The Battle of the Tennis Court was the turning point in the Battle of Kohima in North East India from April 4 – June 22, 1944 which was the turning point of the Burma Campaign.
Earl Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in the theatre, described Kohima as
“ probably one of the greatest battles in history… in effect the Battle of Burma… naked unparalleled heroism… the British/Indian Thermopylae.
In the annals of military history, this great battle of Kohima, is known as The Battle of the Tennis Court, and in this tennis court lie the mortal remains of thousands of Allied soldiers, who could not make it to their homes and to their near and dear ones.”
This battle of wits, courage and dogged determination and of course, sacrifice proved to be the turning point in World War II. By now the Japanese forces stretched their will to fight to the limit as also their administrative machinery. This time it was the turn of the 14th army (comprising mainly Indian troops), to crush the might of the Imperial Japanese, Army, and turn the tide of the war, fighting heroic battles of the Burma Campaign, which led to the defeat and final surrender of Japan.
As It Happened
By April 5 the British had been forced back onto the Kohima ridge. The Kohima ridge consisted of features such as Garrison Hill, Jail Hill, Field Supply Depot (FSD) Hill, and Detail Issue (DIS) Hill; these areas, along with the Deputy Commissioner (DC) Charles Pawsey’s Bungalow, were used as the main lines of defence which was held by 4th Royal West Kents and supporting troops from the Assam Rifles and Assam Regiment.
The Japanese launched a series of attacks into the north-east region of the defences on April 8, and by April 9 the British and Indians there had been forced back out of the DC’s Bungalow to the other side of the tennis court. The other positions came under heavy attack and the perimeter shrunk.
On April 13, the troops defending near the DC’s bungalow and the tennis court came under increasingly heavy artillery and mortar fire, and had to repel frequent infantry assaults. This area was the scene of some of the hardest, closest and grimmest fighting, with grenades being hurled across the tennis court at point-blank range. But on April 14 the Japanese did not launch an attack and on the 15th British troops on Kohima ridge heard that the British 2nd Division was attacking along the Dimapur-Kohima road and had broken through Japanese road blocks.
On the April 17, the Japanese tried one last time to take the ridge. They successfully captured the FSD to the Garrison Hill positions. But on the morning of April 18 British artillery opened up from the west against the Japanese positions, which stopped the Japanese attacks. Elements of the British 2nd Division, 161st Brigade and tanks from XXXIII Corps pushed into the area north-west of Garrison Hill and forced the Japanese from their positions. The road between Dimapur and Kohima had been opened, and the siege was lifted.
The Japanese who had been fighting to capture Kohima did not retreat at once, many of them stayed in the positions which they had captured and fought tenaciously for several more weeks. By the morning of May 13, most of the positions in the Kohima region had been re-taken by the British and Indian forces; a few, among them the DC’s bungalow, were still holding out against the Dorsets and their supporting tanks.
Around May 15 the Japanese 31st Division began to withdraw and fresh British troops from XXXIII Corps began to reinforce and relieve members of the 2nd Division and 33rd and 161st Indian Brigades. The battle of the Tennis Court was over and troops of the British Fourteenth Army began an advance, with the relief of Imphal, which would continue until Burma had been recaptured
As documented by Major Boshell, who commanded ‘B’ Company, 1st Royal Berkshires, in the 6th Infantry Brigade:
“ To begin with I took over an area overlooking the Tennis Court… The lie of the land made impossible to move by day because of Japanese snipers. We were in Kohima for three weeks. We were attacked every single night… They came in waves, it was like a pigeon shoot. Most nights they overran part of the battalion position, so we had to mount counter-attacks… Water was short and restricted to about one pint per man per day. So we stopped shaving. Air supply was the key, but the steep terrain and narrow ridges meant that some of the drops went to the Japs. My company went into Kohima over 100 strong and came out at about 60. ”
When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today”
We would do well to pay homage to these great heroes, who indeed gave us a better and peaceful world today.
Battle of the Tennis Court | Wikipedia
The Battle of Kohima | burmastar.org.uk
Battle of the Tennis Court | WovenSouls