In March 1943, Kawabe assumed command of the Burma Area Army from Iida Shojiro. Impressed by Major General Ord Wingate's success in using large formations in the jungle, he reviewed and endorsed Lieutenant General Mutaguchi Renya's plan for a large-scale offensive against the British in northeastern India. Kawabe believed Japanese success would provoke a widespread uprising against the British.
A diversionary attack in Arakan in February 1944 drew off British reserves. In early March, Japanese soldiers from the 33rd and 15th Divisions crossed the Chindwin River and surrounded the British base of Imphal. They were accompanied by 7,000 men of the Indian National Army. The 31st Division attacked Kohima, the gateway to Imphal. Kawabe refused to let Mutaguchi advance against Dimapur, an important supply base on the railroad to Ledo. Had Dimapur been captured, the Allies would not have been able to fly supplies from Ledo to China.
British and Indian reinforcements broke the siege of Kohima by 18 April, but they could not drive off the 31st Division until June. Imphal was relieved on 22 June, and the Japanese finally withdrew to Burma. In this campaign, Mutaguchi lost nearly 100,000 men, making it one of the worst defeats in Japanese history. Both Kawabe and Mutaguchi were removed from their posts in August 1944.
Kawabe returned to Japan, where he headed the Central District Army Command, and in March 1945, he was promoted to full general. A month later, he assumed command of the Air General Army, with responsibility for the air defense of the homeland. After the Japanese surrender, he succeeded Marshal Sugiyama Hajime in command of the First General Army. Kawabe died in Tokyo on 2 March 1965. Tim J. Watts
Allen, Lewis. Burma: The Longest War, 1941–45. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.; Rooney, David. Burma Victory: Imphal, Kohima, and the Chindit Issue, March 1944 to May 1945. New York: Arms and Armour Press, 1992.; Swinson, Arthur. Four Samurai: A Quartet of Japanese Army Commanders in the Second World War. London: Hutchinson, 1968.
Tim J. Watts