Project 9: The Birth Of The Air Commandos In World War II. By Dennis R. Okerstrom. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2014. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 300. $29.95 ISBN 978-08262-2027-1
This a splendid book about a little-reported-on corner of World War II geography and forces engaged in a do-or-die situation in Burma and India in 1943-1944. The book deals with some unforgettable figures. General "Hap" Arnold and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten lead the list, with brilliant, if eccentric, British Brigadier Orde Wingate close behind. Wingate's scheme for taking the fight to the Japanese in Burma was the catalyst for the formation of the U.S. Army Air Forces "Air Commandos."
Wingate won the Distinguished Service Order in Palestine, leading Special Night Squads against Arab insurrectionists who were assassinating British officials and Jewish settlers during the period 1936-1938. He won another DSO in 1941 leading Gideon Force, a roving column of men, camels and supplies to assist in the recapture of Ethiopia. In early 1942, he was sent to the Far East to raise and train guerrilla forces to help retake Burma from the Japanese Army.
In February 1943, he led some 3,000 British and Empire troops (including Gurkhas, West Africans, and Indian units) across the Chindwin River. He called them Chindits, based upon the term for mythical guardians of Burmese temples. They formed Long Range Penetration Groups, to be supported only by air, with the task of interrupting Japanese Army communications. While doing some damage, they finally had to be ordered back. Only 2,120 of the original 3.000 returned. The wounded were left behind to the tender mercies of the Japanese.
Wingate and his men were received as heroes in a theater where successes were rare. He received his third DSO and his forces' exploits made front-page news in England. A copy of his report of the first Chindit operation went to a friend of Churchill, who brought it to the great man's attention. Churchill was impressed and ordered Wingate back to England to accompany him to Quebec and the Quadrant Conference with President Roosevelt and the combined chiefs of staff.
There, in a series of briefings, Wingate laid out a plan for helping retake northern Burma, a move designed to keep China in the war--a matter of great interest and concern to Roosevelt. Both Roosevelt and Churchill endorsed his scheme.