The arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in
Bose was welcome in
At that time the German government was in the process of formulating its own plan for dealing with Subhas Chandra Bose in the best possible manner. The Foreign Office felt itself inadequate to discharge this awesome responsibility without referring the whole matter to Hitler. While this issue was being considered at the highest level of the government, Bose’s own requests as set forth in the submitted memorandum, made it far too complicated and involved to be resolved at an early date. There was a long wait for Bose, during which period he often tended to become frustrated. Nevertheless, through several sympathetic officers of the Foreign Office, he continued to press his requests and put forth new ideas.
Finally, after months of waiting and many moments of disappointment often bordering on despair for
In its first official meeting on 2 November 1941, the
During this long period of “hibernation,” the period between Netaji’s arrival in
“Netaji himself, when he left India, could not have, by any stretch of imagination, thought of forming a national army unit outside the country, and therefore he had no definite plans chalked out for its realization. Even while in
When and how, therefore, did he come to conceive such a plan? Mr. Ganpuley relates an interesting episode in this regard. To quote again from his book:
It was all due to a brain wave of Netaji which started working by a simple incident. He read one day about some half a dozen Indian prisoners-of-war who were brought to
Although somewhat skeptical and hesitant at the beginning, the German response to the plans was encouraging. It was a time psychologically well-chosen by Netaji. The allied forces had been defeated on the Continent, and the Wehrmacht was marching ahead successfully in the
When Bose himself visited the camp in December there was still marked hostility. His speech was interrupted, and much of what he had to say went unheard. But private interviews were more encouraging; the men’s questions showed interest — what rank would they receive? What credit would be given for Indian Army seniority? How would the Legionary stand in relation to the German soldier? Bose refused to bargain, and some who might have been influential recruits were turned away. On the other hand, many of the men paid him homage as a distinguished Indian, several professed themselves ready to join the Legion unconditionally.
Netaji sought and got agreement from the Germans that the Wehrmacht would train the Indians in the strictest military discipline, and they were to be trained in all branches of infantry in using weapons and motorized units the same way a German formation is trained; the Indian legionaries were not to be mixed up with any of the German formations; that they were not to be sent to any front other than in India for fighting against the British, but would be allowed to fight in self-defense at any other place if surprised by any enemy formation; that in all other respects the Legion members would enjoy the same facilities and amenities regarding pay, clothing, food, leave, etc., as a German unit. By December 1941 all arrangements were complete and the next important task was to persuade men to come forward and form the nucleus. It appeared that the POWs needed to be convinced that there were civilian Indian youth as well, studying, well placed in life and responsible to their families at home, who were ready to give up everything to join the Legion. Ten of the forty young Indians then residing in
The strength of the Legion grew steadily, as the task of recruitment continued unabated. Once trained to a certain level and discipline, the members of the first batch were assigned the additional responsibility of visiting the Annaberg camp and aiding in the recruitment process. While the Legion was sent to Frankenburg in Saxony, another group was taken to Meseritz in
There were Tajiks, Uzbeks and Persians as well under training for operational roles similar to that envisaged for the Indians. In due course the trainees went on to tactical operational training, such as wireless operating, demolitions and riding, and also undertook special mountain and parachute courses. According to Toye, “Morale, discipline and Indo-German relations were excellent, the German officers first-rate.”
Netaji visited the camps from time to time and watched progress of the trainees. Since he himself was inclined toward military training and discipline, he followed the German training methods with great interest. It is understood that while in
After the inauguration of the
We have succeeded in prevailing upon the Indian nationalist leader, Bose, to issue an imposing declaration of war against
On 14 March, he remarked of Bose, “He is an excellent worker.”9 The fall of
We don’t like this idea very much, since we do not think the time has yet come for such a political manoeuvre. It does appear though that the Japanese are very eager for some such step. However, émigré governments must not live too long in a vacuum. Unless they have some actuality to support them, they only exist in the realm of theory.
Netaji apparently was of the opinion that a tripartite declaration on Indian independence, followed up by a government-in-exile, would give some credibility to his declaration of war on
In July 1942, the Germans suggested that a contingent of the Irregular Company be sent for front-line propaganda against Indian troops at
According to an agreement between
In August 1942, the Legion was moved to Koenigsbrueck, a large military training center in
Five hundred Legionaries were assembled. Their German commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Krappe, addressed them, and the oath was administered by German officers to six men at a time. All was done with solemnity, the soldiers touching their officer’s sword as they spoke the German words: “I swear by God this holy oath, that I will obey the leader of the German State and people, Adolph Hitler, as commander of the German Armed Forces, in the fight for freedom of India, in which fight the leader is Subhas Chandra Bose, and that as a brave soldier, I am willing to lay down my life for this oath.” Bose presented to the Legion its standard, a tricolor in the green, white and saffron of the Indian National Congress, superimposed with the figure of a springing tiger in place of the Congress spinning wheel. “Our names,” he said, “will be written in gold letters in the history of free
What was Netaji’s plan for leading this army to
While the German army’s second thrust into
Netaji could look back at his two years work in
What would happen to the Legion in Netaji’s absence? It was now 3,500 strong, well trained and equipped, ready for action. Netaji consulted with his aides in
There were plans for new branches of the
A few words must be added regarding the Indo-German cooperation and comradeship during the critical days of World War II when the Legion was formed. None could describe it better than Adalbert Seifriz, who was a German Officer in the training camp of the Legionaries. He writes,
Agreeing to the proposal of Bose was a magnificient concession and consideration shown to the great personality of Bose by the German Government in those critical times when all German efforts were concentrated on the war … The mutual understanding and respect between Indians and Germans and the increasing contact between them in the interest of the common task made it possible for the Indian Legion to sustain and keep up discipline right up to the German capitulation in 1945. During the period of training and even afterwards the comradeship between Indians and Germans could not be destroyed … A meeting with Subhas Bose was a special event for the German training staff. We spent many evenings with him, discussing the future of
A report of Hitler’s visit to the Indian Legion headquarters in
You are fortunate having been born in a country of glorious cultural traditions and a colossal manpower. I am impressed by the burning passion with which you and your Netaji seek to liberate your country from foreign domination. Your Netaji’s status is even greater than mine. While I am the leader of eighty million Germans, he is the leader of 400 million Indians. In all respects he is a greater leader and a greater general than myself. I salute him, and
A statement by another soldier of the Indian Legion, who remains anonymous, has a somewhat different version. It stated that both Netaji and Hitler took a joint salute of the Indian Legion and a German infantry. In addition to comments cited earlier, Hitler was reported to have made these remarks as well:
German civilians, soldiers and free Indians! I take this opportunity to welcome your acting Führer, Herr Subhas Chandra Bose. He has come here to guide all those free Indians who love their country and are determined to free it from foreign yoke. It is too much for me to dare to give you any instructions or advice because you are sons of a free country, and you would naturally like to obey implicitly the accredited leader of your own land.
However, reports of Hitler’s visit and address to the Indian Legionaries are not confirmed from any other source.Netaji would be leaving
Two months after Netaji’s departure, as a result of discussion between the German Army Command and the Free India Center, it was decided to transfer the Legion from Koenigsbrueck to a coastal region in Holland, to involve it in a practical coastal defense training. It was also in accordance with Netaji’s wishes. He had often expressed a desire to give his troops, whenever possible, some training in coastal defense. After the first battalion was given a hearty send-off, an untoward incident happened within the legion; two companies of the second battalion refused to move. It was soon found out that there were three main reasons for staging this minor rebellion. Some Legionaries were unhappy that they were not promoted, but their names had to be put on the waiting list; some simply did not want to leave Koenigsbrueck; some were influenced by a rumor that Netaji had abandoned them and had gone off leaving them entirely in German hands, who were now going to use them in the Western Front, instead of sending them to the East to fight for India’s liberation. However, the rebellion was soon quelled after a team of NCOs visited the officials of the
The Legion was stationed in the coastal areas of
… after having seen the work carried out by the Indians, he exclaimed: “I am pleasantly surprised to find that in spite of very little training in coastal defense, the work done here is fairly satisfactory.” While departing, he said to the Indian soldiers: “I am glad to see you have done good work; I wish you and your leader all the good luck!”
In the spring of 1944, one company of the Legion was sent to
In the fall of 1944 until Christmas, the Indian Legion spent its time in the quiet villages of southern
Although thus swept into the maelstrom of the Axis disintegration in Europe, Netaji’s army of liberation in the west had carved for itself a niche in history; for, indeed, it was a nucleus which would eventually precipitate a much larger fighting force elsewhere. Inspired by its leader, that force would march into
During his interview with Netaji, Hitler had suggested to him that since it would take at least another one or two years before Germany could gain direct influence in India, and while Japan’s influence, in view of its spectacular successes in Southeast Asia, could come in a few months, Bose should negotiate with the Japanese. The Führer warned Bose against an air journey which could compel him to a forced landing in British territory. He thought Bose was too important a personality to let his life be endangered by such an experiment. Hitler suggested that he could place a German submarine at his disposal which would take him to Bangkok on a journey around the Cape of Good Hope.16 However, despite Hitler’s suggestions, it is believed that the German Foreign Office showed some reluctance in the matter of Netaji’s leaving Germany and going to Japan. Col. Yamamoto Bin, Japanese military attache in Berlin (and a good personal friend of Netaji) along with the Japanese ambassador Lieutenant-General Oshima Hiroshi, had met Netaji as early as October 1941 when the latter expressed hopes for enlisting Japanese aid in his plan for wresting Indian independence. This was the beginning of a series of such meetings.
After the entry of
In the meantime, Ambassador Oshima had also met with Hitler and explained Bose’s plan to him. According to Japanese records,
The Führer readily agreed with Oshima that it was better for Bose to shift his activities to Southeast Asia now that his country’s (
Alexander Werth writes:
An interesting anecdote related to this historic journey may perhaps be mentioned here. Shortly before Bose’s departure the Japanese Naval Command raised objections because of an internal Japanese regulation not permitting civilians to travel on a warship in wartime. When Adam von Trott (of the German Foreign Office) received this message by cable from the German Ambassador in Tokyo, he sent the following reply: “Subhas Chandra Bose is by no means a private person, but Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Liberation Army.” Thus the bureaucratic interference was overcome.
On 8 February 1943, accompanied by Keppler, Nambiar and Werth, Netaji arrived at the