Review of: Beyond the Chindwin
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Review contributed by Rod Szasz from Tokyo, and formerly Victoria Canada. This book is available in paperback from

Indo-Burma Front 1942: After being tossed out of Burma the same year, riven internally by arguments with their allies the US and the Chinese on the best strategy to pursue, the British opt for a strategy of supporting the American push in North Burma. But with resources lacking they opt for a strategy of Long Range Penetration. The British will carry the war to the enemy by supporting columns of up to 200 men in 6 separate columns. They will march through plain and jungle (most of it at night) and launch a series of hit and run attacks hundreds of miles behind Japanese lines --- they will be called Chindits after a mythical beast of Burma.

In theory this strategy seemed both efficient and strategically sound; small amounts of men getting a lot of bang for your buck. In reality the results were disasterous; columns first start to loose one or two people to the elements, then things get worse very quickly indeed; food drops from airplanes do not go as planned; encounters with the "Japs" lead to long marches to lose them; crossing rivers miles across leads to more loses for men who cannot swim. Columns split into ever smaller units until there are just 6-man units left. These then break into a free-for-all with all units told to do everything possible to survive.

In Fergusson's column alone almost half died or ended up as POWs (almost as bad as dying). Those that survived came into allied lines over the course of months. Some even found it easier to hike to China than to cross back into India --- and all for the result of blowing a single small steel span railway bridge that the Japanese no doubt repaired so the next train could cross safely on time.

All of this said the men who endured this trauma of marches in jungle, hidden ambushes, the possibility of a lonely deaths on a deserted trail next to the bones of others who went before them (many of their graves still unknown) is one of the more harrowing tales of bravery by men and a testimony to what men and women will endure when forced to endure. There was no evacuation for the wounded, one either coped or one was left behind on the trail for either unfriendly natives, the Japanese or both. The mere prospect makes one shiver.

There are many of my veteran friends that would disagree with me (especially those who served with the Chindits) but the fact remains that the strategic lessons of the Chindits remains limited in the extreme. What they teach us in courage however is rich and as such one will find it hard to put this book down.