Lost Victories: The Summer of 1942
by Gagandeep Bakshi on 13 Mar 2017 4 Comments

Japan and the INA had a very realistic chance of achieving near total success, had they invaded India in 1942 or even in 1943. India might well have been freed had Bose shifted to South East Asia in 1942 itself and had led his INA in an invasion of India. Unfortunately, he was forced to cool his heels in Europe. While, The, Nazi warlord Adolf Hitler, was distinctly cool towards the idea of supporting Indian Independence.


The Nazi regime kept Bose waiting for months before his meeting with Ribbentrop materialised. He had in fact waited for over a year before he could get an audience with Hitler. That he was granted these unprecedented audiences at the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy is a tribute to the power of the charismatic personality of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In the East, however, the Japanese were extremely keen to bring Bose.


The rank and file of the INA had informed them that it was only Bose who could infuse new life into the idea of the INA and galvanise it into action. He was a highly charismatic leader and if he arrived on the scene, the Indian troops and the people of the Indian diaspora in South East Asia would follow him most enthusiastically. Had Bose been permitted to move out from Germany in 1942 itself – the course of history may well have been radically different. How? What different shape could events have taken in 1942? It is worth exploring this line of speculation to understand what a close call it had been in the summer of 1942.


The Total War Institute of Japan had included India as part of the concentric circles, each encompassing groups of Asian countries to forge an enlarged Co-prosperity Region. On December 08, 1941, after the failure of the US-Japan talks to end the economic strangulation of that country, Japan lashed out militarily on the US forward base in the Pacific Ocean. The entire battleships of the US Navy Fleet were deployed in forward locations at Pearl Harbour and these were sunk in the sudden, catastrophic attack by Japanese Naval aviation.


The Japanese Southern Drive that followed in Malaya, Singapore and Burma was equally successful. The British Warships HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales were sunk by aircrafts from the Japanese Carriers. The stunning and rapid success of the Japanese Army had created massive demoralisation in the British ranks and created the bogey of the Japanese superman who could not be beaten in jungle warfare. The Japanese Southern Army, under Count Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi had achieved its objectives well ahead of schedule. By March 1942, the British were driven out of Burma, well before the rains had started. A clear opportunity now presented itself for the Japanese to follow up this spectacular success by a quick foray into India.


There was total collapse and demoralisation then in the British Camp. Col. Hayashi Akira of the staff in the Southern Army now proposed a swift dash to capture Dimapur and Tinsukhia in Assam. He correctly estimated that there was absolutely nothing to stop the Japanese Army if it had followed up its success in Burma and entered the plains of Assam in the summer of 1942. About 100,000 Indians had died in the racially organised escape from Burma. The British administration had withdrawn from Chittagong to Feni (in what is now Bangladesh). There was complete and total panic. So terrified were the British of an Imperial Japanese invasion that they undertook this virtual scorched earth policy. This panic destruction of the riverine transport system in East Bengal had a very tragic fallout. It led to the massive Bengal famine of 1942, which caused the death of some three million Indians.


On April 22, 1942, the Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry signalled to its Embassy in Berlin to get Bose out and send him to Japan. This message from the Gaimusha (Foreign Office) to Ambassador Oshima in Berlin was intercepted and decoded by Enigma, and alerted the British to Bose’s plans to escape again. An Italian aircraft was to do the non-stop flight from Europe to the Far East in July 1942. It was thought that Bose would attempt to get out of Berlin by air or land route.


This was the time when the British Foreign Ministry appealed to Moscow to prevent the escape of Bose by air/land routes to the Far East. Churchill in fact had already issued instructions for his assassination after his first escape. They knew of Bose’s plan to escape again and tried their best now to block him. Amazingly it took the Germans 13 months before they finally agreed to send Bose by a perilous three month-long submarine voyage to Japan losing precious time in the bargain.


The situation in South Asia however can be summed up in the words of Mahatma Gandhi. In April 1942, Gandhi wrote to Horace Alexander, “My firm opinion is that the British should leave India now in an orderly manner and not run the risk of what they did in Singapore, Malaya and Burma. Britain cannot defend India, much less defend herself on Indian soil with any strength. The best thing she can do is to leave India to her fate.”


At this juncture, Bose felt that the circumstances were especially propitious for a determined bid for creating a liberated zone across the Indian borders either in North East India, the Arakans or the Chittagong Division of Bengal. The British administration had already pulled back from Chittagong into Feni and begun destroying the local civil crafts in utter and unseemly panic. Thus, at this critical juncture in the war, Gandhiji’s views had taken a complete about turn and were now aligned very closely with those of Bose.


Quit Indian Movement, August 1942


To placate the Americans who were pressurising Britain to make up with the Congress, Churchill had sent the Cripps Mission in early April 1942 with a virtual plan for the partition of India. This was rejected by the Congress. In fact, Nehru had told a meeting at Guwahati on April 24, 1942 that he would “fight Mr. Subhas Bose and his party along with Japan, if he comes to India.” Azad was noticing a clear hardening of Mahatma Gandhi’s position and how he was veering around completely to Netaji’s point of view on how India should fight for its freedom.


Gandhi now openly admired Bose’s courage in escaping to Germany. Gandhi felt the time had come to “Do or Die”. Despite reservations expressed by Nehru, Azad and others, he insisted on launching the Quit India Movement. In fact Gandhiji’s draft resolution sent to the Congress Working Committee had demanded immediate cessation of British Rule in India. This was precisely the position that Bose had urged him to take in his last meeting in the Wardha session in 1940.


American Apprehensions


 William Philips, the personal representative of President Roosevelt in India informed the US President about the August Quit India movement: “if Japan had been in a position to invade India at this moment, even on a limited scale as she had attempted earlier that year in April, there was every reason to believe that the story of Malaya and Burma would have been repeated.”


Japan had thus wasted two golden opportunities in 1942, one in the summer of 1942 when it completed its Burma operation well ahead of schedule and had a clear window of opportunity to attack before the monsoon began. Its second opportunity came in August 1942, when the Quit India Movement sucked away about 35,000 troops towards Internal Security duties and the British military deployment was more oriented to face a Japanese assault from the sea on undivided Bengal. In the bargain, it had destroyed all local boats and created a famine in Bengal that killed about 3 million Indians.


This amounted to genocide for the British continued to export grain from India to supply their troops in other theatres, right through this famine. A sudden Japanese attack towards Assam to seize the railheads of Tinsukhia and Dimapur would have altered the course of history in Asia. This invasion would have succeeded beyond all expectations and generated the revolt in India that Bose had foreseen so clearly.


In hindsight, it is now clear, that the Japanese hesitated for two main reasons. One was the Mohan Singh episode and the internal sabotage of the first INA by secret British Indian operatives and agent provocateurs.


The second was the major weakness of logistics in supporting such an offensive. The Japanese supply route over Northern Burma was a logistical nightmare.


The British Intelligence had instigated a mutiny in the First INA of Gen. Mohan Singh to help stave off the impending Japanese invasion. The Japanese hesitation in 1942 and 1943 was to prove fatal. India had been so close to freedom through military means and yet this historic opportunity was wasted due to sudden Japanese over-caution and hesitation as also an instigated rebellion in the first INA of Gen. Mohan Singh.


Excerpted from Chapter 3

Bose: An Indian Samurai. Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment

Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (Retd)

KW Publishers

ISBN: 9789386288394

Price: Rs 620/-         

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