Part II: BURMA ROAD CUT: MARCH TO YUNNAN
Japan’s march into Burma got underway January 16th, one week after Japan’s attack on Malaya. Capturing Singapore in less than three months the invasion of Burma happened at a similar lightning pace.
Japan’s aims in occupying Burma were:
- to defeat British and Indian Imperial troops and any Chinese support force in Burma and protect the entire SE Asian flank from western allied threat;
- to sever the last line of support for Chiang Kai-Shek’s republican army in mainland China. Burma when occupied would block all allied supplies reaching Chinese forces by either land or sea, and;
- to disrupt the allied war effort by fostering Burmese and Indian national independence movements.
Within four months of the start of the battle Japanese troops forced a British withdrawal from Rangoon 800 kilometres up the mid-section of Burma back towards the Chinese and Indian borders. Advancing along two central axis roughly along the Irrawaddy River and the central Burma plain, Japan defeated the Anglo-Indian Burmacorps and elements of two Chinese support Armies. The Upper Burma cities of Lashio fell on April 29. Mandalay fell on May 01st. By the end of May the Burmacorps had been rammed back across the Irrawaddy into India.
The last remnants of the Chinese Army were pushed back well within Southern China’s Yunnan State. All land and sea access supporting Chiang’s regime in China was cut. The eastern coast of China was all under effective Japanese control. The former French colonies of Indochina were annexed in the Summer of 1941. Thailand was a nominal ally of Japan and all of Indonesia and Malaya firmly under Japanese control.
For the first time there was the very real possibility Chiang would accede to Japanese terms and cease effective resistance against the Japanese army in mainland China. 
During the Burma campaign the Japanese Army’s 56th Division led advances on the right of the Japanese line cutting off Chinese forces in the north of Burma by forced marches along jungle tracks. Leading elements emerged behing Chinese lines to establish road blocks cutting off forward elments.T The Chinese nationalists either fought their way out or were annihilated. Japanese tactics sowed extreme fear and apprehension. Even when successfully cutting their way out of encirclement Chinese troops were always mindful of the next eruption in the rear flank by Japanese troops moving incredible distances along mountain tracks. seeminly independent of supply lines, living off the bounty of captured supplies. This tenor of battle continued all the way up Burma and into China’s southern Yunnan province.
The Dragon Division: Sons of Kyushu
The Imperial Japanese Army 56th Division was formed from conscripts and regular army forces attached or originally from the Northern Kyushu conscription service area of Kurume-shi. Japan divided the county into regions with conscripts called to induction within their dedicated areas. Here they were trained and attached to an area division command. Although there were other larger cities in northern Kyushu, Kurume City offered a convenient collection point for inducting soldiers from many surrounding regions.
Like units in any army, new divisions received assigned cadres as founding units members from the 12th Division (also from Northern Kyushu). New conscripts were inducted from Saga, Nagasaki, and Fukuoka. All Japanese divisions, except the Imperial Guard, were regional composed of 3-4 regiments. Each selected an emblematic symbol. In the case of the 56th it was called the “Dragon” Division「龍」.
The 56th Division was mobilised in December 1941 and shipped with orders to support the drive on Singapore. With the quick fall of Singapore it was sent instead north and disembarked at Rangoon on March 25th.  They were immediately attached to the Japanese 15th Army and raced north towards Tongoo in Central Burma where Chinese troops had taken over from the British to defend the allied east-sector of Burma and the route into Southern Yunnan at Lashio. They advanced continuously with incredible speed along the allied extreme left flank making for Lashio and eventually Bhamo in the extreme north of the country. Most of the action at this time was characterised by swift marches bypass of main forces and blocking movements by the Japanese behind Chinese lines. One source reports elements of the 56th advancing sometimes over 100 kilometres per day, appearing unexpectedly, harrying Chinese troops and threatening to cut off completely allied armies on the central Burma plain. Tactics like these forced the allies into a series of constant withdrawals.
Racing north advanced elements were just in time to help in the defeat of the Chinese 200th Division sent down from Yunnan province in a forlorn attempt to help the British stem the Japanese advance into the central plain of Burma. The allies opted for almost total disengagement with Japanese forces. On May 05th the 148th regiment reached the terminus of the Burma Railway and took Myitkina seizing the formal command base of the Chinese 5th Army and the Indian-British army Brigade headquarters along with marching orders for most of the allied army units in Northern Burma.
The British retreated behind the jungle barrier into India. Chinese forces moved back into Southern Yunnan province. On May 05th, 1942 leading elements of the 56th Division stopped several tens of kilometres short of the regional capital of Baoshan in Yunnan Province.The Japanese Army had routed and driven back an enemy over 1400 kms in less than six months. To place such an advance in perspective the distance from Brest-Litovsk to Moscow is a little less than 1200 kilometres by road. It took the Germans six months to cover the same distance when they invaded Russia. The opposing forces in Burma numbered much less with Japan lacking almost completely any mechanised formations. In overall terms it was the fastest land advance of any Army during World War II. It was also the longest retreat in the history of the British Army.
Advanced elements of the Japanese 56th Division’s 113th Regiment reached positions at the last major crossing into Yunnan province overlooking the Salween River. Retreating Chinese troops committed the bridge crossing the Salween to the river with explosives. It was a logical point to limit the offensive. A sliver of the Gaoligongshan Mountain Range 高黎贡山 ran north to south along the Salween river dividing it from the Irrawaddy watershed to the west.
At their furthest penetration into Southern Yunnan the bridge crossing could be observed from excellent positions 1300 metres above the river. At the end of extreme communication and transport lines Japanese objectives were to hold positions on the Salween guarding the Northern flank of the Japanese army in Burma. Ramou was a perfect block on the Burma Road and removed any chance of allied supplies reaching Chaing’s Army via land. It could also serve as a future jumping off position should further advances into Republican China become necessary. Here the Japanese army waited, biding time, husbanding resources, and all the time digging defences for what become known in Japanese as Ramou.
They waited for two whole years.
A PLACE CALLED RAMOU:
The word “Ramou” and the Chinese characters ”拉孟” do not appear on any regional maps in Chinese for a village name. The village was reported nameless 無名 when the Japanese arrived comprising no more than ten huts of various sorts. A short distance away was a peak naturally dominating the Salween crossing and blocking the Burma Road. This was “Songshan” in Chinese, “Matsuyama” in Japanese. Both languages use the same Chinese characters meaning “Pine Mountain.”  This feature and other surrounding hills made the best of the steep ground by building terraced paddies up from the river and into the hills. Nationalist Chinese forces had abandoned their short squat buildings originally used to billet soldiers, but these and some other huts formed an abandoned village. It was not called Ramou before or since by the Chinese. Nearby this small collection of huts ran a small stream marked with the Chinese characters of 拉 (meaning to crush with the weight of misfortune or abduct) and 孟 (an literate term sometimes used in names and also signifying a beginning). The Japanese officially named the garrison they established here “Ramou” using the Chinese characters “拉孟.” It was to be a prophetic name.
If the isolated peasants in the surrounding hills ever called the place by the same name is not known. They tilled steep, stepped paddies for wet-rice cultivation. Here seasons passed ineluctably. Predictable regularity depended upon the crop growing season, the rains, and tradition-bound sentiments of ancestor worship such as the maintenance of weathered tombstones with embossed characters representing the honourific names of the deceased overlooking the Salween river connecting the region with inner Yunnan province. The river and the mountain, a general geography now connected Songshan with larger historical currents cutting across its bucolic existence.
The Salween River in both Chinese and Japanese translates as “Angry River” and it was certainly regarded so by both sides. The river determined military positions and operational directives. The Burma Road ascended through central Burma crossing the mountains along the Burma-China border before debouching into Southern Yunnan province. While passing near Ramou the road clung to the sides of the Salween. The edges of the river dropped almost perpendicular in places for 200 metres into the water below. The river averaged 400 metres across, fast and deep given its flow from the Himalayas of China. The Salween could drop 4-5 metres elevation in a kilometre ensuring a fast pace to the water even during the dry season. Above the river hills rose several hundred metres to an average height of 2000 metres. These were riven with malaria, all kinds of tropical diseases, cholera, infections, scrub typhus, worm infestations and topical skin diseases. It also has one of the highest concentrations of poisonous snake varieties in the world. Ramou little known, lacking a formal name, tortured by rough geography, was a place of seeming historical understatement. It overlooked the destroyed Huitong bridge over the Salween river and directly commanded road approaches south of the River. It was a perfect block for any Chinese army trying to open the Burma road and link up with British forces coming from India. As long as the Japanese held Ramou the Burma Road was blocked.
By June 1942 major allied units had been defeated and remnants removed well into Yunnan in the North while to the West the British Army regrouped behind the Chindwin River with major bases completely removed from Burma. Britain built up on the wide straddling Indian frontier protected by the buffers of jungle and river in some cases major units of both sides were hundreds of kilometres apart. From mid-1942 to early 1944 all sides faced a lull in major operations. Advanced outposts petered out on jungle-fringed hilltops and river edges separating opposing forces. Inhospitable jungle was traversed by single tracks, trails or, before WW II, not traversed at all. Advanced listening posts and active patrolling across and into each other’s lines characterised much of the action at this time. Besides the ill-planned and implemented First Arakan Campaign (December 1942 – April 1943) along the Burma coast by the British Indian Army, and some active patrolling and reconnaissance in force, no major engagement was initiated by either side.
The Chinese National Army was under the command Generalisimo Chaing Kai-Shek (or Jiang Jie-Shi in Mandarin 蔣介石) reached the logical conclusion that Northern Burma would be cleared eventually by advancing British-Indian units taking back Burma. The US had also committed itself to an air transport corridor to move supplies into China by air and to a smaller land-based effort in the extreme north dedicated to capturing Myitkina, the southern exit point of the Burma Road from the Yunnan Himalayan foothills into the central Burman plain. Once it became clear the Japanese army was unlikely to attack further into Yunnan, Chiang leashed his army in Yunnan and waited for the expected allied offensive from British India or a sea landing near Rangoon to clear the Japanese from all of Burma. Resources were better spent he felt defending the Chinese interior from Japanese attacks in eastern Japan and of course girding for the expected showdown with the communists, who nominally at least, were allied in common cause with Chiang against Japan.
Japanese objectives were to hold the line in Northern Burma, keep the Burma/ Ledo Road shut and all land supply blocked into China. Outside of aggressive patrolling the garrison at Ramou had a mostly uneventful, and at times what could be described as idyllic existence. Chinese forces nominally controlled the east bank of the Salween River and did have patrols on the west side of the river moving up and down the mountain ranges. Clashes occurred with Japanese patrols but for two years Ramou was relatively at peace. To the Japanese soldier stationed in Ramou there were certainly harder postings. At the furthest extremity of the Japanese advance into Yunnan Ramou was described as “tranquil.” All felt there would be a price to pay for their relative sanctuary. Two years of intensive fortification building had proceeded without interruption. Though everyone was prepared to die in battle it was felt that one day the inevitable attack would come and it was better to “pay with sweat and good fortifications than pay in blood for lack of them.”
Ramou garrison was built amongst a group of cascading hills emerging from the edge of the Salween River. The smaller peaks closer to the river afforded views and could bring artillery fire to bear against any enemy trying to cross the river hazardous even in the summer. It was impossible to defend the west bank of the river but not really necessary since the Burma Road ran directly through the Japanese positions atop Matsuyama. The road wended its way up from the river and then down the opposite side of Matsuyama. Any attacker would have to seize Japanese positions on this mountain aerie. The main position was in turn surrounded by smaller hillocks enveloping and hugging the road.
These positions near Matsuyama such as Hirayama and Sakaiyama had positions and observation posts built around geographic features. All offered superb interlocking fields of fire and all could bring indirect or direct fire to bear on any enemy approaching virtually any side. Ramou could not be flanked in any conventional sense. It made little difference where the Chinese National Army crossed the river because the Burma Road could not be used until the all the positions along this ridge were cleared of the enemy. No defensive positions on Okinawa, Peleliu or Saipan in the Pacific Ocean could boast such 360 degree defences at such commanding heights.
Looking across the camp the main position, Matsuyama was a few short kilometres to the Salween River. Ramou Garrison overlooked it all. The highest position was at a little over 2000 metres. The Salween at 650 metres elevation was almost 1400 metres below.
The 56th Division was spread across Southern Yunnan defending other points to the West and slightly North. These positons in the Dong-Ting region to the north-west of Ramou disuade the Chinese from attacking directly through nascent jungle tracks towards Myitkina. It was deemed a smaller garrison was all that was needed to hang on to Ramou. Most of this came from the 113th Regiment and supporting units. —————————————
Ramou Garrison Japanese Order of Battle June 02 – October 07, 1944
Total Strength 1280 Members including three hundred wounded. Total 980 effectives.
113th Regiment Section – 400
56th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Battalion – 318
1st Company / 6 Regimental Heavy Transport Company, a section of the 1st company only – 65 Men
3rd Company/ 56 Division, Medical Corps – 100
Water Purfication Unit of the 56th Division – 40\
Wounded from previous fighting transported from other fronts to Ramou – 300
Approximately 20 Comfort Women
Heavy Weapons: 10 Centimetre Field gun, two batteries – 8 guns
Mountain Artillery – 2 Anti-tank guns – 2 High Angle Howitzers – 4
All numbers describe officers and other ranks unless otherwise noted
By Japanese standards, at this stage of the war the garrison was reasonably well provided in terms of arms. The 10 cm field guns could reach out to about 10 kms at extreme range. The Japanese army sufferred from a chronic lack of effective automatic weapons and their use of such weapons on a per unit basis across all Army units was extremely low when compared to western armies. At Ramou however what the garrison lacked in men it made up for in terms of heavy weapons. Fortifications swept the road and could keep surrounding units under indireact fire as long as observers on Matsuyama and surrounding positions could locate targets.
On Matsuyama were placed a platoon from Number 5 Machine Company and a platoon of 37 mm rapid fire guns. To the southeast fronting the enemy coming up from the river along the Burma Road was a platoon of infantry, a machine gun platoon, and a battery of infantry guns, quick-firing cannons to add to the infantry firepower. The Northwest position was atop Matsuyama directly and sighted into the bends of the river and offered high angle firing positions. Here was the most important position inside the camp as it overlooked all the others. The Japanese positioned a platoon of infantry, and one platoon each of quick firing guns and machine guns. To the southwest on Yokomata (横股) supporting Matsuyama mountain were two platoons of infantry.
On Hirayama also overlooking the Salween to the immediate east of Matsuyama was one company of infantry with a machine gun platoon. On Origuchi straddling the main Burma road and overlooking the East side of the Japanese garrison it was essential to keep this position to maintain a solid line between Hirayama and Matsuyama. Here was stationed the better part of 6th Company. To the South of Ramou about 4 kilometres was Sakai-yama, protecting approach from the south road should the Chinese force the flank and attack from here.
Cement was a vital commodity of limited production and had to be shipped a very long journey from Japan. Japan tried to build up Burmese domestic production with Japanese companies but this was extremely limited production. Japanese engineers decided to use as much local resources as possible in bunker construction.
A preference for log bunker construction developed utilising the Red Pine found almost everywhere in the mountains. Fortifications were dug deep and earth piled on top covered firing positions almost totally. During two years of Japanese fortification grass had grown over the freshly dug earth concealing the positions. Fields of fire were built with numerous interlocking defences. Small hillocks meshed with other positions on higher hills and swept all approaches with deadly fire.
Captain Kinoshita, an artillery gunner with experience in his family running a construction company was in charge of fortification building. He devised a plan of numerous bunkers using logs and sticks as a form of rebar reinforcement pouring cement over this conglomerate, then adding several feet of earth on top.  These were capable of surviving all but a direct hit from a heavier artillery piece which the Chinese Army lacked.
Occassional patrolling from both sides kept some the edge on the life at Ramou, but for two years there was no fighting. Patrolling from the Chinese sides appears to have been almost minimal with the east bank of the Salween almost deserted in places. Given limited Japanese resources there was no desire to move beyond their defences. Ramou was regarded as a place where moderately wounded troops could recuperate and serve at the same time relatively safely with little prospect of immediate battle. Long periods of inactivity allowed the Japanese to build defences and accounts for the large number of wounded at the garrison when the attack started.
The Japanese army excelled in making do with little support. Defence preparation and a keen sense of dedication were areas where they believed they could compensate for inferior numbers. They also worked hard on morale building. They planted squash (kabocha) patches directly over their positions. This had the added benefit of camouflage and a wonderful source of food. Persimmons at this elevation were readily available and Japanese soldiers, no doubt reminded of their homeland far away, gathered as many as they could and strung them in garlands around their positions to dry as preserved food. Owing to their astringent nature the only way they could be enjoyed was after drying.
In November 1943, Field Marshall Terauchi, Commander of all Japanese land forces in South-east Asia paid a visit to the far-flung garrison and commented on the persimmons. “This is extremely amazing, my mother used to dry persimmons and drape them from the eaves.” The soldiers also had time to construct large ovens to make pottery from local clay. Some of the most beautiful ceramics are made in Japan, many produced in Kyushu. The Kyushu warriors were quick to make fine representations of china tea cups and presented one to Terauchi during his visit who commented, “the men of Kyushu have the martial spirit in their bones, they can turn their hand and do just about anything.” Regimental commander Colonel Matsui was pleased indeed when Marshal Terauchi took the offered cup as a gift.The men eventually shipped out very many of their works mainly to army hospitals as presents to wounded Japanese personnel.
Colonel Matsui had an even more novel approach to kicking up morale far from home. Each man was assigned a dugout. At the bottom a small alcove was dug. Into this the men were encouraged to place pictures and mementos of home. A small shrine would eventually be collected by men in their own dugout that was expected, and eventually did, become their homes.
Matsui-san countermanded the idea of switching men between positions and dugouts or mixing groups. By gathering them in positions of extended familiarity it was hoped men would regard their positions more like a home. This would help morale in the interim and afford them a sort of attachment of “place” to the positions. They had resigned themselves to the prospect of probably never returning home and it was hoped that they would defend their dugouts and their shrines with equal fervour as defending their home islands of Japan. It was a thoroughly Japanese response an appeal to pure aesthetics, of linking simple memorials of time and place to a soldiers’ yearnings of family and home.
Morale could also be boosted in other ways. Travelling bands and troupes of performers rotated through Ramou garrison over the two-year period performing traditional Japanese plays. Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK showed up with a recording truck to make reports and then take them off to the regional centre in Baoshi (芒市 or Mangshi) for editing and shipment back to Japan or broadcast by the local subsidiary. In the summer of 1943 the garrison hosted the Japanese female screenplay writer, Mizuki Youko. Later to become famous as a left-wing screen writer she was drafted into the war effort and was in the right place for learning more about the front, gathering as much as she could from the men for news reports. Few places could boast the importance of meriting this act of class. With Ramou’s first Japanese female the soldiers pulled out all stops and made special rice cakes (mochi) with ground sesame seed on top to offer her. She stayed for three nights and no one was disappointed. Feted and toured they dressed her in army uniforms and showed her the Salween and the remains of the bridge.
RAMOU COMFORT STATION
In the beginning of the 1944 Japanese Supreme Army Command of Southeast Asia voiced the need for a comfort station in Ramou. Colonel Matsui was initially against such a plan as Ramou, although quiet, was technically on the front lines in any shooting war. No place for women he opined.
The 33rd Army high command sent none other than Zelig-like-everyman Tsuji Masanobu with a firm signal that a comfort station was needed. Tsuji-san appears to be on almost every front in Asia just before and during momentous events of that war in Asia. He is noted for his personal courage as a staff officer but also associated with some grisly wartime abuses of prisoners and non-combatants. This parapaptetic messenger of excess, disliked by almost everyong, but promoted because of his success through ruthless efficiency, showed up on the steps of Ramou, as he seemed to show up on so many other occasions of historical import during the war.
Tsuji-san was interested in the “psychological well-being of the men” and that called for a comfort station. Colonel, Matsui-san faced by a person of such gravity was placed in a position where he could not refuse and a comfort station was built on the reverse slope of Matsuyama.
The comfort station consisted of two buildings. It was purpose built over two weeks by army tradesmen of the Ramou garrison. In the beginning of 1944 approximately 20 girls arrived,  just in time to fight and die alongside the rest of the garrison.
 For greater understanding in English of these early battles there is the masterful history of the Japanese war in Burma by Louis Allen, Burma: The Longest War. For a better understanding of the Chinese response in English there is Barbara Tuchman’s Sand Against the Wind: Stillwell and the American Experience in China . Though dated it still offers a fine overview of the conflict from the American perspective in English and will be only superceded by studies incorporating more Chinese sources – which has yet to happen. For those looking for how the invasion affected the indigenous peoples, independence movements and colonial mindsets before and after the invasion, there is the wonderful and relatively recent Forgotten Armies, by Christopher Bayly & Tim Harper
 Kiku to Ryu: Sokoku e no Eikou Tatakai, Chrystanthemum and the Dragon: Fighting for the Glory of the Homeland (authors translation), Kojinsha- Press, Tokyo, p.15.
 恵通橋 in Japanese and Chinese. It is uncertain if the conventional pronunciation in Japanese would have been Keitsuukyou or Kietsuubashi. In Chinese is it known as the Huitong Bridge, the characters are the same in both languages.
 Since both Chinese and Japanese use Chinese character in their writing systems (but with completely different pronunciations) this appellation with the Chinese characters 松山 is the common geographical and historical reference used by both China and Japan. Ramou 拉孟is never used in Chinese sources where it is referred to as 松山战役 the battle of Songshan, or Battle of Pine Mountain.
 Kinoshita-san will figure later in our story where his survival will be retold. Here is a documentary with his testimony on the defences of Ramou (in Japanese only).
 Kiku to Ryu, Sagara Shunsuke, Kojinsha, Tokyo, 2004, pp.184-185
 The historical trajectory of Tsuji Masanobu reads like a “Zelig” everyman with Tsuji being present and instrumental in fomenting the depredations of the Kwantung Army in China, the Soviet-Japanese border clashes, the invasion of Malaya and fall of Singapore and invasion of Burma. He was directly associated with the disasterous planning for Guadalcanal, and the Philippines. During these operations there is some documentation and even more rumour that he counseled and committed war crimes. He was known as a fanatical teetotaler who could brook no insubordination while exasperating his commanding officers with his own zeal for carrying out acts and issuing orders sometime with no authority from his higher-ups. His personal courage was however never in doubt as he was found frequently either at the front, or even, beyond the front scouting by plane or on foot ahead of the main Japanese force. For reasons unclear he was not charged with war crimes. He ended his life with suitable dramatis in the 1960s becoming a Buddhist priest and disappearing into Laos while on another of his journeys of fanatic self-discovery – it is presumed he was executed by the communist Pathet Lao government, but there is no official record of his death.
 Gendai no Ianfutachi, Usuki Keiko, Tokuma Shoten, Tokyo, 1992 According to one Japanese source 15 Japanese and 5 Korean Comfort women were stationed at Ramou. Though there were undoubtedly some who “chose” to join the military brothels through financially straightened or tragic backgrounds, the majority of women were foreigners, many from Korea mostly very young and in most cases dragooned or tricked into servicing Japanese Army Soldiers in distant garrisons in a form of sexual slavery. They were typically recruited by either army recruiters or local gangsters in their respective countries who were paid a “bounty.” Most were placed into prostitution camps either directly administered by the Japanese Imperial Army or farmed out to local contractors who enjoyed a special relationship with the Army. Either way, once placed in camps they had little choice. Direct coercion and use of force was used to keep them in place and was often used whether not it was officially condoned. No other national army in WWII had their armies directly involved in the running and administration of brothels.