“Where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defence as that 10,000 men descending from the clouds, might not, in many places, do an infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?”. Benjamin Franklin, 1784.
Following the success of the D Day landings in June 1944, the Allies expected to make a steady advance eastward, but found themselves bogged down for many weeks in the bitter Battle for Normandy.
The battles of Kohima and Imphal became two of the greatest struggles of the Second World War, rivalling El Alamein and Stalingrad, though it still remains comparatively unknown. To the men who fought there however, it remains “The Battle”. If the Japanese had won, the road to India would have lain wide open before them.
The Battles of Kohima and Imphal became the turning points in the Japanese attempt to invade India and were fought in the Assam region on the Indo-Burmese border between 8th March and 3rd July 1944.
In the winter of 1940, Britain had her back to the wall; she had weathered Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain and was now fighting the Italians in North Africa. The fall of France and the consequent loss of the French Mediterranean Fleet meant that Britain alone faced the Axis naval forces in the area. The Italian army based in Libya was easily resupplied from Italy while the British based in Egypt could only be supported by convoys via Gibraltar and Malta and then by sailing close to Sicily to reach their destination, or sail around the Cape of Good Hope and then up the entire east coast Africa and through the Suez Canal. This latter choice was a very long and slow route, forcing the British to take their chances in the Mediterranean.
This story of Captain Fogarty Fegan and the crew of the Armed Merchantman Jervis Bay typifies the fighting spirit and courage of our Royal and Merchant navies, without whose sacrifices wartime Britain would have been starved into submission.
On the 28th of November 1940, a convoy of 38 merchant ships, codenamed HX84, left Halifax Nova Scotia, laden with food, fuel and other vital supplies bound for Britain. It was planned for the convoy to meet up with a British escort force half way across the Atlantic, but until then its only protection was the Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, a 14,000 ton converted liner armed with seven obsolete 6 inch guns bolted to her unarmoured decks and commanded by Captain Edward Fogarty Fegan RN.