Major-General Orde Charles Wingate, (1903 –1944), was a British Army officer and commander, founder of various special military units in Palestine in the 1930s and during World War II. A devout Christian, Wingate became an ardent supporter of Zionism, seeing it as his religious duty to help the Jewish community in Palestine form a Jewish state. Assigned to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1936, he set about training members of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization, which became the Israel Defense Forces with the establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel. Wingate was a prominent figure among the architects of the new and improved Haganah. He arrived in Israel (then Palestine) in September 1936, as an expert in Arab affairs. When he first arrived, he bore the typical stance advocated by the British Mandate and Army; The Zionist Jews, who enjoyed global resources of aid and funding, came to Israel in order to overtake the underprivileged Arabs. Great Britain’s role in this scenario was to relieve the Palestinian Arabs of the Zionist abuse.
Wingate arrived in Palestine a pro-Arab and left in May, 1939 an avid Zionist. Although active in the region for less than three years, his passionate military enterprise and unique personality left an indelible mark and he has become a mythic figure in Zionist history. A brilliant strategist and courageous innovator, he has been characterized as “The father of modern Guerrilla warfare” (Anglim, 2005). His most notable undertaking in Palestine was the establishment of the Special Night Squads in 1938. The SNS was a joint British-Jewish counter-insurgency unit, formed in response to the 1936-1939 Arab revolt. The SNS comprised British infantry soldiers and Jewish Supernumerary Police. Wingate hand-picked his men, among them Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, and trained them to form mobile ambushes. As practical support from the British was minimal, Wingate collaborated illegally with the Haganah.
The Special Night Squads’ primary task was to defend the Iraqi Petroleum Company pipeline, which was frequently attacked by Arab gangs. The squads also raided known gang bases, such as the villages of Dabburiya and Hirbat-Lidd. The force’s success caused the cessation of attacks on the pipeline and brought a decline in insurgent activity in the area.
Wingate left the SNS on October 1938, for a leave in England. During his leave he was involved with the Zionist struggle against the Woodhead Commission report, meeting with such notables as Malcolm Macdonald, the Secretary of the Colonies, Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill. This was frowned upon by Wingate’s commanders, who had him demoted from command and returned to GHQ intelligence in November 1938. The British viewed Wingate as a security risk and the SNS were disbanded in 1938. Wingate was posted out of the country and his passport was stamped “NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER PALESTINE”.
For the British army, though, it was not Wingate’s excesses that proved insufferable but his advocacy of, and success with, the Jews. Thus, when Wingate requested home leave in London a few weeks after he was wounded at Dabburiya (and in the wake of narrowly escaping assassination at the hands of Arab assailants), his superiors were only too happy to comply. It was October 1938, the time of the Munich Conference and Britain’s sellout of Czechoslovakia, and of the beginning of Britain’s final retreat from the promises of the Balfour Declaration. Wingate took advantage of his time in London to lobby tirelessly for the Zionist cause. He urged the Zionist leadership to present Britain with an ultimatum—either honor its pledges or forfeit the Jews’ loyalty—and argued the Zionist case in the press and before Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald. Returning to Palestine in December, he found himself barred from further contact with the SNS, which was disbanded soon thereafter, and transferred back to Britain.
In May 1939, the notorious White Paper was issued, imposing crippling restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine. Wingate, however, remained undeterred. With the outbreak of World War II, he campaigned for the immediate creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and a Jewish army, which he saw as “a necessity of the moral strategy of this war… for human justice and freedom” (Oren, 2001). He nearly fell out with the Zionist leadership, which he found insufficiently aggressive in pressing these demands. Further friction was averted when Wavell ordered Wingate to Ethiopia, to apply his guerrilla tactics against the Italian fascists.
In 1942, Wingate left Britain for Rangoon, where he was appointed colonel by General Wavell, and ordered to organize guerrilla units to fight behind Japanese lines. The jungle long-range penetration units he created were eventually named the Chindits. On 24 March, 1944, while Wingate was flying between three bases, the bomber in which he was flying crashed into the jungle.
Wingate was a hero of the Yishuv (The Jewish Community) and became a legend.
In order to respond to the need of developing physical culture institutes and training man power, the Culture Council of the Zionist National Committee decided in 1944 to establish an institute for this purpose. The Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, was inaugurated in 1957 and is named in honor of Major General Orde Charles Wingate.
Abi Moriya serves as coach and coordinator of the Chinese martial arts and Tuina, The Nat Holman School for Coaches and Instructors, Wingate Institute.
Anglim, Simon. “Orde Wingate, the Iron Wall and Counterterrorism in Palestine 1937-1939.” UK Strategic & Combat Studies Institute, Occasional Paper no. 49, 2005.
Oren, Michael. “Orde Wingate: Friend Under Fire.” Azure Magazine, Winter 5761, 2001.