Burma Independence Army


Burma Independence Army
   (BIA)
   Established by the Minami Kikan in Bangkok on December 28, 1941, the BIA was Burma's first postcolonial armed force, the predecessor of the independence-era Tatmadaw. Commanded by General Suzuki Keiji, with Aung San serving as senior staff officer, its officers included both Japanese members of the Minami Kikan and members of the Thirty Comrades. BIA units accompanied the Japanese Fifteenth Army in the invasion of Burma, and a significant engagement against the British was fought at Shwedaung, near Prome (Pyay), in March 1942. But its military role was less significant than its symbolic one. For the ethnic majority Burmans, its appearance alongside the Japanese, who claimed to be fighting for the liberation of Asia, marked the end of a bitter era of colonial humiliation at the hands of the British. However, Japanese unwillingness to grant immediate independence after the city of Moulmein (Mawlamyine) was captured in January 1942 was a cause of great disillusionment among BIA officers.
   Thousands of young village men joined its ranks (reliable estimates of its size vary from 15,000 to 23,000), and the BIA set up provisional governments in various parts of the country during the chaotic months of early 1942. Like the Tatmadaw and unlike the colonial-era army, the great majority of BIA recruits were Burman, with little or no ethnic minority representation. Because of their lack of discipline and poor quality (many BIA men were little better than gangsters), law and order collapsed in many areas it occupied. At Myaungmya, in the Delta of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, a race war broke out between Burman BIA men and Delta Karens, with both sides responsible for massacres. On July 24, 1942, the Japanese Military Administration (Gunseikanbu) dissolved the overlarge BIA and replaced it with a smaller and better-organized Burma Defence Army. In the words of Dr. Ba Maw, the BIA was a "spontaneous race explosion at a very confused, desperate, and violently racial moment in the struggle of a people to recover what they had lost or lacked for centuries" (Breakthrough in Burma, 217).
   See also Burma National Army; Japanese Occupation; Myaungmya Massacres; Tatmadaw, History of; World War II in Burma (Military Operations).

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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