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Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Indian oldirs in Paris WW2

Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Whenever the subject of World War –Two (WW2) comes up for discussion it invariably veers to and ends in the role played by the major powers like Germany, usa, uk, ussr etc. A number of other nations – big and small- that had no heart in the war were dragged into the cauldron by major powers, for a variety of reasons. The contribution made towards the war efforts by these reluctant warring nations was enormous. They suffered countless losses and untold misery in pursuit of someone else’s cause. Yet, their efforts, their contribution and their suffering have largely gone unnoticed and unacknowledged.

It would be far more interesting to talk of the role played by such reluctant warriors than to chew over the role of the inevitable major powers of WW2.Let us start with theIndia story. I invite the other members on the Forum to share their views on the reluctant involvement of sates like the states, the African states, and others.

1.India roped in

The undivided India was one of the nations that were sucked into the WW2 to serve the cause of the British Empire and the Allies, though it was not distressed by the causes that ignited the war.

British India was a key allied nation during the World War 2.The then India included the present day India , Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apart from the provinces directly ruled by the British there were a large number of Princely States within the British Raj that provided large donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism .India sent millions of troops to fight the Axis powers in South East Asia , North Africa and southern Europe.

2. Indian contribution not given due credit

The role of the Indian armed forces in World War II — including campaigns in the East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Iraq, Iran, the Vichy-controlled Levant, British Somaliland, Abyssinia, the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Italy as well as duty in places like Greece, Cyprus, Aden, and Socotra Island — is often obscured because it is wrapped under the general description of “British” operations. The roles played by the European forces are well recorded and are accessible. However, the official history of Indian armed forces remains unfamiliar and is difficult to find.

3. The number of Indian men

When the Second World War broke out, not a single unit of the Indian Army was mechanized to respectable standards. Motorization was selective, and scales of weaponry extremely sparse. Nevertheless, the number of men that gave to the Allied Cause was 205,000 in1939; this number rose to 2,644,323 by 1945. The Indian soldiers were largely drawn from agricultural communities. Though the Indian heart was not in the war, the Indian war record is nevertheless impressive.

 4. Theaters of war

During World War II, the Army of under British command fought many battles on several fronts.

In the Western desert , in Eritrea ,and Italy ,the Indian forces engaged German and Italians .

-The Indian Divisions took part in the North Africa theatre against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. In the of Bir Hacheim, the Indian gunners played an important role by destroying the tanks of Rommel’s panzer divisions.

– the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions distinguished themselves in a series of hard-fought campaigns in the East African Campaign against the Italians in Somali-land,, Eritrea and Abyssinia, and then in Libya against the Germans. From North Africa the 5th  division was moved toIraq to protect its oil fields.

– The third (Indian) Motor Brigade badgered the Corps using trucks and machine guns

– Indian forces- consisting the fourth, 8th and 1oth Infantry Divisions and 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade   played a major role in liberating Italy from fascism. They fought the famous of Monte Casino and the torrid battle on the Gothic lane in late 1944 and 1945. The British Army of was the third largest Allied contingent in the Italian Campaign after the Us and British forces.

-The British eighth Army depended on the fourth Division of Indian Army to break the Axis formations

-In Malaya , Singapore and Burma, the Indian Army engaged the unstoppable Imperial Japanese in its drive through South-East Asia. The Chinese, the American, and the British formations could not repulse the Japanese. Then the 14th Division of the Indian Army- consisting one million men of which 700,000 were Indians- went on the counter offensive, swept the Japanese out of South-East Asia.
– The Indian Air Force fielded ten squadrons during World War 2. Flying in the China-Burma-India theatre, these squadrons carried out assault mission against Japanese troops stationed in Burma . It was because of the efforts of Indian Army the advance of Imperial Japan came to a halt.
– The Royal Indian navy ships were active in all theatres. HMIS sunk a Japanese raider

5. War causalities

As per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, total deaths in the Indian Army were 87,040 which included Army (79,326), Air Force (897), Navy (501),Merchant navy (6,114) and civilian deaths (193) .The wounded numbered 64,354; while the POWs were 79,489. Apart from these, the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA) suffered 2,615 dead and missing.

On top of these deaths came the deaths in the Bengal Famine of 1943 .It is estimated that the wartime pressures and failure to implement the ‘famine code’ resulted in the death of over five million  people due to starvation , malnutrition and related illnesses .

6. Exploitation by the British

The through widespread acquisition and use of raw materials, foodstuffs and resources produced by the Indians. The vital agricultural supplies of sisal, maize, wheat, tea, sugar, rubber, jute and cotton came from the Indian sub continent. In addition, although the British largely discouraged the development of industry in India , it nevertheless took advantage of India’s rich mineral wealth in bauxite, iron, steel, manganese, tin, coal, timber, and gold.

The British officials showed little or no concern for local interests as they instigated ruthless price controls, coerced colonial labor, and unapologetically dictated colonial economic policy.

Overall, the war exacted a heavy economic price on India, which diverted more than 80% of its annual budget to the war effort, and extensively shared the huge and intolerable economic cost of war.

7. The British Empire and Commonwealth in World War II:

Selection and Omission in English History Textbooks

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Mr. Stuart Foster, Institute of Education, University of London; in his remarkably candid paper has discussed how the text books in England are Anglo-centric centric and how they fail to give credit to the rich and diverse contributions of all races of the British colonies and their sacrifices in the struggle against the Axis powers during the WW Two.

He also goes on to document the exploitation, the racial discrimination and says how by disguising the true history of colonialism and by writing the black people out of British history, the official historians have marginalized and further oppressed the under privileged.

Mr. Foster’s paper is highly educative and interesting.

Indian oldirs in WW2


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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