The British military is setting up a specialist force modelled on the Chindits, the commandos who gained renown through their daring missions behind enemy lines in Burma during the Second World War.
They will specialise in "non-lethal" forms of psychological warfare, using social media including Facebook and Twitter to "fight in the information age".
The Chief of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter, believes that the radical new plan is essential to face the “asymmetric” battlefields of the 21st century, where tactics and strategies differ significantly between enemies, such as with Isis. Key lessons, he says, can be learned from the campaign carried out against the Japanese by Allied troops using unconventional tactics seven decades ago.
The 2,000-strong brigade will have the same number, 77, and the same emblem – of a Chindit, a mythical Burmese beast – as the one under Brigadier Orde Wingate. But, as well as being ready for combat, the troops will be armed with modern skill sets including being adept in social media and new technology.
One of the key reasons behind the successful operations of the Chindits was the support they received from the local population against the Japanese forces. General Carter holds believes the winning of “hearts and minds” has never been more important.
Senior officers hold that a range of current conflicts, from Iraq to Ukraine, have shown how the information war is as vital as the ones fought with weapons. The brigade, which will be formally unveiled in April with headquarters at Hermitage, near Newbury in Berkshire, will be responsible for all “non-lethal deployment” of the UK military abroad.
The troops are supposed to deliver “means of shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives” with teams focusing on psychological operations and interaction with the media. They will also take the lead in providing reconstruction and humanitarian assistance and help with strengthening civic society and local security forces.
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
1/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran Frederick Glover stands as soldiers parachute down during a D-Day commemoration paratroopers launch event in Ranville, northern France
2/41 D-Day anniversary
D-Day veterans (L-R) Wally Beale (90), Doug Lakey (94), Bernie Howell (89), Bob Conway (88), George French (88), Gordon Smith (90), and Albert Williams (96), from the Royal Wootton Bassett Normandy Veterans Association share a joke during a group photograph on sword Beach after the Royal Artillery Commemoration Parade and service in Hermanville, France
3/41 D-Day anniversary
French Prime minister Manuel Valls (L), British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) and his wife Samantha Cameron (R) at the D-Day commemoration ceremony at the Cathedral in Bayeux, Normandy
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Prince Charles reacts as he watches teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumping from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
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D-Day veteran Bill Price (99) who celebrates his 100th birthday on 24 July stands on Gold Beach for well wishers after the last ever flag raising ceremony by the Surrey Normandy Veterans Association in Arromanches Les Bains, France
6/41 D-Day anniversary
Veteran Frederick Carrier (89) who served in the 1st Engineer Special Brigade of the U.S. Army and landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, prays for the 171 men of his unit who died at a monument to them at Utah Beach, France
7/41 D-Day anniversary
D-Day veteran Jack Hamlin (93) who served in Rescue Flotilla Number One of the U.S. Coast Guard, took part in the invasion landing at Omaha Beach and is from Springfield, Missouri, attends the U.S. D-Day Ceremony at Utah Beach, France
8/41 D-Day anniversary
A D-Day re-enactment enthusiast wears the American flag at a re-enactment camp near Utah Beach in Sainte Marie du Mont, France
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British World War II veteran Jock Hutton (89), poses following his landing after he and teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumped from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
10/41 D-Day anniversary
The Red Arrows display team perform over Southsea Common at the end of a commemoration service of the D-Day landings in Portsmouth, England
11/41 D-Day anniversary
Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (3L) are welcomed by French President Francois Hollande (2L) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius (R) at the Elysee Presidential Palace as part of a bilateral meeting during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
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The RAF's Red Arrows perform over Southsea Common in Hampshire, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
13/41 D-Day anniversary
A French man dressed in vintage military clothing drives an old American military jeep on the beachside in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
14/41 D-Day anniversary
Czech citizens Gallomichal Seznam and Zdznek Barchaler, dressed in old vintage military uniforms, walk on the beach in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
15/41 D-Day anniversary
British Marines and their Dutch counterparts demonstrate a beach assault near Southsea Common in Hampshire to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
16/41 D-Day anniversary
WW2 veteran Fred Holborn, from the Fleet Air Arm, salutes as he looks at British Legion Union flags carrying thank you messages planted in the sand on Gold beach near Asnelles, France. 20,000 paper flags are being planted. Each one carries a personal message of Remembrance submitted by Royal British Legion supporters
17/41 D-Day anniversary
A paratrooper lands on Sword Beach near international flags during a D-Day celebration rehearsal in Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast
18/41 D-Day anniversary
Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton, is parachuted during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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French 1st RCP paratrooper carrying US flag is seen over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
20/41 D-Day anniversary
A Spitfire (R) and an "Eurfighter" both painted with invasion stripes fly over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
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Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Gare du Nord during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
22/41 D-Day anniversary
The Prince of Wales meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge (Also known as the Benouville Bridge - The taking of the Bridge was an important strategic victory) during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
24/41 D-Day anniversary
A US WWII veteran stands in front of US flags during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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US veteran Edward Oleksak looks on during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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World War II Allied members Canada's, United States', France's, and United Kingdom's flag hanging in Ouistreham, western France
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British and Canadian flags laid at a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A British soldier pays his respects as he visits a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A visitor examines a gravestone at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried at La Cambe, France
30/41 D-Day anniversary
Normany veteran 90-year-old Geoff Pattinson sits at his home in London, England. On D-Day he set out in one of three gliders that were meant to crash land at the Merville battery and the troops were tasked with taking out the long range guns. However during the flight to France the tow rope snapped and the glider was forced to land in England. He flew again later that day and was a few weeks later was wounded in Normandy by a German machine gun. Asked what his most vivid memory of D-Day was he replied: 'Most of us thought we had landed in France. When we got out though, low and behold we were still in England and that was the anti-climax of my life. I couldn't believe we had missed our target and I couldn't believe we had landed in England'
31/41 D-Day anniversary
Normandy veteran 92-year-old Vera Hay stands outside the Grange Hotel in Grange over Sands in Cumbria, England. Vera, who was in the Queen Alexandras Royal Army Nursing Corps one of the first nurses to land at Normandy shortly after D-Day. Vera, who was a Junior Sister, then travelled 10 miles to the Chateau de Beaussy and took care of up to 200 injured soldiers a day. Asked what her most vivid memory of D-Day was she replied: 'The need of the casualties both our own troops and the German prisoners of war. They all were patients to us. They needed rehydration, rest, morphine to keep the comfortable and we were using the new penicillin'
32/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran Harry Humphreys (92) from the 4th Royal Dragoon Guard, reacts after his visit at Bayeux's war cemetery, while an old allied military vehicle passes by, in northern France
33/41 D-Day anniversary
Lewis Trinder formerly of the Royal Navy poses for photographs as he walks through Arromanches in Normandy, France
34/41 D-Day anniversary
Soldiers travelling on a vintage jeep cross Pegasus Bridge (also known as the Benouville Bridge) during D-Day Commemoration in Ranville, France
35/41 D-Day anniversary
Pipers march past Cafe Gondree, the Pegasus Bridge Cafe, the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5 June 1944, during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
36/41 D-Day anniversary
British soldiers stand next to their weapons placed on the ground, in front of Bayeux's war cemetery, northern France
37/41 D-Day anniversary
Italian and British military enthusiasts watch from Utah beach as Dakota aircraft flypast near Saint Marie du Mont, France
38/41 D-Day anniversary
World War II veteran Charles Alford of the 6th Armor Division, from Waco, Texas, climbs the stairs with his son David on Omaha Beach where he landed as part of the invasion of Normandy in Vierville-Sur-Mer, France
39/41 D-Day anniversary
British World War II veteran reacts as he visits the war cemetery of Ranville, northwestern France
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Paul Clifford (70) from Boston stands after placing flowers on the grave of Walter J. Gunther Jr, the uncle of his best friend, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in Colleville sur Mer, France
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Harry Grew (92) who was in the Royal Navy, gets fussed by the Candy Girls, (R) Elkie Jeffery (L) Freyja Sculpher and Debbie Watt on board the Brittany cross channel ferry Normandie, travelliing from Portsmouth to Caen in Portsmouth, England
The make-up of the brigade also reveals the shrinking size of the Army, with no less than 42 per cent of the recruits coming from the reserves. Increasing numbers of them are replacing regular troops amid cutbacks.
But General Carter insisted the large contingent of part-time soldiers is actually a major advantage. “The brigade consists of more than just traditional capabilities. It is an organisation that sits at the heart of trying to operate ‘smarter’. It comprises a blend of regular troops from all three services as well as reserves and civilians. It will be seeking to draw the very best talent from the regulars and reserve as well as finding new ways of allowing civilians with bespoke skills to serve alongside their military counterparts.”
“The brigade,” said the Ministry of Defence, “has been formed to respond to ever changing character of modern conflict and to be able to compete with agile and complex adversaries.” The Chindits “fought in such difficult conditions adopting a new type of warfare, using a mixture of original creative thinkers who integrated with local indigenous forces to multiply effects, the exact requirement for the modern age”.
The 77th Infantry Brigade of the Indian army was formed in 1942 from British, Indian and Burmese troops commanded by Wingate, who had led an irregular force of Sudanese and Ethiopians against the Italians in Africa. The name Chindits, after those of statues of animal spirits guarding Buddhist temples, was suggested by Captain Aung Thin of the Burmese army.
“Long-range penetration units” were sent to Burma to sabotage Japanese supply and communications lines. The operations received widespread publicity but there was also criticism, some of it directed personally at Wingate who was accused of producing self-aggrandising reports and unfairly blaming other officers. There was also deep suspicion among the military hierarchy to the concept of elite specialist forces, with some senior officers charging that they syphon off the best troops and create divisions within the force.
Field Marshal William Slim pronounced at the time: “Anything, whatever the short cuts to victory it may promise, which weakens the army spirit is dangerous.” He also held that while “the Chindits gave a splendid example of courage and hardihood”, their achievements were inadequate returns for the resources bestowed on them.
Winston Churchill, however, regarded the force as highly valuable, not least for the way the accounts of its exploits boosted morale during some of the darkest days of the war. He took Wingate to conferences across the Atlantic, and the Americans were sufficiently impressed by the brigadier’s presentations to launch their own irregular forces in the Far East.
The Chindits: Guerrilla force
At a time during the Second World War when the Japanese seemed unbeatable, the Chindits – an elite British Army unit which resorted to guerrilla warfare – was formed to give the enemy a bloody nose.
They were the idea of the unconventional army officer, Lieutenant-Colonel – later Brigadier – Orde Wingate, who believed Long Range Penetration (LRP) groups operating behind enemy lines could inflict severe damage on the Japanese.
In February 1943 the Chindits, taking their name from a mythical Burmese half-lion half-eagle beast, launched their first operation, crossing the River Chindwin and into enemy territory in Burma.
Wingate’s men were, crucially, supplied by air which made them independent of ground-based supply lines. Air drops included food for the mules which carried the equipment.
The innovation worked: the Japanese spent crucial days directing troops to find and cut the non-existent land-based supply lines before realising their mistake.
In its first operation, the Chindits split up into several columns to attack and disrupt Japanese positions. Bridges were blown, rail lines were cut and military positions were attacked before a retreat was ordered in the face of massive Japanese force.
Of the 3,200 men who set out, only 2,182 came back after walking up to 1,500 miles through enemy territory. Only 600 were fit enough to go back into active service.
Strategically the merits of the Chindits are still debated. They didn’t hold any ground and the fright they gave the Japanese prompted later attacks intended to destroy the British hold on India.
However, as a morale booster, the Chindits were invaluable. They proved the British, who had suffered a succession of defeats in the east in 1942, were capable of matching the supposedly superhuman Japanese soldiers in the jungle.
Winston Churchill loved their aggressive spirit and authorised a second and much bigger assault in 1944 which repeated the feats of derring-do, though failed to live up to Wingate’s hopes. Wingate, who dreamt up the idea of a guerrilla force after leading ‘Gideon’s Force’ on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border, died in 1944 in a plane crash.