Operation Thursday, The 2nd Chindit Expedition 1944
Operation Thursday was the code name given to the airborne invasion phase of the campaign. The aim was to fly in a force of 10,000 men, 1,000 mules, equipment and supplies into clearings in the heart of Burma behind enemy lines. This type of operation had never been attempted before.
Three sites were selected for the initial landing grounds and were given the code names Piccadilly, Broadway and Chowringhee, named after famous roads in London, New York and Calcutta. These landing sites had been chosen in inaccessible areas to avoid contact with Japanese ground troops and all sorties were to be flown at night to avoid Japanese aircrafts.
The plan was for a first wave of gilders to land troops to secure the site. A second wave would land more troops and American engineers with their equipment to construct an airstrip so that C47 Dakotas could bring in the remaining troops and equipment.
Flights were flown from three airfields, Hailekandi and Lalaghat in Assam and Tulihal in the Imphal plain. All glider operations would be mounted from Lalaghat. Distance from Lalaghat to destination was 270 miles and from Tulihal 180 miles
Operation Thursday commenced on March 5th 1944. Prior to and during the fly-in the Japanese air force had been much weakened by raids on their airfields by 1st Air Commando USAAF and the RAF. In the first two days 78 Japanese aircrafts were destroyed and many more damaged, this had allowed the operation to proceed with little interference from the Japanese air force.
Just before the launch a reconnaissance plane returned with photographs showing that Piccadilly had been blocked with tree trunks covering the landing area. It was feared that the Japanese had learnt about the plans but the fact that the other landing areas had not also been blocked suggested that this was not likely. Piccadilly was withdrawn from the plans and it was decided that the initial landings would be at Broadway.
Brigadier Michael Calvert, commander of 77th Brigade, would now lead and fly in with the first wave of gliders. Calvert arranged two code signals to indicate the success of this operation, 'Soya Link' - trouble at Broadway, stop further gliders, and 'Pork Sausage' - operation successful.
The first wave consisted of 52 gliders towed by 26 Dakotas from 1st Air Commando. Another 28 gliders were towed in the second wave. At 6.12pm on 5th March 1944 the first 8 gliders of the first wave took off followed half hour later by the main body.
The Dakotas normally only towed one glider but due to the need to fly in a force capable of defending and constructing an airstrip as quickly as possible it was decided to tow two gliders from one aircraft. This resulted in some of the gliders never reaching their destinations due to engines overheating on the tug planes and some of the tow ropes breaking. After this further gliders would only be singled towed.
At 2.30am the signal 'Soya Link' was received from Broadway. The initial glider landings at Broadway did not go well. Aerial photographs failed to show ditches and two trees on the landing area at Broadway and these had caused several of the gliders to crash on landing and were now blocking the path for further gliders. 30 men were killed in the landing and a further 28 wounded. Planes en-route were ordered to return prevent further casualties.
On the first night 35 gliders managed to land at Broadway and by dawn 400 men were ready for action in Broadway. Next morning Calvert decided that with the resources he had available a runway could be cleared for Dakotas to land that evening. By 6.30am the signal 'Pork Sausage' was received from Broadway, this signified that flights could resume that evening.
At 5.30pm the first wave of six Dakotas took off for Broadway and during the night a total of 55 Dakotas flew into Broadway. Over the next 6 nights 579 Dakota sorties flew into Broadway, successfully bringing in 77th Brigade and 2 battalions from 111th Brigade
On the night of 6-7th March twelve gliders were flown into the second landing site Chowringhee and another airstrip was constructed. Next night Dakotas began bringing in 2 battalions from 111th Brigade into Chowringhee from Tulihal. By 8th March a force of 1,200 men, 200 mules and their equipment and ammunition had been flown in. After this Chowringhee was abandoned because it was found to be vulnerable to ground and air attack. A few hours after it was evacuated Chowringhee was bombed by the Japanese air force.
The eighty-three Dakotas used in Operation Thursday were provided by RAF Squadrons Nos. 31, 62, 117, and 194, USAAF Troop Carrier Squadrons 27th, 315th and 1st Air Commando.
Wingate now had 3 brigades in Burma and all enemy attacks had been repulsed. Operation Thursday was successfully over and Churchill sent Wingate a telegram congratulating him and the Chindits on the outstanding success of Operation Thursday. This was the largest Allied airborne operation ever conducted until the forces under Eisenhower landed in France. It was one of Wingate's finest triumphs but tragedy followed a few days later when the plane carrying Wingate crashed.