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Aung San was born in the Magwe
district of Burma. He joined the
Thakin group of Burmese
nationalist and organized a student strike in 1936. Fearing arrest by the British authorities, he smuggled himself out of Burma on a Norwegian
freighter and, after some difficulty, contacted the Japanese in Amoy. He was flown to Tokyo to meet with Suzuki
Keiji, a Japanese Army colonel who identified so closely with the
Burmese that he took the Burmese name of Bo Mogyo. Suzuki claimed
authority from Prince Kanin, the military counselor to the Emperor,
and thus by implication
from the Emperor himself. Suzuki
also claimed to be descended from a Burmese prince and the fulfillment
of a prophecy to drive the British out of Burma. Aung San and Suzuki
organized the group known as the Thirty Comrades, taking a Burmese
blood oath (thwe thauk) to fight the British together. The Thirty Comrades were all
trained in guerrilla tactics by
Aung San returned to Burma with the conquering Japanese in
February 1942 as
commander of Burma Independence
Army, a force of about 300 guerrillas recruited by the Thirty Comrades. This force engaged in little combat but provided
useful intelligence for the
Japanese. However, the independent attitude of his mentor, Suzuki, led to friction between the
BIA and the Japanese Army, including the expulsion of the BIA from Moulmein by the Kempeitai.
Suzuki became enough of a nuisance to the Army command in Burma that he
was recalled in mid-1942.
Aung San was named as minister of defense in the puppet Burmese government but, like many Asian nationalists, became strongly disenchanted with the Japanese. In August 1944, he told officers of the Burma Defense Army (as the BIA was by then known) that (Allen 1984):
I learn that some of you are fixing up dates, and all to rise up against the Japanese. I congratulate you for anti-Japanese patriotism. But if you do it untimely you will be smasehd up. I take the responsibility of leading this movement. When time comes, I will inform you.
Aung San then secretly organized the Anti-Fascist Organization while remaining part of the puppet government. He contacted the British in December 1944, then surprised the Japanese by transferring the National Burma Army to the Allied side as the Patriotic Burma Force. One of his followers explained to Slim: "If the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones!" (Gilbert 1989)
Slim, who met Aung San at 14 Army headquarters on 16 May 1945, considered him realistic, courageous and
honest, and was able to establish sufficient rapport to work out an
agreement with the Burmese nationalists that defused a potentially
explosive political situation.
Unsurprisingly, this was not readily accepted by the Burmese
government-in-exile, which wished to prosecute Aung San for the 1942
murder of a village headman.
Aung San helped negotiate Burmese independence in
1946 and his party won the first general elections, but he was
assassinated on orders of rival U Saw on 19 July 1947.
Dupuy et.al. (1992)
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