The British had mounted an innovative deep penetration raid into Burma in 1943. Now they were preparing to launch the Chindits on a second larger operation. Once again they were led by the unconventional Major General Orde Wingate. There were plenty in the senior ranks who doubted the value of such operations – but they appealed to the imagination of Churchill and the scheme got support from on high.
This time they would not march all the way in but be flown in and then be resupplied by air. This was another innovation and there was not much experience to base plans upon. There were many difficulties to be overcome and even then supplies would be tight.
John Masters, later to become a noted novelist, was one of the officers planning the operation, now almost ready to go:
One detail we were spared: we didn’t have to weigh anything or anybody. That had been done, down to ounces. Apart from heavy weapons, reserve ammunition and radio sets, we were going to carry everything on our backs. For seven months we had been waging a furious but indecisive battle in an attempt to give the soldier the means to fight and eat, and at the same time allow him to walk and run.
The results were appalling to look at in cold blood, but represented the best compromise we could reach. The No. 1 of a Bren-gun team, when carrying the gun, and just after a supply drop had put five days’ K rations in his pack, toted a load of 86 pounds. For a Gurkha with a total body weight of about 130 pounds, who was expected to run up and down mountains, this was a lot. The weights ranged down until the Brigadier and a few technicians carried about 42 pounds.
And now — how, actually, do you get three large Missouri mules into a C-47, at night, to a tight schedule? How do you keep them there, so that they do not injure themselves and cannot kick their handlers or the sides of the plane? What do you do if one breaks loose in the air? Shoot him? The bullet will go on through the sides of the plane. From what angles is it safe to engage in gun-play inside a loaded aircraft?
We were going to land, from the air, in the centre of North Burma. But where, exactly? The gliders would go first. They needed a strip of reasonably smooth ground, at least 100 yards wide by 400 yards long, not on or near any routes actively used by the japanese. The strip had to be capable of expansion and improvement, quickly and with such equipment as the gliders could take, into an airfield 800 yards long, for use by C-47s. It had to be fairly close to the assigned area of operations.
[Later he went out on aerial reconnaissance]
It was tremendous country, not tall in the Himalayan sense, but big, the dark jungle rolling away beyond the horizons, seemingly without a break – then the sun caught a flash of water and I saw a silver river among the trees. I stared down with all my mind concentrated. We were not flying very high, but it was quite impossible to see under the trees.
Whole divisions might be encamped down there — actually, they were – but unless they made heavy smoke fires, I would see nothing. So – nor would the Zeros see us when, soon, we began to march and live under that dense roof.
We would have to be careful crossing fields, and rivers – the sandbanks showed up like neon signs — but otherwise, with our own air force so much in the ascendant over Burma, we could ignore the risk of being discovered from the air when on the move. This was good news, and vitally important news, too.
Even as the Chindits prepared to fly out there was a whole Japanese division marching through the jungle in the opposite direction, carrying all their equipment and supplies, intent upon invading India itself.