India in World War II

India in World War II

The Provinces of India (which included most of modern-day India and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh), being imperial colonies of Great Britain, were by default a part of the Allies of World War II. Several Indian princely states, within the British Raj, provided large donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism. Indian troops fought the Axis Powers in South East Asia, North Africa and southern Europe.

During World War II, the Army of India under British command helped halt the Japanese army's advance into Central Asia.India's strategic location at the tip of the Indian Ocean, its massive production of armaments, and its armed forces contributed decisively to halting the progress of Imperial Japan in the Pacific Theatre.

The Indian stance

The Indian National Congress, was led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Jawahar Lal Nehru, and was opposed to Fascism, Nazism and colonialism. Gandhi, in an open letter to Adolf Hitler, touted tolerance. Several other Indian leaders and politicians expressed concerns over the rise of Fascism and Nazism and supported the British cause. However, the Congress pointed out the inherent contradiction in the British argument of going to war with Nazi Germany for the sake of freedom, since India was denied that same freedomFact|date=May 2007. It was because of this perceived hypocrisy of the British Government, that the Congress refused to align with Britain's fight against the Axis Powers until India was granted independence. Britain could not afford to have to go through the trouble of decolonisation at such a difficult time. At the same time, Britain could not afford to lose India, its most prized possession, especially when it was facing war on all fronts. So, in 1939, the British Governor-General of India, declared India's entry into the War without consulting prominent Indian leaders.

Another school of thought led by Subhash Chandra Bose of the Indian National Army (INA) allied itself with the Axis based on the principle that "An enemy's enemy is a friend". Bose formed the Indian National Army and the Provisional Government of Free India that was recognised by the Axis powers.Fact|date=May 2007

Army of India involvement

At the outbreak of World War II, the Indian army numbered 205,000 men. Later during World War II the Indian Army became the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in size. [cite book | author=Compton McKenzie | title=Eastern Epic| publisher=Chatto & Windus, London | year=1951 | id=ISBN?, p.1] These forces included tank, artillery and airborne forces. Indian soldiers earned 30 Victoria Crosses during the Second World War.

The North African theatre

The British government meanwhile sent Indian troops to fight in West Asia and northern Africa against the Axis. India also geared up to produce essential goods such as food and uniforms. Ores were mined to support the warFact|date=February 2007. Pre-Independence India provided the largest volunteer force (2.5 million) of any nation during World War II.

The 4th, 5th and 8th Indian Divisions took part in the North African theatre against Rommel's Afrika Korps. Furthermore, the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions took part in the East African campaign against the Italians in Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia.

In the Battle of Bir Hacheim, Indian gunners played an important role by using guns in the anti tank role and destroying tanks of Rommel's panzer divisions. Maj PPK Kumaramangalam was the battery commander of 41 Field Regiment which was deployed in the anti tank role. He was awarded the DSO for his act of bravery. Later he became the Chief of Army Staff of independent India in 1967.

The invasion of Italy

Indian forces played a significant part in liberating Italy from fascism. The British Army of India contributed the 3rd largest Allied contingent in the Italian campaign after the US and British forces. The 4th, 8th and 10th Infantry Divisions and 43rd Gurkha mechanised Infantry Brigade were involved, notably the former two at the famous Battle of Monte Cassino and all of them in the torrid fighting on the Gothic Line in late 1944 and 1945.

War in Burma

The Indian army was the key allied fighting force in the Burma Campaign. The Indian Air Force's first assault mission was carried out against Japanese troops stationed in Burma. The British Indian Army was key to breaking the siege of Imphal when the westward advance of Imperial Japan came to a halt.

The formations included the Indian III Corps, Indian IV Corps, the Indian XXXIII Corps and the Fourteenth Army.As part of the new concept of Long Range Penetration Patrols (LRPP), Indian troops were trained in the present state of Madhya Pradesh Under their commander then Brigadier (later Major General) Orde Charles Wingate. These troops were named "Chindits". These troops were then used in the Burma Campaign with a high rate of successFact|date=July 2007 in March 1943, thereby aiding the overall Allied effort in the Burma theatre.

Bengal famine

"See the main article": Bengal Famine of 1943

The Indian National Army

The Indian National Army, formed by first by Mohan Singh Deb consisted initially of prisoners taken by the Japanese in Malaya and at Singapore who were offered the choice of serving the INA by Japan. Later, after it was reorganised under Subhas Chandra Bose, it drew a large number of civilian volunteers from Malaya and Burma. Ultimately, a force of under 40,000 was formed, although only two divisions ever participated in battle. Intelligence and special services groups from the INA were instrumental in destabillising the British Indian Army in the early stages of the Arakan offensive. It was during this time that the British Military Intelligence began propaganda work to shield the true numbers who joined the INA, and also described stories of Japanese brutalities that indicated, falsely, INA involvement. Further, the Indian press was prohibited from publishing any accounts whatsoever of the INA.

As the Japanese offensive opened, the INA sent its first forces into battle. The INA's own strategy was to avoid set-piece battles for which it lacked arms, armament as well as man-power. [Harvnb|Fay|1993|p=292,298] Initially, it sought to obtain arms as well as increase its ranks from British Indian soldiers expected to defect to patriotic cause. Once the Japanese forces were able to break the British defences at Imphal, the INA would cross the hills of North-East India into the Gangetic plain, where it was to work as a guerrilla army and expected to live off the land, garner support, supplies, and ranks from amongst the local populace to ultimately touch off a revolution.

Prem Kumar Sahgal, an officer of the INA once Military secretary to Subhas Bose and later tried in the first Red Fort trials, explained that although the war itself hung in balance and nobody was sure if the Japanese would win, initiating a popular revolution with grass-root support within India would ensure that even if Japan lost the war ultimately, Britain would not be in a position to re-assert its colonial authority, which was ultimately the aim of the INA and Azad Hind.As Japan opened its offensive towards India The INA's first division, consisting of four Guerrilla regiments, participated in Arakan offensive in 1944, with one battalion reaching as far as Mowdok in Chittagong. Other units were directed to Imphal and Kohima, as well as to the protect Japanese Flanks to the south of Arakan, a task it successfully carried out. However, the first division suffered the same fate as did Mutaguchi's Army when the siege of Imphal was broken .With little or no supplies and supply lines deluged by the Monsoon, harassed by Allied airdominance, the INA began withdrawing when the 15th Army and Burma Area Army began withdrawing, and suffer the same terrible fate as wounded, starved and diseased men succumbed during the hasty withdrawal into Burma. Later in the war however, the INA's second division, tasked with the defence of Irrawaddy and the adjoining areas around Nangyu, was instrumental in opposing Messervy's 7th Indian Division when it attempted to cross the river at Pagan and Nyangyu during the successful Burma Campaign by the Allies the following year. The 2nd division was instrumental in denying the British 17th Division the area around Mount Popa that would have exposed the Flank of Kimura's forces attempting to retake Meiktila and Nyangyu. Ultimately however, the division was obliterated. Some of the surviving units of the Army surrendered as Rangoon fell, and helped keep order till the allied forces entered the city. The other remnants began a long march over land and on foot towards Singapore, along with Subhas Chandra Bose. As the Japanese situation became precarious, Bose left for Manchuria to attempt to contact the Russians, and was reported to have died in an air crash near Taiwan. The only Indian territory that the Azad Hind govt controlled were the Indian territories that fell during the Imphal offensive, and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. However, the latter two were bases for the Japanese Navy, and the navy never really fully relinquished control. Enraged with the lack of administrative control, the Azad Hind Governor, Lt. Col Loganathan later relinquished his authority to return to the Government's head quarters in Rangoon. The Japanese forces is said to have carried out torture on thousands of local inhabitants during the occupation, and some historians inexplicably apportion the blame to Subhas Bose's provisional government.Fact|date=July 2007 After the war, a number of officers of the INA were tried for treason and torture, however, with their stories, efforts and hardships coming into limelight within India, popular movement, civil unrest and frank destabilisation in th British Indian Army (which became aware of the true story of the INA now) forced Auckinleck to release these men. [Harvnb|Fay|1993|p=]

Capture of Indian territory

By 1942, neighbouring Burma was invaded by Japan. By then it had already captured the Indian territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. As a major possession of the United Kingdom, Japan looked to invade India, as it provided natural resources and could possibly be used as a staging post for an advance into the Middle East and the British oil fields in Persia and Iraq. Japan ceded the Andaman and Nicobar islands to the Provisional Government of Free India on October 21, 1943. In March 1944, Japan initiated an offensive into India's and advanced as far as Kohima in Nagaland.

Recapture of Axis-occupied territory

Meanwhile the Japanese were facing stiff resistances in the Pacific front. This therefore took preference over the war in Burma. As the Imphal offensive failed, harsh weather and disease and withdrawal of air cover (due to more pressing needs in the Pacific) also took its toll on the INA and the withdrawing Japanese and remnants of the Burma National Army. In 1945, a resurgent United Kingdom recaptured the INA occupied lands. Later that year Japan surrendered.



*Harvard reference
Surname1 = Fay
Given1 = Peter W.
Year = 1993
Title = The Forgotten Army: India's Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942-1945.
Publisher = Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.
ISBN = 0472083422

ee also

WWII history by nation

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