Spectres of the Burma Jungle, Orde Charles Wingate and the Chindits defeat the vicious Japanese.
Through the almost impenetrable undergrowth and vines a squad of sweating Japanese soldiers hacked their way slowly forward. In one hand they carried a tanto (machete) which they used to cut a path, in the other, or slung on their shoulder was their standard issue Arisaka Type 99 7.7mm rifle, with the bayonet fixed. Their spirits were high, the Imperial Japanese army seemed invincible and their progress was merciless and without compassion as many of them killed and tortured indiscriminately.
They reached a natural clearing and sat smoking, drinking nihonshu and drunkenly laughing. Almost soundlessly figures materialised from the surrounding jungle and scruffy bearded individuals dressed in sweat stained fatigues and slouch hats quickly and efficiently despatched the terrified “Nips”, all except the Gunsho (Sergeant) who was “questioned” about Japanese troop movements before joining his comrades in hell.
This may seem harsh but these war weary British soldiers had no facilities for prisoners and had witnessed untold atrocities by many of the Imperial Japanese Army as they killed and maimed innocent men, women and children, just for fun using them for live bayonet practice, or beheading.
This fearsome turn of events was repeated with increasing frequency and rattled the Japanese command immensely as they had grown accustomed to more or less no opposition on their forward thrust through Burma towards their ultimate destination - India. From their mounting casualties they thought the British had at least a division of commandos in the jungle hunting them down and their advance slowed to a crawl, with the grin on their faces frozen as they now constantly looked over their shoulders.
In 1943 Britain, as well as fighting a major war against Nazi Germany and Italy was now heavily involved in the war in the Far East against Japan supporting the United States, who had suffered a cowardly attack at Pearl Harbour.
Japan entering the world war at a difficult time posed a serious threat to British colonies in Malaya, Singapore and India, not forgetting the jewels of Australia and New Zealand.
The Japanese were fanatical and ruthless fighters and once into the jungle areas of Malaya and Burma initially moved forward with little opposition. America may have the equipment and numbers but their troops had little or no experience of this type of jungle warfare.
Following the fall of Singapore it became obvious to Britain that the only way to slow or neutralise this threat was not to defend on the back foot, but to take the war to the Japanese by fighting them hand to hand in the dense jungles. So the concept of “The Chindits” was formed and was the brainchild of British Generals Archibald Wavell and Orde Wingate.
Before we start a` word or two about the man himself - Orde Charles Wingate was an extremely unconventional British general who devised radical ways to revolutionise the way war could be fought in the jungle environment. His ideas and tactics had a great impact on the war in the Far East backed by the tenacity of his resourceful and awesome Chindits.
Wingate was born on 26th February 1903, at Naini Tal, near Almora, in Kumaon, India to Plymouth Brethren parents and was educated at Charterhouse and Woolwich. When he left school in 1923, Wingate was commissioned into the Royal Artillery and for five years between 1922 and 1927 also studied at the School of Oriental Studies in London. He then served in the Sudan Defence Force (1928-33) where he studied Arabic and Semitics, and acquired a strong working knowledge of the Middle East and its people.
In 1936, his superiors identified him as a very talented officer and promoted him to the rank of captain; following which Wingate was seconded to the intelligence staff in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) Palestine. Using his very unconventional talents he organised, trained and led raids against Arab terrorist who were regularly attacking both the British forces and the Jews in the area. He created specially trained “Special Night Squads,” which comprised primarily of Haganah (Jewish paramilitary) fighters, which met with great success throughout the Yishuv (area of Jewish settlement in Palestine). Their approaches were based on his novel tactics which used surprise, mobility, and night attacks and they served effectively both in defensive and offensive situations. During his time in the area he acquired a great respect for the Jews and learned the Hebrew language. Because of his work and support, he was known in the Yishuv as “ha-yedid,” (the friend).
He was quite badly wounded in July 1938 and after he recovered from his injuries he was seconded to serve under General Archibald Wavell, the head of the Middle East Command.
In 1940-41, he trained and led a guerrilla group which operated on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, comprising British, Ethiopian and Sudanese soldiers. The ‘Gideon’s Force’, as it became known, was very successful against the Italian Army in the area and comprised of 1770 men and thousands of camels to move their equipment and supplies. However, this early commando style unit was a previously unknown concept to the Italians and they were puzzled as how best to deal with it, giving Wingate a distinct advantage. At one point, using a force of just a few hundred men and the services of an excellent linguist, Wingate bluffed 12,000 half-hearted Italian troops into surrender, by telling them a huge force was approaching. In February 1941 Wingate was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and he was attached to General William Platt and the Sudan Defence Force on 4th May 1941. His tactics proved very successful and they entered Addis Ababa re-establishing Haile Selassie back to the throne as Emperor at Belaiya, on 6th February 1941.
However, Wingate began to experience depression and feeling that he had been side-lined by his friends and fellow officers suffered from a physical and nervous breakdown which culminated in attempted suicide by cutting his throat with a bayonet.
However he quickly recovered from both injury and breakdown and found that such was his reputation this hiccup had not blighted his career as Wingate and his unit had impressed a number of senior officers in the British Army.
In May 1942, Wingate was promoted to Colonel and sent to Burma where, using British, Burmese and Nepalese troops he formed 'Wingate's Raiders' - though they are better known as the “Chindits”, named after the Burmese word 'chinthe' meaning lions; from the lion statues that guarded the temples in Burma. General Wavell, Commander-In-Chief, India, was less than impressed having already experienced Wingate’s eccentricity and had come near to court-martialling him for insubordination when acting as General-Officer Commanding the Middle East.
Using Wingate’s concept of Long Range Penetration this group was to spread fear, uncertainty and cause chaos to the Japanese behind their own lines. They harried them with classic hit-and-run tactics when up to now the Japanese had only really experienced military success. Now they had to fight an enemy they could not see or predict and this hurt them both physically and more importantly their pride.
The Chindits (officially known as the 77th infantry brigade) were the largest of the allied Special Forces of the 2nd World War and operated deep behind enemy lines in North Burma in the War against Japan. For many months they lived in and fought the enemy unaided in the jungles of Japanese occupied Burma, totally relying on a special RAF squadron of six C47 Dakotas to airdrop their supplies.
There were two major Chindit expeditions into Burma, the first in February 1943 “Operation Longcloth”, consisted of a force of British, Ghurkha and some Burma rifles and using his innovative training methods formed a seven column brigade of about 3,000 men, with hundreds of mules, oxen and elephants carrying their supplies.
The unit comprised:
142nd Commando Company, 13th Battalion Kings Liverpool regiment, 3rd Battalion 2nd Gurkha rifles, 23rd Indian division and 2nd Battalion Burma rifles
With these men Wingate, true to his word, penetrated deep into Burma, with the initial objective of cutting the main railway line between Mandalay and Myitkyina, harassing the enemy in the Shwebo area and crossing the Irrawaddy River to also destroy the railway line between Mandalay and Lashio.
The first priority was 150 miles to the East and it was essential to the plan they reached the target undetected. The start of the mission was made by two Ghurkha columns from the force crossing the River Chindwin 50 miles to the south and by a diversionary attack by the 23rd Indian division at Kalewa. This succeeded and the main force reached the railway line in 2 weeks without encountering any Japanese, and was re-supplied at the target by C47 Dakotas of the RAF. However once at the railway line two of the columns were somehow ambushed and incurred heavy casualties. The remainder of the columns managed to comprehensively blow up the railway line in at least 75 places over a distance of 30 miles. Regrettably by the use of savagely forced slave labour the line was only out of action for about a week, but the Japanese were shaken to the core.
On the face of it, militarily, the action accomplished by Wingate would appear a failure, because, of the high attrition rate and that the Chindits only inflicted apparent minor damage to the Japanese troops. However from a psychological point of view its offensive forced the Japanese to give up the planned invasion of India, and also more importantly helped to raise the morale of the British troops.
The presence of the Chindits was especially successful along the Irrawaddy River where they caused a great deal of damage and created uncertainty in the Japanese supply lines. The Chindits also sent information on the area back to the RAF which greatly assisted their operations.
Following the Irrawaddy River area, the Chindits became increasingly difficult to locate and re-supply by air, sickness and the extreme humid heat were also taking their toll. Eventually before reaching his third target Wingate was forced to reappraise the situation and order a return back to India. They had lost 883 men out of the 3,000 after spending twelve weeks in the fetid jungle and marching an incredible 1,000 miles through the most difficult terrain. Of the 2182 that made it back, 600 were so severely ill or debilitated that they were unable to return to active duty, many being hospitalised. Of the others Wingate hand-picked some and the remainder were returned to their original units with honour. Despite the devastating effect on the Japanese, Wingate looked upon this as a dismal personal failure.
However a combination of the difficult territory and the presence of the Chindits had forced the Japanese to completely reappraise the situation and by the end of 1943, the Japanese had given up on the idea of invading India as they believed the jungles beyond the river Chindwin in Burma were impassable and full of British commandos, so they would try and consolidate their positions and stay where they were.
The British breathed a sigh of relief as they were heavily committed with the war in Europe and against Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in the deserts of North Africa.
India had vast resources of manpower and troops who were very loyal to the Commonwealth and indeed over 30 VCs were won by Indian troops during WW2. However a small number of activists within India were planning to try and force independence from Britain by joining the ranks of the Axis forces and formed what became known as Indian National Army (also known as “Azad Hind Fauz”)
Looking back for a moment, in December 1941 the Japanese overran Malaya, although British and Australian troops put up a firm defence, but were outnumbered and short of artillery and tanks. Eventually, by 15th February the British commander of Singapore, Lt. General Percival, bowed to the inevitable and surrendered. Incarceration of tens of thousands of Allied troops and civilians followed, as well as the outright slaughter of thousands of Chinese and Indians. Of the 15,000 Australians taken prisoner, a third had died by the end of the Pacific War in August 1945 and the attrition rate for British POWs was even higher.
Captain Mohan Singh together with another Indian and a British officer were forced to surrender a strategic area. Some Indians that were living in Southeast Asia formed organisations on the back of this Japanese victory aimed at forcing the independence of India. Pritam Singh was a leader of such an organisation and he and Major Fujihara, a Japanese officer, requested Mohan Singh to form an Indian Army using volunteers from the 50,000 captured Indian soldiers. (About 25,000 initially joined with the remainder becoming POWs.)
Although the Bengali Subhas Bose travelled to Germany via Russia with the intention of forming an Indian Government in exile, it was never recognised other than by the two main Axis powers. He did, however manage to form the Indian Legion in 1941 which comprised 3/4000 Indian POWs to fight with the Germans in North Africa.
The traitorous action of a small minority requires a more in-depth article but suffice to say, overall, it had little effect on the Far Eastern war, although it did form the backbone of the Indian uprising leading to independence in 1947.
Having suffered heavy losses in Malaya and Singapore the British were, for the time being, content to defend India.
I digress for a moment but the horrific and rarely reported Japanese treatment of the INA must be mentioned.
The Japanese landed at Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) on Jan 23rd 1942, after bombing the town into submission. Over the next two years, to protect the Japanese soldiers, Rabaul had 385 miles of tunnels dug into hard pumice volcanic rock. This Japanese base was never taken by allied troops as the soldiers were too well entrenched thanks to this amazing tunnel maze. It is still there and strangely, bearing in mind its horrific history, is a great Japanese tourist attraction.
The Japanese wanted to make Rabaul their Headquarters in the Pacific. Though they had more than 120,000 Japanese soldiers stationed there, they used slave labour to cut a myriad of deep tunnels in volcanic Pumice rock. The temperatures inside the tunnels would be around 45 deg C and very humid. They reasoned that the tropical Indians could do it, without force initially, especially if they are tricked into thinking it is part of a war effort. Once the terrible digging job started all such pretences stopped and the INA were treated as slave labour. They knew that Rabaul would be pounded with high explosive and phosphorous bombs and they had to go deep underground.
Having convinced Captain Mohan Singh that he could head an army of Indian POW soldiers and fight against the British, they offered him a jump from Captain Mohan to General Mohan Singh, which he took. From the 130,000 prisoners at Changi prison 41,000 were Indian soldiers. From this more than half were transformed into INA Indian soldiers’ and were tricked to ostensibly fight shoulder to shoulder against the British in other fronts but were taken by ship and secretly dumped in Rabaul. Mohan Singh, although not the brightest spark, suddenly realised the Japanese treachery and on 29th Dec 1942, the Japanese promptly dropped all secrecy and put him into jail.
Out of the 22,000 INA soldiers transported to Rabaul, every one of them died, only a small handful of deserters , escaped. The last 20/30 who survived the tunnel digging were executed and buried mass grave, just before the Japanese surrendered
It was little wonder that 22,000 soldiers died over a period of 2½ years, which was the time taken to dig 385 miles of tunnels in hard pumice rock. However there is a tremendous weight of evidence that from the 22000 Indians digging the tunnels, many died of illness, beatings or were executed for not working hard enough, but also thousands were killed and eaten by the Japanese Troops and officers. I won’t go into the gory details but it is available on line.
Returning to the main body of the article, American strategy differed from the British in the Far East theatre as the Americans wanted to divert as many Japanese away from the pacific area as possible with the intention of building air bases in China. They wanted more action from the British, who, they felt were still sitting on a vast reserve of mainly Indian manpower on the sub-continent.
In August 1943 a summit conference code named 'Quadrant' was held in Quebec to discuss future Allied military policy in the Far East. The British were under pressure to take more action and in consequence Churchill took Wingate with him. After putting his novel ideas to the Allied chiefs Wingate was given the go ahead on his Long Range Penetration ideas and given command of 6 battalions.
Although some opposed the idea, he went back to India with authorization to conduct long-range offensives under Lord Mountbatten, the Supreme Commander in Southeast Asia, as part of a campaign to recapture Burma.
Roosevelt was impressed and also decided to create a similar group led by the American officer, General Frank Merrill who commanded “Merrill's Marauders”, (officially the 5307th Composite Unit) who came under General Joseph Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command. It was a Special Forces unit modelled on the Chindits' long range penetration groups)
Wingate’s proposal was to parachute or land by glider whole divisions of highly trained commandos to liberate strategic territory by using his tried and tested guerrilla tactics. There were several top level political arguments particularly with the American General Joseph W. Stilwell ("Vinegar Joe.") who had a particular hatred and contempt of the British, referring to them as hesitant and cowardly and mocking the British, Australian and West African accents. Despite his unwarranted childish behaviour, the more professional Allied officers agreed to the formation of a special force and what was to be known as “Operation Thursday” was finally agreed.
Wingate’s basic theory was to insert his force into the very heart of the enemy, using his customary stealth, with hopefully the bonus that the Japanese wouldn’t know where they had landed and obviously where the troops could strike. His idea had to have two central themes “a) the power to penetrate deeply, and, b) the power to stay there”.
Wingate was promoted to Major-General but remained true to the heart of the British system - morale and motivation - using his tried and tested regiment as the building blocks of his 'new' jungle army. He took men mainly from Maj-Gen. G.W. Symes British 70th division, renowned for its high levels of training and morale and at the heart of the unit were veterans from the original 77th “Emphasis” brigade, which was Wingate’s Chindits and a brigade from the West African 81st Division. Officially the whole group were called “3rd Indian Infantry Division” but were known by everybody as the Chindits.
Wingate had become increasingly erratic, even stranger than his previous odd behaviour. He took to wearing an alarm clock on his wrist, on occasions and would often address his men stark naked from the shower while wearing his trademark pith helmet. Although Churchill was a great fan of his tactics even he and many of his Generals started to become concerned about his mental health and its effect on the war in the Far East.
The second expedition, “Operation Thursday”, was launched on 5th March 1944. It was the second largest airborne invasion of the war and consisted of a force of 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with air support provided by the 1st Air Commando USAAF.
The incursion and advance was made using columns so named because all personnel moving through the jungle were in single file (a tactic to be copied 20 years later.) Each column was essentially of company strength (about 120 - 200 men). Carrying their supplies and equipment was about 1,000 mules, rather than the camels and elephants used previously.
Each column was heavily armed comprising of four SMLE rifle platoons, also armed with Thompson sub-machine guns, one heavy weapons platoon (each with two Vickers machine guns, two 3 inch mortars, one flame thrower & two piat anti-tank guns), one commando platoon (experts in demolition and booby traps) and one reconnaissance platoon with a British officer and Burma rifles troops (Karen and Kachin tribesmen). The Japanese, in particular, had a great fear of the flame throwers skilfully wielded by the Chindits.
The plan was to cut off the Japanese in southern Burma from those forces fighting General Joseph Stilwell in the north and British Field Marshal William Joseph "Bill" Slim, (1st Viscount Slim) in Imphal and Kohima.
With American help the Chindits initially established three airstrips “Broadway, Piccadilly and Chowringhee”, in jungle clearings, some several hundred miles behind Japanese lines. These airstrips enabled supplies and reinforcements to be flown in by C47s and B25H and the sick and wounded flown out, normally on small single engine L5 Sentinel aircraft. One of the airstrips (Piccadilly) was made unusable when Burmese natives inadvertently used their elephants to spread large teak logs on it to dry. Two further airstrips were constructed called “Aberdeen and White City”. After the aircraft and gliders had delivered their men and equipment, “Chowringhee” was abandoned and “Broadway” was upgraded to included field artillery, anti-aircraft guns and even six Spitfire MkIXc fighters, from 81 squadron, to keep the Zero’s and Oscars away. The arrival of the Spitfires got the Americans rather miffed as they were proposing to allocate some Mustang P51Ds, which they did later.
Over the next few months the Chindits destroyed Japanese roads, railways, bridges and convoys but once again the Chindits were to suffer heavy casualties.
Only shortly into the “Operation Thursday” Orde Wingate was killed tragically and was one of nine men who died in the crash of a U.S. Army Air Corps USAAF B-25H-1-NA Mitchell bomber, serial 43-4242 transport plane and under rather mysterious circumstances when his plane crashed into a hillside near Imphal during a storm on 14th March 1944. The remains of the crew were originally buried in India, on 25th March 1944 but moved to a common grave in Section 12 of Arlington National Cemetery on 10th November 1950. This did not immediately meet the approval of his family but as the heavily burned remains recovered could not be identified or separated American protocol dictated that a 5:4 ratio meant that burial had to take place in the USA.
There is a gravestone in Charlton Cemetery, SE London, with the name of Major-Gen. Orde Wingate, RA, on it and yet another in the North Porch of Chariton House School Chapel. These are memorial stones only.
“In Memory of
Major General ORDE CHARLES WINGATE DSO and 2 Bars Commands and, General Staff who died aged 41 on Friday, 24th March 1944.
Major General WINGATE was the son of Colonel George Wingate C.I.E. and Mary Ethel Stanley Wingate (nee Orde Browne); husband of Lorna E. M. Wingate (nee Moncrieff Paterson), of Edinburgh, Scotland. Commanded a special force known as the "Chindits". Awarded the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal by the Royal Central Asian Society, Remembered with honour ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Virginia, United States of America.”
There is a much unsubstantiated story that Wingate faked his own death and went native living in the Borneo jungle as some sort of wild man. Not an impossibility but extremely unlikely.
If we pause for a moment the death of Wingate, who was an unpredictable renegade and had a talent for getting up the nose of his senior Generals, was similar to the convenient deaths of a few other troublesome wartime leaders. By that I mean that of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who, on 4th July 1943 died in a plane crash, however it is alleged he fell or was pushed out of an aircraft over Gibraltar on the direct orders of Churchill as his actions over the Russian Katyn forest massacre was threatening allied solidarity. There were similar suspicions over other deaths, those of legendary American General George Patton following a minor motor accident in 1945, and even the British movie actor Leslie Howard who was aboard Flight 777, a commercial B.O.A.C DC-3 returned to England in June 1943 from Portugal. It was attacked by eight Junkers JU-88 fighter/bombers and shot down in the Bay of Biscay. There were thirteen passengers aboard, including Howard. There were no survivors.
Lieutenant General Walter David Alexander Lentaigne took over on 24th March 1944 following Wingate’s death and led 111 Brigade in the continuation of Operation Thursday. He also took command of Special Force / 3rd Indian Infantry Division, and Commanded the Chindits until it they were eventually disbanded early in 1945.
This second expedition would have been Wingate’s crowning glory, had he lived, and made history by being the first invasion force to use glider & parachute borne troops, to invade the Chindwin Area of Burma. They caused total havoc and panic throughout the Area by destroying railway lines, communications & generally harassing the Japanese. The aim was to attack the Japanese rear and supply lines and by so doing to relieve pressure on General Stillwell’s joint US and Chinese forces moving south into Northern Burma. The Chindits were eventually placed under the ultimate command of Stillwell and due to his dislike of the British he downgraded their ability as a superb forward fighting force and their courage and skill was wasted in the unsuitable role of classic infantry, without even the support of artillery and armour.
Certain elements of the Chindits continued their incredible work, the 3rd Battalion 6th Gurkha Rifles were part of 77 (LRP) Brigade was commanded by Brigadier ‘Mad Mike’ Calvert, who was credited as Orde Wingate’s most tenacious Chindit commander. In early May, the two 3/6th columns were reunited as a battalion and was now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Shaw with Major Jimmy Lumley (the father of famous actress Joanna Lumley who champions Gurkha causes) as his Second-in-Command.
They held off superior Japanese forces for two months operating from their stronghold ‘White City’, but eventually 77 Brigade were ordered to move north to bring pressure on the Japanese opposing Stillwell’s Chinese in the area of Mogaung.
To reach Mogaung they had to march 160 miles fighting a series of bloody encounters along the way. By this time the monsoon had started and conditions were now appalling with malaria and typhus common among the men. At the end of May, Stillwell unbelievably ordered 77 Brigade to capture Mogaung itself, although 14th Army intelligence, backed by hazardous patrols from 77 Brigade, confirmed Mogaung to be held by upwards of 4,000 Japanese.
An assessment of the situation, by the time 77 Brigade was in a position to launch its main assault, found that disease and injury had reduced it from an original 3,500 to a fighting strength of less than 550 men. The Lancashire Fusiliers, King’s Regiment and South Stafford’s between them could only muster an additional 300 and the 3/6th Ghurkhas had 230 men who were fit.
The plan was to advance on the town using the Pin Hmi road. On the 11th June, Captain Michael Allmand’s heroic action broke a deadlock in the advance, by charging and silencing the Japanese machine guns thus ensuring the capture of the Pin Hmi Inn road bridge. This this was the first of the exploits which culminated in his award of the Victoria Cross. The second occurred on 13th June during the continued fighting to secure a ridge closer to the town, where again he charged the machine gun nests, wiping out the Japanese. By now Allmand had taken over command of B Company because of casualties among its officers. Over the next few days Chinese forces joined 77 Brigade to face the Japanese stronghold of Mogaung. However their infantry just stood back and took no part in the final attack, and only their American supplied 75mm guns provided 77 Brigade with some artillery support.
At first light on 23rd June the final assault was launched. Earlier reconnaissance had identified a building they called the ‘Red House’ as a likely trouble spot. It was Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun’s single-handed gallantry as part of B Company’s attack on the ‘Red House’ which earned him his Victoria Cross. The third specific outstandingly brave action by Tulbahadur’s Company Commander, Michael Allmand, provided the inspiration which lead to the capture of the railway bridge by again charging a Japanese machine gun nest single-handed. Sadly, this time Allmand was mortally wounded and died that night from his wounds. Fierce fighting continued throughout the day and into that night. The following morning, a reconnaissance patrol into the town found that the Japanese had run away in the darkness abandoning the town, even though they significantly outnumbered the attacking British forces. Mogaung was the first main town in Burma to be re-captured.
The Battalion was now ordered to garrison Mogaung. They remained there until 5th July before marching a further 50 miles to be flown back to India. Whilst in Mogaung, the Battalion took the opportunity to hold a small ceremonial and remembrance parade and hoisted the Union Flag over a large pagoda, which was the most prominent building left standing. It was considered fitting that the Battalion should have the honour of doing this as it had given of its best to capture a town whose name will ever rank among its finest achievements.
However the cost in lives had been high. Since flying into Burma less than four months earlier, 3/6th Ghurkhas had suffered casualties of 11 British officers killed and 9 wounded, 6 Ghurkha officers killed and 8 wounded, 109 Ghurkhas killed and 335 wounded with 7 missing.
In the later stages they were seconded to Gen Joe Stillwell's American Chinese Forces who misused their talents badly and refused to give them the armoured support needed. Because of this they suffered further unnecessary casualties, losing up to 50% of their men. Despite the hopeless situation, when they were ordered to advance to Myitkina, Commander Calvert ignored the ridiculous orders and shut down his radios and retreated to Kamaing. Due to lack of support, illness and injury 111th Brigade at Blackpool had to abandon the stronghold when the Japanese over-ran the airstrip and tragically, for the second time a British unit had to shoot their wounded men that were too injured to move, rather than leave them to the savagery of the Japanese. Eventually they were withdrawn & returned to India where they were finally disbanded. Despite Stillwell’s constant criticism the Chindits were able to achieve with a few hundred men what Stillwell couldn’t with 30,000 Chinese troops.
The healthy men were sent to re-training camps to prepare for new operations. However, when the army command evaluated the men and equipment required to return the Chindits to operational status, it was decided to transform the force into an Airborne Division in India. Beyond direct replacements, it was known that the British element of the Chindits would be decimated in 1945 by the need to repatriate personnel who had served more than four years overseas and so the Chindits in their original form ceased to exist.
Perhaps Churchill in the tribute he gave Wingate in Parliament following the announcement of his death put it best: "We placed our hopes at Quebec in the new Supreme Commander, Admiral Mountbatten and in his brilliant lieutenant Major-General Wingate who, alas, has paid a soldier's debt. There was a man of genius who might well have become also a man of destiny. He has gone, but his spirit lives on..."
There is a memorial to both Orde Wingate and his heroic Chindits on the north side of the Victoria Embankment next to the Ministry of Defence headquarters in London. The memorial was unveiled on 16th October 1990 by HRH the Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. The front of the monument is in memory of the Chindits and also mentions the four men of the Chindits awarded the Victoria Cross Major Frank Gerald Blaker, Captain Michael Allmand and Lieutenant George Albert Cairns and Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun. The battalions who took part are listed on the sides of the monument. Non-infantry units are mentioned by their parent formations only. No distinction is made between those units who took part in 1943 versus those of 1944. The rear of the monument is exclusively dedicated to Orde Wingate and also mentions his contributions to the state of Israel.
For further information please contact:
The Chindits' Old Comrades Association at:-
The T.A. Centre
West Midlands WV10 9QR
The Liaison Officer, Captain Wilson is on 44+(0)1902-731841 If sending a fax
Use +44 (01902) -303830 mark it for the attention of Captain B.K. Wilson as
the fax machine is shared by others.
Copyright Peter Geekie 2014
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