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Who Killed Orde Wingate? (Part Two)

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This is the second installment in a two-part series. Read part one here.

Wavell was now Commander-in-Chief of India and on the Governor's Council and the Japanese were pouring through the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, and Burma. Again, he realized he needed Wingate seconded to him in Rangoon as soon as possible. The latter, who was still fighting for his command of a Jewish Army which would strike Rommel "on the left flank" and dreaming of commanding Jews in action (for him, as he put it "the best Army in the World"), was still begging Weizmann to act. Having no desire to go to Burma and India, he held out until the last moment.


Finally when everything was lost, in despair, he set out on February 27th, 1942 for Burma, Assam, and India. Rangoon fell on March 8th. Wingate moved a unit of Gurkhas and Burmese Riflemen, called "The Bush Warfare School" (founded by a Colonel Michael Calvert, also an alumnus of Woolwich and a legend second in irregular warfare only to David Sterling, who now became his trusted second-in-command. To these, later, was added a third Woolwich comrade, Derek Tulloch, Wingate's bosom companion ever since fox-hunting days), to Sagar near Bangalore in Central India. To these were added an assortment of Scottish, Welsh, and English volunteers; and, by early 1943, he had his "First Chindit Campaign" -- a name conjured up by Wingate based on a Burmese Temple Guardian-mythological winged creature (but world-wide commonly known as "Wingate's Raiders") -- ready to go.

As in Ethiopia, thus ensued the first major victories of the British over the Japanese in the East, blowing up rail lines, disrupting communications, fighting pitched battles, and then dispersing; and the creation of a new style of warfare behind enemy lines that became known as "Long Range Penetration," groups working through the land but supplied by parachute drops from the air (usually later American). Though costly, the Japanese were befuddled and Wingate came to the notice of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. Air Commander Hap Arnold, and even "Flip" Cochran (the model for the famous World War II comic strip -- Terry and the Pirates).

Then came the Second Chindit Campaign and this on a major scale. By May, Wingate and the remnants of his forces had re-crossed the Irrawaddy and were back in India. By June his name was famous throughout the land and Churchill was already dictating a memo calling him "a man of genius" and stating he "should command the Army against the Japanese in Burma." Promoted to Major General, the youngest Major General in the British Army, by July he had been personally sent back to England at Churchill's request because he wanted him to accompany him aboard the Queen Mary to meet Roosevelt and the American Chiefs-of-Staff at the Quebec Conference in Canada the next month.


But now Earl Mountbatten had become Chief of Combined Operations in India and he was invited to the meeting too, Wavell having been reduced to the role of civilian Governor General only. Slim -- an inveterate Wingate critic from Ethiopian days -- had for his part now also risen to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Indian Army based at Imphal and Cohima in Assam on the Southern Burma/Indian border commanding that part of the Army fighting the Japanese there and, needless to say, suffering the usual reverses.


A special train was sent for Lorna to take her up to Northern Scotland and the Queen Mary as a special courtesy to Wingate for the Atlantic crossing. At that time, their first and only child, Orde Jonathan, was conceived -- a child who, as it turned out, never saw his father. Needless to say, as well, Wingate was one of the 'big hits' of the Conference and a huge amount of American supplies, equipment, and forces were allotted directly to him, including gliders, runway-building equipment for use after having established "strongholds," transport aircraft, and even Mustangs. Basically, so impressed was everyone that he was given 'carte-blanche' and a direct line to Churchill in case of obstruction - which as per his habit he never hesitates to use which infuriates people at GHQ, including Mountbatten and Slim. The final War Reports written after the War confirm all this.

Finally on March 5th, 1944, well before D-Day, "the Second Chindit Campaign" is on, approximately a year after the First, but this time it is a huge fly-in. Though there are many difficulties and much confusion, on the whole it is very successful, all objectives having been met. Wingate is kept terribly busy flying around in an American B-25 with an American crew from old airbase to new airbase, old runway to new runway. As noted, he has the complete support of the entire American Air Force in the East. They are dropping all his supplies, they are taking in his gliders, just as later at D-Day and at Arnhem, though here more successfully. Churchill even sends his personal congratulations.

But meanwhile in the South, Slim is having his usual difficulties, as the Japanese have stepped up their efforts to advance in Assam on Imphal and Cohima, partially as a response to Wingate. But in the midst of these grand airborne successes, Slim quietly convinces Mountbatten to hold back two of Wingate's Reserve Chindit Brigades, the Fourteenth and Twenty-Third. He also wants the use of Wingate's American Air force Dakotas and fighter aircraft to help him in his own situation, rather than allow Wingate to use them to proceed with what is about to become a crushing blow to the Japanese all over Northern Burma. Argument develops over the allotment of these Brigades and the men at Headquarters are thrown into a panic. For his part, hearing of these things, Wingate avails himself of his right to communicate directly with Churchill, wiring him to the effect that "situation most promising if exploited" - a cable which may have played a part in his ultimate fate.


Friction at GHQ also exacerbates over press coverage which omits any mention of Wingate's successes, including even the British Army Magazine, which further angers Wingate, who refuses to allow it to be flown into his men and is on the verge of resigning. The tipping point comes when the RAF bring in six Spitfires into an airstrip named "Broadway," just built by the Americans behind Japanese lines. Now Cochran is infuriated as well and goes to protest to Wingate, to the effect that even the Americans themselves have not yet had the opportunity to introduce their own Mustangs into the first airstrip to be opened behind Japanese lines in Burma. Within hearing of RAF officers, he heaps scorn on their appetite for publicity and literally demands they be "bounced". 




Wingate himself, clearly favoring the Americans and dependent on them for his future activities, takes Cochran's side. For his part, Slim now definitively refuses to release Wingate's 14th and 23rd Brigades -- HQ scuttlebutt centering on Wingate's "megalomania" and how he is "jeopardizing" the War effort . Again, Wingate protests to Churchill about the "distorted" accounts of his operation and demands that "the truth" be told. He also asks for four more squadrons of American Dakotas to support the gains he has already made -- this, in the face of the reversals Slim is currently encountering further South at Imphal. As Wingate sees it, he can swing around right behind the Japanese into the Malay Penninsula, which is what Slim eventually does without him in the end. Churchill, as usual, backs Wingate, just as he had Lawrence in earlier times; and the order for the planes is made - though, after Wingate's death, the Chindits never actually receive them.

On the morning of March 24th, 1944, after a flying inspecting the "first Scottish Airport in Burma" -- the "Stronghold" at "Aberdeen" -- he flies back to Imphal in his American B-25 with his American crew to discuss with either British Air Marshall Baldwin or Air Commodore Vincent (reports vary here) Cochran's complaint about Baldwin or Vincent, or both, sending the British Spitfires into "Broadway "and another insult, just tendered him by either Baldwin or Vincent -- but a typical one -- insisting in the future that he route any communications through RAF Wing Commanders on the ground at "Broadway." For its part, his American crew leave the Mitchell unattended to go out of the sun inside the tower for soft drinks. It should be remembered that this is the home base of almost all of Wingate's detractors; and, though the meeting with Baldwin or Vincent was said to have ended amicably, no agreement seems to have been reached.

It is a beautiful afternoon, blue sky and white puffy clouds and at 5 PM, anyhow, there was not a plane in sight. Some say that Wingate's plane did not take off till 8 PM. Once again, there is some difference of opinion here but it is of little import. Two journalists, Stuart Emery of The News Chronicle and Stanley Wills of The Daily Herald, ask if they can come along on the plane and Wingate graciously agrees. Baldwin suggests Wingate go first (according to the Baldwin testifiers) as his plane is the faster. Wingate climbs into the co-pilot's seat as per his habit and his B-25 takes off, but allegedly never makes it over the first chain of hills. Nor was there any sign of enemy activity in the sky. Some argue that the American pilot had been concerned about some issues in the right engine earlier, but had declined to mention it to Wingate. Still, a Mitchell has two engines and should be able to stay aloft on one, even if a little less effectively.


When the wreckage was located, however, it was not on a mountain at all. Rather it turned out that it had made it over the first ridge of around 8000 feet and only crashed a mile or so outside one of the simple villages about 3000 feet up, called Thilon, that dot the area along another ridge. Moreover, the crash was seen to have been so violent as to dig a pit eighteen feet into the ground. No identifications are possible and only the remains of Wingate's telltale sun helmet are found, which is why the whole crew with Wingate are buried in a mass grave at Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S.A. today.

It is hard to imagine that this could be the result of the poor performance or failure of an engine. It was quite a bit more violent than that; nor was there any evidence of enemy fire on the plane, either aerial or ground. If the plane had experienced trouble climbing over the first ridge, the pilot would have jettisoned some equipment, but there has been no evidence of that either.

There were many suspicious deaths during and after WWII, principal among which are the Katyn Forest massacres in Bielorrusia at the beginning of the War, not to mention those of the Polish Delegation that came to honor them last year, the troublesome Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski who had signed a pact with Stalin in 1941 and who died in a plane crash in 1943 much like Wingate's, but a year before his and this time in an American B-24 Liberator, after taking off from the British Base in Gibraltar, George Patton at the end of the War, and even the British movie actor and star of Gone with the Wind, Trevor Howard, on his way back to England after leaving Portugal on a propaganda Mission there. 




Even, aside from anti-Semitism, Wingate's eccentricity and religiosity, and his support of the Jewish enterprise of settlement in Palestine; it should be appreciated that the feeling against him at this time at GHQ ran so high that the nurse Matron MacGeary, who had nursed him back to health after a bout of typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water from a flower bowl (again at Shepheards Hotel as he passed through Cairo another time), was sacked after his death as "a dangerous person" even though she had just been awarded an MBE on the King's Honor List.


Why does this matter? For the present writer, it matters absolutely. For modern Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Christians (including Plymouth Brethren), Wingate and his love for Jewish causes and the Jewish return and upbuilding of Palestine, has assumed almost the proportions of a "Saint". After his death, "the Chindits" who had and were succeeding so marvelously, building and completing many airstrips behind enemy lines and flying in tens of thousands of soldiers, were with very little fanfare 'wound down' and disbanded; and all their assets transferred to Slim; and many persons suffered grievously for their friendship with him, not the least of whom eventually guerrilla-fighter Michael Calvert himself.


Slim who was at some of these meetings and after the War wrote a blistering attack on Wingate, went on to bigger and better things, using all the American aircraft that had been earmarked for Wingate and many of his methods, including the two disputed Chindit Battalions, to say nothing of all the rest, became a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Viscount Slim of Burma, Field Marshall and Chief of the Imperial Staff (under the succeeding Attlee Labour Government), a Knight Commander of the Order of the Garter, a Knight of the Order of St. John, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, a U.S. Chief Commander of the Order of Merit, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, etc., etc.


Curiously enough, during the recently-exposed scandal over the export of small children from England to Australia, partially during the time of Slim's tenure as Governor-General there from 1953-1960; he was latterly accused (2007-2009) by three of those who had been sent to one of the Child Migration Homes called "Fairbridge Farms" (of which Slim was an official "patron") of sexually assaulting them during his visits there -- accusations vehemently denied by his son, the Second Viscount Slim while at the same time being aired on the ABC Television Special "The Long Journey Home".

But one last little point of information -- it was pointed out by Dennis Hawley or one of his 'friends' in both a telephone call to me many years ago and in his book, The Death of Wingate (Merlin Books, 1994), that as a young radio officer in the British Army on the then Indian Burmese frontier in Assam in 1947, one of the first things Earl Mountbatten did, upon being appointed by this same Labour Government to replace General Wavell as Governor General of India and prior to the process of the disastrous partitions there which so trouble the world even till today, which seemed curiously suspicious to him at the time because he witnessed it and troubled him ever after, was for some reason to immediately send a team up to the site of the Wingate American B-25 crash site, which had already been thoroughly inspected and scoured for bodies three years before, and for some reason take away all the still extant wreckage there to some undisclosed disposal locale. This was how he or one of his colleagues described it to me in a phone call accompanied by a warning.

Why does it interest me? Because, as trivial as these events may seem to the rest of the world, for me had Wingate survived and lived, not only would he have also been the recipient of many of these honors and father of many sons or daughters; but he would have gone on to successfully command and lead the very Jewish Army he had always dreamed of commanding and leading; and, under such a Commander who had never lost a battle in his whole career, the entire history of the modern Middle East would have probably been a good deal different. The 1948 War between the Arabs and the Jews would have been a short one indeed, nor would it have ended upon the so-called "1948 Cease-Fire Lines," and probably there would have been no "Palestinian Problem" -- at least as we have come to understand it and think of it today.
With Wingate in command, Jerusalem would have been taken. It could have been no other way and, with it, the Temple Mount and probably "Palestine" up to the Jordan River and the border with the then "Transjordan" -- called this by the British, because it had been unilaterally "cut away," namely by Churchill and Lawrence themselves in 1925 from the original Palestine Mandate and given to the "Hashemite" family of the Sherif of Mecca for services rendered in the First World War. And who knows what would have happened after that?

It is difficult tot talk about the "what if"s or tragedies of History, but I believe Christians, that is, Evangelical (a representative of whom was even one of Theodore Herzl's principal intimates) /Noahic/ Fundamentalist -- even Plymouth Brethren -- would know better probably even than Jews. For them, there would have been no "Palestinian Problem" as such, as just suggested, and probably a "Third Temple" would already be in the process of construction and well on its way to completion.


Perhaps Churchill in the tribute he gave Wingate in Parliament following the announcement of his death put it best: "We placed our hopes at Quebec in the new Supreme Commander, Admiral Mountbatten and in his brilliant lieutenant Major-General Wingate who, alas, has paid a soldier's debt. There was a man of genius who might well have become also a man of destiny. He has gone, but his spirit lives on..."

One thing is sure, given the hatred, intolerance, jealousy, and animosity that surrounded Orde Wingate throughout his entire professional life, the present writer does not credit the 'official' story of his death for a moment. It's just too convenient.