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Wingate And The Chindits: Redressing the Balance (Cassell Military Paperbacks) Paperback – 1 Jun 2000
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An objective reappraisal of Orde Wingate¿s military career and reputation, redressing a balance previously upset by the hostile and ill-judged official history of the Burma campaign.
About the Author
David Rooney saw war service in India and West Africa as a captain in the Queen¿s Royal Regiment. After the war he read history at Keble College, Oxford, and went on to a teaching career in Belfast, Germany and England, including four years as a Senior Lecturer at Sandhurst. He is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and continues to lecture and write. Previous titles include: Military Mavericks and Burma Victory.
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He was a 'one-off' - an oddball child, scholar, cadet and soldier. He served in Palestine, Ethiopia and Burma - where he
conceived and led the Chindit expeditions behind Japanese lines. Wingate was admired and scorned in equal measure by the
military leaders of the times. Author David Rooney claims that the official Record of the War and the Japanese was seriously biased against Wingate and his achievements, and goes to great lengths to provide a balanced view of the man and his
genius. He claims that Wingate 'should now be remembered as an outstanding war-time leader, a brilliant and original military
thinker whose reputation spanned the world, a meticulous planner and organiser, and a fearless and inspiring leader.'
After nearly two months they were sent northwards from their original area of operations near the town of Indaw to Mogaung. Already jaded, they had to march across steep-sided, jungle-covered mountains. Then the torrential rains of the Monsoon arrived; they were soon plagued by malaria. They had to fight battles - 111th Brigade defending the "block" coded-named BLACKPOOL and attacking Point 2171, 3rd West African Brigade attacking "Hill 60" - all on the southern approaches to Mogaung - while 77th Brigade attacked and took Mogaung itself.
The combined action of disease, enemy fire and malnutrition reduced their numbers, leaving those still in the ranks growingly aware of their vulnerability. Meanwhile the Special Force had been transferred from the British 14th Army to the so-called Chinese Army in India, commanded by General Stillwell of the U.S. Army. Their new army commander allowed them no appeal; he ordered the Chindits to make attacks regardless of their bad health and dwindling numbers. After the war they remembered his callousness: they called him a murderer. And they believed that their own force commander, Joe Lentaigne, and the commanding general of the 14th Army, Bill Slim, had fatally betrayed them.
As young men, what had made the misery and fear of that time seem worth bearing was the thought that they had taken part in a great enterprise. Also the knowledge that their leader, Orde Wingate, was a Great Man, worthy of the patriotic heroes found in their boyhood schoolbooks - the Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackleton, and imperial generals such as Wolfe of Quebec and Clive of India.
Almost two decades later the British Offical History of the Burma campaign of 1944 was published. It contained strong adverse criticism of Wingate. This was hurtful and dismaying for the Chindit veterans. By detracting from the good reputation of their hero and questioning the significance of the campaign in Northern Burma, it attacked their selfworth.
David Rooney's book is the latest counterattack against the Official History and its editor, Woodburn Kirby and his colleague Michael Roberts.
The first four chapters deal with Wingate's upbringing and education, his military apprenticeship in Sudan, his militarily successful but politically embarassing operations in Palestine and his return to Sudan to take a leading part in the liberation of Ethiopia during 1941.
In this part Rooney largely succeeds in his attempt to make "an objective assessment of the achievements of Orde Wingate". It is in the middle part - especially Chapters 7 and 8 - that his historical judgement fails, because his friendship and loyalty towards the Chindit veterans prevent him from dealing objectively with the material.
Rooney complains that, "the Official History disregarded any favourable comment, and launched into a destructive attack on Wingate both as a character and as a soldier. It made a series of unsubstantiated criticisms which are clearly designed to destroy his reputation, and it made no attempt to give a balanced view". These comments could equally apply to Rooney's treatment of Lentaigne, who replaced Wingate as commander of Special Force.
Chapter 7 begins with a section on 77th Brigade, commended by Wingate's protege, Mike Calvert; the next section deals with 111th Brigade commanded by Joe Lentaigne. It has the grim title "Death of Wingate". This title seems to refer not only to the end of Wingate's mortal life, but to the "death" of his plans and the abandonment of his precepts. By renouncing Wingate's "philosophy" the heretic Lentaigne sentenced Wingate's followers to a terrible fate.
Rooney explains that to clarify the complexities of the campaign, involving six British brigades and others, "the operations of 77th Brigade are described first,and those of the other brigades are recounted in separate sections, with cross-references where necessary". He uses this structure to make his accusations of failure and guilt against Lentaigne and 111th Brigade several times. To absolve Wingate of any blame, Lentaigne must be condemned utterly. Calvert's 77th Brigade is presented as a brilliant success, the embodiment of Wingate's "philosophy"; Lentaigne's 111th Brigade is shown as an abject failure. Rooney characterises Calvert as a noble hero and Lentaigne as a cowardly villain.
This book serves to give one point of view of Wingate and the 1944 campaign in Northern Burma - that of an element within the veterans' organisation, the Chindit Old Comrades Association. It scores some damage aganst Wingate's professional rivals. But it is not nearly as objective or balanced as David Rooney would claim it to be. There are better books available.
Its criticism of the official historians Woodburn Kirby and Michael Roberts adds little to the more detailed study by Chindit veteran Peter Mead, "Orde Wingate and the Historians" (Merlin Books, 1987). For accounts of the Chindit campaigns of 1943 and 1944 by the veterans themselves, see Philip Chinnery, "March or Die" (Airlife Books, 1997). Wingate has a reliable biography in Trevor Royle, "Orde Wingate, Irregular Soldier" (paperback edition, Phoenix, 1998).
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