Defending the Innocent: Orde Wingate’s Special Night Squads

The history of Captain Orde Wingate and his “Special Night Squads” is one that is well-known among the people of Israel. Captain Wingate is known in Israel as “The Friend,” though his journey started in 1936 as a British Intelligence Officer, his commitment to Zionism came as a result of the experience that he had gained in the Middle East, acquiring the ability to determine right and wrong.

Between 1936-1939, during the era of the British Mandate, the Arab community was up in arms about the Jewish people escaping anti-Semitism in Europe for a safe haven in their ancient homeland. The Arab community, particularly in the north of Israel, chose to use violence to force the Jewish people to leave. The next three years of increasing hostility and conflict became known as the ‘Arab Revolt.’

As an Intelligence Officer, Orde Wingate knew that the British Government did not want someone who saw the bigger picture in the aspirations of the Jewish people and their ability to transform the land into a vibrant Jewish state. The goal of someone in Wingate’s position was to keep the peace by easing tensions on all sides, whether it was between the Jewish community and the Arab community of the British Mandate or whether it was between the British Government and the sectarian groups whom lived in the British Mandate.

By 1938, Captain Wingate could see that Jewish communities in the Galilee were being attacked at night by local Arab groups whom saw the Jewish people as colonizers, not recognizing the fact that the Jewish people were indigenous to the Land of Israel. Wingate had enough of being a bystander while Arab groups used flagrant force against the Jews, he then pushed the Jews to defend themselves. As a courageous soldier, he took the initiative and decided to train Jewish fighters in order to defend their families and ultimately their future state. Wingate taught his soldiers to recognize the tactics of their enemy and employ guerilla warfare (irregular offensive and defensive military actions carried out by small, independent militias).

Wingate then created the defense militia “Special Night Squads” by combining fighters from the Jewish defense groups of the “Notrim” or Guards as well as the “Plugot Sadeh” (known as “Fosh”) or Field Companies. Bringing these two factions of fighters together gave Wingate the opportunity not just to retrain them so that they were better able to defend their communities, but this also gave Wingate an opportunity to invest himself in something that was larger than himself. His experiences in the Land of Israel as well as his Christian background inspired him to become a Zionist, someone who believes that the Jewish people have the right to have a state of their own in the community of nations.

In the end, Wingate’s actions were regarded with distaste and he was sent back to London to reside on other military affairs, away from his Zionist intentions. Though, he was sent away, the seeds of his expert training and courageousness on the battlefield had been planted. Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, both future leaders of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s military governance, had been students of Wingate. According to Dayan, Wingate’s teachings had lead them to victory in Israel’s miraculous successes over the Arab states’ wars of genocidal intentions in 1948, 1956 and 1967. All conflicts that both Dayan and Allon were strategically involved in. The State of Israel and her people thank Orde Wingate, both in eternal appreciation for his assistance to the Jewish people in critical times. Several cities in Israel, have even named streets after Orde Wingate and Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport was name The Wingate Institute. The Special Night Squads, a force to be reckoned with after Wingate had assembled them, are considered the British army’s first special forces unit. The Friends of Zion Museum is proud to present and share the story of Orde Wingate.