The Day British Bombers Destroyed Mandalay Palace
By Wei Yan Aung 17 March 2020
YANGON—On this day 75 years ago, Mandalay Palace, the last abode of Myanmar’s monarchs, was reduced to ashes in bombing raids by the British and their allies as they attempted to retake the city from the Japanese Army, which had occupied the country for around three years during World War II.
The Allies decided to conduct bombing raids after suffering heavy casualties as Japanese troops stationed inside the compound, also known as the Golden Palace, mounted stiff resistance for nine days. On March 17, 1945, the more than 80-year-old structure, an important part of Myanmar’s historical, cultural and architectural heritage built by King Mindon and also home to his successor King Thibaw, was flattened in bombing raids.
The palace was constructed between 1856 and 1863 by King Mindon of the Konbaung Dynasty, a line of kings that ruled from 1752 to 1885. Their reign was ended by British colonial forces, which abolished Burma’s monarchy and sent Mindon’s heir, King Thibaw, into exile in the late 19th century.
Only the moat and the city walls survived the bombing in 1945.
“When Nazi Germany was about to invade Paris, [France] opened the gates of Paris in order to save the city from being damaged. But in the case of Mandalay Palace, the defender was fascist and the attacker was the colonialist British, so they didn’t care. From the perspective of human morality, it could be said that both the fascist Japanese and the colonialist British were amoral people,” Buddhist monk Shwe Gaing Thar, a well-known writer on Myanmar’s history and culture, wrote in his book “The Centenary of Mandalay”.
The Allies did not take responsibility for the damage to the palace, though Major General Rees of the British Army later said he felt sorry for the damage caused.
The palace complex was reconstructed in the late 1990s by the military regime. Today, the palace is open to the public, but Myanmar military units are also stationed inside the compound.
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