Extreme experiences produce extreme courage, this article, which summarizes the highlights of a book about Capt. Freddy Spencer Chapman, describes a level of courage and commitment that is well nigh unbelievable. Capt. Chapman was a British army officer who, when trapped behind enemy lines in Malaya, launched a massive guerrilla warfare offensive that ultimately saw 4000 Japanese troops pursuing him:
In a new biography, historian Brian Moynahan recounts how the young officer successfully led a tiny resistance war that wrought such havoc on Japanese supply lines that local commanders were convinced they were looking for a 200-strong force of Australian guerillas and dispatched a force of 4,000 to catch them.
Wading through swamps, hacking his way through dense vegetation, struggling to navigate when he could barely see the sun, let alone any landmarks, he became weak as his food supplies dwindled to nothing.
His original intention had been to rendezvous with another pocket of British resistance fighters.
But when he arrived at the prearranged point, he discovered that he had been left behind – assumed lost or dead.
Undeterred, Chapman unleashed his guerilla campaign.
In the ‘mad fortnight’ that followed, as Chapman later referred to it, he crept through the jungle night after night to lay charges on railway bridges and roads, derailing troop and supply trains, and blowing convoys of trucks high into the air before raking them with bullets and grenades.
Chapman estimated that, together with the help of two other British officers, he derailed eight trains, damaged 15 bridges, cut the railway track in 60 places, destroyed 40 trucks or cars and accounted for between 500 and 1,500 casualties.
It was, as Earl Mountbatten would later describe it: ‘more than a whole division of the British Army could have achieved’.
The risks were not Chapman’s alone. The Japanese, like the Germans, enjoyed mass reprisals, so the death of Japanese soldiers would mean the mass slaughter, by bayonet, fire and more, of an entire Chinese village. I think, though, that Chapman made the right decision not to allow this grotesque form of blackmail (for that’s what it is when an occupying army engages in mass reprisals against the local civilians). After all, he must have known from the Rape of Nanking, and from the way in which the Japanese had conducted the war to date, that the Japanese would have done horrible things regardless of the attacks against him. At least with the attacks, Chapman and his team were doing something that would result in the enemy’s ultimate destruction. Chapman paid a price — suffering for years from nightmares the replayed those horrible deaths — but I doubt he ever questioned his own actions.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for that book if it ever hits American shores. What an amazing person he must have been.