Mike Calvert : biography
James Michael Calvert DSO and Bar (6 March 1913 – 26 November 1998) was a British soldier involved in special operations in Burma during World War II. He participated in both Chindit operations and was instrumental in popularizing the unorthodox ideas of General Orde Wingate. Calvert frequently led risky attacks from the front, a practice that earned him the nickname "Mad Mike." He was court-martialled for an alleged act of indecency and dismissed from the Army in 1952. He wrote three books about his military service but failed to find a career in engineering, writing, or academia.
In India, he reunited with the equally unorthodox Wingate, and the two became firm friends. Calvert led one of the company-sized columns in Operation Longcloth, Wingate's first Chindit operation in 1943. This was a long-range penetration operation behind enemy lines, which put great demands on the endurance of all who took part. Calvert was awarded the DSO for his achievements on the operation.
Calvert commanded 77th Indian Infantry Brigade in Operation Thursday, the much larger second Chindit operation. His brigade spearheaded the airborne landings deep in the Japanese rear. The operation was staged from Lalaghat, with D-Day fixed for 5 March. That morning, one of General Philip Cochran's B-25 Mitchells flew over and photographed the landing zones. Wingate had ordered that no aircraft should fly over the landing zones, lest the operation be betrayed, but Cochran was not directly under Wingate's command and felt that launching the operation without accurate intelligence was a dangerous gamble.Bidwell, 1979: 104-5 The photographs clearly showed that the second landing site, codenamed Piccadilly, was untenable:
It was at this dramatic moment, with everyone keyed up and ready to go, that the aerial photographs arrived. They showed that primary landing site Broadway was clear, but Piccadilly had been blocked by tree trunks; no gliders would land there that night. The general opinion was that the Japs had realized the possibilities of Piccadilly as a landing area and had deliberately blocked it, though some time later we discovered that the explanation was much simpler: Burmese woodmen had laid out their trees to dry in the clearing.Calvert, 1964: 140
Wingate was enraged by Cochran's actions but admitted that the danger was real. He and Calvert weighed the options. The danger of executing a potentially compromised operation were substantial, but any delay threatened to push back the window of opportunity by at least a month. Of the three planned sites only two were available; Calvert suggested the plan be further altered and the entire brigade flown into Broadway. He said, "I am prepared to take the whole of my brigade into Broadway and do without [second landing site] Piccadilly."Bidwell, 1979: 106 Calvert later wrote, "We had taken into account that [third landing site] Chowringhee was to the east of the Irrawaddy while Broadway was west of the river. I told Wingate, 'I don't want to split my brigade either side of the Irrawaddy. I am prepared to take all the brigade into Broadway alone and take the consequence of a slower build-up.'"Calvert, 1964: 141 General William Slim "asked Calvert…and found him strongly against [using] Chowringhee."Slim, 1957: 259 Further discussion with Slim and Wingate clinched the matter: "it was to be Broadway alone. I was nervous as bales, I imagine we all were, but we all knew we had to go…In any case Broadway was clear and I could really see no reason why we should not go in there just because Piccadilly was blocked."Calvert, 1964: 141
Each American C-47 towed two heavily-laden Waco CG-4 gliders. Although a double tow posed no problems for a competent pilot in good weather, many of the pilots were inexperienced and the route across the mountain ranges bordering the Chindwin river guaranteed a turbulent, unsettled flight. The first gliders were scheduled to arrive at Broadway by 9:30pm, but by 2:00am Wingate and the others waiting at Lalaghat had not yet heard from Calvert. Poor reconnaissance, not enemy resistance, caused the delay, as aerial reconnaissance had failed to show a number of ditches scarring the field at Broadway. Calvert wrote:
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