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S u m m a r y

S u m m a r y

S u m m a r y

photo caption
Israeli stamp issued honoring Wingate.
(photo courtesy
Sam Zwetchkenbaum)

Israeli stamp honoring Wingate

Orde Charles Wingate was a brilliant & unorthodox military leader during WWII. Enhanced by the uniqueness of personality, his achievements created a legend in military history & helped to develop modern warfare. In pre-war British Palestine, his operations in counter-insurgency were innovative and almost textbook. The stressing of well-motivated and trained individuals using initiative, speed, and surprise helped to lay the groundwork for a future nation's survival. In Ethiopia, he demonstrated the power of insurgency when the conditions were right. His ideas on the use of penetration involved creating a shock force to compliment the practice of bluff and constant harassment. In Burma, both his campaigns were a precursor to modern mobile warfare. On the strategic level, he was the first military leader who practiced the linking of air power with ground forces behind enemy lines indefinitely to force a conclusive decision.

Orde Wingate was 41 and a Major-General when he died in a plane crash on March 24, 1944. He is buried in the U.S. Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC with the aircrew he perished with. After his death, the three leaders whose nations he fought for personally wrote to President Truman asking for a more suitable internment. David Ben-Gurion of the Jewish Agency, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, had all been impressed by the man and his devotion to their causes.

Wingate's military exploits etched for him a place in the military arts as a man of creativity, daringness, and controversy. His skill and character, and luck, ensured that in a half dozen years he rose from the rank of Captain to Major-General. He fought in three campaigns, Palestine, Ethiopia, and Burma. In each of them he demonstrated intelligence and innovation, courage and endurance. In each of the three campaigns the military challenges he faced and the solutions to them grew in scale. In each he overcame tremendous obstacles to conceive and personally lead military operations. And in all cases both admiration and questions arose toward his ideas & personality.

photo caption
Unofficial insignia of the Special Night Squads, Wingate's unit in British Palestine.
personal photo

Chindit unit patch Long after the war, debate and controversy still arises over his proper place in history. During the war he clashed with more conformist & traditional officers who failed to see his point of view or understand the potential in his ideas. His unorthodox ideas and methods created as many detractors as supporters. He was intelligent and resourceful in synthesizing existing ideas, techniques and tactics into his own methods and strategies. To this day in military history he is still a polarizing figure. Said the British Army commander in Burma, General Slim, "The trouble was, I think, that Wingate regarded himself as a prophet, and that always leads to a single-centeredness that verges on fanaticism, with all its faults. Yet had he not done so, his leadership could not have been so dynamic, nor his personal magnetism so striking."1

As a military leader he could inspire great confidence from his men. He would exhort his troops on to challenges, his charisma elevating them with his speeches. Wingate generated tremendous loyalty in those who believed in him and his ideas and insights. This was reinforced from his setting an example by enduring the same hardships as those under his command and willingly subjecting himself to the same risks he asked others to take. A hard taskmaster who demanded much but who in return demanded the best for those who followed inspired confidence. One officer who served with him on both of his missions in Burma declared, "He had more than the accepted qualities of leadership. I do not know of a single man who served under him who would not have gone anywhere with him...Wingate appealed to the spiritual not to the material. We knew that for him, as for Joshua, the walls of Jericho would fall down."2

The same characteristics and standards which made him successful also could make it difficult to like him. Loyal and kind to the people he cared for, he could be indecent and intolerant to those whom he felt were actively opposing his quests or failing to live up to his standards. With his own high energy level & commitment to the tasks at hand, which in large part came from his religious faith and his unconditional idealistic dedication to certain causes, he would often mistakenly believe the failure of others to reach the same level or achieve success sprung from reluctance to make the effort. From this Wingate could be impatient with others and on himself, making it difficult at times to work under him. This fervent commitment to his missions, and his offensiveness at actual or imagined hostility from others created enemies. There is evidence he suffered from Clinical Depression. He experienced times of self-doubt and, "Faced by acute despondency the world seemed a hostile place and its inhabitants implacable enemies who were determined to destroy him."3 Yet from the experience of feeling despair and the fear of failure afterward he would try to use to increase his fortitude. Said one of his staff officers in Ethiopia, "Wingate was the most complex character I've ever met. He has a driving passion and was unnecessarily impatient. Generous yet self-promoting with enlarged claims. He had a phenomenal memory and loved holding center stage. Some of his personal habits were a bit outré. He had great strategic vision but his tactics were poor. He was not a lovable person but he was a great leader."4

photo caption
Unit patch from Wingate's Burma unit named the Chindits. personal photo

Chindit unit patch

One distinctive characteristic of the man was his noticeable and cultivated eccentricities. He often kept an unkempt appearance with ill-fitting uniforms and an old-style pith helmet. Large quantities of raw onions were ingested with the belief they were good for one's health. During the organizing of Gideon Force in Ethiopia he took to wearing a miniature alarm clock strapped to his wrist so as to time his interviews. During conversations with visitors he would rub his naked body with a rubber brush, a grooming method he preferred to bathing. He claimed, "With English of a certain class, the worst crime you can commit is to be different, unorthodox, unexpected. I am all those things. The only way to get these qualities tolerated, if not accepted, is to transform one's ‘differences' into eccentricities."5

Wingate as an individual felt and conceived his convictions and obstacles with passion. His Zionism was one of the strongest characteristics of the man, "which he always regarded as the mission he was destined to fulfill during his life."6 He dreamed of leading a Jewish army during the war and afterwards in a struggle for Israel's creation. For his service in Palestine he was awarded the Palestine General Service Medal. He once said he didn't like to wear it with pride because he disagreed with British policy there. When campaigning in Ethiopia and Burma, his Zionism never left him. When given the Ethiopian mission he asked that his Jewish secretary, Avraham Akavia, whom had served under him in Palestine, be assigned to him. Upon his arrival he told him that the war in Ethiopia was a war to liberate a country from unjust occupation, and so was similar to the Zionist struggle: "Whoever is a friend of Abyssinia [then common name for Ethiopia] is a friend of the Jews. If I succeed here I can be of greater help to the Jews later on. You are here for the sake of Zion." Later, in a letter from Burma to Akavia he included in his writing the Biblical phrase, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither."7

photo caption
Wingate as he was often viewed, wearing a rump-
led & dirty uniform and pith helmet, sporting a beard.
photo courtesy of the
Imperial War Museum, London


Commenting upon his wartime death with a comparison to his life, one of Wingate’s military superior’s wrote, "The manner of his death was in keeping with the manner of his life – swift, meteoric and headlong."8 After his death the memory of Wingate continues. In Israel he is remembered reverently among some and honored in history by many. Had he survived the war Ben-Gurion said he would have offered him the top command in the fledgling Israeli Army. In Ethiopia he is recognized as an important figure during a dark period in its history. Among ethnic Burmese respectful awareness of him exists. In the U.S. there have been ceremonies held in his honor. In Britain there is a memorial to his force and himself. Said Churchill at the dedication of a memorial to him remembering of the time he first met Wingate, "We had not talked for half an hour before I felt myself in the presence of a man of the highest quality. It was his genius of leadership which inspired all who served under him. Here indeed is a name which deserves lasting honor."9

next: Select Beginnings


1. Field Marshall Slim, Defeat Into Victory (London: Cassell, 1956), 269.
2. Sir Robert Thompson in Derek Tulloch, Wingate in War and Peace (London: History Book Club, 1972), 5.
3. Trevor Royle, Orde Wingate Irregular Soldier (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995), 330.
4. Major Donald Nott in David Shirreff, Barefeet and Bandoliers (London: Radcliffe Press, 1995), 222.
5. Don Mosher (ed), China-Burma-India (New York: Time-Life Books, 1978), 95.
6. Tulloch, 10.
7. Christopher Sykes, Orde Wingate (New York: World Publishing Company, 1959), 260.
8. Field Marshall A. Wavell in Peter Mead, Orde Wingate And The Historians (Devon: Merlin Books, 1987), 186.
9. Tulloch, 2.