The Battle of Kohima was fought as part of the Japanese attempt to cut off the British base at Imphal and drive the British out of Assam. To this day historians disagree over whether or not the Japanese would have invaded India had they been victorious. But it is clear that a British defeat at Imphal and Kohima would have set back the campaign to retake Burma for a very long time, possibly permanently.
The book takes its title from the name given – with good reason – by the Japanese to their retreat from Kohima and Imphal. Fergal Keane tells us that the 15,000-strong Japanese 31st Division crossed the Chindwin River in March 1944 to attack Kohima. It began its withdrawal from Kohima at the end of May, carrying about 800 wounded and sick men on stretchers and horses, and leaving behind more than 6,000 who had been killed in battle or had died of starvation or disease.
One of the many strengths of this book is the amount of coverage given to the Japanese. While making it clear that they were often guilty of disgusting brutality, Fergal Keane manages to put a human face on the average Japanese soldier and officer. This is a departure