'March Divided But Fight United': The Chindits - Rolfe Hedges
by Rolfe Hedges
The Chindits were the brainchild of General A Wavell and Ord Wingate. Wavell then C in C in India sent for Wingate in 1943 with the task of organising guerilla activity against the Japanese forces in Burma. The name 'Chindit' was a corruption of the Burmese word for winged stone lion - the guardians of the Buddhist temples.
The original Chindit formation was officially known as the 77th infantry brigade - assembled for Wingate's operation Longcloth in Burma in 1943. Wingate assembled British, Gurkha and some Burma rifles and using innovative training methods welded them into a seven column brigade totalling about 3,000 men, with hundreds of mules, Oxen and Elephants carrying their supplies.
The unit comprised:
13 Battalion Kings Liverpool regt
3rd Bn 2nd Gurkha rifles
2nd Bn Burma rifles
142nd Commando company
With these men Wingate penetrated deep into Burma - the objective being to a)cut the main railway line between Mandalay and Myitkyina b) harass the enemy in the Shwebo area c)if possible cross the Irrawaddy and cut the railway between Mandalay and Lashio.
The first objective lie 150 miles to the East. The number one priority was to reach the target undetected. The start of the mission was made by 2 Gurkha columns from the force crossing the Chindwin 50 miles to the south and by a diversionary attack by the 23rd Indian division at Kalewa. This succeeded and the main force reached the railway in 2 weeks without encountering any Japanese, They were also re-supplied at the target by the RAF. However at the railway line - 2 columns were ambushed and incurred heavy casualties. The rest of the column managed to blow up the rail line in over 75 places over a distance of 30 miles.
The Japanese were now buzzing 'as if they were an angry Wasp's nest' believing the British had a division of commandos in the rear. Wingate managed to cross the Irrawaddy, but had to disperse his force. The result of this was that they became near impossible to re-supply by air, sickness and the heat were also taking their toll of. So before reaching his third target Wingate ordered a general dispersal and retreat back to India - they had lost 883 men out of the 3,000. They had spent twelve weeks in the jungle and marched almost 1,000 miles. Wingate saw this as a dismal failure.
However 'Longcloth' lacking in material results, was a real breakthrough in strategic thinking. It showed that in the war in the jungle - alien to the British ; the impossible was possible. They could take the war to the Japanese.
By the end of 1943, the Japanese had given up on invading India, believing the jungles beyond the river Chindwin in Burma were impassable - they would sit tight and hold onto what they had. The British too were more or less content to defend India. However, American strategy in the theatre as a whole was to divert as many Japanese away from the pacific as possible and also to win back Chinese territory in order to build air bases on China's pacific coast. They wanted action from the British, who were sitting on a vast reserve of mainly Indian manpower on the sub continent.
At the summit conference 'Quadrant' in Quebec August 1943 future Allied military policy was the agenda - the British were under pressure to take action in the far east, Churchill took with him Wingate and after putting his ideas to the Allied chiefs Wingate was given the Green light on his Long range penetration ideas.
His initial plans were to airlift whole divisions to liberate territory using guerrilla tactics. But after several top level political arguments - especially conflict with the Americans and problems with the American general Stilwell ( who hated the British) the formation of' special force' and what was to be known as 'OPERATION THURSDAY' was finally agreed.
The basic theory was 'to insert himself in the guts of the enemy' with hopefully the bonus that he didn't know where you had landed. This idea had to have two central themes a) the power to penetrate deeply, and, b) the power to stay there.
Wingate stuck to the heart of the British system - morale and motivation - using the regiment as the building blocks of his 'new' army. He used men mainly from Symes British 70th division - known for its high levels of training and morale. and at the heart of the unit were veterans from the original 77th brigade.
Chindit Order of Battle January 1944
The Chindits were officially known as 'Special Force' or the '3rd Indian Infantry Division.'
N.B. The title 3rd Indian division was only given in order to deceive the Japanese.
There were six brigades, each referred to by a nickname. Each brigade had its own HQ situated near an airfield and an HQ column in the field (numbered separately from below).
Galahad 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) Us Army
Also known as Merrill's Marauders and after being trained were handed over to Gen. Stilwell's Northern Command.
1st Battalion; Red and White Combat Teams
2nd Battalion; Blue and Green Combat Teams
3rd Battalion; Khaki and Orange Combat Team
Thunder 3rd West African Brigade
6th Battalion Nigeria Regt; 66 and 39 Columns
7th Bn Nigeria Regt; 29 and 35 Columns
12th Bn Nigeria Regt; 12 and 43 Columns
Javelin 14th Brigade
2nd Bn The Black Watch: 42 and 73 Columns
1st Bn Beds and Herts Regt: 16 and 61 Columns
2nd Bn York and Lancaster Regt: 65 and 84 Columns
7th Bn Leicester Regt: 47 and 74 Columns
Enterprise 16th Brigade
1st Bn The Queen's Regiment ; 21 and 22 Columns
2nd Bn Leicester Regt ; 17 and 71 Columns
51/69 Royal Artillery 51 and 69 Columns (Infantry Columns Made Up Of R. A Personnel)
45th Recce Regt ; 45 and 54 Columns ( Infantry Column Made Up From Recce Units)
Emphasis 77th Brigade
3rd Bn 6th Gurkha Rifles: 36 and 63 Columns
1st Bn The Kings Regt: 81 and 82 Columns
1st Bn The Lancashire Fusiliers: 20 and 50 Columns
1st Bn South Staffs Regt: 38 and 80 Columns
3rd Bn 9th Gurkha Rifles: 57 and 93 Columns
Profound 111th Brigade
1st Bn The Cameronians: 26 and 90 Columns
2nd Bn The Kings Own Royal Regt: 41 and 46 Columns
3rd Bn 4th Gurkha Rifles: 30 Column
4th Bn 9th Gurkha Rifles: 49 and 94 Columns
3rd/4th Gurkha Rifles: 40 Column
Bladetl (Blains Detachment)
Gliderborne Commando Engineers
Royal Artillery Supporting Non-Mobile Units Designed To Defend Chindit Jungle Fortresses.
R, S and U Troops 160th Field Regt (All 25 Pdrs)
W,X,Y, and Z Troops 69th Light Anti Aircraft Regt. (40mm Bofors / 12.5 Mm Hispano Guns)
No 1 Air Commando Usaf -Strike and Casualty Evacuation (Until 1/5/1944 Only)
Eastern Air Command - Supply
U. S Army 900th Field Unit (Engineers)
The column was the main unit and all operations were column biased - the column was referred to literally, because all personnel moved through the jungle in single file - a tactic to be copied 20 years later. Each column was essentially of company strength. The unit as a whole was supported by about 1,000 mules.
Each column had 4 rifle platoons, 1 heavy weapons platoon ( 2 Vickers mmg, 2 - 3 inch mortar, 1 flame thrower, 2 piats ), 1 commando platoon ( demolition and booby trap skills ) and 1 recce platoon with a British officer and Burma rifles ( Karen and Kachin tribesmen ).
© Copyright 1998 by Rolfe Hedges
The Badge of this unit was a golden Burmese Dragon (a Chinthern Pagoda Guardian) on a blue circular background.
The Chindits were first in action in Japanese occupied Burma as long range penetration troops led by their Commander Maj/Gen Orde C Wingate (DSO).
There second expedition was as part of the ""Fourteenth Army"" but made history by being the first troops in Burma to invade by glider and parachute, this took place in the Chindwin area of Burma, by destroying railway lines and harassing the Japanese they caused havoc throughout the area, in the later stages they were seconded to Gen Joe Stillwell's American Chinese Forces and suffered further casualties, they were eventually withdrawn and returned to India where they were disbanded.
They were commanded by Maj/Gen Orde C Wingate (DSO) and later by Maj/Gen WDA Lentaigne.