15th Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 15th Infantry Division
dates= 1905 - 1925; 1937-1945
Empire of Japan
Imperial Japanese Army
nickname= "Festival Division"
Second Sino-Japanese War Burma Campaign Battle of Imphal Battle of Meiktila / Mandalay
The nihongo|IJA Fifteenth Division|第15師団|Hohei Ju-go Shidan was an
infantry divisionin the Imperial Japanese Army(IJA). Its call signwas the nihongo|Festival Division|祭兵団|Sai Heidan.
The 15th Division was one of the four divisions raised in the closing stages of the
Russo-Japanese War(1904-1905). With Japan's resources strained to the breaking point towards the end of that conflict, the entire Imperial Japanese Army was committed to combat in Manchuria, leaving not a single division to guard the Japanese main islands in case of attack. The 15th Division was raised from men in the Nagoyaarea, and was originally based in Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture. After the conclusion of the Treaty of Portsmouth, it was dispatched to Koreaas a garrison force.
It was later one of the divisions disbanded by War Minister
Ugaki Kazushigeas part of a cost-saving measure during the Kato Takaakiadministration.
With the outbreak of hostilities against
Chinain the Second Sino-Japanese War, the 15th Division was resurrected in Kyotoon 4 April 1938and assigned to the central China command.
The division was ordered to join the IJA 15th Army in
Burmaon 17 June 1943, but was delayed with road-building in Thailandfor several months. Arriving in Burma, the division took part in the attack on Imphal, (Operation U-Go) along with the IJA 31st and 33rd Divisions.
Operation U-Go was planned to start in the beginning of March 1944, but because of 15th Division's slow arrival start of the offensive was postponed to
15 March. 15th Division hold the central position of the three attacking divisions and its primary objective was to cut the road between Imphal and Kohimaat Kangpokpi. On the map this was the shortest and most direct route towards Imphal, but it had to cross difficult terrain with only poor tracks. Because of the difficult terrain, the division’s ordinary artillery was replaced with mountain guns and the anti-tank equipment was left behind on the assumption that the British would not field tanks due to the difficulty of the terrain. Of the division’s nine battalions, one had been detached to the force dealing with the second Chindits operation, and most of 67th Regiment was still in Thailand.
Thus 15th Division started the campaign with 6 battalions, 18 guns and a commander, Lieutenant-General
Masafumi Yamauchi, mortally ill with tuberculosis. Soon it had to be urged onwards by the commander of 15th Army, Renya MutaguchiA British force at Sangshakwas within 15th Division’s operational area, but because of its slow speed, units from 31st Division assaulted this position on 23 March. 60th Regiment arrived soon after, but was not allowed to take part in the final assault 27 March. 15th Division cut the Imphal-Kohima road at Kangpokpi on 3 April. Soon the division occupied Nunshigum Ridge, which overlooked Imphal. From here the Japanese could threaten the headquarters of the Indian IV Corpsand also marked the closest they ever came to Imphal. The British counterattack on this ridge included M3 Leetanks, which came as a shock to the Japanese as they had considered the terrain to be completely impassable to armored vehicles. The tanks proved decisive - although the British suffered heavy losses, the defending Japanese battalion was almost annihilated. Despite this setback Yamauchi continued his encirclement of Imphal from the north. The British commander, Geoffrey Scoonesdrew the conclusion that the 15th was the weakest link in the Japanese front and ordered Indian 23rd Infantry Divisionand Indian 5th Infantry Divisionto destroy it. In the following months the British with their superiority in numbers and almost unstoppable tanks drove the Japanese off one hill after another.
In the middle of June the 31st Division began retreating from Kohima after suffering heavy casualties. This left 60th Regiment blocking the Imphal-Kohima road in an impossible situation and the British broke through and reopened the road on
22 June. The next day saw a change in command, with Yamauchi replaced by Lieutenant-General Ryuichi Shibita. On 7 Julythe division received orders for a last-ditch attack on Palel, but by now it had been shattered as a military formation; its remnants retreated back across the Chindwin Riverto safety.
After the defeat at Imphal and Allied advances in the North, the Japanese forces in Burma were forced to take up the defense and try to stop the Allies from crossing the
Irrawaddy. In January 1945 the 15th Division was, together with the 53rd Division, thrown into the defense of Mandalay. The division had received some reinforcements, but at 4500 men it was still less than half of nominal strength.
The opposing unit, Indian 19th Infantry Division, established its first bridgeheads on the eastern side of the Irrawaddy on
14 Januaryand all attempts to dislodge them failed. After a rapid build-up, the British commander, Thomas Wynford Reesordered his men forward. Brushing aside all opposition, its forward elements were within sight of Mandalay 7 March. 15th Division, now under the command of Major-General Seiei Yamamoto, had received orders to defend the former Burmese capital to the last man. Of the two main positions, the Japanese were driven off Mandalay Hillby 12 March, but the thick walls of Fort Dufferinwithstood artillery and air bombardment. On 18 Marchthe division received new orders allowing its withdrawal, which it did through the sewers on the night of 19 March.
By this time the Japanese position in Burma had completely collapsed. The survivors of 15th Division (less than half its original strength of 15,000 men) retreated via the territory of the hostile
Karen peopleand through the Southern Shan States, back into Thailand, where it remained at the time of the 1945 surrender.
order of battlefor the 15th Division included:
* 51st Infantry Regiment (
* 60th Infantry Regiment (
* 67th Infantry Regiment (
* 21st Field Artillery Regiment
* 15th Construction Regiment
* 15th Transport Regiment.
List of Japanese Infantry Divisions
Battle of Imphal
Battle of Meiktila / Mandalay
Reference and further reading
* Louis Allen, "Burma: The longest War", Dent Publishing, 1984, ISBN 0-460-02474-4
* Jon Latimer, "Burma: The Forgotten War", London: John Murray, 2004 ISBN 0-7195-6576-6
* Madej, W. Victor. "Japanese Armed Forces Order of Battle, 1937-1945" [2 vols] Allentown, PA: 1981
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