Unsung Heroes of India: WWII's Indian Legion in Support of Germany
The Second World War is a watershed in the history of Indian independence. It acted as a catalytic and India hurtled to freedom. One major factor in this was Hitler and the Indian army. Hitler had ambitious plans. He envisaged complete domination of the world. This idea probably came to him when his army had defeated France and was on course to Moscow. At that time, he thought of conquering India like the great Alexander. He accordingly nursed these thoughts. Von Ribbentrop the German Foreign Minister added to his imagination when it was proposed that an India Legion composed of Indian troops would be a help in the conquest of India. Hitler was also told that the great Indian leader Subhas Chandra Bose who was more popular than Gandhi was keen to join the Axis powers. it must not be forgotten that Bose had defeated the nominee of Gandhi in the election to the post of Congress party president. There was no doubt that Bose was immensely popular in India. This was confirmed by German intelligence.
Bose escaped from British India and landed in Berlin in 1941. Von Ribbentrop took his assent for setting up the India Legion to fight along with the German army. Bose also had an hour-long meeting with the Fuehrer and this put the seal on the formation of the India Legion.
Hitler planned to allow the German army to crush Russia and then link up with the Axis forces from the Middle East and conquer India from the West like Alexander. In this operation, the Germans coined "Operation Bajadere"., the Invasion of India.
The India Legion
The India Legion was initially set up with Indians who were in Germany. Later captured POWs by the Afrika corps from Libya were motivated to join the force. Contrary to popular opinion, the Germans were not racist against the Indians and treated them with a lot of respect. They respected the religious susceptibilities of the Indian Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus and took out pork and beef from their rations. Many of the troops were served vegetarian food.
The India legion troops were well equipped and were indoctrinated as well. The India Legion fought bravely against the Allies in France and Germany. Hitler's plan appeared to succeed as the Germans reached the Volga river and Rommel advanced to Egypt. Operation Bajadere was put into practice and nearly 100 Indian troops of the Legion were parachuted into East Iran to enter India and carry out sabotage activities and set the scene for the German assault.
Hitler's defeat at Stalingrad and the surrender of the Afrika Corps smashed Hitler's plan to invade India. Bose was persuaded to go to Japan and all plans for an invasion of India were shelved. The India Legion was integrated with the Wehrmacht. It was very well equipped and gave a good account of itself.
The British when liberating France was shocked that at many points the defense was carried out by Indian troops of the German army. This had a deep effect on the British psyche and the news was suppressed. The British felt that this news would demoralize the Indian army fighting on the side of the allies.
After the war was over, the India legion decided to march to Switzerland but was detained by US troops on the way and handed over to the British.
Facts about the India Legion
Supreme Leader: Subhas Chandra Bose
- In service from 1942-45
- Strength about 3000-5000
- Type Infantry
- Headquarters : Königsbrück
- Battle experience in WW II
Retreat from France
"Operation Bajadere" was an audacious plan and to succeed it would have meant the complete defeat of Russia. This did not happen and the operation to free India was abandoned. The India Legion fought bravely, but the Indian government after 1947, when the British left decided to keep this information under wraps as it was not thought proper to propagate that Indian troops fought on behalf of Hitler and Germany. Thus, these valiant soldiers never got their due and faded into History. Besides, Nehru considered Bose his rival and he feared that any importance to Bose and his army would affect his standing in India.
The fact is that the India Legion and later the Indian National Army which fought along with the Japanese to a great extent broke British morale to hold India and hastened the freedom of India. This fact is sadly omitted from the textbooks, but now we must acknowledge the bravery of the India Legion and the significant role played by them in the freedom of India. With the defeat of the Congress party and the rise of Narendra Modi, there is every chance that these forgotten soldiers' contributions will be resuscitated and they will be given their due. One fact that must be stated is that the creation of the India Legion and INA convinced the English that they had to leave India. They realized that the army for decades their linchpin to rule India could not be relied upon. Mutinies in Karachi and Bombay had an effect and the English left India.