On This Day

The Death of Independence Hero Col. Ba Htoo

By Wei Yan Aung 2 June 2019

Seventy-four years ago today, Colonel Ba Htoo, who led the fight against Japanese forces in Upper Myanmar, died at just 29 years of age.

The Burma Independence Army originally planned to launch its attack against Japanese forces on April 2, 1945. But as Allied Forces arrived in central Myanmar earlier than expected, then-Major Ba Htoo declared war against Japanese forces on March 8, successfully diverting their attention away from General Aung San, who launched his campaign against the occupation on March 27.

Maj. Ba Htoo’s victory in around 20 battles, big and small, over the next two months contributed significantly to driving the Japanese fascist forces out of the country.

Commander of Allied Forces Lieutenant General Sir William Slim later said the victory over Japanese forces in Mandalay would not have been possible without the support of Myanmar troops led by Maj. Ba Htoo.

As Maj. Ba Htoo chased Japanese troops from Mandalay into southern Shan State, he contracted a severe case of malaria; he died in Aungban, Shan State, never having seen the letter informing him that Gen. Aung San had promoted him to colonel, nor having had a chance to bid farewell to his wife and three children, from whom he had been parted since joining the army in 1942.

Thirteen days after his death, a monument honoring him and all the soldiers who fell in the war in Upper Myanmar was put up in Aungban. The monument’s demolition to make way for a highway-widening project earlier this year drew criticism.

March 27 marked the beginning of the final phase of fighting to end more than 100 years of colonial rule over Myanmar. At first, March 27 was celebrated nationwide as Antifascist Resistance Day. But on the 10th anniversary in 1955, military chief General Ne Win asked that the occasion be commemorated along with the new Armed Forces Day.

Armed Forces Day gradually became the more prominent of the two. But the National League for Democracy, led by Gen. Aung San’s daughter, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, still marks the occasion using its original name.

After Myanmar regained independence, Ba Htoo garrison town was established in southern Shan State in honor of Col. Ba Htoo.