Bose Moves East
by Gagandeep Bakshi on 20 Apr 2017 0 Comment

In 1941-42, the Japanese had been flooded by Indian requests to get Bose from Berlin. All Indian interlocutors emphasised the vital need for his presence to energize the INA and assume leadership of the armed Indian Freedom Struggle. He was the only Indian leader they felt with the unimpeachable credibility and the tremendous charisma that could inspire the soldiers of the INA and the Indian diaspora in South East Asia, to an all out effort to liberate India from the foreign yoke.


This universal, glowing estimate of Bose by the Indians of his generation, speaks volumes about the man himself and his national and international standing and stature in the troubled years of World War II. Not only did the Indians acknowledge his tremendous leadership qualities but the Leaders of war time Italy and above all, of Nazi Germany had been deeply impressed by the forceful and dynamic personality of Subhash Chandra Bose.


That is why the arrogant Nazis had invested so heavily in Bose. No less a leader than Adolf Hitler himself had been deeply struck by Bose’s magnetic persona and deep commitment. The German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had indeed been greatly impressed with him and had helped raise and fund the Free India Centre in Berlin and the brigade-sized Indische Legion. He had gone out of his way to arrange his meeting with Adolf Hitler. No other leader of a subject nation had ever managed such deference and even a face to face interaction with the Fuehrer himself, when the German warlord was at the peak of his power and wartime prestige.


Meanwhile in Japan itself, Prime Minister Tojo had spoken about the need for military activities in India at the Imperial Conference on April 04, 1942. On April 17, a coordination meeting was held between the Japanese Army, the Navy and the Foreign Affairs Ministry (the Gaimusho) and it was agreed that they would invite Bose to come to Tokyo. Accordingly, the Japanese Foreign Ministry had sent a signal to its embassy in Berlin to seek the transfer of Bose.


Once the decision was finally taken, why was he sent by the most hazardous sea route in a German submarine voyage that in itself took three more months? Not just that, this perilous undersea voyage entailed a transfer from a German to a Japanese submarine on the high seas. Consequent to this inexcusable delay, a glorious and historic window of opportunity that had opened in 1942-43, to free India by military force, was closed forever.


By the time Bose did reach Japan – it was a case of too little too late. The air and naval power situation in the Pacific-Indian Ocean region had tilted decisively against Japan. Air power and naval domination by Aircraft carrier based naval aviation had been the key to the brilliant early successes of the Japanese Army in Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Sans air superiority, the Indian operation was foredoomed to failure.


Bose and the INA had been pressing for this option as it would get them onto the Indian mainland at the earliest (They wanted to attack via Chittagong into what is now Bangladesh). The very difficult land route from Burma to the Indian North East was a logistical nightmare. What made it worse was that the Japanese could not take their heavy artillery along this most treacherous supply route. When it came to the pitched battles of Imphal and Kohima, this lack of artillery support was a fatal disadvantage.


Bose still took the plunge, confident that the very news of an army of Indians attacking India to liberate it from the British yoke would cause the people of India to rise in revolt. The example set would inspire the rank and file of the British Indian armed forces to open rebellion. The centre of gravity of any offensive directed against British India was not so much the capture of Indian territory but turning the loyalty of about 2.5 million Indian soldiers to their British masters. Destroying this loyalty to foreign rulers was the prime objective of Bose. Hence regardless of success or failure of the military operations in the field, Bose was duty bound to go ahead anyway. In this assessment of the wider political impact of an INA invasion, Bose was to prove absolutely accurate and prophetic.


The Submarine Extraction


It may be pertinent to remember, that out of a total of some 480 German divisions, about 360 had entered Russia and never came out. They were annihilated. The Soviets suffered a staggering 25 million casualties in that war. The Germans suffered some 7 million casualties. The Americans, French, British and other Allies put together however suffered only about 1.1 million casualties.


It was only when the Red Army began to relentlessly roll back the German Wehrmacht from the very gates of Moscow to the gates of Berlin that the US got alarmed and decided to intervene to ensure that the whole of Europe was not conquered by the Red Army. As such, Hitler’s primary area of focus and monumental obsession was the Soviet Union. That was where he was fighting his life and death struggle. North Africa and India for him were plain sideshows and engaged his attention only episodically. That too was mostly under Italian or Japanese prodding and diplomatic pressure.


The Air Option


The Japanese had begun to press for the transfer of Bose from end April 1942 onwards. The first option considered was a trans-continental air journey across Europe and Russia to Japanese held Manchuria. It is noteworthy that the First non-stop flight from Europe to the Far East was carried out on July 2, 1942 by the Italians. However, Bose was not on that flight. It turned out that Hitler himself had ruled out this option. The Italians, he felt, just could not keep a secret.


Hence it would be most dangerous for Bose to fly across Russia. Bose, Hitler felt, was simply too important an asset to be risked in this cavalier fashion. This serves to highlight the significant impact that Bose had made on the Nazi warlord. In October 1942, Bose was himself keen to take a trans-continental flight of the Italians and in fact, it is said that in November that year he actually travelled to Italy to catch that trans-continental flight.


On February 8, 1943, Bose and Hasan went down into the highly cramped but brand new submarine U-180 and were welcomed on board by Capt. Werner Musemberg. The U- Boat slunk past the coast of Norway and slipped into the Atlantic Ocean. Bose put his confinement to good use. He busied himself dictating drafts of future speeches and presentations to be made to the Japanese leaders to clarify his mind and prepare himself thoroughly for the forthcoming task. Bose was thorough and meticulous in all he did.


A Samurai’s Decision


Throughout the voyage, Bose kept on getting signals to keep him posted about the major events happening in the war. Once again the British had decoded these messages and were aware of Bose’s escape via the submarine route. However, once more, to preserve the secrecy of their code breaking machine, they avoided taking action to intercept U-180.


Finally, the submarine rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Indian Ocean. It now set sail for off the island of Madagascar. On April 26, 1943, after a two-and-a-half month undersea voyage, they sighted the Japanese I-21 Submarine off the coast of Madagascar. They then set sail for Sabang, a group of islands off the coast of Sumatra. Bose’s epic odyssey had taken him full three months. As submariners go, it had been a rigorous test of endurance and faith. Bose had at last arrived in his chosen field of action.


Excerpted from Chapter 5

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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