Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

Category Archives: Articles of War

The Island that Refused to Die

Malta-Masthead

Book in progress (November 2013-present)


Status (March 2017): All major research completed. In the process of concluding this non-fiction project  |    Above mast painting by Rowland Hilder, 1942

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A British Imperial island during the Second World War, Malta occupied a strategic place in the narrows of the Mediterranean Sea. It was a rocky aircraft carrier from where the British could launch attacks on Sicily, and its natural harbor gave the Royal Navy an excellent base. In short, Malta was a thorn in the enemy’s side.

The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, was determined to take it for his own, and in June 1940, he had the men and the machines to do it. But although Mussolini and the Germans tried their best to blast Malta off the map and starve it into submission, they had badly underestimated the fighting spirit of islanders and the British. Although outmanned and outgunned, Royal Air Force planes flown by Commonwealth pilots and American volunteers harried enemy attackers and Allied warships based there wreaked havoc on German and Italian shipping.

Kept alive through a tenuous and erratic supply line — vulnerable convoys sailing from Gibraltar and Alexandria, Malta hung on, defying the odds, wielding massive influence on the battles raging in North Africa and sparking fierce naval clashes which gutted the Axis merchant fleets and scarred the Italian Regia Marina, that other Royal Navy. The phrase “naval battles of World War II” may conjure imagery of the Pacific, but more surface engagements were fought in the Mediterranean than in any other place during the war — 50, compared to 36 in the Pacific and 49 in the Atlantic.

The siege of the island lasted for nearly two-and-a-half years, eclipsing all the great sieges of modern history (barring Leningrad) as the defenders fought a lonely, heroic campaign, a private little war against the might of two Axis militaries, paving the way for the Allied liberation of the Mediterranean.

Below follows some of the assorted art and graphics connected with this work. They’ll probably never be published in the way I intend anyway.

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The Campaign in the Hurtgen Forest

The Green Hell: The Hurtgen Campaign | PDF | 128 Pages | 56 Mb

The Green Hell (3e)

(Right click to save)

In the summer of 1944, as the Allied armies swept out of Normandy and Western France, the end of the war seemed within their grasp. But then American troops from the First Army reached a little-charted forest at Hürtgen and a great opportunity arose. Breaching this would gain them the western banks of the Rhine River – the last natural obstacle into Nazi Germany. But almost immediately what started out as a promising advance became a brutal slog.

Ferocious fighting crippled three American divisions and mauled another. The fighting consumed so much that men didn’t even have the energy to bury the dead. Replacements came “bug-eyed, in small, frightened bunches,” many soon to join the casualty lists. One American general called it a dreadful place and “one of the most costly, most unproductive and most ill-advised battles that our army has ever fought.” Another eyewitness, Ernest Hemingway, wrote a novel on the events. But a myopic focus on other campaigns reduced the Hürtgen fighting to a dim memory. Today it is virtually forgotten, especially in America. But Hürtgen remains a landmark of war’s inhumanity, of heroism and the limits of human military endeavor.

Includes: 14 Maps, +80 photographs and illustrations, a detailed order of battle. For examples of pencil art accompanying the text, check post: “Hurtgen Forest Artwork.”

This monograph is a result of the surprising number of people who have contacted me over the years asking for more information about this campaign – all because of a study I had once done on a now-defunct website. This work would not have been possible without their interest.

Instead of publishing it for monetary gain, I have instead released my research on this website in the hopes that it will add to the growing public awareness about this half-forgotten campaign and the men who fought it.

 


Some of the art found within the monograph

Ernst

 

Captain Albert Ernst, German tank ace – drawn from a frame of video at the National Archives showing Ernst surrendering to US troops from the 99th Division in Germany, 1945.

 

 

 

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Greyhound

American Greyhound Armoured Car drives past a German wreck.

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Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, correspondent for Colliers magazine, willing participant in combat.

 

Peleliu 1944

 

Peleliu Map 15 September 1944

(LEFT) The Palau Islands chain which contained Peleliu. (RIGHT) The Peleliu Island group on the day of the assault.

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The impetus for this Peleliu section came out out of a recent talk with an interesting older fellow who had recently met Joseph Mazzello (of HBO’s The Pacific fame) on 49th Street in NYC. Somehow this fellow and I (the old guy, not Mazzello) went into a conversation, discussing of all things: the best places in NYC, The Pacific, Broadway, Mazzello, Spielberg, some other stuff I can’t even remember anymore.

After we said our goodbyes, I got to thinking of Mazzello. Aside from two or  three episodes, The Pacific was a God-awful disappointment. But I thought Mazzello did a tremendous job portraying  his real-life character, Eugene B. Sledge, a mild-mannered professor of biology at Auburn University in later life, a veteran marine during the Second World War whose androcentric last name was perfectly suited to that of a combat soldier – except that Sledge frowned upon the jingoistic meatheads that seem to comprise a percentage of military forces everywhere. His book on the subject, a searing portrait of combat, becomes anti-war, like every great movie about war. The message, aptly recounted by Private Doll in another great war book, The Thin Red Line, is: “War don’t ennoble men, it turns ’em into dogs.” Sledge repeated as much in Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer-winning non-fiction book, The Good War. The Terkel foundation has offered Sledge’s complete interview on their website. They make for fascinating listening. Find them here:

http://www.studsterkel.org/gwar.php

I thought it would be really interesting to blend Sledge’s experiences and the narrative of another enlightened Marine, Robert Leckie, into a study of the Peleliu battle, but since that has been partly done in none other than the The Pacific, I have decided to put up some of the material that I had collected, especially some photos. For those still interested in learning more on this hell of a campaign, I urge you to visit: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Peleliu/index.html which contains the original USMC monograph on Peleliu written by Major Frank O. Hough in 1950. The 205-page document has a great deal of information and some excellent maps and photographs.

 

Eugene Sledge after the war, in front his microscope. Like many hardened combat veterans he gave up his pre-war hobby of hunting, disgusted by the act of frivolous killing.  His fervor instead turned to preservation. (Auburn University)

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I created these two drawings to accompany a planned monograph, which I ultimately decided would be superfluous.

Japanese Machinegunner

(LEFT) Japanese machine-gunner, with his Type 99 LMG slung over his shoulder. (RIGHT) US machine-gun team.

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(click images for larger picture)

 

(LEFT) An aerial view of Peleliu taken some years after the battle. (USAF) (RIGHT) LCI (G) rocket-firing ships pound the beaches on D-Day. (USMC)

 

(LEFT) Despite the terrific American air and sea bombardment, when the smoke cleared, it was discovered that the Japanese artillery and mortar fire had knocked out dozens of American landing craft and DUKWs. (US Navy) (RIGHT) Even as a rocket-firing LCI (on the far left) pounds the shore, Marine Amtracs of the 3rd Armored Amphibian Tractor Battalion chug forward. The closest vehicle is an LVT-1, indicated by its 37mm main cannon, while the others, equipped with short 75 mm guns are LVT(A)-4s. (Associated Press)

 

(LEFT) Smoke rises from disabled US amphibious craft seen from above “White” and “Orange” beaches. The white line of water is the reef edge. (US Navy) (RIGHT) On D-Day, Marines take cover around a disabled 3rd Armored Amphibian Battalion LTV(A)-4 near “White beach 2.” (USMC)

 

(LEFT) Marines H.T. Backous (on left) and C.E. Schneider stand in front of Maj. Parker’s knocked-out command tank. Backous was the driver and Schneider was in the turret with Parker. (USMC)

(RIGHT) Col. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment speaks with one his lieutenants. Before the war, Puller had served in the Caribbean, Haiti and Nicaragua. In 1930’s China, he had commanded a detachment of the famous Horse Marines at Shanghai in 1934, encountering his first Japanese here – who, suffice to say, did not afford a favorable impression. During the campaign on Guadalcanal, he won his 3rd Navy Cross and for his leadership on New Britain, was promoted to lead the 1st Marine in February 1944. (USMC)

 

(LEFT) This fantastic shot of the deck of an LST (No. 202) shows it to be crammed with jeeps, trucks and supplies of all sorts, including rolls of barbed wire, tanks full of drinking water, food and munitions. An LST had a standard displacement of 1,780 tons and a complement of 8-10 officers and 100-115 men. It was ships like these that made America’s liberation of the Pacific possible. (RIGHT) A flamethrower-armed LVT-4 on Peleliu pummels a Japanese dug-out. (Both photos, USMC)

 

(LEFT) Two marines take a smoke break. In the background is an LVT. The man on the right is armed with a Browning .30cal M1919 Light machine-gun. (USMC) (RIGHT) Marines pose in front of a captured Japanese flag on Peleliu. Trophies like this were well sought after and frequently found. (National Archives)

 

(Both Photos) Marine wounded found themselves first extracted from the battlefield by stretcher and then evacuated by plane (first photo, National Archives; second, USMC)

 

(LEFT) Combat on Peleliu was no mean event, considering the ferocity of the Japanese defense and the strange, deformed corral landscape that looked as though it belonged to another world. Predictably, nerves soon frayed as is displayed by the look on this Marine’s face. (My collection; also National Archives 520616) (RIGHT) The ethnicity of this Marine is curious. He has been described as an African-American, although he may have been Puerto-Rican. (National Archives)

 

(LEFT) An all-black unit of Marine Stevedores shelters in the sand dunes at Peleliu during a break in combat. Despite their employment in a combat zone, it is uncertain how much combat black Marines experienced in the Pacific, owing to the segregated policies of the US Armed Forces during World War II. In this photo, the fact that these men hug the earth while other white marines stand calmly upright in the background seems to indicate that this unit had little prior exposure to battlefield conditions. (RIGHT) Two Marines wait for instructions during an assault.

 

(LEFT) A disabled Japanese Type 95 tank of the divisional tank company of the 14th Division sits dwarfed alongside a LVT-1 near the airfield in September 1944. (RIGHT) A photograph taken just after the Japanese tank counterattack was smashed. The photo looks out towards the Southeast.

 

(LEFT) Col. “Bucky” Harris (at center), commander of the 5th Marine Regiment, confers with a gravely-concerned Lt-General Roy S. Geiger (on left) of the III Amphibious Corps, and the egg-bald Maj-General William H. Rupertus, the incompetent, panicky chief of the 1st Marine Division. (RIGHT) Harris’ 5th Regiment gathers on its beach together with Shermans from B Company. (Both photos, USMC)

 

(LEFT) “Chesty” Puller, photographed on Guadalcanal. Despite popular myth built around Puller that he was a great leader and a true soldier’s soldier (a misconception not fed in the least by The Pacific), in reality few of Puller’s men trusted or respected his leadership. Even men from other regiments on Peleliu could be heard saying: “Thank God, we’re not under Chesty’s command.” (US Government) (RIGHT) When  an LVT(A)-4 nicknamed “Lucky lady,” found itself under siege from a lone Japanese heavy gun, it simply ran it down. Although “Lucky Lady” became stuck in the dug-out, the Japanese obviously came off worst. (USMC)

 

(LEFT) An Amtrac at rest. Note the improvised flamethrower (behind the blast shield) at the rear of the vehicle, adapted by Marines to tackle entrenched Japanese positions. (USMC)

Naval Amphibian Combat (RIGHT) Occasionally, Amtracs or “Amtanks” as these turreted versions of the LVTs were called, found themselves engaged in naval warfare. Here, the Amtanks have shot up and captured a Japanese landing craft. (USMC)

 

(LEFT) As the Marines battled north through Peleliu, they came upon one of their last objectives in the campaign: capturing Ngesebus island with its small fighter airfield, just across a narrow strip of coral waterway. Here, survivors of the 3rd Amphibian Battalion wait by the Peleliu shore for the attack order to come. (USMC)

(RIGHT) Marines at Horseshoe Valley deal with a massive 200-lb land mine which was fortuitously discovered before the LVT(A)-4 Flamethrower in the lower part of the photograph could make contact. In the upper background, US Army M4A2 Sherman tanks from the 710th Tank Battalion wait for the advance to resume. This photo was taken in the first or second week of October 1944. (USMC)

 

(LEFT) A stretcher team under Sgt. T.D. Barnett rushes a wounded man to a forward aid post. (USMC) (RIGHT) In this famous photograph, a Marine, despite the chronic water shortage on the island, gives up his canteen to a fellow wounded Marine. (National Park Service)

Marines under fire on the beach. (My collection/Corbis)

Marines examine their own dead, killed by the Japanese before they could even get off the beach. In all, US forces suffered 9,800 casualties on Peleliu, including 1,794 killed. In contrast, 10,695 out of 11,000 Japanese soldiers died and only some 200 were captured.  (Associated Press/Joe Rosenthal)

Here, two DUKWs perform a new role — as the pontoon propellants for an “aircraft ferry.” Under a system developed by the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, two DUKWs were joined at the center, allowing an aircraft (in this case a P-38 Lightning) to be positioned on the center span. Obviously the system could only work on calm seas. (Military History Institute)

 

A piece of war art that achieved global fame was this 1944 painting by the famous artist, Tom Lea III (pictured on right). Originally captioned “Down from Bloody Nose Ridge, he’s finished, washed-up, gone,” it has since become known as the “The Two-Thousand-Yard Stare.” Born in El Paso in 1903, Lea was an “embedded” LIFE magazine reporter with the 1st Marine Division in 1944 and witnessed first-hand the carnage on Peleliu. He later wrote that “my work there consisted of trying to keep from getting killed and trying to memorize what I saw and felt.” Lea died on 29 January 2001 at the place of his birth, El Paso. (print image, US Army Center for Military History; Tom Lea photo by the Tom Lea Institute)

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Although these two photos are not from Peleliu, I include them here because I think they represent the quintessential American experience in the Pacific theater of operations during the war.

 

(LEFT) An unknown Marine, the strain of fatigue and combat showing on his face, returns to a transport ship after the battle for Eniwetok. I have always wondered who this guy was and what happened to him. The National Archives tag offers no hint of a name or a unit. (National Archives NA 26-G-3394) (RIGHT) Another photo from the Eniwetok battleground: Three Marines, smudged and weary from two days of continuous fighting recuperate on a troop ship.  PFC Faris M. “Bob” Tuohy, 19, holds the coffee cup.  The other men are sadly unknown. (National Archives NA 26-G-3345)

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Peleliu revisted
(all photos © Agence France-Presse)

PALAAU-PACIFIC-HISTORY-WWII-MINES-CLEARING

Cleared Ground Demining blows up about 1,000 lbs of explosives  in Aimeliik State, Palau, from three batches of “Type 2” WWII-era depth charges pulled from the ocean. The team trained a team of 25 Palauans to help dispose of the dangerous items.

The rusting remains of destroyed Japanese war equipment on Peleliu. (RICHARD W. BROOKS/AFP/2014)

Stalingrad


Stalingrad Pocket | PDF | 100 Pages | 15 Mb

Stalingrad Pocket

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In the summer of 1941, the might of German military adventurism rolled east into the Soviet Union, catching the Russians completely by surprise. Entire swathes of territory fell to the Nazis. The Russians lost 3,000 planes on the very first day of the invasion alone. By the summer of 1942, the Germans were deep in Russia but none of the important cities had fallen. Moscow and Leningrad, under siege, held on. In the south, Russia’s third city, Stalingrad, came under attack. A spectacular battle began here, epitomizing the most complicated of the human condition: betrayal, courage, sacrifice and stupidity. The fighting became a symbol of the titanic contest between Hitler and Stalin, committing nearly two million men and women in a struggle that would decide the future of the war on the Eastern Front.

Includes: 13 Maps/Aerial Photos, orders of battle for both sides and +50 photographs.

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Stalingrad-BEV




Tobruk 1941

Road to Tobruk | PDF | 41 Pages | 16 Megabytes

Tobruk 1941-42 (3e)

When the German General, Erwin Rommel, landed in Libya during the Second World War he found a strange land almost devoid of life. The majority of the population lived in small towns along the coast where the land was green and rich but where just a few miles inland, the burning desert reigned supreme. The vast open space meant that civilians were largely out of the crossfire and that the battle could be fought “cleanly” (a veritable oxymoron) between professional armies, who to their credit avoided the senseless butchery that marked the other campaigns of the war. Rommel would call this period of his military life, krieg ohne hasse, or “War without Hate,” a period in which he as a soldier conducted a proper war, on purely military terms, on lines of mutual respect.

The high point of Rommel’s North African career revolved around the seaside town of Tobruk, the second city of Eastern Libya’s Cyrenaica province. After the failure of the Italians in 1940 to reach their dream of a new Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, Hitler was forced to send German troops to salvage Axis pride. Rommel’s orders were simple – recapture Cyrenaica and rout the British. The campaign soon captured the imagination of the world, as did the dashing Rommel who became a household name in Germany, England and most of the western world. Tobruk itself became a place of myth, as stories of its cavalierly heroic Allied garrison gained momentum. The myth eventually lost some of its sheen. But the methods that finally overcame the city and ousted the British from Libya would go on to inspire Coalition tactics in the invasion of Iraq during Operation “Desert Storm” half a century later.

NOTE – I skimped slightly on map creation, because I had a set amount of time for this monograph. If anyone needs a detailed, third-party map of the area, let me know.

Select Photographs

This collection of photographs does not appear in the monograph above and has been posted as an extra.

A fascinating aerial photograph showing Tobruk town as it appeared in 1941. Note black smoke emanating from the harbor — the result of a recent German bombing raid. (Associated Press)

 

(LEFT) Another aerial photo of Tobruk shows the port with its collection of ships, some sunken. (IWM C5496) (RIGHT) A duo of Australian-manned, captured Italian M11/40-39 tanks are on guard duty while smoke from Tobruk’s port installations hovers in the sky on 24 January 1941 — two days after the city’s capture by the 6th Australian Division. (IWM E1766)

 

(LEFT) Two fresh Australians from the 9th Division guard a duo of Italians and some of the first German prisoners captured in the area, in the wake of Rommel’s first abortive attack on the city. (IWM E2478) (RIGHT) The forward perimeter at Tobruk mostly consisted of positions such these, dugouts and trenches carved out of the hard, burning desert floor. This photograph was taken on 13 August 1941. (IWM E4791)

 

(LEFT) A column of German armor and reconnaissance vehicles moves unmolested on the road to Mersa el Brega on 31 March 1941. (IWM MH5552) (RIGHT) German Me109F fighters wait at their forward airfield while two Luftwaffe mechanics enjoy a bite to eat. Highly-dangerous, the Me109F wrested air superiority away from the British RAF. This photo was likely taken in 1942, and the aircrafts belong to Jagdgeschwader 27 – as indicated by the small shields on the engine cowlings. (IWM MH5854)

 

There’ll be no Dunkirk here. If we should have to get out we shall fight our way out. There is no surrender and no retreat, so said Maj-Gen. Leslie Morsehead, commander of the 9th Australian Division at Tobruk, and his men attempted to do just that.

(LEFT) An Australian gun crew waits for the enemy on top of an exposed bit of high-ground. Their weapon is a captured Austrian/Italian 47mm Böhler anti-tank gun. About 100 of these guns were refurbished at a Captured Weapons Depot in Alexandria and issued to various units suffering from shortages of arms in the theater. Despite having little training in desert combat, the Australians learned quickly and adapted to the sweltering, dry conditions of the Western Desert far easily than did the Germans or even seasoned British units did. (State Library of Victoria) (Thanks to Andreas Biermann for corrections).

(RIGHT) On the night of 13 April 1941, a large party of Germans penetrated the forward wire perimeter at Tobruk in a sector held by the 2/17th Australians. The Germans quickly set up a fire line with machine-guns, mortars and two artillery pieces. The only opposition was a section of Australians; one officer and five soldiers, one of whom was the above pictured Jack Edmondson, a 26-year old Corporal from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

Edmondson rushed the Germans and although struck by machine-gun bullets in the neck and stomach, bayoneted the occupants of the closest MG post. Hearing a cry for help, he turned to see the officer, Lt. Austin Mackell, struggling with two other Germans.  Edmondson bayoneted both Germans, saving Mackell but proving unable to save himself. He died of his wounds that night but brought Australia its first land Victoria Cross (VC) of the war. A unit officer, Major John Balfe, wrote to Edmondson’s mother, saying: “All can speak well of the dead, but I have said of him while he was still alive, that he was a really decent, good, clean chap. The first AIF VC. If ever there was a medal earned, Jack earned this.” (Australian War Memorial)

 

(LEFT) A German Sdkfz 251 halftrack advances past Mechili. (RIGHT) German armor is loaded at Naples for transit to North Africa. They face a dangerous passage through waters dominated by Allied ships, aircraft and submarine based at Malta. (Bundesarchiv)

 

(LEFT) Although the Australians quickly settled at Tobruk, the cry of far-away home was ever present. Here, a billboard has been erected to remind them of home — including the distance to a beloved tea shop in Melbourne. (Bundesarchiv)

(RIGHT) Cut off at the port city, the 15,000 men of the 9th Australian Division quickly began to celebrate their besieged status, turning their denigrating German nickname of the “Rats of Tobruk,” into a title of pride. Here, a group shelters in one of the many natural caves within the perimeter during an Axis air raid. By when the division was relieved six months later 823 men had died, 2,214 had been wounded and 700 had been captured, but they had denied Tobruk to the enemy. (IWM 4814)

 

(LEFT) Surprised and captured by German patrols, these senior British officers enjoy a moment of jocularity while waiting to be flown to Germany by the Ju52 airplane in background. In the near center is Lt-General Philip Neame who was captured along with Brigadier John Combe (left) and Lt-General Sir Richard O’Connor (far center, the architect of the early British victory over the Italians), all while driving near Derna on the night of 6 April 1941. At right, wearing the wool-skin jacket, is Major-General Richard Gambier-Parry of the 2nd Armoured Division who fell into the bag after his command was overrun two days later. (IWM MH5554) (RIGHT) The crew of a Matilda tank at Tobruk, 28 November 1941. (IWM E6804)

 

(LEFT) Fort Capuzzo, a desert legend and scene of frequent combat during the campaign. In this photo, British Bren Carriers mill around the fortress’s bullet-scarred walls during Operation “Brevity.” (IWM E1433) (RIGHT) German trucks carrying 20mm anti-aircraft cannons race through the desert, using their guns to deadly affect against light-skinned British tanks and vehicles. (Rommel Museum, George Forty)

 

(LEFT) An officer of the Royal Tank Regiment briefs his subordinates and men at Tobruk on 29 November 1941. (IWM E6852) (RIGHT) The German crew of an 88mm Flak 18 wait by their weapon. A highly-feared weapon, the 88mm guns were crucial in redressing common British numerical superiority in tanks. (Bundesarchiv)

 

(LEFT) An Sdkfz263 Panzerfunkwagen (Radio communications vehicle) of the 3rd Recon Battalion. In the foreground is an Italian motorcycle dispatch rider from the elite Bersaglieri regiment — as indicated by the feathers on his pith helmet. (Bundesarchiv) (RIGHT) Short-barreled PzIV Ausf.E’s of the 15th Panzer Division trundle through Tripoli. Note how the rubber rims of the road wheels have been painted white — to prevent them from deforming in the excessive desert heat. (Bundesarchiv)

 

(LEFT) on 21 June 1941, men of the 4th Indian Division, veterans of the bloody battles for Halfaya Pass decorate the side of their vehicle with the caption, “Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass,” reflecting their service with the army in another tenuous part of the world, Afghanistan. Heavy Axis fire led to Halfaya’s nickname of “Hellfire” Pass. (IWM E3660)

(RIGHT) The one area in which the Germans held indisputable superiority was in the air. The British RAF’s fleet of Hurricanes and American-made P-40 fighters were badly outclassed by German Messerschmidt Me109s piloted by veteran pilots and aces. Only numerical Allied superiority saved the day. Here, Sgt. F.H. Dean examines ammo belts before they go into his Hurricane fighter parked in the background. Dean belongs to 274 Squadron as is illustrated by the flash on the side of the Hurricane — a squadron identifier. Tragically, Dean was shot down and killed on 15 May 1941, during a dogfight with Me109s near Halfaya. (IWM CM868)

 

(LEFT) A British Crusader tank passes a burning German Mk IV tank during Operation “Crusader.” (IWM E6571) (RIGHT) In this contemporary 1942 watercolor of the Halfaya Pass by Jack Chaddock, a British tank is depicted heading towards the pass. (IWM  LD3403)

 

(LEFT) Rommel frequently conducted local air reconnaissance in his personal Fiesler Storch light plane. Here is seen by the Storch, speaking to a pilot. (Bundesarchiv) (RIGHT) Two capable giants of the British army were Claude Auchinleck (left) and Archibald Wavell. Unfortunately, neither commanded much confidence within the anxious British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who during the course of the campaign, transferred or sacked both men. (IWM JAR 783)

 

(LEFT) A British crew of a 4th Royal Tank Regiment Matilda tank mingle with South Africans from the 4th Armored Car Regiment at El Duda, during the relief of Tobruk. But the link-up would prove short. When the battle of Sidi Rezegh erupted nearby on 27 November 1941, the linkup was severed, although temporarily. (IWM E6899)

(RIGHT) krieg ohne hasse in effect. In this magnificent example of human camaraderie, a wounded German trooper offers a light to a wounded British solider in the wake of combat. (IWM NA 1344)

 

(LEFT) A knocked-out Matilda of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, near the Gazala defensive line. (RIGHT) A British tank crew watches a group of German prisoners carry another wounded German deeper into British lines, near Gazala.

 

(LEFT) A heavily-armed Chevy 30cwt 1533 truck of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) trundles through the desert.This vehicle belongs to ‘R’ Patrol, almost unanimously staffed by New Zealanders. It was for men such as these and the LRDG that Rommel reserved the highest praise, often claiming that these “Englishmen” were better than German special forces, although he was possibly unaware that a significant percentage of men in the LRDG were New Zealanders, already respected for their soldiering prowess. (IWM)

(RIGHT) Axis armor parked in Tobruk.

 

(LEFT) Men of the 2nd New Zealand Division link up with Matilda tanks of the Tobruk garrison on 2 December 1941. The relief of Tobruk had taken eight months in the making. (IWM E6918) (RIGHT) Troops of the 1/6th Queen’s Regiment march triumphantly into Tobruk on 18 November 1942, after the victory of the 2nd battle of El Alamein. This was the final time that Tobruk changed hands. (IWM E19690)

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Rommel’s Assessment of Allied troops

Australians: “Rough” men, but unlikely with a “bad heart.” Highly ranked as fighting troops but “inclined to get out of hand.”
Indians: “Well-disciplined and correct” professional soldiers.
New Zealanders: “The finest troops” on the Allied side.
South Africans: “Good material” but simply “too raw,” to be of much use early in the campaign, although their armoured car units were a credit.
British: “Promising amateurs,” although their special forces are “better than Germans.”

(Source: Young, Desmond, Rommel: The Desert Fox, New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1987)

Note – In the interests of historical accuracy it must be noted that Rommel also had vaguely denigrating things to say about eastern troops and especially black soldiers who accompanied the South Africans (apparently for propaganda reasons). Added to this, Desmond Young, the World War II British officer who collected the assessments above, was something of a Rommel admirer, and his book, something of a hagiography, so it possible that some of the judgments were cleaned up.

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One example that Tobruk lives on in Australian memory. Above is the emblem of a Sheep station in New South Wales.

Dresden 1945

Dresden 1945 | PDF | 16 Pages | 3.6 Megabytes

The Bombing of Dresden

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The Allied attack on Dresden in February 1945 is arguable one of the most destructive events of the Second World War barring the atomic strikes. This short study analyzes the allied air raids, discovering the true extent of the damage within the city and the raid’s ultimate significance to the allied war effort.

For the longest time, there was simply no reference to the bombing at all, especially in Western Europe and America, but a gradual trickle of literature emerged. The writer, Kurt Vonnegut, who was an American POW drafted to help with the clean-up, wrote a novel (Slaughterhouse Five) after the war. He was attacked by some as being sympathetic to the bombed Nazis. Vonnegut was actually attempting to convey the folly of war. Later, The soviets tried to use the attack to turn East German sentiments against the Western powers. The West, meantime, conveniently attempted to forget that the attack ever took place. Winston Churchill, who had ultimately authorized the raid, made little mention of it in his biography and often deferred responsibility elsewhere. But propaganda or shame, the bombings now serve as a lesson of restraint.

Note — This study, written in 2004, for publication in a Texas A&M University annual, deals solely with the effects of the bombing. It does not examine allied operational plans or delve into detail on the raids.

The Chindits – In 1944

Chindits-Mast

The Chindits, the Marauders and the Air Commandos
in 1944
– Orders of Battle and Resources –

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3rd INDIAN INFANTRY DIVISION

The Chindits were officially known as the “Special Force” or the 3rd Indian Infantry Division, but one should note that title “3rd Indian division” was purely a deceptive title to fool the Japanese. The bulk of the division contained Britons, West Africans, Gurkhas, Burmese and a few Indians in the engineering and service companies.

Virtually a double-strength division, the 3rd Indian had an unprecedented six brigades under its control– each referred to by a nickname. Each brigade had its own headquarters situated near an airfield with a headquarters column in the field.

Commanding Officer (CO) Chindits Cloth Badge

(1) Major-Gen. Charles Orde Wingate (KIFA 24 March)
(2) Major-Gen. Walter D.A. Lentaigne (From 30 March)

Deputy CO
(1) Maj-Gen. G.W. Symes (Resigned, early April)
(2) Brigadier Derek Tulloch (Replaced Symes but being unpopular with both Symes and Lentaigne, was bypassed in the chain of command. Lentaigne instead preferred Col. Alexander)

Brigadier, General Staff CO (Rear HQ)
(1) Brigadier Derek Tulloch
(2) Col. Henry T. Alexander

GSO 1 (Ground), Chief Operations Officer
(1) Lt-Col. Francis Piggott (Sacked)
(2) Lt-Col. Henry T. Alexander
GSO 2 (Ground), Assistant Operations Officer Major David Tyacke

GSO 1 (Air), Chief Operations Officer ?
GSO 2 (Air), Assistant Operations Officer —
Major Frank Barns
GSO 3 (
Air), Liaison Officer to Air Commandos
Capt. Paul Griffin (Jan 1944 to Mar 1945)

Chief Supply OfficerBrigadier Neville Marks
Signals ChiefColonel Claude Fairweather

Headquarters:

Rear HQ — Gwalior, India
Main HQ — First at Imphal, then at Sylhet, Assam
Launching HQ — Lalaghat
Tactical-Forward HQ — Shaduzup, Burma

14th Army Cloth Badge

The 70th British Division: Of the four primary reasons for the regular army’s hatred of the Chindits, the 70th Division constituted possibly the third. A veteran of the 1942 fighting for Tobruk in North Africa, the division had begun the war as the 7th Division under (Source: IWM INS 6662)Maj-Gen. Richard O’ Conner. Initially held in British Palestine, the division was renumbered as the 6th Division on 3 November 1939 while in Egypt, and although its members expected to see action, none came and the division returned to Palestine. This nonchalant state of affairs continued until June 1940 when the unit returned to Egypt only to be disbanded and its men sent to other units as replacements.

Reconstituted the next year, on 17 February 1941, the division seemed set to repeat the old pattern of rear-line deployment, but then on October 10, found itself re-designated the 70th Division and transferred to the legendary sea fortress of Tobruk between 13 and 20 October — primarily to relieve the heroic 9th Australian Division which had defended the seaport all that year. In November, the division fought its way out of the fortress and linked up with the rest of the British army, an act that officially broke the Axis siege of Tobruk. But by this act, the unit also passed from being a front-line unit and into a reserve division. In March 1942, it was transferred to far-off India to meet the Japanese threat.

Initially bivouacked at Bangalore in the south for a sustained period of rest, the division became the pride of the armies in India. It was the only fully-trained, completely-equipped British division in the theatre, and when orders came that it was to be broken up to augment the Chindit Force, it generated considerable resentment at General HQ India. It did not help that few of the senior army types trusted Wingate or his eccentric nature.

The other reasons for army anger included what was perceived as a Chindit “poaching” of good men and material for their unconventional, “highly-dubious” endeavor; a general suspicion of all special operations by the straight-laced Indian-British Army leadership (the list of detractors even included the popular General William “Uncle Bill” Slim), and resentment over Wingate’s favor with Churchill, Field Marshal Wavell and other leaders in England — all of which amounted to a fear that the Chindits would overshadow regular army operations against the Japanese in Burma.

It must be mentioned that Wingate also held a bias against the conservative Indian-British Army and Indian troops, whom he termed “second rate” — an unfair estimation considering the outstanding campaign conducted by these men in the recapture of Burma and elsewhere. Arguably, this was another source of friction for William Slim, the commander of the British 14th Indian Army, who took grave exception to Wingate’s opinions about the army.

Meantime, the 70th Division began to reorganize for the role of “long range penetration” on 6 September 1943, relinquishing its units to the 3rd Indian Division or “Special Force” (the Chindits) on October 25th. The divisional HQ ceased to function on that day and the division itself ceased to exist on November 24th.

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Events leading to Operation “Thursday”

The first Chindit expedition, Operation “Longcloth” was considered an important breakthrough in strategic thinking. It proved that a war in the densely forested jungles of Burma could be fought and won – contrary to previous notions. In fact “Longcloth” proved so impressive that the Japanese who had long given up the idea of invading India, believing that the jungles beyond the Chindwin River were impassible, began to review to plan their own invasion of India. through those same jungles.

By the end of 1943, armies on both sides of the Chindwin (a defacto border separating the Allies from the Japanese) were content to hold what they had. In contrast, American strategy had taken the offensive – and they wanted to divert as much enemy troops as possible from the Pacific and at the same time, keep China (and her airbases) free to strike at the Japanese homeland. US commanders, notably General Joseph “Vinegar Joe”  attempted to achieve this by training and attempting to organize the notoriously corrupt Chinese army for offensive operations. Meantime, they hoped for a campaign from the British who they believed held a large, untapped reserve of mainly Indian manpower.

At the “Quadrant”summit conference held in Quebec in August 1943, future allied military policy was the agenda. The British were under pressure to take offensive action in the Burma theatre. Churchill, with Wingate by his side, persuaded the allied chiefs to embark on a second, larger Chindit offensive. Wingate’s plans were ambitious. His proposal was to airlift several divisions behind Japanese lines. It was a bold plan but curtailed by political squabbles, reduced to include just a single division (albeit a highly-reinforced division) to take part in what would eventually become named as Operation “Thursday.”

At the core of Wingate’s plan was “to insert himself in the guts of the enemy” with the hopeful bonus that the Japanese would not know where they he had landed. This idea had two objectives:

A)      Punch deep into enemy lines.
B)      Stay there until relieved.

Wingate decided to retain the heart of the British system – using morale and motivation to the fullest – the espirit de corps of the regiment as the building block of his new force. To this end, he used men mainly from General Symes’ British 70th Infantry division, known for its high levels of training and morale, with a core of units staffed by veterans from the original 77th Brigade. But this time, instead of marching into Burma and harassing the Japanese with guerrilla-type raids, the Chindits were to land by glider in jungle clearings and build fortress, complete with artillery support and forward airstrips to bring in supplies and take out the wounded. It was a dramatic new tactic that would have deep consequences.

For a detailed history of the second campaign, click here

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As I go through more of my sources, the order of battle below with its list of commanders may one day be complete. In the meantime, if you have any information that could be of importance, kindly send me a message. Updated – 6 July 2016. (All dates indicated below are by day/month)

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(Source: IWM INS 6409)3rd West African “THUNDER” Brigade (Brig. A.H. Gillmore (sacked 18/4), Brig. Abdy H.G. Ricketts)
6th Bn, Nigeria Regiment (Lt-Col P.G. Day (sacked 17/3 after battalion suffered an ambush), replaced by Lt-Col. Gordon Upjohn)
—- 66 Column (Battalion CO)
—- 39 Column
7th Bn, Nigeria Regiment (Lt-Col. Charles Vaughn)
—- 29 Column (Maj. Charles Carfrae)
—- 35 Column (Battalion CO)
12th Bn, Nigeria Regiment (Lt-Col. Pat Hughes)
—- 12 Column
—- 43 Column
HQ, 7th West African Field Coy – 10 Column
3rd West African Field Ambulance

14th “JAVELIN” Brigade (Brigadier Thomas ‘Ian’ Brodie)
HQ Column – 59 Column
2nd Bn, Black Watch (Lt-Col George Green)
—- 42 Column (Maj. D.M.C. Rose)
—- 73 Column (Battalion CO)
1st Bn, Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regt (Lt-Col Pat Eason (ill in May of scrub typhus, died in hospital), repl by Lt-Col. T.J. Barrow)
—- 16 Column (Battalion CO)
—- 61 Column
2nd Bn, Yorkshire & Lancaster Regt (Lt-Col P. Graves-Morris, MC)
—- 65 Column (Maj. B.S. Downward)
—- 84 Column (Battalion CO)
7th Bn, Leicester Regiment (Lt-Col. F.R. Wilford)
—- 47 Column (Battalion CO)
—- 74 Column (Maj. J. Geoffrey Lockett)
54th Field Coy, RE
Medical Detachment

16th “ENTERPRISE” Brigade (Brigadier Bernard E. Fergusson, DSO)
HQ Column – 99 Column (Brigade Major: Maj. J.H. Marriot, MC)
Rear HQ (Lalaghat, India) –  2IC: Lt-Col. F.O. ‘Katie’ Cave
1st Bn, The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment (Lt-Col J.F. Metcalf (evac in April), repl by T.V. Close)
—- 21 Column (Metcalf, Maj. Clowes)
—- 22 Column (Maj. T.V. Close → repl by Maj. G.F. Ottaway)
2nd Bn, Leicester Regiment (Lt-Col. Claude ‘Jack’ Wilkinson, DSO (WIA 26/3), Lt-Col H.N. Daniels)
—- 17 Column (Battalion CO, Maj. Dalgliesh, MC)
—- 71 Column (Maj. H.N. ‘Dafty’ Daniels)
51st/69th Royal Artillery (Lt-Col. R.C. Sutcliffe) (Composed of RA personnel)
—- 51 Column (Maj. A.C.S. Dickie)
—- 69 Columns (Battalion CO)
45th Recce Regt (Made from Recce units) (Lt-Col Cumberledge (evac 30/3), Lt-Col. G.H. Astell)
—- 45 Column (Maj. Ron Adams KIA 26/3, Battalion CO)
—- 54 Column (Maj. Varcoe (evac sick), Maj. E. Hennings (KIA))
2d Company, RE
Medical Detachment

23rd Long-Range Penetration Brigade Brigadier (Brigadier Lance ECM Perowne)
(Never joined the Chindits in the field. Was instead used to quell Japanese attackers in the Kohima area.)
HQ Column – 32 Column
1st Bn, Essex Regiment
—- 44 Column
—- 56 Column
2nd Bn, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (Lt-Col. E.W. Stevens, MBE) → Bn fought in the Naga Hills
—- 33 Column (Maj. S.R. Hoyle, MC)
—- 76 Column (Battalion CO, Maj. A.D. ‘Tony’ Firth, DSO) → Known as “The Smugger’s Column”
4th Bn, Border Regiment
—- 34 Column
—- 55 Column
12th Field Company, RE
Medical Detachment

77th “EMPHASIS” Brigade (Brigadier J Michael Calvert)
HQ Column – 25 Column (Brigade Major: Maj. Francis Stuart)
Rear HQ (LZ Broadway) –  Bde 2IC: Col. Claude Rome, DSO)
Mixed Field Coy, RE/Royal Indian Engineers

3rd Bn, 6th Gurkha Rifles (Lt-Col. H.A. ‘Boom’ Skone (evac), Lt-Col. Freddie Shaw)
—- 36 Column (Initially both columns commanded by Skone)
—- 63 Column (Maj. Freddie Shaw)
1st Bn, The King’s (Liverpool) Regt (Lt-Col W.P. ‘Scottie’ Scott) (To 111 Bde in May)
—- 81 Column (Battalion CO) → Floater Column at ‘Broadway’
—- 82 Column (Maj. Gaitley)
1st Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers (Lt-Col. Hugh N.F. Christie)
—- 20 Column (Maj. Shuttleworth, Maj. David Monteith, KIA 8/6)
—- 50 Column (Battalion CO)
1st Bn, South Staffords Regiment (Lt-Col. G.P. Richards, MC (WIA 22/3, died in May), Lt-Col. Ron Degg)
—- 38 Column (Battalion CO, Maj. W.A. Cole, MC)
—- 80 Column (Maj. Degg) → Both columns combined in mid-May and evac in July
3rd Bn, 9th Gurkha Rifles (Lt-Col. George Noel → repl. by Lt-Col. Alec Harper) (To 111 Bde in May)
—- 57 Column (Battalion CO)
—- 93 Column (Maj. R.E.G. ‘Reggie’ Twelvetrees)
142nd Commando Coy, Hong Kong Volunteers
Medical and Veterinary Detachments

111th “PROFOUND” Brigade (Brigadier William DA ‘Joe’ Lentaigne – after he was promoted up in March, the brigade was given to Brigadier J.R. ‘Jumbo’ Morris, who was unable to relinquish command of Morrisforce. Therefore, the brigade was commanded in the field by Major John Masters, appointed temporary brigadier, while Morris was its commander on paper)
HQ Column – 48 Column (Brigade Major: Maj. John Masters → repl by Maj. ‘Baron’ Henfry)
Rear HQ:
1st Bn, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) (Lt-Col. William M. ‘Bill’ Henning)
—- 26 Column (Temp Maj. B.J. ‘Tim/Breezy’ Brennan)
—- 90 Column (Battalion Commander)
2nd Bn, The King’s own Royal Regiment (Lt-Col. A.W. ‘Tommy’ Thompson)
—- 41 Column (Battalion Commander)
—- 46 Column (Maj. Heap)
3rd Bn, 4th Gurkha Rifles (Lt-Col. Ian Monteith)
(Adjutant – Major Bill Towill)
—- 30 Column (Maj. Maurice Deane)
—- 40 Column → Moved to Morris Force (See below)
Mixed Field Coy, RE/Royal Indian Engineers
Medical and Veterinary Detachments

Morris Force (Morrisforce) (Brigadier J.R. ‘Jumbo’ Morris)
4th Bn, 9th Gurkha Rifles (Maj. Morris (transferred), Maj. Russell)
—- 49 Column (Battalion CO)
—- 94 Column (Maj. Peter G. Cane) → Garrison at ‘Broadway’
3rd Bn, 4th Gurkha Rifles
—- 40 Column (Lt-Col. Ian Monteith, KIA)
This force harassed Japanese forces in the mountain ridges skirting the Bhamo-Myitkyina Road.

DAH Force (Lt-Col. D.C. ‘Fish’ Herring)
This force consisted on 74 men, including Herring, his second-in-command, Captain Lazum Tang and ten Kachins of the 2nd Burma Rifles, Major Kennedy of the Poona Horse, Captain Nimmo of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, a 19-strong detachment from the Royal Corps of Signals under Captain Treckman, nine Chinese of the Hong Kong volunteers, a 27-strong defense platoon from the South Stafford Regiment under Captain Railton, a demolitions expert, Sgt Cockling, an American liaison officer, Captain Sherman P. Joost and lastly, Private Williams, a medic who looked after the sick and the wounded.

BLADETL (Blain’s Detachment) Major ‘Bob’ Blain
Volunteer force of six officers and 60 men (primarily British and West Africans) used for diversion, sabotage and reconnaissance. The group landed in special gliders which were capable of being hoisted back into the air by C-47 Dakotas equipped with snatching gear.
With its West Africans dressed in American uniforms (ostensibly to fool the Japanese), the unit conducted reconnaissance in the Indaw area, before and after Fergusson’s 16th Brigade arrived.

Gliderborne Commando Engineers

Other Units

Royal Artillery
Supporting non-mobile units employed in defending the Chindit Jungle fortresses:
R, S and U Troops, 160th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery (All with 25-Pdr cannons)
W,X,Y, and Z Troops, 69th Light Anti Aircraft Regiment(40mm & 12.5mm Hispano cannons)

Divisional Troops

2d Bn, Burma Rifles – Lt-Col. P.C. Buchanan (One section assigned per column except for the 3rd West African Brigade)
219th Field Park Company, Royal Engineers
Detachment 2nd Burma Rifles
145th Brigade Company, RASC
61st Air Supply Company, RASC
2nd Indian Air Supply Company, RIASC

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THE REGIMENTS

The-Regiments1The-Regiments2The-Regiments3The-Regiments4

Source: Almost all of these badges were adapted from vintage Gallagher’s Cigarette cards, printed in the early part of the 20th Century. Digital versions can be found at the New York Public Library’s Online Collection.

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Supporting Units


5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), US Army (“Merrill’s Marauders”
)

CO — (1) Brigadier-General Frank D. Merrill – 1 Jan to 19 May 1944 (heart attack)
———
(2) Col.  John E. McCammon – 19-22 May (sacked)
———(3) Brig-Gen. Haydon L. Boatner – 22 May to June 1944 (relieved)
———(4) Col. Charles “Chuck” Hunter – June to 3 Aug 1944 (sent home)
Deputy CO
(1) Col. Charles N. Hunter
—————–(2) Col. John E. McCammon

To offset its unglamorous army designation, the unit was unofficially known as Merrill’s Marauders, and joined General Stilwell’s Northern Command after training with Wingate as Chindits from late 1943 to early 1944. It was called “Galahad” by Wingate and the British. The unit possessed a rich diversity of Americans, with men from cities and the country, ranging from Anglo-Saxons to Latins, from Hispanics to Native Americans. Japanese Nisei staffed the intelligence and reconnaissance platoons in good numbers, and the unit’s best sniper was a Sioux Indian.

Wiped out once in combat, 2,600 fresh, non-Chindit trained replacements were flown in from the United States on May 25 to form a new “Galahad.” Soon, these men too were fighting for their lives at the Burmese town of Myitkyina  under General Stilwell’s unbending orders. The survivors were so irate that Stilwell was once lucky to return from the frontline alive. The historian C. Ogburn records one of the Marauders telling an officer: “I had him in my rifle sights. I coulda squeezed one off and no one woulda known it wasn’t a Jap that got the son of a bitch.”

The unit was disbanded on 10 August 1944, a week after the fall of Myitkyina. Only 130 men had avoided becoming casualties out of the original 2,997.

H Force (Col. Charles N. Hunter)
1st Battalion – Red & White Combat Teams (Lt-Col. William Osborne)
150th Chinese Regiment

M Force (Lt-Col. George McGee Jr.)
2nd Battalion – Blue & Green Combat Teams (Lt-Col. George McGee Jr)

K Force (Col. Henry L. Kinnison Jr. (Died))
3rd Battalion – Khaki & Orange Combat Teams (Lt-Col. Charles Beach)
88th Chinese Regiment

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1st Air Commando Group, United States Army Air Force

CO — (1) Col. Philip C. Cochran – Nov 1943 (officially from 29 Mar) to 20 May 1944
———(2) Col. Clinton B. “Clint” Gaty – 20 May 1944 to  26 Feb 1945 (MIA)
Deputy CO Lt-Col. John R. Allison –  November 1943 to 20 May 1944

Formed under orders from U.S. Army Air Force chief, General “Hap” Marshall, this unit first came into existence as the top-secret Project 9 in 1943, specifically formed to support British long-range sorties into Burma. Later it became known as the 5318th Provisional Group in December 1943 and under this title, took part in Operation “Thursday”  airlifting and supporting Wingate’s troops in Burma from March 1944. Yet, before the month was out, another change of title had occurred and the unit officially became known as the 1st Air Commando. Its motto, “Anyplace, Anytime, Anywhere” was lifted from a message sent by Wingate endorsing his support for the group and its men. Carried over in the decades after the war, this is currently the motto of U.S. Special Operations Command.

The 1st Air Commandos largely left the Chindits on 20 May 1944 and were disbanded on 3 November 1945. It was later reformed in the US on 18 April 1962 as the 1st Special Operations Wing.

13 x C-47 Dakota,  12 x C-46 Commando Transports (CO – Maj. William T. Cherry)
12 x B-25H Mitchell medium bombers (CO – Lt-Col. Robert T. Smith)
30 x P-51A Mustang Fighter-bombers (CO – Lt-Col. Gratten “Grant” Mahony)
100 x L-1 and L-5 “Grasshopper” Light planes (CO – Maj. A. Paul Rebori (Sacked), Lt-Col Clinton B. Gaty)
10th Jungle Air Rescue Detachment: 6 x Sikorsky YR-4 Helicopters (top-secret, early machines, also under Gaty’s command)

Glider Group (Capt. William H. Taylor Jr.) – Originally with 225 Waco CG-4A Gliders

The First Air Commando's Glider Group Badge First Air Commando Fighter Group First Air Commando's 319th Troop Carrier Squadron Badge

After the September 1944 Reorganization, the Air Commando had this form:

5th & 6th Fighter Squadrons: P-47 Thunderbolts & P-51 Mustangs
164th Liaison Squadron: C-46 Commando
165th Liaison Squadron: C-46 Commando
166th Liaison Squadron: C-46 Commando
319th Troop Carrier Squadron: C-47 Dakotas
72nd, 309th & 326th Aerodrome Squadrons
284th & 285th Medical Dispensaries

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Eastern Air Command
Supply Aircraft

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900th Airborne Engineers Aviation Company, US Army

CO — (1) Captain Patrick Casey (KIA 5 March 1944)
Deputy CO Lt. Robert Brackett

The 900th Airborne Engineers, with a strength of only 4 officers and 124 enlisted men, would carry out five, separate glider landing missions during the course of Operation “Thursday,” apparently earning them the privilege of having made the most glider-borne landings of any glider-borne unit of World War II. The 900th participated in the landings at all the Chindit strongholds: Broadway, White City, Aberdeen, Chowinghee and Blackpool.

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CHINDIT ORGANIZATION

The column was the main unit and all operations were column based (the term column was used literally because all personnel moved through the jungle in a single file). Each battalion had two columns, one commanded usually by the battalion commander and the other by his second in command. Each column had between 400-500 men.

Each column was composed of:

One company with four or five Rifle Platoons
One or two Heavy Weapons Platoons (each with two Vickers MMGs, two 3-Inch Mortars, one Flamethrower and two anti-tank Piats)
One Commando Platoon (with demolition and booby-trap experts)
One Recce Platoon (with a British officer commanding Burma Rifles-Karen and Kachin tribesman)

Plus assorted Royal Air Force controllers, sappers, signalmen and medical detachments.

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Acronyms & Abbreviations:

2IC – Second-in-Command
Bn – Battalion (In the British Army, basic combat unit capable of independent action)
CO – Commanding Officer
Coy – Company
DSO – Distinguished Service Order (Decoration)
Evac – Evacuated from Burma. Relieved of command.
KIA – Killed in action
KIFA – Killed in Flying Accident
MC – Military Cross (Decoration)
RA – Royal Artillery
RE – Royal Engineers
Regt – Regiment (In British Army, purely an administrative formation)
Repl – Replaced
RIASC – Royal Indian Army Service Corps
WIA – Wounded in Action

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Medals of the British Army v4


Sources for all Chindit writing on this site:

ALLEN, Louis, Burma — The Longest War, London: Phoenix Press, 1984.
ANGLIM, Simon, Orde Wingate and the British Army, 1922-1944, London: Chatto & Pickering, 2010.
ASTOR, Gerald, The Jungle War, Wiley, 2004.
BAINES, Frank, Chindit Affair, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2011.
BIDWELL, Shelford, The Chindit War: Stilwell, Wingate and the Campaign in Burma: 1944, NY: Macmillan, 1979.
BIERMAN, John & Colin Smith, Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia and Zion, NY: Random House, 1999.
CALLAHAN, Raymond, Burma 1942-1945, London: Davis-Poynter, 1978.
CALVERT, Michael, Prisoners of Hope, London: Leo Cooper, 1971.
‘——————–‘ Fighting Mad, Norfolk: Jarrolds, 1964.
‘——————–‘ The Chindits, NY: Ballantine, 1971.
CHINNERY, Philip, Wingate’s Lost Brigade, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2010.
CLARKE, Peter, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire,
London: Penguin, 2007.
DIAMOND, Jon, Stilwell and the Chindits, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014.
‘————‘ Chindit vs Japanese Infantryman, London: Osprey, 2015.
FERGUSSON, Bernard, Beyond the Chindwin,
Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2009.
‘—————‘ The Wild Green Earth,
Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2015.
KIRBY, S. Woodburn et al. , History of the Second World War: War Against Japan, London: HMSO, 1957
MARSTEN, Daniel P., Phoenix from the Ashes – The Indian Army in the Burma Campaign, NY: Praeger, 2003.
MASTERS, John, The Road Past Mandalay, London: Cassell, 2012.
McLYNN, Frank, The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph, 1942-45, Yale University Press, 2011.
MOREMAN, Tim, Chindit 1942-45, Oxford: Osprey, 2009.
MORTIMER, Gavin, Three Daring Dozen: 12 Special Forces Legends of World War II, London: Osprey, 2012.
NESBIT, Roy Conyers, The Battle for Burma, London: Pen & Sword, 2009.
OGBURN, Charlton, The Marauders, 1960
OWEN, Frank, The Campaign in Burma, London: HMSO.
ROMANUS, Charles and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, 1953.
REDDING, Tony, The War in the Wilderness, The History Press, 2015.
ROONEY, David, Mad Mike — A Life of Brigadier Michael Calvert, London: Pen & Sword, 2007.
STIBBE, Philip, Return from Rangoon, London: Pen & Sword, 1997.
SYKES, Christopher, Orde Wingate, NY: World Publishing Company, 1959.

THOMAS, Andrew, Spitfire Aces of Burma and the Pacific, Oxford: Osprey, 2009.
THOMPSON, Julian, Forgotten Voices of Burma, London; Erbury Press, 2009.
THORBURN, Gordon, Jocks in the Jungle, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2012..
TOWILL, Bill, A Chindit’s Chronicle, iUniverse, 2000.
TUCHMAN, Barbara, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, NY: Grove Press, 2001.
WAGNER, R.D. Van, Any Place, Any Time, Any Where, Altgen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1998.
WEBSTER, Thomas, The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theatre in World War II, NY: Harper Collins, 2004.
YOUNG, Edward, Air Commando Fighters of World War II, North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2000.

7th Leicestershire Regimental War Diary, The National Archives, WO 172/4900 (Unearthed by Hugh Vaugh)
Captain P. Griffin, IWM Museum of Records, PP/MCR/221  PG/1  ND (ca. 1970’s)

WEBSITES

1. Chindit Chasing, Operation Longcloth 1943 Website:

Interesting original research and a good collection of photographs collected by Steve Fogden pertaining to the 1943 expedition. Well worth a visit if you wish to know more of some of the men who participated in the 1943 campaign. Web address at: http://www.chinditslongcloth1943.com/index.html (Accessed 22 December 2011)

2. The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment Good information on the Queen’s Regiment during the 1944 expedition. Look for Chapter 5. (Accessed 25 December 2011)

3. 2nd Yorks & Lancs War Diary, 1944 (Accessed 26 December 2011)

4. The British Military History Website: A good collection of information, orders of battle and other war research compiled by Robert Palmer, with an emphasis on the Burma campaign. (Accessed 4 January 2012)

The Chindits – In 1943

In 1943 – The First Expedition

The 77th Indian Infantry Brigade

Commander – Brigadier Charles Orde Wingate, DSO (Ex-Royal Artillery)
Brigade Major – Maj. R.B.G. Bromhead → Repl. by Maj. Gilmour M. “Gim” Anderson (Highland LI)
Staff Captain – Captain H.J. Lord  (Border Regt)

13th King’s Regiment (Liverpool)
3/2nd Gurkha Rifles
2nd Burma Rifles
142nd Commando Company
Staff, The Bush Warfare School

Eight Royal Air Force Sections (to co-ordinate supply airdrops)
Brigade Signal Section (Royal Corps of Signals)
Mule Transport Company

This brigade (which used the designation of “Indian infantry” purely for deceptive purposes) deployed the field in the form of the following groups:

No 1 (Southern) Group
CO – Lt-Col. Leigh Alexander (3/2 Gurkha Rifles) – KIA 28 Apr 1943 (by sniper).
Adjutant – Captain Birtwhistle (3/2 Gurkha Rifles)

No 1 ColumnMajor G. Dunlop, MC (Royal Scots)
2-i-C: Captain V Weatherall (3/2d Gurkhas)
Guerrilla Platoon (142d Company): Lt. J Watson (Black Watch) → Repl. by Lt Nealon (KOSB)
Burma Rifles (Recce Platoon): Captain M Freshnie
Medical Officer: Captain N Stocks (RAMC)
RAF Liaison Officer: Flight Lt. J Redman

No 2 ColumnMajor A. Emmett (3/2nd Gurkha Rifles) → Repl. by Major Burnett

 

No 2 (Northern) Group
CO – Lt-Col. S.A. Cooke (Lincs Regt, attached to King’s Regt)
Adjutant – Captain D. Hastings (King’s Regt)

No 3 ColumnMajor J. Michael Calvert (R.E.)
2-i-C: Captain G Silcock (3/2d Gurkhas)
Commando Platoon, 142d Company: Lt. Jeffrey Lockett
Burma Rifles (Recce Platoon): Captain Taffy Griffiths
Medical Officer: Captain Rao (RIAMC)
RAF Liaison Officer: Flight Lt. Robert Thompson

No 4 ColumnMajor R.A. Conron (3/2d Gurkha Rifles) → Repl. by Maj. Bromhead (Royal Berkshire Regt)

No 5 ColumnMajor Bernard E. Fergusson (Black Watch)
2-i-C: Captain J.C. Fraser
Adjutant: Lt. D.C. Menzies (Black Watch)
Commando Platoon: Lt. J.B. Harman (Gloucestershire Regt)
Burma Rifles (Detachment): Captain J.C. Fraser
Medical Officer: Captain W.S. Aird (RAMC)
RAF Liaison Officer: Flight Lt. D.J.T. Sharp
No. 7 Platoon: Lt. P.G. Stibbe (Royal Sussex)
No. 8 Platoon: Lt. J.M. Kerr (Welch Regt)
No. 9 Platoon: Lt. G. Roberts (Welch Regt)

No 7 ColumnMajor Ken D. Gilkes (King’s Regt)

No 8 ColumnMajor Walter P. “Scotty” Scott (King’s Regt)
Commando Platoon: Lt. T. Sprague
Burma Rifles (Detachment): Captain Whitehead
Medical Officer: Captain J.D.S. Heathcote (RAMC)

HQ Group (2nd Burma Rifles →This group was primarily a recce element)
CO – Lt-Col. L.G. Wheeler (Burma Rifles) – KIA 4 Apr 1943 (by sniper).
Adjutant – Captain P.C. Buchanan (Burma Rifles)

Deception Party CO – Major Gordon Jeffries

The First Expedition, Operation “Longcloth”

The story of the first expedition was inked onto paper by General Sir Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in Chief of India. At the start of 1942, as Burma brewed up in a maelstrom of war and relentless Japanese invasion, it was decided to bring in a Middle East expert to train Chang Kai-Shek’s Chinese army for guerrilla warfare. That Middle East expert was Major Charles Orde Wingate — a junior colleague well known to Wavell from his pre-war Palestine days and from wartime Ethiopia.

Charles Orde Wingate

Following a long stopover in Cairo, Wingate finally arrived in India by B-24 Liberator, meeting Wavell on March 19. By this time, the Burmese capital, Rangoon, had already fallen and Wavell conceived a new role for his subordinate – to carry out a guerrilla war against the Japanese using British army resources. By this time four unique entities of irregulars were already conducting special operations against the enemy including the British Special Orders Executive (SOE), the American OSS (forerunners of the CIA), V-Force, run by Anglo-Burmese and Anglo-Indians with intelligence and guerrilla teams embedded in deep cover within Burma and lastly, the Bush Warfare School at Maymo busy training guerrilla soldiers under the supervision of the school commander, Major Michael Calvert.

Wingate declined on all except the Bush Warfare School which caught his fancy. Calvert later recounted his first encounter with Wingate (by now promoted to Lt-Colonel). Seeing an unfamiliar man sitting impertinently at his desk, Calvert glared. “Who are you?” he asked the stranger.

The other man gazed at him serenely. “Wingate,” he said.

“In spite of my unpleasant mood, I was impressed,” Calvert wrote later. “He showed no resentment at…[my] somewhat disrespectful treatment. He began talking quietly, asking questions…and to my surprise they were all the right questions. Tired as I was I soon realized that this was a man I could work for and follow.”

Slowly, operational ideas began to take shape. Wingate had thought deeply about the task at hand and came up with what he called “long-range penetration group” tactics, similar to the ones used by his “Gideon Force” in Ethiopia over a year earlier. He believed that a properly trained and supplied force could operate for some time behind enemy lines causing damage and disruption of the enemy’s communications, his supply lines and morale. He planned to have regular army units, properly trained for mobility that could engage in hit-and-run tactics without being constrained to conventional means of supplies or communications.

Mobility was vital, for it would allow raiders to attack whenever they desired, wherever the enemy least expected it and allowing them to withdraw without being pursued. Units would infiltrate through the jungles and ridges in small groups, to operate deep in the Japanese rear, cutting supply lines and harassing local forces. Air power played an integral part in the plan for it was meant to aid in reconnaissance, carry out supply drops and provide close air support, replacing the more traditional artillery in this role. Specially equipped RAF radio-controllers were to be attached to each of the groups.

After careful consideration, Wingate chose Burma’s central valley, where a vital railway network linked Mandalay with Myitkyina (pronounced Michenar) – the supply artery for Japanese forces in the north. In typical fashion, he ignored standard protocol and staff hierarchy, and having his staff officers’ type up the plan before presenting it directly to Wavell. With Wavell won over and backing officially confirmed, Wingate went about improving the plan and by August 1942, a training center was set up for his yet to be formed force. This was not accomplished without difficulties. In the conservative Indian Army many high-ranked officers were opposed to the creation of a special force in their midst.

One strong opponent was Lt-General William Slim of the Fourteenth Army, who later wrote that Wingate, “fanatically pursued his own purpose without regard to any other consideration or purpose.” Indeed, the bearded Wingate, suffering from eczema and frequently seen with an alarm clock dangling absurdly from the belt of his battledress, was seen more as a madman than a soldier. But on the search for his cadre, willing to think in unorthodox methods, he came across men who saw him as a genius. One was Calvert. “With his thin face, intent eyes and straggly beard, [Wingate] looked like a man of destiny; and he believed he was just that,” Calvert wrote. Others holding reservation about this new type of warfare, quickly fell to his engaging personality and willingness to experiment. Major Bernard Fergusson, an initial skeptic later said that, “Soon we had fallen under the spell of his almost hypnotic talk; and by and by we – or some of us – had lost the power of distinguishing between the feasible and fantastic.”

Even as Wingate’s strategic thinking congealed, he was deftly promoted to Brigadier in early 1943 and given command of an entire brigade (officially, the “77th Indian Infantry Brigade” ) with three full battalions — on paper, an impressive force. Reality was different. Unhappy with the quality of troops given to him, Wingate worked hard to convert them into hardened fighters accustomed to the harshness of the jungle. It was no mean task. The Englishmen of the 13th Bn, Kings Liverpool Regiment were unenthusiastic for the role thrust upon them – they were considerably older than most soldiers and too well adjusted to garrison life. The next unit – the 3/2nd Gurkha Rifles was fresh but inexperienced, and comprised some officers who were poorly trained and disliked their mission.The last unit – the 2nd Burma Rifles was in low-morale but comprised of expert soldiers from the hill tribes of Burma, such as the Kachins, Karens and Chins, who became guides and reconnaissance troops.

In order to fill out the serious short-fall of experienced troops, Wingate gladly took on the Bush Warfare School which had by then been badly gutted, losing some 100 men to a Japanese ambush at the Irrawaddy River. The eleven survivors were counted on as a cadre in Wingate’s new force as was the veteran 142nd Commando Company, specialists of all types and men trained to handle pack animals. Wingate christened his new unit, the “Chindits” after the Burmese word Chinthe, a mythical lion that guarded the Burmese stone temples.

The training slowly kicked in and began to build up the fitness, competence and confidence of his new unit. Men were pushed beyond the limits of what they thought they could endure in the jungle and the rains. Loaded with heavy packs, Wingate marched them through ruthless terrain until long marches and exhaustion became daily routine, with those passing out revived by instructors and forced to continue. Attending sick parade without a good cause became a punishable offense and orders were carried out on the run. Jungle craft was perfected to an expert level; this included teaching jungle navigation, patrolling, water discipline and marksmanship. Sickness, minor injuries and heat were inconsequential to the tough standards of Wingate, who saw the mind and willpower as the key to success.

This rigorous training and discipline was essential, for the troops would soon find themselves operating without regular supply or medical aid deep behind enemy lines. In due course, instructors ruthlessly weeded out those not physically or mentally fit for the mission, and Wingate constantly exalted the importance of winning the war and warned his men that some would not be returning alive. Interestingly, rather than lowering morale this actually increased it. Gradually, the brigade welded into a seven column fighting force totaling over 3,000 men with mules, oxen and elephants to carry heavy supplies.

 THE MARCH IN

On 12 February 1943, at the threshold of battle, Wingate addressed the men under his command, saying, “Today we stand on the threshold of battle…It is a small minority that accepts with good hearts tasks like this that we have chosen to carry out. The time of preparation is over, and we are moving on the enemy to prove ourselves and our methods. We need not, as we go forward into the conflict, suspect opportunity of withdrawing and are here because we have chosen to bear the burden and the heat of the day.” With this “Operation Longcloth” began and the 3,250-strong Chindits headed into the jungles of eastern India.

Two nights later, as a diversionary attack by the 23rd Indian Division struck Kalewa, two Gurkha columns under Lt-Colonel Leigh Alexander (a first-class Cricketer before the war) slipped crossed the Chindwin 50 miles to the south. Their mission: to attack Japanese outposts, blow up bridges and sever the Mandalay-Mytikyina railway at the key Burmese town of Kyaikthin. At the same time, Wingate, with five columns led by Lt-Colonel S. Cooke, crossed the river a little to the north and went forward to sever the same railway between Wuntho and Indaw. (see map above)

Wingate’s main objectives were to:

1)       Cut the main railway line between Mandalay and Myitkyina
2)       Harass the enemy in the shwebo area
3)       Cross the Irrawady river and cut the rail line between Mandalay and Lashio

The operation called for extraordinary ability and luck. The first objective was 150 miles to the east with the number one priority being to reach the target undetected.

In an effort to break the formal regimental structure of the British Army, the seven columns each had about 400-500 men, 100 pack-mules, horses or oxen and accompanied by RAF radio operators, under the overall command of Squadron Leader Robert Thompson. Each man in the lightly-armed columns (heaviest weapons were medium machine guns and mortars), had to lug a 70 lb (31 kgs) load, including a pack, rifle, bayonet, ammunition and grenades, water bottle, four pairs of socks, spare shirt, climbing rope, utility knife and a five day ration pack consisting of biscuits, cheese, chocolate, meat, nuts, raisins, dates, tea, powdered milk and sugar. All together a daily ration weighed less than 1 kg (2 lbs) – although these meager rations were sometimes augmented by local bananas, rice and other fruits provided by friendly villagers.

Chindits march into Burma. (IWM IND2290)

As men marched, others struggled to get their mules over steep and plunging ridges. Burma was the land of extremes, rich with ancient cultural architecture and a treasure of natural resources amid lush rain forests and hills. Yet northern and central Burma was no tropical paradise. Mountain ranges thick with seemingly impenetrable jungles covered the borders. The rain forests were trackless, steep regions, filled with vines and rotting vegetation. This, alternating with sharp elephant grass as tall as a man or with thick bamboo thickets could obscure visibility to only a few meters. The steep hills and ridges provided narrow paths. The British depended on RAF (Royal Air Force) reconnaissance and Burmese guides to get them through. Summer humidity reached up to 46º Centigrade (115º F) in the central plains, and during the monsoon, which lasted half a year, pack animals became the only reliable form of transport in the narrow jungle trails and through the mud. In this pitiless environment the Japanese became only one of the Chindits’ many enemies.

There was the torrential rain, for one, which produced a sea of glutinous mud and permanently sodden clothes, and the dense thickets of brush and foliage which slashed at men and animals. “Sometimes the going was frightful, occasionally it was just bad,” said one man, Sergeant Tony Aubrey. Like many Chindits, Aubrey was astounded by the scale of the Burmese jungle, the constant dew and rains which wet uniforms and equipment, the oozing black mud, belligerent red ants and huge black spiders with their painful stings and thickets of impenetrable bamboo whose stalks and leaves “cut both clothes and flesh to ribbons.”

Clothing, boots and skin rotted from prolonged exposure to the humid atmosphere, and the first casualties from tropical and parasitic diseases were reported. To this were added swarms of leeches, clouds of mosquitoes which appeared regardless of the time, poisonous snakes, flukes, ticks and flies. Open wounds were to be quickly covered up or risk viral infections. Many of the Chindits quickly learned that wearing beards (like Wingate), mitigated the need for a shaving kit, formed the best natural camouflage for the face, and more importantly – kept out mosquitoes and ticks.

Progress was painfully slow but Wingate tried to hasten the advance by paying surprise visits to subordinates and issuing radio orders embedded with Biblical quotations. By the beginning of March, Cooke’s group was positioned at attack the railway. Meanwhile, in the south, Alexander’s two columns were advancing without incident. Every day, British C-47 Dakotas from 31 Squadron and the Lockheed Hudsons from 194 Squadron appeared over pre-arranged drop zones identified by accompanying RAF signalers, dropping supplies. On March 2, the No. 5 Column led by Major Bernard Fergusson brushed aside a Japanese patrol and blew the bridges at Bongyaung, the cracks of the explosions ringing through the hills. The attack had taken the Japanese completely by surprise, but they recovered and two divisions were dispatched to deal with the intruders who were believed to be no more than a reconnaissance party. In the south meantime, Alexander’s columns had been heading down to the Irrawaddy River. Moving in force, Alexander hoped to create the impression that his columns were the vanguard of a larger British force. The Japanese called his bluff and attacked, badly mauling No. 2 Column.

 By now convinced that an entire British commando division had crossed the Chindwin, the Japanese Army spent several tense days scrambling a counter-offensive. But misinformation and speculation plagued their understanding of the situation. Most Japanese commanders were even baffled at how this “commando division” was being supplied. They simply could not or would not believe that the British would be so brazen as to resupply their forces in full daylight with slow and vulnerable transport aircraft – especially in an area heavily patrolled by Japanese fighters.

An RAF wireless operator attached to a Chindit column sits by his equipment. (IND2292)

In the north meantime, things were going better. Of Cooke’s five columns, three moved north with the intent of drawing Japanese forces away from other two columns heading to hit the railways. The diversionary force soon met the enemy at the Irrawaddy. One column (Major Bromhead’s No. 4 Column) was badly mauled and scattered, forced to withdraw back to the Chindwin. Yet, 4 Column’s sacrifice had not been in vain. Two other two columns – Fergusson’s No. 5 Column and Michael Calvert’s No. 3 Column – were able to use the confusion of the melee to move unobserved to the railway line and adjacent bases. They reached their positions in early March; to sabotage the line in 72 places, destroy bridges and cut roads.

As Japanese awoke to the threat, the Chindits set up ambush parties and waited for the Japanese as they rushed to respond. Hundreds of Japanese were wiped out and pinned down by the ambush parties even as Fergusson’s and Calvert’s RAF signalers called in RAF air support to complete the massacre. Elated at these early successes, Calvert pushed on to destroy the Gokteik Gorge viaduct, an important structure which carried the Lashio road about 100 km (60 miles) north of Mandalay. But now the columns had to cross a triangular area between the Irrawaddy and the Shweli rivers – an area that was open, waterless country, criss-crossed by roads and frequently patrolled by enemy armored cars. It was hopeless for guerrilla operations.

 THE RETURN

 As the unfavorable terrain and Japanese commitment escalated, the expedition began to unravel.

The hardships multiplied when supply drops became difficult, not only because of Japanese fighter patrols, but also because by now the Chindit columns had become so dispersed that air supply had become all but impossible. This in turn increased the demand for food and water. Many columns struggled, if only for a few hours to keep ahead of pursuing Japanese forces while hurriedly collecting supplies from airdrops. Others fought for the supply zones and villages where the Japanese stationed troops knowing full well that the Chindits would seek them out for food. Finally in desperation, men ate many of their mules and made a soup of their horses.

Weary Chindits rest for a moment in the jungle. (IWM IND2292)

Informed of the situation, Lt-General Geoffrey Scones of the British IV Corps, ordered Wingate to withdraw. Wingate in turn instructed his columns to disperse in small, independent parties on March 24th. Lt-Colonel Alexander’s group shifted to the east, hoping to reach the safety of China while Cooke’s group fell back to the Irrawaddy. The men were now exhausted and riddled with disease. Sadly, many of the wounded were left behind. Lieutenant Ian MacHorton of No. 2 Column was one of those abandoned. “At the moment when I gave up straining my ears for any last faint sound of my vanished comrades, my utter loneliness engulfed me,” he later wrote.

One by one, small groups of Chindits struggled through the jungle and managed to cross the Chindwin. Wingate returned to India on April 29. Fergusson and Calvert also made it, but some 883 were lost, killed, wounded or captured – many as they crossed the Chindwin, where Japanese patrols were waiting. Of the 2,182 that did return, only 600 would ever fight again. They had spent almost nine weeks in the jungle and had marched over a thousand miles, and Wingate regarded the entire operation as a bitter failure.

One of the survivors, Sgt. Hutchins. (IWM JAR 2190)

But how key had their efforts been? In February, before “Longcloth” was launched, Wingate had told reporters that, “If this operation succeeds, it will save thousands of lives. Should we fail, most of us will never be heard from again. If we succeed, we shall have demonstrated a new style of warfare to the world, bested the Jap at his own game, and brought nearer the day when the Japanese will be thrown bag and baggage out of Burma.” Disregarding the little material damage inflicted, in which some railways were cut, bridges blown or Japanese killed, “Longcloth” had accomplished ten times its weight in psychological terms. In one blow, the Chindits had destroyed the myth of Japanese invulnerability, and showed that a lightly-armed, well-trained force could take on the Japanese, beat them at their own game, in their own backyard and return to talk about it. At a time when heroes were badly needed and when the Allies faced their darkest hour, Wingate and his Chindits were indeed heroes.

 The tales of their endeavors ran like a hurricane through the dispirited armies in India. Newspaper articles carrying photographs of a gaunt, bearded Wingate in an Australian slouch hat and his battered Chindits only strove to increase the legend. A copy of Wingate’s after-action report reached the Churchill, perhaps the final judge of success. Depressed by the long string of defeats and disappointments in the Far East, Churchill was jubilant to hear of Wingate’s success.

In July he wrote, “I consider Wingate should command the army against Burma. He is a man of genius and audacity, and has rightly been discerned by all eyes as a figure quite above the ordinary level… There is no doubt that in the welter of inefficiency and lassitude which has characterized our operations on the Indian front, this man, his force and his achievements, stand out, and no mere question of seniority must obstruct the advance of real personalities to their proper stations in war.” So impressed was Churchill that he wanted to Wingate promoted up four ranks, over the heads of other senior men. The proposal was met with shock, and then resistance from senior army commanders.

In the end Churchill had to settle for promoting Wingate up one rank, to Major-General. But tellingly, he insisted on taking him to Quebec for the Allied Quadrant Conference that August. Here, Wingate won approval for an expanded Chindit force and a more ambitious expedition that following year in cooperation with U.S. Lt-General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell and his Chinese Army. Many Allied officers seethed at these concessions, not least of all “Vinegar Joe,” who having waited long and hard for U.S. troops became enraged when told that the 3,000-strong American Regiment, nicknamed Merrill’s Marauders, was being diverted to Wingate’s command.

“After a long struggle we get a handful of U.S. troops and by God they tell us that they are going to operate under Wingate,” Stilwell said.  “We don’t know how to handle them but that exhibitionist does! He has done nothing but make an abortive jaunt to Katha, cutting some railroad that our people had already cut, get caught east of the Irrawaddy and come out with a loss of forty percent. Now he’s an expert. That’s enough to discourage Christ.”

Yet, barring his critics, great things were expected of Wingate — now that he had been reinforced, and as 1944 came, his legend and that of his beloved Chindits multiplied as they went into the task of completing all that was asked of them and more. But that is another story.

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Acronyms & Abbreviations:

Bn – Battalion (In British Army, the basic combat unit capable of independent action)
CO – Commanding Officer
KIA – Killed in action
KIFA – Killed in Flying Accident
RA – Royal Artillery
RAMC – Royal Army Medical Corps
RE – Royal Engineers
Regt – Regiment (In the British Army, purely an administrative term)
RIAMC – Royal Indian Army Medical Corps
RIASC – Royal Indian Army Service Corps
WIA – Wounded in Action

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British-Army-Ranks

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Sources:

For a full bibliography of all Chindit writing on this site, check the bottom of this post: Chindits – In 1944.