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Adolf Hitler, Subhas Bose and the Indian Legion, Untold Story

Updated on December 19, 2017

The beginning

Adolf Hitler seized Europe in a swift campaign, reminiscent of the swift battles of Mahmud of Ghazni and Chengiz Khan. By 1940 Hitler was master of entire Europe. This was the time he thought of going global and India came in his thoughts. Von Ribbentrop assured that there was a way as the great Indian Leader Subhas Bose had fallen out with Gandhi and wanted to chart a separate course. Ribbentrop told Hitler that German intelligence in India had learned of Bose's desire to join the Pact of steel to free India.

In 1940, Bose who had been arrested by the British on orders of the Viceroy escaped from Calcutta. The British searched for him, but Bose went into disguise and traveled to Bombay and then to Peshawar onwards to Kabul. There some Russian agents befriended him and Bose could go to Moscow. There he met Stalin who directed him to meet Hitler. At that time Germany and Russia had signed the non-aggression pact and were supposed to be friends.

Bose in Berlin

Bose reached Berlin and was received by Von Ribbentrop. This was in early 1941. At about this time Ribbentrop approached Bose for help to set up the Indian Legion. Bose was enthusiastic about it and set to work to launch the Indian legion. The Indian Legion was initially made up of Indians in Germany, but later captured POWs from Libya by Rommel's forces were persuaded to join the Legion.

Bose also set up a free India government in exile and this was promptly recognized by Germany and Japan. Bose, It appears had a good relationship with the Nazi hierarchy and he also met Himmler. On May 42 Bose had an hour-long meeting with the Fuhrer and this led to a firm recognition of the Indian Legion

The Indian Legion is Formed

In 1941, the Indian Legion saw the light of day. The Germans pampered the Legion .It's interesting, that today most of the Western world states that the Germans under Hitler were religiously intolerant.

The above statement appears to be false. The Waffen-SS made special concessions for Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus who became members of the Indian Legion. They also gave them special rations and uniforms., As an example, pork was taken out of the standard rations for Muslims. The 'Sikh' Indians had long hair and beards, therefore could not wear gas masks. Another portion of the Indians were vegetarians. The Germans went to great lengths to accommodate them.

The Legion was given its own insignia and Field Marshal Kesselring inspected them. The Indian Legion was used in the defense of France. It was very well equipped and even some German units had inferior weaponry compared to the Indian Legion

Bose with Himmler
Bose with Himmler

Do you think Bose was right in taking help from Hitler

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Indian soldiers with the Legion
Indian soldiers with the Legion
Indian Officer general attending Function in Berlin
Indian Officer general attending Function in Berlin

The Legion in Battle

The Indian legion was part of the ambitious plan of Hitler. When the Germans army under Rommel was advancing across North Africa, Hitler envisaged a thrust through the Middle East and an invasion of India from the west through the North West Hindu Kush mountains. He anticipated a large guerrilla force of the India legion to help him in this task.

This led to Operation Bajadere. It was an audacious operation where about a 100 soldiers of the Indian Legion were parachuted into East Iran. This group entered Baluchistan and started a campaign of sabotage against the British. It was hoped that more soldiers of the Indian Legion would be sent who would eventually link up with the advancing German army from across the Middle East and Africa.

Unfortunately, the defeat of Rommel and the advance of the Russians after end 1943 sealed these ambitious plans.

Indian officer of Indian Legion in German uniform
Indian officer of Indian Legion in German uniform

Last Days

The Indian legion was attached to the the Waffen-SS. It remained well supplied with I arms and equipment, despite massive shortages.This caused quite a lot of controversy and many in the German army wondered why the Legion was given special preference.

After the surrender of Germany the Legion decide to march to Switzerland through the Alps. It was however stopped and captured by American troops who handed them over to the British.

The British captured the Indian legion men and transported them to India to face trial by Court Martial

Indian soldier checking papers in France
Indian soldier checking papers in France
Japanese general inspecting Indian troops in Singapore in 1944
Japanese general inspecting Indian troops in Singapore in 1944

Last Word

The trials of the Indian Legion men reached nowhere, as India became free in 1947. But the new Indian government led by Nehru wished to obliterate the contribution of Bose to the freedom struggle , hence the feats of the Indian Legion were blacked out. It was also thought politically inexpedient to talk of collaboration with Hitler. We must however dispassionately analyse the events of history and conclude that Bose and by inference the Indian legion and the Indian National army did make a significant contribution to the Indian independence movement.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you for commenting.

    • 10000001 profile image

      madugundu krishna 

      3 years ago from Yemmiganur

      interesting article

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      In a way you are correct Lions. But perhaps Subhas had no choice with Gandhi breathing down his neck

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you Lawrence.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I knew that Hitler had such units but not that they were this well organized. We have the advantage of looking back through history to see if we agree with an action or not but the people of the time didn't have that luxury!

      Interesting hub.


    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Interesting hub. The main reason that Bose is forgotten today was his alliance with Hitler, and rightly so. In the West, anyone who aligned themselves with the Nazis, for whatever reason, is condemned. Whether it be Mannerheim (Finland), Horthy (Hugary), or the Mufti of Jerusalem, you were on the wrong side. And that goes for Bose. Any credibility he could have had was destroyed. There's a reason figures like Ghandi and King are honored. Their approach led to true change.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      Thank you Flory

    • florypaula profile image


      3 years ago

      Interesting hub filled with information. We should know our history no matter what country it comes from.

      Have a nice day.


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