Orde Wingate: Eccentricity in Action

Conflict: World War II

General Orde Charles Wingate

March 24 marks the 1944 death of eccentric British general Orde Wingate.

Orde Wingate was known for his strong personality and unusual personal habits. He was a bold, charismatic leader with courage to spare, but he was also offensive, rude, and outrageous. He preferred to use a rubber brush instead of bathing and had no problem with nudity, often meeting with his officers naked. Wingate also carried a big alarm clock with him to meetings and set it for 25 minutes. After the alarm went off, he would declare the meeting over, whether the others were done speaking or not.

Born in 1903 to extremely religious British parents, Wingate entered the Royal Military Academy in 1921. He applied for transfer to the Sudan Defense Force in 1928 and served in the East Arab Corps, eventually commanding a company of 300 men.

In 1936, Wingate was assigned as an intelligence officer in Palestine. With the permission of British and Jewish leaders, Wingate created small counter-insurgency units called Special Night Squads to fight the Arabs. However in 1939, he was transferred back to Britain because his superiors thought he’d become too deeply immersed in the Zionist cause to fulfill his military duties.

Wingate was then posted in 1941 to Sudan, where he was temporarily promoted to lieutenant colonel and led the guerrilla Gideon Force against Italian forces in Ethiopia. Later that year, Wingate tried, but failed, to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the neck.

Wingate (center) with Chindit officers in Burma

After recovering in Britain, in 1942 Wingate was promoted to colonel and sent to Burma, where he created the Chindits, a long-range penetration unit. The Chindits’ first operation was a mixed success, as they destroyed a main Burmese railroad but were forced by the Japanese to withdraw in straggling groups and lost a third of their men in the process. After being promoted to acting major general, Wingate planned a second Chindits operation. This one was more successful, as they established bases in Burma and disrupted the Japanese offensive with battles that diverted Japanese troops away from India.

On March 24, 1944, after flying to inspect three Chindit bases, 41-year-old Wingate was killed when his American-flown bomber crashed into the jungle due to unknown causes.

From the missing air crew report of Wingate’s crash

The unidentifiable bodies of the passengers and crew were initially buried close to the crash site but, as the majority of the bodies were American, were later moved Arlington National Cemetery.