Outpost: June 2009, Issue #223
I saw the flash and began the count, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, then heard the sharp report of the adversaries’ rifle. About 750 yards, I calculated. We need to move closer! I signaled Arista to move out to our left. It was a slow crawl through the Lebanese scrub brush. The flash and crackle of another shot came, from the same location. A few more yards, I thought, then, we would be in position.
Crawling flat on our bellies, Arista and I slowly approached a small rise and then waited. I signaled Arista that we would fire on the next flash. After a few seconds the flash came. I adjusted slightly lower, sight on the spot, and squeezed the trigger. Arista followed by letting go with a full clip of eight rounds in less than five seconds. We waited for counter fire but none came.
After about ten minutes we carefully made our way toward the enemy position. Sooner than anticipated, we were on the sniper’s nest and confirmed the kill…one less enemy of freedom. His buddies, if there were any, had departed.
We were part of a U.S. Marine expedition sent to Lebanon by President Eisenhower in 1958. Joe Arista and I had been partners for some time, having first met when we volunteered for Marine Recon training. The schooling was rigorous. We were introduced to tactics and fighting methods that were not the norm, at least not what we had experienced when we served in a regular Marine Rifle Company. Our tasking ranged from guerilla tactics, mapping, spotting for artillery, and calling in air strikes on selected targets to insertion behind enemy lines to engage in sabotage, gain intelligence on infrastructure, enemy strength, positions and movements. Then there was sniper work, still in its infancy as a legitimate role for fighting Marines. The theme of one shot, one kill was instilled in us.
What I did not know was that Arista and I, and many like us, were beneficiaries of the pioneering efforts of a unique man by the name of Orde Charles Wingate, who had been dedicated to assisting Jews living in and settling Palestine during the 1930’s and 40’s. He taught Moshe Dayan tactics to defeat marauding Arabs with stealth and resolve. Wingate’s fighting and tactical skills were the foundation for the effectiveness of the Haganah and the military doctrines adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces. His fighting prose and doctrines would eventually cascade to the United States Marine Corps, Army and Navy. Through Wingate, Israeli and American warriors were learning how to carry the fight to the enemy and destroy him in unconventional ways.
In a general sense, little is known of this man, whose Hebrew nickname is “Hayedid,” meaning, “the friend.” Oh yes, one may Google the name, and surf reference material that pops up on the screen. But relatively few know of the life and dedication of this man, a British subject, who devoted his creative warrior talents to the defense of Zionism and the restoration of Jews to their ancient and sacred homeland.
Orde Charles Wingate, a Scot, was born on February 26, 1903, the son of a British officer and a religious Christian mother, in Naini Tal, India. His youthful exposure to religious teachings included a strong belief in the restoration of Jews to their homeland. As part of this belief, he was taught that British peoples and many who had immigrated to America were descendents of the lost tribes, carrying the blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In 1921, when Wingate was 18, he was accepted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, England. He began a serious study of Arabic and Semitics and in 1923 became a gunnery officer. A few years later, young Wingate received an assignment to the Sudan to patrol the Abyssinian border to interdict slave traders and ivory poachers. He introduced a system of ambushing in place of standard British patrolling with its regularity, exposure, and easy discovery by the enemy. This was the beginning of irregular, and at the time, controversial tactics that would give advantage to small fighting units pitted against a vastly larger military body.
As a Captain of military intelligence, Wingate was ordered to Palestine. His assignment was to gather intelligence on the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini who had initiated a bloody campaign of attacks against Jewish communities and British Mandate officials stationed in Palestine (no friends of the Jews, by the way). This Arab campaign against Jews, begun during the First World War, was to be dubbed the “Palestine Arab Revolt.”
Wingate became friends with Zionist leaders Chaim Weizmann and Moshe Sharett (Shertok). He began to study Hebrew and soon found himself being accepted, albeit suspiciously, among Jews. His clear, unabashed statement to his new Jewish friends was “I am here to help you!” It was all too clear that military help was going to be needed, and soon.
With broken yet maturing Hebrew spilling off his Scottish/British tongue, a young Captain Wingate initiated plans to create small, mobile units of dedicated warriors from the elite among Israel’s children. On June 25th 1938 Wingate submitted a report to British Military authorities titled “Secret Appreciation of Possibilities of Night Movements by Armed Forces of the Crown—With Object of Putting an end to Terrorism in Northern Palestine”
The report was initially ignored by British brass. However, after intense coaxing by Wingate, the then Commander of British Forces, Archibald Wavell, approved the plan. Immediately, Captain Wingate won support from the Jewish Agency and the Haganah. The new British commander, General Haining, gave Wingate the green light to create what was to become known as the SNS or Special Night Squads. Making his primary base at Ein Harod, Wingate began training and carrying out limited covert operations.
Referring to his Biblical hero Gideon, Wingate would recite to his “special forces” the account of the destruction of a large enemy force allied against Israel by 300 hand picked men. It is said that Wingate kept a Hebrew Bible with him at all times. (After his death his wife Lorna inscribed his Hebrew Bible and it is now in a museum in Ein Harod.) Quickly the uneasiness about this young British warrior waned as the Zionists came to recognize a true friend. On the other hand, British officers would demean Captain Wingate, according to one account complaining of “his 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.”
Despite ridicule, Captain Wingate stayed the course. His plan was plain: “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 (SNS) will move at night and can and will surprise them in villages or across the country.” The Jewish police and the Haganah had good intelligence and knew the land. The British had the equipment and under Wingate’s advanced irregular training, the opportunity to become very effective. In many respects Wingate’s plan fit well with what the Haganah, under Yitzhak Sadeh, was attempting to put into place. Sadeh would later comment that, “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.”
Bases were established throughout the country. One was located at Hanita on the Lebanese border, another at Geva and another at Ayelet Hashachar. The training expanded in size and techniques. In addition to Moshe Dayan his students included many who were to become leaders in the Haganah, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government. Wingate instilled traditions of commando warfare, night fighting and covert operations, as well as the tradition that officers lead from the front, a practice that became his trademark, along with eating raw onions.
Wingate took the long view. He foresaw a major war and in 1937, after only four months in Palestine, told Sir Reginald Wingate that the British Empire should ally itself with the Jews, that they would be better soldiers and could be the key to preserving British interests in Palestine. Wingate insisted that Jewish fighters could help ensure the safety of a predicted one million Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe for Mandatory Palestine within the coming few years. Unfortunately, at that very time British politics were moving toward barring Jews from entering Palestine at all.
Having been away from home for some time, Wingate received leave to return to England for a brief visit with his wife, Lorna Moncrieff Paterson, whom he had married in England in 1935. In England Captain Wingate arranged a private meeting with Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald to lobby against the 1938 Woodhead Commission, which had rejected proposals to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. When word of the meeting reached them, his commanding officers in Palestine stripped him of his command. In May 1939 he was transferred to England, his passport stamped with an entry prohibiting him from returning to Palestine. Wingate became a target for anti-Semitic innuendo and was accused of being “Jewish” by his military peers and members of Parliament. Personal harassment became so intense that Wingate made this public statement: “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!”
By September 1939, as World War II was getting under way, Wingate was in command of an anti-aircraft unit guarding the homeland. However, Wavell, now Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Command based in Cairo, requested Wingate to lead covert operations against the Italian occupation forces in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia. Securing the aid of Avraham Akavia, his former Haganah interpreter, and assembling the Gideon Force, made up of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian soldiers, along with a group of Jewish doctors from Palestine, Wingate set out to deal with the Italians. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Wingate led his small Gideon Force against over 20,000 Italians, capturing about 14,000 of the enemy.
He returned to England with a severe case of malaria and convalesced for a short time before being called upon again by Wavell, now Commander of the South-East Asian Theater of War. Wingate formed a long-range penetration unit named the Chindits, a force of about 3,000 men. After initial successes, the Chindits suffered heavy losses and only about 2,200 men made it out of the Burma jungle in April and June of 1943. His success against the Japanese caught the attention of the press and Wingate was soon promoted to Major General. He and his wife Lorna accompanied Winston Churchill (a great admirer of Wingate) to the Quadrant Conference held in Quebec, Canada.
Returning to India, Major General Wingate planned Operation Thursday. Designed to penetrate 200 miles deep into Japanese held Burmese territory, the operation was launched March 5, 1944 using gliders and troop carriers. Three bases were set up and the Chindits, along with Merrill’s Marauders, under the command of American Brigadier General Frank Merrill, wrecked havoc upon the Imperial Japanese Army.
During a storm on March 24, 1944, Wingate and some Americans flew out of Camp Broadway, the primary encampment behind enemy lines, and hit a nearby mountain top killing all aboard. Wingate’s remains, along with those of the American soldiers, are interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Wingate never lost sight of his love of Zion and hoped to return to aid the Zionist enterprise after the war. Shortly before his death Wingate wrote to his wife: “Finally I am feeling very much at the moment Im Eshkhokheych Yerushalaim Tishkah Yamini (if I forget Jerusalem let my right hand forget its cunning) and do you too pray that our lot takes us there together to the place and the work we love.”
There were many tributes to Wingate, from Winston Churchill to David Ben-Gurion to the men he led in battle. But the best epitaph for the man is the battle order he gave at the beginning of the Chindit campaign in Burma.
“…it is always a minority that occupies the front line. It is still smaller minority that accepts with good heart tasks like this that we have chosen to carry out…
“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….”
A deeply religious man, Wingate concludes: “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.”
He left footprints which only a warrior with skills that confound the enemy leaves, like those of Gideon who destroyed the altars of Baal and defeated the Midianite hordes. He left footprints for us all.
Norman J. Landerman-Moore, a Christian supporter of Israel, is president of Landerman-Moore Associates. He wishes to thank Joseph M. Hochstein and Ami Isseroff for their extensive bibliography on Wingate which he drew upon for this article.