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Violent Resistance:
The Indian National Army
in Great Pacific War
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
December 2013

Two days after the surrender of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese separated their Indian prisoners of war from their British officers. The troops, including their Indian officers, went to a large open race course where a British colonel told that they were being handed over to the Japanese authorities. A Sikh captain, Moham Singh, then announced that a new Indian National Army would be formed, receiving a thunderous reception. Many Indian soldiers present that day would later claim they took the British officer’s statement to mean they were released from their oaths.

The British Indian Army had suffered serious racial strains during the preceding Malaya campaign. British civilians resident in Malaya, often with little or no military experience, had been granted emergency commissions. A number of these new officers had been assigned to Indian battalions, and given company commands over the heads of long-service professional Indian commissioned officers (including the small number of Indian King’s Commissioned Officers, whose status supposedly equalled that of any white officer). Indians had been barred from British canteens; Indian officers from clubs and social occasions. Signs in public parks barred “dogs and sepoys.” And when the poorly-managed campaign led to defeat, with the army badly supplied, the Indian sepoys were ready to listen.

The Rani of Jhansi Regiment, reviewed in Singapore 1943.

The huge response seems to have caught the Japanese by surprise. Japan’s production of modern weapons was not nearly adequate for the Empire’s own forces, much less for collaborators. The INA sepoys were re-issued their old uniforms and their old weapons: Enfield .303 rifles and a handful of machine guns and light mortars. INA units lacked any sort of heavy weapons; even 3-inch mortars now had to be held at the battalion level. Only an armband in the Indian tricolor differentiated them from their old dress (the Indian Army changed uniform colors before the INA entered battle, removing a potential source of confusion).

The Indian National Army would be a light infantry force, entirely manned and officered by Indians. Hard-core professionals from the Indian Army handled training, but staff officers were always in short supply as these functions had been handled by British officers for the most part. Small-unit leadership also seems to have been poor at best, as the experienced officers were promoted to fill the spots of missing British leaders. Still, Singh hoped to recruit at least five divisions. For several months, the new INA trained and organized itself.

By late 1942, the Japanese began to pressure the INA leadership to get some use out of the sepoys: as guards on the “Death Railway” being built in Thailand and Burma, for rear-area security, even for labor. The Indian officers, for their part, wanted to get their men onto the front lines and fight and resisted Japanese attempts to use them to humiliate their white former comrades.

This clash of purposes almost led to the INA’s destruction, in one of those minor incidents of grave import. During a meeting between INA and Japanese officers, one of the Japanese, speaking his own language to his colleagues, referred to the Indians as “puppets” and complained about their constant “hair splitting.” Unknown to him, one of the Indians spoke Japanese fluently, and the Japanese contingent looked on in horror as he translated the insults word-for-word.

Between Indian fury over that costly gaffe and the arrest of one of the INA’s leading officers on (well-founded) suspicion of aiding the British, the Indian National Army stood on the brink of dissolution at the end of 1942. Some within the Japanese leadership pressed for disarming the sepoys and using them as forced labor. But all this changed when a new leader came on the scene.

Bose (right) failed to draw
the Belligerent Mahatma card.

Subhas Chandra Bose had won the Congress Party’s presidency in 1938, but lost it in a power struggle with Mohandas K. Gandhi the next year. When war broke out, he became outspoken that Indians should not assist the British; the Mahatma ordered Congress followers to apply themselves to the spinning wheel and ignore such issues. Bose called for civil disobedience, and this eventually led to a prison term. After several failed escape attempts, he announced that he was beginning a hunger strike, and the Raj transferred him to house arrest rather than risk creating a martyr. He then simply drove away and boarded a train for Kabul in January 1941, and by March was in Berlin.

There he helped recruit the Azad Hind Legion from Indian prisoners of war, and his magnetic personality and great speaking skills brought in 7,000 recruits. In February 1943 he boarded the German submarine U-180, which transferred him to the Japanese sub I-29 in stormy waters off Madagascar. By May, he was in Singapore.

With Bose, now known as the Netaji (an affectionate term for “leader”), things began to move forward. The Netaji formed a provisional government, which later in the year declared war on Britain and the United States. He galvanized the overseas Indian community, at least in the areas occupied by Japan, to provide money and goods for the INA: personal equipment, uniforms, boots and food. Weapons remained a sticking point.

The INA’s Netaji in uniform.

Recruiting also now moved to the civilian sector; volunteers from the POW cages provided a good cadre, and over 18,000 non-military men joined the INA as well. These came almost exclusively from the overseas Indians resident in Malaya, Singapore, Burma and Thailand, with a handful slipping out of India to join. Four hundred women formed the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, and trained hard under the eye of veteran Indian Army drill instructors.

At its greatest strength, the INA numbered about 40,000 troops. They formed three weak divisions, none of which had artillery and depended on nearby Japanese units for support. They did have their own logistical services, including a well-manned and supplied medical service.

Hatred of the Raj was such that, although many Indians despised the Japanese and resented Japanese treatment of sepoy prisoners in Burma, INA teams had surprising success encouraging desertions. Only when the war was clearly lost for Japan did the INA’s Bahadur (“Victorious”) commando/propaganda teams no longer find friendly audiences when they slipped into Indian positions to deliver their messages. However, throughout the INA’s existence trouble continually followed its units: since Japanese soldiers would not salute INA officers, the INA sepoys in turn refused to respect Japanese officers.

The INA finally entered combat in the spring of 1944 in northern Burma. Eleven battalions joined the Japanese 15th Army’s drive on Imphal, while one went into the Arakan on the northwest coast of Burma. They did poorly in combat, and many sepoys now deserted for a second time. All three divisions went to the front for the 1945 campaign, after the rains ended in the spring, and collapsed after a handful of fierce fights and many half-hearted ones.

Bose addresses INA troops, Singapore, 1943.

Bose himself died on 18 August 1945, when the “Sally” bomber carrying him crashed in Taiwan. Bose survived the impact dazed but apparently otherwise unhurt, though he was soaked in gasoline. While climbing out of the wreckage his uniform caught fire and he died in the Taipei military hospital after several hours of immense pain.

Just where Bose was headed on this final flight remains a mystery; he does not seem to have had any officials meetings scheduled with the soon-to-surrender Japanese. Some speculate he hoped to transfer the INA into Soviet service, to continue the struggle against the Raj.

In Singapore, INA officers led by the Anglo-Indian renegade Cyril John Stracey built a marble memorial to Bose, an obelisk 25 feet high. As soon as British troops discovered it on their re-occupation of Singapore in early September, they blew it up.

The Variant

Japan took little advantage of Indian manpower, and the willingness. even eagerness, of Indians to fight the British seems to have taken them by surprise. Had Japan been able to provide the weaponry, they would have found tens of thousands of Indian hands willing to wield it.

Great Pacific War already has an Indian National Army event chit, but no unit counter. For this variant, add the following.

When the INA chit is drawn the first time, its effects are as listed in the game rules. Return it to the container. If the marker is drawn again, the Japanese player receives one INA 2-3 INF at Singapore at no additional BRP cost. The Japanese player may add one additional INA 2-3 INF to his or her force pool for each Indian city that is Japanese-controlled, up to a total of eight (seven for India’s cities, plus the original one). Cities on Ceylon or the Adnaman Islands do not count. BRP cost must be paid for these to enter play.

If the number of Japanese-controlled cities in India falls below the number of INA units in play or in the force pool, INA units must be removed (Japanese player’s choice) to bring their total to that of the number of Indian cities under Japanese control.

INA units appear at Singapore or any city in India. They may only enter hexes in Malaya, Burma, Thailand, India (including the Andaman Islands), Ceylon, Addu Atoll and Sumatra.

Download the counters here.

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