Indian Army in World War II
A brief introduction to Indian Army's less known but major role in World War II
World war II was the biggest war in the history of mankind. Almost all the countries in the world were directly involved in this war. Although we know better about the roles of Germany, England, Russia, United States etc., role of India Army in this war is not discussed by historians and students of the war. Here is a brief introduction to the history of Indian Army in World War II.
India Enters World War II
When second world war broke out in Europe in 1939, India was a British Colony, far away from England and Germany. The freedom movement of India was at full swing in this period. The leaders of the freedom movement took a strong stand against Nazism, however, they refused to support British Government in the war against Nazis, until the British Government Grants independence of India.
As British India was the largest colony of Britain, in size and population, declaring immediate independence of the nation was a risk for British Government. It meant to lose a big country with biggest manpower and well trained and huge armed forces. So without consulting the leaders of freedom movement, the British India Government declared India's entry to World War II. They started Indian Armed Forces to prepare against attacks by Nazi Germany.
Strengths of Indian Army in World War II
At the time of India's entry to World War II in 1939, the strength of Indian Army was 200000 men. But as the war began to spread, the British India Government started more and more men to recruit in Indian Army. At the end of 1941, the total strength of Indian Army was 900000 men, and it reached to 1.55 Millions by the end of 1942. When the war was over in 1945, the strength of Indian Army was 2.5 Millions, exactly 12.5 times of the initial strength in 1939. Thus Indian Army became one of the the largest Armies in the World War II period.
In 1939, there were 1500 commissioned officers in Indian Army. The number reached to 15000 in 1945.
Indian Army consisted of many infantry and armored divisions, field artillery, anti-tank and anti aircraft regiments and airborne troops. Besides them, there were many units of Supply and Transport, Engineers, Ordnance, Signals, Medical etc.
At the time when World War II broke out, Indian Air Force was small in size and it was a branch of Royal Air Force of Great Britain.
Like Indian Air Force, Indian Navy also was small in size when the war broke out. It had 8 warships in total. The British Indian Government expanded it during World War II, and at the end of the war Indian navy had about 80 ships in its possession.
Contribution of Indian Armed Forces in World War II
The Armed Forces of India were deployed in various parts of the world, including East Africa, North Africa, Middle East countries, Malaya, Burma (Myanmar), Singapore, Thailand etc. Indian army took part in the campaigns and battles against axis forces mainly in above parts of the word.
The major campaigns and operations in which Indian Army took part were Operation Compass (Egypt & Libya, 1940), Operation Battleaxe (Cyrenaica, Libya 1941), Operation Crusader (Egypt, Libya 1941), East African Campaign (1940-41), Anglo-Iraqui War (1941), Syria-Lebanon Campaign (1941), Battle of Hong Kong (1941), Malayan Campaign (1941-42), Battle of Malaya (1941), ,Battle of Borneo (1941-42), Battle of Singapore (1942), Operation Pugilist (Southern Tunisia,1943), Burma Campaign (1942-45, many operations and battles), Operation Zipper (Penang, Malaya, 1945), Italian Campaign (Various operations,1943-45), Operation Tiderace (Singapore,1945) etc. Indian army was engaged in many other miscellaneous battles in World War II.
Indians did their job very well and won most of the battles. About 4000 Indian soldiers and officers were decorated for their valor with gallantry awards. 30 of them were decorated with Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award of British Indian Army.
87000 Indian soldiers were killed World War II, many others were wounded.
Effects of World War II on India
There were many positive and negative effects of World War II on India. On positive side, industrialization of the country took place, millions of people in India got employed and there was an economical growth of the nation.
The war accelerated the freedom of India movement. Indian National Army, formed of the Indian Prisoners of War (who were captured by Axis Forces), fought against the British rule in India. Soon after the war was over, there was a massive revolt by Indian Navy against British rule.
Because of the war, Indian Army became a powerful and one of the biggest Armies in the world. Indian Army was modernized in World War II period. Many Indian Higher Middle Class youngsters got a chance to join the army as Commissioned Officers, which was rare thing before the war. Many junior officers of WW II became great senior officers and even Generals of Indian Army after in next few decades.
You may like to watch a documentary by BBC on Indian Army in WWII
Indian Army in World War II BBC Documentary
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© 2013 Mahaveer Sanglikar
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