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Indian Army in World War II

Updated on January 12, 2014

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.

Indian troop in action at Italian Campaign.
Indian troop in action at Italian Campaign. | Source

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.

Lord Montbatten was the Head of Combined British Indian Forces in World War Two
Lord Montbatten was the Head of Combined British Indian Forces in World War Two | Source

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

© 2013 Mahaveer Sanglikar


Submit a Comment
  • vishnum969 profile image


    6 years ago from india

    A good motivational hub for indians. Though, at that time Indians did not have any other option. Our leaders were more into the command of future India. The misunderstanding among our leaders of freedom movement kept is slave for more than 8 years. Still, I like your hub. The topic is very emotional

  • CreeViking profile image

    Robin Olsen 

    6 years ago from Rural Canada

    The British treated all the commonwealth nations the exact same way so India is not unique in this area. Canadians felt this too, except we were not even allowed to march in victory parades for battles we fought and won. As far as immigration goes, as long as you are immigrating with the attitude that where you are going is different than where you are coming from and also remember that you have no right whatsoever for any reason whatsoever to ever impose your culture or lifestyle/religion on any one else anywhere then immigration should not be a problem. When you migrate and then insist that everything in your new country be exactly like it was in your old country then problems start. If you can't live in the new culture then stay with the old.

  • torrilynn profile image


    6 years ago

    thanks for the reflection and mostly the information. it is great to learn something new everyday.

  • xxtonybxx profile image


    6 years ago from wales

    It really annoys me how little most British people seem to know about the massive contribution made by Indian and Pakistani troops in world war II. When I confront anti immigration activists in the UK with the fact that more than 2 million Indians and Pakistanis fought for us in the war, and this should be enough to allow them to come to the UK, I am invariably told that this is a "government lie". When I ask who stopped the Japanese from getting all the way to africa, they don't seem to have an answer, but continue to insist that it was not the Indian army, even though they don't seem to know anything about it. Really makes me angry. If you fight for a country, you should be allowed to live in it. Thankfully the current British government agrees with me, and not with these idiots who don't seem to realise that they are expounding the same fascist values that Indian and British and other commonwealth troops fought and died alongside each other to prevent.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Indian Army in World War II an interesting insight to this topic I haven't given this much thought until now.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I was a history teacher so this is very interesting to me. Some of it I knew, but thank you for the new information.

  • panpan1972 profile image

    Panagiotis Tsarouchakis 

    6 years ago from Greece

    Very interesting and informative hub!

  • old albion profile image

    Graham Lee 

    6 years ago from Lancashire. England.

    Congratulations on another fine and informative hub. You are of course correct, little seems to be known about the involvement of Indian forces. I noted that the navy increased 10 fold over the war years. Well done.

    voted up and all.



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