20th Burma Rifles

The Great War

Raised during the Great War, the Burma Rifles started as two companies of Pioneers in the British Indian Army in November, 1916. Once they reached Infantry Battalion strength, they were renamed the 70th Burma Rifles in September, 1917. Two more battalions were later formed and the 85th Burman Rifles were also raised in July 1917.

The Inter-War Period

The 70th and 85th were amalgamated to form the 20th Burma Rifles in 1922 and included the four infantry battalions each with their own machine gun platoons. From 1927, the regiment consisted wholly of Anglo-Burmese with Burmans in other parts of the Army, such as the Burman Military Police.

A Burma Rifles Vickers Machine Gun Platoon, circa 1930’s. (Jervis, S cited by Fogden, S).

In 1937, the British Indian Army separated from Burma and the 20th Burma Rifles became the Burma Rifles in the British Burma Army. Officers were drawn from the British Army and some legacy officers from the British Indian Army.

The Second World War

In 1940, Burmese were once again accepted into the Burma Rifles and it expanded to 14 infantry battalions at its highest point. They fought during the Japanese invasion and most of the battalions were dissolved during that period with many of the surviving men formed part of the Burma Regiment when it was formed in September 1942.


The 2nd Burma Rifles were reconstituted and continued to take part in the fighting in Burma. As a unit, it formed part of the Chindit Columns in 1943 and then in 1944 was broken down to form reconnaissance platoons and attached to various units of the Special Force.

It reformed as an infantry battalion in 1945.

Post-Second World War

After the War, the Burma Rifles served as conventional infantry battalions until Burmese independence in January 1948, when it became part of the Burma Army but did not retain the traditions of the pre-existing structure.