Thursday, June 4, 2020

Suzuki & Sawamoto: Burma's Founding Fathers (4)

On 1 February 1941, the Minami Kikan was brought to life as joint Army-Navy venture, under Colonel Suzuki Keiji. Its chief aim was to cut the Burma route supplying Chunking; an ancillary assignment was to aid Burmese independence.

Army and Navy members met several times during February to discuss plans and tactics. The basic plan was to bring thirty Thakhin Party members out of Burma, train them, supply them with arms and ammunition, and smuggle them back into Burma, where they would instigate anti-British military action. 

Southern Burma would be occupied by guerrilla forces and an independent government would be created. There is some questions as to whether IGHQ approved the last point.

Passports were arranged under false names for Aung San and Hla Myaing, who were provided with false teeth as part of their disguise. Sugii was instructed to arrange with the Daido Steamship Company for smuggling Aung San into Burma by ship and was to accompany him. Sugii was also to take charge of smuggling other members out of Burma and transporting them to their training camp on Hainan Island.

Communications with IGHQ were to be through Capt. Ozeki of Army General Staff Headquarters and Commander Hidaka of Naval Headquarters. Navy Captain Ono in the Consulate General in Rangoon was to be in charge of liaison with Thakhin Party members and to assist in their exodus from Burma. Reports were to be filed with IGHQ or with Col. Tamura in Bangkok.

Aung San with Sugii and Hla Myaing with Mizutani were then smuggled back to Burma where they collected colleagues for the return voyage to Japan. In this way, twenty-nine Thakhin Party members reached Tokyo, where a Burmese student joined them to bring the number to thirty, the original "Thirty Comrades". Once the thirty was assembled in Japan, they were given a little preliminary training and briefing and visited the major national shrines.

The "thirty comrades" were sent from Tokyo to a special training camp near the Naval Training Center at Samah, Hainan Island. The Navy provided the center, the supplies, arms and ammunition. The Army sent instructors, to carry out the training. The training was under the direction of Captain Kawashima Takenobu, graduate off the Military Academy and Nakano Gakko. The instructors wore Navy uniforms as a disguise, but regular Navy officers and local farmers were forbidden to enter the training camp.

The basic training, which began in May with 18 Burmans, was originally scheduled as one-month crash training program. But the program was prolonged, and more Burmans were brought from Tokyo in June. The second group was given accelerated training, including night drills, in order to catch up with first group. The language of communication between Japanese officers and Burmese trainees was broken English.

This was the first exposure to discipline of any kind to thirty, and they were exhausted and demoralised at first by the rigors of Japanese-style military discipline. Still the strong political motivation of the Thakhins led them to accept the stricture of training as a discipline to equip them for independence.

In addition to military skills and tactics, they carried out war games and were given lectures to strengthen their spirit of self-sacrifice. All training was done with loaded weapons, and special maneuvers were used to develop personal courage. Training included actual combat techniques with captured weapons, including rifles, machine guns, hand grenades and howitzers.

The Burmans were divided into three groups, with a different training emphasis in each. The first group was given regular training in command of soldiers. The second group was given special training in guerrilla tactics and espionage, while the third group was specially trained as leaders of the independence movement by Captain Kawashima personally. This latter group included Aung San and Ne Win.

Kawashima was involved in all stages of the training of BIA from Hainan, Taiwan, and the Mingaladon Officers School to the final training of sixty Burmans at the Military Academy in Japan. Kawashima reports no resistance against the rigors of the training regimen, since all were eager to prepare themselves for the liberation of Burma.

In July, scheduled date for the end of the training program, the thirty expected to be sent back to Burma. They awaited orders. None came. The delay was caused by changes in the international situations and discussions in Tokyo about Japan's predicament. But the Burmans in their jungle training camp knew nothing of this., and they grew increasingly restive and suspicion of Japan as time passed.

Suzuki & Sawamoto: Founding Fathers of Modern Burma (5)