Fact File : Chindit Operations
February to April 1943, and February to April 1944
Theatre: South East Asia
Area: Burma (now also known as Myanmar).
Allies: 77th Indian Brigade (Chindits) under Brigadier Orde Wingate. Japan: 15th Army under General Mutagachi.
Outcome: The Chindits achieved less than their founder hoped, but nonetheless demonstrated that it was possible for Allied troops to undertake jungle warfare effectively.
'We need not, as we go forward into the conflict, suspect opportunity of withdrawing and are here because we have chosen to bear the burden and the heat of the day.' - Brigadier Orde Wingate addressing his men, 13 February 1943
'Chindits' was the name given to the Long Range Penetration (LRP) groups that operated in the Burmese jungle. They were named after the Chinthe, a mythical Burmese beast that was half-lion and half-eagle and, to Brigadier Orde Wingate, symbolised the need for close air-land co-ordination.
From early 1942, Wingate urged General Archibald Wavell (then Commander-in-Chief India) to set up groups trained in jungle warfare to strike at Japanese communications as well as at outposts. Wingate was given the 77th Indian Brigade.
Wingate was keen to test out his new troops and pushed for an early operation. Two groups, totalling around 3,200 men and 1,100 mules, crossed the River Chindwin on 14 February 1943. They then split up for a series of attacks on Japanese outposts, as well as cutting railway lines, demolishing bridges and creating road ambushes.
In March, they crossed the Irrawaddy River, but now faced a huge Japanese force of some two divisions (out of the five in Burma). They were forced to withdraw and by mid-April were back in India, having lost around a third of their troops and most of their equipment.
Although the operation had had little strategic impact, it demonstrated that British and Indian troops could operate in the jungle and showed the need for air superiority. It also proved to Mutagachi that the Chindwin was not a secure barrier, which in turn led to the pre-emptive Japanese attacks on Imphal and Kohima in 1944.
By early 1944, the Chindits had tripled in size to six brigades, Wingate had been promoted to Major General and his troops had their own air force. No. 1 Air Commando, around 11 squadrons in size, was also known as 'Cochran's Circus' after its American commander. Late 1943 and early 1944 were spent training the new troops, which included the British 70th Division and now amounted to two divisions of infantry.
The second Chindit operation was to seize Indaw and the area around it on the River Irrawaddy, around 240km (150 miles) north of Mandalay. The units would establish strongholds that would be supplied by air and engage properly with the Japanese.
The operation began badly when many of the 62 gliders used by the first group crashed on landing. However, an airstrip was built and by 13 March 1944 around 9,000 troops were deep behind Japanese lines. Furthermore, the 16th (LRP) Brigade had set off in early February to march overland from the Indian province of Assam and was also approaching Indaw.
The Japanese were initially taken by surprise, but by the end of March they had a large force assembled and destroyed most of the Spitfires operating from the airstrip. The Chindits' air cover now had to fly in from Imphal in north east India.
On 26 March, 16th Brigade attacked Indaw but was beaten back, as were attacks by the other brigades. The transformation from guerrilla action to more permanent penetration was not proving a success. In April 1944, now under the command of Major General Lentaigne following Wingate's death in a plane crash, the Chindits were ordered north to help the Chinese push into Burma.
The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.