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Glimpses of the Second World War

It is now imperative for us to get a quick overview of the 2nd world war at this stage. The world war 2 was supposed to begin on the 1st of September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, but its seed was sown with the humiliating treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany had annexed Sudetenland, remilitarized Rhineland, occupied Saarland, and annexed Austria by 1938. Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935, and Japan invaded China in the same year. Munich agreement with Britain gave a free hand to Hitler to continue his aggression into Czechoslovakia. However, the real war began when Hitler invaded Poland after his demand for the annexation of Danzig and signed a non aggression pact with the Soviets, which effectively ensured a division of Poland between Germany and Russia. United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Britain, and South Africa declared war on the Axis forces. Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy worked out their spheres of influence. Wehrmacht reached Warsaw by Sep 8. The Soviet Union annexed the Baltic countries by 1940. Germany invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940 to protect the shipment of iron ore from Sweden. Germany then advanced to occupy France. Circumventing the invincible Maginot Line, the German Blitzkrieg proceeded through Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. Wehrmacht proceeded to the channel and cut off the allied forces at the coastline. Britain had to get its soldiers out through Dunkirk by mobilizing all its Naval resources. In June 1940 Italy invaded France and Paris soon fell to the advancing Wehrmacht. France was divided between Germany and Italy and an independent portion remained with Vichy as an ally of the Axis powers. In July 1940, the battle of Britain began whereby the Luftwaffe of Goering invaded the skies of Britain. However, Royal Air Force was able to resist the Blitz, and by May 1941, the plan to invade Britain was dropped. Meanwhile, German U Boats secured a major victory in the waters, but Germany suffered a setback when its warship Bismarck was sunk in the Atlantic. After September 1940, Japan, Italy and Germany signed the Tripartite Pact which formally united them as the Axis power. Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined the Axis by November. In October 1940 Italy invaded Greece and suffered reversals until Germany came to their aid in 1941 thus completing their conquest of the Balkans. By 1941 Italy was also on the verge of losing its holds in Egypt and East Africa to Britain. By March 1941, Erwin Rommel's 'Afrika Corps and Panzer divisions had advanced deep inside North Africa. A bitter war broke out in Yugoslavia with the partisans.

Soviet-Japan neutrality pact had been signed in April 1941. However, in June 1941 Hitler invaded Soviet Russia in his operation Barbarossa, which would be a very costly mistake for Germany. Like Napoleon, Hitler too went down with his Russian invasion. Subhas analyzed that Hitler had been cozying up to the British for a long time. Hitler disliked British imperialism, but he liked the Aryan race of Britain. That was why he let go of the three hundred thousand British troops in Dunkirk, despite having every opportunity to crush them and thus ending the war. He even secretly sent Rudolf Hess to negotiate a peace agreement with Churchill before Barbarossa so that he could concentrate on the inferior 'Russies'. When Churchill had seen through his plan and got Hess into captivity, Hitler disowned Hess. It was no wonder that despite the best attempts of Netaji, Hitler was loathe to accord the status of independence to India, although Mussolini had agreed to the proposal for the formation of a provisional Government of free India in Europe.

Japan had been progressing rapidly in the Pacific theater as the rising Asian power. Japan continued its aggression against the Chinese Nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek and the Communists. Under the leadership of Hideki Tojo, Japan invaded Indo China and decided to rapidly seize the European colonies in East and South East Asia. By December 1941, Japan had attacked Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, Hong Kong and brought America into the war by launching an aerial attack on the Pearl Harbour.

On 1st January 1942 the Atlantic charter was signed by the allied powers, that formally brought England, US and Soviet Russia together. By April 1942 Japan looked invincible as it sought to end the European colonies in Pacific. Together with Thailand it had invaded and conquered Burma, Malaya, Dutch East Indies and Singapore, inflicting heavy damage on the allied forces and taking many prisoners, including soldiers of British Indian army. Singapore fell on 15 February 1942 to Japan and Subhas made his first open broadcast on 19 February, 1942. The voice, reverberated over the radio waves, generated a tremendous impact on his fellow countrymen, "This is Subhas Chandra Bose speaking to you over Azad Hind radio."

Subhas Chandra Bose's activities in Germany - preparations for the revolution and battles, Indian Legion, meeting Hitler and journey to Far East

Subhas Chandra Bose speaking from Berlin
Bose took to Berlin Radio to carry out the broadcasts to the people in India in various regional languages. Extensive propaganda was needed to keep the morale up back home, connect to the revolutionaries and Congress leaders to encourage them to carry on the fight against the British and to instill a sense of purpose and determination in the people to carry to on the war against Imperialism. Germany invested heavily to help establish the radio stations for Bose, set up and run the Free India Centre and the Indische Legion. Bose repaid the German debt when he was able to raise enough resources in the South East Asia.

"Free India" activities in Germany

While the geopolitical activities were shaping up, Subhas Chandra Bose was busy in giving shape to his plan. Indien-Büro (India Office) which later became the Zentralstelle Freies Indien (Central Office Free India) became his operational Head Quarter. Its primary goal was to spread information on India’s independence struggle. It published a regular news magazine Azad Hind and also established broadcasting facilities to India. Although the German Government never recognised Bose's office as the Government in Exile, the office practically functioned as an embassy with German counterparts in the Foreign Office. Adam von Trott zu Solz headed the Sonderreferat Indien (Special Department for India). The Indische Legion was created. Bose had visited Rome in May 1941 via France. He reached Rome on 14th June and received a grand reception befitting the Head of a State. Mussolini received him personally on the following day. Even though the Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, the son-in-law of Mussolini, did not like Bose's preference to be closer to the Germans, Mussolini, having met Bose thrice during the period of his exile in Europe in 1933-36 and being aware of his revolutionary ideas, was open and friendly towards him. After his return from Rome and Vienna in July 1941, Bose lived, along with Emilie, in a mansion at Sophienstrasse 7 in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin.

Swami and a band of young men received special training as members of an elite commando force. Rudolf Hartog, who served as an interpreter for Hindustani in the India League, writes about the structure, the training, the difficulties and above all about Bose’s concept of a future Indian society, where religious, linguistic, caste and regional groups would be one. The unit recruited itself from Indian students in Germany and Austria and from Indian prisoners of war caught at the North African Front. They were part of the Wehrmacht (the Armed Forces) and wore German style uniforms, but with a flash on the left sleeve showing a springing tiger and Freies Indien Tricolour. Sikh soldiers and officers wore turbans. Walter Harbich was the commander in charge of the training camp and he implemented Bose's plan to unite members across religious, caste and linguistic barriers. The recruitment into the Indische Legion began by December 1941. Bose persuaded them to join the cause of their motherland by reminding them that their oath and allegiance should be to their motherland India and not to the British Government. Subhas Bose's power of persuasion worked miracles and around four thousand soldiers captured by Germany and Italy had joined with him. Zentralstelle Freies Indien was formally opened in November 1941 in Berlin. "Jai Hind", which was originally coined by Chempakaraman Pillai in 1907 and later adopted by Abid Hasan, became the national greeting among the soldiers. Jana Gana Mana, the Tagore's immortal song eulogizing the Indian civilization, was adopted as the National anthem. Subhas's plans of revolutionary activities were compromised owing to the betrayal of Bhagat Ram as mentioned earlier. But he could communicate with Sarat Bose through wireless messages from Berlin to Tokyo that were delivered by the Japanese consulate to Sarat. The British intercepted a message from Japanese foreign ministry to his Ambassador in Berlin, that contained one of Subhas's communications with Sarat. Sarat had been instrumental in forming a new Government in Bengal by allying with Fazlul Haq of Krishak Praj Party and he was supposed to be its home minister. However in December 1941, he was arrested and detained by British Government. Gandhiji, emboldened by the reversals that Britain suffered in the hands of Japan, was preparing for a final showdown with Britain in early 1942.

In the meanwhile Japanese Ambassador in Berlin Lt. General Oshima Hiroshi and Col. Yamamato held several meetings with Subhas in Berlin.

Cripps Mission - India gears up for the final revolution

Churchill was under pressure from Franklin D Roosevelt to enter into a favourable agreement with Indian Nationalist leaders. Viceroy Lord Linlithgow was opposed to any conciliation. A reluctant Churchill had sent Stafford Cripps on a mission to India. Cripps belonged to Labour Party and was sent to negotiate a wartime agreement with the Congress and Muslim League. Cripps began by offering India Dominion Status at the end of the war, with chance to secede from the Commonwealth and go for total independence. Cripps also promised privately to get rid of Linlithgow and grant the Dominion Status with immediate effect. However in public he had little to offer.  There was little trust between the British and Congress by this stage, and both sides felt that the other was concealing its true plans. The Congress stopped talks with Cripps and, guided by Gandhi, the national leadership demanded immediate self-government in return for war support. Gandhi said that Cripps's offer of Dominion Status after the war was a "post-dated cheque drawn on a failing bank" (source: Wikipedia). Jinnah also rejected Cripps's proposals as it did not contain any explicit offer on Pakistan and he felt that the Muslim right to self determination was ignored. The Viceroy Linlithgow and the Secretary of state for India Amery had also worked in the background to sabotage the mission. Sri Aurobindo was one person who had expressed a positive approval of the Cripps's proposal in his private letter on March 31, 1942. He also sent a personal message to Congress to urge them to accept Cripps's proposals. Gandhiji rejected the advice. Possibly Sri Aurobindo as a prophet of humanity was trying to avoid the violence and bloodshed associated with Partition which he might have foreseen.

Subhas writes in the Indian Struggle, "The desire of the British Government for a compromise with the Congress was reciprocated by the Gandhi Wing. The Congress Working Committee, meeting at Wardha on the 16th January, 1942, passed a resolution offering co-operation in the war-effort once again. Soon after — that is, in February, 1942, at the instance of the British Government, Marshal Chiang Kai Shek visited India with a view to inducing the Congress leaders to come to an understanding with the British Government. Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in India in March, 1942, under auspicious circumstances. In view of the rapid and brilliant success of the Japanese forces, the British Government was in a chastened mood and Cripps was regarded by the general public as the right man for the right job. But his efforts, nevertheless, failed, because all that he had brought with him, was a promise of Dominion Status after the war ended. Coupled with this promise, was the threat that India would probably be divided, when the war was over. On April 10, the Congress Working Committee rejected the Cripps proposals on the ground that they in no way met India's demand for freedom. Sir Stafford Cripps made his farewell broadcast to the Indian people on the 11th April and then left India a disappointed man."

International support for India's effort to get freedom: The anti Subhas  propaganda of British media

In Germany, declaration for India's freedom seemed to be on anvil and the draft declaration of the Foreign Office in Berlin contained many of Bose's demands. It started with, "Germany, Italy and Japan are convinced that the Indian nation will break the political and economic bonds of British Imperialism and then as master of its own fate will carry out a sweeping transformation of its national life..." (His Majesty's Opponent - Prof. Sugato Bose).

However there were problems galore in the relationship between Japan and Germany and it resulted in lost opportunities for Subhas Bose. This pertained to Japan's unilateral plans in the Pacific theater, its relationship with Soviet Union and other war strategies. Ribbentrop therefore turned down Bose's plan of travelling to Asia in 1942. Precious moments were lost. Bose even thought that he and the Indian cause were being used as a bargaining chip for a possible German compromise with the British. Bose therefore focused on the propaganda war with the aid of Berlin Azad Hind radio. On 10th November 1941, Eric Conran Smith, secretary of the Home Department of the government of India had told the Indian Council of State, that Bose had „gone over to the enemy‟ and signed a pact with the Axis designed to lead to the invasion of India. This was the start of a tremendous propaganda offensive against Bose. The British press, which had so far been speculating in which ashram he was, and how he had escaped, now latched on to the notion of Bose "the Quisling‟. The Daily Mail, with a photograph of Bose under the caption "Indian turns traitor‟, announced, "Indian Quisling No 1 flees to Hitler‟. The Daily Express carried a photograph of Bose in a long overcoat and Gandhi cap talking to a German guard at a Berlin zoo in 1934, and the heading: "Indian leader plans invasion 5th Column‟. In India the Anglophile newspapers like the Statesman and the Englishman carried out the assault on Subhas Bose and Communist Party of India joined the league of Subhas haters. On 24th March, 1942, British News Agency Reuters had reported that Subhas Chandra Bose was killed in an aircrash on his way to attend a conference in Tokyo. Gandhi sent a condolence message to Prabhabati Devi. Subhas then made a radio broadcast on March 25 - "My death is perhaps an instance of wishful thinking." Bose also asked the Indian people to reject the offer of Dominion Status of Cripps.

Maulana abul Kalam Azad had said that Bose's escape to Germany had made a great impression on Gandhiji. He admired the courage and resourcefulness possessed by Subhas.

In the meanwhile Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo had openly declared "India for the Indians." Japanese had sent a draft declaration to the other Axis powers proposing freedom for India and Arab. On April 16, Ribbentrop produced an amended version and presented to Hitler. But Hitler rejected the declaration. He also urged the Italians not to accept the same. On May 5, Bose went to Italy to meet the Duce to reverse the Salzburg decision of Hitler and Mussolini on April 29. Ciano reported that Mussolini was persuaded by Bose to obtain a tripartite declaration in favour of India's independence. However Hitler turned down Mussolini's proposal. Subhas had now no doubt as to where he should be. He wrote to Ribbentrop on May 22, 1942 that "Now the time has come when the final effort should be made for achieving India's political emancipation. For this purpose it is absolutely essential that I should be in the East."

Did Subhas support Nazis

It is however pertinent to note that Bose had no sympathy with Nazi ideology. Writes Girija Mukherjee who was close associate, "The first thing we need to do in order to have a clear understanding of Subhas Bose’s views on Germany, Italy and the countries which fought against England is to refer to Subhas Bose’s numerous writings and statements on them. If we do that, we will find that nowhere in his speech or in writings and he has ever praised or supported Nazi or Fascist ideas. I have read practically everything he has written and nowhere could I discover any writing of his in which he shows that he was attracted by the ideas of depriving others of liberty or of oppressing people because of their political beliefs or because of the race they belonged to. On the contrary, a child of Indian Renaissance of the nineteenth century, Subhas Bose, who imbibed in his youth the ideas of Tagore, Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Gandhi, was a profound humanist in the Hindu sense of the term as revealed in his letters written in Bengali, published in the book Patravali. These letters are eloquent testimonies of his deeply ingrained sense of liberalism and love of liberty. We have a further testimony of this love of liberty in his now famous letter he wrote to Dr. Franz Thierfelder of Munich in March 1936. Subhas Bose was in Munich towards the end of 1935 and he tried to meet an important German Minister in order to make him acquainted with the Indian situation. Dr. Thierfelder, the founder, together with Dr. Taraknath Das of the Indian Institute of Munich, tried to arrange this interview. As he was unable to meet him and as he was deeply pained at the racial discrimination practised by the Nazis, he left Germany in disgust and expressed this feeling in a letter to his friend Dr. Thierfelder. Bose writes that before leaving Germany (1935) he should say a few words about what he thought of the country and the people. He writes: “When I first visited Germany in 1933, I had hopes that the new German nation which had risen to a consciousness of its national strength and self-respect would instinctively feel a deep sympathy for other nations struggling in the same direction. Today, I regret that I have to return to India with the conviction that the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish but arrogant.” Referring to a speech made by Hitler, Bose writes: “Herr Hitler has talked of the destiny of the white races to rule over the rest of the world. But the historical fact is, that up till now the Asiatics have dominated Europe more than have the Europeans dominated Asia ... We who are struggling for our own freedom desire that all nations should be free and that Europe and Asia should be at peace with one another. It, therefore, pains us that the new nationalism in Germany is inspired by selfishness and racial arrogance”. He then adds: “Germany in her desire to curry favour with Great Britain finds it convenient to attack India and the Indian people."

The same idea had been echoed by Kitti Kurti, a Jewish German friend of Bose who deeply respected and appreciated the spiritual side of Subhas.

Between 1933 and 1939, for example, he had for friends Kitty and Alex, a Jewish couple in Berlin. In 1965, Kitty Kurti wrote a book, "Subhas Chandra Bose as I knew Him". She reminisced that Bose “did not attempt to hide” from her his deep contempt for the Nazis. In the same vein, he cited India’s exploitation by British imperialism and explained why he had to do business with the Nazis. “It is dreadful but it must be done. …India must gain her independence, cost what it may,” he told the couple after a meeting with Hermann Göring. He added with passion, "Have you an idea, Mrs. Kurti, of the despair, the misery, the humiliation of India? can you imagine her suffering and indignation? British Imperialism there can be just as intolerable as your Nazism here, I assure you."

Girija Mukherjee rightly points out that the closest collaborator of Bose had been Adam von Trott zu Solz who in 1944 plotted the assassination of Adolf Hitler along with Count Stauffenberg. Even though Subhas had taken material help and support from Nazi Germany, he took it as a loan to be paid off in full when India would be free and set up its Independent Government in India. Later in 1944, as the Head of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, Bose remitted 5 million yen (equivalent to 200,000 Reich Marks) through the German Ambassador in Tokyo, with the full knowledge of the Japanese Government, as the first of four installments towards the repayment of the loan by the German Government to the Free India Office.

Subhas Chandra Bose meeting Adolf Hitler
Bose's concern was India and India only and for this he was ready to shake hands with even the devil himself. When two satanic forces are fighting with each other - Imperialism and Fascism, supplemented and aided by another satanic force of Communism, pure ideals of Nationalism has to side with one, in the greater interest of the Nation. Imperialism was the greater evil for India and Bose had made his choice. Leftists, academics and white supremacists may deride Bose in any forum but to an ardent Nationalist his gesture will never be misinterpreted


Bose meets Hitler


On May 29 (a different version says May 27), 1942, Bose finally came to meet Fuehrer of the Third Reich face to face. The conversation was mainly a monologue from Hitler, and Bose, despite his obvious differences of opinion remained quiet as the former harangued on how it was impossible to align the interests of Germany and India and how India as it was tactically not prudent to confront Hitler. Bose raised the issue of his journey to East Asia to which Hitler agreed and promised to provide logistical support to travel by submarine. Bose was peeved by one of the comments of Hitler and told his German interpreter to tell the Herr Fuehrer not to lecture him (Bose) on politics as he had done politics almost his entire life. The interpreter did not find the courage to translate this. Bose also raised the matter  of Hitler's anti Indian rants in Mein Kampf and sought a clarification. Hitler was evasive. After giving Bose an idea of the geopolitical compulsions, Hitler extended his best wishes to the Indian revolutionary. Girija Mukherjee notes that the meeting was a disappointment for Subhas. He also considered Hitler as a raving mad, a German version of the Fakir of Ipi. Bose said in a key broadcast that internal politics of Germany or Japan did not concern India. He said clearly that external collaboration with the Axis powers did not mean accepting their socio economic policies.  or for that matter their position in India's internal affair.



Quit India

In April 1942 Gandhiji drew closer to Bose in his goals. Gandhiji had drafted a resolution calling upon British to quit India. However Congress under Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad adopted a water down version of the resolution in the second week of July.   Bose being pragmatic wrote to Ribbentrop that he wanted to be in the Far East by August 1942 to support and help in India's internal struggles. He was also expecting a major movement in India after the meeting of All India Congress Committee on August 8. Quit India resolution was adopted by Congress mainly by the insistence of Gandhi, despite a reluctant Nehru and Patel to go for an all out confrontation with British Government. Viceroy Linlithgow who knew Congress intimately had chalked up a plan to crush the movement ruthlessly. The Government swooped down on the morning of 9th Aug and arrested the entire leadership of Congress. The socialist leaders like Jaiprakash Narayan and Aruna Asaf Ali went underground. Indian public responded stoutly. Students, working population and young men took the initiatives and created massive unrest. Government establishments were under attack. Gandhi had given a call for do or die, karenge ya marenge. The masses did not have any leaders to guide them. Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League stayed away from the movement to protect their communal interests. Dr. Syama Prasad Mukerjee who had formed a government with Fazlul Haq's Krishak Praja Party, tried to maintain a distance as a tactical measure to ensure better Governance for Bengal and avoid open hostilities with the British. Dr. R.C Majumdar wrote that Syama Prasad expressed apprehension that the movement would create internal disorder and would endanger internal security. The movement had impacts in many areas like Satara, Medinipur, Ballia, Surat. In Medinipur the movement was crushed violently and ruthlessly until the great famine of 1943 suspended the movement. Over 100,000 arrests were made and many civilians killed in police firing. In Medinipur police opened fire on a satyagrahi procession that killed the old Matangini Hazra bearing the Congress flag. By March 1943 the movement petered out.

Subhas's unstinting support to Quit India


Subhas had unconditionally supported the movement and broadcasted detail instructions to the insurgents on how to keep the movement going.  He also sent out a message to the Bangkok conference of Indian Nationalist leaders in the Far East to link up Indian Nationalists across the world. He had been broadcasting using Azad Hind Radio since October 1941. The broadcasting was done in multiple languages including Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and other Indian languages. In India listening to Azad Hind Radio was a favourite clandestine activity. Azad Muslim Radio was started in Urdu asking Muslims to join the movement. Habibur Rahman was in charge of it. During the recruitment of Indian Legion soldiers the major hurdles were encountered with the non commissioned officers. He separated the soldiers from the NCOs. In Dresden he addressed a group of ordinary Indian soldiers in Hindustani for an hour and a half. Whole audience came under his spell, slowly but surely.  Jats, Sikhs and Pathans, all came to be enrolled. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh soldiers dined together, as opposed to the British practice of segregating them. Bose also had to deal with the communal forces like Iqbal Shedai who sided with the Muslim League and tried to create communal divide. He had formed his base in Italy. But his organization had to be disbanded after a mutiny in November 1942. Bose had proposed Indian Legion to take part in offensives against British army and had suggested their participation in the battle of El Alamein. But Rommel had turned down the plan. Bose was actively engaged in developing ideas and plans for a future India. He toured the German factories, obtained books on Indology and wrote his vision about the future Indian state. He wanted a strong central Government to begin with, and a well organized, disciplined all India party. He also wanted complete religious and cultural freedom and favoured decentralization after gaining stability and discipline.  During the event for foundation of Indische Deutsche Gesselschaft or The Indo German Society, Bose spoke about stronger cultural ties between the two countries.  

Bose also visited Czechoslovakia along with Nambiar and met the Slovakian Prime Minister. A plan was made got him to take a flight to Asia from Rome but the plan could not materialize. On his return from Rome, Subhas Bose stared hectic parlours with Ribbentrop and Japanese Ambassador. By mid January 1943 the plans for his submarine voyage to Asia was finalized. His final public appearance in Berlin was on January 26, 1943. The independence pledge of the Indian National Congress was read out. The gathering included the grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Rashid Ali El Gilani of Iraq. Netaji addressed the gathering in German. He now prepared himself to move through darkness, sorrow and degradation towards renewed sunshine, joy and progress.


On 8 February 1943 Bose embarked on another perilous venture, this time by submarine. He started from the port of Kiel in the Baltic sea. He picked Abid Hasan to accompany him. Swami and four others with advanced training in wireless telegraphy and sophisticated radio transmitters were to follow in March. The world leader had now set out on a path that would catapult him to the peak of greatness.


Quit India Movement

My objective in leaving India was to supplement from outside the struggle going on at home

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