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Orde Charles Wingate: "Hayedid"

Orde Charles  Wingate - "Hayedid"

Major General  Orde Charles Wingate1(February 26, 1903 – March 24, 1944) was an exceptional man, a brave, gifted and controversial soldier,  and an extraordinary friend of the Jewish people and the Zionist cause. His Hebrew nickname, "hayedid," means "the friend." Orde Charles Wingate

Wingate  was born in Naini Tal, India. His father was a British officer and his mother came from a missionary family. Both parents were members of  the Plymouth Brethren, a reclusive non-denominational Christian movement founded by J.N. Darby. The movement originated in Ireland and England during the 1820s and 1830s, propagating a dispensationalist theology, which calls for the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (see Christian Zionism).  Wingate evidently came to share these beliefs, though the extent of his active religious involvement is unclear.

Wingate was educated according to Christian religious tradition, and in 1921 was accepted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He became a gunnery officer in 1923. He also began to study Arabic and Semitics. In 1928, he obtained an assignment to Sudan through his cousin, Sir Francis Reginald Wingate, who was formerly Governor General of Sudan and High Commissioner of Egypt. In the Sudan, Wingate was assigned to patrol the Abyssinian border against slave traders and ivory poachers. He introduced a system of ambushes in place of the regular patrols. In 1935 he was married to Lorna Moncrieff Paterson.

Orde Charles Wingate in Palestine

In 1936 Orde Wingate was sent to Palestine as a Captain in military intelligence. Palestinians led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini had begun a campaign of riots, massacres and attacks against both British Mandate officials and Jewish communities, known later as the "Palestine Arab Revolt." Wingate became friendly with Zionist leaders including Chaim Weizmann and  Moshe Sharett (Shertok) and learned Hebrew. When Wingate  told the Jews he wanted to help them, they were suspicious. He was, after all, a British intelligence officer. By Wingate's own account, almost every other British official in Mandatory Palestine in those days disliked Jews.

Wingate initiated a plan to create  small and mobile units of elite volunteers.  A report he submitted later, on June 5th, 1938, entitled : "Secret Appreciation of Possibilities of Night Movements by Armed Forces of the Crown - With Object of Putting an end to Terrorism in Northern Palestine") detailed the concept.2

 "There is only one way to deal with the situation, to persuade the gangs that, in their predatory raids, there is every chance of their running into a government gang which is determined to destroy them." The units would carry the offensive to the enemy, take away his initiative and keep him off-balance, "and ...produce in their minds the belief government forces will move at night and can and will surprise them either in villages or across country." The force would be a mixed British-Jewish one. Night operation would give them the advantages of shock and surprise.  He would base his force in Jewish communities rather than at British bases. The Jewish police and the Haganah had good intelligence contacts and knew the land. The British had the formal training, the equipment and official support. In many respects his plan dovetailed with what the Haganah, under Yitzhak Sadeh, was already trying to do. Sadeh was to say later:3

"For some time we did the same things as Wingate, but on a smaller scale and with less skill. We followed parallel paths, until he came to us, and in him we found our leader."

Wingate's plan was initially ignored. The British didn't want to enlist the cooperation of the Jews, and conventional minds feared unconventional methods. Eventually however, it was approved by Archibald Wavell, then commander of British forces in Palestine. Wingate then won the support of the Jewish Agency and the Haganah, though most Zionist leaders were skeptical at first that any British military person would help them. In June 1938 the new British commander, General Haining, gave Wingate permission to create the Special Night Squads (SNS). Wingate made his main base at Ein Harod. There, he was to remind his soldiers, the Jewish Judge Gideon had chosen his soldiers for a famous battle. Gideon was a favorite of his, a Biblical hero who destroyed a large enemy force with 300 picked men, selecting 300 from 32,000 candidates.

Additional bases were set up at several other points. Different authors mention Hanita on the Lebanese border, Geva  and Ayelet Hashachar.  In September 1938, Wingate began the "Big Course" at Ein Harod to enlarge the SNS and to teach Haganah recruits ambush techniques and night fighting.  Under Wingate's command, the night squads ambushed Arab saboteurs. The Jewish Agency supported the SNS and paid its salaries in part, also paying for bribes to Arab collaborators for intelligence information. The task of the SNS was primarily to protect the Iraq to Haifa oil pipeline - the TAP line, by ambushing saboteurs The SNS also raided border villages used as bases by the Mufti's men. Wingate's operations were very successful in combating terror and guerilla raids.

Wingate has been criticized4 for the harsh methods his force used against the enemy and those who assisted them. Cruelty and punitive humiliation provoked negative comment from some of the Haganah people and from Moshe Sharett (Shertok) who was otherwise a friend and admirer of Wingate. However, Wingate's methods were no worse than the brutal tactics employed by other British forces in Palestine in putting down the revolt, and the Arab gangs they were fighting were killing civilians mercilessly.

Tom Segev  claims the methods were often extreme. If Segev's claims are correct, the SNS  violated elementary civil rights and some of their actions  would be considered violations of the Hague Convention of 1907 on Laws and Customs of War.  They whipped civilians for aiding the marauders, and apparently shot "escaped" prisoners and tortured at least one prisoner to death. There were also incidents in which drunken British soldiers pillaged villages.  However, British police and army in Palestine were using harsh measures against civilians and the tactics of Wingate's men were not necessarily exceptional. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that Wingate took part in these actions.

To a very large extent Wingate shaped both the fighting tradition of the Haganah and that of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and may be looked upon as the founder of the Haganah as an army. "Taking the war to the enemy" and many of his other ideas became part of Haganah and IDF military doctrine. His proteges, including Moshe Dayan and others, went on to see service in the Jewish Brigade  and as leaders of the Haganah and IDF.  He instilled the traditions of commando warfare, night fighting and covert operations in the Haganah, as well as the tradition that officers lead from the front, a practice which was his trade mark.

Wingate kept a Bible with him at all times. He seemed focused on defending the Jews with an intensity that the Zionists, not knowing his family background, usually did not understand. Wingate was an eccentric who sometimes wore an alarm clock on his wrist. He ate raw onion because he believed in its health virtues. Wingate was a strict disciplinarian in some ways, and  a demanding commander. He had a facility for cultivating politicians and using those relationships to circumvent his superiors. His habits were eccentric and he had an affinity for the Jews not shared by many other British officers. One biography itemizes what other officers disliked about Wingate:5

"[H]is rebellious scorn, his arrogance, his paranoid touchiness, his reckless rudeness, his flouting of convention, his personal scruffiness, his leftish ideas, and (dare one suggest it?) his strange obsession with Zionism and the Jews."

While Wingate excelled as a tactician, he also took the long view. In 1937, after four months in Palestine, he told Sir Reginald Wingate that the British Empire should ally itself militarily with the Jews. Although the Jews had no army at the time, he said they would be better soldiers than the British and could provide the key to preserving the Empire. He saw a general war coming. He said the League of Nations' failure to stop the Italian annexation of Ethiopia in 1936 made the war inevitable. He said Mandatory Palestine could take in one million Jews in seven years. This was when Britain was moving toward barring Jews from entering entirely.

In October 1938 Wingate asked for home leave. In London he arranged a private meeting with Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald to lobby against the findings of the 1938 Woodhead Commission, which had abandoned earlier proposals to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. When word of the meeting reached military circles, this was Wingate's undoing.  His commanding officers in Palestine removed him from command, and in May 1939, he was transferred back to Britain. His passport was stamped with an entry forbidding him to return to Palestine.

Wingate was accused of being Jewish, and became the target of anti-Semitic innuendo. He found it necessary to make the following official declaration: "Neither I, nor my wife, nor any member of our families has a drop of Jewish blood in our veins." He said this in a formal appeal against critical evaluations he received from his commanders. He added, "I am not ashamed to say that I am a real and devoted admirer of the Jews .... Had more officers shared my views the rebellion would have come to a speedy conclusion some years ago."

Orde Charles Wingate in Abyssinia: The Gideon Force

When World War II began in September 1939, Wingate commanded  an anti-aircraft unit. Wavell, now Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Command which was based in Cairo, invited him to Sudan to begin operations against Italian occupation forces in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He assembled the Gideon Force, a commando group6 of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian soldiers. Wingate arranged to bring his former Haganah interpreter, Avraham Akavia, to Ethiopia as his personal clerk. The force lacked medical services, and Wingate eventually prevailed on his superiors to allow him to bring a group of Jewish doctors from Palestine.

Wingate named the Gideon force for the Jewish judge Gideon. Avraham Akavia, later wrote a book describing the campaign, With Wingate in Abyssinia.

With the approval of exiled Emperor Haile Selassie, the group began operations in February 1941. The assigned mission of Gideon Force was to start a local revolt in Gojjam Province to divert Italian strength while 87,000 British troops attacked from Sudan and Kenya. The Italian occupation force in all of East Africa numbered some 340,0007. At least 20,000 of these soldiers were facing Wingate on the way to Addis Ababa. Wingate was temporarily promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Gideon Force, helped by local resistance fighters, harassed Italian forts and supply lines, capturing one town after another as the enemy withdrew. Under instructions to delay Haile Selassie's return to Addis Ababa until British forces held firm control, Wingate instead supported the Emperor's insistence on continuing to the capital. On May 5, 1941, Wingate led a victory parade through Addis Ababa and restored the Lion of Judah to his throne. This was the first victory parade of the Allied forces in World War II.

Disregarding orders, Wingate then led 2,000 Ethiopian soldiers in pursuit of an enemy column that was still in the field. Wingate's force captured and disarmed 12,000 to 14,000 enemy soldiers on May 23. Gideon Force was dismantled, and on June 4, 1941, Wingate was removed from command and reduced to the rank of Major. He left for Cairo and complained to Wavell. He contracted malaria and attempted suicide.8 He was sent to Britain to convalesce. Soon after that, Wavell was made Commander-in-Chief in India, responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre. Later, Wavell sent for Wingate.

Orde Charles Wingate in Burma

Wingate left for India in February of 1942. He was promoted to Colonel. Instead of trying to organize guerrilla activity in Burma, Wingate created a commando force that could operate behind enemy lines. The long-range penetration unit became known as the Chindits, after a mythical Burmese lion, the chinthe.  Wingate set out with 3,000 Chindits for Burma on February 12, 1943. After initial successes behind Japanese lines, they suffered heavy losses. Only about 2,200 of the original 3,000 men straggled out of the jungle April 15 through June 8, and of these most were unfit for further service

A British general in New Delhi said Wingate was unfit to command a brigade. When Wingate heard about this, he said: "The personal attacks cannot be answered by argument. But they can be, and are, answered by the facts. It is because I am what I am, objectionable though that appears to my critics, that I win battles."

His exploits caught the imagination of the press, however. He was promoted to Brigadier General,  and he and his wife Lorna accompanied Churchill to the Quadrant conference in Quebec. There he explained his doctrine of deep penetration to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Returning to India with a promotion to acting Major General and given six brigades, he began to plan Operation Thursday. The plan was to destroy enemy communications and supply lines from southern Burma to the Japanese fighting General Joseph Stilwell in the north and William Slim in Imphal and Kohima. Wingate felt that once he could prove its effectiveness in Burma, his concept of building strongholds behind enemy lines could become the way to take Hanoi and Bangkok, and eventually China. He believed that armies could extend the range of ground forces by exploiting two factors relatively new in warfare---aircraft and radio.

The operation was launched on March 5, 1944. Using gliders as troop carriers, the Chindits set up three bases deep in enemy territory. The best known of these was "Broadway," a jungle clearing 200 miles behind Japanese lines. This included a relatively large airstrip that enabled supplies and reinforcements to be flown in and the wounded flown out. Unfortunately, Orde Wingate was killed along with a number of British correspondents and American crew members, when his plane took off from Broadway and crashed into a hillside near Imphal during a storm on March 24, 1944.

Wingate and others who died in the air crash were initially buried in Burma. Later they were retransferred to Arlington National Cemetery  A memorial was erected to him in Britain as well. The Wingate physical fitness institute in Netanya, Israel, is named for him.

Wingate received the Distinguished Service Order three times: for valor in battle in Palestine, for the Gideon Force operations in Ethiopia, and for the first Chindit campaign in Burma.

Winston Churchill said of Wingate, "There was a man of genius who might well have become also a man of destiny." Another Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote that Wingate would have been Israel's first military chief of staff, if he had lived.

Moshe Dayan and other Israelis who served in Wingate's Special Night Squads saw him as a leader who, as Dayan put it, "taught us everything we know." Yigal Yadin said of Wingate, "His basic contribution - and it was a great one - was to teach us that warfare is a science and an art at the same time. He was the perfect example of the military man, being himself the excellent combination of scientist and artist."

Wingate's wife, Lorna, was loyal to the Zionist cause and organized Youth Aliyah in Britain. According to Israeli legend, Lorna flew over the embattled kibbutz Ramot Naftali during the Israeli War of Independence, and dropped Wingate's Hebrew bible to the embattled fighters.  However, according to a 1999 biography of Wingate, Lorna was denied permission for reasons of her own safety and instead inscribed the bible and gave it to a group of women who had been evacuated from the kibbutz. The bible is in a museum at Ein Harod.9

Wingate's own epitaph might best be given in his own words, which were his battle order before the opening of the initial Chindits operation in Burma:

"... It is always a minority that occupies the front line. It is a still smaller minority that accepts with a good heart tasks like this that we have chosen to carry out....

"We have all had the opportunity of withdrawing, and we are here because we have chosen to be here; that is, we have chosen to bear the burden and the heat of the day. Men who make this choice are above the average in courage. We therefore have no fear for the staunchness and guts of our comrades....

"Victory in war cannot be counted upon, but what can be counted is that we shall go forward, determined to do what we can to bring this war to the end we believe best for our friends and comrades in arms---without boastfulness or forgetting our duty, resolved to do the right, so far as we can see the right.

"Our aim is to make possible a government of the world in which all men can live at peace and with equal opportunity of service."

 Note Wingate's ultimate war aim --- equal opportunity of service.

Wingate concluded:

"Finally, knowing the vanity of man's effort and the confusion of his purpose, let us pray that God may accept our service and direct our endeavors, so that when we have done all, we shall see the fruit of our labors and be satisfied."

Joseph M. Hochstein and Ami Isseroff

Sources - This biography is based in part on:

Akavia, A., Orde Wingate: His Life and Mission, (Hebrew), Israel Ministry of Defense, Tel Aviv. 1993.

Bierman, J., and Smith, C., Fire in the Night: Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia and Zion, Random House, N.Y. 1999

Segev, T., One Palestine Complete,  Henry Holt, N.Y. 1999, pp 429-432.

Sykes, C., Orde Wingate, Collins, London. 1959.

The Web site - Orde Charles Wingate


1Wingate's name is given in several places as Charles Orde Wingate. However, his memorials and tombstone are inscribed "Orde Charles Wingate" and "Wingate, O C." See http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/owingate.htm

2 Orde Charles Wingate See the chapter on Ideas


4Bierman and Smith, pp 114-117, and Segev, 1999, pp 430-431 and especially the note on p 431.

5 Bierman and Smith, p. 384

6 The size of Wingate's force in Ethiopia varied, apparently depending on the number of local guerillas and troops that joined up, and on the estimates of different observers. All told at different times, he is said to have had "no more than 1,700 men" or 2,500 or 3,000.

7 The figure of 340,000 is from Bierman and Smith, p. 152. They claim that of these, 90,000 were Italian carabinieri, grenadiers and Blackshirt militiamen. The remainder were Italian officered native troops. There are different estimates of Italian strength, all of which include local troops as well as Italians. The local troops were not necessarily loyal to the Italians. East Africa included Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Estimates of Italian troops strength vary from 280,000 to 340,000 of which only a fraction were in Ethiopia. Nonetheless, accounts claim the Gideon force defeated forces of 9,000 -14,000 in different engagements.

8 Detractors claimed that the suicide attempt was due to manic depressive illness, but others state that it was the result of depression induced by atabrine (formerly used as a malaria medication in place of quinine).

9 Bierman and Smith, p. 390.

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Orde Charles Wingate