20 Jan 2016
Our first speaker of 2016 was Dylan D'Arch (SMHS) whose talk entitled The Chindits: Operation Longcloth 1942-1943 enlightened fellow members on a WW2 Campaign with which many were less familiar.
The Chindits were a 'Special Force' operating in the WW2 Burma Campaign. Under the command of Major General Orde C. Wingate they used guerrilla warfare with long range penetration behind enemy lines in an attempt to slow or halt the Japanese advance.
Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief India Command had specifically requested Wingate to head up the force, Wingate was, by reputation, a ruthless eccentric.
The Operation saw a diverse group (13th Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment, 142 Commando, 3rd Battalion 2nd Ghurkha Rifles, 2nd Battalion The Burma Rifles) some experienced but old, others young and inexperienced, pitted against the Imperial Japanese Army. The Japanese were used to hardship and the jungle conditions. They believed in fight to the death and treated those who surrendered with nothing but cruelty. The Japanese saw opportunity in Burma to obtain valuable resources such as oil, teak and foodstuffs.
The Chindits were wholly reliant on air support. Bombers could be called in by radio when the enemy was located but more importantly air drops of ammunition, food and supplies were vital to the advance. They marched in columns with mules carrying equipment on a ration of about half the calories they required per day. The men became malnourished, infested by mites, lice and leeches; dysentery and malaria were rife. The jungle was dense, the heat intense and progress was slow; men were left where they fell or taken to local villages when unfit to go on. When they encountered the enemy they would disperse, then regroup and continue. Tasked with disrupting transport and communications, some columns were able to use demolition charges on railways, intended telegraph targets were found not to exist.
The Chindits marched for weeks, crossing rivers, their numbers ever decreasing until eventually the order was given to turn back. Of the 3000 Chindits who set out, only 2182 returned, only 600 of these men would be fit for further service. They had marched between 1000 and 1500 miles of jungle terrain in the most difficult conditions.
The Chindits had managed to disrupt the railway, if only for a few weeks, and achieved limited kills of the enemy but the greatest outcome of Operation Longcloth was to morale, the Allies were a match for the Japanese and could go on to achieve victory in the jungle.
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