- Name: Sher Shah AWAN
- D.O.B: 14th Feb, 1917
- D.O.A: 18th Jan, 1945
- D.O.D: 19th Jan, 1945
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lance-Naik, 7th Battalion 16th Punjab Regiment, 53rd Brigade, 25th Division, Indian Army
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
The Second World War 1945
By the beginning of 1945 the war was in its last stages and at the Yalta Conferencebetween 4 and 11 February 1945 Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin began to map outthe post-war administration of Europe. Victory, however, had still to be achieved.The desperate last German offensive, the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in the Ardennes, which hadopened on 16 December 1944, was routed in January 1945. It left Hitler with no further militaryreserves and confronted by seven Allied armies along Germany’s West Wall, while theRussians advanced inexorably from the east. However, the German Army, now called on todefend its homeland, was in no mood for surrender.On 20 January 1945 the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, divided theforthcoming campaign into three phases, the destruction of all enemy forces west of theRhine, the establishment of bridgeheads across the Rhine and the advance into Germany.In fact, the first phase had already begun and by 10 March 1945 the Allies had reachedthe Rhine. Despite their losses the Germans had withdrawn in good order, destroying allbridges behind them except those at Remagen and Oppenheim. The Allies now crossed theRhine but a dispute arose between them over priorities. The British were eager to make adash for Berlin. However, by 31 March the nearest western Allies were still 275 miles westof the German capital, while a Russian army, one million strong, was only 40 miles east ofit. Roosevelt supported Eisenhower’s decision that the Russians should be allowed to takeBerlin, while the Americans headed for the River Elbe and Leipzig and the British on theirleft flank aimed for Bremen and Lübeck.Meanwhile, the German army in Northern Italy was being rolled back. Despite the transferof manpower from this theatre, which had precluded a faster conclusion to the campaign,the Allies had maintained pressure on the Germans’ Gothic Line and their winter objectivefor 1944 had been a line from La Spezia on the west, through Bologna to Ravenna in theeast. Given the Germans’ determination to hold on to the North Italian Plain, this had provedoptimistic though Ravenna had been captured on 4 December 1944. The Allied 1945 SpringOffensive in Italy opened on 9 April 1945. In the east Eighth Army crossed the River Senioand by 17 April V Corps had taken Argenta and the Argenta Gap. There were now no furtherrivers between them and the Po. On 21 April American and Polish forces captured Bologna.Two days later, on 23 April, the Allies crossed the River Po. On 25 April, Mantua, Parmaand Verona were liberated. In the west, Fifth Army took La Spezia, with its naval base, on 24April and on the 27th entered Genoa.The complete destruction of the Axis powers in the west had now been accomplished. On29 April in a meeting at Allied Headquarters, Caserta, General Vietinghoff, agreed the surrenderterms for the one million German troops under his command in Italy, to take effectfrom 2 May. The day before Mussolini had been caught by Italian Partisans and shot. By 25April the Russians had encircled Berlin. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April and the cityfell on 2 May. On 4 May 1945, at Montgomery’s headquarters on Luneburg Heath, Germanenvoys signed the unconditional surrender of all forces in Northern Germany. On 7 May, atEisenhower’s Headquarters in Rheims, in the presence of representatives of the USA, GreatBritain, France and the USSR, General Jodl and Admiral Friedeburg signed the surrender ofall German forces. VE Day, Victory in Europe, was celebrated on 8 May.Though victory was now equally certain in South East Asia and the Far East, the wardragged on there for several months. In Burma Arakan had been largely cleared of theenemy. The port of Akyab was recaptured on 4 January 1945 while the Battle of Kangaw atthe end of the month and the actions that followed had aimed with mixed success to preventJapanese forces retreating across the Arakan Yomas into the Irrawaddy valley. However, thesecuring of the forward airfields at Akyab and Ramree helped make possible the advance ofFourteenth Army towards Rangoon. The British crossed to the east bank of the Irrawaddy inFebruary. The attack on Mandalay began on 8 March, while Meiktila eventually fell on 20March 1945. The British now began moving south down both the Irrawaddy and the mainrailway from Meiktila, destroying a Japanese blocking force at Pyawbwe in April. They werenow within striking distance of Rangoon when on 2 May the Monsoon began. Fortunately,fearing that they might be delayed, Mountbatten had already set in train Operation Dracula,an amphibious assault on the city. On 1 May, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, dropped fromthirty-eight Dakotas, knocked out the Japanese coastal guns protecting Rangoon. Next day,the British made an unopposed seaborne landing and liberated Rangoon. This left 100,000scattered Japanese troops in the country trying to retreat east of the Sittang estuary and withdrawinto Thailand.In the Pacific also the Japanese were being driven back on all fronts. On Bougainville,they were forced into three small pockets on the island. In New Guinea the Australiansadvanced east along the North Coast from Aitape towards Wewak, which fell in May. Theremaining Japanese were penned into the Prince Alexander Mountains. In April 1945, withAmerican help, the Australians began an offensive to recapture the Netherlands East Indies,while the Americans were busy with their own reconquest of The Philippines. On 1 May theAustralians landed in Borneo.At this stage, it was still thought the war might continue to mid-1946 or even 1947. Malayaremained in enemy hands and the conquest of Japan itself presented a formidable challenge.An amphibious assault on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu was planned for November 1945,and on the main island, Honshu, near Tokyo, for spring 1946. Hostilities were, however, dramaticallycut short when the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August1945 and on Nagasaki on 9 August. The Japanese agreed to a ceasefire on 15 August, VJDay, though this decision took time to reach all their forces. In Burma some fighting continuedeast of the River Sittang until the signing of the preliminary surrender agreement on28 August 1945. On 2 September, General MacArthur accepted the Japanese unconditionalsurrender aboard the USS Missouri. The Second World War was over. It had lasted six years.
In Burma, on the night 19th-20th January, 1945, at Kyeyebyin Kaladan, Lance-Naik Sher Shah commanded the left forward section of his platoon. At 1930 hours a Japanese platoon attacked his post. Realising that overwhelming numbers would probably destroy his section, he, by himself, stalked the enemy from their rear and broke up their attack by firing into their midst. He killed the Platoon Commander and six other Japanese and, after their withdrawal, crawled back to his section post. At 0015 the Japanese, who were now reinforced with a Company, started to form up for another attack. He heard their officers giving orders, and bayonets being fixed prior to the assault. Again he left his section post and, in spite of Japanese covering fire from small arms and mortars, crawled forward and saw Japanese officers and men grouped together. He fired into this group and they again broke up and started to withdraw in disorder. Whilst on his way back for the second time he was hit by a mortar bomb, which shattered his right leg. He regained his position and, propping himself against the side of the trench, continued firing and encouraging his men. When asked whether he was hurt, he replied that it was only slight. Some time afterwards it was discovered that his right leg was missing. The Japanese again started forming up for another attack. In spite of his severe wounds and considerable loss of blood, and very heavy Japanese supporting fire, Lance-Naik Sher Shah again left his section post and crawled forward, firing into their midst at point blank range. He continued firing until for the third time the Japanese attack was broken up, and until he was shot through the head, from which he subsequently died. Twenty-three dead and four wounded Japanese, including an officer, were found in daylight, immediately in front of his position. His initiative and indomitable courage throughout this very critical situation undoubtedly averted the over-running of his platoon, and was the deciding factor in defeating the Japanese attacks. His supreme self-sacrifice, disregard for danger and selfless devotion to duty, were an inspiration to all his comrades throughout the Battalion.