ORDE WINGATE AND THE BRITISH ARMY, 1922-1944:
Military Thought and Practice Compared and Contrasted
Research Thesis submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Wales
SIMON JAMES ANGLIM
Major General Orde Charles Wingate (1903-1944) is one of the most controversial British military commanders of the last hundred years. This controversy stems from two broad sources: the first of these was his idiosyncratic and occasionally tempestuous personality; the second is the alleged ‘radicalism’ of his military ideas, both of which contributed to a series of feuds and acrimonies with other senior officers in the British Army. Wingate first came to the notice of his seniors when he organised the Special Night Squads, a specialist counterterrorist force comprising British soldiers and Jewish police, in Palestine in 1938; in 1940-41, he planned and commanded covert operations, in cooperation with local guerrillas, inside Italian-occupied Ethiopia; he is best remembered in the UK, however, for his command of Long Range Penetration Groups, or ‘Chindits’, in Burma in 1943-44. The Chindit operations in particular split opinion in the literature, debates in which centre upon their cost-effectiveness and their actual worth, and many imply that they marked a major departure from British military thought and practice hitherto. Some post-war authors have attempted to present Wingate as ‘ahead of his time’, a forerunner of various late twentieth and twenty-first century models of warfare. However, a survey of Wingate’s own papers – closed to the public until 1995 – and other contemporary documents and testimony, reveals an organically evolving and increasingly coherent body of military ideas consistent with the military thought and practice of the British Army in the theatres where Wingate served, that did not mark a radical departure from them until almost the end of his career. Wingate was firmly ‘of his time’, and not of any other.
First and above all, my eternal gratitude to Professor Martin Alexander for his supervision of this thesis: his support throughout has been unstinting, his advice impeccable and always constructive. But for him, this thesis may not have been completed. My thanks also to my original supervisor, Professor Colin McInnes, for suggesting some of the main themes investigated here. Credit also to their colleague Dr Peter Jackson and the anonymous consultant editors of Intelligence and National Security, whose response to a paper extracted from this thesis suggested new themes which re-directed it onto a stronger and more interesting path. Another such was the late Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker, who spent a day in August 2004 answering my questions on his acquaintance with Orde Wingate (it could never be called friendship) and his experiences with MI(R) and the Special Operations Executive; I am grateful also to the various Chindit veterans who have answered my enquiries and, along with Sir Douglas, have done so much to bring the documents to life. My thanks also to the staff at the Department of Documents of the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives at Kew, the British Library, the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives and the Churchill Archives at Cambridge, all of them unfailingly helpful. Finally, I acknowledge all those friends and colleagues who have provided me with advice, constructive criticism and opportunities to give my findings an audience: Dr William Bain, Eila Bannister, Colonel David Benest, Dr Tim Benbow, Colonel Hew Boscawen, the late Dr David Chandler, Commander Michael Codner, Professor Colin Gray, Professor Richard Holmes, Dr Matthew Hughes, Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, Dr Terry MacNamee, William F Owen, Dr Paul Rich and Colonel John Wilson.
Chapter One - Introduction
Chapter Two – The Doctrinal Background
Chapter Three – Wingate before Palestine, 1923-1936
Chapter Four – Wingate and Counterterrorism in Palestine, 1937-1939
Chapter Five – Wingate in Ethiopia, 1940-1941
Chapter Six – Wingate in Burma (1) – the Origins of the Chindits, 1942-1943
Chapter Seven – Wingate in Burma (2) – Operations Longcloth and Thursday, and the Subsequent Development of Long Range Penetration
Chapter Eight - Conclusions
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
There was a man of genius, who might well have become also a man of destiny
Much of what he preached strategically, operationally, and tactically, was flawed, and some of it was downright nonsense.
Major General Julian Thompson²
These two quotations provide but a tiny sample of opinions of Major General Orde Charles Wingate (1903 1944), a well known and controversial figure in Britain and Israel. His reputation, and popular image, stem from three episodes that occurred late in a military career beginning with his graduation from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1923 and ending with his death in 1944. The first of these was the Palestine Arab uprising of 1936 39, when Wingate, then a captain in the Royal Artillery, was authorised by two British General Officers Commanding (GOC) Palestine, General Sir Archibald Wavell and General Sir Robert Haining, to train Jewish policemen, in British organised irregular units, in his personal brand of counter insurgency. These included figures such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon. They, and, later, Ariel Sharon identified Wingate as a major influence upon Israeli military thought.³ However, he roused strong feelings even then, as he deployed Jewish units, in majority Arab inhabited areas, in pre emptive and reprisal attacks on Arab villages believed to be hiding insurgents, and used some robust methods to extract intelligence from suspected insurgents.4 The second episode began in 1940, when Wingate was summoned by Wavell, now Commander in Chief, Middle East, to take over an operation organised by G(R), an offshoot of the MI(R) covert warfare branch of the British War Office, aimed at escalating and steering guerrilla warfare in the province of Gojjam, in Italian occupied Ethiopia, in the name of the exiled Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. This Wingate attempted, with mixed results, creating and utilising ‘Gideon Force’, a purpose organised regular formation, cooperating occasionally with local tribal irregulars.5 It was after Ethiopia that Wingate began to advocate what he claimed was a new form of warfare, designated Long Range Penetration (sic), which was based upon his interpretation of his operations in Gojjam and which he argued held the key to victory against the Axis.6 In Britain, Wingate is best remembered for the third episode, his command of brigade sized Long Range Penetration Groups, light infantry units, ostensibly using ‘guerrilla’ methods, and supplied and supported by air, in two major operations deep inside Japanese occupied Burma, Operation Longcloth of February May 1943 and Operation Thursday of March August 1944. Thursday opened with two LRP brigades being inserted by air, and also featured a specialist unit of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), No.1 Air Commando, providing transport, supply by airdrop and battlefield close air support.7 What links all these episodes is Wingate’s raising and commanding specialist units intended to carry the war into areas the enemy considered under their control.
Wingate’s Long Range Penetration Groups are better remembered as the Chindits, a propaganda name derived from Wingate’s mispronunciation of Chinthey, the stone griffin figures which guard Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia.8 Wingate died in an air crash during Thursday, and much of the literature centres upon a posthumous controversy concerning whether his Chindit operations were cost effective in terms of lives lost versus objectives attained. To Wingate’s detractors, they were unsound, wasteful of lives and resources and an unnecessary diversion from the ‘real war’ and the destruction of Japanese main force units at the front: Wingate himself was a charismatic charlatan who owed his successes to his ability to cultivate friends in high places. However, among his friends and supporters, Wingate is remembered as a military genius of the highest order whose ideas played a decisive part not only in the defeat of Japan in Southeast Asia but in earlier operations in Palestine and Ethiopia also. The debate has continued since the 1950s, a particular issue being the impact of Thursday on the Japanese offensive against Imphal and Kohima in March July 1944, but the cost effectiveness of the earlier Chindit operation, Longcloth is also debated frequently. The literature in English, therefore, is dominated by differing opinions of Wingate’s Burma operations and the worth of his contributions to military thought.
The debate was codified in the 1950s, with two works, Volume III of the British Government’s Official History of the War against Japan, authored largely by the former Director of Staff Duties, India, Major General S Woodburn Kirby, and Defeat into Victory, the memoirs of the British theatre commander in Burma, Field Marshal Lord Slim.9 Both clashed bitterly with Wingate when he was alive, and both books question not only his professional abilities, but, significantly, his mental stability also.10 Wingate was, putting it mildly, ‘unusual’: he regarded the Old Testament as literal history, political tract and tactical manual, became a fanatical Zionist and Islamophobe the vehemence of this beliefs sometimes disturbing even his Jewish friends and laced his speeches with portentous, Biblical rhetoric; in an army fixated on appearance, he was often scruffy and fully bearded, and on operations, wore an old fashioned solar helmet¹¹; he ate six raw onions a day, and ordered all his officers to eat at least one¹²; he often carried out business in the nude, brushing himself with a wire brush instead of washing, sometimes during official briefings and press conferences¹³, and carried an alarm clock to time his meetings and show those around him that ‘time was passing’.14 Moreover, published sources, even by admirers, agree that Wingate was a bloody minded and disputatious individual of strong and frequently unorthodox opinions on many matters, who apparently sought out feuds and arguments, and was unafraid to ‘name and shame’ those he saw as thwarting him, including senior officers, using highly inflammatory language, in official documents.15 Yet, he could also be brittle: he attempted suicide in 1941, after the Ethiopian operation, due to a combination of depression, exhaustion and dementia arising from cerebral malaria, and the literature is full of anecdotes of tantrums, sulks and occasional physical assaults on soldiers and even subordinate officers.16 More recently, an Israeli journalist, Tom Segev, has suggested that Wingate committed atrocities during the Palestine revolt of 1936 39, a claim taken up with some enthusiasm by Israeli revisionist historians and anti Zionist websites.17 Wingate’s unusual and occasionally obtrusive personality traits cannot be dismissed as an influence upon the literature.
Wingate’s many idiosyncrasies are taken as signs of madness by his detractors, the most vituperative among the historians being Duncan Anderson and Julian Thompson.18 In reaction, several of Wingate’s friends and former subordinates, including Sir Robert Thompson, Major General Derek Tulloch and Brigadiers Michael Calvert and Peter Mead produced books in rebuttal, a process continued into the 1990s by the prolific and vociferous David Rooney.19 Consequently, the literature centres largely upon the theme of Wingate as ‘maverick’: indeed, the five biographies Leonard Mosley’s Gideon Goes to War of 1955, Christopher Sykes’ Orde Wingate of 1959, Trevor Royle’s Orde Wingate: Irregular Soldier and David Rooney’s Wingate and the Chindits: Redressing the Balance, both from 1995 and John Bierman and Colin Smith’s Fire in the Night, from 2000 all centre upon this theme, focusing upon Wingate’s idiosyncrasies and his battles with his superiors and colleagues more than discussing his military ideas or assessing his true historical significance.
Other authors have attempted to examine these, but have been hampered by two factors. The first is that Wingate’s personal papers and correspondence were guarded jealously by his sisters and his widow, Lorna, who refused all access to them until her death in 1995 following a dispute with Christopher Sykes.20 Secondly, there is the additional problem of many relevant official papers not becoming available until the 1970s or after, under the Thirty Year Rule for British Governmental papers. Consequently, those trying to analyse Wingate’s ideas before this time, such as Luigi Rossetto and Prithvi Nath, have been forced to rely upon quotations and paraphrases of these papers in Sykes, the Official History, Michael Calvert’s Prisoners of Hope and Mosley’s Gideon Goes to War, as well as anecdotal material in other memoirs.²¹ The papers, which consist of official documents authored by Wingate or pertinent to his operations from 1926 to 1944, a mixture of his official and private correspondence from the early 1920s to his death, and other material assembled by Lorna Wingate and Wingate’s friend and chief of staff, Major General Derek Tulloch, after Wingate’s death, were sold by Wingate’s son, the late Colonel Orde Jonathan Wingate, in 1995. Those relating to Wingate’s time in Palestine went to the collection of the American publisher and politician, Steve Forbes with microfilm copies being taken by the British Library and the remainder to the Imperial War Museum. While the Burma papers in the Imperial War Museum have been sifted and catalogued by Julian Thompson, those concerning Wingate’s early life and his operations in Ethiopia several hundred documents and letters remained unexamined when work on this thesis began in 2000. The Palestine Papers are readily available on microfilm at the British Library, but are also un-sifted. The Burma papers have been consulted by David Rooney and Trevor Royle, but, apparently, in only a cursory way, likewise Royle’s overview of some key files in the Public Record Office.²²
Another problem arises from Wingate’s own literary style. Wingate was a good writer with a sometimes entertainingly pungent style, and was always at pains to explain his process of reasoning in any situation. However, apart from a single, brief allusion to the British Army’s Field Service Regulations, in his Ethiopia papers, Wingate never, at any point, credited any source other than himself for his military ideas.²³ Moreover, where his papers have been consulted, by Sykes for instance, the aim has been to illustrate aspects of Wingate’s personality and opinions, rather than to ‘place’ his ideas in their historical contest or a wider conceptual framework. The Wingate literature, therefore, leans heavily upon limited interpretation of a limited range of sources.
An important gap in the existing research therefore suggests itself. This arises from a failure to utilise Wingate’s own writings in order to assess his military ideas on his own terms and in their historical and strategic context. Were this rectified, it might give further, and perhaps more accurate insight into why Wingate was such a controversial figure then and now. In order to explore this possibility, some deeper exploration of the literature is necessary, beginning with the principal works on either side of the ‘Wingate controversy’, followed by those attempting to ‘place’ Wingate in a niche within military thought and history. This examination of the literature will be followed by a discussion of the implications of following new avenues of research.
Wingate’s reputation as an issue
Just as timing played so great a part in his rise to prominence, so the moment of his death may have been propitious for him. He was killed at the height of his career and was not called upon to face the inevitable fact that his dreams and ambitions could never have been realised.
Major General S Woodburn Kirby24
The whole assessment was no more than a hatchet job by little men who could not have competed with Wingate either in military argument or in battle. Not only has it failed but it has made him such a controversial figure that his reputation will live on forever.
Sir Robert Thompson25
The theme of the British ‘military establishment’ objecting to Wingate’s military ideas ran through the literature from the beginning. Charles Rolo, an American journalist and literary critic, produced Wingate’s Phantom Army, an anecdotal narrative of Longcloth, in 1944, shortly after Wingate’s death. This work is characterized by hyperbole of the ‘they said it couldn’t be done’ variety: on Longcloth, for instance, ‘The more conventional military leaders were aghast...Wingate was an upstart, a madman. Certainly it was not "pukka war" as they or anyone else knew it’ and he later commented that: ‘Wingate’s fixity of purpose led to countless clashes with brass hats and complacent officials, outraged by his forthright methods and assaults on red tape.’26 This theme was taken up by Major General Bernard Fergusson, who commanded a Chindit column on Longcloth and a brigade on Thursday, and author of the best known of all the Chindit memoirs, Beyond the Chindwin, his account of Longcloth, published in 1945.27 Fergusson also published a memoir of Thursday, The Wild Green Earth, in 1946, which took up themes first presented at a lecture to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in March 1946, implying that Wingate’s ideas were a source of friction with certain others: ‘On the whole [Wingate] failed to convert current military thought to his belief in deep penetration. He certainly convinced his lieutenants; but deprived of his fiery leadership and teaching, I cannot hope to succeed where he failed.’28 Fergusson also felt strongly enough about the accusations evidently mounting by 1946 to include a defence of Wingate (‘Some of those who now whisper that he was not all that he was cracked up to be remind me of the mouse who has a swig of whisky, and then says: "Now show me that bloody cat"’) but, unfortunately for the historian, was not specific about what these accusations might be.29
A similar phenomenon was apparent in Prisoners of Hope, Brigadier Michael Calvert’s account of commanding 77th LRP Brigade on Operation Thursday. While most of this work is a personal narrative, Calvert included a lengthy appendix giving testimony from the postwar interrogations of senior Japanese officers on the impact of Thursday on their operations in 1944, his reasons for including this being:
Two of the most controversial aspects of the campaign in Burma were the two Wingate operations and the results they achieved. Could the thirteen British...five Gurkha and three West Africa battalions and their attendant ancillary forces, bases, and RAF and USAAF effort [which made up Wingate's forces on Thursday] have been of greater use to the Burma campaign if employed elsewhere in a more stereotyped role?30
Some forceful answers to Calvert’s questions were supplied by Kirby and Slim in the 1950s. In Volume III of the Official History, Kirby included an ‘Assessment of Wingate’ he was the only Allied commander in Southeast Asia to receive this treatment which began by attributing Wingate’s success as much to the patronage of Wavell and, later, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ‘who claimed Wingate as a genius’, as to the validity of his ideas.³¹ Moreover, ‘Whether his theories were sound or unsound, he appeared as a "doer" at a time when something desperately needed to be done [about the dire predicament the Allies faced in Southeast Asia].’³² Kirby then implied that Wingate’s success in getting his ideas put into practice owed more to force of argument and skilful self publicity than to their intrinsic merit, this leading, as he became more ambitious, to megalomania:
The way in which his ideas on the use of long range penetration forces grew in Wingate’s fertile imagination would form an interesting psychological study. From his early conception of lightly armed troops penetrating behind the enemy lines and attacking communications as part of a larger operation by conventional forces, the operations of Special Force [the Chindits] clearly became in his mind the only means by which northern Burma could be dominated. Subsequently, much increased in numbers, the force would become the spearhead of a victorious advance through southern Burma, Siam and Indo China to win the war against Japan.³³
So determined was Wingate to demonstrate this model that ‘his handling of his forces became unsound’, according to Kirby, who listed a series of perceived mistakes made by Wingate on both Chindit operations to support this claim.34 Wingate was ‘so obsessed by his theories that he forgot that victory in Burma could be achieved only by the defeat of the enemy’s main forces’ and, in his belief that lightly equipped columns could defeat the Japanese, he underestimated them as an enemy.35 However, his influence with Churchill resulted in one sixth of all British infantry in Southeast Asia being ‘locked up in LRP formations suitable only for guerilla [sic] warfare.’36 To Kirby, Wingate’s ideas represented an egregious misdirection of scarce manpower and resources, based upon shaky concepts, imposed upon the British Army in Southeast Asia largely by Churchill.
These complaints were echoed by Slim in Defeat into Victory. Slim was candid about his clashes of personality with Wingate, summarising him as a ‘strange, excitable, moody creature’ and giving the reader several opportunities to contrast Wingate’s histrionics with his own calm self assurance.37 However, the conqueror of the Japanese in Burma was critical of Wingate as military thinker also. He opened by dismissing Gideon Force which had consisted of regular troops commanded by British officers as ‘Shifta or brigands’ and by doubting whether a repeat in Burma would work ‘against a tougher enemy and in country not so actively friendly.’38 Wingate was later described as ‘strangely naive when it came to the business of actually fighting the Japanese’, an enemy who would not be scared into retreating by threats to their rear, but would have to be defeated in battle, Wingate’s forces being too small and lightly equipped to achieve this.39 This was demonstrated by Longcloth, an operation in which a thousand men failed to return from behind Japanese lines, which had ‘no immediate effect on Japanese dispositions or plans’ and provided a ‘costly schooling’ in jungle fighting and air supply: its only tangible value was as propaganda and a slight rise in British confidence in fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma.40 However, Wingate would not accept this and – two ranks subordinate to Slim - repeatedly threatened to report Slim to Churchill.41
In his chapter on ‘lessons learned’, Slim berated the plethora of special forces formed by the British in the Second World War, claiming that ‘Any well trained infantry battalion should be able to do what a commando can do; [in Burma] they could and did’ and arguing that special operations in future should be limited to small parties carrying out sabotage, subversion and assassination, on the lines of the Special Operations Executive (SOE): ‘Private armies...are expensive, wasteful and unnecessary’, a drain on manpower leeching the best personnel away from units having to fight the enemy’s main armies in battle.42 Kirby and Slim agreed broadly, therefore, that Wingate foisted an ‘unsound’ form of warfare upon British forces in Southeast Asia principally via the patronage of high level figures, and a degree of bitterness over this is apparent from both their works. Slim also demonstrated animosity towards ‘special forces’ in general, as a drain and diversion from forces intended to destroy the enemy’s main armies in battle.
By this time, the late 1950s, literature had been published suggesting that Wingate had been courting controversy ever since his time in Palestine, in particular, Wingate’s Phantom Army by Wilfred Burchett (1946) and Gideon goes to War by Leonard Mosley. Burchett’s politics must be considered in any reading of Wingate’s Phantom Army: a journalist and a lifelong Marxist, Burchett spent most of the 1950s and 60s in North Korea and North Vietnam, and was effectively exiled from his native Australia, as a traitor, for tricking Australian prisoners into participating in communist propaganda through a combination of blackmail and posing as a journalist conducting ‘interviews’ wherein they were induced into condemning their government or confessing to ‘war crimes’; he was a lifelong apologist for the communist regimes in North Korea and Bulgaria.43 Burchett portrayed Wingate as a kindred spirit, anti imperialist and anti British, and added to the existing controversy the suggestion that Wingate’s politics were not only a major cause of friction with his colleagues, but lay at the heart of a quasi revolutionary mission which framed his military operations. In Palestine, Burchett alleged, Wingate almost single handedly turned the tide of the Arab revolt, against obstruction from an anti-Semitic British High Command. Later, Wingate saved Haile Selassie and Ethiopia from attempts upon them by ‘international sharks...racketeers and stock market strategists’ firstly through encouraging the Emperor to appeal directly to ‘the people of England, America and China’ and, secondly, by seizing and transforming previously half hearted and inept British attempts to stimulate guerrilla warfare in Ethiopia.44
Mosley also presented a Wingate at odds with the rest of the British Army: he had Wingate dismiss General Headquarters, Jerusalem, as ‘a gang of anti Jews’, and implied that the passivity of timid Jewish politicians and the Islamophilia of the British was condemning Jewish settlers on the frontiers of Palestine, ‘with nothing but a few rook rifles per settlement’ to massacre until Wingate galvanised them onto the offensive and shamed the British authorities into supporting them.45 Also echoing Burchett, Mosley portrayed Wingate as rescuing Haile Selassie from a British colonial establishment which half welcomed the Italian occupation of Ethiopia and treated him with supercilious dismissiveness until Wingate launched an assault upon the staff in Khartoum.46 The implication of both these works is that Wingate was a maverick and an ‘outsider’, fighting the ‘establishment’ from the early days of his career.
That the ‘establishment’ might be extracting retribution via the published record was argued in the 1960s and 70s by Tulloch, Mead and Thompson. Derek Tulloch had been a close friend of Wingate since their time at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1920 22, and served as his Brigadier, General Staff (Chief of Staff) on Thursday. Tulloch had been consulted by the authors of the Official History, and, according to Mead, was growingly disturbed by its tone, particularly after Kirby became involved.47 He had in his possession a large body of Wingate’s official papers now added to those in the Imperial War Museum and in 1972 produced his own account of Wingate in Burma, Wingate in Peace and War, based on these. That Tulloch was writing to defend a departed friend must be considered in reading this work, which revolves partially around an alleged conspiracy to cancel Thursday, instigated by the Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who allegedly preferred amphibious attacks directed at Singapore and Sumatra.48 Once Thursday was launched, Tulloch claimed, Wingate planned to divert Chindit columns away from their initial mission, which was to support Chinese forces under the American General, Joseph Stilwell, advancing into central Burma in an attempt to restore land communications with China, and redirect them towards attacking the communications of the Japanese 15th Army, then engaged in its offensive against Imphal and Kohima, in what Tulloch called Wingate’s ‘Plan B.’49 Tulloch therefore developed one major existing theme, the notion of ‘Wingate versus the establishment’ and suggested a new one, that his military prescience may have impacted upon the decisive battle of the Burma campaign.
In 1972, Tulloch asked Peter Mead to assist him with research and ‘advise what more could be done to correct the Official History’s assessment of Wingate.’50 Mead was a Royal Artillery officer who had served with Tulloch on Wingate’s staff on Thursday, and later transferred to the Army Air Corps, finishing his career in 1964 as its Director, with the rank of brigadier. After Tulloch’s death in 1974, Mead continued his task of rebutting the Official History’s perceived calumnies against Wingate, and produced Orde Wingate and the Historians in 1987. As the title implies, this work was the first published historiography of Wingate, but much of it is a deliberate counterblast against the Official History. Upon reading the latter work in the 1970s, Mead dedicated himself ‘to unbend[ing] a piece of bent history.’51 The central theme of Mead’s work was the existence of an official anti Wingate ‘line to take’ originating shortly after Wingate’s death. Mead presented extensive evidence for this, but much of it was anecdotal, circumstantial and uncorroborated: for instance, Mead presented a story told him by Calvert, that Calvert had discovered in the War Office the minutes of a high level meeting where it was decided ‘to discourage future officer intake [sic] from modeling themselves on Wingate’, because Wingate was ‘a divisive influence in the Army’, and also what he interpreted as derogatory comments made about the Chindit operations in Sandhurst and British Army Staff College training literature.52 Mead’s overview of the existing literature was thorough but slanted, with anything less than hagiography being viewed as under the influence of the ‘conspiracy’, even the broadly sympathetic, but balanced, works by Sykes and Shelford Bidwell.53 However, alongside this was some interesting original research, in which Mead demonstrated from documentary evidence that some senior officers were, indeed, obtuse and resistant about Wingate’s ideas and also discovered the testimony of certain Japanese senior officers to the impact of Thursday upon their Imphal-Kohima offensive, apparently available to Kirby and his co authors and, apparently, ignored by them.54 The principal value of Mead’s work, therefore, was in presenting the first historiography of the Wingate controversy and in presenting some new documentary evidence, albeit limited.
To further the aim of ‘restoring’ Wingate’s reputation, Mead enlisted the support of perhaps Wingate’s highest placed and most powerful posthumous supporter Sir Robert Thompson. Thompson served throughout the Second World War with the Royal Air Force (RAF), including as an air liaison and forward observation officer on both Chindit operations and later became a globally respected expert on counterinsurgency, in which capacity he advised the administration in Malaya during the communist guerrilla insurgency of 1948 60 and the Nixon White House in the latter stages of the Vietnam War; his Defeating Communist Insurgency is still regarded as a seminal work in this field.55 Although he had written the foreword to Tulloch’s book, Thompson did not, apparently, read the Official History until 1977, at Mead’s suggestion. After doing so, he accepted Mead’s argument that official recognition and, by implication, correction of perceived inaccuracies in the Official History would be the only means of settling the controversy. They subsequently presented the Cabinet Office with a suggested appendix, drafted by Mead, pointing out the alleged errors in the Official History and referring the reader to Sykes, Tulloch or Mead for guidance: their request that this be pasted into all copies of Volume III of the Official History has yet to be granted.56 Thompson, thereafter, was an outspoken defender of Wingate in print and on television, and his memoirs, Make For the Hills, published in 1989, contained five chapters, nearly a quarter of the book, devoted to the Chindit operations and an extended assessment of Wingate. Thompson claimed that Wingate was first to realise that air supply could grant British forces superior relative mobility to the Japanese in the jungle and also, more contentiously, that he advocated close air support of troops fighting on the ground in the face of some apparent resistance from the RAF. He also claimed that Wingate was alone in advocating an overland offensive into northern Burma from India. Thompson’s core argument was that resentment against Wingate, culminating in the ‘hatchet job’ of the Official History, came largely in reaction to Wingate’s uncompromising and unsettling personality and the radicalism of his military ideas, which others in India simply did not understand.57 Thompson was unequivocal about Wingate’s historical significance: after presenting his assessment of the Chindit contribution to Imphal and Kohima that it was a key factor in the Japanese defeat, and might have been greater, with more resources Thompson commented that every time he saw the photograph of Slim and his Corps Commanders being knighted on the field of Imphal after the battle, ‘I see the ghost of Wingate present. He was unquestionably one of the great men of the century.’58 Thompson’s Wingate was, therefore, a misunderstood hero maligned by military Luddites.
A central message conveyed by several key works in the literature, then, is that Wingate aroused such strong feelings during his lifetime that some of the disputes he engaged in continued decades after his death. Numerous authors portray Wingate taking on a perceived ‘military establishment’, which, by the 1960s, was personified by S Woodburn Kirby, although Wingate’s clashes with authority apparently began years before they met. Moreover, this ‘establishment’s’ principal objection to Wingate was that he presented new forms of warfare challenging accepted ideas, a view confirmed, apparently, by Kirby and Slim. It follows from this that investigating the nature of those ideas might provide some indication of why Wingate was such a controversial figure: however, there appears to be disagreement among the few investigating them.
Previous work on Wingate’s military ideas
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