Derek Tulloch (1903-1974), was a senior Army officer, who served as Orde Wingate's chief of staff (Brigadier, General Staff) in the 3rd Indian Infantry Division (also known as Special Force or more popularly, the Chindits) during the Burma campaign. He was actively involved in the post-war controversies surrounding this campaign, and published an important defence of Wingate's leadership, Wingate in peace and war, in 1972.
Derek Tulloch was educated at Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, Haileybury College, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (a contemporary of Orde Wingate). He served as a staff officer with GHQ, British Expeditionary Force, 1939-1940 and was appointed Brigadier, General Staff with Special Force in 1943-44. Post-war he was BRA Southern Command, 1952-1954 and General Officer Commanding, Singapore Base District, 1954-1957. Tulloch was also ADC to the Queen, 1953-1955. At the time of his retirement, he had the rank of Major General.
Orde Wingate (1903-1944) was a significant but controversial British Army commander during the Second World War. He was known as an exponent of unconventional warfare, and achieved fame as commander of the Chindits in the Burma campaign before his untimely death in March 1944. Wingate, who grew up in a strict Christian Brethren household, was educated at Charterhouse and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was then commissioned in the Royal Artillery and later served in the Sudan Defence Force. In the late 1930s, he served in Palestine where he developed controversial counter-insurgency techniques. Wingate established the Special Night Squads, composed of Jewish auxiliary police and British officers, who fought Arab insurgents. This experience led to Wingate becoming a passionate supporter of the Zionist cause, as well as developing a consuming interest in unconventional warfare.
During the Second World War, he commanded 'Gideon Force', a special force of British officers, Sudanese soldiers and Abyssinian volunteers, which took part in the successful reconquest of Abyssinia in 1941. By now, Wingate was known for his innovative military thinking, which stressed the value of small groups of highly trained and motivated soldiers operating with maximum mobility against larger units of conventional forces. Wingate had also gained a reputation for being a difficult colleague, variously suspected of insubordination, arrogance and inflexibility.
In 1942, his talents were called on following the successful Japanese invasion of Burma. British forces were forced back to the Indian border with their position in South East Asia looking increasingly forlorn. Archibald Wavell, the British commander-in-chief in India, had been Wingate's patron earlier in his career, and respected his military ideas. Wingate was now invited to develop these ideas for operations in Burma. Wingate believed that as Japanese forces there were thinly stretched and did not have sufficient air support, they were vulnerable to mobile attacks in their rear. He proposed establishing Long Range Penetration (LRP) Groups to fight behind enemy lines, disrupting communications and supply through small-scale operations. LRP groups would be embedded in enemy territory for potentially long periods of time, and would establish bases, impenetrable to artillery and tank attack, which could be resupplied by air.
Wingate was authorised to develop his ideas in a Special Force, composed of British, Gurkha and Burmese units (later joined by the West African brigade during Operation Thursday). Special Force troops became known as the Chindits (the term deriving from the corrupted form of Chinthé, a mythical beast which guarded Buddhist temples, and the only one permitted in Buddhism to use force). In 1943, Chindit units were tested in an operation (Operation Longcloth) in northern Burma (originally, this was to have been part of a larger British counter-offensive). Despite suffering many casualties, Wingate was able to demonstrate that his units could operate effectively in enemy territory, causing damage to communications and forcing the Japanese to contemplate a new offensive against north-east India to discourage further Chindit-type interventions into the interior of Burma.
Although Wingate's ideas (and personality) were not popular with the British command in India, he did win support from Churchill's government and with the new allied commander for South East Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Wingate was authorised to expand his LRP forces for a new campaign in early 1944. This was originally intended to be part of a larger campaign to reconquer Burma, working in assistance with US and Chinese forces. However, limited Allied resources and the increasing likelihood of a Japanese advance into Assam forced a reconsideration of this offensive. It was decided that the Chindits would operate independently within Burma to disrupt Japanese communications to their Assam front-line. If successful, this would allow for larger LRP operations in Burma in future, and encourage the Chinese (Kuomintang) forces to move into north Burma.
The Chindit operation, known as Operation Thursday, commenced in early March 1944 and focussed on the town of Indaw, an important communications centre between the rivers Chindwin and Irrawaddy. Capture of this town would gravely weaken Japanese troops facing the Chinese in north Burma. Four Chindit brigades were initially deployed in Operation Thursday: 14th, 16th, 77th and 111th, later supported by the 3rd West African brigade which garrisoned the strong points (the 23rd Brigade operated independently as a support force closer to the Kohima-Imphal front line). Brigades were flown or marched in to establish strong points near to the Indaw area, from where they launched operations. A novel feature of the operation was the close working between land and air forces, developing new techniques of forward air control to support air attacks on the Japanese, and to keep Chindit groups resupplied. Much of this work was done by the US 1st Air Commando, which worked effectively with the Chindits. The US also proved vital to the viability of the operation by providing weapons, walkie-talkies and K-rations.
The Chindits succeeded in blocking the north-south Burma railway at a point named White City, and were also able to attack communications south of Indaw, which were supplying the Japanese 15th Army. An attempt to capture Indaw however was not initially successful, and this proved to be a controversial episode in assessments of the Chindit campaign. Wingate's critics later claimed he had dispersed Chindit forces in multiple operations, instead of focussing on Indaw; Wingate's defenders pointed to inadequate reinforcements, despite earlier commitments to providing these. By the time the Indaw attack had stalled, Wingate had been killed in an air crash on 23 March 1944. Command of the Chindit units was then assumed by Brigadier "Joe" Lentaigne (1899-1955) who continued the operation and led the Chindits until they were disbanded in 1945 (Tulloch became deputy commander of the Chindits).
The rest of the 1944 campaign saw the Chindits redeploying to the north of Indaw (which they had finally taken at the end of April), where they collaborated with US-Chinese forces under General Joseph Stilwell. In this phase, the Chindits were engaged in bloody battles at Mogaung and Myitkyina, two towns on the northern rail line, whose capture was seen as vital to restoring the "Burma Road" supply line between India and China (a key US objective). By the summer of 1944, the Chindit groups were exhausted and facing inhospitable monsoon conditions, so they were gradually withdrawn to India and China. Thereafter, the Japanese offensive against Assam broke down, and Allied forces were able to retake significant areas of northern Burma by the end of the year.
As the senior staff officer at Chindit HQ, Derek Tulloch was heavily involved in the planning of Operation Thursday, and was privy to Orde Wingate's strategic thinking and operational methods. Tulloch was later one of Wingate's doughtiest defenders against criticisms levelled against him in the official histories of the campaign, mostly written by S. Woodburn Kirby (an Indian Army officer with whom Wingate had fallen out during the war). Critics such as Kirby and Field Marshal William Slim, who led the ultimately successful Burma campaign during 1944-45, deprecated Wingate's strategic thinking, arguing that he exaggerated the Chindits' potential contribution to the reconquest of Burma. Slim believed that victory come only from a decisive clash with the Japanese after the Assam situation had stabilised, when the Allies would counter-attack with a significant superiority in numbers; this option was not available in early 1944 and the Chindits did not offer a realistic alternative.
Post-war Tulloch, together with Peter Mead, Robert Thompson and Michael Calvert, defended Wingate's reputation, arguing that his concept of Long Range Penetration (LRP) groups had largely worked in Burma. The Chindits had been able to operate effectively deep behind enemy lines, disrupting the enemy's decision-making processes at a crucial time during the Assam offensive. Wingate had also succeeded in developing a highly effective air supply and support system to sustain LRP operations, working very effectively with the Americans. Tulloch had initially assisted the official historians, but was deeply shocked at the (personalised) criticisms of Wingate made in the third volume on the SE Asian campaign published in 1961. Tulloch thereafter began work on a monograph which he hoped would restore Wingate's reputation. This was published as Wingate in peace and war (Macdonald 1972), and it reawakened interest in the Chindits.