Saturday, January 21, 2012

Netaji, INA & War of India’s Liberation


23. September 2009.

The arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Germany in 1941 and his anti-British activities in that country in co-operation with the German government, culminated in the formation of an Indian legion. This marks perhaps the most significant event in the annals of India’s fight for independence. This event not only can be regarded as a historical link-up with what Bose himself chose to describe as “The Great Revolution of 1857,” and which (in his words) “has been incorrectly called by English historians ‘the Sepoy Mutiny,’ but which is regarded by the Indian people as the First War of Independence.”1 It also represents the historical fact that, by that time persuasive methods conducted through a non-violent struggle under the leadership of Gandhi, had failed. An armed assault on the citadel of the British Empire in India was the only alternative left to deliver the country from bondage. While other leaders of the Indian National Congress fell short of realizing this fact and thus betrayed a lack of pragmatic approach to the turn of world events that provided India with a golden opportunity to strike at the British by a force of arms, Bose rose to the needs of the hour and was quick to seize that opportunity. While Bose’s compatriots in India remained totally wedded to an ideological creed (non-violence), which at that time could only serve the British and postpone the advent of independence, and while their ideological interpretations of the new revolutionary regimes in Europe — again largely influenced by British propaganda — prevented them from even harboring any thought of seeking their alliance and co-operation in the struggle against a common enemy, Subhas Chandra Bose alone had the courage to take the great plunge, thus risking his own life and reputation, solely in the interest and cause of his country. In January 1941, while under both house arrest, and strict British surveillance, he escaped. After an arduous trek through the rugged terrains of several countries, with an Italian passport under the assumed name of Orlando Mazzota — in which he was aided by underground revolutionaries and foreign diplomatic agents — Bose appeared in Berlin, via Moscow, on 28 March 1941.

Bose was welcome in Germany, although the news of his arrival there was kept a secret for some time for political reasons. The German Foreign Office, which was assigned the primary responsibility of dealing with Bose and taking care of him, had been well informed of the background and political status of the Indian leader through its pre-war Consulate-General at Calcutta and also by its representative in Kabul. Bose himself, naturally somewhat impatient for getting into action soon after his arrival in Berlin, submitted a memorandum to the German government on 9 April 1941 which outlined a plan for co-operation between the Axis powers and India. Among other things, it called for the setting up of a “Free India Government” in Europe, preferably in Berlin; establishment of a Free India broadcasting station calling upon the Indian people to assert their independence and rise up in revolt against the British authorities; underground work in Afghanistan (Kabul) involving independent tribal territories lying between Afghanistan and India and within India itself for fostering and aiding the revolution; provision of finances by Germany in the form of a loan to the Free India government-in-exile; and deployment of German military contingents to smash the British army in India. In a supplementary memorandum bearing the same date, Bose requested that an early pronouncement be made regarding the freedom of India and the Arab countries.2 It is significant to note that the memorandum did not mention the need for formation of an Indian legion. Evidently the idea of recruiting the Indian prisoners of war for the purpose of establishing a nucleus of an Indian national army did not occur to him during his early days in Berlin.

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 Bose, Germany agreed to give him unconditional and all-out help. The two immediate results of this decision were the establishment of a Free India Center and inauguration of a Free India Radio, both beginning their operations in November 1941. These two organizations played vital and significant roles in projecting Bose’s increasing activities in Germany, but a detailed account of their operation lies outside the purview of this paper. It should suffice to say that the German government put at Bose’s disposal adequate funds to run these two organizations, and he was allowed complete freedom to run them the way he liked at his own discretion.
In its first official meeting on 2 November 1941, the Free India Center adopted four historical resolutions that would serve as guidelines for the entire movement in subsequent months and years in Europe and Asia. First, Jai Hind or Victory to India, would be the official form of salutation; secondly, Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore’s famous patriotic song “Jana Gana Mona” was to be the national anthem for the free India Bose was fighting for; thirdly, in a multilingual state like India, the most widely-spoken language, Hindustani, was to be the national language; and fourthly, Subhas Chandra Bose would hereafter be known and addressed as Netaji, the Indian equivalent of the “leader” or the “Führer.” In November 1941, Azad Hind Radio (or the Free India Radio) opened its program with an announcing speech by Netaji himself, which, in fact, was a disclosure of his identity that had been kept officially secret for so long. The radio programs were broadcast in several Indian languages on a regular basis.
During this long period of “hibernation,” the period between Netaji’s arrival in Berlin and the beginning of operations of the two organizations, it can be reasonably assumed that the idea of forming an Indian legion that could be developed into an Indian Army of Liberation in the West, crossed Bose’s mind. He might even have discussed this matter with his colleagues — the Indian compatriots in Germany who had joined him — as to how best to implement the idea. However, as mentioned earlier, his first memorandum submitted to the German Government did not include any such plan. According to N.G. Ganpuley, who was his associate in Berlin,
“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 Berlin, he could not think of it during the first few months of his stay there.”

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 Berlin by the Radio Department to listen to the BBC and other stations which sent out their programmes in Hindustani. He saw them there going about, not as free Indians, but as prisoners-of-war. They were brought to the Radio Office every day to listen to and translate the Hindustani programmes, and were sent back to their quarters escorted by a sentry … After he had a talk with them about war, about their captivity and their present life, his active mind started working … He pondered over it for some time and decided to form a small national military unit … No sooner was this decision taken by him … [than] he started negotiating with that section of the German Foreign Office with which he was in constant touch. He put before them his plans for training Indian youths from the prisoners’ camps for a national militia.

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 Soviet Union. It was also a historical coincidence that a large number of British Indian prisoners-of war, captured during Rommel’s blitzkrieg in North Africa, lay in German hands. Netaji’s first idea was to form small parachute parties to spread propaganda in, and transmit intelligence from, the North-West Frontier in India. The reaction of some selected prisoners who were brought to Berlin from the camp of Lamsdorf in Germany and Cyrenaica was so encouraging that he asked for all Indian prisoners held in North Africa to be brought over to Germany at once. The Germans complied with this request, and the prisoners began to be concentrated at Annaburg camp near Dresden. The recruitment efforts, however, at the onset met with some opposition from the prisoners, who evidently had misgivings about Netaji’s intentions and motivations. In this regard Hugh Toye writes:
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 Berlin came forward. They were quickly joined by five POWs who were already in Berlin in connection with the German radio propaganda, and the first group of fifteen people was thus formed.On 25 December 1941 a meeting of Indian residents in Berlin was called in the office of the Free India Center, to give a send-off to the first fifteen who were to leave the following day for Frankenburg, the first training camp and headquarters for the Legion. The brief ceremony was simple and solemn. Netaji blessed the Legion, the first of its kind in the history of the struggle for Indian independence. He christened it Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army). The Indian Army of Liberation in the West thus had a humble and modest birth.
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 Brandenburg to be trained in tactical warfare. Abid Hasan and N.G. Swamy, the two original recruiters whom Netaji had sent to the Annaberg camp in 1941, had become de-facto founder-members of the Legion at Frankenburg and the irregular Company at Meseritz respectively. At Meseritz, the Indians were placed under the command of Hauptmarm Harbig, whose first object was to make them forget that they had been prisoners.
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 Germany Netaji himself underwent the rigors of such training, although authoritative documents on this subject are yet to be located by this writer. While in India, he was a member of the University Training Corps at school and commanded the volunteers at an annual session of the Indian National Congress, but he never had a formal military education prior to his arrival in Germany in 1941. As Joyce Lebra writes: “Though Bose was without any previous military experience, he got his training and discipline German-style, along with the soldiers of the Indian Legion.” To him, formation of a legion was more positive, more nationalistic and more gratifying than mere radio propaganda. Unlike his ex-compatriots in the Indian National Congress, including Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, he would rather seek confrontation with the British — with an army — than to work out a compromise with them on a conference table, on the issue of India’s freedom. A firm believer in discipline and organization, nothing perhaps could be more satisfying to him than to see his men being trained by the German Command, with officers of the highest calibre. In four months, the number of trainees rose to three hundred. In another six months a further three hundred were added. By December 1942, exactly a year after the recruitment of the Legion was inaugurated, it attained the strength of four battalions. At the beginning of 1943 the Legion would be 2000 strong, well on its way up to the culminating point of 3500 men. But let us step back to early 1942, almost a year after Netaji’s arrival in Berlin.
After the inauguration of the Free India Center, Free India Radio, and the sending of the first fifteen legionaries to the Frankenburg training camp, Netaji’s activities in Germany began in full swing. His presence in Germany was not yet officially admitted — he was still being referred to as Signor Orlando Mazzota or His Excellency Mazzota — but he began to be known to more and more people in Berlin. Josef Goebbels wrote in his diary on 1 March:
We have succeeded in prevailing upon the Indian nationalist leader, Bose, to issue an imposing declaration of war against England. It will be published most prominently in the German press and commented upon. In that way we shall now begin our official fight on behalf of India, even though we don’t as yet admit it openly.
On 14 March, he remarked of Bose, “He is an excellent worker.”9 The fall of Singapore was a signal for Netaji to broadcast his first official speech over the Free India Radio, repeating his vow to fight British imperialism until the end. This he followed with a declaration of war against England, although at that stage such a pronouncement could only be symbolic. Netaji had not yet obtained an Axis declaration in support of the freedom of India that he pressed for in the supplement of his first memorandum to the German government. That government was of the opinion that the time was not ripe yet for such a declaration and unless a pronouncement of this nature could be supported by military action, it would not be of much value.Meanwhile, Japan proposed a tripartite declaration on India. Encouraged by this, Bose met Mussolini in Rome on 5 May, and persuaded him to obtain such a declaration in favor of Indian independence. Mussolini telegraphed the Germans, proposing proceeding at once with the declaration. To back his new proposal Mussolini told the Germans that he had urged Bose to set up a “counter-government” and to appear more conspicuously. The German reaction, which still remained guarded, is recorded by Dr. Goebbels in his diary on 11 May:
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 England, push over the brink the imminent revolution in India, and legitimize the Indian legion. However, Hitler held a different view. During an interview at the Führer’s field headquarters on 29 May, he told Netaji that a well-equipped army of a few thousand could control millions of unarmed revolutionaries, and there could be no political change in India until an external power knocked at her door. Germany could not yet do this. To convince Netaji, he took him to a wall map, pointed to the German positions in Russia and to India. The immense distances were yet to be bridged before such a declaration could be made. The world would consider it premature, even coming from him, at this stage. Hitler was perhaps being realistic, but nevertheless it must have come as some sort of disappointment for Netaji. [Image: Hitler, whom Bose called “an old revolutionary” during their meeting in May 1942.]
In July 1942, the Germans suggested that a contingent of the Irregular Company be sent for front-line propaganda against Indian troops at El Alamein; but Rommel, who did not like battlefields turned into proving grounds for Foreign Office ideas, opposed the move. However, at the Lehrregiment manoeuvers in September, and on field exercises in October, the Indian performance won high praise. By January 1943, it was realized that maintenance of the irregulars as a separate entity was not of much practical use, and the ninety Indian men (excepting four under N.G. Swamy who were being trained for work within India) were absorbed into the Legion. Since the supply of recruits from the Annaburg camp was fast being depleted, it was decided to hasten the shipment of prisoners of war from Italy.
According to an agreement between Italy and Germany, all Indian POWs were to be sent directly to Germany without being held in Italian camps. But, in the meanwhile, an unforseen impediment stood in the way. A long-time Indian resident in Rome, Iqbal Shedai, formed an Indian unit under the Italians, and began broadcasting from Rome with the aid of a few Indian prisoners. It is understood that he had conferred with Netaji a few times, but obviously had no intention of co-operating with him. From radio broadcasting, he advanced into forming an Indian military unit, although it was in clear violation of the Italo-German agreement. The unit was named the Centro Militare India, but existed only from April to November 1942. During its brief period of existence, however, Shedai succeeded in diverting several hundred volunteers to Italian camps, who would normally have gone to Germany. In November the unit was three hundred and fifty strong, having been trained by Italian officers. On 9 November, after the Allied landing in North Africa, it was learnt that the men were being sent to fight in Libya, contrary to Shedai’s promises. When they refused to go and mutinied, Shedai refused to intervene. Consequently, the Centro Militare India was disbanded. It was never revived, and thus a barrier that stood in Netaji’s way toward recruitment was removed.
In August 1942, the Legion was moved to Koenigsbrueck, a large military training center in Saxony. This had been a regular training ground for the German infantry and motorized units for decades. Here the first contingents paraded before Netaji’s eyes in October, and the growth was rapid. However, the rapid expansion of the Legion also posed the problem of finances. Hitherto, payment to soldiers was being made from the monthly grants to the Free India Center and its office. As the number of Legionaries grew, that source became insufficient. For this problem there could be but one solution: direct payment to the Legion by the Germans. This would mean hereafter that the Legionaries would receive promotions and precedence as soldiers of national socialist Germany, and would become, in fact, a regiment of the German army, while retaining its separate name and distinction. This was agreed upon between Netaji and the German government, necessitating the taking of a formal oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler on the part of the Legionaries. Describing the ceremony, Hugh Toye writes:
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 India; every martyr in this holy war will have a monument there.” It was a brave, colorful show, and for Bose, a moment of pride and emotion. “I shall lead the army,” he said, “when we march to India together.” The Legionaries looked well in their new uniforms, the silken banner gleaming in their midst; their drill did them credit.
What was Netaji’s plan for leading this army to India? When the Germans launched out beyond Stalingrad into Central Asia, the Indian irregulars, trained at Messeritz, would accompany their Tajik and Uzbek counterparts along with the German Troops. After Uzbekistan and Afghanistan were reached the Indian Company would leap ahead of the German advance to disrupt the British-Indian defenses in northwestern India. Netaji spoke of dropping parachute brigades, calling on the Indian peasantry to assist them. Through radio he issued warnings to British Indian soldiers and police to the effect that unless they assisted the liberation forces they would one day have to answer to the free Indian government for their criminal support of the British. The effect of the Indian army of liberation marching into India along with the German forces would be such that the entire British Indian Army morale would collapse, coinciding with a revolutionary uprising against the British. The Legion would then be the nucleus of an expanding army of free India. Netaji’s plan, largely dependent on German Military successes in the Soviet Union, undoubtedly had a setback when the Wehrmacht was halted at Stalingrad. After the German retreat from that city, the plan for marching into India from the West had to be abandoned. The tide of war was turning swiftly, calling for devising new strategies on the part of Netaji.
While the German army’s second thrust into Russia encountered an unexpected counter-offensive at Stalingrad and thus was forced to turn back, in another part of the world the forces of another Axis partner were forging ahead, nearer and nearer to India. Japan was achieving spectacular successes in the Far East and was ready to welcome Netaji as the leader of millions of Indians who lived in the countries of East and Southeast Asia. The Japanese attitude was extremely encouraging. Tojo, the Prime Minister, had issued statements in the Diet (the Japanese Parliament) about Indian freedom early in 1942, and by March there was a Japanese proposal for a tripartite declaration on India. A small band of Indian National Army legionaires had already been in existence in the Southeast under Japanese patronage, although a few of its leaders, including Mohan Singh, had fallen out with the Japanese. Netaji would have no difficulty in reorganizing and expanding this organization. He would get the active support of millions of overseas Indians, and the many thousands of British Indian prisoners-of-war would provide him a greater opportunity for recruitment, and for thus organizing a formidable army of liberation that could immediately be deployed in forward positions as the Imperial Japanese Army kept on advancing through the steaming jungles of the Malayan peninsula and Burma. During his meeting with Hitler on 29 May, the Führer had also suggested that in view of the prevalent world situation, Netaji should shift the center of his activities from Germany to the Far East.
Netaji could look back at his two years work in Germany with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Broadcasting, publications and propaganda were all extended. Azad Hind Radio had extended programs in several languages, and reports indicated that they were being listened to with interest in target areas; Azad Hind, a bilingual journal, was being published regularly. There were other papers for the Legion besides; the Free India Center had attained an acknowledged status in Germany. It was treated as a foreign mission, entitling its members to a higher scale of rations, and exemption from some of the Aliens’ regulations. Netaji himself was given a good villa, a car and special rations for entertainment purposes. His personal allowance amounted to about eight hundred pounds a month. The monthly grant for the Free India Center rose from 1,200 pounds in 1941 to 3,200 pounds in 1944. All these Netaji stipulated as a loan from the German government, to be returned after India gained independence with the Axis assistance. However, the turn of events now demanded his presence in a different theater-of-war.
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 Berlin. A.C.N. Nambiar, an Indian journalist who had been in Europe for some eighteen years prior to Netaji’s arrival in Germany, was his right-hand man. While preparing for his journey to the Asian theater-of-war, Netaji passed on to Nambiar his policy and instructions. As Hugh Toye writes:
There were plans for new branches of the Free India Center, for broadcasting, for Indians to study German police methods, and for the training of Indian seamen and airmen. As for the legion, it must be used actively as soon as possible, the German officers and NCOs must be quickly replaced by Indians, there must be no communalism. Legionaries were to be trained on all the most modern German equipment, including heavy artillery and tanks; Bose would send further instructions as opportunity offered.
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 India. He lives in the minds of the training staff members as an idealistic and fighting personality, never sparing himself in the service of his people and his country … The most rewarding fact was the real comradeship which grew between Indians and Germans, which proved true in dangerous hours, and exists still today in numerous cases. The Indian Legion was a precious instrument in strengthening and consolidating Indo-German friendship.
A report of Hitler’s visit to the Indian Legion headquarters in Dresden was given by Shantaram Vishnu Samanta (one of the Legionaries) during a press interview in India, after his release from an internment camp. According to his statement, Hitler addressed the soldiers of the Legion after Netaji had left for East Asia. He spoke in German and his speech was translated into Hindustani by an interpreter. He said:
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 Germany salutes him. It is the duty of all Indians to accept him as their führer and obey him implicitly. I have no doubt that if you do this, his guidance will lead India very soon to freedom.
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 Germany on 8 February 1943. On 26 January, “Independence Day for India,” there was a great party in Berlin where hundreds of guests drank his health. On 28 January, which was set aside for observance as the “Legion Day” in honor of the Indian Legion, he addressed the Legion for the last time. It is believed that his departure was kept secret from his army. So, there were no visible emotions among the men; no gesture of a farewell. The impression Netaji was leaving at the Free India Center was that he was going on a prolonged tour. So there were no signs of any anxiety. Except for a few top-ranking German officers and his closest aides, hardly anybody was aware that within a week-and-a-half he would be embarking on a perilous journey: a submarine voyage through mine-infested waters to the other side of the world. In his absence, Nambiar settled down in his job as his successor and soon gained respect of the Legionaries.
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 Free India Center in Berlin and obtained clarification regarding the rebel Legionaries’ grievances. The team went back to the camp and assured the men that they were not being sent to fight a war but were there purely for practical training purposes according to Netaji’s wishes; that the promotions were not being passed up, they would follow in due course; and that Netaji had not abandoned them, and they would be informed about his whereabouts and plans as soon as possible. In pursuance of military discipline, the ringleaders of this act of insubordination were sent to prison camps for a specified period.
The Legion was stationed in the coastal areas of Holland for five months. Afterwards, there was a decision to move it to the coastal area of Bordeaux in France from the mouth of the Girond, opposite the fortification of Foyan to the Bay of Arcachon. The Legion was taking charge here. The stay in France was utilized to give the Legionaries a thorough training in the weaponry required for the defense of the Atlantic Wall. In the spring of 1944, the first batch of twelve Indians were promoted to officers. Field Marshal Rommel, who took charge of the Atlantic Wall, once visited the area where the Indian contingent was located. Ganpulay writes:
… 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 North Italy at the request of some officers who were seeking an opportunity to confront the British forces. After the Normandy invasion by the Allied forces in June 1944, the military situation in Europe began to deteriorate. It eventually became so critical that the German High Command decided to order the Indian Legion to return to Germany. So after about ten months of stay in the coastal region of Lacanau in France, the Indian Legion started its road back. It is to be understood at this point that with the landing of the Allied troops in France and their gradual advance through the French countryside, the French Maquis (underground) guerillas had become very active, and along with the German troops they made the Legionaries as well the target of their attacks. After travelling a certain distance, the first battalion of the Legion was temporarily located in the area of Mansle near Poitiers, while the second and the third battalion were stationed in Angouleme and Poitiers respectively. After a rest for ten days in this region, during which period they had to ward off sporadic attacks by the French underground, the Legionaries took to the road once again. In this long march back to Germany, the Legion demonstrated exemplary courage and fortitude, and underwent rigors and hardships of battlefield with equanimity. At this time, British propaganda was directed to these men which was full of empty promises; some material was dropped from the air, while agents infiltrated into the ranks to persuade the men to desert. The propaganda promised the would-be deserters reinstatement in the British Indian army with full retroactive pay and pension, but the British hypocrisy was once again manifest in the fact that a few of the soldiers who had fallen victim to this bait were shot later by the French publicly in a market place in Poitiers without any trial, along with some German prisoners-of-war.In following the saga of the Indian Army of Liberation in the West, one has to remember that its fate was indissolubly linked with that of the Axis powers in Europe, especially Germany. The overpowering of the new revolutionary regimes of Europe by forces representing an alliance of capitalism and Marxism was an international tragedy which engulfed the Indian Legion in Europe as well. During its retreat into Germany, it encountered the enemy forces on several occasions and fought rearguard action with British and French forces, displaying exemplary bravery. The German military training had converted the regiment not only into a highly disciplined body, but a hard-core fighting unit as well. It is indeed a historical irony that this superb force could not be utilized for the purpose and way its creator and leader, Sublias Chandra Bose, had dreamt of. Nevertheless, the 950th Indian Regiment, as the Legion was officially designated, left its footprints in the battlefields of France and Germany, as their many other gallant comrades of the German Army.
In the fall of 1944 until Christmas, the Indian Legion spent its time in the quiet villages of southern Germany. Between Christmas and the New Year 1945, the unit was ordered to move into the military camp at the garrison town of Heuberg. In the spring of 1945 the Allied forces crossed the Rhine. The Russians entered the East German provinces murdering and plundering cities, townships and villages. Heavy bomber formations began destroying German cities. Transport systems became completely disorganized and paralyzed. The end was near, and there was no point in remaining in the barracks. The Legion, therefore, left its winter quarters at Heuberg in March 1945, and headed for the Alpine passes. By that time all communications with the Free India Center in Berlin had been cut off. The Legion commanders took decisions independently. The Legion had already reached the Alpine regions east of Bodensee. However, with the surrender of the German forces on 7 May, all hopes also ended for the Free India Army. While attempting to cross over to Switzerland, the legionaries were overwhelmed by American and French units and were made prisoners. Those who fell into the hands of the French had to suffer very cruel treatment. Several were shot, while others died in prison camps in miserable conditions. The rest were eventually handed over to the British.
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 India to set in motion a process that would eventually deliver the country from an alien bondage. One, therefore, must not regard the saga of the Indian National Army in Europe as an isolated event that ended tragically. While its dream of crossing the Caucasus along with its allies, the German Armed Forces, and entering India from the Northwest, did not materialize in reality, its extension and successor, India’s army of liberation in the east, did enter the country from the opposite direction, thus fulfilling the cherished dream of Netaji and his soldiers. Not only that, as we shall see subsequently, but that army made the mightiest contribution toward finally ending an imperialist rule in India.
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 Japan in World War II in December, Netaji was more eager to go as soon as possible to East Asia and fight beside Japan for India’s liberation. He reportedly urged Oshima to use his good offices to secure his passage to Asia. It was about at this point that both Oshima and Yamamoto encountered a feeling of reluctance in the matter on the part of the German Foreign Office. They had the feeling that Germany was not to willing to let Japan lead India to independence. Bose was already a useful ally as an Indian patriot, and his propaganda broadcasts were effective in both India and Britain. The Indian Legion was already having a psychological impact in India and worrying the Allies. For these reasons, “they were guarding Bose like a tiger cub.”
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 (Japan’s) armies had overrun the area. The second problem was whether Bose would get enough support in Tokyo for his activities. On this, Oshima had contacted Tokyo many times but had not received any firm answer. Finally, Tokyo replied to Oshima that in principle it had no objection to Bose’s visit to Japan. The third problem was to provide Bose with a safe means of transport to Japan. Communication between Germany and Japan was impossible during those days. Passage by boat was ruled out; and it was decided to use a plane belonging to the Lufthansa Company to airlift Bose from Germany to Japan via the Soviet Union. Tojo (Japanese Prime Minister) objected to this on the grounds that this would amount to a breach of trust with the Soviet Union. An attempt was made by both Yamamoto and Bose to get an Italian plane, but this also did not work. Finally the choice fell on a submarine. Germany agreed to carry Bose up to a certain unknown point in the east and asked that a Japanese submarine be pressed into service thence forward. After a series of exchanges with his government, Oshima finally obtained Tokyo’s approval of the plan and communicated it to Bose.
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 port of Kiel where a German submarine under the command of Werner Musenberg was waiting for him. His would-be sole companion on this perilous voyage, Abid Hasan, had travelled separately to Kiel in a special compartment without knowing his destination. Only after commencement of the journey was he to be informed of the itinerary. Netaji was leaving behind his chosen 3,500 soldiers of the Indian Legion, the 950th regiment of the German Army, specially trained and equipped for the task of liberating an India held in bondage by the British. We have already followed the history and fate of the Legion. Now let us turn to the East.


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1 comment:

  1. i tried my best to read this essay
    i have one request make some gap between paragraphs, then people can read without trouble
    Dee.

    ReplyDelete