Orde Wingate

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Person.png Orde Wingate  Rdf-icon.png
(Soldier, Special Forces)
Orde Wingate.jpg
Born26 February 1903
Died24 March 1944 (Age 41)
Near Bishnupur, Manipur State, India
NationalityUK
Alma materCharterhouse, Royal Military Academy
ReligionAnglicanism

Orde Charles Wingate was a senior British Army officer, known for his creation of the Chindit deep-penetration missions in Japanese-held territory during the Burma Campaign of World War II. Modern British propaganda units like to use his name and exploits as an inspiration, with units like the internet troll-unit 77th Brigade named in honor of Wingate's 77th Brigade, and where phrases like 'modern day Chindits' are often bandied around.

Army Career

Wingate was an exponent of unconventional military thinking and the value of surprise tactics. Assigned to Mandatory Palestine, he became a supporter of Zionism, and set up a joint British-Jewish counter-insurgency unit. Under the patronage of the area commander Archibald Wavell, Wingate was given increasing latitude to put his ideas into practice during World War II. He created units in Abyssinia and Burma.

At a time when Britain was in need of morale-boosting generalship, Wingate attracted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's attention with a self-reliant aggressive philosophy of war, and was given resources to stage a large-scale operation.

Palestine

In September 1936, Wingate was assigned to a staff officer position in the British Mandate of Palestine, and became an intelligence officer. From his arrival, being an ardent Christian, he saw the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine as being a religious duty, and immediately put himself into absolute alliance with Jewish political leaders.

Palestinian Arab guerrillas had at the time of his arrival begun a campaign of attacks against both British mandate officials and Jewish communities. Wingate became politically involved with a number of Zionist leaders, and became an ardent Zionist himself. He formulated the idea of raising small assault units of British-led Jewish commandos armed with grenades and light infantry small arms to combat the Arab revolt. In June 1938, the British commander, General Haining, gave his permission to create the Special Night Squads, armed groups formed of British and Haganah volunteers. The Jewish Agency helped pay salaries and other costs of the Haganah personnel. Wingate trained, commanded and accompanied them on their patrols. The units frequently ambushed Arab saboteurs who attacked oil pipelines of the Iraq Petroleum Company, raiding border villages the attackers had used as bases. In these raids, Wingate's men sometimes imposed severe collective punishments on the villagers.

Ethiopia

At the beginning of WW2, he created Gideon Force under William Platt, the British commander in Sudan, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) force composed of British, Sudanese, and Ethiopian soldiers, designed to fight the Italians in the colony of Ethiopia (Italian East Africa). At Khartoum, he and Tony Simonds joined Mission 101 controlled by London and Cairo. Gideon force was named after the biblical judge Gideon who defeated a large force with a tiny band of men. Wingate invited a number of veterans of the Haganah SNS to join him, with the blessing of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie, and the group began to operate in February 1941. Gideon Force harassed Italian forts and their supply lines with the aid of local resistance fighters, while regular army units took on the main Italian army. With the end of the East African Campaign on 4 June 1941, Wingate was removed from command of the dismantled Gideon Force and his rank reduced to that of major.

Burma and 77th Brigade

First Burma penetration mission

Wingate was appointed colonel once more by General Wavell upon arrival in the Far East in March 1942, and he was ordered to organise guerrilla units to fight behind Japanese lines. However, the precipitate collapse of Allied defences in Burma forestalled further planning, and he flew back to India in April, where he began to promote his ideas for jungle long-range penetration units.

Wavell was intrigued by Wingate's theories and gave him the (Indian 77th Infantry Brigade), from which he created a jungle long-range penetration unit. 77 Brigade was eventually named the Chindits, a corrupted version of a mythical Burmese lion called the chinthe.

The original 1943 Chindit operation was supposed to be a coordinated plan with the field army,[42] but the Army's offensive into Burma was cancelled. Wingate then persuaded Wavell to let him proceed into Burma anyway, arguing the need to disrupt any Japanese attack on Sumprabum as well as to gauge the utility of long-range jungle penetration operations, and Wavell eventually gave his consent to Operation Longcloth. Wingate led them deep into Burma and over the Irrawaddy River. However, they found conditions very different from what their intelligence had led them to expect. The area was dry and inhospitable and criss-crossed by motor roads which the Japanese were able to use to good effect, particularly by intercepting supply drops to the Chindits. They soon began to suffer severely from exhaustion and shortages of water and food.

On 22 March, Eastern Army HQ ordered Wingate to withdraw his units back to India. By mid-March, the Japanese had three infantry divisions chasing the Chindits, who were eventually trapped inside the bend of the Shweli River. They were unable to cross the river intact and still reach British lines, so they split into small groups to evade enemy forces. The Japanese paid great attention to preventing air resupply of Chindit columns, as well as hindering their mobility by removing boats from the Irrawaddy, Chindwin, and Mu rivers and actively patrolling the river banks. The force returned to India by various routes during the spring of 1943 in groups ranging from single individuals to whole columns: some directly, others via a roundabout route from China, and always harassed by the Japanese. Casualties were high, and the force lost approximately one-third of its total strength. With the losses incurred during the first long-range jungle penetration operation, many officers in the British and Indian army questioned the overall value of the Chindits.

But in London, the Chindits and their exploits were viewed as a success after the long string of Allied disasters in the Far East theatre. Winston Churchill, an ardent proponent of commando operations, was, in particular, complimentary toward the Chindits and their accomplishments.

As a propaganda tool, the Chindit operation was used to prove to the army and those at home that the Japanese could be beaten and that British/Indian troops could successfully operate in the jungle against experienced Japanese forces.

Soon after Wingate arrived, Churchill decided to take him and his wife along to the Quebec Conference. There, Wingate explained his ideas of deep penetration warfare to the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting on 17 August. Air power, radio, and recent developments in warfare would allow units to establish bases deep in enemy territory, breaching the outer defences, and extend the range of conventional forces. The leaders were impressed, and larger scale deep-penetration attacks were approved. By now, a war-substantive lieutenant-colonel and temporary brigadier, Wingate was promoted to the acting rank of major-general on 18 September 1943.

Second Burma penetration mission / Operation Thursday

While Wingate was still in Burma, area commander Wavell had ordered the formation of 111 Brigade, known as the "Leopards", along the lines of the 77 Brigade. He selected Brigadier Joe Lentaigne as the new commander. Wavell intended that the two brigades would operate with one engaged on operations while the other trained and prepared for the next operation. However, once back in India, Wingate was promoted to acting major general and was given six brigades.

Wingate planned that part of 77 Brigade would land by glider in Burma and prepare airstrips into which 111 Brigade and the remainder of 77 Brigade would be flown by C-47 transport aircraft. The character of the 1944 operations differed from those of 1943 in that they aimed to establish fortified bases in Burma out of which the Chindits would conduct offensive patrol and blocking operations. A similar strategy would be used by the French in Indochina years later at Dien Bien Phu.

Once all the Chindit brigades (less one which remained in India) had marched or flown into Burma, they established base areas and drop zones behind Japanese lines. By fortunate timing, the Japanese launched an invasion of India around the same time. By forcing several pitched battles along their line of march, the Chindit columns were able to disrupt the Japanese offensive, diverting troops from the battles in India.

Death in India

On 24 March 1944, Wingate flew to assess the situations in three Chindit-held bases in Burma. On his return, flying from Imphal to Lalaghat, the USAAF B-25 Mitchell bomber of the 1st Air Commando Group in which he was flying crashed into jungle-covered hills in the present-day state of Manipur in northeast India, where all aboard died.

Wingate's eccentric and strong-willed personality, his reputation for being difficult, advocacy of irregular warfare and his Zionism have led to sharply opposed assessments by historians. In Britain, the two opposing tendencies has been for historians to portray him either as a mentally unstable, delusional figure operating well beyond his level of competence, or alternatively as a visionary, a leader of men noted for his audacity, courage and toughness.


26 February 1903|24 March 1944|


References