'Chapter 7 – Chindits
The planners had decided that Sunday 5 March 1944 would be the ideal time to launch Operation Thursday because all the factors, including the moon and the weather, were at their most favourable. The launch of this expedition, the first of its kind in history, was a night operation – hazardous enough in itself – but, far more hazardous was the fact that the landing grounds were not large flat open spaces, but confined clearings in deep jungle, surrounded by trees, which gave the glider pilots no second chance and no room for error. The courage and skill of the pilots and glider pilots of the USAAF Air commando were exemplary. Cochrane and Alison worked tirelessly to get the Dakotas and the gliders ready for the fly-in.
There were three possible landing grounds code-named ‘Broadway’, ‘Piccadilly’ and ‘Chowringhee’, and Calvert was to lead the fly-in with 77th Brigade to Piccadilly and Broadway. His brigade and their supporting aircraft and gliders were assembled at the Lalaghat airfield near Silchar. Previously there had been some reconnaissance of these places, but, so as not to alert the enemy, Wingate had ordered that there were to be no reconnaissance flights during the weeks immediately prior to the start.
On that fine Sunday afternoon, the climax of months of training for the Chindits, all was ready. The Dakotas, the gliders and their tow ropes were in place. Every detail of briefing to the pilots and to the Chindits had been completed and every man knew exactly what was expected of him and what he had to do when he landed. Every man understood the significance of the undertaking, and realized what a momentous and dangerous enterprise they were tackling. The presence of Slim and many other British and American commanders added to the tension.
Half an hour before they were due to embark, Major Russhon of the USAAF, whom Cochrane, against Wingate’s orders, had sent to do a last-minute reconnaissance of the landing grounds, rushed up to Cochrane and the command group, with photographs showing that Piccadilly was blocked by large tree trunks which would make any landing quite impossible. Wingate’s first reaction was to attack Cochrane for disobeying orders, but he quickly retracted and apologized – realizing that the reconnaissance had prevented a certain disaster.
This information changed the whole situation. Had Japanese Intelligence obtained details of the plans? Had they been betrayed by the Chinese? Were the enemy lying in wait for the Chindits? Had the plan been discovered, or was it, perhaps, pure chance? If Piccadilly could not be used, should the whole operation be called off? What alternative plan could be made at such short notice? Wingate, clearly upset at this last-minute hitch to his plans, consulted Calvert. Wingate, who was not flying in himself, was reluctant to ask his men to embark on what was now clearly a more hazardous enterprise. Calvert – who like Marshal Ney in a previous war, should be called the bravest of the brave – quickly summed up the situation and saw that, given the opposition and doubtful support of India Command, if the operation did not go ahead it would probably be cancelled altogether. He therefore said that he was prepared to take in his brigade, provided that they all went in to Broadway. His acceptance was relayed to Wingate, and to Slim who, clearly, had to make the final decision.'