The Chindits of Burma 

A Walk on the Wild Side, A Step into the Unknown,

A tale that includes the longest successful,

large scale, Airborne Operation of World War II

By F. E. Gerrard - formerly 84 Column - 2nd Battalion The York and Lancaster Regt

© F. E. Gerrard July 2001

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Permission is hereby given to reproduce this work and information contained herein for the purpose of research, education and for the personal use of ex–Chindits including their kith and kin, provided the originator is duly acknowledged.

The following is a condensed account of the Chindit operation of 1943/44. Should a more detailed account be required then one should consult your local library, or old bookstore.



When reading the following the reader should realise that in the year 1944 very few of the facilities and every day goods that are taken for granted in the year 2000 were available, or had even been invented then. For instance:

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Back in 1942, the Japanese Army was chasing the retreating British Army out of Burma and over the Chindwin River to India. The Commander in Chief of India, Gen. Archibald Wavell, wanting fresh ideas, sent for a very eccentric RA Officer named Lt Col Orde Wingate, who had specialised knowledge of guerrilla warfare in Palestine (Israel) and Ethiopia. The army in the Far East (with a few exceptions) at that time seemed to be only equipped and capable of ceremonial and police duties, the jungle being the place where the hero’s of adventure stories went, but not the Army. Wingate moved into Burma, getting the layout of the land, travelled with the retreating Army, and met a Major Calvert of the Bush Warfare School who also had similar ideas to his own. Returning to Delhi he then wrote up and submitted his plan to Wavell who eventually approved his plan, promoted him to the rank of Brigadier, and gave him the 77th Indian Brigade to train and execute his plan.

This was the beginning of the Special Forces later to be known as the CHINDITS

The Chindits comprised up to 500 troops, organised into Columns so that they could move on foot along jungle paths and penetrate far behind the enemies front line (100 miles plus) to attack lines of communication and ambush enemy troops. Whilst these Columns consisted mainly of infantry they also included other complementary troops, the largest of whom were the R.E.’s (with a platoon), they also included medics, signals, Burma Rifles and RAF personnel. All ranks were required to carry their own rations, weapons and necessary survival gear (60-70 lbs. - circa 30kg) with further supplies being dropped by air when circumstances permitted. Mules were provided for carrying heavy equipment, wirelesses, spare ammunition, maps, medical supplies etc.

Two expeditions were made the first in 1943 and the second in 1944.

The word Chindit comes from the divisional emblem a Chinthe, this being the mythical guardian of Burmese Temples.

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1st Chindit Expedition in 1943

Comprised: - 13th Bat of Kings (Liverpool), 3/2 Gurkha Bat, R.E. Commando Group, 2nd Bat Burma Rifles and other ancillary troops, such as signals, medics and a compliment of RAF personnel.

In total, some 3000 troops formed into self contained Columns ("Columns"), each column having some 100 mules for carrying heavy equipment. While some of the officers were volunteers, the majority of troops were standard battalion personnel.

Early February 1943 saw the brigade moving up through Assam towards the Chindwin River in Burma (this formed the boundary between the British and Japanese Armies), and the Columns crossed it between the 14th – 17th February. Two Columns moved south, with an officer making sure he was seen with a Brigadier’s pips, so that the Japanese would be deceived into believing that this was the main direction of the attack. Soon after, they returned to the jungle paths and headed towards the Irrawaddy River, however one Column was spotted when bivouacking one night and the Japanese were able to mortar them as they broke camp the following morning with high casualties. The Column, broken up into small groups and with no wireless sets, had to make their own way back towards the Chindwin River. The remaining column however evaded trouble, managed to cross the Irrawaddy and headed towards Bhamo to join up with the other Columns.

Wingate, with the other Columns, headed eastwards in a more northerly direction, using jungle paths and the mountain ranges to evade the pursuing Japanese forces, being re-supplied by air, and finally emerging into the railway valley, between Mandalay and Indaw. Here parties of Japanese troops were ambushed, the railway track and bridges demolished. The wounded regretfully, had to be left behind, usually with the choice of committing suicide or being taken prisoner of war.

After this, the Columns crossed the Irrawaddy River to carry out further ambushes and demolition, but it was realised that they were at the limit for airdropped supplies and the Japanese were surrounding them. Wingate then decided it was time to return to India, but after finding the Japanese were patrolling the Irrawaddy in force, he arranged for a large air drop, instructed all Columns to collect their supplies, abandon all equipment and mules, then make their way back to India in small parties. Most Columns managed to do so, but at least one column arrived too late to find the drop zone abandoned, the supplies gone, and having to disperse with little food, and as the Japanese were in most villages, they had great difficulty in buying local supplies.

One or two parties came out in China (only fifty miles away), another made it’s way north to the remote Fort Hertz, but the majority made their way towards India with varying degrees of success. Those that made it, after marching 1000 miles or more over jungle clad hills, crossed and re-crossed 2 major rivers, were suffering from mainly malaria and dysentery, were just skin and bone and needing considerable hospital treatment. Out of the original 3000 only some 2000 returned, 450 had been killed, 120 Burma Rifles permitted to shed uniforms and allowed to return to their villages and the remainder taken prisoner of war with few surviving that ordeal.

The General Headquarters Staff in India (Wingate thought them bloodsuckers and treated them accordingly) of course tried to rubbish the achievement, no major battle, or further ground had been won. They had lost a lot of government equipment (wireless sets, machine guns, mortars and mules), that in their eyes was failure. Wingate however was a professional, and ensured the press got a positive message, pointing out that ordinary British troops had destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the Japanese in the jungle.

The experience gained, enabled the RAF to develop an air supply system for troops operating remotely, or even when surrounded.

From the point of view of ordinary troops, the effect was to lessen the fear of the jungle, since if they could do it, then (with training) others also stood a chance.

The expedition also had a further two profound effects: -

  1. The Japanese decided that they could do the same only on a larger scale using the same routes over the mountains through Imphal and Kohima into the Brahmaputa River valley where vast stores and equipment were kept. These stores could be used to fuel the advance of the Japanese Army as well as a possible uprising by India against the British, so they immediately started to plan for such an attack.
  2. Churchill on hearing the results of the expedition ordered that Wingate be despatched to London post haste, in order that he could hear what had happened, from the man in charge.

Churchill then instructed Wingate to accompany him to America as part of his General Staff to talk with the US President and the Pentagon. Both were impressed with Wingate’s ideas and grasp of the situation and promised considerable extra aid to bring them to fruition. Churchill also gave permission for Wingate to get in touch with him directly if he encountered any difficulties or opposition. Wingate (now promoted to Major General) was in hospital with typhoid within a week of his return to India, and on the danger list for weeks, it taking him many more weeks to fully recover.

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The 2nd Chindit Expedition in 1944

As a result of the summit conference in Quebec, the small American contingent in northern Burma was increased with more road making engineers, 3000 American troops to be trained in Chindit methods and the 1st Air Commando. The 1st Air Commando would include fighters, bombers, extra Dakota’s, Gliders and 100 light aircraft that could land on a football pitch (to take out wounded). They were to be made available to Wingate for a limited period; he was to make every effort to stop the Japanese getting supplies to their troops in northern Burma. The object of the extra American involvement was for American trained Chinese troops to push from India through Northern Burma and join up with a Chinese push from China. As they progressed from India a road would be built to join up with the old Burma/China Road, this would enable supplies to be transported to China by road.

The increase in size of the Chindits from one to six Brigades was achieved by adding the 111 Indian Brigade even before the American agreement; further increases were achieved attaching the all-British 70th Division and a Brigade of West Africans. The whole to be called ‘Special Force’ or 3rd Indian Division for security reasons and would consist of the following: -

3rd West African Brigade 14th Brigade

6th Bn. Nigeria Regt. (66 & 39) 2nd Bn Black Watch Regt (42 & 73)

7th Bn Nigeria Regt (29 & 35) 1st Bn Beds & Herts Regt (16 & 61)

12th Bn Nigeria Regt (12 & 43) 2nd Bn York & Lancs Regt (84 & 65)

7th Bn Leicester's Regt (47 & 74)

77 Brigade 111 Brigade

3rd Bn 6thGurkha Rifles (36&63) 1st Bn The Cameronians (26 & 90)

1st Bn Kings Regt (81 & 82) 2nd Bn Kings Own Royal Regt (41 & 46)

1st Bn Lancs Fusiliers (20 & 50) 3rd Bn 4th Gurkha Rifles (30)

1st Bn South Staffs Regt (38 & 80)

3rd Bn 9th Gurkha Rifles (57 & 93)

16 Brigade Morris Force

1st Bn Queens Regt (21 & 22) 4th Bn 9th Gurkha Rifles (49 & 94)

2nd Bn Leicester’s Regt (17 & 71) 3rd Bn 4th Gurkha Rifles (30)

45th Recce Regt (45 & 54)

51/69 R. Artillery {as infantry (51 & 69)} Bladet - Glider borne Commando Engrs.

Dah Force Native Kachin Levies

Stronghold Defences

R S &U Troop 160 Field Regt (25 Pounders) W X Y & Z Troops 69 Lt AA Regt (Bofors)

Numbers in brackets are the identity numbers each unit gave to its Columns (usually 2)

The objective given to Wingate was to assist the American General Stilwell in his drive to construct the road from Ledo, in Assam, India, by denying the Japanese the ability to reinforce or re-supply Japanese forces opposing the American/Chinese advancement in Northern Burma.

To implement this, Operation Thursday was put into operation. It began with the 16 Brigade in early Feb 44 to marching behind enemy lines, from. After a horrendous crossing of 2 mountain ranges (up to 8500ft, with heavy loads being manhandled up steep gradients), then crossing River Chindwin and on to the Indaw area in N. Burma a distance of approx. 350 miles. There, to establish a ‘Chindit Stronghold’, to be called Aberdeen, (a remote jungle Airstrip, with water supply and friendly natives to give early warning of an attack by Japanese). The 2nd Leicesters and Queens Columns being the first in the area set about defensive positions and levelling a strip to allow American Engineers with small Bulldozer to land by glider, they would then level a dirt Airstrip on which Dakota’s could land.

On the night of 24 March 1944 the Black Watch started to arrive, closely followed by the rest of 14 Brigade, who all dispersed to the Indaw area and beyond. After this, the 3rd W African Brigade came in, with 2 Columns going to what was to be known as ‘White City’ and the rest taking over the defence of ‘Aberdeen’ until its closure. As soon as 14 Brigade started to arrive, 16 Brigade, though exhausted and still short of 2 RA Columns, were instructed to resume their objective of capturing the town of Indaw. Leaving one Column of Queens to ambush traffic on the Indaw to Bamauk road the remaining 5 Columns of 16 Brigade had moved to Indaw by 28 March. The Japanese, had due to all the activity in the area, reinforced Indaw, with the result that the other Column of the Queens were attacked whilst in bivouac, the two Columns of the Recce Regt were pinned down and suffered heavy casualties extricating themselves. Only 2 Columns of 2nd Leicesters achieving their objectives, so the brigade had to return to Aberdeen to consolidate and recoup; before returning to attack the dumps in the surrounding area.

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On night of 5th March Brigadier Calvert with troops of King’s, Lancs Fusiliers and American Engrs set forth from Assam in sixty one Gliders to go over the mountains and land at a clearing to be named Broadway, on the eastern side of the Indaw to Mogaung railway valley (200 miles). Only 36 arrived with most crashing, due to logs and ruts on the landing area. Calvert sent the failure signal when he saw all the smashed gliders, but amended it to success when at daybreak the American Engineers came out of the jungle driving their bulldozer. Gliders were moved out of the way so bulldozer and scraper completed the dirt Airstrip, 60 Dakota’s landing that night (US Airforce Gen. Old being one of the first to step into history) bringing further troops and munitions. Over the next 5 nights further Dakota’s landed, bringing in over 9000 troops with their mules, ponies and munitions as well as artillery and anti aircraft guns. This included 4 Columns of 111 Brigade who had earlier dispersed to the Aberdeen area.

When the remainder of 77 Brigade had landed, Brig Calvert, leaving 4 Columns with the Anti Aircraft Guns and Artillery for the defence of Broadway, proceeded to the Railway Valley to establish a Stronghold later to be called White City. Lt. Col. Herring and his Kachins (Dah Force) also landed, they then crossed the Irrawaddy River and moved to the Chinese border, with the intention of harassing Japanese forces and recruiting further Kachins (reputably they were paid one Rupee for each Japanese left ear).

Around 7 March a further landing by gliders to took place south of Indaw and east of the Irrawaddy River establishing the airfield called Chowringhee. Here Morris Force landed and immediately proceeded north to the Bhamo – Myitkyina road area adjacent to the Chinese border. There to ambush Japanese convoys, demolish bridges and pass on information about Japanese concentrations to American Air Force. The remaining 4 Columns of 111 Brigade also landed and set off towards the Irrawaddy River calling for gliders to drop boats for the river crossing. Due to the delay in getting the mules to cross, they came under fire from the Japanese. So those that had crossed proceeded to join the rest of their Brigade, whilst those on the wrong side of the river, mainly heavy weapons and mules, were ordered north to join Morris Force. The Japanese Air Force did manage to locate Chowringhee and bombed it, but it was the day after it had been evacuated.

In all, some 18,000 troops with their animal transport, ‘had been inserted into the enemies guts’ was how Wingate described it, 200/150 miles behind the main Japanese front in Assam.

Columns on the move during this period were doing so in temperatures of 40° C, with each man having to carry 60/70 lbs. of equipment. With water being very scarce, when moving into night defence positions the first question was ‘is there any water’. In fact, water dictated what Columns could do. All supplies were delivered by air, to Columns on the move they were parachuted in, usually every 5 days where possible. The rations supplied, being American ‘K’ rations, comprised 3 packets (each the size of video cassette) per day, each containing small tin of meat (cheese for lunch), 4 biscuits and 4 cigarettes mainly they had a daily calorific deficiency (meant for troops in transit for 7/14 days). Chindits (high calories) had them for 5 month’s and so suffered from severe malnutrition. Extra rations for making tea were, of course, provided separately

The routine for Columns on the move was to ‘stand to’ (on guard) before dawn. After ‘stand down’, a half-hour would be allowed to light a fire for a cup of tea - with little smoke allowed (even in rain). At the time of move off each section would slot into its allotted position in column, march for 50 minutes, 10 minutes rest etc. for rest of day. Irrespective of temperature, only on or after 2nd stop could water be drunk (if you could spare it). The sight of the column leader against a tree signalled the day’s march end so each section radiated from the tree to their place on a clock dial so forming a defensive circle and to prepare for the night’s bivouac.

WINGATE was killed on the night of 24 March 1944 when the American Aircraft he was in, crashed.

Brigadier Lentainge of 111Bde (now promoted to Major General) took over, to the regret of many, he was thought to be a Chindit who appeared not to believe in Chindit ways. For the next 3 to 4 weeks 14, 16 and 111 Brigades were around the Indaw area harassing, ambushing and locating dumps containing munitions and stores (on to which bombers were directed), but not concentrated on any one target. In the later part of April things began to change, 111 Brigade was dispatched north to the Hopin area of the Railway valley to try to establish another Stronghold (Blackpool). 16 Brigade Columns were directed to Aberdeen or Broadway and evacuated, after which they were closed down and their mobile garrisons instructed to join the new stronghold Blackpool in the north.

In the meantime Brigadier Calvert had turned White City into a fortress with deep heavy timbered dugouts, with in depth outer defences of mined barbed wire, and its own airstrip with anti-aircraft guns and artillery. In the initial instance, the Brigadier himself had led a bayonet charge, to remove Japanese from a commanding height (probably the first and last time an officer of such rank had done such a thing). The Japanese made many suicidal attacks, suffering very heavy losses, leading a senior officer to commit suicide on the wire. Calvert’s method was to have close support bombing, combined with attacks by mobile Columns on any build up of attacking forces, leaving the rest to be taken care of on the barbed wire by machine guns and other small arms in the fortress. The place smelt of rotting bodies with vast clouds of flies, temperatures of 110° F, and Japanese reinforcements for Imphal front were diverted there because of its resistance.

In late April the 7th Bn Leicester’s (14 Bde) together with W. African Brigade were instructed to take over the defence of White City from the now exhausted 77 Brigade and formulate a plan to close it down. The rest of 14 Brigade moved north to help, except that its Columns would operate in a mobile role, outside. When all was in place, Dakota’s flew in during the night of 10 May and took out the large armaments, some stores and sick. With no reaction from the Japanese (very eerie), the 3rd W African and 14th British Brigades loaded their mules, put their heavy packs on their backs and moved out into the jungle and mountains on the west side of the valley heading north, leaving an empty, booby trapped stronghold to a large force of Japanese waiting to attack.

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The much reduced 77 Brigade after a period of rest, moved north on the eastern side of railway valley. When opposite Blackpool they found it was impossible to apply pressure on the Japanese due to the now flooded railway valley. So they were instructed to move north and take the town of Mogaung at the head of the railway valley, even though, lightly armed troops (like the Chindits) were not considered suitable for an assault on defensive positions without supporting artillery. Roughly a 100 Kings Regt having been unable to cross the valley to join 111 Bde, due to a flooded Chaung (river) were re-absorbed into 77 Brigade.

Brigadier Calvert arrived in the hills near Mogaung around 1 June, selected a site for a dropping zone and a possible light plane strip. He then arranged for a massive munitions drop to commence and for the Brigade Engineers to start covering the strip with bamboo and matting so the light planes could land and take off without getting bogged down due to the torrential rains. Recce groups were sent out to locate Japanese positions and 80 ONYA Indians together with local elephants were enlisted, to assist the brigade animal transport carrying the munitions forward and to bring casualties back to the airstrip for evacuation, when light planes were available and able to land.

The infantry platoons, supported by close bombing by American bombers and heavy mortaring, gradually took out the Japanese outposts situated in the swampy, low lying, grassy ground that lay between the hills and Mogaung. When about to attack the railway station the American Chinese finally arrived on 18 June and took up siege positions on the western side of the town, but did little more than fire their weapons into the air. 77 Brigade continued their attacks until on 26 June when it was found the Japanese had gone. The Chinese realising this became suddenly brave, and rushed into the town. This was the first Burmese town to be retaken from the Japanese, even though the Stillwell had announced Myitkyina as being taken in May, they had in fact only taken the airfield (it took until Aug).

Calvert, having been ordered to Myitkyina, heard on world radio that American Chinese had taken Mogaung, he immediately announced he was taking umbrage and closed his radios down (Stillwell’s staff looked for Umbrage on maps). He also ordered 77 Brigade to make their way to Shaduzup in the hope of evacuation - 3 Battalions originally totalling 2700 plus down to 2000 plus in the hills before Mogaung, were now down to below 1000 and falling rapidly, due to onset of disease. Brigadier Calvert ordered to Shaduzup to face a possible court-martial, explained the Brigade’s achievements and was immediately awarded the American Silver Star by the American General Stilwell. The journey from Mogaung had the remains of the Brigade crawling their way through mud and ground water, with little food and no protection from monsoon rains, to Shaduzup. Those, who had not been immediately evacuated on medical grounds, were flown out to India with Calvert. The Brigade had earned three V.C.s, one in establishing ‘White City’ and two at Mogaung.

After leaving White City, the 3rd West African and the 14th British Brigade had to move onto the same line of hills due to Japanese activity, with the result that a column of each brigade could be on opposite sides of the same hill. When only just over halfway to the Indawgyi Lake in the north, on 15 May, the annual Monsoon rains started and the difficulties faced by all Columns, in all Brigades, tripled. Shortage of water was no longer a problem, but how to keep dry from heavy torrential rains with only a 750mm x 1800mm (2.5ft x 6ft) groundsheet as protection was. Henceforth both man and beast would have the greatest difficulty maintaining his footing when ascending or descending the slippery hills, be constantly in wet or damp clothing and bedding, while trudging through mud and water. These conditions would continue, with only small periods of respite, for the rest of the time they were in Burma. To add to their troubles in mid May the British General Slim transferred the overall control of the Chindits to the (anti British/Chinese loving) American General Stilwell. They also lost their preferential treatment when requesting bombing runs, in place of artillery, or requests for light planes (to evacuate casualties), they would have to wait in the queue.

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On around 6th May 111 Brigade arrived in the hills north of Hopin, on the western side of the railway valley in the area selected for new stronghold, to be called ‘Blackpool’. Their presence was noted from the start, with the consequence that the Japanese mounted nightly raids, giving the defenders little rest, having to repel the Japanese at night and work all day on the defences or unloading planes when they arrived. Whilst the stronghold was able to receive a complement of artillery and anti aircraft guns it never constructed the heavily timbered dugouts or the mined, multiple wired, outer defences that were the characteristic of White City.

The first reinforcements to arrive were the 2 Columns of the King’s (Liverpool), to be followed a few days later by 3rd/9th Gurkha Battalion both from Broadway. All units at Blackpool were much under strength, due to previous engagements, with the consequence that there were insufficient numbers to form mobile Columns to attack Japanese units and artillery as they assembled to mount an attack. The onset of the Monsoon rains had turned Blackpool into a sea of mud, and had also delayed the arrival of 3rd (WA) and 14th Brigades and the clouds inhibited the bombing of the massing Japanese troops.

By 23rd May with mounting casualties, shortage of ammunition, ever-increasing Japanese artillery bombardment, encroachment of defences by attacking Japanese troops and with sniper fire from surrounding hills, abandonment of the stronghold was ordered. So began the mad scramble up the jungle covered hills. The walking wounded were met at the top by West African troops who assisted them over the hills and into the Indawgi Lake valley. There they assembled at Mokso Sakan to re-equip, gather their casualties together in the hope that they may be evacuated and try to overcome the effects of their recent traumatic experience.

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Indawgui Lake

The first to arrive in the Indawgyi Lake area from White City, was a column of the 7th Leicester’s, who immediately proceeded up the Kyunsalia Pass, leading to Hopin in the railway valley. On attaining the top of the pass, it was noted that a large party of Japanese was ascending the pass from the Hopin area, so an ambush was set, and very successfully sprung. The result, on the 20th May, meant that to deny the Japanese access to the Indawgyi Lake area, the pass and the surrounding hills had to be defended by alternating Columns of 3rd WA and 14th Brigades, until it was finally evacuated and blown up, on 20th June. The time taken for the Columns to arrive in the Indawgi Lake valley was such that those Columns that could be allocated to go to assistance of Blackpool were already too late. Beds and Herts of 14 Bde, after some skirmishes around the Kyunsalia Pass, were despatched up the western side of the lake to secure the area to the north of the lake. Further Columns of 14 Bde and W Africans secured the heights north of the pass and the southern end of the lake.

Due to the torrential rains, light planes could not always take off in the swampy conditions that existed, in any case they were far too infrequent for the ever-increasing number of sick. It was therefore hoped that 2 Sunderland Flying Boats flying from the Brahmaputra River in Assam, could land on the fairly secure Indawgyi Lake and take out the wounded and sick of the 3 Brigades. Boats were dropped to enable the brigade engineers to prepare the lake for the Flying Boats and for the ferrying of casualties. On 6th June 44 the radio announced that ‘the sky over France was black with planes’, the Chindits waiting at the side of the Indawgyi Lake wondered if just one Sunderland Flying Boat would arrive. In all, only 6 flights took place, evacuating 240 casualties (40 at a time) before being stopped on 11 June.

By June, the condition of all Brigades was on a downward spiral as forecast by Wingate when he set the recommended 90 days limit. It was known that those on ‘K’ rations were receiving a daily deficit of 800 calories, which amounted to a 72000 calorie deficit over 90 days. Those Columns employed in a mobile role, having to carry their 50/70lb loads over hills that seemed to go up forever and had to make their meagre 5 day rations last 6-8days(or more) when a suitable dropping site could not be found, had an even greater deficit. Add to this the aversion of some to certain parts of the K rations, after 4 months most Chindits had lost 3 stone in weight, and were invariably lethargic and susceptible to many ailments. The Monsoons (lasting from 15 May onwards) were an addition to the equation, not only requiring greater effort when moving, and ensuring long periods of living in damp or wet conditions but they also brought about an onset of other problems. For example, the greater activity of leeches on lower slopes (removal sometimes causing septic ulcers), trench feet (meaning a minimum of days of inactivity keeping feet dry), any scratch or cut turning septic, jungle sores (probably everyone had these, at the end) and multiple outbreaks of boils. Outbreaks of diseases such as Typhus (mainly 14 Bde), Dysentery/Diarrhoea, Hepatitis and all forms of Malaria became ever more prevalent. For Columns on the move, it took 4 per stretcher with 4 to relieve them (easy to overwhelm a column).

On June 16 the Chinese troops, under American control, at long last overcame Japanese resistance at Kamaing and advanced down the road towards Mogaung. With Kamaing being only 35 miles to the north the Chindits, in the Indawgi Lake area, had for the first time, the chance of a land link by which their 300, and rising, casualties could be evacuated. Rubber assault boats were parachuted in and boat handlers, after being given a parachuting course lasting 4 days, parachuted in. 14 Brigade engineers and W. African sappers, using materials and bamboo from the adjacent jungle, lashed 5 boats to a framed platform capable of carrying up to forty troops complete with cover from sun and rain, with the whole being driven by outboard motors. In all ten such vessels were made, each being given a naval type name (i.e. Ark Royal etc.). This enabled 400 casualties to be evacuated from the Indawgyi Lake north through the labyrinth of watercourses to the Mogaung River at Kamaing. The journey, (as the crow flies) was only some 35 miles, but the actual journey being more than double, with the crew and casualties having to clear the many blockages of watercourses as they went. These vessels on arrival at the Mogaung River were also used to ferry mules from 77 Bde as well as being used for ferrying Jeeps and 15 cwt trucks across the Mogaung River (was this 36 Div. on their way to relieve Chindits).

111 Brigade after a short rest and being re-equipped, shed all of its wounded and the rapidly growing number of sick to lakeside landing stage near Mokso Sakan, then moved north onto the hills to the east of Lahkren. As the Beds and Herts of 14 Brigade were securing the area to the immediate north of Indawgi Lake, 111 Bde sent out their Recce platoons east towards Mogaung, only to find the area alive with parties of Japanese. They were then ordered to take Point 2171 in the railway valley, and this was achieved, in spite of fierce Japanese resistance on 20 June (Brit. Gurkha Officer earning the VC) and held until early July, before being re-taken by the Japanese.

The brigade was now only capable of bringing its wounded and sick to the hills east of Lakhren, from where casualties could be started on their journey out. After many demands the Brigade was medically examined on 27 July in the area around Mla, situated in the hills between Lakhren and Pahok, by U.S. and British medical officers. Out of 2000 (the remains of 111 Brigade) only 119 were passed as fit for further duty, all others to be evacuated. After a short period the remaining 119 were also evacuated, with the final ones travelling by jeep railway from Mogaung to Myitkyina about 1 Aug.

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Hill 60

Early June saw 2 Columns of 3rd WA Brigade (7th Bn) moving north over the jungle clad hills and mountains that lay between the railway valley and the Indawgi Lake valley to emerge in the railway valley near the Sahmaw Chaung around 2 July. There to be joined by 2 Columns of 6th Nigeria Regt who had been with 111 Bde. The 12th Nigeria Regt, after the evacuation of the Kyunsalia Pass, also moved north passing through Mokso Sakan, Lakhren and the surrounding hills to join the rest of 3rd W.A. Bde already in the railway valley. Their objective was a fortified feature situated between the road and Sahmaw called ‘Hill 60’ to which roving bands of Japanese were attracted, in fact a sign in Japanese was later found by the roadside directing them there. After intensive bombing several attempts were made to take the feature all ending in failure, until the arrival of British 36 Div. who combined with the 3rd West Africans to finally take the feature on the 5 August. The WA Brigade then went on to take their final objective Sahmaw on the 8 Aug and were able to make their way out through Mogaung and Myitkyina around 12 Aug, with few of their UK Officers and N.C.O ‘s still with them.

During July and into August, British manned U.S. M3 type motor launches started transporting over 1800 casualties that had assembled at Kamaing, up the Mogaung River to Shaduzup, from where they could be flown out. These casualties had arrived, by boat from the Indawgi Lake area, or by elephant and pony from Lakhren, or had walked/stumbled along the jungle paths again from Lakhren. All journeys had been long, slow and taking many days to complete, with some dying on the way, due to their escorts and medics being in almost as bad a condition as the sick.

After the evacuation of the Kyunsalia Pass, 14 Brigade, less Beds and Herts who were already north of the lake, started to move north except their route lay in traversing the steep jungle clad hills/mountains that lay between the Indawgi Lake and the railway valley. As the route taken by 111 Bde to ‘Blackpool’ was now unusable, new routes had to be found for each column. Due to the torrential rains and steep inclines most Soft Skins, together with the sick and in some cases the support groups, were forced to go north via Mokso Sakan and Lahkren to join up with their Columns at a later date.

The physically and numerically depleted Columns of 14 Brigade climbed to the top of the mountain range with a minimum of animal transport, and then had to get down to the Namkin Chaung area for further supplies. With ever increasing casualties due to disease and many deaths, battle groups probed villages, but refrained from taking battle casualties where possible, since each casualty unable to walk required 4 to carry stretcher and another 4 to carry the packs. By mid July with all Columns moving north, 14 Brigade HQ at Ngaushawawng allocating a large Basha (Hut) in the village for the brigade’s sick, so providing protection from the continuous rain. About this time, the ‘Paras’ set up a Field Ambulance Unit (with airstrip) at Pahok. The end of July saw soft skins, support groups and their sick, rejoining their units. A sick route to Pahok (on the Kamaing to Mogaung road) was established, from re casualties could be evacuated by light plane, or by the of July, by a Jeep Train from Mogaung to Myitkyina. While some casualties were taken by pony, many others had to walk or stumble their way there, holding on to the pony’s stirrup, if they were lucky, but some died, especially those with typhus.

14 Brigade made a final effort, now able to use their support groups, in early Aug taking positions along the railway valley from Labu to Taungni (including Point 2171). When the fresh faced, clean shaven and energetic troops of 36 Division advanced down the railway valley from 9-12 Aug relieving the Chindits, they were met by be-whiskered scarecrows with battered Bush hats on their heads, emerging from the nearby jungle who asked them ‘what’s taken you so long?’

The final battalion of Chindits, now 400 instead of 900, having traversed over 500 miles of jungle covered hills in N Burma, passed through Myitkyina around the 25 August with most having lost at least three stones and facing a future of six to eight months of going in and out of hospital. But they could for the first time in 5 months talk above a whisper and sleep at night without the ever- constant fear of being attacked or left behind if the column moved in the night. They could shout, get under cover if it rained, get lost (without fear) and ask someone the way back. They could fall ill (again without fear) and might even end up in hospital, within hours. Nor did they have to carry that dammed pack everywhere they went, or climb that never-ending hill with squelching boots.

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Only 5 Chindit Brigades have so far been mentioned the 6th(sister Bde to 14 Bde) was 23rd Brigade who arrived on the Dimapur plain in Assam on 5 April 44 and comprised the following: -

1ST Bn Essex Regt (44&56 Cols) 2nd Bn Duke of Wellington Regt (33&76 Cols)

4th Bn Border Regt (34&55 Cols) 60th Regt R.A. (as infantry (60&68 Cols))

Due to the threat to the very large supply dumps situated on the Dimapur plain that the Japanese attack on Kohima posed, the brigade was transferred to 33 Corp., with their role changed to short range penetration (SRPG) instead of long range (LRPG). Initially the Brigade spread it’s self out on the jungle clad hills (probably 5000ft high) to the north of Kohima so as to observe any movement by the Japanese towards the Dimapur plain. It soon became apparent that the Japanese were now fully occupied with trying to take Kohima, so fresh instructions were given to use their mobility and carry out aggressive guerrilla actions on the Japanese rear.

The brigade spread out and started to move south at the same time eliminating any remote Japanese position, where resistance was met, Hurribombers (Hurricane Fighters fitted with bombs or rockets) were directed onto the target by RAF personnel with the Columns. The local Naga tribesmen were co-opted into helping the brigade by building an Airstrip atop of a 4000ft hill, maintaining tracks, and helping shelter and carry casualties to positions from which they could be evacuated. Further assistance was given in the form of Intelligence, since they could more easily move around the very steep sided hills.

After being expelled from Kohima area the Japanese started to retreat rapidly, such that the brigade had great difficulty keeping pace but ambushes were set up at every opportunity. When fresh troops moved in and retook Ukhrul the brigade, on the overlooking hills, were suitably placed to take a heavy toll of the large numbers of retreating Japanese. Once again the Chindits suffered large weight loss due to the meagre ‘K’ rations and heavy expenditure of energy climbing the steep rain soaked hills, they were also open to attack from malaria, dysentery and many diseases that were rife in the area one of which was Typhus.

When the brigade was withdrawn the following extract from 33 Corp. order of the Day was issued: - ‘traversing many hundreds of miles of the most difficult country imaginable, in parts of which malaria and disease was rife, under severely trying climatic conditions and against a cunning and ruthless enemy. I doubt if such a feat demanding superb physical fitness, inexhaustible endurance and unlimited determination has ever been carried out by British Troops in the history of the Army’.

Such accolades, how different to the American General Stilwell, who received a similar or even greater contribution from the American Marauders and other Chindit Brigades. All he and his staff could do was complain about the time taken to get from one place to another, they could read a ruler (i.e. mileage) but seemed unable to read contour lines (i.e. mountains in the way).

Finally let’s give an accolade to the American pilots of the light planes that came in, whatever the conditions, to fly out the wounded and sick over the treetops to the nearest airfield with Dakota’s going back to India.


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On the second attempt at flying in on 2 April, to be woken up by one of the aircrew saying ‘we are landing’. So looking out the window and seeing lights all over the place, thought ‘we have come back to base again’. Wrong! A voice said, when the doors opened, ‘jump the mules out, load them up, put your packs on and move into the jungle at the side of the runway and then bed down till daylight, this is Aberdeen.' So passed the first night, 120 miles behind enemy lines.

When asked at Myitkyina in around the 21st Aug, the way to the airfield, an American’s jaw dropped open. Probably the first time he had seen a skeleton move and speak. Rumour said, that you reported to a shed on Myitkyina airfield to be told where to go for the next air-ambulance, it also said that 2 people had sat in a cane chair there and had died. I found the shed but didn’t look for the chair.

After arriving in Assam (India) we were assembled in the Airport Lounge and told ‘proceed down the passage to waiting ambulances, with the exception of Special Forces’. Halfway down the passage we thought, ‘Special Forces? Let’s have a look at them.' There to find the rest of our party, and we suddenly remembered, what seemed such a long, long, time ago we had been called ‘Special Forces’. Call me suspicious but was this a means of keeping the state we were in, away from the public, because I have yet to see any photos of the remnants of a Column coming out

"A pony groom took charge of a very sick man (105ºF) at the end of July for a journey over the 3500 ft range of hills between Lakhren and Ngusharawng (10 miles on the map). For 5 days and 5 nights he ensured his charge did not fall off, making sure his pony kept its footing, going up and down the very steep and slippery hillsides, wading through knee high mud and fast flowing streams. At night he would erect a shelter to give protection from the relentless rain, then cook and share his meagre rations. When the party of sick reached 14 Bde HQ the groom himself became a casualty, being too weak to go further, having suffered from malaria, dysentery and jaundice, all the while he was looking after his charge. He lingered for 3 days in a makeshift tent of parachute, then died, a skeleton stretched over with yellow skin". This is taken from Graves-Morris’s ‘2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regt in Burma’ and will remind all those on the hills of the railway valley, of the conditions that existed.

After a further 3 trips to hospital with malaria, I managed to be with the Battalion for Christmas and my 21st birthday.

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The Chindits were disbanded in February 1945 – the reason given ‘That the whole of 14th Army was Chindit minded.’

The 14th Army continued it’s very rapid advance, re-taking most of Burma by the start of the Monsoons in 1945, helped by using the extra planes, RAF attachments and tactics obtained and perfected by Wingate and the Chindits.

Writers were still finding the Chindit story worth writing about 50 years after the event.

Army and Territorial units still use the name Chindit and it’s associated names for any special barracks, squads and schemes.

Ex-Chindits and ex-SAS (also disbanded after the war) were involved in recommending and planning the formation of Malaysian Rangers as a means of combating the Chinese guerrillas who were causing so much trouble in Malaya during the period prior to their independence.

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