This film is held by the BFI (ID: 7630) and Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 497).


Film about the Allied victory in Burma.

Introduction briefly outlines the geography and climate of Burma, and the extent of the Japanese conquests. The film then describes the establishment of SEAC under Mountbatten, "a born innovator and firm believer in the unorthodox", and gives a comparatively detailed account of subsequent military events, including the Battle of Imphal-Kohima and Slim's drive on Mandalay, Arakan landings, the northern offensive of the Americans and Chinese under Stilwell, and the roles played by Chindits and Merrill's Marauders. The film ends with the capture of Rangoon and the Japanese surrender. Thematic elements include: (1) The difficulties of climate, terrain, and the endemic diseases of dysentery, malaria, etc., "...enemies more deadly than the Jap." (2) The vital role of air supplies - "the army of the jungle advanced on the wings of the air force" - and air evacuation of the wounded "...the supreme service which Admiral Mountbatten secured for his command." (3) The shattering of the myth of Japanese invincibility. (4) The secondary role of the Burma campaign in overall Allied strategy.



Burma Victory has its origins in a project that was conceived in 1944 by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, head of South-East Asia Command (see Mackenzie, 2001, 126). He desired a full-length film that would tell the story of Allied forces in South-East Asia in World War II. Ultimately this became a film about the Burmese Campaign. Mountbatten’s project was complicated by his ambitions. He stated that the film should cover ‘all the principal activities of South East Asia Command’, adding that ‘As such a film will cover Allied troops it should be a joint production – British and American’ (quoted in Jardine, 1988, 60). Here he faced two problems. First, the US had different military reasons for being in Burma: a wish to reopen the land route to China as opposed to the need to recapture a British colony. Second, they had a specific desire regarding how their actions should be perceived: the US resolutely did not wish to be seen to be supporting Britain’s imperial project (Stockwell, 2001, 476)

Mountbatten wrote to the US Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, about the film and requested that Frank Capra be assigned to it. Work commenced but parties in America remained uneasy about the project. A memo addressed to ‘American Officials Only’ stated that there would ‘seem to be a good deal to be said against continuing the attempt to produce a cinematic document purporting to show an identity of American and British interests and objectives in Southeast Asia’ (quoted in Jardine, 1988, 60). The Ministry of Information nevertheless insisted that there had only ever been one, common objective, ‘namely to fight and defeat the Japanese wherever they are’ (Jardine, 1988, 62).

Bearing this in mind, the planned film would not address the colonial status of Burma, a country with mixed reactions to British rule. While some Burmese fought alongside the British during the military campaign, others supported the Japanese. There were further factions who fought alongside the Japanese only to change sides later in the campaign (Jackson, 2006, 386, 402-03). Instead, the film’s aim would be to bring to notice this ‘forgotten war’, focusing on the construction of the Ledo Road in northern Burma and on the triumph of the 14thArmy as they retook the country from the Japanese.

Despite this military emphasis the combined Anglo-American project collapsed. Mountbatten eventually conceded that the two countries were at ‘variance in the [Burmese] theatre’ (quoted in Jardine, 1988, 63). It was instead agreed to share the source material to create two separate films. The US military produced The Stilwell Road (1945) while the UK project was handed over to producer David Macdonald and director Roy Boulting, who between them had earlier made the Oscar-winning documentary Desert Victory (1943).

The film’s complicated genesis helped to delay its release. Burma Victory eventually came out in October 1945, following the cessation of hostilities. It was nevertheless warmly received,in part because it was seen as a correction to a further American film, the fictionalised Objective Burma (1945), which portrayed the US as being responsible for what had been an Allied campaign (see Mackenzie, 2001, 127). The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that ‘This is a masterly survey of a vast and complex campaign, presented with vivid realism’ (MFB, 30 November 1945, 129), and the Kinematograph Weekly labelled it an ‘Outstanding documentary’ (KW, 1 November 1945, 25).

Burma Victory was also praised in the US. Peter Burnup, writing in the Motion Picture Herald stated that it ‘is majestic, not only in its convincing authenticity, but in its story of the unimaginable terrors of the jungle and the unconquerable human spirit’ (MPH, 3 November 1945, 6). It also achieved greater notice in America than The Stilwell Road, which was not distributed commercially (see Jardine, 1988, 65). Burma Victory meanwhile achieved wide distribution in both the UK and the US. A spokesman for its distributors, Warner Brothers, claimed that ‘the picture will reach a greater audience in America than any other British war-feature that has ever been shown there’ (DFR, 15 November 1945, 20).



Burma Victory has a different outlook and different ambitions to many World War II documentaries, affected by both the broad time period it covers and by the film’s long gestation. Because the war had concluded by the time the film was released its propaganda values were diminished. Ian Jardine has argued that Burma Victory instead served as ‘a record, a portrait, a history, rather than an urgent plea to command public support’ (Jardine, 2001, 127). The film aims to provide a comprehensive account of the Burma Campaign, employing various devices to underline its authority. There is a repeated use of maps, which outline each stage of the military project. In addition, the film employs multiple narrators, each commentating on different areas of the country as though providing on-the-spot reports. Jardine nevertheless argues that Burma Victory’s historical credibility is ‘worse than useless’ (Jardine, 2001, 68). His main complaint is that the filmmakers’ needs to balance both American and British interests as well as to entertain Mountbatten’s various demands led to biases and falsities.

It was not only the politics of the production that led to distortions and omissions: key elements of the campaign had not been captured on film (see Best, 27 February 1945). To rectify this some parts of the action were recreated in the studio. These provide some of the weakest moments in the film, such as Mountbatten’s overdubbed speeches and the awkward conferences among the military leaders. There is also a discrepancy between those parts of the film that could be planned ahead (such as the activities of the Chindits) and those for which the filmmakers were reliant on the rushes provided by military units (including some of the major battle scenes).

A wide distribution was desired for this film and this also affected the way in which it was constructed. Lord Burnham, Director of Public Relations at the War Office, warned the Ministry of Information  that ‘The picture must be good entertainment or it fails before it starts. If it is not extensively booked and widely seen it has no value’. He was particularly conscious of the viewing practices of American audiences, stating that ‘The American public are allergic to official material of any kind and a version of an official dispatch illustrated by indifferently relevant visual would not go with a swing. It is therefore advisable to include some things which the purist might think “not quite nice”’ (Burnham). To this end the film repeatedly features the corpses of Japanese soldiers.

Burma Victory employs two major narrative devices. Maps and a third-person commentary are used to detail the wider scope of the war. Used alone, this material may have been too dry for a cinema audience. The film thus also follows the actions of one particular soldier. As the advance upon the Japanese gets underway, the film recounts the action through a diarist’s entries. This device brings a ‘liveness’ to the images that are on display and it also provides a character with whom the audience can identify.

The construction of the film was also affected by the nature of the war in Burma. The campaign ended somewhat abruptly; the Japanese surrendered due to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki rather than because of the battles in the field. Perhaps as a result the Japanese role in the Burma campaign is downplayed. There is instead an emphasis on the natural discomforts that the soldiers had to battle - ‘malaria, dysentery and typhus – enemies more deadly than the Jap’. The subject with which the film opens, and which recurs throughout the film, is the struggle against monsoons. The Japanese, nevertheless, are clearly depicted as being an enemy. When the film moves away from its dispassionate third-person commentary it employs some harsh language. For example, in his overdubbed speech Mountbatten refers to ‘the Jap’ as ‘an unintelligent slum-dweller’.

Despite its constraints, the film provides a fascinating account of the campaign in Burma, not least in its portrayal of the subjects of the British colonies. Although there is no mention of Burmese politics, the film does offer glimpses of the Burmese during the war. There is footage of what appears to be the genuine gratitude and excitement of liberated peoples. The film also depicts a Pwe festival. Here the diarist narrator contrasts the pleasure of the Burmese, who ‘certainly made a day of it’, with the bemusement of the white military troops - ‘saw Bill Slim, looking a bit self-conscious, with victory garlands around his neck’. The film also provides a more unwitting display of colonial attitudes. Although it carefully outlines the multinational composition of the Allied forces (the scenes of Mountbatten’s speeches deliberately depict as many different military units as possible), Asiatic people have a clear place in the chain of command. For example, the parties involved in the construction of the Ledo Road are demarcated as follows: ‘On the heels of the fighters came American engineer reconnaissance parties […]. Behind – the first Bulldozer […]. Last – the builders. Chinese, Shans, Kachins, Karens, Indians, Nepalese, Nagas – men, women and children’. The film also foregrounds the activities of British personnel, most clearly in its staged material such as the diarist’s entries or the jungle camp at night. This despite the fact that Indian troops made up the largest proportion of 14thArmy personnel (see Allen, 1984, 634).

Finally, the film maintains a distinct attitude towards Burma itself. From the outset the country is portrayed as being anything other than a foreign paradise. Here the film’s opening is particularly interesting. It begins with a soldier reading about the charms of the Burmese landscape, climate and people in a travel brochure. He then adds bitterly ‘would you believe it?’ and the sound of a monsoon increases in volume. This comment on how media can distort is complicated by the fact that it is itself a staged scene, filmed in Pinewood studios. From hereon there is a repeated stress on the hostility of Burma - ‘what a country this is!’ exclaims the diarist. This part of the Empire is consistently depicted as being alien to the British.

Richard Osborne


Works Cited

Allen, Louis, Burma: The Longest War 1941-5 (London and Melbourne: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1984).

Best, A. I., Sgt., Letter to Captain R. Boulting, 27 February 1945 [documentation at Imperial War Museum].

Lord Burnham, letter to DDPR. C.C. Army Film and Photographic Centre, undated [documentation at Imperial War Museum].

Daily Film Renter, 19/5318 (15 November 1945), 3, 20.

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Jardine, Ian, ‘The Burma Campaign on Film: ‘Objective Burma’ (1945), ‘The Stilwell Road’ (1945) and ‘Burma Victory’ (1945)’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 8/1 (1988), 55-73.

Kinematograph Weekly, 345/2011 (1 November 1945), 18-19.

Mackenzie, S. P., British War Films, 1939-1945: The Cinema and the Services (London: Continuum, 2001).

Monthly Film Bulletin, 12/143 (30 November 1945), 129.

Motion Picture Herald, 161/5 (3 November 1945), 46.

Stockwell, A. J., ‘Imperialism and Nationalism in South-East Asia’, The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 465-89.




Technical Data

Running Time:
62 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
5577 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information
commentary written
Harvey, Frank (Captain)
Brandt, Ivan
Clarke, Frank
King-Wood, David
Boulting, Roy (Captain)
film editor
Best, Richard (Sergeant)
film editor
Clarke, Frank (Sergeant)
in charge of production
Macdonald, David (Lieutenant-Colonel)
music composer
Rawsthorne, Alan (Sergeant)
Production company
British Army, Film Unit
Production company
British, Indian, and American combat cameramen of SEAC (from material taken by)
production manager
Watson, Norman (Lieutenant)
supervising film editor
Boulting, Roy (Captain)







Production Organisations