Fire in the night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion New York: Random House, c 1999 John Bierman and Colin Smith Great Britain. Army Biography, Wingate, Orde Charles, 1903-1944 Hardcover. 1st. ed., later printing. 434 p. : ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -419) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
Winston Churchill thought he was a military genius; others considered him greatly overrated; a few even thought him mad. Almost sixty years after his death at age forty-four in an airplane crash, Orde Wingate remains perhaps the most controversial of all World War II commanders.
Born into a fundamentalist Christian sect and raised in the Cromwellian tradition of Sword and Bible, Wingate was an odd mixture of religious mystic and idealist, combining an unshakable belief in an Old Testament God with an insatiable interest in music, literature, history, philosophy, and the politics of his day.
Orde Wingate passionately embraced the prophetic vision of Jewish redemption when posted to British-ruled Palestine in 1936 favoring the Jews’ ultimate return to Israel and during his service there he worked to help realize that goal by training Jewish irregulars – the Special Night Squads – to take the initiative against the established government, taught a future generation of Israeli generals how to fight and helped set the foundations for the Israeli army and its operational doctrines. But his overriding and enduring passion for Zionism, a cause that – although he had no Jewish blood – may have had its roots in the mystical belief that the English were the lost tribe of Israel.
In 1941, Wingate led another guerrilla-style force into Italian-occupied Ethiopia and using bluff and deception used a force of 12,000 to defeat the Italian army of 200,000 and was instrumental in restoring Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne. But the campaign that was to bring him world fame was conducted behind enemy lines in Burma, where his Chindits shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility in jungle fighting, giving Allied morale a much-needed boost at a crucial point in World War II. The Chindits set up a secret base, with airfield, behind Japanese lines in Burma, and he set up his headquarters there. Wingate was called to a conference in India, traveling on an American B-25, which crashed with no survivors on March 12, 1944. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, along with his British aide-de-camp, and the American crew of the B-25, because the majority of the victims of the air crash in which he died were American. It was not possible to distinguish between the victims of the crash.
Throughout his career, Wingate’s unconventionality and disdain for the superiors he dismissed as “military apes” marked him as a difficult if not impossible subordinate. He was that, but also, as this new study reveals, an inspiring leader.