6 March 1913 – 26 November 1998
“MICHAEL CALVERT, who survived both the Chindit expeditions into Burma, was one of the outstanding leaders of irregular troops during the Second World War, though born into the old officer class and himself a regular army officer.
“…He was then sent out to Australia to help set up a school similar to Lochailort there. From one of his fellow instructors, Freddie Spencer- Chapman (later author of that marvellous book, The Jungle is Neutral, 1949), he learned a lot about jungle warfare; and he helped to train Australian special forces. He was moved on to set up a bush warfare school at Maymyo in Burma, east of Mandalay – in fact a school to train guerrillas to fight in China.
There he was surprised by the Japanese invasion in the winter of 1941/42. Off his own bat he dressed his staff and pupils in Australian bush hats and mounted a raid by river craft behind the Japanese lines, intended to lead them to think that the Australian army was already present in Burma in force. He got no thanks in the short run – indeed he was reprimanded for damaging the property of the Burmah Oil Company without permission. He discovered in the long run that he had indeed done a little to hold up the Japanese advance. His casualties were light and he had managed some important demolitions.
Moreover he next met Orde Wingate, that formidable pillar of unconventionality; who had read a paper Calvert had scribbled in 1940, about the way raiding parties could be kept supplied by air, far behind any existing fighting line, and was looking forward to implementing that then quite novel idea in the field. Calvert was one of the few regular officers whom Wingate was prepared to treat as an equal. That their ranks at the time were major and brigadier made no difference at all; the two of them got on splendidly.
Before he could rejoin Wingate, Calvert had a couple of months hard fighting in the rearguard of the army retreating from Burma, with such wild men as he could find to undertake tasks that were at first glance hopeless. In his autobiography, Fighting Mad (1964), this is the point at which he lays down a principle. “I have always maintained that the men in a fighting unit must be led from in front by a commander they know is willing and able to do everything he asks them to do and probably more.”
Nelson would have approved; this is the way real leaders lead. Once Calvert paused to bathe in a river, and met a Japanese officer who was doing exactly the same. He won a quarter of an hour’s wrestling match, drowned his opponent, and had his patrol kill the whole Japanese patrol whom they surprised in the next bend of the river.
He then got back to India, with infinite difficulty through the monsoon, and was at once summoned by Wingate to help train his first Chindit expedition. “God often gives men peculiar instruments with which to pursue His will,” Wingate remarked; “David was armed only with a sling.”
In August 1942 Calvert joined 77th Brigade which Wingate commanded; in it Calvert commanded a column of some 400 men when it went into Burma six months later. This first attempt at Long Range Penetration – its official name – had little strategic impact but was a colossal propaganda success: home morale in Great Britain was much boosted by the idea that our men were attacking the Japanese in the jungle and the name of Chindit became famous. Casualties were heavy, at about 30 per cent of the force; Calvert, though emaciated after a march of over a thousand miles through jungle, survived.
He was indeed promoted brigadier – thus winning a bet he had made with a schoolfriend when he was 12 – and took 77th Brigade into Burma again by air on 5 March 1944. He established a stronghold and landing ground codenamed Broadway well behind the Japanese lines, and another called White City a little farther south; and held both of them against sustained Japanese attacks.
This operation was of far more use than the previous one – it dislocated the Japanese assault on Imphal, that threatened India; but the fire went out of it when Wingate was killed in an air crash, and Calvert found himself under the orders of the American General Stilwell – passionately anti-British – and forced to fight a conventional war for which his men were neither equipped nor trained.
This time Calvert lost over nine-tenths of his Brigade, but his leadership kept the survivors together as a formidable fighting force however weakened, and he pulled through himself. For each of these Chindit sorties he was appointed to the DSO. Absurdly enough he then injured his Achilles tendon in a football match. He returned to the United Kingdom and in March 1945, was picked to succeed Brigadier R.W. McLeod in command of the Special Air Service brigade. Leading again from in front he took two French parachute units of that brigade into eastern Holland and north-west Germany in the closing stages of the war. For those actions he was awarded a French and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.
…Though he never rose above brigadier anyone who served under him knew that Michael Calvert was a tremendous leader of men; quite careless of his own danger and taking care not to put his troops into worse trouble than he could help.”
REEL 1 Background to joining Special Air Service, 1940-1944: training for involvement in war in Scandinavia including discussions with fellow troops, including David Stirling, about guerrilla warfare; reason for cancellation of operation in Finland; period as training instructor in Scotland with future Special Air Service personnel; involvement with formation of guerrilla units in Kent and Sussex; roles with Special Operations Executive in Australia and Burma; contact with General Wingate; involvement with Chindits; joining of Special Air Service; history of Special Air Service. Aspects of operations as officer with 22nd Special Air Service in GB and North West Europe, 1944-1945: organisation of Special Air Service; problems with French Special Air Service troops and ex-Long Range Desert Group officer in Colchester including discussion on intelligence; opinion of use of intelligence and Special Air Service; attitude of troops on arrival; preparation of troops for battle; method of army’s advance north, 1/1945; morale and casualties; details and use of armoured jeeps; memories of officers.
REEL 2 Continues: situation in Netherlands and plan for airborne assault on Rhine; results of assault; problems with 2nd Army and uses of Special Air Service; activities of French Special Air Service troops; deception tactics employed; advance through Netherlands; discussions on future of Special Air Service including own suggestions and reasons for suggestion of basing regiments at Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities; supporters for continuation of Special Air Service; merging of Special Air Service with The Artist’s Rifles; problems with formation of 22nd Special Air Service Regiment; departure from Special Air Service and subsequent postings; report made on Malaya.
REEL 3 Continues: Aspects of operations as officer with 22nd Special Air Service Regt (Malayan Scouts) in Malaya, 1950-1951: background and training of troops; details of patrols including problems of co-operation from other units, naming of regiment; recruitment of troops. Aspects of period as officer with Special Air Service in Norway, 1945: military situation; role and activities.
“Calvert frequently led attacks from the front, earning him the nickname ‘Mad Mike’ from men in his command. Participated in both Chindit operations and instrumental in popularising the unorthodox ideas of General Orde Wingate. 1933 Royal Engineers, 7 high Allied medals, Far East Jungle trainer, Norwegian Cdo, Wingate’s Cdr Chindit 77 Brigade, later SAS doctrine and author of three books about Burma, Wingate and the Chindits: Prisoners of Hope, Fighting Mad: One Man’s Guerrilla War, and Chindits: Long Range Penetrations.”
“Calvert had one of the most courageous, long, varied and influential WW2 careers. He signs for the regular Royal Engineers (training in 1933), Chindits, and the Special Air Service, which he commanded at the war’s end. After RMA Sandhurst, Cambridge, wartime Norwegian Commando Sabotage, preparation of South East England against a real invasion threat, Far East (including Hong Kong, detachments to China and observation of Japanese forces), British, Australian, Chinese and Indian Bush, Jungle Training, Irregular and Guerrilla Warfare instruction followed. With the other two Chindits, and two Indian & Gurkha signatories, he represents their long ordeal, high losses but tremendous resilience and innovatory achievement in Air Supported and Air Supplied ground operations hundreds of miles behind enemy lines. Brig. Calvert was Orde Wingate’s active 77 Brigade Commander of 7 Chindit columns in these Long Range Penetration forces, White City’s defended box and the capture of Moguang ‘at all costs’ by his 2,000 men, all but exhausted by malaria, typhoid and dysentery and with over 200 casualties by Day 2. In Operation Thursday, 37 towed gliders from 60 ‘landed’ at Broadway at night and, with American Engineers’ help, had airstrip transports flying in next day. An exponent of Joint Army/Air and Special Forces, Brigadier Calvert developed their post-war doctrine and re-birth out of his Malayan Scouts and the Emergency Briggs Report. (ARP)”
Additional note: my father vividly recalls his visit to Calvert, not least because his front door was casually wide open – as if Calvert, even in his old age, would rather welcome the chance to tangle with anyone foolish enough to take advantage by entering uninvited. (JAP)
“Logline: The conventional soldiers dislike of the unconventional. Chindits never die, they go to heaven and regroup. They’ve already been to hell’!
Short Synopsis: The degree to which Brigadier Mike Calvert led very risky attacks he became known as “Mad Mike”, because of his habit of laughing loudly in moments of greatest danger. This fearless, physically tough, heavy drinking, hard fighting idealist-the acknowledged expert on guerrilla warfare was recommended for the V.C. Astonishingly it was quashed at a senior level.” (Ron Shears)
‘Enemy hill positions observed from OP. byCol. & officers of Yorks & Lancs Regts. 3″ & 4.2″ mortar being fired at enemy. LS explosions on hills. Shots of craft & outboard motorboats on river. Large rafts used to carry stretcher cases, casualties from Mamiewarazup. Crossing swollen chaung, by assistance of bamboos. The current is extremely fast. Shots British troops marching thru jungle. hacking away foliage etc. Shots of marching with mules & elephants, pass Burmese refugees escaping from Japs who have occupied their village. Troops halt in a bivouac area, cook meals. Dakotas fly over drop supplies by parachute, arms, ammunition etc. Chindits store parachutes away.’
Chindits enter a Burma village, load and fire mortars and machine guns, move through the jungle using mule teams, greet Chinese troops, enter Mogaung accompanied by Australians, and stand inspection. Shows enemy corpses and a one-plane bombing run