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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Arakan Offensive

December 1942 to May 1943

Theatre: South East Asia
Area: Southern Burma
Players: Allies: 14th Indian Division; 26th Indian Division. Japan: 15th Army.
Outcome: The British offensive at Arakan proved a disaster after they were outflanked by greater numbers of Japanese troops.

Following the British retreat from Burma in early 1942, General Archibald Wavell decided on a limited offensive to recapture the Arakan coastal area of south west Burma. This would involve a 160km (100 miles) advance down the Mayu Peninsula, coupled with a seaborne assault on the airfields on Aykab Island. If the Allied air forces could be re-established there, they could cover all of north and central Burma.

The seaborne offensive was dropped, but Wavell decided to proceed with the overland advance. The 14th Indian Division set off in December 1942 but moved so slowly that the Japanese were able to send in reinforcements and halt the advance by the end of January.

Further Japanese reinforcements arrived in February and they attacked the rear of the 14th Division. By 18 March they had outflanked the Allied forces, causing them to retreat.

The 14th Division was replaced by the 26th, but the Japanese counter-attack continued over the Mayu, and by early April it had reached the coast at Indin. The Japanese then turned north, aiming to capture the Maungdaw-Buthidaung line by May, when the monsoon season began. This would hinder any planned British offensives in the next dry season.

On 14 April, General William Slim took command of the Allied forces and was shocked by the toll taken by months of malaria and costly assaults on Japanese positions. He wanted to hold the Maungdaw-Buthidaung line, but a Japanese attack drove the British from Buthidaung on the night of 6 May.

The threat of being outflanked also led to the abandonment of Maungdaw. The imminent rains prevented the Japanese from pursuing the British in retreat, but the Arakan offensive proved an utter failure in every respect.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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