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Chindits

From Academic Kids

The Chindits (Officially in 1942 77th Indian Infantry Brigade and in 1943 3rd Indian Infantry Division) were a British jungle Special Forces unit that served in Burma from 1943 until 1945 as part of the Fourteenth Army during the Burma Campaign in World War II. They were formed into long range penetration groups trained to operate from bases deep behind Japanese lines.

Contents

Beginnings

The Chindits were a brainchild of a British Brigadier General Charles Orde Wingate when he was serving under the Archibald Wavell supreme commander of the Far Eastern Theatre in India. He borrowed the name from a Burmese mythical beast Chinthé or Chinthay; Officially their name was 77th Indian Infantry Brigade. Wingate took personal charge of the training of the troops in jungles of central India.

In the Ethiopian campaign of 1940 Wingate had begun to explore the ideas that he used with the Chindits, when he created and commanded a group of Ethiopian 'patriots', known as the Gideon Force, which disrupted Italian supply lines and provided vital intelligence to British forces. The Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East in 1940 was Wavell who had only given permission for the Gideon Force for political reasons, because he had thought Wingate's idea to be too unorthodox. However given the success of the Gideon Force, he was willing to give Wingate the benefit of the doubt and have another go in Burma.

The first Chindit troops were found in 1942 in Jhansi. The majority of the Chindits were British infantry soldiers (King's Liverpool Regiment, 142 Commando Company) but they also included number of Gurkha soldiers and 2nd Burma Rifles. Wingate trained them as Long-Range Penetration units that were to be supplied through air. Usual armament was rifles, Thompson submachine guns, pistols, mortars, grenades and knives. A mule transport company carried their supplies. They were trained to move in small columns and reform into larger groups for a specific objective.

Operation Longcloth

In February 8 1943 in Operation Longcloth, 3000 Chindits, Wingate with them, begun their march into Burma. The original intent had been to use the Chindits as a part of a larger offensive but it was cancelled when the thrust along the Arakan coast faltered.

The chindits crossed the Chindwin River February 13 and faced the first Japanese troops two days later. Two columns marched to the north and received their air supply drops in the broad daylight to create an impression that they were the main attack. They even had a man impersonating a British general along them. RAF mounted air attack to Japanese targets to enforce the deception.

Five other columns, lead by one under the command of brigadier Michael Calvert, proceeded eastward. Three of them later turned north to attack Japanese garrisons but two, of Calvert and Bernard Fergusson, proceeded towards a valley with most railway connections. March 4 Calvert's column reached the valley and demolished the railway from 70 places. Fergusson arrived two days later to do the same.

Many times they could not take their wounded home; some were left with friendly Burmese villagers. Since there were no established paths in the jungle, they had to clear their own with machetes and kukris. A single RAF squadron of 6 planes supplied them by air and not all supply drops found their way to the troops.

When the major force of Chindits crossed Irrawaddy river in March 18, the Japanese already knew about them and had sent three regiments against them. First Japanese sent troops to cut their supply lines before they noticed the air drops; after that, those troops were sent against the Chindits.

On March 24 Wingate received an order to withdraw. By that time the men were exhausted and short of supplies. Back on the Irrawaddy River they abandoned nonessential supplies and either killed their mules for food or set them loose. The columns dispersed and proceeded back with their own routes and methods; one group built an airstrip in the jungle and evacuated their wounded by air, another continued to China. Fergusson's column tried to create a diversion by making false trails and camps. Others crossed the border rivers in one column or in small groups. Many were captured.

By the end of April, after the mission of three months, the rest of the Chindits had crossed the Chindwin river. They had lost a total of 818 men and only 600 of the survivors were regarded fit for further service.

US support

Although British army officers in India criticized the effectiveness of the Chindits - Japanese railway connections had been out of commission for less than a week - Winston Churchill was impressed and took Wingate with him to Quebec Conference. There they were promised support of whole air task force. US Army also began its own plans for group that would later become Merrill's Marauders.

The second Chindit brigade was called Special Force, officially 3rd Indian Infantry Division, Long Range Penetration Groups, but the nickname had already stuck. Six brigades were trained in Gwalior and organized into six brigades. In addition to men from previous regiments, new men came also from Black Watch, Queen's Royal, Leicesters, Lancashire Fusiliers and two regiments of Royal Artillery but included also three Battalions of the Nigeria Regiment and more Gurkhas. Men were trained in crossing rivers, demolitions and bivouacking. Brigadiers Calvert and Fergusson took command of two columns.

Operation Thursday

In January 1944 Japanese begun an offensive to India. In February 5 Fergusson's column of Chindits left Ledo for Burma, before the main Chindit operation, Operation Thursday.

In the beginning of March 5, when Fergusson had crossed the Chindwin River, two more Chindit brigades were flown onto landing zones in Burma, codenamed Broadway and Piccadilly, at night. Piccadilly, however, could not be used because the locals used it to dry teak logs so Calvert's 77th Brigade had to land on Broadway that had to be hurriedly cleared. The Chindit gliders landed on the third landing zone, Chowringhee, the next day. The next week 600 sorties transferred 9000 men to landing zones.

Chindit groups established heavily defended strongholds with an airstrip in easily defensible positions where they could not be harassed by artillery or armoured troops. They were again supplied and wounded relieved through air, this time mainly by US Air Force No 1 Air Commando. From these strongholds the chindits harassed Japanese communication and supply lines in northern Burma with hit-and-run tactics.

Ferocious jungle fighting ensued. At times, British and Japanese troops were in close combat, bayonets and kukris against katanas. on March 27, after days of aircraft attack, Japanese attacked Broadway for several nights before the attack was repulsed with flown-in artillery and the aid of Kachin guerrillas.

More men - total of 12.000 - were flown in. Still, when columns from Chowrinhee and Broadway met in March 20, it took them a month to establish themselves south of Indaw. Japanese also diverted more troops against them from the attacks against Imphal and Kohima. Fergusson's attempt to take Indaw from him base Aberdeen failed. In India, major part of the air support and the 6th Chindit Brigade, yet to be flown in, was diverted to defend Kohima.

After Wingate's death in an aircraft crash on March 24 1944 the command of the Chindits was handed to brigadier Lentaigne, one of the Chindit Brigade commanders known for his caution. In April he ordered the part of 111 Brigade that was west of the Irrawaddy, now commanded by John Masters, to leave their earlier outposts, move north near Hopin and to build a new stronghold, codenamed Blackpool. Fierce fighting ensued when the Japanese discovered the Chindit's position. Masters' troops had to be evacuated in March because the men were too exhausted after 17 days of continual combat. 19 Allied soldiers, who were so injured as to be beyond hope of recovery, were shot by the medic. When the rest of 111th brigade, under Fergusson, arrived in Blackpool, the Japanese attacked them before they could fortify.

In May 17th general Slim handed the control of the Chindits to US general Joseph Stilwell. Stilwell used them mainly as normal infantry (albeit without tank support), which lead to the larger casualties than before. In June 6-27 77th Brigade took Mogaung and suffered 50% casualties. When they were ordered to advance to Myitkina, commander Calvert shut down his radios and retreated to Kamaing. 111th Brigade in Blackpool had to abandon the stronghold when the Japanese took over the airstrip; they also had to shoot the wounded that could not move. The retreated to Mokso Sakan and were evacuated.

Due to the intervention of Lord Mounbatten, doctors were sent to evaluate the Chindits. At that time, most men were badly exhausted and suffered from malaria and dysentery. One column, containing four and a half battalions (2,200 men) was found to contain only 119 fit men. Mountbatten ordered Stilwell to evacuate all the wounded and the rest of the Chindits retreated. The last Chindit left Burma August 27 1944.

The end

The Chindits had lost 1396 killed and 2434 wounded. Over half had to be hospitalised with a special diet afterwards. The rest began training for the next operation but the unit was disbanded in February 1945.

Military historians disagree on the Chindits' military significance. Many think that the casualties they caused were relatively light. Others, like Sir Robert Thompson, have asserted that the idea was a sound one, they were just badly handled and used in operations for which they were not properly equipped or trained, static defence, for example. A third view is that despite the relatively insignificant losses that the Chindits were able to inflict, their propaganda value, at a time when the 14th Army was on the defensive, was a good filip to the people of India and Britain. It has been hard to reach a consensus on this issue due to the partisan nature of the discussions surrounding Wingate himself.

Order of Battle – 1st Chindit Expedition 1943

Headquarters 77th Indian Infantry Brigade

Commander Brigadier Orde Wingate
Brigadier Major Major R.B.G. Bromhead (succeeded by Major G.M. Anderson)
Staff Captain Captain H.J. Lord


No. 1 Group (Southern)

Officer Commanding (O.C.) Lt-Colonel Alexander
1 Column
2 Column


No. 2 Group (Northern)

O.C Lt-Colonel S.A. Cooke
 :3 Column
 :4 Column
 :5 Column
 :7 Column
 :8 Column


2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles

O.C. Lt-Colonel L.G. Wheeler Burma Rifles


Order of Battle – 2nd Chindit Expedition 1944

Headquarters 3rd Indian Infantry Division

Division Commander Major-General Orde.C. Wingate (succeeded by Major-General W.D.A. Lentaigne)
Deputy Commander Major-General G.W. Symes, (succeeded by Brigadier D. Tulloch)
Brigadier General Staff Brigadier D. Tulloch,( succeeded by Brigadier H.T. Alexander)
Locations of Headquarters
Rear HQ at Gwalior, Central India
Main HQ first at Imphal later at Sylhet, Assam
Launching HQ at Lalaghat
Tactical/Forward HQ, Shaduzup, Burma


Thunder 3rd West African Brigade

Officer Commanding (O.C.) Brigadier A.H. Gillmore, (succeeded by Brigadier A.H.G. Ricketts): 10 HQ column
6th Battalion Nigeria Regiment: 66 and 39 Columns
7th Battalion Nigeria Regiment: 29 and 35 Columns
12th Battalion Nigeria Regiment: 12 and 43 Columns
3rd West African Field Ambulance: Support


Javelin 14th British Infantry Brigade

O.C. Brigadier T. Brodie: 59 HQ column
2nd Battalion The Black Watch: 42 and 73 Columns
1st Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment: 16 and 61 Columns
2nd Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment: 65 and 84 Columns
7th Battalion Royal Leicestershire Regiment: 47 and 74 Columns
54th Field Company Royal Engineers & Medical Detachment:support


Enterprise 16th British Infantry Brigade

O.C. Brigadier B.E. Fergusson: 99 HQ column
2nd Battalion The Queen's Royal Regiment(West Surrey); 21 and 22 Columns
2nd Battalion Royal Leicestershire Regiment ; 17 and 71 Columns
51/69 Field Regiment Royal Artillery 51 and 69 Columns (infantry columns made up of R.A. personnell)
45th Reconnaissance Regiment ; 45 and 54 Columns (infantry columns made up recce units)
2nd Field Company Royal Engineers & Medical Detachment: support


Emphasis 77th Indian Infantry Brigade

O.C. Brigadier J.M. Calvert: 25 HQ column
3rd Battalion 6th Gurkha Rifles: 36 and 63 Columns
1st Battalion The King's Regiment (Liverpool): 81 and 82 Columns
1st Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers: 20 and 50 Columns
1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment: 38 and 80 Columns
3rd Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles: 57 and 93 Columns
142 Company Hong Kong Volunteers & Medical and veterinary detachments: support


Profound 111th Indian Infantry Brigade

O.C. Brigadier W.D.A. Lentaigne, (succeeded first by Major J. Masters and then by Brigadier Morris): 48 HQ Column
1st Battalion The Cameronians: 26 and 90 Columns
2nd Battalion The King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster): 41 and 46 Columns
3rd Battalion 4th Gurkha Rifles: 30 Column
Mixed Field Company Royal Engineers/Royal Indian Engineers & Medical and veterinary detachments: support


Morris Force

O.C. Brigadier J.R. Morris
4th Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles: 49 and 94 Columns
3rd/4th Gurkha Rifles: 40 Column


Dah Force

O.C. Lieut-Colonel D.C. Herring
Kachin levies


Bladet (Blain's Detachment)

O.C. Major Blane
Gliderborne commando engineers


Royal Artillery Supporting non-mobile units designed to defend Chindit Jungle Fortresses.

R, S and U Troops 160th Field Regiment Royal Artillery (All 25 pounders)
W,X,Y, and Z Troops 69th Light Anti Aircraft Regiment (40mm Bofors / 12.5 mm Hisoano guns)


Support Units

NO 1 Air Commando USAAF – strike and casualty evacuation (until 1/5/1944 only)
Eastern Air Command – supply
U. S.Army 900th Field Unit (engineers)


Divisional Support Troops

2nd Battalion Burma Rifles
145th Brigade Company R.A.S.C.
219th Field Park Company Royal Engineers
61st Air Supply Company R.A.S.C.

Galahad 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) US Army

1st Battalion; Red and White Combat Teams
2nd Battalion; Blue and Green Combat Teams
3rd Battalion; Khaki Orange Combat Teams
Also known as Merrill's Marauders and after being trained were transferred to General Joseph Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command and operated independently of the Chindits.


23rd Indian Infantry Brigade

O.C Brigadier Lance E.C.M. Perowne CBE: 32 HQ column
1st Battalion Essex Regiment:Columns 44, 56
2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding): Columns 33, 76
4th Battalion Border Regiment:Columns 34, 55
60th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery: Columns 60, 68 (fighting as infantry)
12th Field Company Royal Engineers & Medical Detachment: Support
This Brigade trained as a Chindit Brigade, but was removed from Special Force and used elsewhere.

References

Books

  • Chindit by Richard Rhodes James:
Hardcover 256 pages (August 1980) Publisher: J Murray; ISBN 0719537460
Paperback 224 pages (10 September, 1981) Publisher: Sphere; ISBN 0722151020
Hardcover (November 1980) Publisher: Academic Pr Canada Ltd; ASIN 0719537460
  • The Road Past Mandalay by John Masters
  • Make for the Hills an autobiography by Sir Robert Thompson, Pen & Sword Books/Leo Cooper, 1989, ISBN 0850527619

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