Photo: Production of Mills Grenades, August 1942. Getty Images
The following is a report written by 2/Lt. Joseph Marlam. Marlam was an Anglo-Indian who had been recruited by SOE to act as an interpreter at the SOE jungle training camp in Ceylon, normally referred to as ME25. Marlam was trained for operations and commissioned in late 1944. He was deployed on Operation Character as part of the Hyena team in February 1945. His officer commanding, Major Turrall, described Marlam as ‘[a] very brave and competent soldier who knew his work.’ Marlam was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his services. What follows is presented as written by Marlam.
REPORT ON MILLS-CORDTEX AMBUSH 4.5.45
On April 30th I was ordered by my C.O. Major TURRALL to lay a Mills Cordtex ambush along any North Section of the SHWEGYIN-KYAUKKYI road suitable for the purpose, the intention being to kill as many Japs as possible and drive the rest west of the KYAUKKYI River.
On May 1st I went with two men to another camp for the demolition stores, which included 38 Mills grenades 2000 ft primer cord (only 1000 ft was used) safety fuse C.T.I. and striker boards. Detonators for use were removed from the grenades.
I cut 38 lengths, each of 3 ft and attached a length to each grenade after removing the detos, fins and springs. The caps were then screwed on after testing safety fuse for burning speed, I cut 4 lengths each of 10 cms and spliced them to the 4 sec fuse and attached to the dets. one was tested.
I went to the road and rearranged the levy ambush, instructing them to fire on any Japs, thus giving me warning. I then went south and found a suitable stretch of road at QB 3116.
The primacord was laid out in the bush along the road and at 10 paces interval a grenade was fixed. The danger zone was therefore 370 paces or 250 yds. I decided to set off the charge from the rear i.e. after the Japs had passed me. Initiation was at the O.P.20 yds from the nearest grenade, protection being afforded by a stream bank 5 ft high except at the O.P. which was a small recess 4′ x 3′ x 3′ into the bank. This was covered altogether, with the charge was camouflaged with leaves, twigs etc From this O.P. I could see the path to my left crossing the stream 50 yds up and the road in front 35 ft away. My prewarning period was 40 secs to get away after setting the charge off. I was exposed to any Japs on the path to my left, I decided however I’d rather be shot at than blown up.’
A near R-V about half a mile west was fixed upon. The following data was taken into consideration – at various speeds it took 21/2 – 3 mins to cover the danger zone, 12 – 13 secs allowed for safety fuse, in which time about 20 paces were covered i.e. roughly the road distance of the 1st grenade from the O.P. two trees 25 paces apart were marked and various speeds timed in comparison to the whole Danger Zone. Thus a man covering the marked space in 10 secs took 2 17 mins to cover the whole distance. I could therefore destroy a maximum number of Japs efficiently.
On May 2nd at 0220 hrs 9 carts and 15 Japs on foot passed taking 15 mins.
On May 3rd at 1415 hrs 7 carts and 9 men on foot passed taking 20 minutes. These were not worth killing as they were too few and far spaced.
On May 4th my chance came at 0835 hrs, a large body came down the road consisting of a scout section of 9 men and other sections of 10 and 11 men totalling 83 Japs. When they were all within the Danger Zone, I set the charge off. In actual fact the fuse took only 11 secs to burn and three more men from a following large body were all killed.
I then proceeded to the R-V with the two men. After having some food, I collected villagers and returned to the road
to estimate the damage. I left a man on the road in the rear to warn us of any Jap approach. We then worked round and saw signs where men of the following large body had run into the forest, some having run back along the road from where they came.
I got to my O.P. and worked along the path made by the primacord. Near the first grenade lay 3 dead Japs, I went on and up to the 15th grenade counted 28-29 bodies, the last being half hidden by a turn in the road. Round the turn I saw about 16 Japs presumably from the the following large body collecting in any other dead Japs into piles. I then got round to the front where I saw the marks of one man presumably a sentry going away from the scene.
I then went to my O.P. collected a bandolier of 50 rds left by my men and got away. I claim about 80 dead as follows:-
1st Scout Section 9 men.
7 Sections – 10 or 11 men = 74 men.
Rear body 3 men.
Total 86 men.
For 15 grenades say 29 bodies.
In 38 ” ” 29 x 38 – 74 men 15
Av 86 + 74 = 80 men. 2
N.B. There being a gap between the main body and scouts again between the main body and the last 3 dead Japs, the concentration of dead in themain body would be greater. The last two sections before the three dead were complete batches of 10 bodies, and the remaining bodies in view were an unbroken line. I therefore reasonably assure that all the men in front were killed.
When I went to a village near the river at 1130 hrs, a frantic villager asked me to get an air strafe as about 300 Japs had just crossed the river over to the west.
I returned to camp and made a detailed report.
(signed) J. MARLAM