Tag: Namhpakka

The Burma Road, (behind the chapters 3) “Tonkwa” Chapter 25

One of the first major battles for the Marsmen was held at Tonkwa, a small town south of Bhamo, Burma.  The 1st Chinese Regiment, who were fighting with the Allies, had just recently captured Tonkwa.  This town was strategically valuable due to its location  directly on the north-south route to and from Bhamo, where the Chinese were fighting the Japanese.  The route made an ideal retreat for the Japanese if they wanted to escape, and could also be used by them to bring in reinforcements.  The Mars Task Force’s mission was to relieve the Chinese army of their occupation of Tonkwa and maintain Ally hold. (1)

Defending Tonkwa was difficult and fraught with abundant opportunity for heroism.  The 2nd Battalion’s I & R platoon was sent to scout ahead on December 9th, 1944.  They met no resistance from the Japanese until they reached Mo Hlaing, a small village about a mile northeast of Tonkwa.  Here, all hell broke loose and three platoons of enemy soldiers descended upon the unit.  This skirmish was the Marsmen’s initial taste of real battle.  Before the I & R platoon could escape, the first Mars Task Force casualty was claimed, Pvt. Walter C. Mink.  He posthumously received a Bronze Star. (2)

More acts of bravery would follow.  John Randolph, in his Marsmen in Burma, tells of squad sergeant Wilbert A Netzel who scuttled under a barrage of hot lead while leading four of his men out of the range of fire.  He was badly injured, and earned a Bronze Star for his efforts. (3)

Another soldier, Lt. Norman R. Berkness of the 3rd Battalion’s Headquarters, was positioned as forward observer and gave directions to the 2nd and 3rd Battalions for where to aim mortar.  He was unlucky enough to be hit three times on the 15th of December. 

The first time, a sniper’s bullet took the lobe of his ear.  The second time, only minutes later, he suffered a long gash on his cheek from an enemy rifle.  But like a true Marsman, the lieutenant refused the aid of the medics and continued fighting. (4)  An hour further into battle, the lieutenant’s unit fell under fire from a Japanese Nambu, a semi-automatic pistol which uses low pressure 8 mm cartridges, but could be equipped with type 90 tear gas grenades. (5)  Berkness assessed the situation and realized the thick jungle growth prevented him from taking out the Nambu operator with traditional mortar, so he deserted cover and snuck up on the Japanese soldier, attempting to terminate the threat with man-to-man combat.  But before he reached the enemy soldier, the Nambu fighter fired on him, shattering his right leg.  Later, he was evacuated to safety, where he received a Silver Star for his bravery. (6) 

The Marsmen received word the next day that Bhamo had fallen to the Allies and was successfully occupied by the 1st Chinese Regiment.  This welcome news must have felt like salve on the men’s morale. (7)

In a slightly humorous recount of an injurious scuffle, Colonel Thrailkill and Major Lattin were on their way to F Company’s Observation Post when Thrailkill sighted a Japanese officer escaping a trap.  Thrailkill crawled to what he thought was a better position, aiming to get a good shot, when the enemy soldier spotted him and tossed a grenade his way.  It literally bounced off the colonel’s buttocks before exploding, but, unfortunately, it cut shrapnel into Thrailkill’s back and neck.  Major Lattin then killed the offending Japanese soldier with a bullet to his head. (8)

Thrailkill evacuated with the other wounded, but returned to battle in Namhpakka a month later.  Sadly, he was killed by a Japanese artillery shell while planning coordinates for a mortar attack on an enemy convoy traveling the Burma Road. (9)

In my novel, The Burma Road, I’ve used Lt. Norman R. Berkness’s experience to plot the battle.  In Chapter 25, “Tonkwa”, Georgie is the hero of the day.  Much like Berkness, he has the spunk to take on a Japanese Nambu fighter.  Georgie is headstrong, daring, and makes a fearless sacrifice, putting the safety of his unit before his own. I don’t want to spoil the read, so you’ll have to peruse the chapter to find out how he fares during the one-on-one combat.  I hope it holds your interest as surely as Randolph held mine when he recapped the action at Tonkwa.




(1)   Marsmen in Burma, John Randolph, 1990. Curators of the University of Missouri, page 95:

(2)   Ibid., page 95.

(3)   Ibid., page 96.

(4)   Ibid., pages 97-98.

(5)   Wikipedia.org, Nambu Pistol, Printed 10-05-19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nambu_pistol

(6)   Marsmen in Burma, ibid., pages 97-98.

(7)   Ibid.,page 98.

(8)   Ibid., page 96.

(9)   Ibid., page 174.



© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.


The Burma Road, (behind the chapters 1) ‘The Shweli Slide’ Chapter 24

On their way to Mong Wi, after winning their battle in Tonkwa, the 475th and the 124th had to cross a mountain range down to a bivouac area east of the Shweli River. If it were Monsoon Season, the men might not have been able to scale the mountain at all, due to the mud the rains caused. This was during the dry season, but as luck would have it, when the 124th crossed the mountain, intermittent rains poured for three days, so close together that the ground could not dry. They needed to cut stairs into the mountainside in order to scale down to the river. This was a challenge, and men and mule both succumbed to the mud and often slid their way down to the water.

The Shweli is Burma’s swiftest river, and they needed to cross over it to their bivouac on the other side. The troops found a bridge built by the Chinese, who were assisting the Allies with fighting the Japanese. Chiang Kai-shek’s 1st Chinese Regiment had a small outpost overlooking the river, but most of their troops had crossed and moved on before the 475th and 124th arrived.

To assist with their crossing, the Chinese had built a flimsy bridge, approximately 400 feet wide. When the 475th arrived, they found the bridge neglected and the strong current of the Shweli had already wrought much damage. They had to repair the pontoon structure, so they used local bamboo for flooring and secured the poles with jungle vines (as there were no ropes or cables). They covered the flooring with dirt, grass, and mantas (six-foot square tarpaulin provided to wrap supplies in a pack saddle).

When the 124th reached the Shweli River, heavy stomping on the rickety bridge from the men and mules of the 475th, along with the swift passage of the river now swollen from rain, destroyed the structure once again, so the 124th had to make repairs before they could navigate over it. When they did cross, the mules were unloaded, allowing them to travel over the bridge without packs. The men carried all of the equipment, including the extremely heavy parts of the Howitzer cannons they used. The 124th crossed all day until midnight. The men who had made bivouac first, now lay in comfortable bedding cut from rice-straw stacks. They helped those still crossing in the total darkness by shining their flashlights, guiding troops who were stumbling over fallen trees and sinking in the thick mud. These men took care of each other like brothers.

They were not permitted open fires, and the air drops for supplies (including food rations) did not happen for a couple of days, as the planes could not tell where to make the drop. The hungry men would hear them circling overhead, but no rations made it through. Morale could have easily cracked for anyone suffering these harsh conditions, but the men of the 124th were able to joke about the situation. Humor kept them strong and alert and allowed them to endure until better conditions were met. This was the makeup of a typical Marsman.

They faced their second range of mountains between the river they had crossed and their destination in Mong Wi. Here, the elevation was so high that greenery was sparse and the trees were almost bare. The weather was cold, wet, and sometimes icy, so fires were allowed. This seemed bizarre, as back in Myitkyina, where the enemy threat was lighter, fires were not permitted. But here in the heart of enemy territory they could light one. This was because conditions in this part of Burma were more treacherous than the enemy. The threat of the terrain had to be dealt with first, or they might not survive to fight.

When on lower ground, in an open hillside, the men decided to rest and tied their mules to a local tree. Unknown to them, this tree housed a huge beehive. The mules disturbed the tree limbs by eating the foliage, and the bees attacked. It was mayhem as the soldiers had to quickly untie the mules while under ambush. The men survived quite well, with only a few injuries, but three mules died.

Overall, these men faced great hardships while trekking over hostile terrain in order to confront the Japanese. It was thought there would be a battle near Mong Wi, but the Japanese had deserted the village and moved on. Arrival at Mong Wi allowed the men a short respite from tedious hiking, and they learned they could barter with the natives for delicious chickens and even a cow or two. Parachutes and cigarettes were coveted by the Burmese and could be exchanged for tasty provisions, like fresh vegetables and poultry. However, their vacation soon ended, and the troops moved on again in pursuit of the Japanese. But, aside from lone snipers, the Marsmen would not meet their enemy in full force until they reached the Hosi Valley near Namhpakka.


This information was learned from: “Marsmen In Burma” by John Randolph. You can order a copy of this book (hard copy $25, paperback $15), which was hard to find, but I finally did at:



Another excellent source of information about the Mars Task Force can be found in Dr. Troy J. Sacquety’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”.  Dr. Sacquety is a civil affairs branch historian with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. He may make this in-depth journal article available to you if you request it at sacquett@socom.mil.

I highly encourage you to check out these references, as the story of the Mars Task Force is compelling and should be known.


© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.


The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 27, “Midway to Namhpakka” (Excerpt 2)

I’m with my friends BJ and Bradson.  We’re in B Company, part of the 475th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Mars Task Force—a special long-range penetration outfit.  We’re on our way to Namhpakka, marching up a narrow elephant trail through the Burmese mountains.  The endless path switches back and forth and rises through rough rock until I’m dizzy.  Our column pushes forward relentlessly, like a powerful train on a track carved from granite.

We’re about halfway up, and I gaze over the side.  It’s a huge drop—further than three Empire State Buildings! 

BJ trembles as he grabs my arm and franticly points a quarter-mile ahead where C Company is making their way up the steep incline.  “Check out Silver’s mule!” he shouts.

I look up and see Private Silver struggling, anxiously grasping the mule’s tail, holding on for all he’s worth, but the spooked animal is in a crazed battle with the tight pass.  It fights wildly, scuffling out of control on the cramped ledge.  Suddenly, it charges ahead, pulling Silver behind like a tethered dog.  The soldier hangs on desperately, as his panicked mule stumbles, plunges forward, then skyrockets right off the cliff.

I’m stunned. We’re left here standing in the quiet, listening to rubble scuttle over the bluff.  The smell of hot, flying dust is thick in the air.  None of us can speak.  Then my heart flips to my gut as I realize Silver just fell 2,500 feet to his death.

“Mother Fucker!”  Bradson croaks, his eyes wide with terror.

We stop to refocus.  I grit my teeth and swallow the vomit that’s exploded in my mouth.  I turn and look at my buddies—their faces ashen.  It’s a few minutes before I can think. Silver’s gone.  Any optimism I felt about victory in Namhpakka crashed down that cliff with him.  I’m definitely up against two formidable foes: the Japs and this savage terrain.  But there’s no time to mourn.  We’re soon scaling the trail again.  We move forward, braving the torturous switchbacks that crisscross the mountain in one long, monotonous train.

Got to make bivouac before dark, I think.  Or I’ll be navigating blind.  I can’t get Silver’s dying out of my head.  It keeps replaying in my mind over and over.  This place’s a swarming viper’s nest.  But orders are clear: Keep going ‘til we reach Namhpakka—then crush those Nips and take Burma Road.



© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.