British major-general who pioneered techniques of guerrilla warfare used by his Chindit columns, which operated behind Japanese lines in Burma during World War II.
Wingate, the son of an Indian army colonel, was born into a strict puritan family of Plymouth Brethren. After attending the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he joined the Royal Artillery. He was essentially a loner and something of an intellectual, who held profound religious convictions. A keen interest in oriental studies and Arabic prompted his trip to the Sudan, where he served in the Sudan Defence Force. He was attached to military units in England (1933–36) before he joined intelligence staff in Palestine. Wingate became an ardent Zionist and champion of the Jewish settlers in their struggle against the Arabs. Befriended by Jewish leaders, Wingate organized Jewish guerrilla groups, the so-called ‘Night Squads’. His scant regard for orthodoxy and wilful nature were often seen as verging on insubordination by his military superiors. In spite of this, in 1940, after serving as brigade major with an anti-aircraft unit since the outbreak of World War II, he was summoned by Wavell to the Middle East. Wingate created a guerrilla group – the Gideon Force – which, between January and May 1941, raided Italian garrisons inside Ethiopia with considerable success. However, Wingate returned to Cairo exhausted and depressed and even attempted suicide.
After convalescence in Britain, he was again called by Wavell, now C-in-C India. Wingate originated a bold proposal for long-range penetration units to operate behind enemy lines. Eventually the 3000-strong 77th Indian Infantry Brigade was formed and, after intensive training in India, entered Burma in February 1943. Supplied by air, they successfully harried enemy forces for several weeks until exhaustion and disease caught up with them. Named after Chinthe, a mythical Buddhist temple guardian, Wingate's Chindits caught the imagination of both the public and Churchill, who authorized a much larger force to enter Burma in February 1944 as part of Slim's offensive against the Japanese. Wingate was killed in a plane crash in Assam on 24 March in the same year.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).