Wingate fired the imagination of the public and of many politicians with his guerrilla forces in Burma called the Chindits. He had much experience in guerrilla tactics, starting with his service with the ‘Special Night Squads’ in Israel in 1936. After he had been seconded to Africa, he took up his guerrilla activities again in Ethiopia in the fall of 1940 with his very successful ‘Gideon Force,’ which after capturing many Italian forts, accompanied the victorious HAILE SELASSIE into Addis Ababa.
Wingate was then sent home to a desk job, was extremely depressed and attempted suicide during a bout of malaria. While recovering he was summoned to the Far East by General WAVELL who offered him the opportunity to organize his ‘Long Range Penetration Groups.’ These were brigadesized units which were to be dropped behind the Japanese lines, supplied by air, communicating by wireless and whose purpose was to disrupt enemy communications, attack outposts and destroy bridges. He called them the Chindits after Chinthe, a mythical beast.
The Chindits began their first operation in February 1943, crossing the Chindwin River into Burma. They managed to cross the Irrawaddy by March but by then the Japanese, aware of their presence, counter-attacked forcing Wingate to withdraw to India, having lost a third of his force and a large amount of equipment. Despite this limited success, Wingate became a popular hero and was made much of by CHURCHILL. His operations however had no strategic impact and inflicted only light casualties. They led the Japanese to attack Imphal and Kohima in early 1944 to strengthen their position on the Chindwin.
Wingate now prepared a second Chindit operation, this time with six brigades, far more ambitious aims and supplied by its own air unit, ‘Cochran’s Circus.’ This expedition was air dropped into Burma in February 1944 and ran into difficulties. Wingate, however, died before the outcome of the expedition became clear, in an air crash in the jungle on 24 March 1944.