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As anyone with an interest in the Chindits will tell you, there was no such column as ‘Danforce’ as this archive file suggests, but there was a Lt.Col. Dennis Clive ‘Fish’ Herring. As a Captain, Herring had been on the first Chindit expedition, Operation Longcloth, where he had patrolled in Kachin territory. In 1944, for the second Chindit mission, Operation Thursday, he wanted to return to the Kachin Hills as a Lt.Col. in charge of ‘Dah Force’.
Map showing Kachin territory. Picture credit Kachin Relief Fund
The Chindits were a Long Range Penetration Group (LRPG), whose aim was to get behind enemy lines and cause as much disruption and damage as possible. The overall commander of the Chindits was General Orde Wingate, and his plan for 1944 was for a divisional sized force of Chindits to enter Burma by both land and air to establish strongholds in the north of Burma. Although the strongholds did not quite reach the size that Camp Bastion became in Afghanistan in recent years, the principle was roughly the same as the Afghan set up; establish well defended bases, at specially chosen locations, from which to conduct offensive patrols against the enemy. In Kachinlands in 1944 Herring planned to establish a temporary HQ in an area known as Bastion.
In his Dah Force Operational Directive, Herring wrote:
My intention is to introduce the party known as DAH FORCE into the Kachin Hills for the purpose of raising and arming the Kachins for warfare against the Japanese.
Note. Our activities will be confined to areas which in the light of the broader strategic plan we feel confident that we shall be able to hold.
The ‘broader strategic plan’ was to push the Japanese back in northern Burma, allowing the Americans to build a road connecting India to China along which supplies could be sent to Chinese Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek. The overall American strategy for their China Burma India (CBI) theatre was to push eastward towards Japan , through north Burma and into China. This conflicted with British aspirations of taking the southern route via Rangoon to Singapore.
Perhaps it was because of these conflicting strategic priorities that Wingate apparently kept Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) and 11 Army Group in ignorance of his plans to operate east of the Irrawaddy River during Operation Thursday. The SOE only found out from ‘various sources’ that this was the intention on 27 February 1944, just over a week before Thursday’s D Day. Armed with this knowledge, a signal was sent to Brigadier Guinness of SOE who was due to meet Wingate at Imphal the next day. The Head of A Group of SOE’s India Mission, Lt.Col. Mount Stephen Cumming was also dispatched to Imphal.
The meeting was described as a ‘stormy 1 1/2 hours interview with General Wingate’. Although Wingate had himself been part of SOE , he was apparently distrustful and ‘prejudiced […] against SOE who, he felt, were imposing a veto on his operations’. This had been compounded when, for all SOE’s security, he had ‘accidentally’ seen a memo written by Cumming in which Cumming had ‘strongly’ criticised Captain Herring’s involvement with the Kachin on the first Chindit operation. It also enunciated SOE’s view on raising the Kachin. In SOE’s view, this should not happen unless they would receive permanent military support because Japanese reprisals would be brutal, possibly preventing a later rising, and jeopardising SOE’s resistance plans across the country. It was for this reason that the head of SOE’s India Mission, Colin Mackenzie, and his Burma staff, believed they had been kept in the dark about Herring’s plans. Finding out that Herring wished to raise the Kachins without SOE’s help confirmed the ‘worst fears’ of SOE, hence the immediate action of getting a message and Cumming to Imphal.
By the end of the 90 minutes, however, Wingate was willing to send Herring to discuss his plans with SOE’s Burma Country Section (BCS). It was felt that it was in BCS’s interest to help Herring because ‘[a] refusal would probably permanently embitter General WINGATE against SOE. This must be avoided at all costs.’ They also believed that if they helped Dah Force, it would have a much better chance of success. They were is a position to help because one of BCS’s earliest missions into Burma was Operation Dilwyn, launched in March 1943. A year on, there was a very successful intelligence network in the Kachin Hills, including at least three W/T stations transmitting to Calcutta. Herring’s original plan had been to land 60-80 miles away from where he wanted to operate, and raise the Kachin independently once he got there.
In light of the rapprochement between SOE and Wingate, a new plan was agreed on 29 February, which modified Herring’s original plan so that Dah Force didn’t have to trek up to eighty miles across the Kachin Hills. With just four days notice, Major Percival Lovett-Campbell and his team was diverted from launching Operation Ampere to go to the Dilwyn area and prepare a Drop Zone (DZ). Liaison officers from SOE, Majors Boyt and Peterson, were detailed to Wingate and Calvert respectively, and a Signals plan to Imphal was set up. On 2 March, BCS asked Dilwyn to receive Lovett-Campbell plus his five men and three containers on the night of 5 March. This drop was successfully made on that date.
It is unclear exactly when Herring wrote his directive referred to above, where he set out his intention of raising the Kachin against the Japanese, but it is stamped as having been received by SOE on 6 March. It continued, detailing that after clearing and preparing a DZ in Dilwyn territory, SOE was:
To have a reception party of at least 100 men ready by not later than 2000 hrs 9 Mar to carry away 3,000 lbs of stores brought by plane or glider.
They were then
To arrange the concentration of 300 men (excl reception party) in the BASTION area by evening 13 Mar and as many more as possible as soon as possible after this date to draw weapons and amn.
These 300 men should then proceed to LODGE where on the night of 14/15 March a drop of 20,000 lbs of equipment would take place. These weapons were to be distributed to Kachins and the 200 or so Chinese guerrillas already at LODGE. The intention was to have four companies of guerrillas armed and ready from the outset, as well as having an intelligence ring stretching up to to twenty miles from BASTION.
In a communication dated 10 March, sent to SEAC from SOE’s head of mission, Colin Mackenzie, the extent of Dilwyn’s responsibilities was made clear. They would provide a DZ for Dah Force and the men to carry away the stores; they would assemble all the local headmen to meet Herring; and they would provide Dilwyn’s Kachin officers to act as staff officers to Dah Force. As soon as Dah Force arrived, Dilwyn would come under Herring’s command, so all subsequent actions such as distribution of arms were all on his authority.
By the date of this communication, Dah Force was supposed to have been on the ground. On the 8 March, however, BCS were informed ‘of possible postponement of DAH FORCE landing to night 11/12 Mar.’ Meanwhile, all preparations were complete at the Dilwyn DZ, and they considered any delay to be ‘dangerous’. The delay was confirmed later that day: expect Dah Force to arrive ‘approx. 2015 hrs. 11th Mar.’
On 11 March, Lovett-Campbell sent a message received in India at 1300 hrs which confirmed their readiness to receive Dah Force that evening. At 1840 hrs, SOE’s liaison officer, Major Peterson, went down to the airstrip to see Dah Force off. He was told by Herring that since there had been no ‘last minute’ green light from Lovett-Campbell that Wingate had forbidden him from using the Dilwyn DZ. Peterson reminded Herring of an earlier agreement where it had been made clear that a ‘last minute’ confirmation was more than likely impossible, meaning that they would fly over the DZ – as discussed – and land if they saw the lights. If not, they would divert to Calvert’s Broadway DZ. Herring, however, would not go against Wingate’s order, so Dah Force em-planed and at 2100 hrs took off for Broadway. From there, they would have to cross the Irrawaddy and trek to the Dilwyn area.
Thus, ten days of rushed organisation, including cancelled SOE operations (Ampere) and last minute RAF sorties, all came to nothing. The relationship between SOE and the Chindits was back on a ‘stormy’ terms.
A Dah is the Burmese name for a machete / short sword which it was usual for Kachin men to carry. Photo credit: Oriental Arms