William ‘Bill’ Slim was a highly respected army commander. ‘Bill’ Slim found fame during the Burma campaign and especially the very important defeats of the Japanese Army at Kohima and Imphal in 1944.
Slim was born on August 6th 1891 near Bristol. His parents were not rich but his upbringing was comfortable. Between 1910 and 1914, Slim held a variety of jobs but it was joining the Officers Training Corps in 1912 that was to give his life some direction. At the outbreak of World War One, Slim held a temporary rank of second lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was badly injured at Gallipoli but while convalescing he was granted a permanent commission in the West India Regiment. While fighting with his regiment in Mesopotamia in 1918, Slim was awarded the Military Cross. In 1918 Slim was promoted to captain and then major – but these appointments were just temporary. In 1919, he was formally promoted to captain and transferred to the British Indian Army.
In 1933, after attending Staff College in India, Slim was promoted to major. Between 1934 and 1937 he taught at the Staff College in Camberley. In 1938, promoted to lieutenant colonel, Slim was given command of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Ghurkha Rifles.
When World War Two started in September 1939, Slim was given command of the Indian 10th Brigade. He fought in East Africa before joining the staff of General Wavell in the Middle East Command. Slim was given the command of the Indian 10th Infantry Division and held the temporary rank of major general.
In March 1942, Slim was given command of the 1st Burma Corps. He could do little to halt the Japanese advance through Burma. However, the speed of the Japanese advance had outstripped their ability to supply their men at the front. Therefore, the Japanese advance slowed down as they reached the Chindwin River near the Indian/Burma border. This gave Slim time to organise his forces. He was given command of the new 14th Army, which was made up of IV, XV, XXXIII and XXXIV Corps. To cope with the unforgiving terrain in the region, Slim made better use of air transport/supply and on the ground used mules in preference to vehicles that simply could not cope with the lack of metalled roads.
In the spring of 1944, Slim faced two major challenges at Kohima and Imphal. The Japanese lost both battles. This ended the commonly held belief that the Japanese were invincible in a jungle environment and it also proved Slim’s belief in the importance of air transport in the region as Imphal, effectively surrounded, could only be supplied by air. After the victories at Kohima and Imphal, Slim planned to re-conquer Burma. The leadership of Slim in these momentous victories was recognised when he was promoted to lieutenant general in August 1944 and in the following month was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath. Slim was also very highly regarded by those he commanded. He took especial care over his men’s well being as Slim knew that health issues could either make or break an army in India and Burma.
In 1945, Slim launched his campaign to retake Burma. Central to his planning was ensuring that his troops were well supplied. Air and land co-ordination was of paramount importance. Slim realised that one of the main reasons for the Japanese failures at Kohima and Imphal was their failure to keep their men supplied. Slim was determined not to make the same mistake as his men advanced through Burma. The port of Rangoon became a major target for Slim.
At the end of the Burma campaign. Slim was informed that he was no longer to have command of the 14th Army, which he assumed would be used in the attack on Malaya. Slim was informed that he was to command the new 12th Army that would stay in Burma and mop up any Japanese activity that remained in the country. Slim refused to take this command and offered his resignation. When the news filtered down to men in the 14th Army, there was anger and disillusionment. The issue went to the highest-ranking officer in the region – Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia. He resolved the problem by promoting Slim to general in July 1945 and appointing him commander of Allied Land Forces Southeast Asia.
After the war ended, Slim returned to the UK as head of the Imperial Defence College. In February 1947, he was appointed an aide-de-camp to George VI. He retired from the army in May 1948.
In January 1949, Slim was brought out of retirement and appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff with the rank of Field Marshal. He held this post until November 1952. In the following year, Slim was appointed Governor-General of Australia. Slim was popular in Australia as he was seen as a genuine war hero. In 1959, he retired from the post and returned to the UK. In 1960, Slim was created a Viscount.
William ‘Bill’ Slim died on December 14th 1970.