the plan to remove all Japanese from Burma. More importantly, the experience that it provided would prove invaluable for the future amphibious operations planned against the Japanese.

Tokyo would surrender within three months, had the fighting not ended in August of 1945, the lessons and experiences of Dracula the last Amphibious Operation of the war would most certainly have been used in future combined operations.

A Personal Account:

During the Burma Campaign we were still the 48th Royal Marines Commando — the same one that had been formed for D-Day.

We went to Burma via India. We were based near Madras and were taken across the Indian Ocean to Burma on big landing craft — about 5000 tons. Then we transferred to smaller ships like tugs to go ashore.

Our task in Burma was to advance down the Burma Peninsula and secure the suitable bays where supplies could be landed. This was to support the Chindits and the 14th Army, under General Slim. We didn’t go inland.

Our job involved killing or capturing any Japanese within the vicinity. We didn’t get a great deal of close fighting. Most of the Japanese had fled inland and so we had to deal mainly with small units left behind, including snipers. [That was our main trouble].

There were suitable bays about every 20 miles. Supply ships came in offshore. Stores were ferried ashore in landing craft and given to the army. We didn’t look after the stores. I believe the Burmese did that. We had to secure the area.

I didn’t get near enough to a Japanese for hand to hand fighting. I shot snipers from about 200 yards. The Japanese had a habit of digging themselves in. You had to rout them out — like pheasants. We had bazookas and grenades and that sort of thing to do it.

The Japanese never gave up. It was a disgrace to give up. They are nasty fighters — up to every trick in the book.

It took about 4 months to get to Rangoon going down the coast of the Burma Peninsula. It was 2nd May 1945 when we liberated Rangoon. We were the first ashore. In my Unit the people who did it were a force of 50 marines under the command of a major.

We still had to kill snipers — stragglers — in Rangoon, but there was not a lot of work. Well, when we got to the main street in the centre of Rangoon it looked from a distance as though the whole street was covered in confetti.

When we got right up there we picked up these pieces of paper. They were £100 Indian bank notes! There were 50 of us in the squad — so we filled our kit bags with these notes. We all landed up with £50,000 each!

So we thought that when we got back to India we would change them into English money. We thought that would be a nice nest egg for after the war!

We did our job in Rangoon and then returned to our base in Madras, with our notes…….A few weeks later we went into the main bank in Madras and asked to see the bank manager. Eventually he turned up. “We’ve got these notes from Rangoon. Could you please change them for English money.”

He said, “I’ll do all I can to help you”. We thought we were onto a good thing!

We got a few of the notes out and gave them to the manager of the bank. He scrutinised them for a few minutes. Then he said, “Sorry, lads, but these bank notes are signed by the wrong Governor of the Bank of India.” [Apparently the bank notes are signed by a different Governor each year!] So that was the end of our little nest egg.

From Madras we were moved to a camp on the southern tip of India. Just before we got to the base the skipper of the boat ran it aground and we had to swim for our lives.

After a couple of months the Atom Bomb was dropped. So losing our money and swimming for our lives was not a very happy way to end the war!

Then we went to Cochin and from there we went to Bombay to get the troop ship to go to England to be demobbed.

Freddie Mills the boxer was on the same boat going for demob. He used to go up first to get his meals. No one stopped him! He trained every day on the ship’s deck and we used to go and watch him. Louis Pengelly Phillips Read More/ Web Link: BBC

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