The Secret Service and its activities
Writes Prof. Priyadarshi Mukherjee in his book, 'Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Contemporary Anecdotes, Reminiscences and Wartime Reportage', "One of the hitherto unknown facts, that ought to be recognized as a significant phase in the history of Indian freedom movement, has been revealed in the book 'Netajir Secret Service' written in Bengali by Dr. Pabitramohan Roy. Dr. Roy, to evade arrest in Dhaka, had traveled to Malaya via Rangoon and came in contact with Rashbehari Bose and got involved with the Indian Independence League (IIL). He joined the secret service of INA following the orders of Netaji Subhas Bose." An organization named Indian Swaraj Institution was inaugurated as the IIL branch in the Penang of Malaya. Its objective was to conduct covert operations in India. Cadets from various regions of India were selected and a training camp was set up. Noni Pal, Satyendra Bardhan and Phoni Roy joined the camp. They had traveled to India in 1942 to propagate the message of Azad Hind, but all of them were caught by British police and army. Satyendra was hanged. However during the tussle between IIL, INA and Japanese, the Penang centre was closed down. Managers of the League promised to take all responsibilities of families of people sent for the duty. The trainees of the camp were taught on wireless message transmission and reception, making transmitters, propaganda, production and usage of explosive materials, conducting covert operations, causing damage to enemies and destructive assignments, collecting enemy messages, necessary techniques of disguise. They also received full fledged training in drill, jogging, swimming in the sea, rowing, usage of rifle, revolver, hand grenades and tommy guns.
On 2nd September 1943, Dr. Roy first met Netaji along with his colleagues. Netaji held discussions with each of them separately. All the details regarding this group was with Netaji only and all the plans regarding the operations of this group was formulated by Netaji. Major Swami was the in charge of the training camps. Netaji’s parting message to the secret operations group was as follows – 'You, now have guaranteed complete proof of fact how dangerously complete faith and trust I have placed in you. Henceforth your motto shall be do or die. Again in the name of Jagadamba Durga and by her grace, I avowedly assure you – Victory shall be ours, Yours. May my mother Durga bless you. But always remember, whether war should be brutal or a human business is besides the point. Everyone knows that no war can be conducted and fought with kid’s gloves. Modern war esp. takes an appalling toll in human lives and property. No civilized nation risks it lightly, but when it is forced on, it has to be waged in a manner that makes opponents wince. This is not done in a vindictive spirit but in a cold, calculated manner, to break the opponent’s morale, so that he is forced to sue for peace.' Then Netaji drew Pabitra away from the others and whispered in a confidential manner – 'Sometime later you might get an astonishing and terribly sad news. But do not get dejected or depressed. We will meet again. Go and serve the motherland to your utmost; and glorify the names of your parents.'
On 1st January 1944 the group comprising of Pabitramohan Roy, Mahendra Singh and Amrik Singh Gill, Tuhin Mukherjee and Samarendra Sengupta were told that they would be ready to be sent on a secret mission. In March 1944, the highly trained group of men were despatched by submarine to the Orissa coast of Puri where they hid their equipment and got separated. Pabitra set to work in Calcutta to spread the message of the advance of INA to motivate people to launch a revolution. He had been constantly in disguise wherever he went and befriended police, government, and other officials for operational requirement. In Puri Pabitra was disguised as a timber merchant from Calcutta. He tried to contact the young revolutionaries who were known to be sympathetic to Netaji . But to his surprise nobody showed any remote interest to respond to Netaji's call of a revolution within. Even the erstwhile revolutionaries had been cold about Netaji and his own party associates refused to help Pabitra. One prominent Communist Party member, who was once a close associate of Masterda Suryo Sen and had cooled his heels in Andamans (Ganesh Ghosh) told Pabitra in clear terms that he would not help any of Netaji's men. The Communist party members tried their best to sabotage any information pertaining to the advancement of I.N.A. Unfortunately during this time almost all of Netaji's revolutionary colleagues were behind the bars - that included the entire top brass of Bengal Volunteers - Hem Chandra Ghosh, Satya Ranjan Bakshi, Major Satya Gupta, Bhupendra Kishore Rakshit Roy. Biplobi Trailokya Maharaj of Anushilon Samity, Anil Roy and Leela Roy of Sri Sangha, Niharendu Dutta Majumdar were also interned and hence no major organisational support was available. Pabitra set up his transmitter and sent many useful messages across. He got help from Haridas Mitra and Bela Mitra (who was a niece of Netaji) and Jyotish Bose. In the meanwhile other secret service members like Alibaba, Akbar, Dr. Prafulla Kumar Datta (officer in charge of the Penang camp), who had also come down for covert activities, were arrested on 18 Dec 1944. Pabitra was caught from Puri on 18 January 1945, and Amrik Singh was also caught and both of them, together with Jyotish Bose and Haripada Mitra were tortured and sentenced to gallows on the charge of waging war on the crown in a farcical and extremely secretive trial. Undaunted, Bela sought the help of Gandhiji, whose timely help saved them from the gallows. On 29 May 1945, on the first day of the trial of Pabitra, the first one to appear as king’s evidence was Tuhin Mukherjee. Without mentioning the names of Azad Hind he termed the entire episode as Japanese conspiracy and made derogatory comments about Netaji and Rahsbehari Bose.
Several other secret service agents also had come to India that included Bhagwan Lu, S.N Chopra and others who were despatched to NWFP, Bengal, United Provinces and Bombay, after landing in the Kathiawar coast. S.N Chopra started transmitting important information on the British army formation in the North East, esp. Imphal. S.N Chopra was caught by British police. Bhagwan Lu met Bose's family in Calcutta to deliver his message. The message of Prabhavati Devi's death was conveyed to Netaji through a wireless which left him heartbroken.
Preparations for the War
Once it was decided that INA would march into India from Burma, Netaji decided to shift the Head Quarters of the provisional government of Azad Hind and the Indian Independence League to Rangoon on January 7, 1944. The INA plan was to first capture Imphal and Kohima and then enter the plains of Assam and Bengal. Netaji had high hopes that once INA reaches Bengal, entire Bengal will erupt in a revolution. "Action from within the country must synchronize with the action from without", said Bose. The strategy was that apart from the three regular regiments, the Bahadur group would penetrate behind the enemy lines conducting sabotage and making daring raids and bring back as many prisoners of war as possible, the intelligence group would try to convert the British Indian troops on their side by means of propaganda and would try to gather as much information, and the Reinforcement group would be in charge of the education of the Indian prisoners before they joined the INA. Netaji wanted INA to be seen as a spearhead of entry into India and therefore retain their identity as a regiment or a battalion. the command of INA would always be under an Indian officer and any Indian territory would be handed over to INA for administration. He believed that the first drop of blood on Indian soil would be that of an Indian, a member of the INA and told the same to Terauchi who was apprehensive that INA men might defect to the British Indian Army and therefore proposed that the Japanese army would do all that was needed to liberate India and that only espionage and propaganda groups should be used in the field (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement of India). Bose said that, “Any liberation of India secured through Japanese sacrifices, is worse than slavery." Terauchi agreed to the deployment of one regiment on the condition that if that regiment came up the Japanese standard, rest of the army would be sent to action.
The no. 1 Guerrilla Regiment, known as Subhas Brigade, that was raised as Taiping in Malaya, under the command of Shah Nawaz Khan, arrived in Rangoon in January 1944, by covering atleast 400 miles on foot. On 24 January, 1944, General Katakura; Chief of the Japanese General Staff in Burma, met Netaji and Shah Nawaz and discussed, behind closed doors, the general strategy of the impending campaign against India, and the role that had been assigned in it to the I.N.A. Among other things, '‘Katakura revealed that it was a part of the Japanese plan to launch a heavy air attack on Calcutta simultaneously with the advance of land forces. Netaji expressed himself against this. He told the Japanese General that there should be no indiscriminate bombing of Indian civilians as it would lead to much panic and suffering, and would probably shake the confidence of the Indian people in him.” The idea was accordingly abandoned (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement of India).
There was a tremendous enthusiasm among soldiers and ordinary people alike. Even the sick and the physically handicapped soldiers who had arrived in Rangoon wanted earnestly to take part in the battle. Supply of food and other facilities like transport arrangements by the Japanese liaison agency Hikari Kikan was poor. Indian Independence League members supplied the soldiers with food and other necessary items wherever the trains stopped. Supply depots and hospitals were established en route to care for the sick and injured and also to provide supplies. A large number of civilians were also recruited and trained for being part of the regular army.
Netaji, after his arrival in Burma, laid emphasis on fund collection to sponsor the war efforts, in building a war chest. A special committee to raise funds was established and it was named as Netaji fund Committee. Its first chairman was Yellappah. The Burma Government gave the fullest support for the work. As already mentioned, Habib contributed a crore and 3 lakhs of rupees in jewelry, cash and other assets. Ziwawadi estates were given over to the Azad Hind. One B. Ghosh gave his all, including his own factory and placed himself at the disposal of Netaji. Nizami, Bashir Ahmed, Mrs. Hemraj Betai were other notable "total mobilizers" who gave up everything. Netaji decorated them with the Sevak-e-Hind medal. For the reconstruction and civil administration of the occupied territories a large no. of workers were mobilized. Special proclamations were issued by Netaji for the occupied territories. A large ordinance Base depot was established in Rangoon. Supply base was streamlined under the Ministry of Supplies of the provisional Government. General Staff Branch was organized under Habibur Rahman to collect information and intelligence from contacts in the fronts and in India. Plans of operation were held in consultation with the Japanese. Officer's training school was established, training in wireless and other necessary training for both army men and civilians, special intensive training was given to the troops of the Bahadur group.
Notwithstanding the level of preparation, Maj. Gen. A.C Chatterjee recalls that when the troops reached Burma, they had no artillery of their own, not even mortars. Machine guns were only of medium size and deficient of belts, and spare parts were not available. Guerrilla regiments had no wireless equipment or telephones. Transport for carrying extra arms and ammunition across country were not available. Medical supplies were short. There were shortage of boots and men had to walk barefooted. Food was in short supply, clothing was a problem too, there were no woolens, blankets were miserable. "The renegade army", remarked a British intelligence report, "marched blithely into the Imphal campaign wearing Khaki drill shorts." (The Forgotten Army - Peter Ward Fay).
Netaji had an intense discussion with Kawabe, Japanese commander in chief, and reinforced his point that Azad Hind Fauj would take the lead in the battle. He also made clear to the Japanese that upholding the honour of Indian men and women was very important to him. In the book, "The Forgotten Army", based on the reminiscences of Prem Sehgal and Lakshmi Sehgal, by Peter Ward Fay, the author argues that Netaji, who demanded an equal treatment and respect for all Indians from the Japanese, did not hesitate to approach the top political and military brass of Japan to have his own way, while negotiating with the Kikan on battle strategy. The Japanese (contrary to the British and the Communist propaganda) held Bose in tremendous respect and had unshakable faith in his interpretation of the political and military events. Kawabe therefore gave way to Bose's demands. One of the points of agreement of equality of standing was that when Japanese and Indian military officers of equal rank met, they would salute together, without waiting for the other. Obviously INA was treated far above the other allied forces of Japanese viz. Nanking army, the Thai army, and the Burmese army of Aung San. About the Indian National Army of Bose, the Japanese handbook to their soldiers read, "Acknowledge these Indians to be not by any means a fifth column of the Japanese army, nor a convenient source of coolie labour, but men fighting for the independence of their motherland, fighting our common enemy for a common purpose."
Medical department was set up under A.C Allagappan. Large base hospital was established in Mayang. Nurses from Rani Jhansi Regiment took up the care of sick and wounded. In January 1944, Netaji also planned to establish a suicide squad that would undertake very dangerous and risky missions. Even Rani of Jhansi members were willing to be part of this team. Indian Independence League Headquarters was established in Rangoon and was later amalgamated with the Head Quarters of the Burma branch. An internal security department was created to keep a check on the activities of the British spies and the Pro British agents. Debnath Das was the chairman. A woman's branch was established with Bela Mukherjee as the secretary. This organization worked for propaganda among women, and collection of materials for the relief and nursing work. Major General A.C Chatterjee was appointed as the Governor of the liberated territories. Detail administrative policies were chalked out w.r.t operations in the liberated areas. A joint Indo Japanese coordination committee for the war efforts was proposed but was shelved after discussion on the vexatious issue of nominating a chairman from the Indian National Army vis a vis from the Japanese side. Netaji was preparing for a long drawn war and hence established Bal Senas with children between 6 and 10 years who would be replacing the youth as time passes.
In March 1944, as the three battalions of the INA's Gandhi Brigade, commanded by I. Kiani, arrived in Burma, Netaji broadcasted over radio from Rangoon the death of Kasturba Gandhi, Mahatma's wife, in Poona, while in British custody. Bose, alongside Lakshmi Swaminathan, paid a glowing tribute to the "great lady who was a mother to the Indian people." He urged the sons and daughters of India to avenge the death of their mother Kasturba by throwing off the British empire.
Once A.C Chatterjee became the chief administrator of the liberated areas, Netaji appointed N. Raghavan as his finance minister who was able to raise resources from wealthy South Indian merchants in Malaya and Burma. Nambiar, who was in Germany, was made a member of the cabinet and the Indian Legion was declared to be a branch of the INA. Yellappa and Ishar Singh became ministers and S.M Bashir of Rangoon was brought as an adviser. By April 1944, Azad Hind Government issued postage stamps for use in the liberated zone. Allagappan was given the responsibility of the supplies. The blog post on Azad Hind Dal narrates the typical activities that were required and planned for reconstruction of the liberated territories using the volunteer civil corps of Azad Hind Dal.
Azad Hind Bank was set up on 5th April after a great deal of wrangling with General Isoda, the chief of Hikari Kikan (S.A Ayer, Story of the INA). Netaji had thought of every aspect of the campaign and he planned meticulously for reconstruction and establishment of a civilian administration after the liberation, even if the enemy followed a scorched earth policy and destroyed everything. Azad Hind Dal that was set up with volunteers would swing into action for putting up improvised huts, engineers would get engaged to pump water into the fields to grow food, improve street lighting, drinking water would be made available and temporary roads would be set up. Azad Hind bank would supply currency, and the postal system would start functioning to meet immediate needs of the people. His forces were handicapped on many fronts and he was dependent on the Japanese troops for arms and ammunition and battle strategies on the ground. He told his troops before they departed, "I give you the freest choice to decide whether you really want to lay down your lives for the cause. I tell you in the plainest possible words that I promise you nothing but hunger, thirst, suffering and death. You are free to choose your path." Not one man stepped out of the rank. There were two divisions of INA that were already in Burma - the first was commanded by Major General M.Z Kiani and the second by Col. Shah Nawaz Khan.
The Map shows the route through which the Indian National Army approached the borders of India. One battalion of Subhas Brigade left Rangoon for Prome and adopting a diversionary tactics proceeded towards Arakan. The remaining part of the first brigade approached through Haka and Falam to Tiddim and Fort White after crossing Chindwin, proceeded through Chin Hills towards the Bishenpur sector. Another regiment proceeded via Naga Hills and Kabaw valley to lay siege to Kohima. National flag was raised atop Kohima Hills. Haka Falam was successfully captured. Palel aerodrome was brought down and severe fighting erupted in the Bishnupur sector of Manipur Basin, with the objective of capturing Imphal. The victories in Kohima and Bishnupur were short lived owing to the onset of early monsoon that cut off the supply line, rendering resistance almost impossible against a desperate, better armed and better equipped enemy who had a good stock of food available. Also lack of airforce contributed to the eventual defeat of INA and the Japanese forces. The overall operation was badly planned by the Japanese which led to the failure of the mission. They had underestimated the British Indian forces after their swift victory in Singapore and Malaya. Also treachery of Major Prabhudayal and Major Garewal contributed to the defeat by exposing the problems and positions of INA to the enemy.
Source: "Forgotten Army"
The War Begins: Capture of Arakan
Subhas Brigade was placed under the direct command, for purpose of operations only, of the Japanese General Head Quarters in Burma. Its commander, Shah Nawaz Khan, saw the Japanese Commander- in-Chief who apprised him fully of the military situation at the Indo-Burma border. Shah Nawaz writes : “He told me that the main concentration of British and American forces was at Sadiya-Imphal-Tamu and Tiddim and that they were preparing to attack the Japanese forces with the object of recapturing Burma. He told me that there were powerful British forces at Aijal (probably one Brigade) and Lungleh (one Brigade) which were threatening the left flanks of the Japanese forces, and were in a position to advance to Kalewa and cut off the main supply line of the Japanese forces, and that the intention of the Japanese army was to attack and capture Tiddim-Tamu and Imphal.“ Dr. R. C Majumdar writes in the History of Freedom Movement, 'The role allotted to the Subhas Brigade was as follows : The Battalion No. 1 was to proceed via Piome to the Kaladan valley in Arakan. The Battalions Nos. 2 and 3 were to proceed via Mandalay and Kalewa to the Chin Hill area of Haka and Falam. On 3 February, 1944, on the eve of the departure of these Battalions from Rangoon, Netaji delivered his farewell speech to the three thousand soldiers who “in full military kit stood rigidly to attention for an hour and a half and listened to every word he said with rapt attention.” He told them that they would be put to the severest test by the Japanese authorities, and the future of I.N.A.’s role in the battle for India’s freedom would depend upon them. He made a stirring appeal to them in the following words : “Blood is calling to blood ! Arise ! We have no time to lose. Take up your arms...We shall carve our way through the enemy’s ranks, or, if God wills, we shall die a martyr’s death. The road to Delhi is the road to freedom..On to Delhi.'
Intelligence reports suggested that British was expecting an attack from the Chittagong side. A Bahadur group of the INA, led by Lt. Col. L.S Misra was deployed on the Arakan front where the offensive was launched. Troops of the Bahadur Group under Col. Misra and Major Mehar Das, both later decorated as Sardar-e-Jung, attacked the enemy along the Mayu river, with extreme bravery, with help from the Japanese. They tried to bring Indian prisoners of war to their sides but as the food situation was not favourable they had to release the prisoners. INA and Japanese troops occupied Buthiadong and the 7th Division of the British Indian Division was completely destroyed. Lt. Hari Singh won the Sher-e-Hind medal by displaying extra ordinary valour as he slaughtered seven British soldiers single handed. Writes Peter Fay, about the Bahadur Group, "The battalion is composed of Sikhs, Jats and Dogras, all ex prisoners of war. It possesses no signal equipment, bicycles, or motorcycles, and only one 3-ton ration lorry. Each platoon has a mule cart which is manhandled by six men. These carts carry ammunition and officers’ kits. There are no stretchers, and there is a great shortage of bandages and iodine. Only half the battalion possess field dressings, the majority of these are the original British issue. Each company [there were five in the battalion] has six anti tank rifles, six Bren light machine guns, and six Vickers machine guns.The senior representative of the Bahadur Group has a stock of British hand grenades which he issues to men going forward on duty. Some NCOs and men in the battalion carry grenades. . . . Number 2 and 3 Battalions are said to be similarly equipped and organized. "The plan", Zaman Kiani wrote years later, “was that the Japanese, possessing heavier weapons, should first break the outer defences of India, and then allow the I.N.A. 1st Division to pass through and spread out for Guerrilla operations . . . in Assam and Bengal.” That was how the business was to have gone." Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.
Writes R.C Majumdar, "On 4 February, 1944, the Battalion No. 1 of the Subhas Brigade left Rangoon by train for Prome. From Prome they marched on foot via Taungup and Myo Haing and arrived at Kyauktaw (in Akyab) on the Kaladan river, suffering casualties on the way from aerial bombing of the enemy." The bombing took place in Taungup pass. 16 INA men were dead and few boats were drowned. These troops were under the command of Major P.S Raturi, Sardar-e-Jung. Here they formed the base in the middle of March, 1924, and inflicted a defeat upon the much-praised West African troops in the British army, who was engaged in constructing a bridge over the Kaladan in order to join the two parallel roads running along the eastern and the western banks of the river. There was a fierce hand to hand fight. The enemy was driven from the eastern bank, leaving 250 dead in the field and large amount of stores. Sixteen of their boats were also sunk. The casualties of the I.N.A. were 14 killed and 22 wounded. The Indian Battalion, reinforced by Japanese troops, then advanced along both the banks of the Kaladan for about fifty miles north to Paletwa. After a severe fight they captured it and also another place, Daletine nearby. From Daletine they could see the frontier of India forty miles to the west distinctly and were very eager to reach it. The nearest British post on the Indian side was Mowdok about fifty miles to the east of Cox Bazar. Major Raturi and his men were very eager to attack this post. It was captured by a surprise attack during night (May, 1944) and the enemy fled in panic leaving large quantities of arms, ammunition and rations. Says Dr. Majumdar, “The entry of the I.N.A. on Indian territory was a most touching scene. Soldiers laid themselves flat on the ground and passionately kissed the sacred soil of their motherland which they had set out to liberate. A regular flag-hoisting ceremony was held amidst great rejoicing and singing of the Azad Hind Fauj Anthem. On account of the difficulty of supply as well as the impending counter-attack by the British forces, the Japanese forces decided to withdraw from Mowdok and advised the I.N.A. Commander to do the same. The I.N.A. officers with one voice refused to do so. “No, sir,’' they told their Commander, “the Japanese can retreat because Tokyo lies that way ; our goal—the Red Fort, Delhi, lies ahead of us. We have orders to get to Delhi. There is no going back for us.’' The Commanding Officer of the I. N. A. thereupon decided to leave one Company under the command of Capt. Suraj Mal at Mowdok to guard the flag and withdraw the remainder. The Japanese, admiring the spirit—almost a suicidal role—of the I.N.A. men, left one Platoon of their own troops to share the fate of the Indians. These Japanese troops were put under direct command of Capt. Suraj Mal. “It was probably the first time in the history of the Japanese army that their troops had been placed under command of a foreign officer.” Evidently moved by this heroic sacrifice and the brilliant record of the I. N. A. men, “the Japanese Commander-in-Chief in Burma went to Netaji and bowing before him said : “Your Excellency, we were wrong. We misjudged the soldiers of the I. N. A. We know now that they are no mercenaries, but real patriots.“ Capt. Suraj Mal and his band of heroic fighters stayed at Mowdok from May to September, 1944. During this period they were constantly attacked by the British forces but always succeeded in repulsing them. On one occasion a small post of 20 men was attacked successively three times during the same day by the enemy, about 150 strong with heavy artillery and mortars, and the last one was preceded by aerial bombardment. All the attacks were repulsed, and when Suraj Mal hurried to the post with a reinforcement of 50 men, he attacked the British base three miles away at dusk. It was so unexpected that the enemy ran helter-skelter in all directions." In September 1944 this force as well as the one on Arakan retired to Rangoon on Netaji's specific orders as the Imphal campaign did not succeed.
Capture of Haka Falam
The remaining part of the first brigade consisting of the 2nd and 3rd battalions proceeded to the North to the Haka-Falam area to take that over from the Japanese troops. It would defend this area to protect the line of communication between Kalewa to Tamu in the North and Kalewa and Tiddim in the North West. This was not liked by Col. Shah Nawaz Khan who was in charge, as they could have shown much valour and courage in carrying out offensive than defending a communication line. There was lack of transportation and the men had to carry rations on their back over long distances on hilly tracts. Also malaria and dysentery took their tolls. Lack of suitable clothing left the men unprotected in the cold of the mountains. The Parwana company under Amrik Singh left Falam for Haka. There were skirmishes with the enemy and the occupation of Haka was carried out after destroying the enemy outpost of Chunsong. The soldiers of INA displayed magnificent courage in capturing the fortified enemy positions. Lt. Lehna Singh for instance displayed extra ordinary bravery in capturing a machine gun post on Klaung Klaung Road with only ten men and then chased the British troops for miles. Lt. Sikandar Khan displayed heroism in capturing enemy soldiers with a revolver.
There was terrible shortage of food in Haka and the soldiers had to live on a hilly grass, but they had indomitable courage to continue amidst all adversities. It was extremely cold in Haka and they had no proper winter garments. Enemy camps were more in Haka and enemies were supplied well via air drops. The Parwana commander Lt. Amrik Singh decided to launch frequent attacks. On 14th and 16th April the British guerrilla forces launched a heavy artillery attack on Klaung Klaung post. An army of 20 men from INA defended against one hundred men from British command and captured their assault machine guns. Meanwhile Japanese forces had advanced upto Tiddim. Netaji had asked Subhas Brigade in a letter to be prepared for attacking Imphal, since Gandhi and Azad brigade were already on their way. Major Mehboob Ahmed, Captain Amrik Singh and the Parwana team from Haka was instructed to capture the British outpost in Klaung Klaung. They mounted a steep hill and launched a severe hand to hand fight with the British forces who had the advantages of height as well as heavy artillery. After an intense battle the outpost was captured. The Japanese were satisfied of the military skill and efficiency of the I. N. A. and issued instructions ‘that the main body of the Brigade would proceed to Kohima and would be prepared, on the fall of Imphal, to advance rapidly and cross the Brahmaputra into the heart of Bengal.' A small force of 150 and 300 men of INA were left at Haka and Falam resp. and the rest marched towards Kohima, the capital of the Naga Hills in Assam, and they arrived there in the last week of May, 1944. Even the men suffering from malaria and greatly weakened by it, jumped on to the bandwagon to capture Kohima.
In 1944, British tried to make roads from Imphal to Silchar and lower Assam, to Kalewa on the Chindwin through Tiddim and Fort White, to Kabaw valley and north to Kohima, beyond which lies the upper valley of Brahmaputra. In 1942 British had withdrawn from Burma, and they had largely moved along these tracks, particularly the Tamu-Manipur track. Once into the mountains they went no farther, they held on to Imphal. There were the impregnable Chin Hills on which lay Haka, Falam, Tiddim, Fort White and Tongzang and on whose other side lay Kalewa, which gave way to the Naga Hills on the North after crossing the Manipur Basin with towns like Imphal and Bishnupur and villages like Moirang. On March 18, INA moved towards Imphal and Kohima. Lt. General Mutaguchi was the commander of the fifteenth army of the Japanese forces to take on Imphal and Assam. Bose moved his Headquarters from Rangoon to Maymyo near Mandalay to get news from the front and establish closer coordination for the assault on Imphal. Maymyo was closer to the Imphal and from Maymo it should be possible to move to the Manipur basin. whole point of the offensive from the perspective of Azad Hind was to establish an army and a provisional Government on Indian soil. Bose had earlier urged Mutaguchi to avoid cutting Imphal Kohima road and leave a route open for the British to retreat. Netaji had hoped that a consequence of the fall of Imphal will be a revolt in Bengal and Bihar against the British rule. But INA lost the propaganda war to the British Government as nothing about Netaji and his forces came to the knowledge of the general public of India. They only knew that British Indian forces were fighting an advancing Japanese army. Bose was already a declared enemy in the eyes of the Western media and he was regarded as "Traitor", "Renegade" and his army a fifth columnist of the Japanese army. So nobody could get to know about the advancing INA.
Fall of Kohima
Writes Peter Fay in The Forgotten Army, "At first the offensive, which began on March 8, went just as it was supposed to go. Elements of Mutaguchi’s 33rd Division, curling around the flanks of the British some distance down the track that led due south out of the Manipur basin to Tongzang, Tiddim, and beyond, came within an ace of trapping the 17th Indian Division. And though the 17th managed to extricate itself, Mutaguchi did not mind. It would be his, with the others, at Imphal. “I got big net, I catch big fish” Prem remembers the general saying. It had great strategic value, however, for it lay at the point where the road from upper Assam into the Manipur basin climbs to forty-five hundred feet and turns south for Imphal. This was the road over which most of Slim’s men and stores had to come. If the Japanese took Kohima, they denied Slim the road and at the same time threatened Dimapur and the rail line to Ledo. So both sides fought desperately for the place. The British, however, were caught off balance by the speed and the scale of the Japanese attack."
Going against the plan of Bose, Mutaguchi chose to lay siege to Imphal. He obstructed the Imphal Kohima road, denying the chance to the British to escape. Right in the beginning, in early March 1944, groups of men belonging to the Bahadur group and Azad Hind Dal, went upto the Kohima sector accompanying the Japanese Manchurian division. They were under the command of Captain Maggar Singh, Captain Amar Singh and Dalapati Sinha. The combined forces had taken Ukhrul and Kohima. Japanese forces had cut the Kohima Dimapur road as per Mutaguchi's plan and had encircled the British. The first regiment from Haka Falam arrived in the Kohima sector passing through Kabaw valley via Tamu, Humine, Ukhrul and Kohima. In Kohima the Tri Colour flag was hoisted on the mountain tops. Final onslaught on Kohima was done under the command of Col. Thakur Singh, commander of the Subhas Brigade. The main danger that was looming large was the monsoon. The men lived on the paddy collected from the Naga villages. The high handed and rude behaviour of the Japanese liaison office with the local Nagas and Chins and the British policy of bribing them, worked unfavourably against INA men. The men barely survived by boiling mountain grass with paddy and many of them fell sick and weak from starvation. Despite that they held on steadfastly against an advancing enemy that was well fed and strong and had plenty of arms and ammunition. There was no medicine available for treatment against malaria and other diseases that befell them in the monsoon. The Japanese and the Indian troop had been completely cut off by the monsoon as the only hilly tract for their supplies was washed away. Stronger enemy forces were deployed on the Kohima Ukhrul road and the monsoon also intensified. The forces had to retreat to Tamu where ration was available. The whole retreat was a grilling and chilling experience as many people died en route on account of weakness, starvation, dysentery and insect bites. When Netaji heard of their condition he ordered an immediate retreat of all the troops of the first division to the eastern bank of Chindwin. Forces from Kohima under Shah Nawaz Khan marched to Ahlow, crossed Yeu river and went by boat along Chindwin to Kalewa. High handedness of the Japanese middle ranked officials led to some frictions between the INA and the Japanese soldiers (Maj. Gen. A.C Chatterjee - India's Struggle for Freedom).
Dr. R.C Majumdar notes in the History of the Freedom Movement, "by the end of May, when the regular I. N. A. troops arrived at Kohima, the military position of the Japanese forces in this area had changed for the worse. The Japanese air force having been transferred to the Pacific area to fight the Americans, considerable number of troops were sent by air to the besieged city of Imphal by the British. While the Japanese failed to
capture Imphal, a powerful force of the British was counter attacking from the direction of Dimapore and Kohima. The I. N. A. men at Kohima held their post most gallantly and beat back attack after attack. To make matters worse, the monsoon had broken out and it was impossible for the supply services to supply rations to troops in that area. So the Japanese forces retired to Tamu and the I. N. A., much against its will, had to withdraw to the same place in June, 1944. This they did with the greatest difficulty as the tracks were washed away by torrential rain and soldiers had to walk several hundred miles through the knee deep mud. A few days later the Japanese forces, and the I. N. A. with them, had to withdraw to the east bank of the Chindwin river. Thus ended the liberating campaign of the Subhas Brigade."
Battle of Imphal: Capture of Moirang and Bishnupur
As the Arakan and the Kaladan fronts were fully developed and Kohima attack was underway, the attack on Imphal was set in motion. 1st division under M.Z Kiani was sent to Imphal. As already discussed, part of the first brigade was diverted towards Haka for protecting the line of communication. This was a great disappointment to the troop and its leader Shah Nawaz Khan. This also proved to be a costly mistake as the soldiers suffered from fatigue, diseases and hunger and were worn out before they could put up a gallant fight. The 2nd Gandhi regiment under the command of Inayat Kiani reached Mandalay using goods trains and trucks from Rangoon. They went to Yeu by foot or truck and from there reached Kalewa by crossing Chindwin river. The INA along with the Japanese forces reached Manipur on 18 March 1944. The combined forces of the Japanese and the INA forced the British to retreat by capturing British bases of Zezo, Thingaiphai and Churachandpur. The Bahadur group after crossing Tiddim and Moirang went as far as Bishnupur near Imphal. Col. Shaukat Malik was in charge of this troop. 17th British division was completely routed and retreated to Bishnupur. Moirang was their strong base until 13th April. The Bahadur group of the INA, led by Shaukat Ali Malik, had advanced to the Bishnupur sector of Imphal. Malik hoisted the Indian tricolour in Moirang, near Imphal on April 14, 1944. Col. Malik took several prisoners of war who had to be released on account of shortage of food. Netaji awarded Sardar-e-Jung gallantry medal to Col. Malik. For about 200 men who were suffering from malaria, a camp was established. Neelamani Singh and Koireng Singh (who later became Chief Minister of Manipur) among local Manipuri leaders, helped the INA soldiers. Local Meiteis, who were already alienated from the British on account of the killing of their hero Bir Tikendrajit in 1891, tried to help the INA in every possible way. Chaoba of the Maram village helped INA with food and coolies. Later he and his family members shifted to Rangoon and there he met Netaji through the intervention of Major Swami. Some 32 Meiteis who earned their livelihood in Burma joined the INA under Let. Guno Singh of Khurai (Manipur) and they formed an advanced party. 13 out of the 32 reached Palel to obtain enemy secrets and also enlist help from the local people. A large no. of Manipuri tribals also joined the movement against the British. Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha joined hands with the INA with the common objective of gaining independence. British forces took terrible revenge. Moirang to Ningthoukhong was heavily bombed. The members of Manipuri Mahasabha were blacklisted. Shoot at sight order was passed at Nilamani Singh and Koireng Singh. Many Manipuri civilians were killed or their properties were destroyed by the British forces. (source: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Contemporary Anecdotes, Reminiscences, and Wartime Reportage by Priyadarshi Mukherjee)
Capture of Palel Aerodrome
The second brigade reached Tamu on the Indo Burma trade route. The British forces were pushed back to India. A small detachment of their 1st Division was left at Moray, within Indian borders. Azad Hind Fauj moved ahead and established its HQ at Chamol. Gandhi Regiment HQ was established in Mitha Khanjoul. There was a heavy concentration of the British forces in this area. The enemy forces had HQ in Palel which had an aerodrome. The British troops had strong artillery and air support which the INA and the Japanese forces lacked. The Gandhi brigade troops had been positioned in the hills overlooking Manipur and had ten days worth of ration with them, with no transport or communication links provided to them by the Japanese, with their Regimental HQs. For any message the despatch runner had to cover a distance of 18 miles each way through the enemy ambushes and snipers lurking somewhere (Maj General A.C Chatterjee - India's Struggle for Freedom). The third Brigade, named as Azad Brigade, under Col. Gulzara Singh, had arrived in Rangoon in April 1944. They arrived in Tamu by end of May 1944 and were assigned to protect the right flank of the Japanese forces. The HQ of this brigade was in Mintha, north of Moray. They also occupied strategic positions. But before they could launch large scale operations, the rain set in. The Gandhi regiment was on the left flank of the Japanese army and was instructed not to kill or wound any of the Indians on the British side, in order to win them over. Japanese army had drawn up a plan for attacking the aerodrome in Palel. The aerodrome attacking troops were under the command of Major Pritam Singh, who was later decorated with Sardar-e-Jung. While attacking a picket of British Indian soldiers, two of the INA men Lal Singh and Kapur Singh were treacherously killed by the British Indian troops who first asked them not to fire upon fellow Indians. A part of Major Pritam Singh's troop had captured the Palel aerodrome but the Japanese troops did not arrive as per plan to provide reinforcements. The INA men therefore destroyed the allied forces aeroplanes. During the day the enemy artillery and aircrafts resulted in heavy casualties on the INA Gandhi regiment. Major Pritam Singh, while getting encircled by enemies decided to retreat to the regimental HQ. The Japanese troop never arrived owing to a change in plan on their side which they did not communicate to the Indian counterpart. The men of Major Pritam Singh had to cut through an enemy barrier by desperate fighting and suffered heavy losses. Near the Regimental HQ of the Gandhi brigade British employed the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders. Repeated assaults and counter assaults resulted in casualties on both sides. The INA troops in these battles were largely composed of the Tamils from Malaya.
Suffering Reversal - Rain sets in: The Retreat or the Death March
Rains had come earlier and supply of arms and ammunition and rations became difficult. However the troops were fighting till the last drop of their blood. The fast advancement of Indo Japanese troop was resisted in Bishnupur. The enemy forces had numerical and logistical superiority, yet the INA men did not budge. Lt. Mansukh Lal, Capt. Rao, Lt. Ajaib Singh successfully defended the HQ. Even thirteen bullet wounds did not prevent Lt. Mansukh Lal from capturing the hill on which the safety of the regiment depended. Around 600 INA men fought tooth and nail against 3000 British soldiers with superior arms and equipment. Hand to hand combat took place in between Bishnupur and Ningthoukhong and the battle was the toughest and the bloodiest. The objective of the Indo Japanese forces was to capture the strongly fortified British camp at Bishnupur. On failing to capture it, Indo Japanese forces followed the Western Hill ranges and tried to block the British supplies at Red Hill at a cost of heavy casualties. British forces recaptured it after intense fight. Heavy rain started in July and Indo Japanese forces started retreating by mid July. The food shortage became acute and Col. I.J Kiani had to negotiate with the villagers regarding supply of food. The Nagas were disenchanted with the British and the Japanese alike, but they wanted their "Raja, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose" and they agreed to help. Nagas greatly resented the treatment of their Rani Guidinliu, Naga Spiritual and Political Leader in the hands of the British, who led the revolt against the British and who was imprisoned since 1932 in Shillong.
In the meanwhile as the supply line collapsed and there was no bomber available from the Japanese. The Japanese forces, suffering reverses in the Pacific, had moved all their bombers to counter the American forces in a desperate bid to save their occupied territories. The American fighter planes soon launched one sided attacks on the greatly depleted INA forces that were fighting for their lives to protect their occupied territories from Bishnupur to Kohima. INA advanced troops mobilized in Bishnupur were pounded by the enemy bombers continuously. The road from Moirang to Bishnupur was so heavily bombarded that it was not possible for the tanks of the INA forces to negotiate the route (Debnath Das, Battle of Imphal). Had it been few months earlier, the allied forces would not have been in a position to launch such a fierce aerial attack. The regimental strength dwindled to only thousand from two thousand. The enemy had received reinforcements and had abundant supply of food. Major B. J. S Garewal, the second in command of the Gandhi regiment and Major Prabhudayal, second in command of the third brigade under Col. Gulzara Singh, deserted to the enemy camps, carrying with them the detail documents pertaining to the positions of the INA soldiers. The Sikhs were crestfallen that Garewal, a Sikh, could bring such indignity of betrayal on them. Garewal paid for his karma as he was assassinated in the streets of Lahore after the war. But the British army now came to know the predicaments of the Indian soldiers on the other side. They began to drop leaflets asking for desertion, promising food, paid leaves and all other amenities. One such personalized leaflet reached I.J Kiani himself. Major Abid Hasan, the erstwhile secretary of Bose and his companion in the submarine voyage from Germany, a civilian turned soldier, replaced Garewal. He and his men broke through the encirclement. Later the whole brigade counter attacked the enemy lines and repulsed them. On account of their acts of bravery Major Hasan, Capt. Taj Mohammed and Lt. Rama Rao, received from Netaji the decoration of Sardar-e-Jung (Major Gen A.C Chatterjee, India's Struggle for Freedom). Writes Peter Fay, "British greatly outnumbered him. They had three divisions at Imphal alone. They had tanks (one of Mutaguchi’s columns had tanks too, but only a few), more guns than he could possibly manhandle or pack in, and much surer access to fuel and ammunition. Above all they had command of the air, and with it an airlift. INA had made a virtue of necessity, and brought with it food and ammunition for only three weeks. Surprise and elan, it had assured itself, would carry the day. They hadn’t. Now it was stranded, out at the end of an enormously long and difficult line of supply." Mutaguchi, tending his Rose Garden, could not realize British's game plan.
The military debacle was followed by one of the most excruciating retreat to Burma. On July 18, M.Z Kiani had ordered all regiments of the first division to withdraw from the battle. Japan's decision to suspend India campaign was made public on July 26, the day Tojo resigned as the prime minister. Starvation and diseases took extra ordinary toll on the INA and the Japanese troops. The torrential rains, unavailability of food, extremely unhealthy climate, poisonous insects and diseases like malaria, diarrhea and dysentery led to the depletion of the forces as they proceeded along the hilly tracts of the Tiddim road. Shah Nawaz Khan in his memoirs had written the story of a soldier who was slowly dying and whose body was being devoured by insects and yet who asked his superior officer to go back and tell Netaji that he had kept his words to him, of dying for his motherland. The soldiers at first were loathe to let go their gains but in the end they had to obey the orders, esp. since it was coming from their beloved Netaji. Col. Raja Mohammad Arshad and Zora Singh, a civilian, did exceptional work in arranging for transportation from Kalewa to Yeu. Col. Shaukat Malik took special care of the flag he hoisted in Moirang so that no disrespect to it should be shown by the allied forces when they reoccupy the territory. The troops reached Kalemyo on the border of Burma. The aerial bombing forced them to take cover in the dense forests during the daytime and trudge during the night. They were transported by trains that were driven by firewood and had open coaches, which were connected with the engine only at night for service.
Summing up the whole situation Shah Nawaz Khan, the Commander of the Subhas Brigade, writes : “Thus ended the main I. N. A. and Japanese offensive which had been started in March, 1944. During this period the I. N. A., with much inferior equipment and an extremely poor supply system, was able to advance as much as 150 miles into Indian territory. While the I. N. A. was on the offensive, there was not a single occasion on which our forces were defeated on the battlefield, and there was never an occasion when the enemy, despite their overwhelming superiority in men and material, was able to capture any post held by the I. N. A. On the other hand, there were very few cases where the I.N.A. attacked British posts and failed to capture them. In these operations the I. N. A. lost nearly 4,000 men as killed alone."
While summing up the heroism, courage and the outcome of the battles, Dr. R.C Majumdar quotes the meoirs of Shah Nawaz Khan to say that the INA troops had to suffer incredibly throughout their campaign because of insufficiency of transport and supplies. In Haka and Falam the rations were not available and had to be brought from the regimental HQ about 85 miles away. The INA troops had to climb up a mountainous region of 6000 ft high walking upto 16 miles every day to carry food to their comrades while Japanese garrison had coolies and animals for carrying. The ration was plain salt and rice. In bitter cold the men had one warm shirt and a thin blanket and spent whole night sitting around the fire. There was an acute shortage of medicines and medical staff. The boots were in a poor state and some even had no boots. There were no mosquito nets protecting them against the insect bites and thus malaria. They went without food for days and survived on a mountainous grass called Lingra. When they reached Kohima rations were exhausted, their wounds were filled with maggots and out of terrible agony the men had to shoot themselves by uttering Jai Hind. The retreat from Kohima was disastrous as all tracks were washed away and men had to walk through knee deep mud in which many men got stuck and died. Almost everybody suffered from malaria and dysentery. Men had to eat rotten flesh of horses killed. The news of the order of retreat broke their spirit completely as they still had the hope of fighting the enemy and dying.
Writes Dr. Majumdar, "The incident is fully in keeping with the conduct of the I.N.A. soldiers throughout the campaign. Anyone who reads the history of this campaign is bound to be struck with one characteristic feature of the soldiers who dedicated their lives for the liberation of India. They were ready to risk everything, dare everything, and suffer and sacrifice to any extent in order to take part in liberating India." Dr. Majumdar does not however agree with the conclusion of Shah Nawaz Khan that the Japanese deliberately betrayed INA and Netaji as they were "frightened of making INA too powerful."
The INA Museum in Moirang near Imphal. This is the location where Shaukat Malik had raised the Azad Hind flag on 14th April 1944. The local Meitei community helped INA in capturing Moirang and Bishnupur
Azad Hind Government and Netaji during wartime - Address to Mahatma
When the news of the war was not reaching Netaji through Hikari Kikan, he decided to take the matters in his own hand and deputed three senior officers to proceed to the war zone - Lt. Col. Allagappan, A.C Chatterjee and Anand Mohan Sahay. They traveled by motorized vehicles along with money and rations to Kalewa, met the Azad Hind Dal under S. Chatterjee and Major Ghosh, and ensured effective functioning of the Dal to establish a base and a small hospital there. En route they encountered frequent aerial bombings but were miraculously saved. They reached Moray after passing Tamu on Indo Burma ancient trade route, and met D.M Khan and his Azad Hind Dal and got a glimpse of their motherland. Major Akbar Ali Shah who sacrificed his life while serving the INA men had set up his hospital in this base. They heard the complaints of supply shortage and misbehaviour of the Hikari Kikan officials. They met Col. Kiani in his divisional HQ in Chamole. They heard the stories of the bravery of the troops and the trust which the locals had on the INA men who had been engaged to settle local disputes until the Provisional Government took over formally. The locals also asked for the Azad Hind currency notes for their transactions. The team met the Japanese Divisional Commander Lt. Col. Fujiwara and apprised him of the many problems faced by the INA and the shortage of the supplies from the Japanese side. Fujiwara explained that the delay in the fall of Manipur had upset their plan and they had expected a much smaller size of the enemy. Secret Service men were engaged to gather information from behind the enemy lines, report to the regimental HQ and carry out propaganda work. The team returned to Maymyo by 7th June and submitted a report to Netaji. The Civil administration work was planned out. Each village was to be in charge of a mukhiya, each village would have a village panchayat with administrative powers, the villages were further organized into higher units and in this way a hierarchy of administration was formed with the Zilla at the top. There were administrative changes at the Government too. A ministry of revenue was formed under A.N Sarkar, the ministry of supply work was intensified and a ministry of transport was established. Provisions for the camping ground, water supply and sanitation of troops were established along with supply depots in advanced bases.
Between 4th and 11th of July the people across the South East Asia celebrated Netaji week to commemorate the anniversary of his taking over the Azad Hind leadership. Mass meetings were held and flag salutations were done. Tri Colour was flown from every house of the League members. In Rangoon a special parade was held, poor and destitute were fed and a demonstration was put up by the Ranis and the Bal senas in presence of Dr. Ba Maw and his cabinet colleagues. On 4th July Netaji addressed a large gathering of the civilians in Jubilee Hall in Rangoon and narrated the achievements. In this meeting he had given his famous speech in which he told to the gathered men, "Give me blood and I promise you freedom." On 5th of July 1944, he addressed the Azad Hind troops and pointed out the hypocrisies in the British propaganda against the Azad Hind Fauj. He reminded them that the task of Azad Hind Fauj was to fight to liberate India and when India would become free Indian people would have the right to determine the Government of their choice.
On 6th July Netaji addressed Mahatma Gandhi over radio. Gandhiji was released from the captivity. Netaji offered a candid justification of the course that he took, told how the Indians outside India had implicit faith in Gandhi as they believed that he was the creator the present awakening of the country, and how he was lauded by all the countries free from British influence in Asia. He said that the respect for Gandhi increased a "thousand fold" when he gave the call for 'Quit India'. He said that the British Government would never recognize India's demand for independence. He told that Britain's effort was to exploit India fully in her eagerness to win the war. He rightly interpreted that after the war Britain would be a protege of the United States. He said that he realized the futility of organizing an armed struggle from within India without help and support from outside. The outbreak of the war provided with such an opportunity and Netaji said that he had to find out if there was any merit in the propaganda that Axis powers were against freedom and therefore of India's freedom. He said that there was nothing wrong in seeking help from other country's in the struggle for independence as he did not find any single instance in which the enslaved people won freedom without external help. One could always take a help as a loan and pay the loan later (as Netaji himself did). He also saw nothing wrong in seeking help from other nations if a powerful British empire could go around with a begging bowl for help. He said that if he had the slightest hope to win freedom by remaining at home, he would have done so. He reminded Gandhi that not even his worst critics could say that he worked against the National interest and honour. In leaving India, he reminded Gandhi, that he had risked everything, including his life. He also assured Gandhi that if the cleverest and the cunning British politicians had failed to deceive him, nobody else could and therefore the speculation that the Axis powers were using him (Netaji) to meet their own selfish agenda was wholly unfounded. He also defended the attitude of Japan and explained to Gandhi that he was convinced that Japan's policy of Asia or Asians was sincere. He reminded Gandhi that Britain and America were not fighting in Chunking China against Japan out of altruistic motives and they would extract their pound of flesh. He reminded Gandhi that if Japan fell, the control of China would pass on to the Americas. He also asked him to consider that if indeed Japan had wrong intentions about India it did not have to support the Provisional Azad Hind Government or pass over Andaman and Nicobar and other occupied territories to it. He informed Gandhi of the tremendous sacrifices of the Indians of East Asia to the cause of the Indian freedom struggle. He told Gandhi in clear terms that once the provisional Government had achieved its objective, people of India would have right to determine their own Government and many of Netaji's own people would retire from the political field, since their only desire was to set India free. He said that it was more honourable to be even a sweeper in free India than to have the highest position under the British rule. He told Gandhi that India's war of independence had begun and the Azad Hind Fauj was fighting bravely on the soil of India and despite all the hardships and privations they were marching steadily towards their goal. His last sentence was, "Father of our Nation'! In this holy war for India's liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes."
Peter Fay rightly sums up in The Forgotten Army, about Netaji, "Always he behaved, and asked Indians to behave, not as he and they were at the moment but as he and they meant to be one day. Always he moved to meet the future with an anticipation, an assertion, a posture (his critics regularly accuse him of striking poses), because he believed—it was also his experience—that in this manner the future might not simply be brought forward. It could actually be determined and shaped."