South Africans at war against the Japanese! … the story of Pik van Noorden

South Africans in special forces units in the Second World War. The Advance on Rangoon March – May 1945 and here Gurkha paratroops check their equipment before being dropped around Rangoon during the Burma campaign. Now, what have these legendary Gurkhas and South Africans in combat have in common?

Involved in this drop and attached to the Gurkhas for their attack on Elephant Hill against the Japanese was one of South Africa’s most remarkable soldiers, a man who subsequently went on to command 5 South African Infantry Battalion after the war and become the SADF’s Director of Infantry.

“Pik” van Noorden served in North Africa during World War 2 as an artillery officer, firing at German tanks over open sights at Tobruk, escaping as the garrison fell, fighting at Alamein and then volunteering for the Royal Marines.

Trained as a commando, he led his platoon ashore on D-Day with 47 (Royal Marine) Commando and was involved in some heavy fighting as they executed an independent task. Later withdrawn to undergo parachute training, he was dropped behind German lines to carry out a secret mission.

Next he was posted to 42 (RM) Commando in India and participated in the amphibious assault on the Japanese at Myebon in Burma, as well as the subsequent bitter battle for Hill 170 near Kangaw.

Later, van Noorden was attached to the Ghurka parachute battalion that jumped at Elephant Point during the capture of Rangoon (see picture of the said Ghurka airborne which accompanies this article). During the battle the Gurhka battalion reached Elephant Point, and close-quarters fighting then took place, with flame-throwers being used against several Japanese bunkers guarding the battery. About forty Japanese soldiers and gunners were killed during the assault, and the battalion also sustained several casualties. After the battery had been secured the battalion dug in around Elephant Point and awaited the arrival of the relief force.

After the war van Noorden commanded 5 SA Infantry Battalion and the Infantry School, became Director of Infantry and retired as a Major General. His medal group is also of great interest because it includes the France & Germany Star and the Burma Star, as well as the Union Medal and the Pro Patria.

Article reference – The South African Military History Society – Eastern Cape Newsletter – primary contributor and with thanks to McGill Alexander, supplementary information – Wikipedia. Image copyright and caption reference -The Imperial War Museum.

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