by Stephen Bryen
Presented by SDB Partners LLC
On April 22nd a touching ceremony was held at Arlington Cemetary for Major General Orde Wingate. Though a British Army officer, he was buried at Arlington in 1950. Wingate died when when his aircraft crashed in India, returning from Burma. The bodies of the nine men lost in the B-25H Mitchell Bomber were first interred in India, but in 1950 moved to the United States. The reason was a UK-US agreement regarding the remains of unidentified troops -if the majority were American they were buried in the U.S., and if the majority British, burial was to be in the UK. In this case the crew and passengers was made up of five Americans and four British. The remains were, by the technology of the time, unidentifiable so they were moved to Arlington Cemetary where there is a memorial to them in Section 12 at site 288.
Orde Wingate was the Tim Tebow of the British, American and future Israeli army. Why? Because like Tim Tebow he was a devout Christian who found his inspiration in the Bible, and like Tim Tebow he was able to innovate and find ways to succeed even when he lacked equipment and mass.
Wingate got many of his ideas from the Bible and he applied them in Ethiopia, where he was sent to confront Italian forces occupying the country. Wingate formed what we would call a “special force” consisting of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian troops, to which were added Palestinian (later Israeli) Haganah SNS units. The group’s size was, at its largest, some 1,700 men –but it succeeded in forcing the surrender of over 20,000 Italian front line troops, largely by deceiving the Italian Expeditionary Force on the size of the Wingate operation. Wingate’s unit was called the Gideon Force, named after the Bible’s Gideon. The name Gideon comes from the Hebrew Gidon, and means Destroyer or Mighty Warrior.
Before his operation in Ethiopia, Wingate played a critical role in training and leading the Haganah, the Jewish self-defense force with responsibility for the Special Night Squads. While subsequent British post World War II actions in Palestine, under a British mandate, found the British Army at loggerheads with the Haganah, before World War II the Haganah proved itself to be helpful to British interests. In fact, one of the important objectives of Haganah forces, supported by Wingate and the British, was to prevent Arab sabotage of the petroleum pipelines belonging to the Iraq Petroleum Company and to confront the Arab Revolt, then in progress. Most importantly, Wingate devised unique battle tactics, particularly night operations, and provided extensive training for Haganah forces. The ideas put forward by Wingate eventually formed the basis of ideas about how to run a military force, strongly at variance with traditional attitudes.
Wingate’s last venture was operating in Burma behind enemy (Japanese) lines. Japan had a much superior force, but Wingate’s leadership of his small force of “Chindits” which was 77th Indian Infantry Brigade and in 1944 3rd Indian Infantry Division caused the Japanese many problems. The name Chindit is a corrupted form of the name Chinthe, which is a Burmese mythical beast that guards the doors of Buddhist temples. While there are different views about the overall success of the Chindit operation, some military historians claim -based on Japanese Army wartime assessments found in captured documents- that the Chindit penetration of Japanese Army forces forestalled the will of Japan’s militaty leaders to invade India. Had the war moved to India, it would certainly have stirred nationalistic sentiments there, and could have significantly affected the Pacific War operation and its final outcome. Even potentially worse, it could have forced the redeployment of UK forces from the European theater, delaying D-Day and giving Hitler more time to mount a defense against the Allies.
Wingate’s original thinking, both in confronting regular armies and in dealing with insurgencies, is, of course, greatly relevant to the issues the U.S. and its allies face today.
Orde Wingate was befriended by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. In Israel he trained Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan among others.
Was Wingate the Tim Tebow of the military forces he so gallantly led? He was because he always took the initiative, used the tools he had available, and demonstrated leadership and made his entire team responsible for victory. Wingate’s core idea of leadership was “Follow Me.”
Most of all, Orde Wingate looked to the Bible for ideas and solutions, and it seems he found there what he sought. Perhaps the next time Tim Tebow is on the field, it will cause us to think about Orde Wingate and his amazing accomplishments.