The Battlefields of Imphal: The Second World War and North East India Hardcover – 2016
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‘This excellent book is . . . detailed yet with an engaging narrative flow, and beautifully written . . . drawing in so many authentic Manipuri voices to the narrative . . . [I]t shines a new light on this significant part of India’s modern history.’ — Robert Lyman, Fellow, Royal Historical Society, UK
‘An overlooked patch of history brilliantly brought to life! A magnificent tribute to Manipur and the gallant soldiers of a forgotten front.’ — Lt. Gen. P.C. Bhardwaj (Retd.), Former Vice Chief of Army Staff of India
‘[A]n invaluable guide in any effort to build WWII tourism in Manipur, Nagaland and the Northeast region.’ — Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor, Imphal Free Press, India
About the Author
Hemant Singh Katoch is an independent scholar based in New Delhi. His research has focused on the Battles of Imphal and Kohima of 1944, and he has designed and conducted battlefield tours around them, the first of their kind in India. He conceived of the original idea to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal and helped organise a series of remembrance events in 2014. In the past he has worked for a Swiss foundation in Geneva, the United Nations in Timor-Leste, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia in 2013 and is a donor member of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.
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The author indulges in some hyperbole, saying that the linked battles at Imphal and Kohima (both in India, near the border with Burma) were the largest defeast for the Japanese on land. The Japanese did lose perhaps 30,000 killed in a resounding defeat and collapse of their occupation of Burma (now named Myanmar), but other battles such as Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Soviet surge into Manchuria were also huge, and land campaigns in the Philippines were also large in scale (and obviously battles in China, if largely Japanese wins, were sometimes quite large and bloody).
The book ends interestingly as a kind of guide to the battlefields. Katoch (I hope that's the proper way to render his name) is interested in the idea of battlefield tourism, perhaps as a way to further develop the economy of the region. The battlefield guide describes the action at that point--and lists various heroics, including a number of Indian soldiers who won awards like the VC.
I liked the book and I wish it had been available prior to my visit to Imphal in 2014. The book must be read after you've read Imphal, A Flower on Lofty Heights by Antony Brett-James and Geoffrey Evans. I also strongly suggest you read Harry Seaman's The Battle at Sangshak if its available.
All the really interesting material is in chapter 4, "The battlefields: hub and spokes." Chapter 2 "Manipur: on the front lines" is a kind of "Forgotten Voices of Manipur." Interesting but not relevant to the battlefield guide. Chapters 1 and 3 contain material that is covered elsewhere and you wouldn't be reading this book unless you had already read Defeat Into Victory, Ball of Fire or Burma, the Forgotten War. The book covers the terrain in five distinct areas and the material will be useful if you're going to visit the Imphal battlefields.
Map 2, the Battle of Imphal in the book is pretty useless. However, this same map is available on line at the Battlefield Tours of Imphal web site. Print it out in color and have it handy while you read the book.
The copy that I have is the South Asia Edition; A Routledge India Original and its sales were limited to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. So I don't know if the edition I have is the same as the image shown above. The cover of the edition I have is taken from the Indian National Army Memorial Complex in Moirang. I visited the INA complex when I was in Manipur. I find it odd that the author uses an image from a memorial complex dedicated technically to traitors to the Indian Army. Its been seventy plus years to its not worth debating. I just find the cover image an odd choice for a book about an Indian Army victory over the Imperial Japanese Army and their Indian allies. The asking price is a little surprising; I don't know why they're asking so much. A Rick Steve's Guide to Switzerland is $19.95 brand new and you can read the maps.
Chapter 5, "Battlefield tourism; ideas for the future" is an interesting collection of suggestions for the government of India to consider to popularize the Imphal battlefields as a tourist destination. I wish them well but getting to Imphal is a challenge and his comments about security and and your health and safety should be taken seriously. In all my travels, the only time I was the victim of highway robbery was on our way back from Shenam Saddle when a large collection of burning tires encouraged us to stop and fork over an undisclosed amount of rupees. So when the Assam Rifles tell you not to go somewhere, listen to them.
I liked the book and I'm glad Hemant got it to print. For those interested in the subject its an invaluable tool. For anyone thinking about visiting Imphal it will make mandatory reading. It was a privilege visiting Imphal and I was fortunate to have Hemant as our guide. I'm glad he got his book published and for anyone interested in the India - Burma - China Theater in World War 2 its a "must read."