17th Infantry Division (India)
Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 17th Infantry Division
dates= 1941 - 19461960 -
British Indian Army Indian Army
notable_commanders=Maj. Gen. Jackie Smyth VC
Maj. Gen. "Punch" Cowan DSO
Maj. Gen. W A Crowther DSO
Brig. Gen. Herbert Duncan
Lt. Col. Charles Anderson VC MC
nickname= The Black Cat Division
Battle of Imphal
Battle of Meiktila
The Indian 17th Infantry Division was a formation of the
British Indian Armyraised during World War II. It had the distinction of being continually in combat during the three-year long Burma Campaign(except for brief periods of refit).
It was first formed in
1941in Ahmednagarin India. It consisted then of the Indian 44th, 45th and 46th Brigades, and was intended to garrison Iraq. At the end of the year, war with Imperial Japanbroke out and the division was split; 44th and 45th Brigades were despatched to Malaya where 45th Brigade fought in the Battle of Muarbefore both brigades were lost in the Battle of Singapore; 46th Brigade and the division HQ went to Burma, where the Division was reinforced by Indian 16th Infantry Brigadeand took 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade under command.
The Japanese attacked Burma on
January 22, 1942. It was soon apparent that the British and Indian troops in Burma were too few in number, wrongly equipped and inadequately trained for the terrain and conditions. After failing to hold the Kawkareik Pass and Moulmein, the division fell back to the Bilin River, where it was joined by Indian 48th Infantry Brigade.
The Bilin was not a proper defensive position, and the division tried to retreat over the
Sittang River. Air attacks, poor organization and vehicle breakdowns delayed the division, and Japanese parties infiltrated around them to threaten the vital bridge over the Sittang. The division's commander, Major General "Jackie" Smyth VC , was forced to order the bridge to be destroyed, with most of the division cut off on the far side of the river. Only a few thousand men without equipment succeeded in crossing the river. Smyth was dismissed and replaced by Major General Cowan.
The division was reinforced with
Indian 63rd Infantry Brigade, and narrowly escaped being trapped in Rangoon. After trying to hold a front in the Irrawaddy Rivervalley, it subsequently retreated north into Assamjust before the monsoon broke, fighting off a Japanese attempt to trap it at Kalewa.
For the campaigning season of
1943, the division was reorganised as a "Light" formation, with two brigades only (48th and 63rd), supported by mountain artillery, and with mules and jeeps only for transport. It disputed the mountainous and jungle-covered region around Tiddim, with mixed success. The division was at the end of a long and precarious supply line, and the "light" establishment was found to be inadequate in some respects. Some heavier equipment and transport was restored.
1944, the Japanese launched a major invasion of India. During the long Battle of Imphal, 17th Division first successfully fought its way out of encirclement at Tiddim, and then disputed the vital Bishenpur sector south of Imphal (with Indian 32nd Infantry Brigadetemporarily under command). In July, the Japanese were broken by heavy casualties and starvation, and retreated. Some units of 17th Division had suffered nearly 100% casualties.
During the late monsoon season, the division was temporarily withdrawn to India and reorganised once again. 48th and 63rd Brigades were fully equipped with vehicles to become
Motorized infantry. Indian 99th Infantry Brigadewas added to the division, equipped to be transported by Douglas DC-3aircraft.
In late February.
1945, the motor elements of the division, with the bulk of 255th Indian Tank Brigadeunder command, crossed the Irrawaddy Riverand advanced on the vital Japanese communications centre of Meiktila. Joined by 99th Brigade which was flown into the captured airfield at Thabutkon, they captured Meiktila in only four days. Reinforced by Indian 9th Infantry Brigadewhich was flown into the airfields around Meiktila, they subsequently withstood a Japanese siege. This Battle of Meiktila largely destroyed the Japanese armies in Central Burma.
The division now broke the last Japanese defensive position at
Pyawbwe, and advanced south on Rangoon. At Pegu, it pushed Japanese rearguards aside, but was still short of its objective when the monsoonbroke. Rangoon fell to an assault from the sea, Operation Dracula.
In the last months of the campaign, the division participated in the mopping up of Japanese stragglers in Burma. After the war ended, elements of it formed part of the Commonwealth Occupation force in Japan (under Cowan).
The division was disbanded in India
The division was re-raised at Ambala (India) on November 15, 1960. It was under the command of Major General K.S. Katoch, MC.
Under the command of Major General
Candeth, the division participated in the Goamilitary operations of that year.
On November 15, 1963, the division relocated to Sikkim and took on the role of guarding a portion of the Tibet-India border.
The division had two different formation signs. The first was a lightning bolt (white) on a blue background. This was used until the middle of 1942. Afterward, the formation sign was changed to a black cat on a yellow/orange background.
The division was sometimes called, "The Black Cat Division" based on its second formation sign.
Order of Battle, as of
May 1 1944
:General Officer Commanding - "Major General
David Tennent Cowan":Commander, Royal Artillery - "Brigadier the Baron de Robeck"
::17 Division HQ and Signals
Indian 48th Infantry Brigade- "(Brigadier Ronald Thomas Cameron)"::9th Bn. Border Regiment::2nd Bn. 5th Gurkha Rifles::1st Bn. 7th Gurkha Rifles
Indian 63rd Infantry Brigade- "(Brigadier Arthur Edward Cumming)"::1st Bn. 3rd Gurkha Rifles::1st Bn. 4th Gurkha Rifles::1st Bn. 10th Gurkha Rifles
:Divisional Units::1st Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment "(attached)"::4th Bn.
12th Frontier Force Regiment"(Divisional reconnaissance unit)"::7th Bn. 10th Baluch Regiment"(Divisional defence / machine gun unit)"
::60 Field Company IE::70 Field Company IE::Tehri Garhwal Field Company::414 Field Park Company IE
* Jon Latimer, "Burma: The Forgotten War", London: John Murray, 2004 ISBN 0-7195-6576-6
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