contributed by Rod Szasz from Tokyo,
and formerly Victoria Canada. This book is available in paperback from
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
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.