Royal Marines Engineer Commando - Burma
Extract from ADM 202/30 re No 1 (RM) Engineer Commando
3 Troop RM Engineer Commando
Report on Operations at AKYAB, MYEBON & KANGAW
Period 3 Jan – 2 Feb 45
At very short notice, plan being formed overnight, AKYAB Op was begun. 3 Cdo Brigade sailed from location at TEKNAF 2 Jan 45; made initial assault on West Coast AKYAB Island 12.30hrs 3 Jan 45. The Op was a complete dummy run and within a very short time of landing it was found that the enemy had vacated AKYAB Island completely a few days before. Had this not been the case the excellent open beach commanded by the bunkers and M.G. posts would probably have been quite a problem.
Tp tasks were:-
(i) Providing Flamethrower teams for first wave.
(ii) Mine clearance of beach and exits.
(iii) Construction of beach and development of exits.
(iv) Acting as beach party for 3 Cdo Bde and 74 Inf Bde.
3 teams of 1 JNCO and 1 Mne each with Flamethrowers and spares went with assaulting waves at H and reverted to command Tp when no longer required. It proved very difficult and exhausting for them to carry a loaded Lifebuoy as well as their rations at Cdo marching speed for any distance. In subsequent Ops it was arranged for them to move with Cdo HQ`s and be given assistance in carrying thrower until it is actually required.
CC Tp landed at H +15 with recce party of QMSI, draughtsman and MOA for initial recce of beach, erection of mines signs ,laying of tapes etc. 2 NCCs landed for similar purposes at same time at the other end of the beach with Major Aubrey RE 25 Div rep; both parties had specific recces to do under direction of Lt Col Eyre 15 Ind Corps Beach rep.
Main body of Tp landed H + 30 in sections, men pre-loaded with pioneer tools, tapes, signs, mine detectors, and other tools and equipment, to commence work on beach before main bulk of RE and Tp stores arrived. These arrived about H + 40 and beach laterals and exits were laid as minesweepers advanced.
Sommerfeld track and Coir matting and Bamboo pailing were used on sand and road bulldozed through thick scrub out onto the existing cart track. In addition to this work, Tp landed all stores, vehs, and beach personnel of 3 Cdo Bde, and 74 Bde came in a few hrs later. OC Tp joined Main HQ and moved up from beach 2 days later and Bde finally concentrated in the ruins of AKYAB.
Before concentrating AKYAB, a small party was sent there to make a beach entrance ramp from the esplanade for embarkation of Cdo units for the exploration of the BARONGA Islands and PYAUTAW. Bunkers were demolished and timber used to make a decked ramp estimated Class 5. Steel mesh from a nearby hothouse was used in lieu of Sommerfeld on the sand.
Bde billets in AKYAB were searched for possible booby traps but none found. Later on, 2 – 150 kg bombs rigged as demolition charges on the air strip were de-loused by Capt Hawdon, Capt Woodhouse and QMSI Hubbard and carried back in triumph to the midst of Bde HQ where their presence caused great consternation so they were transported with a large red flag on the jeep to 25 Div and presented to the CRE`s department.
After the beach work was completed there was really no Engr work at all. After a short rest preparations were begun for the next Op which was –
On this Op – Tp had the same role as before except Tp was to operate by itself as a beach party. In order to know in exactly which craft everything would be Tp with assistance of GHURKA porters and Ind Pioneers loaded all Bde flights of craft D – 1.
Bde sailed from AKYAB for MYEBON Peninsular p.m 11 Jan 45 and landed on it`s southern tip 12 Jan 45. Tp landed as follows:- OC, QMSI, draughtsmen and MDA initial recce party H+15. Sections carrying tools as before 10mins later, stores and bulldozer, tracking and road making stores were to be landed with Tp reps to supervise at H +45.
The fleet stood into shore under cover of considerable bombing and shelling from aircraft and RIN sloops and under fire from Jap guns and MGs ashore. Beach was known to be defended by a row of tall stakes about 10 inch in diameter about 200yds from high water mark. A gap had been cut through these by COP (COPP) the previous night enabling craft to approach near the beach.
Tp was in LCM`s and came under fire from small island off the tip of the Peninsular as they came in. Unfortunately owing to some hitch No.1 Section`s LCM failed to appear alongside parent sloop and they boarded an ML, thence transferred to an LCP with the Admiral aboard and was nicely peppered scurrying up and down the beach; they then transferred to a LCM from which they landed. The landing was very bad. LCAM grounded just inside the stakes about 200yds from watersedge. Water was chest high with knee deep soft thick mud and consequently with heavy packs and tools the Tp was quite exhausted by the time it struggled ashore.
Beach was mined with two staggered rows of anti-boat mines about 15 yds apart.
Sgt Pirie and a party were immediately set to work to tape personnel exits between explode mines, tape laterally the whole field and then begin detecting and lifting mines, some of whose horns could be seen poking up above the mud and sand. Initial recce inland from this beach was fruitless and useless and it was quickly decided that this beach (CHARLIE) was impossible for landing anything, recce was therefore made on the other side of the tip of the Peninsular and the rocks between the Peninsular and Island (DOG BEACH) for personnel landing. The rocks were impossible for this but a recce revealed a first class firm sand beach on the other side of tip at foot of a ridge, with plenty of trees and plenty of space for all departments of BMA.
This beach (EASY) was separated from CHARLIE, and therefore from paddy fields across which road could be made to join existing track inland, by the southern toe of the ridge mentioned which came down to the sea in a jumbled mass of sharp rocks and large boulders. It was imperative to make a road out of the rocks.
As heavily loaded stores LCM`s could not get within 300 yds of CHARLIE, only tools at Tp disposal were those carried on the men about 3 shovels, 4 picks, and 4 sledge hammers. By breaking large rocks and putting the pieces into crevices and filling in with smaller lumps and a good deal of manual humping and dumping, the road was open in 4 hrs and the first tanks and DUKW`s crossed it by dark. Road was improved the next day when further tools and explosives became available. The making of it was rather important in the campaign. Normal Somerfeld laterals and dump loops were laid and Tp became beach party for 3 Cdo Bde.
Small parties were engaged during the first few days finishing the mines on CHARLIE and marking those in the paddy nearby and sweeping the proposed road inland. As soon as practicable traffic road was bulldozed and some scarlet gorgettes attracted some 37mm shelling on a certain corner but the only blood drawn from OC`s party was from scratches caused by diving into the dense matted undergrowth.
As the advance progressed up the peninsular Tp moved up and was engaged on the road, which was an absolute necessity for getting supplies up and in investigating some mines and demolition equipment, booby traps etc, which were found stored and lying about on captured features.
Bde`s task finished at the Chaung which marks the northern end of the peninsular and it sat for 2 days on the features it occupied; 74 Bde took over the advance and crossed the Chaung at KANTHA Bridge. To assist this advance the Tp was engaged for a day and a half with 93 Fld Coy R.E. for bridging the Chaung for tanks and Tpt. This was done by making a causeway of rolls of Somerfeld with a timber ramp and corduroy road on the approaches on both sides of the mud banks.
Tp came under considerable sniper fire and shelling from overlooking features while working and gained the mysterious name of the Bde`s “Glamour Boy's ” but were in far greater danger from the numerous shorts from 74 Bde`s mortars and the tank Brownings. The day after this was finished we returned to the beach and after a few days rest began gathering stores and loading for the next operation which was -
Bde sailed for KANGAW 21 Jan 45 by way of DIANGBON Chaung. Tp sailed No. 1 Section in LCT with stores, No. 2 Section in LCM with stores and three recce parties with leading flight. There were three possible beaches, the bank of the DAINGBON Chaung between two smaller Chaungs and places on these two Chaungs that ran inland from the DIANGBON Chaung forming three sides of a rectangle with a narrow bottleneck of land, half-way along it`s length between the two Chaungs.
OC, QMSI, and MOA, were responsible for the southern Chaung (FOX); Beach Comd (Maj Hunter 41 Beach Op) and Sgt Pirie the Diangbon (GEORGE) A/Beach Comd, and Beach Master (RIN) the northern chaung (ITEM) Tp and stores were to follow at H+60 or lie off until called in.
GEORGE beach which Inf waves landed consisted of a soft mud bank about 4 ft high almost vertical with a strip of mangrove swamp and thick undergrowth about 15 yds wide immediately behind it. Further inland it was open thin scrub but the ground was covered with the spikes of mangrove roots about 9inches high and too close to put a foot between them. The ground was also very marshy with a maze of stream beds which were about a foot or more of soft thick mud; the whole area was entirely saturated and had been underwater 2 days before when the Bde Comd made his recce. GEORGE was therefore no use until, if ever, it dried out.
Recce of FOX was therefore made about a mile inland and FOX was found to be suitable. A bend in the chaung provided a fairly firm bank clear of undergrowth which gave onto rather firmer paddy suitable for a road after a few days of drying out.
Recce of ITEM had been done and recce party had walked through village of TAUNGMWS before returning and found a hard sand beach near there. All recce parties eagerly went on a visit to this but encountered a Jap MG half way there which had not been in position before, and so ITEM had to be excluded from further investigations.
No vehs or stores could be landed that day as it was near dark and Tp remained afloat that night landing next day.Tp then constructed FOX beach by ramping down the bank and laying Somerfeld and Coir, laid corduroy and matting road for the guns to land at GEORGE and dug ammo dump during the next 2 days. As advance proceeded past Hill 170, Milford and Pinner Tp built road through rocks and wet ground round 170 again attracting, the appearance of a bulldozer and men with shovels, the attentions of 75mm and 105mm guns.
By night the Japanese dragged guns close up to Pinner, took captured ammo from the dumps at the foot of then feature and fired point blank into 44 who were sitting on top of the feature. Next day Tp disposed of these shell dumps in chaungs and laid booby traps on the approaches to where the dumps had been. Homemade Bangalores and Grenades on trip wires were used and 5 Japs were killed the first night and two more by other traps laid next day and next night.
General work on the beach – re-building etc went on meanwhile, and also disposing of U/X shells. Shelling was continuous and heavy, 800 shells coming over on one day and about 400 being the normal amount. Mne Wilson was hit the first day and evacuated, wounded in the leg.
53 Bde came in and gradually took over the advance from Pinner. Tp helped them by making a stretcher bearer path from out of a large paddy bung across a tidal marsh and bridging chaung at end of it. This was done undercover of some trees on the enemy side of Pinner about 500yds from the Jap; Tp worked very silently for once. The footbridge was made of large duckboards made from the timber of the village huts supported on piers of 3” mortar Ammo boxes filled with mud and wired and staked together.
At dawn on 31 Jan 45 there was a large counter-attack on Hill 170 which eventually after 24 hrs fighting resulted in 370 Jap dead. Tp was in an unenviable position by itself some 800 yds away on the beach-head, but as it was not attacked the enemy after 10 days could still not have known where our beach-head was. The Tp came out that afternoon and Bde concentrated MYEBON for a rest period.
Sgt Alexander Beverley Pirie MM
On board HMS Cumberland at Wei Hei Wei. Photo courtesy of his son Bill Pirie [Commando Veterans Org]
CH/X/1178 Sgt Alexander Beverley Pirie No 3 RM Engineer Commando Recommendation for the Military Medal In Burma on 12 Jan.'45 Sgt Pirie was engaged in mine clearing operations on the landing beach at Myebon Peninsula. Assisted by two NCOs he cleared fields of mines of a type hitherto unencountered in this theatre of war and unknown to them, with great coolness, devotion to duty, and disregard for his own personal safety. By his efforts many casualties were undoubtedly averted. Sources London Gazette 37079, page 2523. National Archives file WO373/98/586.
Extracts from: Commando Veterans Org
A Brief History of 44 Royal Marine Commando at The Battle of Hill 170
Further reading: Combined Operations - Burma