Along the Indo-Burmese border, British and Japanese forces were stalemated with the onset of the monsoon season in May of 1942; the weather finally eased in mid-October and so the Japanese began their air offensive against the Assam bases of the USAAF’s airlift to China. They were met by Hurricanes of the RCAF’s No. 224 Group, including 30 Canadian pilots. At the same time, light bombers of No. 221 Group (with at least 60 Canadian officers and aircrew) attempted to cut enemy supply lines that ran north from Rangoon. The number of aircraft involved was small and equipment quite primitive considering the size of operations, and therefore nothing decisive was achieved by either side.
The RCAF component continued to grow, By the end of 1942, there were at least 1100 Canadians in India and Ceylon. As a result, an RCAF District Headquarters was authorized in May of 1943 and became operational in October. By June of 1945, a staff of 91 officers and men were administering a Canadian contingent more than 3000 strong.
As the British ground forces turned to the offensive, their effort took the form of a long-range raid into Burma by Brigadier Orde Wingate’s Chindits (a British India ‘Special Force’ formed to put into effect the Brigadier’s newly developed guerrilla warfare tactic of long-range penetration); this was between February and June of 1943. His men were supplied by airdrops from Douglas Dakotas from No. 31 RAF Squadron, with at least 7 Canadians in its aircrew. Many of the Chindits were killed or captured; however, the idea of long-range penetration was deemed a success. The technique was expanded in 1944 to include semi-permanent strongholds; this included air landing strips behind the Japanese lines. By this time, the Chindit force was three brigades strong and included 13 Canadians as Air Liaison Officers, along with an RCAF radio mechanic in charge of radio communication from one of the strongholds.
Canadians now played a significant part in nearly every air activity in South East Asia. By 1943, their air operations included more up-to-date aircraft, better equipment and maintenance, and increased experience. This allowed the Allied air forces to fly more regularly and to maintain a greater intensity of effort.
Logistics were, perhaps, the greatest problem, as there was no through railway from Calcutta, which was the main supply base for 14th Army, and into the battle zone. The front line meandered through steep, jungle-covered hills, with no roads. For the 14th Army to go over to the attack, it meant that food, fuel and ammunition had to be delivered to them by air. It would require air superiority as well as a substantial force of transport aircraft.
Who was Orde Wingate?
Wingate was born in 1903 in India. He received a conventional education and in 1922, gained a commission in the Royal Artillery. For the following five years, he served in Sudan and then in Palestine.
In May of 1942, Wingate was sent to Burma, where he formed ‘Wingate’s Raiders’, better known as the Chindits, named after the Burmese word ‘chinthe’, meaning lions (after the lion statues that guarded the temples in Burma. Wingate arrived as a major but was quickly promoted to colonel.
This group used classic hit-and-run tactics against the Japanese. The Chindits were particularly successful along the Irrawaddy River where they cause a great deal of damage to Japanese supply lines. The Chindits also sent information back to the Royal Air Force to assist in their operations. This unit did a great deal to weaken the Japanese force that was in Burma and its work continued even after Orde Wingate was killed in a plane crash in April of 1944.
His message to the men on the first ever mission by the Chindits was, “Today we stand on the threshold of battle. The time of preparation is over, and we are moving on the enemy to prove ourselves and our methods. We need not as we go forward into the conflict, suspect ourselves of selfish or interested motives. We have all had the opportunity of withdrawing and are here because we have chosen to be here… we have chosen to bear the burden and heat of the day. Our aim is to make a government of the world in which all men can live at peace with equal opportunity or service. Finally, knowing the vanity of man’s efforts and the confusion of his purpose, let us pray that God may accept our services and direct our endeavours, so that when we shall have done all we shall see the fruit of our labours and be satisfied.”