OVER JAP TERRITORY IN BURMA FLIES AMERICAN C-47 TRANSPORT WITH SUPPLIES FOR "WINGATE'S MOB,"
ITS CREW MANNING MACHINE GUNS AGAINST JAP INTERCEPTORS
BRIGADIER O. C. WINGATE COMMANDS BURMA RAIDERS
Photographs for LIFE by William Vandivert
Japanese Army headquarters in Burma had incredible news to chew on from February to May.
"British force," ran the messages, "operating 200 miles inside our lines. Mandalay-Myitkyina railway cut by
British force. Two bridges blown out by a British force." The trouble was that such news came from all over Burma.
It moved faster than men could travel. And the Japs could not find anybody. A whole division was assigned to find
this ghost army of the British.
It was "Wingate's Mob" or the "Chindits" the Japanese were looking for. Last year 30-year-old Brigadier
Orde Charles Wingate, a big-headed Scot who reads Plato for fun, took a second-line Lancashire regiment, added some
Gurkhas, Kachins, Shans and Burmese and led them into an Indian jungle for training. It was his theory that trained
Englishmen could match the Japs at their own game of jungle infiltration fighting. Last February he took his force
of several thousand men across the Chindwin River into North Burma in eight separate columns.
This army, looking like a gang of hillbilly assasins, was in fact the last word in 20th Century techniques.
Wingate commanded his columns with a radio mounted on a mule. He supplied them by planes that flew in from Assam.
Their job was to destroy the bridges and railways of North Burma, thus delaying a Jap offensive across the Chindwin
River and relieving a surrounded Burmese force. They all understood that anyone who fell by the wayside would be left
there. In May their job was done and they fought their way back again to India.
This unknown army is shown on this page. LIFE photographer William Vandivert flew in with a supply plane
that made a hazardous landing 170 miles inside Burma and brought out 17 sick and wounded men of "Wingate's Mob."
The pictures make clear a point that the Germans and Japs will never again forget: ordinary Englishmen are very
SUPPLY LINE GOES BY AIR TO BRITISH BURMA RAIDERS
The supply line of Wingate's mysterious British raiders into Burma was entirely across enemy territory.
Naturally it was by air transport using Douglas C-47's, escorted whenever possible by Curtiss P-36 Mohawk fighters.
Since Wingate outfoxed the Japanese pursuit by cutting back directly toward the Jap concentrations, his men were often
within a few miles of Japanese fighter bases. The transports dropped their loads from low levels so as not to give
away the position of the land forces. The planes brought in boats, outboard motors, mortars, radios, bully beef,
mutton, beans, rifles, tommy guns, ammunition, grenades gelignite, haversacks, medicine, safety pins, antomosquito
cream, shoelaces, dobbins of rum, magazines and mail. Beyond that, the men were expected to live off the land but
the Japs had stripped the Burmese villages of food. Wingate's troops had started with a thousand mules, picked up
some bullocks and one Japanese elephant. When supplies failed, they ate mules, bullocks and elephant, boiled python
meat, banana leaves, bamboo shoots and boiled grass soup. Major Ferguson's force was notified by the Japs, "Your
army has been destroyed, surrender." Ferguson's men marched jauntily through the next village in columns of threes,
with rifles slung, and calmly crossed the Irrawaddy River before the Japs came up.
Signal fires bring supply plane to the patch of gray-green jungle in Burmese mountains east of Irrawaddy River,
where one of the small British columns fighting their way back to India is camped. Parachutes belly out behind,
suspending crates that plane's crew shoved out. This time the transport plane had the protection of four Mohawk
fighters against Jap interceptors.
Two days' rations includes (from left) digestive biscuits, dates, cheese, sugar, salt, chocolate,
matches, tea, powdered milk and cigarets. The can holds ten days' rations, packed handy for parachute drop.
Rubber dinghies are packed at supply base in Assam for transport to raiders in Burma. Wicker crates get straw
padding (background) against breakage, are wrapped in burlap.
Out the door go the parachute loads. Two men push. A third (left), who has tied himself in, lies and
kicks the load out. Static lines trip parachutes open. One crew member almost fell out, too, on this trip.
Loads are dropped near edge of woods, so that men on ground can quickly get them out of sight of Jap reconnaissance
planes. Jap airfield was four minutes' flight away here.
A PARACHUTE-DROPPING TRIP OVER BURMA
TURNS INTO A LANDING IN JUNGLE GLADE
Indian headquarters for the Burma raiders got word in May that a column under Major Walter P. Scott
was out of rations and only 20 miles from a Jap fighter base. The men were eating jungle leaves and bamboo shoots
and leaving the weak behind to die. They had not received supplies for almost four weeks. A Douglas C-47 plane
took off to supply them. It lost its fighter escort in the mountain clouds and went on alone, through air supposedly
controlled by the Japanese Air Force.
The pictures on this page show how, after dropping their parachute loads, the crew saw that the men
on the ground were spelling out a plea that the plane land. It tried but couldn't, because the pitted field invited
disaster for all. Three days later the plane returned from Assam to the same opening in the jungle to find that the
Burma raiders had marked out a better landing strip with parachute pieces. This time the transport had four Mohawk
fighters with it. The marked strip, however, was about 500 yards too short. Landing was all right, but taking off
loaded was bound to be something else. Pilot Michael Vlasto braked his plane coming in, turned at the end of the
glade and taxied back.
The gang of ruffians that the poured out of the forest might have made the cast of characters of
Treasure Island. They were bearded, tough, lean, covered with jungles sores and rags. With them were a few
indispensable Burmese and some Gurkhas. For three months they had been hunters, watching unseen from the jungle,
striking quickly then fading back into the jungle. Now at last they were heading home.
Big surprise came on supply trip on a Sunday in May when the men on the ground picked up the fallen parachutes
(left) and began spelling out a message (center). LIFE photographer Vandivert was in the
plane taking pictures. Troops here had begun to pass out from hunger. The message in parachutes spells out PLANE
LAND HERE NOW. Pilot "Lumme" Lord ordered the plane's crew to the rear and went down to try to land. The field was
big but terribly pitted. He made two passes over it, found that landing was impossible, headed home.
Line of parachute pieces marks landing strip (center) just above the fighter plane inspecting field. On first
trip parachutes were dropped at upper left.
Second trip,transport plane manages to land on 700-yard strip marked with white dashes and surrounded by
potholes. "What looked like Captain Kidd's buccaneers," reports Vandivert, "streamed out of the woods." The men
grabbed food and began to eat at once. Commanding officer Major Walter P. Scott, in quilted vest, shakes hands with
the plane crew while his men hastily pull the plane's parachute loads of food and ammunition out of sight into the
forest. These were not dropped since plane was going to land anyway.
The sick and wounded are helped into the big plane, after it has been unloaded. Even these sick and weary
men wore their packs as lightly as civilians would wear a coat. There was a lot of laughing and joking by all hands
as they said goodbye.
PLANE RESCUES 17 SICK AND
WOUNDED WHO HAD EXPECTED
TO BE LEFT BEHIND TO DIE
Two hundred miles behind the Jap lines with a raider force is no place to get sick. But inevitably
some men did. Some of Major Scott's column fell behind and died, if they were not killed by the Japs. Seventeen of
them, with unusual determination, staggered along with the column until it reached the point where it would rendezvous
with the supply plane. With 170 miles to march across enemy country, most of them were virtually under death sentence
unless they could be flown out. There were really 18, but one man argued Major Scott into agreeing that he was well
enough to march on his own feet out of Burma.
The transport was on the ground only twelve minutes. Overloaded with the sick and wounded, it was
making only 60 m.p.h. when it lifted off the tiny strip and brushed the tall treetops at the edge of the field.
The sweat was streaming off the faces of the pilots, but then the men in the plane began to smile big smiles. In
command was Colonel Cooke who had intestinal trouble and jungle sores. He told how, chased by Japanese, the column had
camped under a hill along the Irrawaddy River, between Jap garrison towns, until a junk grounded on a mudbank just
below. The raiders over-ran it and used it to cross the river. Two days later their last mule, carrying their radios, died.
They ate it, sent a last message and buried the radio. Foraging in the villages produced nothing. The Jap patrols
had stripped the countryside bare.
But the column more than proved Brigadier Wingate's theory that the British soldier has plenty of
what it takes in the jungle against the Japanese: "imagination; the power to give of his best when the audience is
smallest; self-reliance and power of individual action."
A soundless cheer is raised by the men who are left behind. Somebody suggested a cheer and an officer added,
"Cheer, but don't make a sound," because Jap patrols might have been attracted by the plane's arrival. These men
still have to march through 170 tough miles cross-country to reach safety in Assam. Toward the end of May they
completed their trip out.
On the way home with the 17 sick and wounded, plane rigger gives cup of water from captured German water can
to Corp. Jimmy Walker of Berwick-on-Tweed, who had fallen behind column two days before it reached the rendezvous
field. He had dysentery and an infected hip, caught up with column by sheer guts. Left foreground, a Gurkha; right,
Safe home, at air base in Assam, the 17 sick raiders get out of the plane to meet the neat men of the R.A.F. (left).
Bearded man in center is Sgt. Tony Aubrey of Birmingham. Right, five of the most exhausted including the shy Gurkha
and Burmese lie down under the wing to wait for the ambulance.
Four days later the same men have made a complete comeback in the hospital on two bottles of beer a day, two
chickens apiece for lunch and all the cigarets they can smoke. Left, Sgt. Leslie Flowers of Manchester; the two in the
center with bottles, Sgts. McElroy and Aubrey, with his beard shaved off.
A wounded hand was what Pvt. John Yates of Manchester brought back from Burma raid. He is also drawn from the
effects of a touch of fever and the usual jungle sores.
The bullet that went in his back and came out of the hole in his belly he is pointing to, was brought back by
Pvt. Jim Suddery of Islington. The rifle was small calibre.
The only spoon the column had for mixing biscuits, held by Jim Rogerson.
LIFE'S COVER: Sybil Myersburg, pretty wife of Marine Captain Robert Myersburg, gets monthly wedding
anniversary presents from her husband who flies over a wide area in the Far East. This sea-shell, fish-scale,
grass-skirt outfit is one of his many presents. Others are a Chinese mandarin coat, jade teacups, tapa-cloth sarong,
batik blouse and pearls.
BRITISH RAID BURMA
Adapted by Carl W. Weidenburner
from the June 28, 1943 issue of
Portions copyright 1943 Time, Inc.