I’m half way through Volume 2 of The War in the West, but this year I’ve also been working on my first book about the Second World War in Burma, and specifically, the Defence of the Admin Box in the Arakan in February 1944.
Back in February 1944, a rag-taggle collection of clerks, drivers, doctors, muleteers, and other base troops, stiffened by a few dogged Yorkshiremen and a handful of tank crews managed to hold out against some of the finest infantry in the Japanese Army, and then defeat them in what was one of the most astonishing battles of the Second World War.
The Defence of the Admin Box, fought amongst the paddy fields and jungle of Northern Arakan over a fifteen-day period, turned the battle for Burma. Not only was it the first decisive victory for British troops against the Japanese, more significantly, it demonstrated how the Japanese could be defeated. The lessons learned in this tiny and otherwise insignificant corner of the Far East, set up the campaign in Burma that would follow, as General Slim’s Fourteenth Army finally turned defeat into victory.
It is an amazing and thrilling story: more gripping than that of Rorke’s Drift, with a more justifiable enemy, and with every bit as many moments of extreme heroism. In this fifteen-day battle of terrifying violence, there was incredible human drama: bloody-hand-to-hand fighting, daring airborne drops, valiant attempts to break the siege, increasingly desperate and suicidal charges by the Japanese, repeated breakthroughs that needed counter-attacking, tragedy, black humour and the ultimate triumph of the defenders.
For more than seventy years the heroic defence of the Admin Box has remained a largely forgotten episode, so it’s been really interesting to research. It’s going to be called ‘Cornered Tigers’ and is due to be published in the UK next February (2016).