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In 1944, Slim’s Fourteenth Army was hardened from the victorious but brutal battles of Kohima & Imphal in India. In November of that year, Slim established bridgeheads on the east bank of the Chindwin River at Kalewa. The following year they crossed the river in force and fought the Japanese back to Rangoon. It was the dramatic conclusion to the Burma Campaign. A gruelling theatre of war that amassed in its tide men and women from all corners of the globe. 1945 was also the year in which Aung San, young Burmese nationalist, marched his Burma Independence Army to join Slim. Aung San would fight against the Japanese and in doing so, ultimately liberate his country.
Sampan guarantees small groups and a bespoke service beyond the parameters of this itinerary. We like extensions; we love customization. Contact us to receive our second world war tour of Burma itinerary and reserve your spot.
Sampan’s Beyond the Chindwin tour begins in Yangon before travelling to other WWII sites across Burma/Myanmar. We will first explore the history of Yangon: its geneses from small fishing village to multicultural metropolis. We will visit the Rosewood and the Strand hotels, both colonial constructs occupied by Japanese forces once the British were kicked out of Rangoon in 1942.
From Yangon, in this essential Burma WW2 tour, we will travel to Pyin Oo Lwin – HQ of General Mutaguchi as he drove his men to “march on Delhi” and take the fight to the British in Manipur and the Naga Hills. The tour will then turn south as the British Indian Army re-enters Burma. We will explore the decisive battles of Mandalay and Meiktila, two of the main battlefields in Burma/Myanmar. Finally, we will visit the Nyaung U river crossings upon arrival in Bagan.
The temples of Bagan are a reminder that Myanmar was not always so lowly in the eyes of the world. One of the most impactful ways to appreciated the glory of Bagan is within a hot air balloon. In this leisurely Burma WW2 tour, Sampan will arrange a private flight above the temples, giving guests the chance to see the enormity of the Bagan empire and the beauty of what remains of Myanmar’s most sacred site.
“The idea behind the dramatic victory by the 14th Army in Burma in 1945 was Slim’s and Slim’s alone. He pursued his own plan through to its remarkable conclusion.”
Dr Robert Lyman is the world authority on General Slim and the Burma Campaign. Rob is Slim’s military biographer and has written over a dozen books on the Second World War including, recently, A War of Empires and The Reconquest of Burma.
Rob’s presentation of the case for Slim won a National Army Museum debate in 2011 for Britain’s Greatest General and his case for Kohima/Imphal won a National Army Museum debate in 2013 for Britain’s Greatest Battle. Rob has worked with Sampan since 2020. Rob has been a trustee of the Kohima Educational Trust since 2004. No-one is better placed to lead a battlefields tour of Myanmar than Rob.
Rob’s Promised Land virtual tour with Sampan in 2021 looked at how events in Burma during WW2 led in part to where Myanmar is today. The country’s hard-won independence was hampered by mistrust between ethnic groups and a hollowed-out administrative apparatus ill-equipped to tackle the communal violence and civil wars that continue to this day. This is a theme we will focus on during our battlefields tour of Burma, looking at: General Aung San and the nationalist quest for independence; ethnic divides and allegiances in Kachin and Rakhine; and the role of Karen guerrillas and their sense of betrayal once the British left.
Listen to Rob on the Travels Through Time podcast talking about the Burma Campaign.
Sampan’s Beyond the Chindwin tour is in support of The Gurkha Welfare Trust. For each guest on the tour, Sampan will make a donation towards the GWT’s vital work for Gurkha communities.
Into our Burma battlefields tour itinerary, Sampan has weaved the story of the Gurkhas in the Burma Campaign. During the journey, Rob, along with Sampan’s local guide, will pay special tribute to the pivotal role played by the Gurkhas. In addition to their audacious involvement the Chindit operations, the Gurkhas played a significant role in the Battle of Mogaung. They marched alongside General Bill Slim’s Fourteenth Army, crossing the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers in relentless pursuit of the Japanese forces all the way to Rangoon. Notably, ten Gurkhas were honored with Victoria Crosses during the Burma Campaign, including Tulbahadur Pun at Mogaung and Lachhiman Gurung while crossing the Irrawaddy.
Sampan’s Managing Director, Bertie Alexander, says:
“We are so pleased to formally cement our relationship with the Gurkha Welfare Trust. The GWT’s mission to ensure that Gurkha veterans and the wider community live with dignity, dovetails with Sampan’s own goal of supporting local communities while commemorating a shared history. Through our Beyond the Chindwin tour, Sampan’s guests will both directly support the welfare of Gurkha communities, while also learning more about their history and heritage.”
To begin our Second World War tour of Myanmar, in Yangon there will be an exclusive film screening of the critically acclaimed documentary, Forgotten Allies: the search for Burma’s lost heroes. The film tells the story of the thousands of men from Burma who gave their lives fighting a brutal war for Britain against the Japanese, but whose contribution was largely forgotten at the war’s end. Today only a handful of veterans remain, and the film follows the efforts of a determined British charity set on finding and recognising these men before it’s too late.
In 2021, the director of Forgotten Allies, Alex Bescoby, spoke to Sampan and told us that there are two shockwave moments in Myanmar’s recent history: the annexation by the British, and the Second World War.
“When the Japanese came the country had only been under British rule for 60 years and that structure of British colonial government is smashed overnight. There is horrific fighting all over Burma – the country is a battlefield of two empires fighting and the people of Burma are caught in the middle. They fight on both sides and switch sides. It’s incredibly complex.”
Read more from Alex here.
After the Second World War, John Masters wrote:
“For a moment I could only see what would be gone – the sense of purpose, unselfishness, comradeship, sacrifice, courage. There was no reason why these qualities should not be devoted to peace in and between peoples, but they had not been after 1918, and I did not believe they would be now …”
Sampan believes that in any Burma/Myanmar 1942-45 tour, the story of what happened next needs to be incorporated. In Burma, fighting did not end with the close of the Second World War. The decolonization of Burma left scars. In 1947, independence leader General Aung San was assassinated, dashing hopes of easy unity between the country’s disparate ethnic groups. The Karen, feeling betrayed by their British allies, took up arms against the Bamar. After a tumultuous decade, in 1962 General Ne Win seized control of the country in a coup.
Since then and until today, the country has been shaken by political turbulence. During this tour Rob will explore how the events of WW2 in Burma have in part led to where the country is today. For Myanmar, this is not just history. Read more about Myanmar today on Frontier.
Sampan believes that responsible tourism, even now, can support Myanmar in becoming not only a better place to visit but, more importantly, a better place to live. See here what we are doing to ensure that our tours have a positive impact on local communities and how we are supporting Myanmar it its quest for a fairer, more prosperous and democratic future.
A small British charity continues to work for the sake of forgotten allies from WW2.
In conversation with Grammar Productions, hearing the stories of forgotten allies of WW2.