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Major General Tuang Za Khai

Following article is compiled from the Pu Thang Za Dal’s paper “THE CHIN/ZO PEOPLE OF BANGLADESH, BURMA AND INDIA”

I. FAMILY
Born: July 1, 1927
Parents: Ex-Chief Khan Lian, Pi Lian Cingh(Khuasak)
Bros & Sis: Son Za Cin, Niang Pum, Tuang Kho Kam, Pau Kho Hau, Man Vung, Lian Za Cing, Tuang Za Cin
Marriage: Miss Tual Dim
Children: Kam Do Dal, Khan Lian Khup, Cingh Thian Uap

TuangzakhaiII. EDUCATION
He started his education at the Government Vernacular Primary School at Khuasak. After passing the Primary the Primary classes he continued his study at the Government Anglo Vernacular Middle School Tedim until the outbreak of the Second World War and the subsequent fall of Yangon to the Japanese Imperial Army that resulted in closure of all schools throughout the country. He was then in the sixth standard.

The Japanese Army, having no effective system of reinforcing its fighting men at the front and no proper logistic support from the rear necessary to sustain the impetus of its operations, faced ignominious defeat at the Imphal – Kohima front in the North Eastern Indian border area and fell back into Myanmar through different routes. Avoiding major battles and maintaining stiff delaying actions only for their safe retreat, they started to pull back from the front even some months earlier than the US Atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which eventually caused the Japanese to surrender unconditionally that ended the Second World War in Asian- Pacific regions.

tuangzakhai 2When hostilities virtually ceased to exist and peace restored in the whole of Northern Chin State, elders of the Siyin area, being mindful of the importance of new generation youths education with deep concern, organized a group of qualified teachers and opened a private self – help Middle School at the premise of Khuasak Primary School where he attended the seventh standard. When the school was shifted to Thuklai village for easier access to other students from surrounding villages in the region, there he attended the eighth and nineth standard.

In 1946, while studying in the nineth standard, he went down to Yangon together with four others, namely – Pum Za Kam (Lieutenant, killed in action, Posthumous “ Thura” recipient), Tuang Za Chin (his brother – retired Middle School Head and Laboratory Technician), E. Ngaw Chin Pau (retired Superintendent Geologist in the Ministry of Mines) and Kam Za Nang (retired captain), led by U Lun Pum (B.A, B.Ed, retired Basic Education High School Headmaster and one time Minister for Land Nationalization), who finished his first year Intermediate class before the war and was to go to Yangon to persue his further studies at the University. It was through his advice and encouragement that they were able to accompany him for their further studies for which they owe their great debt of gratitude.

In Yangon, he studied at Cushing High School (later named Union Christian High School ) and passed both the school leaving Certificate Examination and Matriculation Examination in 1947. He then joined the University and in March 1950, a few days before he was to sit for the Senior Intermediate Examination, he was selected to attend the Burma Army Officers Training School Course No. 3 in Maymyo.

III. SERVICE IN THE ARMY
After six months of strenuous intensive training he was commissioned as second lieutenant in September 1950, was promoted to lieutenant in 1951, Captain in 1953, Major in 1963, Lieutenant Colonel in 1966, Colonel in 1973, Brigadier-General in 1980 and Major General in 1984. In 1985, he was assigned to the Council of Peoples’ Inspectors and served as Member of the Council until the Army took over the State responsibility in September 1988. He took his retirement from the Army in January 1986 while serving in the office of the council of Peoples’ Inspectors.

During his 35 years of service in the Army, he served as

  • Platoon Commander
  • Unit Intelligence Officer
  • Company Commander
  • Adjutant, Staff Captain A/Q at Brigade HQs at Brigade HQs, Battalion Second – in – Command,
  • Battalion Commander of Lght Infantry Division (also called Tactical Operation Commander)
  • Deputy Commander at Regional Command
  • Commander Light Infantry Division (assigned also the task of forming the Division)
  • Commander, Regional Command, and Quartermasters General at the office of the Department of the Quartermasters General, Ministry of Defense.

    IV. CAREER IN THE ARMY
    Besides his career in the Army, he had Army – related services during the War. Early in 1942, when the Japanese captured British positions in Kalay Valley and the likely push to Chin State was imminent, the Assistant Superintendent in Tiddim, Mr. N. W. Kelly, organized a para – Military Battalion called “The Western Chin Levies’’ from among the local populace. The aim was to defend their homeland by themselves, to dominate no-mans’- land by active patrolling, to fight a hit- and- run guerrilla warfare, to infiltrate behind enemy lines to gather information about enemy strength, its intention, build-up and to report back immediately to the nearest Army positions. He volunteered and joined the Levy Force in the Siyin Company and served actively as a levy man. The Company was commanded by Jemadar Thuk On and Subedar Thuam Chin, Veterans of Burma Frontier Force ( B. F.F.) as Company Commander and Company-second-in-command respectively.

    tuangzakhai-3To carry out the assigned task, the Company HQ with one platoon was to take position at Mualpi, a strategically vital hill dominating all surrounding areas, about 3 miles below Theizang village, one platoon at No.2. Stockade (Tulsuk) area about 2 miles left of the Company HQ and the third platoon at Ngalzang village area about 4 miles to the right flank. These places were all tactically important approaches to Chin State. They were to be the guerrilla bases with no other regular troops between them and the enemy. He was in the left flank platoon in No.2. Stockade (Tulsuk) area that manned the main highway from Kalaymyo to the Chin State – the most likely enemy line of approach for the main thrust if ever it wished to extend its offensive operations in Chin State.

    One night in February 1943, the Japanese attacked the Company HQ. It was repulsed after fighting for about an hour. Three days later, before dawn, they attacked again the second time putting more men supported by heavy weapons. It was also repulsed inflicting heavy casualties . The Levy Company suffered 2 killed and 2 wounded. Analyzing the latest enemy activities and developments, it was more real than apparent that the enemy’s intention was to extend its campaign in Chin State. Based on this appreciation, one of the deductions drawn was not to have the Levy Company ahead of Army forward positions in no-man’s-land for it could easily fall prey to the enemy in the event of a mass onslaught.

    The Levy Company was therefore withdrawn, regrouped and reassigned to Tuizang village area, another moun-tain range called Tolu that stretches to Khuikul, a vitally important hill on the Kalay-Tedim highway. In May 1943, not long after the Levy Company was withdrawned from its Mualpi base, the Japanese, avoiding Mualpi area, marched through thick forest and launched a surprise night attack on Army positions in No.3 Stockade from the left flank and captured it. The retreating Indian troops took positions on the Kalay-Fort White-Tedim highway. The enemy wasted no time in their pursuit and a week later, attacked Leisan Mual and succeeded in capturing the most vital ground.

    The Battalion was then relieved by a Gurkha Battalion, the best fighting men the British Army had. Being proud of its courage and fighting ability, combined with a full sense of confidence, the Gurkha Battalion counter attacked the lost vital point vigorously for about a week supported by heavy weapons and recaptured, suffering considerable heavy casualties. There were general talks going round to the effect that they even sought for support of their Army Rum which they gulped moments before leaving for the final assault, but not to the point of complete blotto, as a supplement to invigorate their willingness to fight more daringly and boldly. They stood firmly on the recaptured hill and repulsed all counter attacks attempted by the enemy. It was said that no less than two Victoria Crosses (VC), the highest gallantry medal in the British Army , and many other gallantry medals were awarded to personnel of the Gurkha Battalion in a single battle at Leisan Mual.

    Meanwhile at Tuizang village area, the Levy Company was busy patrolling no-man’s-land. The Japanese, unable to fight a decisive battle at Leisan Mual in its push through the main highway, began to send small groups of recon-naissance to other fronts in broad day light one enemy was seen in the vicinity of the Levy Company picket and a week later another two were spotted between the Levy Company base and the Indian forward position on Tolu mount. These instances indicated that sooner or later defence positions on Tolu range would surely be attacked. Having reached this conclusion, the Levy Company was ordered to abandon its base immediately and take defence positions behind the Indian forward Company so as to deter possible enemy cut off from the rear in the event of an attack.

    The Levy Company then made haste for their move to the new position, dug individual trenches with great urgency and day and night kept stand – to waiting for the enemy to come. But the enemy, instead of a head on collision on Tolu ridge, force-marched along the Kuailui (Kuai Chaung) swerved to the left and cut off the Kalay -Tedim highway at 54 Mile Stone area and with a left hand hook the main force attacked Khuikul (52 Mile Stone) area defenses in force.

    Judging from sounds of gun fire and movements of fighting going on at Khuikul area as dimly seen with naked eyes direct from the Levy position, it seemed that forces on Tolu mountain range including the Levy Company were automatically cut off. As the Levy Company was not equipped with communication set they were in the dark about the probable outcome or true picture of the fighting. They therefore dispatched two men to the Indian Company on Tolu mount to report the situation and to get instructions on what the Levy Company should do in that prevailing condition.

    The two runners came back with words to the effect that they (the Indian Company) were ready for retreat waiting for final orders- that the Levy Company could start its withdrawal by way of retreat at the discretion of the Levy Company Commander. Considering instances was seen with ambivalent attitude and not encouraging. The Levy Company therefore decided not to withdraw towards Khuikul where fighting was still in progress.The Indian force defending Khuikul area had to fight back two fronts – the enemy main assault and the enemy out off party. As the fate of all forward troops depended upon how successfully they could dislodge the cut off party, the task became a top most priority.

    They had to fight at all cost, which they did, and fought a tooth and nail fight, dislodged them and made the area safe again, atleast for sometime, for the forward troops to withdraw. It was apparent that they withdrew from Khuikul defence before noon and joined with troops on the Kennedy Peak, the highest peak in Northern Chin State, about five miles towards Tedim. Forces at the Fort White area, who could not withdraw towards Khuikul, were seen shelling the deserted own troop withdrew, descending the western slope of Letha range through the Siyin Valley to Suang Aak Tuam hill above Thuklai village. Some withdrew towards Limkhai and Mualbeam villages and thence to Tedim area.

    tuangzakhai-4The Levy Company Commander’s choice of not to withdraw along the Tolu mountain ridge towards Khuikul proved to be a prudent decision for it was known that fighting ceased about noon which meant Khuikul fell before noon the same day.

    As for the Levy Company, they abandoned their position at 0900 hours, descended the precipitous South West slope clinging past long cliffs with much difficulty and reached at a dry rivulet running down from Khuikul hill – side in the afternoon. They ensconced themselves at the rivulet until late in the evening. In the rivulet they saw three dead Indian soldiers with gun shot wounds presumably strayed from the battle field wounded and unable to support themselves lost balance and fell down the cliff to the ravine. About an hour before sun set they started to move again, climbed another hill that stretches to a place halfway between Fortwhite and Khuikul on the Kalay-Tedim highway.

    They moved with utmost caution looking vigilantly at the same time for enemy movements around. About two hours after dusk they were half a mile away from the highway. They stopped, took position and despatched two men to reconnoitre the most suitable point for crossing the highway and enemy activities in the vicinity. They came back about an hour later and reported there were no signs of enemy activities around the intended crossing area.

    The Company then started moving again, approached the highway stealthily, crossed the road and the Letha range ridge by platoons as fast as they could, descended the west slope and regrouped at Nilum Mual rendezvous (RV). At the RV, platoon Commanders checked their men and reported to the Company Commander that all were present. Everyone then mumbled a sigh of relief. Some even yelled out “We escaped from Hell’’ which leaders offered to refrain from and keep calm until reaching Khuasak village. The escape route seemed a rather devious course to their destination but it was safe. They shed their sweat and saved their lives.

    The Letha mountain range including Khuikul area was denuded of trees all around the windward side and the line of retreat especially their climb for approach to the Kalay -Tedim highway was only about 1000 to 2000 yards away from Khuikul and could easily be seen without scanning with binoculars. But fortunately, eddies of mist that rose from the valley slowly gathered on and around Khuikul and served as cover from view. It was early summer time and no one expected neither mist nor clouds in that period of the season. In winter months mist used to form in the early hours of the morning and quickly dissipated as the sun rises. It was not a common occurrence nor a mere coincidence.

    It was the work of God for which they thanked the Almighty God with all their hearts. At midnight they were back at Khuasak village but there was not a soul to be seen. Villagers had abandoned their hearth and home and fled to their respective taungya huts for fear of the Japanese. Men of the Levy Company were than dispersed and went home to their respective villages. He also joined his parents at Khuaivun taungya hut.

    The enemy, instead of immediately exploiting their success to Siyin Valley, kept busy consolidating their troops on and around Khuikul area. When it was known that some elements of Indian troops who apparently withdrew from Fort White area were taking defense positions at Suang Aak Tuam hill above Thuklai village, villagers of Thuklai, Lophei and Buanman villages that were not covered by the defence line felt they were left behind at the mercy of the enemy. They therefore left their hearth and home and fled to Pumva village, about five miles from Thuklai, within the protection area of the Indian force. Khuasak people heard it and the next day they followed suit taking two days to move everything they had including their domestic animals and left the houses empty. Pumva village virtually became a large refugee camp of five villagers.

    Two days later, the Levy Company Commander assisted by two others went to Tedim to report to report to the Officer Commanding the Western Chin Levies and to get instructions for the future of the Company. There was no word nor instructions for the future of the Company. There was no word nor instructions coming back until the Levy Battalion was officially disbanded just before the fall of Tedim. In March 1944, Tedim, HQs of the 17th Indian Division, was abandoned. The enemy, with their diabolic military strategy, avoided all frontal assaults and marched on to the 17th Indian Division’s left flank through thick stretches of jungles in long deep penetration by passing all British forward defense positions including the Division HQs itself and with a left hand hook cut the main line of communication from the rear between Tonzang and Cikha, a small town close to the Indian border.

    Fortunately, the 17th Indian Division, acting on its own pre- planned strategy, had withdrawn the bulk of its men and military hardwares a few weeks before the cut off. Whatever war materials and supplies remained at Tedim, as a rear echelons for the forward troops, were hastily destroyed, set on fire and abandoned or discarded and retreated halter-skelter through jungle lanes to India – the only courses opened to do. The Western Chin Levies was also disbanded then and there.

    Certificates were given to all Levy personnel. The Certificate he received reads –

    This Certificate is presented to No. L. 119
    RANK LEVY MAN
    NAME TUANG ZA KHAI
    ADDRESS KHUASAK, TIDDIM, CHIN HILLS
    of Tiddim Chin Levies, Tiddim, S.E.A Command, in recognition of the meritorious service rendered by him in the Chin Hills, Burma Operation Area from 15.5.1942 to 14.3.1944, during World War II.

    He is entitled to the following Stars and decorations.

    (1) Burma Star,
    (2) 1939 – 45 Star,
    (3) Victory Medal. His Character is good.

    Tiddim S. E. A. C.
    4. December, 1964.
    T. T. West
    Lieut – Colonel
    for Officer Commanding

    During the Japanese occupation he was called to serve as an Interpreter at the Japanese forward welfare centre at No. 3 stockade (Na-tang) and later at Tedim until their forward troops began to fall back from Imphal/Kohima front and the welfare centre ceased to function.

    Late in 1944, when information was received about the Allied Military Supremacy and the regaining of battle initiatives in the initial move for its reinvasion campaign, elders of the Siyin Chins instigated the whole Siyin populace to rise up against the Japanese. They quietly organized a peoples’ mlitia force called the “Siyin Independence Army”(SIA) in collaboration with the “Sukte Independence Army”(SIA). He enlisted himself in the Siyin Independence Army.

    tuangzakhai-5In the Siyin Valley area there were two Japanese positions – good targets for attack. One at Mawngpheang, a hill lock about two miles above Thuklai village and another at Sa Khiang, a hill lock about 2 miles above Khuasak village. Enemy strength was estimated 150 at Mawngpheang at 120 at Sa Khiang. Based on information received, attack plan was drawn. Men from Thuklai, Lophei, Pumva, half of Limkhai and elements of Sukte Independence Army to attack Mawngpheang while Khuasak, Buanman and another half of Limkhai to attack Sakhiang respectively. The Force was headed by retired Subedars, Jemadars, Naiks and Lance Naiks of the Burma Frontier Force (BFF). The attack plan was made known down to the lowest leaders and the next day at dawn attacked the two positions simultaneously and captured inflicting heavy casualties. At Sa Khiang only 11 enemies were killed in the Camp and another one who tried to escape met with the cut off group and killed making a total kill to 12 with no casualties on own side. Meanwhile at Mawngpheang Camp, enemies were dislodged.

    They withdrew towards their main HQs on Letha range. The militia force exploited their success, followed through the retreating enemy and at Tungvum, about three miles from Mawngpheang on the Thuklai-Fort White road, fought a brief battle again, captured and took defence position. Two days later the enemy counter attacked Tungvum and Sa Khiang positions simultaneously supported by mortar fires. Three militia men were killed at Tungvum while one was wounded at Sa Khiang. The attacks were repulsed with yet another heavy blow.

    They never ventured another ground counter attack- instead they kept sporadic shelling with heavy weapons from positions on the Letha range. The militia force stood firm on the captured grounds. Men of old age took the responsibility of management while women folks did the cooking and lads who did not take part in defence positions took the task of sending prepared food and water to the defence lines under cover of darkness once before dawn once after dusk. They kept their defence positions well intact until 9 November 1944 when the Allied Forces recaptured Khuikul and Fort White, the two main enemy strongholds on Letha mountain range.

    The Allied Forces had to fight Khuikul hard. Big tall trees with thick undergrowths on and the leeward side of the hill were all razed to the ground by aircraft bombing, field artillery fire, tank fire and infantry supporting mortar fires as if a city razed by an earthquake. Yet the enemy was not routed but stubbornly stayed put as if nothing unusual happened. They dug narrow trenches so deep, about 30 feet with overhead cover of about 15 to 20 feet thick (as seen personally after the war) that aircraft bombing, artillery fires and tank fires had no direct effect whatsoever on them and took about three weeks to dislodge them. After Khuikul and Forth White areas were cleared of the Japanese, the Siyin Independence Army and the Sukte Independent Army were disbanded and men taking defence positions on Tungvum and Sa Khiang returned to their respective villages.

    He is married to Miss Tual Dim, youngest daughter of retired Captain Ngin Zam OB., BGM, and is blessed with two sons and one daughter. He is serving as Secretary of Myanmar War Veterans Organization Central Headquarters since 1988.
    – Contributed by: Pa Kam Do Dal (Dalno), 2007
    ______________________________________

    See also the following:
    13. 3. ARMED RESISTANCE MOVEMENTS AGAINST THE JAPANANESE
    21.1 TELEVISION AND RADIO BROADCASTING PROGRAMME
    Author‘s (tzd) Note 1: This biography is included in this paper for the following reasons:
    – To prove about the separate existence of and roles of the two armed units: Sukte Independent Army and Siyin Independence Army. Some Suktes accused that the Sizangs had tried to replace the Sukte Independent Army with Siyin Independece Army. There has been a big confusion about the two names. Originally – and officially – it was Sukte Independent Army, NOT Sukte Independence Army. It was formed up in early 1944 whereas the Siyin Independence Army came into existence in mid 1944. At the beginning the short form of the Siyin Independence Army was written as: SIA(Siyin) in order to avoid confusion between the two abbreviations. The misunderstanding of the Suktes seems to originate in the usage of “Sukte Independence Army“ in various articles and books, and especially that of Vum Ko Hau‘s. What is very interesting to note here is that all the leading personalities of both armed organisations were intimate friends, former classmates or comrades and those who later fomed the Siyin Indpendence Army themselves had had actively participated in the Sukte Independent Army earlier. There were always very close cooperations between them to the end.(Source: E. Pau Za Kam, B.A. Ed., B. Ed. of Khuasak village. He himself was a founder of the Siyin Indepence Army, and later became Chin State Education Officer. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 90.)

    • The Sukte Independent Army was most active on the west bank of Manipur River since its founding. The information collected by both armed organizations on the Japanese strength and movements in northern Chinland was extremely valuable for the Allied Forces.
    • As an information for those who may probably be interested to know more about the first Chin/Zo general in Burma.
    • He was well-qualified to be promoted to this rank on his own merits, and not because of his membership in the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party or his being a Sizang (a number of high ranking officials in various civilian sectors, and senior officers in the army were Sizang for a number of years), as his detractors have alleged. In fact, he could have had even been promoted to a full general much earlier if he were an ethnic Burman and a Buddhist.

    Note 2: The battles that took place at the sites mentioned here are also described in DEFEAT INTO VICTORY by Field Marshal Sir William Slim.
    Note 3. Those who have got Vum Ko Hau‘s book are suggested to see pp. 275-286 for more information on the SIA and SIA (Siyin).
    Note 4. Passages are highlighted in blue by myself.
    ______________________
    Thang Za Dal. January 2013

khaikam

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Sizang taangthu

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1 Comment

  1. ျမန္မာလိုေရးရင္ ေကာင္းမွာပါ။ ေက်းဇူးတင္ပါသည္ ေစာင့္ေမွ်ာ္လ်က္။

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