Kohima 1944: 10,000 killed by a tennis court

Durante many years tennis was more than just a sport, also in the same way that sport was something more than it is now. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when the sport was being born, it meant something more than ‘mere’ physical activity and of course a show, because at that time restricted in practice to practitioners and their relatives.

Precisely that character minority turn sport into a sign of progress, of distinction. Snobbery even. Who was ‘sportman‘, who practiced the’sport‘Whether it was rowing, pigeon throwing or lawn tennis, he passed for being an advanced person, to the last. From lite. In rapidly rising sports in popular esteem such as ftbol, baseball or boxing, the incipient athletes compensated their ‘vulgarity’ with a treatment that was already beginning to be of star, and the people who handled them had or are attributed the category of prcer. Even in a Spain where doing sports, like writing, meant crying well into the twentieth century, they were allowed to be direct interlocutors from the upper echelons of the State.

Sports Diplomacy: Exhibici

Sports Diplomacy: Lawn-Tennis Exhibition in Turkey, around 1900

And at the head of the sport was the British empire. Sports had emerged on the Islands. At least its regulation, which was the same for that matter. In the time that concerns us, those first years of the twentieth century, they were the first world power -the U.S They were on the prowl, but they were not yet seen as serious competitors – and in their diplomacy not only the gunships and battleships of the Royal Navy, the Redcoats and the rifle Martini-Henry, the pound sterling and the Manchester looms. If it was about cultural influence, the fashions would come from Paris but the ‘sport’, which was beginning to be defined as an activity of first world importance, came from Londons: regulations and supplies, which were purchased at Lillywhite’s.

S. Sport was a way of cultural penetration. Peaceful. British diplomats and merchants did not miss the opportunity to increase the prestige and attractiveness of the Empire with parties of ‘foot-ball‘for popular classes or fancy sessions lawn-tennis(the intervention in his foundation of the Spanish Augurio Perera it was not yet well known. Well, not today …), horse competitions, or explaining how you could have some place to play golf for local potentates. Sometimes the apostolate was made. Other times the locals simply tried to approach and imitate the uses and customs of the ‘teachers’ and the Empire won. prestige.

The m

The legendary British Lee Enfield rifle

And thus, when in 1927 the Belgian and Dutch embassies in Japan organized a meeting of tennis which was attended by a large number of diplomats dressed as white as the players – tennis was the White Sport in those early days – starting from there a series of events that ended in the Vatican received the first official Soviet confirmation of the murder of the Tsar and his family (As the researcher Viktor Alexandrov tells it, quoting the diplomat Pyotr Voikov), somehow the British Empire was behind and above all of it. And that’s that prestige.

In the India, the Pearl of the British Empire which, for example, had a team of Davis CupWith Indians and Britons, from very early on, tennis took root unlike, for example, football, for which progress is now being made in India, in the 21st century, somewhat artificial attempts.

Arisaka Tipo 98 rifle, arma est

Arisaka Type 98 rifle, standard weapon of the Japanese army

And under the above premises it is not surprising that Charles Pawsey , Imperial Commissioner of the Indian Region of Nagalandia -inhabited by the Naga ethnic group- in the 40s, based in the city ofKohima , would have enabled a small tennis club near your residence: with clubhouse and a track. Nagaland, north and east of Calcutta and part of the greaterAssam , it was a quite placid place: the relative close to the Himalaya tempered the tropical climate and was one of the regions known as‘the Switzerland of’ . The abruptness of the territory made it advisable to locate the clubhouse on a terrace practiced on a hillside, like those in which the t, the main production of the area, and the track in a lower one. And when in 1944 the war That was very important: The Battle of Kohima caused something more than 10,000 dead

and to a large extent he got rid of, and made up his mind, on that track. The war, of course, was World War II. It could be thought that in April 1944 it was already determined and in a way it was butthe future defeated did not resign themselves . In the Asian area Japan I saw how the Americans were approaching their bombers to their shores, conquering islet after islet but – in reality, they never had a very clear strategic vision – they still thought that an attack on another front could unbalance

again the contest and force the allies to make a peace advantageous to the Empire.


Japanese infantry on the attack. Note the officer’s katana (probable propaganda image) The front of China was for them the same as Unin Sovitica for the Germans: a territory that they could not conquer for the same magnitude of the company but, despite this, they decided on a grand style operation to try to reverse the inertia that front: an attack by Burma towards India, trying to prevent the British and Americans supply the chinese army and, furthermore, perhaps provoke a rebellion

against the Empire. At that time the Chinese received supplies by air, over the Himalayas as Japan controlled the Burmese jungle and overland routes. The allies wanted to occupy that area to increase the flow of aid, and with that action the Japanese would anticipate their plans. All that vast operation, with the dominance of a continent Perhaps at stake, I ended up converging on Charles Pawsey’s tennis court. Because it just so happened that the track, the clubhouse and the Commissioner’s residence had a view that was not even suitable for peacefully sipping a brandy after a game: it dominated the spot where the road ran between Kohima, Imphal y Dimapur,

that in wartime they became military bases and that were the objectives of that Japanese operation.

Snowshoes from before 1940. Sir Charles Pawsey’s common ‘guns’ on the court

Snowshoes from before 1940. Sir Charles Pawsey’s common ‘guns’ on the court The Japanese plan is called Operation U-Go. It is said that it was a question of preventing the Allies from advancing on Burma and that General Renya Mutaguchi expanded his reach by adding an Indian ‘free army’ to his forces to promote an insurrection. At his head will be Subas ChandaBose , which in its anti-colonial struggle had sought and obtained – with few practical consequences, because the Nipponese did not want to ‘liberate’ but to impose their own empire – German and Japanese support. Once Kohima and Imphal had been conquered, Bose would call for the rebellion of a country not very happy with the Empire: the year before a severe famine had ravaged Bengal without Winston Churchill

I would have taken great measures. Furthermore, the peaceful Indian independence movement, led by Gandhi and Nehru, was firmly established. However, British rule in India had settled into the framework of ‘military races’ such as theSijs , very useful in colonial wars, and although the Indian military of the British army were independentists, the discipline it was stronger. It was so until the end of the war despite the fact that the British sinned from a ‘certain’ lack of touch

in his dealings with them: no Indian soldier was a lieutenant colonel in his army.


Artillera de monta japonesa The Japanese plan calls for the use of five infantry divisions and one armored regiment. The main effort would be on Imphal but Kohima, to the north, would also be attacked to secure the encirclement by cutting off the route by which Imphal’s forces could be supplied. However, within the general voluntarism of the Japanese strategy, Lieutenant General Kotoku was ordered Sato rush through the jungle with few supplies and support – just artillery. Japan had practically no air force in the area – and supplied itself with what it would take from the enemy. Sato judged him inviable and foolish,

but he obeyed. The British, sensing the Japanese movements, made a few erratic troop movements between one and the other objectives. As a result of the bewilderment, in the end the defense of Kohima Heights depended on1,500 British, Gurkha and Indian soldiers , who had to face a Japanese division:ten times more soldiers

Despite being worn out and hungry from the jungle march and losing time to lesser targets, they fought with the ferocity of which they were capable. The April 8, 1944 the Japanese cut off the key road and attacked, uphill, the British barricaded in the Commissioner’s house, the tennis court and the clubhouse. In wave after wave and suffering heavy losses to machine guns and grenades, they managed to conquer the house and push the defenders to the tennis court – asphalt court, by the way – 12 meters higher. They had previously dug trenches

in both bands of the same.

The Lee tank, already obsolete in 1944, but to

The Lee tank, obsolete in 1944, but useful against infantry. On the 9th they had to endure a Japanese assault on them every half hour (curiously,before each assault the Japanese demanded surrender, ‘warning’ the defenders ) and, in the intervals, the canonization ofmountain mortars and artillery . Day after day until April 13 the Japanese managed to set foot on the terrace and push defenders to the other side of the court of tennis. At little more than 11 meters, therefore, attackers and defenders were shooting,

they threw grenades and engaged in bayonet combat.  Although the clubhouse, on an upper terrace, was still in British hands, from it little cover could be given given how close friend and foe were.  Finally, on April 14 the exhausted Japanese did not attack.

Track and club area, after the battle

Track and club area, after the battle On April 17 the last Japanese assault took place. No longer useless because everyone knew that the British reinforcements, with armored (Lee tanks, outdated, but effective against infantry) had arrived in the area. The Japanese finally achieved occupy the entire tennis court only to be finally swept away on the 19th by infantry and a tank: the road to Imphal was assured and, therefore, also the Japanese defeat on that front and the failure of the alleged conquest of India: Bose couldn’t ‘free’ anything.

Even so, they clung to some areas where they did not withdraw until May. The Japanese march towards Burma was almost as terrible as the battle: without supplies at source and without having been able to take them from the enemy, many died ofstarvation . Japan had in total more than30,000 killed in Operation U-Go , wounded apart. The British and Indians had 21,000 casualties. The war in Asia still lasted until August 1945 and in 1948 the Indian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim soldiers, who had fought side by side against the Japanese and did not rise up against the Empire -as their great-great-grandparents did in 1857- fought each other to the death for ethnic and religious reasons,

But that is another story.

The track today, integrated into the military cemetery

The track today, integrated into the military cemetery On the tennis court were many of thealmost 10,000 dead that cost both sides the battle of Kohima Today it is a military cemetery in memory of the fallen there. The track has been preserved, integrated into it, although obviously no one has played on it again. British military history compared the battle to thetermpilas

. The Asian Stalingrad, it was also called …

PS: Charles Pawsey, highly respected by the Naga, stood by the court and the tennis club throughout the battle. He was appointed ‘sir’ in 1948 and passed away in 1972.

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Kohima 1944: 10,000 killed by a tennis court

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