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Orde Wingate died in Burma 68 years ago this week. He was honored Thursday in Jerusalem
Orde Wingate played a key role in creating Israel's military ethos. He was remembered Thursday at a small ceremony in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel)Orde Wingate played a key role in creating Israel's military ethos. He was remembered Thursday at a small ceremony in Jerusalem

Times of Israel by Matti Freidman March 23, 2012, 1:22 am

A small crowd gathered Thursday in Jerusalem for an unofficial annual ceremony commemorating one of the most unique characters in Israel’s history.

Thursday’s memorial marked the 68th anniversary of the death of Orde Wingate – a British officer and fervent Zionist who is remembered as a key figure in the creation of Israel’s military ethos.

“Wingate was a character who invited legends to be created around him even in his lifetime,” said Moshe Yegar, an Israeli diplomat and scholar who spoke at the memorial. A black-and-white photograph of Wingate looked out at the audience from a spot near the podium.

Wingate was one of the remarkable, driven and often deeply eccentric men in uniform who seem to have been one of Britain’s most notable exports before the demise of its empire. He was a distant relative of the most famous of those men, T.E. Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia — and was, like Lawrence, an unorthodox military strategist and a charismatic field commander. Born in India, Wingate was a passionate Christian with an encyclopedic command of the Bible.

Arriving in Palestine in 1936 at a time of growing tension between Jewish residents and British authorities who increasingly favored the Jews’ Arab rivals, Wingate overcame the suspicion of the fledgling armed Jewish force, the Hagana, shifted its orientation from defense to offense and and organized its men into small, mobile units he called Special Night Squads. He became known to the Jewish leadership as “the Friend.”

In some of his writing from Palestine, Wingate seems to have sensed the impending catastrophe in Europe. ”For pity’s sake, let us do something just and honorable before it comes,” he wrote in 1937. “Let us redeem our promises to Jewry and shame the devil of Nazism, Fascism and our own prejudices.”

Wingate was distrusted by many of his British superiors, both because of his clear pro-Jewish sympathies and because of his casual disregard for military dress and discipline. His well-documented habit of greeting visitors in his tent wearing nothing but a pith helmet probably did not help. He was seen by critics as a self-promoter, a fanatic and a fake.

“Judged by ordinary standards, he would not be regarded as normal,” Moshe Dayan, one of the men Wingate trained, said of him. “But his own standards were far from ordinary.” Dayan called him a “military genius and a wonderful man.”

After the outbreak of WWII Wingate was sent to Ethiopia, where he helped defeat the Italians, ended up in Cairo, where he tried and failed to commit suicide, and then reported to Burma, where he organized and led guerrilla units — the famous “Chindits” — to fight the Japanese.

In 1944, Wingate was flying in an American B-25 to one of his jungle bases in Burma when the plane crashed, killing everyone on board. He was buried with the crew at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

In the 1970s, several American Jewish veterans of WWII decided to honor what they saw as the Jewish debt to Wingate by holding an annual ceremony at the Arlington grave site, which had been all but forgotten. For the past 30 years, the Israel chapter of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, Post 180, has held its own local ceremony.

The master of ceremonies on Thursday was Daniel Nadel, 92, who fought as a young engineering officer with the U.S. 5th Infantry Division during WWII, landing at Normandy, battling through Europe and eventually linking up with the Red Army in Czechoslovakia in 1945. Nadel moved to Israel in the 1980s.

Nadel respects Wingate, he said, for instilling Israel’s military with an offensive spirit.

“Wingate’s philosophy was that you fight a war to win. That’s all there is to it, and that’s what he did,” Nadel said.


From Zionism and Israel - Biographies  Orde Charles Wingate: "Hayedid"


Major General  Orde Charles Wingate1 (February 26, 1903 – March 24, 1944) was an exceptional man, a brave, gifted and controversial soldier,  and an extraordinary friend of the Jewish people and the Zionist cause. His Hebrew nickname, "hayedid," means "the friend."

Wingate  was born in Naini Tal, India. His father was a British officer and his mother came from a missionary family. Both parents were members of  the Plymouth Brethren, a reclusive non-denominational Christian movement founded by J.N. Darby. The movement originated in Ireland and England during the 1820’s and 1830’s, propagating a dispensationalist theology, which calls for the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (see Christian Zionism).  Wingate evidently came to share these beliefs, though the extent of his active religious involvement is unclear.

Wingate was educated according to Christian religious tradition, and in 1921 was accepted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He became a gunnery officer in 1923. He also began to study Arabic and Semitics. In 1928, he obtained an assignment to Sudan through his cousin, Sir Francis Reginald Wingate, who was formerly Governor General of Sudan and High Commissioner of Egypt. In the Sudan, Wingate was assigned to patrol the Abyssinian border against slave traders and ivory poachers. He introduced a system of ambushes in place of the regular patrols. In 1935 he was married to Lorna Moncrieff Paterson.


In 1936 Orde Wingate was sent to Palestine as a Captain in military intelligence. Palestinians led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini had begun a campaign of riots, massacres and attacks against both British Mandate officials and Jewish communities, known later as the "Palestine Arab Revolt." Wingate became friendly with Zionist leaders including Chaim Weizmann and  Moshe Sharett (Shertok) and learned Hebrew. When Wingate  told the Jews he wanted to help them, they were suspicious. He was, after all, a British intelligence officer. By Wingate's own account, almost every other British official in Mandatory Palestine in those days disliked Jews.

Wingate initiated a plan to create  small and mobile units of elite volunteers.  A report he submitted later, on June 5th, 1938, entitled : "Secret Appreciation of Possibilities of Night Movements by Armed Forces of the Crown - With Object of Putting an end to Terrorism in Northern Palestine") detailed the concept.

"There is only one way to deal with the situation, to persuade the gangs that, in their predatory raids, there is every chance of their running into a government gang which is determined to destroy them." 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 will move at night and can and will surprise them either in villages or across country." The force would be a mixed British-Jewish one. Night operation would give them the advantages of shock and surprise.  He would base his force in Jewish communities rather than at British bases. The Jewish police and the Haganah had good intelligence contacts and knew the land. The British had the formal training, the equipment and official support. In many respects his plan dovetailed with what the Haganah, under Yitzhak Sadeh, was already trying to do. Sadeh was to say later: (3)

"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."

Wingate's plan was initially ignored. The British didn't want to enlist the cooperation of the Jews, and conventional minds feared unconventional methods. Eventually however, it was approved by Archibald Wavell, then commander of British forces in Palestine. Wingate then won the support of the Jewish Agency and the Haganah, though most Zionist leaders were sceptical at first that any British military person would help them. In June 1938 the new British commander, General Haining, gave Wingate permission to create the Special Night Squads (SNS). Wingate made his main base at Ein Harod. There, he was to remind his soldiers, the Jewish Judge Gideon had chosen his soldiers for a famous battle. Gideon was a favorite of his, a Biblical hero who destroyed a large enemy force with 300 picked men, selecting 300 from 32,000 candidates.

Additional bases were set up at several other points. Different authors mention Hanita on the Lebanese border, Geva  and Ayelet Hashachar.  In September 1938, Wingate began the "Big Course" at Ein Harod to enlarge the SNS and to teach Haganah recruits ambush techniques and night fighting.  Under Wingate's command, the night squads ambushed Arab saboteurs. The Jewish Agency supported the SNS and paid its salaries in part, also paying for bribes to Arab collaborators for intelligence information. The task of the SNS was primarily to protect the Iraq to Haifa oil pipeline - the TAP line, by ambushing saboteurs The SNS also raided border villages used as bases by the Mufti's men. Wingate's operations were very successful in combating terror and guerilla raids.

Wingate has been criticised (4) for the harsh methods his force used against the enemy and those who assisted them. Cruelty and punitive humiliation provoked negative comment from some of the Haganah people and from Moshe Sharett (Shertok) who was otherwise a friend and admirer of Wingate. However, Wingate's methods were no worse than the brutal tactics employed by other British forces in Palestine in putting down the revolt and the Arab gangs they were fighting were killing civilians mercilessly.

Tom Segev  claims the methods were often extreme. If Segev's claims are correct, the SNS  violated elementary civil rights and some of their actions  would be considered violations of the Hague Convention of 1907 on Laws and Customs of War.  They whipped civilians for aiding the marauders, and apparently shot "escaped" prisoners and tortured at least one prisoner to death. There were also incidents in which drunken British soldiers pillaged villages.  However, British police and army in Palestine were using harsh measures against civilians and the tactics of Wingate's men were not necessarily exceptional. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that Wingate took part in these actions.

To a very large extent Wingate shaped both the fighting tradition of the Haganah and that of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and may be looked upon as the founder of the Haganah as an army. "Taking the war to the enemy" and many of his other ideas became part of Haganah and IDF military doctrine. His proteges, including Moshe Dayan and others, went on to see service in the Jewish Brigade  and as leaders of the Haganah and IDF.  He instilled the traditions of commando warfare, night fighting and covert operations in the Haganah, as well as the tradition that officers lead from the front, a practice which was his trade mark.

Wingate kept a Bible with him at all times. He seemed focused on defending the Jews with an intensity that the Zionists, not knowing his family background, usually did not understand. Wingate was an eccentric who sometimes wore an alarm clock on his wrist. He ate raw onion because he believed in its health virtues. Wingate was a strict disciplinarian in some ways, and  a demanding commander. He had a facility for cultivating politicians and using those relationships to circumvent his superiors. His habits were eccentric and he had an affinity for the Jews not shared by many other British officers. One biography itemizes what other officers disliked about Wingate: (5)

"[H]is 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."

While Wingate excelled as a tactician, he also took the long view. In 1937, after four months in Palestine, he told Sir Reginald Wingate that the British Empire should ally itself militarily with the Jews. Although the Jews had no army at the time, he said they would be better soldiers than the British and could provide the key to preserving the Empire. He saw a general war coming. He said the League of Nations' failure to stop the Italian annexation of Ethiopia in 1936 made the war inevitable. He said Mandatory Palestine could take in one million Jews in seven years. This was when Britain was moving toward barring Jews from entering entirely.

In October 1938 Wingate asked for home leave. In London he arranged a private meeting with Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald to lobby against the findings of the 1938 Woodhead Commission, which had abandoned earlier proposals to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. When word of the meeting reached military circles, this was Wingate's undoing.  His commanding officers in Palestine removed him from command, and in May 1939, he was transferred back to Britain. His passport was stamped with an entry forbidding him to return to Palestine.

Wingate was accused of being Jewish, and became the target of anti-Semitic innuendo. He found it necessary to make the following official declaration: "Neither I, nor my wife, nor any member of our families has a drop of Jewish blood in our veins." He said this in a formal appeal against critical evaluations he received from his commanders. He added, "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."






A fervent Christian who was posted to Palestine in the 1930’s.  He developed and trained the Special Night Squads (SNS) of British soldiers and Jewish volunteers to ambush Arab saboteurs carrying out terror and guerilla raids.  They also raided border villages used as bases by the saboteurs. Wingate's operations were very successful in combating terror and guerilla raids.  To a very large extent he shaped both the fighting tradition of the Haganah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and is seen as the founder of the Haganah as an army. "Taking the war to the enemy" and many of his other ideas became part of Haganah and IDF military doctrine.

In WW2 he created and led thee Gideon force against the Italians and the Chindits against ther Japanese.  Appointed Major General he was killed in 1944 when his plane crashed

Winston Churchill said of Wingate, "There was a man of genius who might well have become also a man of destiny." Another Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote that Wingate would have been Israel's first military chief of staff, if he had lived.

Israel Documentary  2016 (1.00.05)