Chindits (act. 19431944)
were British empire troops who conducted guerrilla-style operations in Japanese-occupied Burma during the Second World War. Their name derived from the mythical Burmese fighting dog, the chinthe, statues of which guard pagodas throughout Burma.
The Chindits were established to raid Japanese supply lines. Based on strongholds hidden in the jungle, they fought in columns of 300 to 350 men, maintained by air and with only mules for transport. The Chindit concept was the brainchild of Brigadier Orde Wingate
, who led the two Chindit expeditions.
For his first expedition, which took place between February and June 1943, Wingate was assigned the 13th battalion of the King's Liverpool regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel S. A. Cooke of the Lincolnshire regiment, which had been sent to India for base security duties; the 3rd battalion, 2nd Gurkha rifles, a newly raised unit commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Leigh Arbuthnot Alexander (1897/81943); and the 2nd battalion of the Burma rifles, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lyndon Grier Wheeler (19011943), which was formed of Burmese soldiers who had escaped from the Japanese occupation of their country in 1942. Along with a commando company and a mule company, these units were all that could be spared by India command at a time when allied fortunes in south-east Asia were at their lowest ebb. They were formed into the 77th Indian infantry brigade.
These were not specially selected men. What united the disparate units was the common and exacting training they undertook for the forthcoming operation. Wingate's training methods included no black arts, but aimed to achieve simply a high standard of basic infantry soldiering, endurance, and self-sufficiency with very limited supplies. Nevertheless, a number of men were rejected from the operation due to their age or lack of suitability. The 77th brigade entered and withdrew from Burma on foot, marching over 1000 miles, fighting or attempting to evade the Japanese for much of the way. Although the Chindits were supplied by air, the meagre rations they received were insufficient to maintain men at proper fighting fitness. Scant regard was given to medical matters and, except on one occasion when a supply aircraft was able to land, it was not possible to evacuate casualties who could not make their own way out. Of the 3000 or so men who marched in, only about 2200 returned, and many of those were rendered unfit for further service by their ordeal. The expedition achieved little in direct operational terms but it did demonstrate the potential of air supply and provided a much needed boost to allied morale in the theatre. The column commanders were majors George Dickson Dunlop (19172001) of the Royal Scots; Arthur Emmett of the 2nd Gurkha rifles; Michael Calvert
of the Royal Engineers; George Bromhead of the Royal Berkshire regiment; Bernard Fergusson, later Baron Fergusson
, of the Black Watch, who wrote a memoir of the expedition, Beyond the Chindwin
(1945); Kenneth Gilkes of the King's regiment; and Walter Scott of the King's regiment. Fergusson, Calvert, and Scott were destined to take senior positions in the subsequent second expedition of 1944.
For the much more ambitious second expedition, which took place between March and August 1944, six brigades and a substantial number of supporting troops were allocated to what was then known officially as Special Force. These were found by the reassignment of the entire 70th British division along with the re-formed 77th brigade, which, by then, comprised one Gurkha and three British infantry battalions; the 111th Indian brigade and the 3rd west African brigade. Major-General George William Symes (18961980), the commander of the 70th division, became Wingate's deputy. Fergusson was promoted to command the 16th brigade and Calvert the 77th. Other brigade commanders were brigadiers Thomas Brodie (19031993) of the 14th brigade, Lancelot Edgar Connop Mervyn Perowne (19021982) of the 23rd brigade, Walter David Alexander Lentaigne (18991955) of the 111th brigade, and A. H. Gillmore of the 3rd brigade. Walter Scott took command of the 1st battalion of the King's regiment. During the second expedition Special Force enjoyed the dedicated support of Colonel Philip Cochran's United States Army Air Force 1st air commando, which included fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft. Most of Special Force was flown into Burma and it was possible to take in better supplies and reinforcements, and to extract casualties by air, which provided a substantial boost to the Chindits' morale and effectiveness. Fergusson's 16th brigade, however, still had to march in due to the shortage of aircraft.
Wingate was killed in an air crash early in the second expedition and his place in command of Special Force was taken by Brigadier Lentaigne. He, in turn, was relieved in command of the 111th brigade by his brigade major, John Masters
, the author. During the second expedition four Victoria crosses were won, all by members of Calvert's 77th brigade: Major Frank Blaker of the 9th Gurkha rifles, Lieutenant George Cairns (19131944) of the South Staffordshire regiment, and Major Michael Allmand (19231944) and Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun (b
. 1923) of the 6th Gurkha rifles.
Numerous memoirs were written of the second expedition. Among them are Bernard Fergusson's The Wild Green Earth
(1946), W. F. Jeffrey's Sunbeams Like Swords
(1951), Michael Calvert's Prisoners of Hope
(1952), John Masters's The Road Past Mandalay
(1961), Richard Rhodes James's Chindit
(1980), and Bill Towill's A Chindit's Chronicle
(1990). The contemporary Jungle Jungle Little Chindit
(1944), by Patrick Reginald Boyle, later thirteenth earl of Cork and Orrery (19101995) and John Musgrave-Wood
proves that a sense of humour can survive the worst ordeal. Other memoirs can be found in the Burma Campaign Memorial Library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Since the Second World War, there has been controversy about whether the results of the Chindit expeditions justified the effort and manpower expended on them at times when British resources were at a premium. The first expedition ended up as little more than a demonstration of Wingate's concept, albeit an important one. Following some initial success, Special Force on the second expedition was increasingly misused in a conventional infantry role, for which it was ill equipped. Although kept on operations far longer than had been intended, and committed to some fierce fighting, it did not achieve the operationally crippling effect on the Japanese that Wingate had envisaged. Wingate himself inspired deep loyalty among his own officers and men but won few friends among those outside Special Force, from whom he needed support, due to his allegedly abrasive approach. Critical comments about him in the official history, The War Against Japan
, volume 3 (1961), and, to a lesser extent, in Slim's Defeat into Victory
(1956) were felt by a number of former Chindits to have denigrated Wingate's reputation and that of the Chindits at large.
To counter those criticisms Major-General (Donald) Derek Cuthbertson Tulloch (19031974), who had been Wingate's chief of staff, wrote a strong defence of Wingate and the Chindit achievements in his book Wingate in Peace and War
(1972). Tulloch's book sparked a debate, which continues to this day and which has been quite vitriolic at times. However, as so often happens in this sort of controversy, a measure of criticism that was not intended has been inferred by some.
Whatever the arguments over Wingate's personality, methods, and vision, or the utility of the Chindit expeditions, it is widely accepted that his pioneering use of air transport to outmanoeuvre the enemy contributed much to the tactics that led eventually to allied victory in Burma. Certainly, the skill, courage, and endurance of the Chindit soldiers and the airmen who supported them have never been questioned.
C. G. H. Dunlop
report on operations of 77th Indian infantry brigade, 1943, BL OIOC, L/MIL/17/5/4270 · The LRP column, special force training pamphlet, TNA: PRO, WO 203/2473 · Vice-Admiral the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Report to the combined chiefs of staff by the supreme allied commander, south-east Asia, 19431945, 30 June 1947 · P. Boyle and J. Musgrave-Wood, Jungle jungle little Chindit (1944) · B. Fergusson, Beyond the Chindwin (1945) · B. Fergusson, The wild green earth (1946) · W. F. Jeffrey, Sunbeams like swords (1951) · M. Calvert, Prisoners of hope (1952) · W. L. Slim, Defeat into victory (1956) · S. W. Kirby and others, The war against Japan, 2: India's most dangerous hour (1958) · S. W. Kirby and others, The war against Japan, 3: The decisive battles (1961) · J. Masters, The road past Mandalay (1961) · D. Tulloch, Wingate in peace and war, ed. A. Swinson (1972) · S. Bidwell, The Chindit war: the campaign in Burma, 1944 (1979) · R. R. James, Chindit (1980) · P. Mead, Orde Wingate and the historians (1987) · W. Towill, A Chindits chronicle (1990) · D. Rooney, Wingate and the Chindits (1994) · J. Thompson, The Imperial War Museum book of war behind enemy lines (1998)