23 February 1943
The country up ahead was thought unsuitable for supply drops, so Wingate called for a huge drop at Tonmakeng. Fergusson ran the drop. On February 23 Wingate issued his orders for the next phase. The Columns would enter the Mu Valley and turn south for Pinlebu. An attempt to tackle a Japanese garrison at Sinlamaung village proved abortive, as the enemy left it before it could be reached. The attacking force returned to the main body on February 26.
Wingate then gave new orders to the Column Commanders. Fergusson’s No.5 Column left at 03.00 the next morning. Once again, the Columns repeatedly bumped each other, largely because the lead Column – responsible for all the pioneering – made slow progress. On occasion, being lead column was worse than being tail column.
Wingate was as impatient as ever. During No.5 Column’s approach to the Pinlebu road, he gave Fergusson a personal demonstration of how to cut through dense jungle more efficiently. Rather than using two or three “slashers” in front, the Brigadier’s method employed an entire platoon. The leaders cut a narrow way, just wide enough for themselves, and the remaining slashers steadily widened it as they progressed, until it reached the 5ft required to allow laden mules to pass.
Wingate had ordered Fergusson to leave the Brigade, move independently to his main target, Bonchaung, and bring the gorge down onto the line. Afterwards, he was to cross the
Irrawaddy, move down towards Mogok, where the Brigade would concentrate. Meanwhile, No.4 Column would attack the Japanese garrison at Pinbon, so allowing Brigade headquarters, 2 Group and Nos. 7 and 8 Columns to move rapidly south down to Pinlebu road. They would soon see action.