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Tag Archives: 1st Air Commando

Return of the Chindits, Part 1

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Operation “Thursday,” the second Chindit operation of World War II was an integral component of an Allied plan to liberate northern Burma from the Japanese. The campaign centered around the recapture of Myitkyina city. Among the attackers were four colorful forces – Stilwell’s Chinese, Merrill’s Marauders, Cochran’s Air Commandos and Wingate’s celebrated Chindits. Their war was meant to be short. Instead, they would be pitted to the point of destruction against an enemy renowned for his toughness and unwillingness to surrender.

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It was the night of March 5th, 1944, and first of the gliders touched down in the Burmese clearing.

Little more than a large dirt track in the jungle, the clearing had been chosen by the eccentric British Major-General Charles Orde Wingate as one of three landing zones for his division of “Special Forces” known as the Chindits. Codenamed Broadway, the site was originally intended to take gliders carrying Brigadier Joe Lentaigne’s 111th Brigade, but unforeseen problems with the another landing area had forced Wingate to divert Brigadier Michael Calvert’s 77th Brigade there.

As they labored over that bald strip of earth, tugged by noisy C-47 Dakotas, the sounds of snapping rope tore through the air as tow lines were discarded and the gliders began their descent in the brilliant moonlight. Quickly, the craft gathering speed, utterly silent save for the howling wind and the whimpers and oaths of their terrified human cargo. Each glider was an archetype of multinationalism. The pilots were Americans, the troops a mixture of Burmese, Nepali Gurkhas and Britons from the Midlands and the northwest.

One by one, the gliders swept down towards the dark earth, alighting — and sometimes striking the ground with an earsplitting crash that sent bits of undercarriage, wood and metal flying into the trees. As the gliders came to a stop, men spilled out – automatic weapons and rifles at ready. One of them was Lieutenant George Albert Cairns of the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The jungle loomed all around them, the noises of the night abruptly silent.

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The Chindits in Photographs, Part I

Most of these photographs came from specific collections. Some are refreshingly new — some I hadn’t seen until recently. Unless mentioned otherwise, all photographs are from 1944. If you have a photo that you would like to contribute, kindly e-mail it to me. All photos will be appropriately credited. Numbers indicated in brackets below are Imperial War Museum reference numbers.

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The Calvert Collection

Brigadier Mike Calvert (far left) with Lt-Colonel Freddie Shaw and Major James Lumley (right) in the ruins of Mogaung town. Driven to the breaking point by the U.S. Lt-General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell (incidentally, well portrayed by Robert Stack in Steven Spielberg’s movie 1941), Calvert led out the surviving Chindits, badly emaciated by disease and heavy casualties.

Major Lumley’s daughter is the British actress, Joanna Lumley, who famously starred in the Pink Panther series and on television. (MH 7288)

 

(LEFT) Two survivors from the first Chindit expedition. The expedition was the first Allied success in the campaign for Burma after a disastrous defeat the year before — witness to the British Army’s greatest retreat in history. On the left is Regimental Sgt-Major William Livingstone (MC) and Company Sgt-Major Richard M. Cheevers (DCM), both of Column 8. (RIGHT) A Chindit flamethrower operator aims his No. 2 Mk II weapon. Nicknamed the “Lifebuoy” for its unique round shape which aided maximum gas pressure, the weapon had a maximum range of 40 yards and fuel for only a ten second sustained burst. The flamethrower was the one infantry weapon feared greatly by the Japanese – understandably so.

 

(LEFT) Wingate (holding cane) with Major R.B.G. “George” Bromhead, planning the first Chindit expedition from his headquarters in the Imphal Golf Club. Success here would elevate the eccentric Wingate to that of a mythical figure. (RIGHT) Two weary Chindits with a supply-carrying mule. Most of the pack mules had their vocal cords cut to to keep them silent in the field – an act that blanched many of the Chindits. (SE 7910)

A batch of Chindit replacements gather their arms and mules at a fortress airfield.

 

(LEFT) Wingate (in pith helmet) briefs the C-47 Dakota pilots of the U.S. 1st Air Commando at Sylhet in Assam. Immediately behind him is one of the Air Commando leaders, Lt-Col. Philip Cochrane (wearing cap). (MH 7877) (RIGHT) The attackers inspect latest intelligence at Lalaghat. From right — Brigadier Tulloch, Wingate, Calvert, RAF Air Marshal Johnny Baldwin, Lt-Colonel Scott, US Lt-Colonel John Alison. Rest unknown. (MH 7884)

 

(LEFT) Last minute intelligence showed that tree trunks had blocked a landing field codenamed “Piccadilly.” Despite concerns that the Japanese might have caught news of the imminent airborne landings, Wingate decided to proceed with the operation, with “Piccadilly” crossed off the list as a feasible landing zone. The trees were later discovered to have been felled as part of a routine logging operation. (RIGHT) The night of the assault, just before take-off. From left: John Alison, Calvert, Captain George Borrow (Wingate’s Aide-de-Camp), Wingate, Scott and Calvert’s Brigade Major, E. Francis Stuart. Three of the men would be dead before the year was out: Wingate and Borrow in an air crash that March, and Stuart, by battlefield-contracted tuberculosis in July. (MH 7873)

 

(LEFT) Maj-Gen. W.D. “Joe” Lentaigne (on left) with the tough and much-respected Brigadier Henry T. Alexander at headquarters. Alexander would go on to become one of eight Chindits to reach the exalted rank of Major-General. (RIGHT) A Gurkha section walks at “Broadway.”

 

(LEFT) An aerial view of “Broadway,” a fortress carved out of the heavy jungle. (RIGHT) A heavy weapon section at the perimeter of a Chindit jungle airbase, probably at “White City.”

 

(LEFT) A British 40mm AA crew at “Broadway.” (RIGHT) Lancashire Fusiliers from the Commando Platoon of 50 Column at “White City.” The man in front seems to bear a passing resemblance to the present-day American actor, Dylan McDermot.

 

Calvert’s final war chapter. After the Chindits were disbanded in February 1945, Mike Calvert was transferred to Europe where he took over command of the famous Special Air Service (SAS) Brigade in March. Composed of five SAS battalions, including two staffed entirely by Free Frenchmen and one of Belgians, Calvert held command until the end of the war and like in the Chindits, was immensely popular.

(LEFT) Calvert consoles the widow of a French SAS officer who has been killed in action. (RIGHT) Calvert (in center with officer’s cap), inspects the Frenchmen of his command during an official ceremony at Tarbes in the south of France. The ceremony transferred the men from the British to the French Army. (B 15783) As he had with the Chindits, Calvert witnessed the disbandment of the SAS (in October 1945) as the largely conservative senior army leadership of the time saw little worth to special forces.

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LIFE Magazine

At the “Aberdeen” fortress, U.S. Lt-Colonel Philip Cochrane of the 1st Air Commando (on left) discusses the evacuation of wounded men with British Officers.

 

(LEFT) In rare agreeable mood, Stilwell dashes up the steps to his headquarters to keep his appointment with the pretty journalist, Claire Boothe. Captain Frederick L. Eldridge smiles at the exuberance of his normally dour commander. (RIGHT) Two-day rations for the Chindits. It contains biscuits, dates, cheese, sugar, salt, chocolate, matches, tea, powdered milk and cigarettes. The pack seen standing is for parachute drop, and contains the equivalent of 10 days worth of the items displayed.

Weary and wounded Chindits wait by an improvised air strip for evacuation back to India. These men were part of a small raiding force which had attacked the Japanese south of Myitkyina. Two men stand on guard, not for protection but to watch a handful of Burmese collaborators and a Japanese soldier who have been captured (barely visible at the left of the picture).

Casualties from an attack on a Japanese roadblock the night before lie in a makeshift tent in enemy-held Burma. Although they have been evacuated from the frontline by light planes, another trip in larger Dakota transport planes to a regular hospital in India awaits them that night.

 

In these two 1943 photos, British load-masters push parachute cargo pallets out. While two men push, a third who tied himself to a brace, kicked the load out. Static lines tripped parachutes open (as is displayed in the photo on the right). According to the photographer, William Vandivert, one crew member almost fell out on this trip. (RIGHT) Signal fires guided the supply planes to the patch of gray-green jungle in the Burmese mountains east of the Irrawaddy. Although fighter protection was slim, on this occasion, the Dakotas had an escort of four Mohawk fighters, small match for Japanese Ki-43 Oscars.

 

In these 1943 photos, Major Walter Scott, in a strange quilted vest, shakes hands with the crew of a landed Dakota while his men hastily pull the plane’s loads of food and ammunition out of sight into the forest (shown in right photo).

 

(LEFT) A group of tired Chindits bring out a stretcher case towards the photographer, immediately behind whom is the light jungle airstrip. The man at left carries two Enfield rifles, the other being the wounded man’s. To his right, another Chindit of the 3rd West African Brigade, watches the jungle for Japanese raiders. The men, from First Platoon, 41 Column, 1st King’s own Royal Regiment have been identified as: (Front-from left, excluding the West African) — Denny Dennison, Mike Shere and Sgt. Guy. On the back left is Pvt. Stan Berry, a batman to Lt. J.D. Harrison who appears behind Sheere’s right shoulder. (KY 481781)

(RIGHT) In this photo of 1943 Chindits, a Dakota transports a group of 17 back to India, many of them wounded and ill with disease. The aircraft rigger hands a cup of water from a captured German jerrycan (of all things) to Corporal Jimmy Walker who was suffering from dysentery and an infected hip. In an interesting contrast to the differing features of Asians — on the left is a Gurkha sitting on a seat, while on the right is a Burmese.

 

(LEFT) Two Vultee L-1 Vigilant light planes at the “White City” airstrip which had been carved out of rough ground and jungle. Note how close the runway is to the rail line at the bottom of the photo. The Japanese repeatedly attempt to break through to this runway, only to be held back at the perimeter by the defenders. (RIGHT) In this 1943 photo, survivors from the first Chindit expedition celebrate at the hospital. Incidentally they are some of the same group of men photographed in the aircraft in the row above. On the far left is Sgt. Leslie Flowers from Manchester. The two men in the center with raised bottles are Sgts. McElroy and Tony Aubrey. Fed on two bottles of beer a day and two chickens apiece for lunch, the men are on their way to recovery.

In this 1943 photo by LIFE photographer, William Vandivert, a British Dakota flies over enemy territory to airdrop supplies to Chindits deep behind enemy lines. Its crew is on high alert for enemy fighters, especially its dorsal gunners who vigilantly man their Lewis machine-guns.

 

(LEFT) Stilwell, in another one of his light moods, speaks with his American-born Chinese Aide, Lt. Richard Ming-Tom Young. This is Stilwell’s living room at his headquarters in Maymo. Note that a picture of the Alps hangs above the fireplace. On Stilwell’s epaulets are the three stars of a Lt-General. After the fall of Myitkyina, he would get a fourth star. (RIGHT) In this 1943 photo, a worn-out group of Chindits wait under the wing of the Dakota for an ambulance to take them to the hospital. These are the same men who were photographed while in the aircraft, three rows above. The bearded man in the center is Sgt. Tony Aubrey.

 

Two 1943 survivors: (LEFT) Showing the bullet that went through his back and came out of the hole in the belly, Pvt. Jim Suddery of Islington had a miraculous escape. Fortunately the bullet was of a small caliber. (RIGHT) Pvt. John Yates of Manchester. Despite his wounded hand, and suffering from a touch of fever and the usual jungle sores, he smiles broadly for the camera.

 

(LEFT) Chinese artillerymen from Stilwell’s American-Chinese Army fire their 75mm US-made Pack Howitzers down the Hukawng Valley Road. An American liaison officer watches them work.

(RIGHT) An American C-47 Dakota comes in low on 9 August 1943 to drop supplies without parachute to the Chinese. Many of the Chinese rank and file were pings, of the peasantry class, ill-treated by corrupt officers who sometimes denied them food and pay, and as a result they behaved as any class of destitute people frequently do —  abominably, often stealing and looting supplies whenever the opportunity arose. Drops like these had to be carefully supervised by American officers. Anything less would result in whole swathes of supplies being stolen right under their noses. The drops were frequently made on ad-hoc jungle airstrips, numbered for quick identification with silk from parachutes.

In this 1943 photo, Chindits wave an enthusiastic farewell to the LIFE crew who are about to fly out in a light plane, knowing full well they themselves would only get to India by foot, still 170 miles away. When one of the men suggested a cheer, an officer said, “Cheer, but don’t make a sound,” because of the danger of nearby Japanese patrols.

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The Imperial War Museum

 

(LEFT) The Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, inspects whites from a West African Brigade stationed at Bhopal in March 1944. (IND 2953) (RIGHT) The Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, knights Slim and three other generals on the field of Imphal in January 1945. Sir Robert Thompson, an ex-Chindit who later became internationally famous for defeating a Communist insurgency in Malaya in the 1960s, found this photograph haunting. ‘I see the ghost of Wingate present [every time I see this picture],” he said. “He was unquestionably one of the great men of the century,” who deserved his fair place among those honored. (CI 872)

Chindits wait insouciantly by their gliders to be flown out to “White City.” Other British and West African troops march behind them. Note the man marching in the immediate foreground – his rifle has a cup grenade launcher attached to the muzzle. (EA 20832)

 

(LEFT) A clean-shaven Wingate speaks with Cochrane. (RIGHT) A small detachment from the RAF’s 81 Squadron, together with a servicing party were based at “Broadway” in March. On the 13th, the Japanese discovered the airfield and attacked with 40 Ki-43 “Oscar” fighters. Getting airborne, the RAF pilots took on the enemy for 45 minutes, shooting down four planes and damaging several others. A brief respite followed, but on the 16th, more Japanese raiders appeared, only to lose one plane. Undeterred, another large group of Japanese fighters appeared on the following day. Only three Spitfires managed to get airborne. They shot down one raider before two of their own were killed, including the CO . The surviving pilot, Flying Officer Alan Peart, managed to get away to India, marking the end of the detachment’s service from the Chindit fortresses.

A Chindit Anti-aircraft crew watches a Dakota as it drops supplies in the perimeter of their fortress.

 

(LEFT) Men of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) usher along their mule train deep behind enemy lines. Aside from transport planes, mules constituted the next major transport element for Chindit columns in the jungle. (IND 1885) (RIGHT) Gurkhas cautiously edge forward through the Burmese undergrowth. (IND 3803)

 

Wingate, in typical unabashed style, tries out one of the mule pens on board a Dakota. On the right, he is shown moments later, straddling his Enfield SMLE No. 4 long-range rifle. These are some of the last photographs taken of him before his death. (EA 20828 & EA 20829)

 

(LEFT) Japanese troops probe a Chindit perimeter. (RIGHT) Lt-General Renya Mataguchi (without helmet), the stubborn commander of the Japanese 15th Army speaks with one of his men. Mataguchi’s testimony and that of other Japanese officers on Wingate’s efficacy, countered many of the negative things said about the Chindits after the war.

This group of tough hombres, from the HQ company of the 81st West African Division, pose for the photographer, their Enfield rifles held out. The most muscular among them seems to be the cook in the white apron, and any typical complaints of army food were probably not forthcoming. (SE 205)

Private Thomas Maycox of Salford, Lancashire, shaves in the jungle. Being on operations offered scant opportunity for proper hygiene and grooming, so moments were snagged when they could. Maycox belonged to a Mortar platoon as is evinced by the small 2-inch mortar lying in front of the foxhole, but his exact unit is unclear. (SE 3764)

 

(LEFT) A meeting of senior officers at Lalaghat – From left: US Brigadier-General William D. Old of the American Troop Carrier Command, General William “Uncle Bill” Slim, Wingate, Major Gaitley and Derek Tulloch. (MH 7881) (RIGHT) A Japanese-dominated bridge goes up in flames and smoke at Henu. (SE 7924)

Wingate waits at “Broadway” for C-47 Dakotas. To his left is U.S. Lt-Col. Clinton B. Gaty holding a signalling light and on the far right is Captain Baker. The popular Gaty commanded the Air Commando’s Light Plane Force but went on to lead the Air Commandos later that year. He never returned from a combat sortie against Japanese-held Meiktila on 26 February 1945. (MH7882)

Both combat types of the Air Commando captured on film at Hailakandi airfield – P-51A Mustangs overhead and a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber taxiing on the ground. (EA 20833)

Experimental Sikorsky Y-4 helicopters of the Air Commando during preliminary flights. The then-radically new machines went through their first combat deployment in the aid of Chindits. (IWM IND 3810)

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“The ChinditsBooklet

These photo were published in a 1945 booklet written by Frank Owen for the Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia. Layout was by Fred Oxtoby. It was printed by Don A. Lakin of The Stateman Press, Calcutta, India.

 

(LEFT) Chindits stroll past the physical embodiment of their insignia at newly-cleared Mawlu — the mythical Chinthe. (RIGHT) West Africans board a Dakota bound for White City. The timely arrival of the Africans would help win the battle there. (IND 7046)

 

(LEFT) West Africans hack an airstrip out of the jungle. (RIGHT) Men from Brigadier Lance Perowne’s 23rd Brigade prepare for a good bath after weeks of action against Japanese invaders in India.

A column of West Africans out on patrol, led by a white officer.

 

(LEFT) Using Lake Indawgyi near Hopin and the “Blackpool” fortress as an evacuation zone, the RAF flew in Sunderland flying boats to take out the wounded. (RIGHT) Gurkhas wait in ambush for the Japanese.

 

Hoofing it by air and sea: (LEFT) A mule is forcefully ejected from a transport plane onto Chindit-held Burma. Many of the mules had to be sedated for flight. (RIGHT) Other mules cross the 450 meter-wide (550 yards) Irrawaddy River.

 

(LEFT) An RAF liaison section in the field. Men like these were critical in keeping the air link open to the RAF and American 1st Air Commando Group. (RIGHT) Chindits safely back in India take the chance to rid themselves of their beards, cultivated in the field, partly to keep mosquitoes at bay and partly because there was little time or means for grooming on the battleground.

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US 1st Air Commando Group (Other Photographs)

The notable pre-war child-star John Leslie “Jacki” Coogan, now an Air Commando glider pilot, fiddles with a gadget. No martinet, Coogan went in with the first wave on the night of 5 March 1944 — and survived. After the war, he famously starred as Uncle fester in The Addams Family. Before the war, Coogan’s earnings were stolen by his parents who openly declared that young Jackie “would not get a cent.” When later Coogan fell into financial difficulties, he was saved by Charlie Chaplin. (US National Archives)

 

(LEFT) In 1944, the Chindits would get their own private air force – the American 1st Air Commando Group, an equally dashing formation filled with unconventional types. One admiring British officer, Captain Griffin, would call the group an “extraordinary [flying] circus.” (US Air Force)

(RIGHT) An Air Commando fighter pilot, Lt. Jack Klarr, wears a jacket with the insignia of the group’s Fighter Element. Klarr’s first kill, a Japanese Ki-43 Oscar, occurred on May 19 during a patrol over “Blackpool.” By September the Chindits had been withdrawn and the Air Commando reorganized. Anti-airfield sweeps began on October 17 against a ring of airfields around Rangoon, and on the 20th, Klarr destroyed a Japanese aircraft on the ground at Hmawbi. More action soon followed. On December 13, while escorting twelve RAF Liberators on a bombing raid, his squadron encountered ten Oscars. Klarr gave the lead plane a burst from his guns. The Japanese fighter rolled and dived away, smoke trailing from its engine. Jack Klarr was awarded a “probably destroyed.” In 1945, he became a Captain and would go on to survive the war. (Elwood Jamison, 1st Air Commando Association)

 

(LEFT) The two co-commanders of the First Air Commando, Lt-Col. John Alison (in front row, without hat) and Phil Cochrane (on far right) at Hailakandi in March 1944. The other men, from left, are: Capt. Walter Radovich, Maj. Arvid “Ollie” Olsen and Lt-Col. Robert T. Smith who flew the B-25 in the background, Barbie III, named after his wife. Alison was a combat ace with seven aerial kills to his credit before he was assigned (along with his friend, Cochrane) to the ultra-secret Project 9, a unit which ultimately morphed into the 1st Air Commando. Alison passed away on 6 June 2011. He was 98. (U.S. Air Force Association) (RIGHT) Cochrane and Alison together in a wartime Associated Press color photo. (U.S. Air Force)

 


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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.

The Chindits – In 1944

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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.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

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

—————————————————————————————————————————-

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)

5. The Chindits Society

The society was established in 2015 to connect the families of Chindits, researchers and historians with an interest in the Burma campaign. The aim of the society is to champion and project the history of the Chindits through “presentations and educational initiatives, assist families and other interested parties in seeking out the history of their Chindit relative or loved one, gather together and keep safe Chindit writings, memories and other materials for the benefit of future generations, ensure the continued well-being” of Chindit veterans and “promote fellowship between members.”

Web address at: http://thechinditsociety.org.uk/ (Accessed 2 April 2017)