Indian National Army
The Indian National Army (INA) or Azad Hind Fauj was an armed force formed by Indian nationalists in 1942 in Southeast Asia during World War II. The aim of the army was to overthrow the British Raj in colonial India, with Japanese assistance. Initially composed of Indian prisoners of war captured by Japan in the Malayan campaign and at Singapore, it later drew volunteers from Indian expatriate population in Malaya and Burma.
Japan and Southeast Asia were major refuges for Indian nationalists living in exile before the start of World War II.Japan had sent intelligence missions, notably under Major Iwaichi Fujiwara, into South Asia even before the start of the war to garner support from the Malayan Sultans, overseas Chinese, the Burmese resistance and the Indian movement. These missions were successful establishing contacts with Indian nationalists in exile in Thailand and Malaya, supporting the establishment and organisation of the Indian Independence League.
At the outbreak of World War II in South East Asia, 70,000 Indian troops were stationed in Malaya. After the start of the war, Japan’s spectacular Malayan Campaign had brought under her control considerable numbers of Indian prisoners of war, nearly 55,000 after the Fall of Singapore alone. The conditions of service within the British Indian Army as well as the conditions in Malaya had fed dissension among these troops. From these troops, the First Indian National Army was formed under Mohan Singh and received considerable Japanese aid and support.
In a series of meetings between the INA leaders and the Japanese in 1943, it was decided to cede the leadership of the IIL and the INA to Subhash Chandra Bose, since a number of the officers and troops who had returned to PoW camps, or had not volunteered in the first place, made it known that they would be willing to join the INA only on the condition that it was led by Bose. Bose had, at the start of the war in Europe, escaped from house arrest to make his way to Germany, reaching Berlin on 2 April 1941. In Germany he convinced Hitler, in a series of conferences, to support the cause of Indian Independence, forming the Free India Legion and the Azad Hind Radio. By early 1943, Bose had turned his attention to Southeast Asia. With its large overseas Indian population, it was recognised that the region was fertile ground for establishing an anti-colonial force to fight the Raj. In January 1943, the Japanese invited Bose to lead the Indian nationalist movement in East Asia. He accepted and left Germany on 8 February. After a three-month journey by submarine, and a short stop in Singapore, he reached Tokyo on 11 May 1943, where he made a number of radio broadcasts to the Indian communities, exhorting them to join in the fight for India’s Independence.
On 15 February 1943, the Army itself was put under the command of Lt. Col. M.Z. Kiani.A policy forming body was formed with the Director of the Military Bureau, Lt. Col Bhonsle, in charge and clearly placed under the authority of the IIL. Under Bhonsle served Lt. Col. Shah Nawaz Khan as Chief of General Staff, Major P.K. Sahgal as Military Secretary, Major Habib ur Rahman as commandant of the Officers’ Training School and Lt. Col. A.C. Chatterji (later Major A.D. Jahangir) as head of enlightenment and culture.
On 4 July 1943, two days after reaching Singapore, Subhash Chandra Bose assumed the leadership of the IIL and the INA in a ceremony at Cathay Building. Bose’s influence was notable. His appeal not only re-invigorated the fledgling INA, which previously consisted mainly of POWs, his appeals also touched a chord with the Indian expatriates in South Asia as local civilians, without caste, creed and religion- ranging from barristers, traders to plantation workers, including Khudabadi Sindhi Swarankar working as shop keepers – had no military experience joined the INA, doubled its troop strength.
An Officers’ Training School for INA officers, led by Habib ur Rahman, and the Azad School for the civilian volunteers were set up to provide training to the recruits. A youth wing of the INA, composed of 45 Young Indians personally chosen by Bose and affectionately known as the Tokyo Boys, were also sent to Japan’s Imperial Military Academy to train as fighter pilots. Also, possibly the first time in Asia, and even the only time outside the USSR, a women’s regiment, the Rani of Jhansi regiment was raised as a combat force.
Repatriation to India
Even before the end of the war in South Asia, the INA prisoners who were falling into allied hands were being evaluated by forward intelligence units for potential trials. A small number had fallen into Allied hands in 1943 around the time of the Imphal campaign and subsequent withdrawal, while larger numbers surrendered or were captured during the 14th Army’s Burma Campaign. A total of 16,000 of the INA’s 43,000 recruits were ever captured, of whom around 11,000 were interrogated. The number of prisoners necessitated this selective policy which envisaged trials of those with the strongest commitment to Bose’ ideologies, while those with less strong views and other extenuating circumstance may be dealt with more leniently, with the punishment proportional to their commitment or war crimes. For this purpose, the field intelligence units designated the captured troops as Blacks with strongest commitment to Azad Hind, Greys with varying commitment but also with enticing circumstances that led them to join the INA, and Whites, i.e., those who pressured into joining the INA under the circumstances but with no commitment to Azad Hind, INA, or Bose.
By July 1945, a large number had been shipped back to India. At the time of the fall of Japan, the remaining captured troops were transported to India via Rangoon. Large numbers of local Malay and Burmese volunteers including the recruits to the Rani of Jhansi regiment returned to civilian life and were not identified. Those repatriated passed through transit camps in Chittagong and Calcutta to be held at detention camps all over India including Jhingergacha and Nilganj near Calcutta, Kirkee outside Pune, Attock, Multan and at Bahadurgarh near Delhi. Bahadurgarh also held prisoners of the Indische Legion. By November, around 12,000 INA prisoners were held in these camps, from which they were released according to the "colours". By December, around 600 whites were released per week. From amongst the rest, the selection for those to face trial started.
Although there are slight variations in estimates, the INA is considered to have comprised about 40,000 troops when it was disbanded. The following is an estimate attributed to Lt. Colonel G.D. Anderson of British intelligence:
There were 45,000 Indian troops from Malaya captured and assembled in Singapore when the Japanese captured it. Of these, about 5,000 refused to join the First INA. The INA at this time had 40,000 recruits. The Japanese were prepared to arm 16,000. When the "first INA" collapsed, about 4,000 withdrew. The Second INA, commanded by Subhash Chandra Bose, started with 12,000 troops. Further recruitment of ex-Indian army personnel added about 8,000–10,000. About 18,000 Indian civilians enlisted during this time. In 1945, at the end of the INA, it consisted of about 40,000 soldiers.
Order of Battle
The exact organisation of the INA and its troop strength is not known, as Fay notes, since its records were destroyed by the withdrawing Azad Hind Government before Rangoon fell.
Fay’s account of the INA gives the following account.
The 1st Division was under Mohammed Zaman Kiyani. It drew a large number of ex-Indian army PoWs who had joined Mohan Singh’s first INA. In addition, it also drew PoWs who had not joined in 1942. The 1st division consisted of
The 2nd Guerrilla regiment, or the Gandhi Brigade under Col. Inayat Kiani, consisting of two infantry battalions.
The 3rd Guerrilla regiment, or the Azad Brigade under Col. Gulzara Singh, consisting of three battalions.
The 4th Guerrilla regiment, or the Nehru Brigade. This unit was later under the command of Lt. Col G S Dhillon.
The 1st Guerrilla regiment, or the Subhas Brigade under Col. Shah Nawaz Khan, consisting of three infantry battalions. This unit was the first and the major commitment of the INA to the U Go Offensive.
A soldier of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in training. Circa1940s.
The 1st Division was lightly armed. Each battalion was composed of five Companies of infantry. The individual companies were armed with six antitank rifles, six Bren guns and six Vickers machine guns. Some NCOs carried hand grenades, while men going forward on duty were issued British stocks of hand grenades by senior officer of the Bahadur groups attached to each unit. Mortars were available, but Fay points out these were not available at battalion level.
The 2nd Division under Aziz Ahmed. The 2nd division was formed to a large extent after the Imphal offensive had started, and drew a large remnant of the Hindustan Field Force of the First INA. The 2nd Division consisted of.
The 1st Infantry Regiment, later to be merged with the 5th Guerrilla regiment to form the 2nd Infantry Regiment. The 1st Infantry drew a large number of civilian volunteers from Burma and Malaya, and came to ve equipped with the lion’s share of the heavy armament that the INA possessed.
The 5th Guerilla regiment, later to be renamed the 2nd Infantry Regiment under Col Prem Sahgal. This unit drew a large number of the remnants of the Hindustan Field Force.
An additional 3rd Division of the INA was composed chiefly of local volunteers in Malaya and Singapore. This unit disbanded before Japan Surrendered. There was also a motor transport division, but this did not have a significant capability or resources.
The Rani of Jhansi Regiment, under Lakshmi Sahgal, composed of female volunteers from Malaya and Burma.
INA in operation
As the Japanese offensive opened, the INA sent its first forces into battle. The INA’s own strategy was to avoid set-piece battles for which it lacked arms, armament as well as man-power. Initially, it sought to obtain arms as well as increase its ranks from British Indian soldiers expected to defect to patriotic cause. Once the Japanese forces were able to break the British defences at Imphal, the INA would cross the hills of North-East India into the Gangetic plain, where it was to work as a guerrilla army and expected to live off the land, garner support, supplies, and ranks from amongst the local populace to ultimately touch off a revolution.
Prem Kumar Sahgal, an officer of the INA once Military secretary to Subhas Bose and later tried in the first Red Fort trials, explained that although the war itself hung in balance and nobody was sure if the Japanese would win, initiating a popular revolution with grass-root support within India would ensure that even if Japan lost the war ultimately, Britain would not be in a position to re-assert its colonial authority, which was ultimately the aim of the INA and Azad Hind.
The plans decided between Bose and Kawabe envisaged the INA was to be assigned an independent sector of its own in the U Go offensive and no INA unit was to operate less than a battalion strength.For operational purposes, the Subhas Brigade was assigned under the command of the Japanese general Headquarters in Burma. Advance parties of the Bahadur Group also went forward with the advanced Japanese units early during the offensive. As Japan opened its offensive towards India, the INA’s first division, consisting of four Guerrilla regiments, was divided between the diversionary Ha Go offensive in Arakan 1944, with one battalion reaching as far as Mowdok in Chittagong. A Bahadur group unit, led by Shaukat Malik, took the border enclave of Moirang in early April. The main body of the first division was however committed to the U Go Offensive directed towards Manipur, initially successfully protecting the Japanese flanks against Chin and Kashin guerrillas as the Mutaguchi’s three divisions crossed the Chindwin river and the Naga Hills, and later directed towards the main offensive through Tamu in the direction of Imphal and Kohima. However, by the time Khan’s forces left Tamu, the offensive had been held, and the troops were redirected to Kohima. By the time Khan’s forces reached Ukhrul in the vicinity of Kohima, Japanese forces had begun their withdrawal from Kohima. The first division suffered the same fate as did Mutaguchi’s Army when the siege of Imphal was broken. With little or no supplies and supply lines deluged by the Monsoon, harassed by Allied air-dominance and local Burmese irregulars, the INA began withdrawing when the 15th Army and Burma Area Army began withdrawing, and suffer the same terrible fate as wounded, starved and diseased men succumbed during the hasty withdrawal into Burma. The INA lost a substantial amount of men and materiel in the retreat, and a number of units were disbanded or used to feed the newly formed units of the second division.
As the allied Burma campaign began the following year, however, the INA remained committed to the defence of Burma, and was a part of the Japanese defensive deployments. The second division, tasked with the defence of Irrawaddy and the adjoining areas around Nangyu, was instrumental in opposing Messervy’s 7th Indian Division when it attempted to cross the river at Pagan and Nyangyu during Irrawaddy operations. Later, during the Battles of Meiktila and Mandalay, the 2nd division was instrumental in denying the British 17th Division the area around Mount Popa that would have exposed the Flank of Kimura’s forces attempting to retake Meiktila and Nyangyu. Ultimately however, the division was obliterated. As the Japanese situation became precarious, Azad Hind withdrew from Rangoon with Ba Maw’s government and the Japanese forces for Singapore along with the remnants of the first division and the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. Nearly 6000 troops amongst the surviving units of the Army remained in Rangoon under A.D Loganathan surrendered as Rangoon fell, and helped keep order till the allied forces entered the city. The only Indian territory that the Azad Hind government controlled were the Indian territories that fell during the Imphal offensive, and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. However, the latter two were bases for the Japanese Navy, and the navy never really fully relinquished control. Enraged with the lack of administrative control, the Azad Hind Governor, Lt. Col Loganathan later relinquished his authority to return to the Government’s headquarters in Rangoon. The Japanese forces is said to have carried out torture on thousands of local inhabitants during the occupation, and some historians apportion the blame to Subhas Bose’s provisional government.
End of the INA
As the Japanese withdrawal from Burma progressed, the other remnants began a long march over land and on foot towards Bangkok, along with Subhas Chandra Bose. The withdrawing forces regularly suffered casualties from allied airplanes strafing them, clashes with Aung San’s Burmese resistance, as well as Chinese guerrillas who harassed the Japanese troops. At the time of Japan’s surrender in September 1945, Bose left for Manchuria to attempt to contact the advancing Soviet troops, and was reported to have died in an air crash near Taiwan.
Red Fort trial
At the conclusion of the war, the government of British India brought some of the captured INA soldiers to trial on treason charges. The prisoners would potentially face the death penalty, life imprisonment or a fine as punishment if found guilty.Between November 1945 and May 1946, approximately ten courts-martial were held. The first of these, and the most celebrated one, was the joint court-martial of Colonel Prem Sahgal, Colonel Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon and Major General Shah Nawaz Khan held in a public trial at the Red Fort, Delhi, British India. Nearly all the defendants in the first trial were charged with Waging war against the King-Emperor (the charge of treason did not exist in the Indian Army Act, 1911) as well as torture, murder and abettment to murder. The three defendants were defended by the INA Defence Committee formed by the Congress and include legal luminaries of India of the time including Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Kailashnath Katju. The trials covered arguments based on military law, constitutional law, international law, and politics and much of the initial defense was based on the argument that they should be treated as prisoners of war as they were not paid mercenaries but bona fide soldiers of a legal government, the Provisional Government of Free India, or the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind, "however misinformed or otherwise they had been in their notion of patriotic duty towards their country" and as such they recognized the free Indian state as their sovereign and not the British sovereign. Those charged later only faced trial for torture and murder or abutment of murder.
These trials attracted much publicity, and public sympathy for the defendants who were perceived as patriots in India. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim League both made the release of the three defendants an important political issue during the agitation for independence of 1945–6. Beyond the concurrent campaigns of noncooperation and nonviolent protest, this spread to include mutinies and wavering support within the British Indian Army. This movement marked the last major campaign in which the forces of the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together; the Congress tricolor and the green flag of the League were flown together at protests. In spite of this aggressive and widespread opposition, the court martial was carried out, and all three defendants were sentenced to deportation for life. This sentence, however, was never carried out, as the immense public pressure of the demonstrations and riots forced Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, to release all three defendants. Within three months, 11,000 soldiers of the INA were released after cashiering and forfeiture of pay and allowance. On the recommendation of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and agreed by Nehru, as a condition for independence the INA soldiers were not re-inducted into the Indian Army.
The INA’s impact on the war and on British India after the war has been analysed in detail. The INA’s role in military terms is considered to be relatively insignificant, given its small numerical strength, lack of heavy weapons (it utilised captured British and Dutch arms initially), relative dependence on Japanese logistics and planning as well as its lack of independent planning. Shah Nawaz claims in his personal memoirs that the INA was a very potent and motivated force. Fay however, reinforces the argument that the INA was relatively less significant in military terms. Its special services group played a significant part in halting the First Arakan Offensive while still under Mohan Singh’s command. The propaganda threat of the INA, coupled with the lack of concrete intelligence on the unit early after the fall of Singapore made it a potent threat to Allied war plans in South East Asia. It threatened to destroy the Sepoy’s loyalty in the British Indian Army and in fact was significant and successful enough during the First Arakan Offensive for the British intelligence to begin the Jiffs campaign as well as engage in campaign to improve morale and preserve the loyalty of the sepoy to consolidate and prepare for defense of Manipur. These measures included imposing newsban on Bose and the INA that was not lifted till four days after the fall of Rangoon two years later.
Later, during the Japanese U-GO offensive towards Manipur in 1944, it played a crucial and successful role in the diversionary attacks in Arakan as well as in the Manipur Basin itself where it fought with Mutaguchi’s 15th Army. It qualified itself well in the Battles in Arakan, Manipur, Imphal, and later during the withdrawal through Manipur and Burma. Later, during the Burma Campaign, it did play a notable role in the Battles of Irrawaddy and Meiktilla especially in the latter, supporting the Japanese offensive and tying down British troops. Fay also notes the published accounts of several veterans, including that of William Slim that portrays INA-troops as incapable fighters and untrustworthy, and points out the inconsistencies and conflicts between the different accounts to conclude that intelligence propaganda as well as institutional bias may have played a significant part in the portrayed opinions.
It is however noted that the INA did indeed suffer a number of notable incidences of desertion. Fay notes the significant ones amongst these were not during the offensives into Manipur and the subsequent retreat through Burma, when incidences of desertion did occur but at a far smaller numbers than the fourteenth army told its troops. The significant desertions, Fay notes, occurred around the Battles at Irrawaddy and later around Popa. During the fall of Rangoon, 6000 INA troops manned the city to maintain order before allied troops entered the city. Nevertheless, Fay argues, the INA was not significant enough to militarily beat the British Indian Army, and was moreover aware of this and formulated its own strategy of avoiding set-piece battles, garnering local and popular support within India and instigating revolt within the British Indian army to overthrow the Raj. Moreover, the Forward Bloc underground within India had been crushed well before the offensives opened in the Burma-Manipur theatre, depriving the army of any organised internal support.
It was however, the INA trials that attracted more attention in India than the war time activities of the unit, and coupled to the decisions to hold the first trial in public, these became a rallying point for the independence movement from Autumn 1945, so much so that the release of INA prisoners and suspension of the trials came to be the dominant political campaign in precedence over the campaign for Freedom. Newspaper reports around November 1945 reported executions of INA troops, which deteriorated already volatile situations. Opposition to the trial of the officers for treason became a major public and political campaign, and the very opening of the first trial saw violence and series of riots in a scale later described as sensational.It also saw a campaign that defied communal barriers.
Increasingly violent confrontations broke out between the police and the mass rallies being held all over India, culminating in public riotings in support of the INA men. The Raj also observed with increasing disquiet and unease the spread of pro-INA sympathies within the troops of the British Indian forces. In February 1946, while the trials were still going on, a general strike ratings of the Royal Indian Navy rapidly deteriorated into a mutiny, incorporating ships and shore establishments of the RIN throughout India, from Karachi to Bombay and from Vizag to Calcutta. Amongst the rallying cries of the ratings the central one was the INA trials and slogans invoking Subhas Bose. Significantly, the mutiny received massive militant public support. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army started ignoring orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army. Another Army mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946, soon after the Navy mutiny at Bombay. British troops suppressed this by force, using bayonets. It lasted about two weeks. After the mutiny, about 45 persons were tried by court martial. 41 were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment or dismissal. In addition, a large number were discharged on administrative grounds. Fay records Auchinleck as having sent a "Personal and Secret" letter to all senior British officers as having explained the remissions of the sentences in the first trial as
“ ...practically all are sure that any attempt to enforce the sentence would have led to chaos in the country at large, and probably to mutiny and dissension in the Army, culminating in its dissolution ”
Later historians have pointed out that the INA trials and its after effects brought the decisive shift in British policy. The viceroy’s journal describes the autumn and Winter 1945-45 as "The Edge of a Volcano". Intelligence reports at the time noted widespread public interest and sympathy that turned into what has been described as "Patriotic Fury" that was beyond the communal barriers in India at the time. Particularly disturbing for the British, was the overt and public support for the INA by the soldiers of the Indian army. In addition, the use of Indian troops for the restoration of Dutch and French rule in Vietnam and Indonesia also fed growing resentment within the forces. The Raj had every reason to fear a revival of the Quit Indian movement, especially given the Congress rhetoric preceding the elections. and rapidly realised that the Indian army, unlike in 1942, could not be used to suppress such a movement owing largely to nationalistic and political consciousness in the forces which was ascribed to the INA. Some historians cite Auchinleck’s own assessment of the situation to suggest this shortened the Raj by at least fifteen to twenty years.
The political effects of the INA trials was enormous and were felt around India as late as 1948, much to the chagrin of the Indian government. Clement Attlee, the British Prime Minister, reflecting on the factors that guided the British decision to relinquish the Raj in India, is said to have cited the effects of the INA and Bose’s activities on the British Indian Army and the Bombay Mutiny as being the most important.
After the war ended, the story of the INA and the Free India Legion was seen as so inflammatory that, fearing mass revolts and uprisings—not just in India, but across its empire—the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting their story.