Report of Engineer Major Ishikawa Hiroshi on the operations at Appam

Lt-Col Tamayama assigned me the honour of supporting Guards-Major Yatsuda’s company in its assault on the British positions around Appam with the mission of pinning and destroying them.  However my command consisted of only the Company HQ and a two gun artillery platoon and an MG platoon.  Major Yatsuda’s company had also unfortunately been reduced by a squad in each platoon:  guarding enemy prisoners we assume [actually Martin had not realised he had four squads per platoon as he had not received the briefings!].

The Guards’ 1st Platoon deployed on the left in the jungle and the 3rd platoon and the Guards MG platoon were on the right, with 2nd platoon in the open astride the road as we advanced on the first ridge in front of Appam.  Scouts [dummy blinds] were sent wide on the left and right.  

We quickly identified the first enemy positions which were on the ridge dug in and wired with a barricade across the road and – as we were to discover – mines in front of the position.  The 2nd platoon was hit by enemy rifle fire and some artillery shells – losing their commander in the process - but the MG platoon managed to suppress much of the enemy small arms fire.  Meanwhile the 1st and 3rd platoon worked forward to flank the enemy position and 1st platoon successfully pinned and then annihilated the section of misguided Gurkhas on the left of the line.  Further close combat saw the rest of the Gurkha platoon on that flank eliminated [3 rounds of close combat].  However a similar attempt by 3rd platoon on the left was much less successful, its commander being killed and they were only rallied by the actions of Major Yatsuda.  The enemy used the respite to retreat a section down the far side of the ridge to the village. Their one remaining section on the ridge was destroyed by concentrated fire from the MG platoon which had now moved up. 

The clearance of the first ridge allowed my engineers to advance to clear the road and to bring forward the truck mounted MG platoon and the guns.

Thus far the day had gone well but this changed with the arrival of devilish repeated salvos of artillery shells on the jungle on the right of the ridge we had just taken.  Hampered in evading the barrages by thick jungle, 3rd platoon and the Guards MG platoon were slowly chewed up by repeated bombardment and few survived (although a lone MG and Sgt Major Kawakami continued to give the enemy trouble for a while).  In addition a British howitzer position was discovered on the face of the ridge beyond Appam and this began to cause casualties on visible elements of 1st and 2nd platoons which had become separated – one section vainly trying to attack the village in the open.

The main body of 1st platoon, seeking to outflank Appam, found a second British line of entrenchments and were destroyed at close range.  More enemy troops became visible on the right of the second ridge.  Seeking to move the assault forward, Major Yatsuda led his HQ to destroy the enemy howitzer and in the finest traditions of bushido took the entrenchment at the second attempt.  Unfortunately the gallant Major was killed by enemy infantry shortly thereafter who later retook the position: these Gurkhas seem better troops and better armed than we had supposed the British to be.   A welcome appearance by our air force was short-lived and not very effective.

Meanwhile I had cleared the road of mines and the barricade and deployed my few engineers and the MMG's in the enemy trenches on the first ridge. Having disposed of our forces on the right the British guns began to play on their old positions causing us a steady drain of casualties.  Our guns finally replied - Sgt Major Ohara proved slow to move forward to spot - but were not very effective against the second line trenches.

While we had been sent a single squad from battalion HQ who got lost in the jungle, Lt Col Tamayama now sent Captain Suzuki’s 1st platoon of Ichi Company to us with orders to exploit the situation using our transport vehicles and seize the enemy trenches.  Captain Suzuki bravely attempted to do this but the mission was frustrated by the enemy’s guns knocking out most of his trucks and only the Captain’s truck made it to and through Appam to attack the enemy on the second ridge.  He and his squad leapt out to assault the enemy but the Gurkhas were too well entrenched and he and his men were quickly cut down. 

With that our operations halted and we decided to consolidate.  I was the only officer of the Imperial Army alive on the field and of the Guards Company barely ten men were left in the fight.  I have the honour to report we have caused the enemy severe losses but their entrenchments and well supplied artillery proved too great a barrier to a swift advance.  However our mission to pin the enemy has been successful.

Quoted in Major Ishikawa’s memoirs loosely translated as ‘Mined in Malaya and Bunkered off in Burma ’, published by Hit or Miss Press 1969.          

Ed Sturges