Winston Churchill thought he was a military genius; others considered him greatly overrated; a few even thought him mad. Almost sixty years after his death at age forty-four in an airplane crash, Orde Wingate remains perhaps the most controversial of all World War II commanders.
Born into a fundamentalist Christian sect and raised in the Cromwellian tradition of Sword and Bible, Wingate was an odd mixture of religious mystic and idealist, combining an unshakable belief in an Old Testament God with an insatiable interest in music, literature, history, philosophy, and the politics of his day.
But his overriding and enduring passion was for Zionism, a cause that--although he had no Jewish blood--he embraced when posted to British-ruled Palestine in 1936. There he raised the Special Night Squads, an irregular force that decimated Arab rebel bands and taught a future generation of Israeli generals how to fight.
In 1941, Wingate led another guerrilla-style force, this time into Italian-occupied Ethiopia, where he was instrumental in restoring Emperor Haile Selassie to his throne. But the campaign that was to bring him world fame was conducted behind enemy lines in Burma, where his Chindits shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility in jungle fighting, giving Allied morale a much-needed boost at a crucial point in World War II.
Throughout his career, Wingate's unconventionality and disdain for the superiors he dismissed as "military apes" marked him as a difficult if not impossible subordinate. He was that, but also, as this vigorous new study reveals, an inspiring leader.
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Few men have made as outstanding contributions to their country's cause as Orde Wingate, yet few have divided opinion so completely. "We don't want any more Wingates in the British Army," says an Army Council minute written after the end of the Second World War, and after his death. In contrast, no less than Winston Churchill himself said, before the House of Commons, "There was a man of genius, who might well have become a man of destiny."
John Bierman and Colin Smith's enlightening and rigorous biography of this brilliant man amply demonstrates how the conservative establishment of the British Army could come to adopt such an ungracious attitude to one of their most dynamic sons, who contributed so much to the war effort with dazzling performances in Abyssinia and Burma, and so much to future strategic thinking with his bold formulation of new methods. He ruffled feathers with his uncompromising style, unconventional thinking, and eccentric nature (perhaps most memorably expressed in his unaffected penchant for receiving visitors in the nude). Together with an acute intelligence and great breadth of learning, Wingate was a man possessed of awe-inspiring will and single-minded application, and he was often seen flying into a rage when things were not done as he thought they should be. Many, regardless of rank, felt the lash of his tongue. His almost fanatical commitment to the cause of Zionism, a highly sensitive and ambivalent political hot potato for the British at the time, seems also to have rankled many who simply could not understand a man so unlike the typical public-school-educated officer. Although not Jewish himself, to this day he is widely honored in Israel. Zvi Brenner, his Jewish bodyguard in Palestine before the war when he was commanding the Special Night Squads, elegantly encapsulated the man when, in describing Wingate's uncanny ability to negotiate all terrain in darkness, he said, "Wingate didn't follow any paths but walked in straight lines." A truly exceptional man; there is, unfortunately, little chance of the British Army's having any more Wingates. --Alisdair Bowles, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Back Cover:
Praise for John Bierman
Dark Safari: The Life Behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley
"Absorbing, entertaining, enlightening and admirably presented...evokes place, period and story with great skill, and leads us deftly into the heart of Henry Stanley's own darkness."
--John le Carre
Righteous Gentile: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg
"Here in John Bierman's impressively researched book is the true story, told for the first time in English and long overdue....This is an important book."
--The Boston Sunday Globe
Praise for Colin Smith
Carlos: Portrait of a Terrorist
"All the ingredients of a fictional espionage novel are here--sharply drawn characters, a fast-paced plot, violence, terror, intrigue and even the obligatory sex....A highly readable portrait of a committed revolutionary and compulsive bully."
--The New York Times
"An unremitting chill...a top-rank thriller."
--Los Angeles Times
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