Operation Thursday

This was the British second ‘Chindit’ (long-range penetration) raid deep into Japanese-occupied Burma (5 March/12 August 1944).

Although many British officers in India had levelled criticism at the effectiveness of the ‘Longcloth’ first expedition (the halting of Japanese railway communications in the Chindits’ operational area had lasted for less than one week, for example), the operation had nonetheless raised the morale of the Allied troops in India, and the Chindits received much publicity. On returning to India after ‘Longcloth’, Brigadier O. C. Wingate wrote a report about the operation, and this was controversial for many reasons including its steady exculpation of any mistakes made by Wingate himself, and attacks on some of Wingate’s subordinates, the latter often based on limited information. Through the agency of some of Wingate’s political supporters in London, however, a copy of the report reached Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was impressed and took Wingate with him to the ‘Quadrant’ conference in Quebec, where one of the conference’s decisions was the provision of a full air task force for the support of a second expedition.

Much of the air transport and other support available for the second operation was thus provided by Colonel Philip G. Cochran’s US 5318th Air Unit of Major General Howard C. Davidson’s US 10th AAF. This unit was redesignated as the Provisional Composite No. 1 Air Commando, and later as the 1st Air Commando Group, and comprised mostly Douglas C-47 Skytrain (known to the British and Dakota) transport aircraft, but also included gliders, fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers and liaison aircraft.

At this time the US Army also began to plan its own long-range penetration group that would later become best known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ but more formally designated as the US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) and commanded by Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill.

As the surviving men of Wingate’s Indian 77th Brigade used in the ‘Longcloth’ first expedition were making their way back to India, a second long-range penetration unit, the Indian 111th Brigade, was being created. This was at the instigation of Field Marshal the Lord Wavell without the knowledge of Wingate, who was still in Burma and who was also known to have a strong dislike of the Indian army, the ethnic diversity of its units, and its British officers. Wavell personally selected the commander of Indian 111th Brigade, Brigadier W. D. A. Lentaigne.

It was Wavell’s intention to use two Chindit brigades alternately during 1944: while one brigade was operating behind Japanese lines for two to three months at a time, the other would be resting in India, while training for and planning the next operation. However, Wingate returned from Quebec with authority to create and implement a considerably more ambitious plan for the second expedition with a force greatly enlarged to no fewer than six brigades. Wingate refused to use Indian army formations for this enlarged force on the grounds that their training in long-range penetration techniques would take longer and their maintenance by air would be difficult due to the varied dietary requirements of different Gurkha and Indian castes and religions. He had little option, however, but to accept the Indian 111th Brigade as well as the two Gurkha battalions of the Indian 77th Brigade. As substantial numbers of British infantry were now required, three brigades (Brigadier T. Brodie’s 14th Brigade, Brigadier B. E. Fergusson’s 16th Brigade and Brigadier L. E. C. M. Perowne’s 23rd Brigade) were made available for inclusion in the Special Force from October 1943 by breaking up Major General G. W. Symes’s experienced British 70th Division, much against the wishes of Lieutenant General W. J. Slim, commander of the British 14th Army, and other senior commanders, who wished to use the division in a conventional role. A sixth brigade was added to the force by taking Brigadier A. H. Gillmore’s 3rd (West Africa) Brigade from Major General F. S. Loftus-Tottenham’s 81st (West Africa) Division.

This larger British and commonwealth force created for the second Chindit operation was the Special Force 1, officially the Indian 3rd Division and commanded by Wingate, now promoted to major general. The expanded Chindit force was cycled through a strenuous and intensive training programme in Gwalior, and in addition to men from previous regiments, new men came also from the 2/Black Watch, Queen’s Royal Regiment, Leicestershire Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers, 2/York and Lancaster Regiment, and two regiments of Royal Artillery, three battalions of the Nigeria Regiment and more men of the Gurkha Rifles. The troops were trained in river crossing, demolitions and bivouacking. The original Chindit unit, the Indian 77th Brigade, was now commanded by another ‘Longcloth’ veteran, Brigadier J. M. Calvert, and each brigade comprised four infantry battalions, an engineer field company, a medical detachment and, in the case of the Indian 77th and 111th Brigades, a veterinary detachment. There was also a reduced version of the standard type of divisional troop arrangement, and attached troops included four troops of field artillery, four troops of light anti-aircraft artillery and one infantry battalion. The infantry strength of the Indian 3rd Division was thus greater than that of two standard infantry divisions, but the division was, of course, constituted in a lighter scale of artillery, engineer, communications and other support elements.

Wingate himself was absent for much of the training period, first at the Quebec conference and then in hospital after being infected with typhoid from drinking bad water in North Africa on his return trip.

The planning for ‘Thursday’ passed through many iterations, and the concepts under which the new Special Force would operate in 1944 differed from those of the Indian 77th Brigade in 1943. Wingate had come to the conclusion that the best operational method for his force lay in the creation behind the Japanese lines of fortified bases (‘strongholds’), from which short-range raiding columns could sortie. This change was forced on Wingate, at least in part, by the fact that the Japanese had strengthened their patrols along the Burmese frontier, making any repeat of the successful infiltration of 1943 unlikely. In an imaginative move prompted by Cochran’s assurance that his air commando group could transport both troops and supplies by glider, Wingate decided that the greater part of the Special Force would be delivered into Burma by air, greatly accelerating the force’s ability to reach the objectives which were its initial targets, and without the arduous approach march that had diminished the capability of the Indian 77th Brigade in 1943: advance units were to land by Waco CG-4 Hadrian glider on pre-selected open fields in Burma, and quickly prepare them for large-scale landings by powered transport aircraft. The lavish air support provided by Cochran and Colonel J. R. Alison, co-commanders of of the 1st Air Commando Group, proved critical to the success of the operation until its removal on 1 May to support the US and Chinese forces on the northern front.

Wingate also had plans for a general uprising of the Kachin population of northern Burma, but faced an uphill struggle about these plans with the leadership of Force 136 (an organisation set up under the aegis of the Special Operations Executive to liaise with resistance forces in Japanese-occupied countries). Force 136 was concerned that a premature uprising of the Kachins without a permanent British military presence would lead to their slaughter by the Japanese at the end of operations. Force 136 also had its own plans for a rising to be co-ordinated with the arrival of the regular army in Burma. Wingate was eventually convinced to trim his original plan for a Kachin rising. Another complication in the relationship between the the Special Force and Force 136 was Wingate’s order to Lieutenant Colonel D. C. Herring, the commander of the British-led ‘Dah’ Force of Kachin irregulars attached to the Chindits, not to co-ordinate its operations with Force 136 for what were deemed security reasons.

In the later part of 1943, planning was undertaken about the manner in which the strategy for India, as originally determined at the Quebec conference, could best be implemented. In November, the overall plan for the dry season campaign of 1944 determined by South-East Asia Command focused on the use of the Chindits in the reconquest of northern Burma. These plans were approved by the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff at the ‘Sextant’ conference in Cairo, and although other offensives in Burma were either reduced or cancelled, the offensive by the predominantly Chinese forces of Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command, complete with Chindit involvement to interdict the lines of supply nourishing Lieutenant General Shinichi Tanaka’s 18th Division, survived the cuts. The uncertainty of the overall scheme nevertheless meant that the plans and contingency thinking for the use of the Chindits was changed repeatedly to the very start of ‘Thursday’, and indeed after it.

The operational task assigned to the Chindits was to aid Stilwell’s forces as they pushed the Ledo Road through northern Burma to link with the Burma Road and thereby re-establish an overland supply route to China. This was to be achieved by the mounting of a long-range penetration into the area behind the Japanese opposing Stilwell’s forces on the northern front. It had originally been intended that Lieutenant General G. A. P. Scoones’s Indian IV Corps would attack on the central front and cross the Chindwin river to pin Japanese forces which could otherwise be used to reinforce their compatriots on the northern front. As the Japanese launched their own ‘U’ (ii) offensive on the central front, this advance did not meet its objectives, but it still meant that most Japanese forces were engaged on the central front and were not available to reinforce the 18th Division on the northern front. It is worth noting that the Japanese ‘U’ (ii) offensive on the central front resulted in further proposals and refinements of the plans for the Chindits.

On 4 February 1944, Slim and Major General George E. Stratemeyer, US commander of Eastern Air Command, issued a joint directive to Wingate, Cochran and Alison to march and fly into Indaw and from there under the command of the 14th Army carry out three objectives: firstly, to help the advance of Stilwell’s Ledo force toward Myitkyina by cutting the 18th Division’s lines of communications, harassing its rear areas and preventing its reinforcement (in effect becoming the successor to the abandoned ‘Tarzan’); secondly, to create a situation favourable to the advance of the Chinese forces in Yunnan in order to cross the Salween river and enter Burma; and thirdly, to inflict the greatest possible damage and confusion on the Japanese forces in northern Burma.

The area in which the Chindits were designed to operate lay in the great eastward bend of the Irrawaddy river between Myitkyina in the north and Katha in the south, and was part of the sector allocated by Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe’s Burma Area Army to Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi’s 15th Army. However, at the very time ‘Thursday’ was launched Mutaguchi was about to start his own ‘U’ (ii) against Imphal and Kohima, so his three main formations (Lieutenant General Masafumi Yamauchi’s 15th Division, Lieutenant General Kotoku Sato’s 31st Division and Lieutenant General Genzo Yanagida’s 33rd Division) were fully employed on the Chindwin river sector against Scoones’s Indian IV Corps of the 14th Army. There were thus only a few scattered units in the area into which the 3rd Division was inserted, the object of Wingate’s operation, as noted above, being to harass the Japanese rear areas and to establish blocks on the roads and rail lines up which the Burma Area Army could funnel reinforcements to Lieutenant General Masaki Honda’s 33rd Army facing Stilwell’s forces, so facilitating the Northern Combat Area Command’s task of taking Mogaung and Myitkyina as well as a buffer belt some 50 miles (80 km) deep to the south of these two towns.

Kawabe’s only in-theatre reserve was Major General Yoshihide Hayashi’s 24th Independent Mixed Brigade, but this was deployed in battalion packets as protection against Allied airborne assaults on the vital rail line from Tenasserim to Mandalay, so the arrival from Formosa of Lieutenant General Kaoru Takeda’s 53rd Division was a great boon to the Japanese. Mutaguchi was relying on this division as his army reserve for ‘U’ (ii), but Kawabe allocated it instead to the operations necessary to defeat ‘Thursday’.

Since the end of ‘Longcloth’, Wingate had made great improvements in his long-range penetration concept, and the 3rd Division was far better trained and prepared for operations behind the Japanese lines than the 77th Brigade had been. Wingate’s concept was that only three of his brigades should be engaged operationally at any one time, leaving the other three available as reinforcements or replacements as the situation demanded. The four infantry battalions of each brigade were each designed to move as two columns, each numbering some 400 men.

The plan for ‘Thursday’ was that the 16th Brigade should march to its operational area from Ledo, while the 77th and 111th Brigades would be airlifted, their advance parties by glider to prepare airstrips on which the balance of the brigades could be landed by transport aircraft. The 16th Brigade began its 350-mile (565-km) overland advance on 5 February 1944, avoiding the Japanese by crossing extremely difficult terrain, and Wingate hoped that the three brigades could then co-operate in the capture of the communications nexus at Indaw, together with its airfield, so that a division could be flown in to hold the area as a base for the Chindit columns roving the Japanese rear areas and wreaking havoc.

Wingate was told by Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command that he could have only the 3rd (West Africa) Brigade for the defence of Indaw, but felt that his brigades would still be able to operate effectively for periods of up to three months, after which they would be replaced by the other three brigades of the 3rd Division.

Three landing zones, codenamed ‘Piccadilly’, ‘Broadway’ and ‘Chowringhee’, had been selected for the air transport element of ‘Thursday’, which began on 5/6 March with the gliderborne delivery of the first elements of the 77th Brigade and 111th Brigade, at just the time that the 15th Army was starting to advance toward the Indian IV Corps at Imphal and Kohima. The task allocated to the 77th Brigade (of five rather than the standard four battalions) was to land at ‘Broadway’ and ‘Piccadilly’, and then to move to the south-west to cut the road and railway line at Mawlu, in the area to the north of Indaw, thereby severing the lines of communications of Lieutenant General Shinichi Tanaka’s 18th Division opposing the Northern Combat Area Command. Calvert hoped to achieve this end by using three battalions for blocks, one to protect his airstrip and one to sever the road between Bhamo and Myitkyina on the eastern side of the Irrawaddy river.

As the leading elements of Calvert’s 77th Brigade readied themselves for gliderborne delivery into ‘Piccadilly’ on the night of 5 March, last-minute aerial reconnaissance revealed the designated landing area was covered with logs, making impossible any landings. In some accounts of the incident, Wingate insisted that the operation had been betrayed and that the other landing zones would therefore be ambushed, and that to proceed would be ‘murder’. However, Slim accepted the responsibility of ordering Calvert, who was more than willing, to proceed with the operation by means of a landing at ‘Broadway’ rather than ‘Piccadilly’. While ‘Piccadilly’ had already been used for the evacuation of casualties during ‘Longcloth’ in 1943, ‘Broadway’ had been selected solely on the basis of aerial reconnaissance. Experience now revealed that it was a poor landing site , and there were many casualties in crash landings, but Calvert’s men were just able to ready the strip to accept transport aircraft on the following day.

It was later learned that the logs on ‘Piccadilly’ were not Japanese obstructions, but had been placed there to dry by Burmese teak loggers. The real problem was the failure to maintain any form of continuous observation of the landing zones, by photo-reconnaissance aircraft, before the launch of the operation.

The fly-in was beset by several problems, but in the four-day delivery operation some 12,000 men and 3,000 mules of the 77th and 111th Brigades were landed, together with supplies and single troops of field and light anti-aircraft artillery. On 6/7 March the first wave of the 111th Brigade began to arrive at ‘Chowringee’ to the south-east of Indaw, but Lentaigne soon discovered that this strip was potentially vulnerable to air and ground attack, and the rest of the 111th Brigade was landed at ‘Broadway’ before setting off to the south across the Irrawaddy river. Only part of the 111th Brigade managed to cross before Japanese interference led Wingate to the decision that Lentaigne should operate with a depleted brigade while Calvert took over those units still to the north of the Irrawaddy river. By this time Calvert had placed an extremely strong block, complete with extensive defences, across the rail line just to the north of Mawlu at ‘White City’.

Lentaigne was now operating to the south of Indaw with a view to preventing the arrival of Japanese reinforcements before Fergusson’s 16th Brigade arrived for the assault on Indaw. However, Lentaigne was too late to prevent the 24th Independent Mixed Brigade delivering three battalions to Indaw by 21 March, supplementing the 4th Regiment, and the attack by Fergusson’s brigade on 26 March was repulsed. Fergusson fell back toward his airstrip at ‘Aberdeen’, and though Lentaigne finally managed to cut rail communications to Indaw from the south, Hyashi had succeeded in reinforcing Indaw to a total of nine battalions with the aid of units from the 18th Division and 56th Division. The situation for the Japanese was nonetheless serious, and Kawabe considered instructing Mutaguchi to terminate ‘U’ (ii) because of the danger to the 15th Army’s communications, though the local Japanese commander persuaded his superior that this was unnecessary.

The Japanese effort was now directed at ‘Broadway’ and ‘White City’, the Chindits’ main airstrips and strongholds behind the Japanese lines. But Wingate had realised that such an event was all too likely, and had dictated that the defence of the strongholds would be best ensured by the use of powerful static forces (the garrison of ‘Broadway’ included field artillery, anti-aircraft guns and even, for a short period, Supermarine Spitfire fighters) supported by ‘floater’ units. The latter patrolled round the base, warned of Japanese attacks and then counterattacked the flanks or rear of the Japanese as they assaulted the stronghold. Japanese ground attacks on ‘Broadway’ and ‘White City’ were beaten off, as were attacks by the warplanes of Lieutenant General Noburo Tazoe’s 5th Air Division, but the Japanese were now using 11 battalions against the Chindits, including one diverted from the 33rd Division.

Even so, the threat at Imphal and Kohima was developing against the British, and Slim was faced with the need for air-transportable and jungle-trained reinforcements for Imphal. The theatre’s only such units were the three uncommitted brigades of the 3rd Division, and Slim finally decided that while his 14th Army would take Perowne’s 23rd Brigade as the left-flank guard for Lieutenant General M. G. N. Stopford’s Indian XXXIII Corps as it advanced from the Brahmaputra river valley toward Imphal and Kohima, Wingate would be able to keep Brodie’s 14th Brigade and Gillmore’s 3rd (West Africa) Brigade for operations in central Burma, which Wingate believed were progressing satisfactorily, especially as these two brigades started their fly-in to ‘Aberdeen’ on 23/24 March, and as the 77th Brigade had under Calvert’s energetic leadership taken Mawlu and a mass of useful intelligence information.

There was extremely fierce jungle fighting around ‘Broadway’ and ‘White City’. At times, British and Japanese troops were in close combat, the British using their bayonets and the Gurkhas their kukris against the bayonets and swords of the Japanese. On 27 March, after days of aircraft attack, the Japanese attacked ‘Broadway’ for several nights before the attack was finally defeated after artillery had been flown in, and with the aid of locally recruited Kachin irregulars.

However, as noted above, there was a setback when Fergusson’s brigade tried to take Indaw on 24 March. The original plan had been to seize the town and its airfields on 15 March, but Fergusson had to report that this was impossible. Wingate appeared ready to change the brigade’s task, but on 20 March he reinstated Indaw as the target. (It is possible that Wingate had revived at short notice the ‘Tarzan’ plan by which Major General C. E. N. Lomax’s Indian 26th Infantry Division was to be flown into the captured airfields, even though this division was in fact already heavily engaged in the Arakan region.) The brigade was already exhausted from its long march, and there was no time to undertake a full reconnaissance of the objective. Moreover, the Japanese controlled the only sources of fresh water in the area. Fergusson expected that the 14th Brigade would co-operate in the attack, but instead this moved to the west. Japanese reinforcements had also moved into Indaw, which was a major road and rail centre, and Fergusson’s battalions, attacking individually, were each repulsed. After this, most of the exhausted 16th Brigade was evacuated by air.

On 24 March, Wingate flew to Imphal to confer with air force commanders. On the return journey, the USAAF North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber in which he was flying is believed to have flown into a thunderstorm and crashed in the jungle-covered mountains, killing all those on board: with Wingate died much of the 3rd Division’s forward planning and forceful leadership, especially in promoting the Chindit concept to sceptical higher commanders. After conferring with Brigadier D. Tulloch, Wingate’s chief-of-staff, Slim selected Lentaigne as Wingate’s replacement on the basis that Lentaigne was the most balanced and experienced commander in the force, had been an instructor at the Staff College at Quetta, had led a Gurkha battalion with distinction during the gruelling retreat from Burma in 1942, and had commanded a Chindit brigade in the field (albeit for only a few weeks, but none of the other brigade commanders had more experience). As a Gurkha officer, Lentaigne had a similar outlook and background to Slim, whereas the other brigade commanders were unknown quantities and in general without staff qualifications, and some of them had not commanded a unit of even battalion size in combat before 1944. Moreover, Wingate’s staff officers lacked the necessary combat experience.

Slim ignored complaints from within the Chindit organisation that Lentaigne was an outsider in Wingate’s force and had, moreover, been critical of Wingate’s methods and techniques. In this respect Lentaigne faced opposition from several of the brigade commanders and a number of staff officers. Wingate had disliked Lentaigne because he had been selected by Wavell without Wingate’s approval. It is in all probability true that no one could have been a wholly adequate replacement for Wingate, who had ensured the continued existence of the Special Force outside the normal army command structure through the exploitation of political connections, and no successor could have had comparable connections. The other dilemma faced by any successor was that he faced constant ‘second guessing’ by those who thought they knew exactly what Wingate would have done in any particular situation. The same officers who would go to extraordinary lengths to justify even the most flawed decisions by Wingate, and attacked Lentaigne whenever an opportunity presented itself.

At much this same time, several major changes were made at a higher level. Much of the air support was diverted to the critical battles of Imphal and Kohima, where large numbers of troops were cut off and could be resupplied only by air. Perowne’s 23rd Brigade, which yet to be delivered into the Chindits’ operational area, was also despatched to Kohima. Those Chindits already operating in Burma were formally subordinated to Stilwell, who ordered the Chindits to abandon their dispersed operations around Indaw, and concentrate their efforts on the interdiction of the Japanese lines of communication to the forces facing his Northern Combat Area Command.

At the beginning of April, therefore, Lentaigne had five somewhat depleted and scattered brigades under command, while Hyashi had the equivalent of one full division with heavier weapons than the Chindits, but without the level of air support available to the Chindits. Hyashi now decided to eliminate ‘White City’ in an attack launched on 5 April. Exceptionally severe fighting followed until 17 April, and though the 24th Independent Mixed Brigade suffered very heavy casualties it failed to wrest ‘White City’ from the 77th Brigade reinforced by the 3rd (West Africa) Brigade, despite the fact that the Japanese had deployed the equivalent of one division against four British, one Gurkha and two Nigerian battalions. The exhausted Japanese were forced to pull back to Indaw on 18 April.

While Hyashi’s main effort had been devoted to ‘White City’, the other brigades of the 3rd Division had been running fairly rampant throughout the Chindits’ operational area, the 111th Brigade destroying Japanese supply dumps near Banmauk, the 14th Brigade blowing the main railway bridge in the Bonchaung Gorge as well as destroying 21 dumps and cutting the rail line in the area to the south of Indaw in 16 places, and the 16th Brigade taking the airfield to the west of Indaw. The overall effect of these Chindit activities on the progress of ‘U’ (ii) was considerable, for the lines of communication to the 31st Division in front of Kohima and to the 15th Division in front of Imphal were totally destroyed. Further success was enjoyed in the area to the east of the Irrawaddy river by the Gurkhas of ‘Morris’ Force, which completely disrupted Japanese communications between Bhamo and Myitkyina. By the end of April the Chindits were clearly dominant in their operations, and were playing a useful part in aiding the Northern Combat Area Command while hindering the activities of the 15th Army.

As noted above, it was at this point that Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command imposed a change of operational plan on the 3rd Division, which had thus to abandon its efforts against the Japanese lines of communication and to assist the Northern Combat Area Command more directly in the capture of Mogaung and Myitkyina. It was planned that these two objectives be attained before the advent of the monsoon, so ‘Aberdeen’, ‘Broadway’ and ‘White City’ were abandoned as the 3rd Division was ordered to shift its attentions to the north, where the main body of the 111th Brigade (commanded by Major J. H. Masters, previously the brigade major, as Morris, the notional commander since Lentaigne’s elevation to divisional command, was absent with ‘Morris’ Force) was to block the rail line and main road to Mogaung and Myitkyina at ‘Blackpool’, with a new base between Hopin and Taungni, some 30 miles (50 km) to the south of Mogaung, with the 77th Brigade providing an eastern flank guard while the 14th Brigade and 3rd (West Africa) Brigade covered the western flank. Calvert was opposed to this, as his brigade had successfully held its current pair of strongholds for months. Stilwell also feared that the abandonment of ‘White City’ would allow Japanese reinforcements to move north. Lentaigne insisted that the Chindit brigades were too far apart to support each other, however, and that it would be difficult to use aircraft at ‘White City’ and ‘Broadway’ during the monsoon.

The 16th Brigade, now in very poor condition after its long approach march from Ledo and then its period of sustained operations, was flown out of the Chindits’ operational area back to India.

Lentaigne’s plan did not work, for ‘Blackpool’ was an inadequate site for the block, which the 111th Brigade was in any event neither trained nor equipped to construct. Masters’s force established ‘Blackpool’ on 7/8 May and was almost immediately involved in fierce fighting. Whereas ‘White City’ had been deep in the Japanese rear, its defenders had been afforded considerable time in which to prepare their defences, and its attackers had been heterogeneous detachments from several formations, ‘Blackpool’ lay close to the Japanese northern front, and was immediately attacked by Japanese troops with heavy artillery support. As Calvert and Stilwell had feared, the abandonment of ‘White City’ had made it possible for Takeda’s 53rd Division to move from Indaw to the north. A heavy attack on ‘Blackpool’ was repulsed on 17 May, but a second attack on 24 May captured vital positions inside the defences. Because the monsoon had started and heavy rain now made movement in the jungle even more difficult than in the dry season, neither Calvert’s 111th Brigade nor Brodie’s 14th Brigade could help Masters: the 77th Brigade was unable to assist as it was separated from ‘Blackpool’ by the flooded Namyin river, and the 3rd (West Africa) Brigade was tied down at Lake Indawgyi, where the Chindits’ increasing number of sick and wounded were being evacuated by flying boat. Finally, Masters had to abandon ‘Blackpool’ on 25 May as his men were exhausted after 17 days of continual combat. Some 19 of the men, who were so badly injured as to be beyond hope of recovery and could not be moved, were shot by the medical orderlies and hidden in heavy stands of bamboo.

The fall of ‘Blackpool’ was a severe blow to the Allies, for on 17 May the leading elements of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) and a regiment of the Chinese New 30th Division had seized Myitkyina airfield as the first part of their attack on this strategically sited town. Now Japanese reinforcements, in the form of the fresh 53rd Division, could flood to the north unimpeded from Indaw to bolster the Myitkyina garrison and the 18th Division at Kamaing, where Tanaka’s division was hard pressed by the Chinese New 22nd and 38th Divisions.

It was on 17 May that Slim formally transferred control of the Chindits to Stilwell, who demanded that the Chindits capture several well-defended Japanese positions. The Chindits had neither armour nor artillery support, and this resulted in a casualty rate considerably greater than it had been before this time. Some have seen these operations as an abuse on the Chindits’ capabilities, but it has also been averred that if the Chindits were unable carry out such operations their overall utility would have been called into question. Moreover, given Wingate’s lack of concern about he casualty rate in the ‘Longcloth’ first Chindit operation, it is difficult to suggest that the losses in these battles were inconsistent with his methods.

The 14th Brigade and 3rd (West Africa) Brigade were effectively out of action in the malarial hotbed around Lake Indawgyi, and the 111th Brigade was in poor state after the ‘Blackpool’ fighting, so the only available Chindit unit for the support of Stilwell’s forces was the 77th Brigade. Calvert was thus ordered to take Mogaung at any cost while some 30,000 Chinese reinforcements were flown into Myitkyina airfield in order that Stilwell’s forces could take the town (together with its road, rail and river communications), which the 33rd Army had reinforced with some 3,000 men of the 56th Division led by Major General Genzu Mizukami, the division’s infantry group commander. Outnumbered some 15/1, Mizukami faced an extraordinarily difficult task, and his defence of Myitkyina must be seen as one of the most notable such actions of World War II, for the Japanese defence lasted 76 days. The 33rd Army was allocated the newly arrived 53rd Division which, with little opposition at Indaw and ‘White City’, was ordered move to the north for the relief of Myitkyina.

However, this formation was still not within striking distance of Myitkyina when Calvert launched his 77th Brigade’s assault on Mogaung with some preliminary operations at the beginning of June, and Honda immediately ordered Takeda to hold Mogaung, initially with the 128th Regiment. Unaware of the relative weakness of the Japanese defence, Calvert had decided on a systematic approach through the outlying villages in an effort to mitigate casualties to his decimated brigade, and to give time for the Chinese New 22nd and 38th Divisions to arrive after defeating the 3,000-strong detachment of the 18th Division at Kamaing on 16 June. By 12 June the 77th Brigade numbered a mere 550 effectives. With only small numbers of Chinese reinforcements arriving at a time when his exhausted men were falling rapidly to a number of illnesses, Calvert decided on an all-out effort from 23 June, and Mogaung finally fell on 26 June as the last Japanese pulled out to the south-west. Calvert was now down to 300 fit men, having suffered the loss of some 950 casualties and 150 taken ill since 17 May.

Over the period from 6 June to 27 June, as it took Mogaung, Calvert’s 77th Brigade had suffered 800 casualties, representing 50% of the brigade’s men involved in the operation. Fearing that his brigade would then be ordered to join the siege of Myitkyina, Calvert handed Mogaung over to the Chinese troops of Force ‘X’, ceased radio communications and retreated to Kamaing, where Stilwell had his headquarters. A court martial seemed likely until Stilwell and Calvert met in person, and the US commander finally appreciated the conditions under which the Chindits had been operating. It was clear that the shattered brigade had to be withdrawn, and the 111th Brigade was also evacuated after a final successful action at Padiga.

After it had rested for a short time, the 111th Brigade was ordered to capture Point 2171, a hill which it took at the point of the utmost exhaustion. Most of the men were suffering from malaria, dysentery and malnutrition. On 8 July, at the insistence of Mountbatten, doctors examined the brigade: of the 2,200 men present from 4.5 battalions, only 119 were declared fit. The brigade was evacuated, although Masters kept the fit men, sarcastically named ‘111 Company’, in the field until 1 August.

There remained the 14th Brigade and 3rd (West Africa) Brigade, and these were in action at Taungni and Sahmaw until 12 August, when they too were flown out.

That part of the 111th Brigade operating to the east of the Irrawaddy river, and amounting to some 1.5 battalions, was known as ‘Morris’ Force, after its commander, Lieutenant Colonel J. R. Morris. ‘Morris’ Force had spent several months harassing Japanese traffic on the route linking Bhamo and Myitkyina, and then tried to complete the encirclement of Myitkyina. Stilwell was angered that ‘Morris’ Force was unable to achieve this, but Slim pointed out that Stilwell’s 5,500 Chinese troops had also failed to do so. By 14 July, ‘Morris’ Force was down to a strength of just three platoons, and one week later had a mere 25 men still fit for duty. ‘Morris’ Force was evacuated about the same time as the 77th Brigade.

Brodie’s 14th Brigade and Gillmore’s 3rd (West Africa) Brigade remained in action, assisting the advance of Major General F. W. Festing’s newly arrived British 36th Division down the ‘Railway Valley’ to the south of Mogaung. The remnants of the two brigades were finally relieved and withdrawn from 17 August. The last Chindit left Burma on 27 August 1944.

Stilwell’s forces had been reinforced by the arrival of elements of Festing’s 36th Division from 15 July, and Myitkyina finally fell on 4 August, the day after Mizukami ordered Maruyama to abandon the town with all surviving Japanese troops. Mizukami then committed suicide.

Perowne’s 23rd Brigade, which had been diverted from the ‘Thursday’ main Chindit campaign, nonetheless served as a long-range penetration unit behind the Japanese in the Battle of Kohima. From April to June 1944 the brigade covered long distances through the Naga hills, mostly in monsoon weather which made movement very difficult, and in the process made a signal contribution to the starvation of the Japanese at Kohima: this was the decisive factor in that battle. Although not engaged in major battles, the columns of the 23rd Brigade accounted for large numbers of Japanese stragglers and foragers, suffering 158 battle casualties themselves.

The Chindits had suffered heavy casualties, to the extent of 1,396 men killed and 2,434 wounded. More than half of those who arrived back in India had to be hospitalised and prescribed a special nutritional diet while they remained under medical supervision. As bad as the casualty figures may appear, those suffered by the men of the ‘Longcloth’ first Chindit expedition in 1943 were proportionally much higher.

The healthy men were sent to training camps to await new operations. However, when the army command evaluated the men and equipment required to return the Chindits to operational status, it was decided to transform the force into the core of an airborne division in India. Beyond direct replacements, it was known that the British element of the Chindits would be decimated in 1945 by the need to repatriate personnel who had served more than four years overseas. During the early months of 1945, several of the brigade headquarters and many of the veterans of the Chindit operations were re-formed into the 14th and 77th Infantry Brigades and merged into Major General R. J. Kirton’s (from 20 May Major General H. E. Pike’s) Indian 44th Airborne Division, while the force headquarters and signals units formed the core of Lieutenant General O. L. Roberts’s Indian XXXIV Corps. The Chindits were finally disbanded in February 1945.

At about the same time, the 14th Army was positioned for its final campaign in Burma, and Force 136 was prepared to launch a co-ordinated national uprising within the country. The jungle training programmes of the Indian army, innovations in air supply, and the defeat of the Japanese offensive in 1944 had created an army that was often able to do what was previously unthinkable. In overall terms, ‘Thursday’ had achieved great things, even if many of the later operations fell outside the brief Wingate had fixed for his men, and were thus undertaken with the wrong training and equipment.

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The Special Force comprised the 3rd (West Africa) Brigade, known as ‘Thunder’ with the 6/Nigeria Regiment (Nos 66 and 39 Columns), 7/Nigeria Regiment (Nos 29 and 35 Columns), 12/Nigeria Regiment (Nos 12 and 43 Columns) and the 3rd (West Africa) Field Ambulance; the British 14th Brigade, known as ‘Javelin’, with the 2/Black Watch (Nos 42 and 73 Columns), 1/Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (Nos 16 and 61 Columns), 2/York and Lancaster Regiment (Nos 65 and 84 Columns), 7/Leicestershire Regiment (Nos 47 and 74 Columns), the 54th Field Company Royal Engineers and a medical detachment; the British 16th Brigade, known as ‘Enterprise’, with the 2/The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) (Nos 21 and 22 Columns), 2/Leicestershire Regiment (Nos 17 and 71 Columns), 51/69 Field Regiment Royal Artillery (Nos 51 and 69 Columns, which were infantry columns made up of Royal Artillery personnel), 45th Reconnaissance Regiment (Nos 45 and 54 Columns, which were infantry columns made up reconnaissance units), 2nd Field Company Royal Engineers and a medical detachment), the Indian 77th Brigade, known as ‘Emphasis’, with the 1/The King’s Regiment (Liverpool) (Nos 81 and 82 Columns), 1/The Lancashire Fusiliers (Nos 20 and 50 Columns), 1/South Staffordshire Regiment (Nos 38 and 80 Columns), 3/6th Gurkha Rifles (Nos 36 and 63 Columns), 3/9th Gurkha Rifles (Nos 57 and 93 Columns), 142nd Company, Hong Kong Volunteers, a medical detachment and a veterinary detachment; the Indian 111th Brigade, known as ‘Profound’, with the 1/The Cameronians (Nos 26 and 90 Columns), 2/The King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) (Nos 41 and 46 Columns), part of the 3/4th Gurkha Rifles (No. 30 Column), a mixed Field Company Royal Engineers/Royal Indian Engineers, a medical detachment and a veterinary detachment.