Burma Rifles

The Burma Rifles were a regiment of the British Indian Army created in 1917. The regiment re-used the name of an unrelated earlier unit, 10th Regiment (1st Burma Rifles) Madras Infantry, which evolved into the 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles.

Origins of the regiment

Early history

The expansion of the British Indian Army during World War I led to the raising of two companies of Burma Pioneers in Mandalay in November 1916. Burmese of all groups were recruited for these units. After expanding to four companies, the Pioneers became the 70th Burma Rifles in September 1917. The 85th Burman Rifles were raised from the Burma Military Police in July 1917. A second battalion of 70th Burma Rifles was raised in January 1918 and both battalions served in the Middle East in 1918-20.cite web|url=http://www.rothwell.force9.co.uk/burmaweb/burif.htm| title=The Burma Rifles, Burma Campaign Website| first=Steve| last=Rothwell| date=2001-10-21| accessdate=2007-10-22] Two more battalions were raised during 1918.cite web|url=http://homepages.force9.net/rothwell/burmaweb/2ndburma.htm| title=2nd Burma Rifles, Burma Campaign Website| first=Steve| last=Rothwell| date=2000-09-18| accessdate=2007-10-22] According to John Gaylor in his history: "Sons of John Company - The Indian & Pakistan Armies 1903-1991", the 3/70th Burma Rifles, raised in April 1918, went to Southern India to suppress the Moplah Rising whilst the 4/70th, raised in May 1918, remainded in Burma.

1922 reorganisation of the British Indian Army

In the 1922 reorganisation of the British Indian Army the 70th Burma Rifles and the 85th Burman Rifles were merged to form the 20th Burma Rifles. The new regiment numbered four regular battalions. A new battalion, the 11th (territorial) battalion was also formed in 1922. The Burman element in the regiment was mustered out after 1927,, although continuing to serve in the Burma Military Police. Personnel drawn from the hill-tribes of Burma and other groups (Karens, Kachins and Chin) continued to serve and in 1940 Burmans were again recruited.

eparation from India

After the British formally separated Burma from India in 1937 the 20th Burma Rifles was allocated to Burma and renamed the Burma Rifles. The intention was for officers to be drawn from the British Army. However the majority of the British officers already serving with the regiment chose to remain with their units on secondment from the British Indian Army.

World War II

The regiment was expanded during the Second World War to a total of 14 battalions and served through the Japanese invasion of Burma during the Burma Campaign. Eight Battalions of Infantry were raised along with a holding battalion, a training battalion and four territorial battalions. The men of the territorial battalions were under no obligation to serve outside the borders of Burma.

After the British Burma Army's retreat from Burma, a reconstituted 2nd Battalion continued to take part in the Burma Campaign. The remaining highly weakened battalions were disbanded although many of the non-Burmese nationals (Indians and Gurkhas) from them went to form battalions of the Burma Regiment created in September 1942.cite web| url=http://www.rothwell.force9.co.uk/burmaweb/BurmaRegt.htm| title=The Burma Regiment, The Burma Campaign Website| first=Steve| last=Rothwell| date=1999-01-17| accessdate=2007-10-22]

The 2nd battalion participated in the 1st and 2nd Chindit expeditions into Burma. In his official report following the first expedition Orde Wingate the Chindit commander wrote:cquote|I would like to record here that I have never had under my command in the field as good a body of men as the 2nd Burma Rifles.

As a result, for the 1943 Chindit operation, the battalion was expanded and broken down into reconnaissance platoons for the Chindit columns. In 1944, the battalion was broken down into sections among the Chindit force.

In 1945, the 2nd Burma Rifles was reconstituted as an infantry battalion. In July 1945, the 1st battalion was re-raised in Burma. Over the following three years leading up to Burmese independence, the 3rd through 6th battalions were re-raised.

Uniform and insignia

The mess uniform of the Burma Rifles was rifle green with scarlet facings and the regimental badge was a Burmese peacock over a title-scroll in white metal. In Volume 2 of his work "Indian Army Uniforms" W.Y. Carman describes a full dress uniform in the same colours, noting that it was worn by officers and other ranks forming part of the Coronation Contingent of 1937. It is not however known on what other occasions (if any) it was used.

Titles of the Regiment

*70th Burma Rifles / 85th Burman Rifles
*20th Burma Rifles
*Burma Rifles


*cite book| title=The Standing Orders of the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles |year=1948| publisher=Gale & Polden, Ltd | location=Aldershot
*cite book| title=A Burmese Wonderland | first=Colin Metcalf |last=Enriquez |year=1922| publisher=Thacker, Spink
*cite book| title= Imperial Sunset: Frontier Soldiering in the 20th Century | first=James D |last=Lunt|year=1981| publisher=Futura Publications| isbn=0354045288
*cite book| title=Dress Regulations (India) 1931|last=Government of British India|year=2000| publisher=Naval and Military Press| isbn= 1843420775
*cite book| title=Sons of John Company: the Indian and Pakistan Armies 1903-91 | first=John |last=Gaylor|year=1992| publisher=Spellmount| location=Tunbridge Wells| isbn=0-946771-98-7


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