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The Story of the Chindits

Discussion in 'The War In The Pacific' started by Jim, Sep 14, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    This account is based on the dispatches to The Daily Telegraph by its correspondents Martin Moore and Marsland Gander back in 1943.

    A remarkable man this Brigadier Wingate, the man who led the "Jungle Commando" in its raid behind the Japanese lines in Burma. Martin Moore, The Daily Telegraph Special Correspondent on the. Burma front, who was one of the two or three newspapermen privileged to accompany the raiders on the first stage of their journey, says that he has the lean face of an intellectual, with small, piercingly blue eyes, and a jutting chin as aggressive as his bony nose. Though he is only 38, his lank, untidy hair is already grey. But for his uniform you would put him down as a university professor or a barrister destined for the Bench. After the expedition had set out, Martin Moore made further discoveries concerning this remarkable personality. Wingate, he tells us, a gunner by training, is a student of war, but a student also of life and art. Round the camp-fire at night, deep in the green heart of the jungle he discussed literature, music, painting, films, economics, and the organization of the post War world. The Brigadier quoted Shakespeare and Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, and Grays Elegy. He talked of the art of detective fiction and the psychology of comic strips in the newspapers. From Jane of the Daily Mirror he would pass on to outline his ideas for a new League of Nations.

    Wingate, it was soon made clear, has studied his enemy. “The Jap isn’t a superman" he used to impress upon the little group sitting round the camp-fire; “but the individual soldier is a fanatic. Put him in a hole, give him a hundred rounds, and tell him to die for the Emperor, and he will do it. The way to deal with him is to leave him in his hole, and go behind him. If this operation of ours is successful it will save thousands of lives."

    Striking Into Burma, the Chindits penetrated to within 50 miles of Mandalay. This map depicts the mountainous terrain in which this force so effectively operated.

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    He has studied, too, the Burmese tribesmen, whose hostility to the Japanese he was hoping to fan into a flame just as, two years ago, he raised the Abyssinian guerillas against the Italians, Before he left India he had a manifesto prepared, in which he called his force the Chindits (the Burmese name for the griffin or lion like figures which stand guard round the temples to ward off evil spirits) and described them as “mysterious men who have come among you who can summon from afar mysterious powers of the air, and who will rid you of the fierce scowling Japanese,” Very shortly he was famed as the Captain of the Chindits, as well as the Lord Protector of the Pagodas.

    For many months the Chindits or Wingate’s Circus as they called themselves were specially trained in India under conditions of strict secrecy. They were a very mixed bunch. Among the British soldiers, drawn from twenty or thirty different regiments, there were some Commandos who had already taken part in sudden descents on the French and Norwegian coasts; but many more were married men from the North of England, men between twenty-eight and thirty-five, who before they began their training, would have been described as second line troops. (In England they had been a coast defence unit.) Then there were wiry, keen-eyed little Gurkhas from the hill-country of the Indian North West Frontier, and soft-spoken Burmans, patriots who refused to bow the knee to the Japanese invader. All were trained together; and so well trained that (as was soon to be discovered) the Japanese could teach them nothing in the difficult subject of jungle craft.

    Early in February the Chindits crossed the mountains from Tamu in Assam into Burma. Martin Moore accompanied them as they left their last halting place in "safe" territory. Here is his vivid picture of their setting out

    We marched at night. Elephants carrying mortars, machine-guns and ammunition, plodded on ahead, silent-footed, but brushing their way with rending sounds through overhanging bamboos and low branches. Uphill or downhill they took gradients of one in two with slow majestic ease. With the delicate step of a tight-rope walker they picked their way along rocky tracks no wider than their own feet. One lost his balance. He rolled ponderously backwards and crashed through the trees down a precipitous slope. His howdah was smashed and his load scattered, but he came meekly back and waited while the mortars and ammunition boxes were collected. Next came the mules and men, platoon after platoon, laden with all the varied paraphernalia of this strange unit. In rear were the slower moving oxen. They dragged their sturdy little carts until the track became so narrow and steep that they could go no farther. Then the carts were abandoned and oxen became pack animals like the mules.

    For three months the Chindits were in operation against the Japanese in the Burmese jungle. Beating the enemy at his own game of infiltration in the dark, solitudes of the tropical forests, they penetrated between 200 and 300 miles into enemy infested territory. In numerous jungle clashes they killed at least 200 Japanese; and a whole Japanese division of 15,000 men was kept busy hunting them and trying to prevent them reaching the Lashio railway. Once arrived at the Chindwin, Moore watched the Chindits cross the 300ft wide river.

    The man whom the Burmese villagers knew as "Lord Protector of the Pagodas" was a 38-year-old professional soldier who combines the dreamer, almost the mystic, with the man of action. Brigadier Orde Charles Wingate saw service in Palestine in 1937, and was one of the little band of British officers who stirred up the Abyssinian revolt in 1941. He was the leader of the force of British, Indian, and Burmese troops called Chindits after the griffin like figures placed on guard outside Burmese temples in a three month raid behind the Japanese lines in Burma.

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    Several Burmese boats had been obtained and were drawn up on the shore awaiting us. While some men swiftly loaded them, others were inflating rubber boats which we brought with us. The elephants plunged straight across, deposited their loads, and swam back for more.

    A strongly armed party went over to guard the bridgehead against possible enemy attack. Then, while the main body of troops rested, hidden in the thicket, platoons went forward one by one with their animals to make the crossing. Most of the men easily swam across, despite the swift current; but the transport of arms, ammunition and supplies, with so few small craft, was a slow process. When the first light streaked the eastern sky a large proportion of the force was still on this side of the river. By then however, there was no further need for secrecy. Our patrols had made sure there were no Japanese in the vicinity, the troops came out of their concealment in the thicket, and the sun rose on a scene which seemed to belong rather to the seaside on Bank Holiday in England than to a military operation in the Burma jungle. Hundreds of men awaiting their turn to cross sat breakfasting on the shore. Naked figures splashed through the shallows and raced over the sands in pursuit of recalcitrant mules. Some were swimming across leading lines of plunging animals. Rubber boats piled with arms and kit were being towed.

    After crossing the Chindwin the Chindits split up into separate columns, each charged with a special task. That they were successful was very largely due to the support of the R.A.F. Each man carried six days rations on his back; but for the rest they were dependent on supplies dropped by plane. Each column had an R.A.F. unit with its own radio to act as spotters for the bombers, but still more as liaison with the aircraft dropping supplies. The R.A.F. made it a point of honour to drop everything that was asked for; and so to these little bands of wandering fighters there came down from the sky such things as monocles, false teeth, a kilt, a copy of a recent life of Bernard Shaw, and a will form for signature by an officer who was temporarily surrounded by Japanese. Once two volunteer wireless operators were landed by parachute, they came down in the middle of a scrap, and had to hide in the jungle until it was over.

    Chindits with supply mules crossing one of the many jungle streams on the route.

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    One chief objective was the Mandalay Myitkyina railway, which the column charged with its destruction reached on March 6, just a month after they had marched out of India. So far they had not seen a single Japanese soldier, but after they had blown up the line north of Wuntho with seventy charges placed over a distance of over 4 miles they had a successful clash with lorry-borne Japanese, at Nankan railway station; and on March 14, when bivouacked on an island in the Irrawaddy, just south of Tigyaing, they had another brush with the enemy. Still they pushed on till at Parga they received orders to disperse into parties and return to India.

    The Japanese, Lieut. Jeffrey Lockett told Marsland Gander, The Daily Telegraph correspondent in New Delhi, "were now straining every effort to close in on us and we moved with the utmost caution, hitting back hard by ambushing one of their platoons. Rations were dropped from the air for the last time. For the rest of the time, relentlessly pursued by the Japanese, we existed on rice, fruit, tomatoes, a few coconuts, eggs and chickens. Once we shot a water-buffalo, and we also ate our mules. We delayed the enemy by constantly planting booby traps on the trail.”

    On April 15, weak, almost exhausted, but in jubilant spirits, they made contact with Indian soldiers and knew they were home. “I had been imagining all the wonderful things I would eat and drink,” said Lt. Lockett, “but found, in fact, that I could eat nothing of civilised fare and drink only a quarter of a bottle of beer.”
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    One man who did not believe that the Japanese were jungle supermen was Major General Orde Wingate. He believed that specially trained units, supplied by air, were capable of operating for long periods behind Japanese lines and causing damage quite disproportionate to the number of troops employed. He received permission to raise a brigade-size force, which became known as the Chindits from its distinctive arm badge, a Chinthe or stone lion that guarded the entrance to Burmese temples. In February 1943 the Chindits, organised into seven columns each of 400 men and 100 mules, crossed the Chindwin river into Burma. They fought several successful actions and wrecked the Mandalay–Myitkyina railway in several places. Wingate created the uproar he intended, for the Japanese hated having their communications interfered with as much as they loved interfering with other people’s. By the time his Chindits returned to India in April, they had marched through 2400 kilometres (1500 miles) of nominally held enemy territory. It was a gruelling ordeal, and of the 2182 survivors, only 600 were fit enough for further active service, although many of them formed the nucleus of the division-size Chindit force that took the field in 1944.

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