33rd Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 33rd Infantry Division
dates= 1943 - 1944
Empire of Japan
Imperial Japanese Army
Battle of Imphal
nihongo|IJA Thirty Third Division|第33師団|Hohei Sanju-san Shidan was an
infantry divisionin the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call signwas the nihongo|Bow Division|弓兵団|Yumi Heidan.
The 33rd Division was raised in
Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, but its headquarters was in Sendai. It was raised from conscripts largely from the northern Kantō prefecturers of Tochigi, Ibaraki and Gunma. Initially assigned to the Japanese 11th Armyin central China, it saw combat at the First Battle of Changsha. It was transferred to the Japanese 15th Armyon 6 November 1941, and took part in the invasion of British Burma, under Lieutenant General Shozo Sakurai. It suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Yenangyaung. Afterwards, it was one of the key divisions in the Battle of Imphal, at which it was all but annihilated as a front-line combat force.
Battle of Imphal
Late in 1943, the Japanese command in
Burmahad been reorganized. A new headquarters, Burma Area Army, was created under Lieutenant-General Masakasu Kawabe. One of its subordinate formations, responsible for the central part of the front facing British Indiain Nagalandand Assam, was Japanese 15th Army, whose new commander was Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi. At the same time, Lieutenant General Sakurai was promoted to command Japanese 28th Armyin southern Burma, being replaced in command of 33rd Division by Lieutenant General Motoso Yanagida.
Mutaguchi’s plan was to have the 33rd Division destroy the Indian 17th Infantry Division at Tiddim, then attack
Imphalfrom the south. The 33rd Division's Infantry Group HQ, under Major-General Tsunoru Yamamoto, formed "Yamamoto Force", composed of units of the Japanese 33rd and 15th Divisions which would destroy the Indian 20th Infantry Divisionat Tamu, then attack Imphalfrom the east. Meanwhile, the Japanese 15th Infantry Divisionunder Lieutenant-General Masafumi Yamauchiwould envelop Imphal from the north, while in a separate subsidiary operation, the Japanese 31st Infantry Divisionunder Lieutenant-General Kotoku Satowould isolate Imphal by capturing nearby Kohima. All Mutaguchi's divisional commanders disagreed with the plan to some extent, and Yanagida openly derided him as an "imbecile".
In the opening stages of the
Battle of Imphalthe 33rd Division cut off Indian 17th Division under Major-General Cowan. The Japanese 215 Regiment under Colonel Masahiko Sasaharacaptured a supply dump at Milestone 109, twenty miles behind Cowan's leading outposts. The Japanese 214 Regiment under Colonel Takanobu Sakumaseized Tongzang and a ridge named Tuitum Saddle across the only road, a few miles behind the Indian 17th Division's position. However, they were unable to dig in properly before they were hit by the Indian 48th Brigade on 18 March 1944, taking heavy casualties. Fighting around Milestone 109 was even more severe.
In early April the 33rd Division attacked from the south at
Bishenpur, where they cut a secondary track from Silcharinto the plain. Yanagida was already pessimistic and depressed by his failure to trap the Indian 17th Division. He had also been rattled by a garbled radio message which suggested that one of his regiments had been destroyed at Milestone 109. He therefore advanced cautiously. By doing so, he may have lost a chance to gain success as Bishenpur was held only by Indian 32 Brigade (from 20th Division) and the Indian 17th Infantry Division was resting after its retreat. Mutaguchi removed him from command.
In early May, the British counter-attacked. None of the Japanese divisions had received adequate supplies since the offensive began, and some of the troops were starving; others were sick with malaria, and most were low on ammunition. Although there was now no realistic hope of success, Mutaguchi (and Kawabe) ordered renewed attacks. 33rd Division, reinforced by battalions from the 53rd and 54th Divisions and under a new forceful commander, Lieutenant-General Nobuo Tanaka, broke into the Indian 17th Division's positions at Bishenpur, but failed to break through.
By late May, Mutaguchi's divisional commanders refused to make a renewed attacks on Imphal, as they were in no condition to comply. Mutaguchi finally ordered the offensive to be broken off on
3 July 1943. The Japanese fell back to the Chindwin River, abandoning their artillery, transport, and soldiers too sick to walk. The defeat at Kohima and Imphal was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history. They had suffered 55,000 casualties, including 13,500 dead.
Later Operations in Burma
The Division was rebuilt to a strength of about 10,000. When the Allies launched their offensive into Central Burma, the Japanese withdrew behind the
Irrawaddy River. A rearguard from 33rd Division took heavy losses defending the river port of Monywaon the Chindwin. During the fighting in February and March after the Allies crossed the Irrawaddy, 33rd Division defended the vital river port of Myingyan. It was not directly attacked, as the Allied bridgeheads were east and west of their positions. The division held Myingyan until most of 15th Army were already in full retreat. It suffered further casualties in attempting to retreat south.
At the end of the war, the division had moved to
Moulmeinin southern Burma. During the entire Burma campaign, the division suffered 22,316 casualties, including 15,033 dead.
The 33rd Division was organized as a
33rd Division -
* 33rd Infantry Brigade group:
** 213th Infantry regiment (
** 214th Infantry regiment (
** 215th Infantry regiment (
* 33rd Mountain Artillery regiment
* 33rd Military Engineer regiment
* 33rd Transport regiment
List of Japanese Infantry Divisions
Battle of Imphal
Reference and further reading
* Madej, W. Victor. "Japanese Armed Forces Order of Battle, 1937-1945" [2 vols] Allentown, PA: 1981
* Latimer, Jon. "Burma: The Forgotten War", London: John Murray, 2004. ISBN 978-0719565762
* Allen, Louis. "Burma: The longest War", Dent Publishing, 1984, ISBN 0-460-02474-4
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