London: Britain`s struggle to repel a combined force of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose-led Azad Hind Fauj and Japan during World War II, around Imphal and Kohima in 1944 has been adjudged as the `greatest ever battle involving British forces`, a report said.
The clashes that took place in northeastersn corner of India, were voted the winner of a contest run by the National Army Museum here, to identify `Britain`s Greatest Battle`.
The battles of Imphal and Kohima saw the British and Indian forces, under the overall command of Lieutenant-General William Slim, repel the Japanese invasion of India and helped turned the tide of the war in the Far East.
The Japanese, along with soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj, eventually lost 53,000 dead and missing in the battles. The British forces sustained 12,500 casualties at Imphal while the fighting at Kohima cost them another 4,000 casualties.
The campaign of Imphal-Kohima was on a shortlist of five battles which topped a public poll. Finally it were selected as the winner by an audience of more than 100 guests at a special event at the museum in Chelsea yesterday.
Imphal-Kohima received almost half of all votes. It was far ahead of D-Day and Normandy, in 1944 which received 25 per cent of the vote and came second, followed by the famous Battle of Waterloo, in 1815 (22 per cent).
At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving a 40 minute presentation. The case for Imphal and Kohima was made by Dr Robert Lyman, an author and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
"I had thought that one of the bigger names like D-Day or Waterloo would win so I am delighted that Imphal-Kohima has won. You have got to judge the greatness of a battle by its political, cultural and social impact, as much as its military impact," he was quoted by the Telegraph as saying.
"Imphal and Kohima were really significant for a number of reasons, not least that they showed that the Japanese were not invincible and that that they could be beaten, and beaten well. The victories demonstrate this more than the US in the Pacific, where they were taking them on garrison by garrison," Lyman added.
The fight for Imphal went on longer than that for Kohima, lasting from March until July. Kohima was smaller in scale, and shorter, from April to June - but the fighting was so intense it has been described as the `Stalingrad of the East`.
In one sector, only the width of the town`s tennis court separated the two sides. When the relief forces of the British 2nd Division arrived, the defencive perimeter was reduced to a shell-shattered area only 350 metres square.
There are several memorials to the British and Indian troops who fought in the area, including one with an inscription that has become famous as the `Kohima Epitaph`. It reads-- `When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today`.