British Indian Army in Burma, 1945 year. Photo: Imperial War Museum
The widespread legend that the philosopher Mahatma Gandhi, with the help of non-violence and moral authority, achieved India’s independence, is beautiful, but far from reality. In addition to Gandhi, the idea of independence was shared by two million Indian war veterans.
Indian rear of Britain
By the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the Indian subcontinent (including modern Burma, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India proper) constituted one fifth of the population of the entire globe. Here, 150 of thousands of Britons, counting wives and young children, managed about 350 millions of Aboriginal people with the help of three million native officials and employees.
The power base of this unit was the so-called British Indian Army - the largest mercenary army in that world - almost 300 thousands of native soldiers under the command of British officers.
They were recruited from the so-called military castes, or “warlike nations,” which constituted a separate minority of the country. These were mainly Sikhs, Marathas and Gurkhas - ethnic groups with ancient military traditions.
Soldiers of the same nationality or caste were sent by British officers to different parts. Usually each regiment consisted of several castes, which allowed the British, in case of indignation of one part of the soldiers, to pacify them with the help of military men of another caste or nationality. After the great uprising of the native 1857 — 1859 soldier-sipahs, the British command strictly adhered to the “three-to-one” rule, which determined the ratio between the Indian and English units. The divisions of the British Indian Army consisted of two Indian and one British brigade. In Burma, the army brigade always consisted of three battalions - Indian, Gurkha and British.
Artillery was staffed exclusively by the British; the natives here served only as sled and other service personnel. Strictly and firmly respected the principle: the Englishman can not obey the Indian. There was tremendous wage discrimination: an English officer received five times more than an Indian officer.
Already in 1916, the Indian colonial units participated in the Somme slaughter and in the same meat grinder in Gallipoli, they also formed the basis of British troops who fought with the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. By November 1918, the number of "British Indian Army" has grown to 573 thousands of people. In total, during the years of the First World War, the British authorities recruited 1 440 437 natives of Hindustan to this colonial army: a mercenary cost the British crown less than a white draftee from England, Australia and Canada.
British indian front
On September 1, 1939, the British Indian Army consisted of 194 men and consisted of 373 cavalry regiments and 18 infantry battalions. That is, there were even fewer troops in India than by the beginning of the First World War. Throughout the vast expanse of this subcontinent, there were as many as eight anti-aircraft guns and not a single anti-tank gun. The generals in London reasoned quite reasonably that the nearest planes and Tanks potential adversaries of the British Empire are separated by thousands of kilometers from the borders of India.
The first battles of World War II for Indian soldiers began far away in France. Here in May 1940, among other British forces, Indian units formed from the Punjabi Rajputs were attacked by German tanks. One of the mouths of these warriors was almost completely captured, the rest were evacuated during the hasty escape of the British under Dunkirk.
Defeated by the Germans in Europe, the Indians won back the Italians in Africa. Two Indian divisions actively participated in hostilities on the territory of Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia in the 1940 — 1941 years. “The victory was won mainly by the Anglo-Indian 4 and 5 divisions,” Churchill later wrote about these operations in the book World War II. The 4 Indian division alone defeated the Italian battalions 65, capturing more than 40 thousands of prisoners and 300 guns.
During these fights for the first time in World War II, an Indian officer - Lieutenant Promindra Singh Bhagat - received the highest military award of Britain, the Victoria Cross, because he and his soldiers, many of whom died, had to clear 15 minefields for two days. and 55 miles of roads.
In the summer of 1941, the Indian units participated in the occupation of Iraq, where it was not without the clashes with the troops of the local dictator Geylani who was oriented toward the Germans. Then the Indians fought against the colonial forces of Vichy in Syria.
The 5-I Indian brigade excelled in the battles for Damascus and received the highest command ratings among the advancing British units.
The basis of the British forces that occupied Iran in the alliance with the USSR in the summer of 1941, Iran, was also composed of Indians - the 8-I and 10-I Indian divisions and the 2-I Indian armored brigade. 29 August 1941, the foremost Soviet units of the Transcaucasian District, General Tolbukhin, near the city of Senenage in central Iran, met with the vanguard of Indians from British units. In the future, it was Indian infantrymen who ensured the protection and functioning of the southern part of the Lend-Lease in the USSR through Iran.
The use of the Indian military formations by the British in this region was due not only to India’s proximity to the theater of operations, but also to a counterbalance to German propaganda, which actively inflated Arab nationalism and accused England of white colonialism.
In April, the 1941 of the year during the first offensive of Rommel, only the resilience of the 3-th motorized brigade of Indian troops allowed the British to hold Tobruk. Here the Indians first had to face the Germans. 7 December 1941, the avant-garde of the 7 of the Indian brigade, broke through the ring of the German siege of Tobruk. When the Germans of Rommel nevertheless captured this fortress, the Marathi and Gurkha had the strongest resistance to them.
But in December 1941 of the year for the “British Indian Army”, a new front suddenly appeared - Japan entered the war. The first collision occurred 8 December 1941, at Kota Bharu, in Malaysia. After the war in China, the Japanese soldiers from the army of the Yamasashi had considerable experience in the jungle defeated the Indians from the 8 th brigade of the 9 th Indian division.
The British command, seeking to strengthen Singapore, its main naval base in the region, hastily transferred the best units from India. Initially, they were intended to fight against the Germans in the deserts of North Africa and were fully motorized, but in the jungle it turned out to be ineffective. The numerous miscalculations and indecision of the British command predetermined the victory of the Japanese. Among the thousands of 95 captured during the capitulation of Singapore, the 59 thousands were Indians.
Indian bicycle parts in the Battle of the Somme. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Despite the advantage of the Japanese in the early years of the war in the region, some Indian units from the British garrisons displayed heroism in the battles.
In the spring of 1942, five Japanese companies attacked a Punjabi battalion that defended the Sinnavang village on the island of Borneo. Surrounded by superior forces, the Indians fought to the last bullet and only after they had completely run out of ammunition, were captured and tortured by the Japanese. The remnants of the battalion were able to break through and retreat into the deep regions of mountainous, forested Kalimantan, having made a thousand-kilometer long journey to the south of the island, first on foot, then on rafts along the turbulent rivers, getting food in the tropical forest. After a month and a half, the Punjabi arrows left the jungle near the town of Sampit and met the Japanese who captured this port the day before they appeared. The Punjabis entrenched themselves near the city, but it became known that Java had fallen, and all the British and Dutch troops capitulated. Most of the soldiers and officers were sick with fever and dysentery and could no longer survive the new campaign in the jungle. Under these conditions, the commander decided to surrender.
Even the Japanese were amazed that a detachment of Indians carried through mountains and swamps not only rifles, but also machine guns, leaving nothing on the way.
In May 1942, the Japanese, after stubborn battles with the Anglo-Indian units, fully occupied Burma and reached the borders with India. At first, only extended communications and the beginning of the rainy season kept the Japanese from invading its territory.
The largest mercenary army of the world
The British reasonably feared that the appearance of the Japanese near India would strengthen seditious thoughts among the natives. Mahatma Gandhi was consistent in his non-violence and called for sabotage of military actions. The Indian National Congress (INC) in August 1942 requested independence for India. In response, the colonial authorities carried out mass arrests of the opposition, including the leaders - Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. The provinces of India embraced demonstrations and riots throughout the autumn; in the course of their suppression, the colonial police killed more than a thousand, injured more than three thousand and arrested almost 60 thousand Indians.
Hastily forming new native divisions to repel the onslaught of the Japanese from Burma, the British in July 1942 were forced to abandon the recruitment of only elected members of the "military castes" and expand recruitment to all regions and castes of India. If in the 1939, about 200 of thousands of Indians served in the army, by the end of the 1943, there were 2 million. Among them, there were a total of 900 thousands from the former "military castes."
The explosive growth in the number of troops demanded an increase in the number of Indian officers. Formerly, the British diligently restricted the possibilities of military education and commanding career to natives. Since the beginning of World War II and even more so after the war approached the borders of India, the number of cadets at the Indian Military Academy had to be increased threefold and additional officer schools were created. If in September 1939 in the British Indian Army were 4028 English officers and only 396 Indian, by the 1945 year, the number of Indian officers had increased more than 20 times. Indian commanders already constituted the majority of officers of the Anglo-Indian divisions.
By the beginning of World War II, the entire 150 of obsolete military aircraft was based in India. Local pilots were not at all. But already in 1941, the first 24 Indian pilots were sent to the UK to take part in battles against the Hitlerite Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, 3 had already served thousands of officers and 25 thousands of soldiers in the Indian Air Force.
The military industry of India has changed no less impressively. Only by May 1940, the production of military products here increased by six to seven times compared with the first year of the war, while the production of shells increased 12 times. Already in 1942, about 250 enterprises producing more than 700 types of various weapons were engaged in the production of weapons in India: armored vehicles, machine guns and other automatic weapons. weaponwhich was not produced here before.
By the end of the war, India almost 90% itself provided all the needs of its armed forces in weapons and equipment.
In 1942 — 1944 in the mountains and jungles on the Indo-Burmese frontier, fierce battles of Indian and Japanese divisions continued, where both sides suffered heavy losses not only from shells and bullets, but also from tropical malaria and fever. In February 1944, the Japanese tried to invade India, suggesting an anti-British uprising there.
The Japanese command has attracted over 100 thousands of soldiers, reinforced by 8 thousands of Indians from the Indian National Army. This army of Indian prisoners of war was formed by Subhas Chandra Bose - another of the INC leaders, only, unlike Gandhi, who professed the idea of armed struggle against the colonialists. Hindu Bose, in search of allies in the fight against Britain, had time to cooperate with the Comintern and Hitler, and then became an ally of the Japanese generals.
In the face of the beginning of the Japanese offensive, the fate of British India depended only on the mood and stamina of the Indian divisions. In fact, from February to August 1944, the war of the Indians against the Japanese was under way at Kohima and Imphal. Hindus eventually won. Both sides even used elephants to transport heavy cannons in the mountains and jungles. In these battles, Indian units lost about 40 thousands of soldiers and officers, and as a result of tropical diseases XXUMX more thousands.
The 19 Indian Division, nicknamed "The Dagger" because of its emblem, was assigned by the British command to clear the strategic Burmese Road from the Japanese forces and reopen the land lines of India and China. Already 15 December 1944, the Indian soldiers made their way to connect with the Chinese units.
In February 1945, the 14-I British Army first launched an offensive in Burma. This British army consisted of five Indian infantry divisions, one Indian airborne brigade and one British armored brigade. For the first time participated in battles and Indian tank units. Of the million allied forces involved in the liberation of Burma, 700 thousands were Indians.
The collaborative Indian National Army, almost at full strength, surrendered to the advancing 17 Indian division. The soldiers of the British Indian Army did not at all perceive the Indians who had sided with the Japanese as traitors. On the contrary, they were sympathized with and considered their patriots of India.
By the spring of 1945, there were 8 764 000 people in the armed forces of the British Empire, of which 4 179 000 accounted for the colonies and dominions - and among them 2 065 000 military personnel from India.
Indian units fought the Japanese before the September 1945 capitulation. At the same time, soldiers from Hindustan fought in the West. So in 1943, Indian troops took part in the landing in Sicily. German military intelligence considered the 4 Indian division to be the best division of the Allies in Italy. She participated in the bloody offensive for the Allies at Monte Cassino on the most difficult direction in the mountains to get to Rome.
In August, 1944, it was the Indians with the help of the Italian partisans captured Florence. In the north of the country, the Indian units were the first to reach the border with Yugoslavia. The British press eagerly wrote about the successes of the Indian forces in order to emphasize the touching unanimity of the peoples of the empire.
Churchill even had to demand that the Anglo-Indian divisions necessarily write to the media, not "Indian".
In total, 1939-45 had put on military uniforms over two and a half million soldiers from India. These were not draftees, but hired volunteers who treated the British crown cheaper than the mobilized “whites”, especially since all the expenses for their provision and armament were borne by India itself. Every fourth soldier in the warring British Empire was Indian. AT stories The British Indian Army of the Second World War period is considered to be the largest mercenary army in the world.
"Satyagraha" with tanks and bayonets
The Indians were aware of their contribution to the overall victory and their new significance for the metropolis. The first few post-war months, London tried to pretend that everything remains the same. Indian divisions were even sent to Indonesia and Vietnam to restore the former colonial power of Holland and France.
In response, in the fall of 1945, mass demonstrations and performances began in India under the short slogan “Get out of India!” Addressed to the British. The trials of collaborationists from the pro-Japanese Indian National Army, initiated by the colonial authorities, became another reason for discontent; the Indians did not consider them traitors.
The peak of these performances was the riot of Indian sailors at military bases. fleet in Bombay and Karachi. On February 18, 1946, a scene from the film about the battleship “Potemkin” happened on the training vessel Talvar (the Talvar is the traditional saber of the Rajput kshatriyas) - the sailors were given low-quality rice with worms. In response, Talwar sailors, quite in the spirit of non-violence by Gandhi, began a hunger strike, first protesting against spoiled food, and soon adding political slogans against racial discrimination by British officers.
The next day, a “strike” of servicemen swept 22 warships in the Bombay port and coastal units. The strike committee demanded better food, equal pay for Indian and British sailors, as well as the release of former soldiers of the Indian National Army. By February 22, the strike had spread to many naval bases in India — a total of 78 ships and 20 thousands of sailors. Several Indian Air Force crews joined the strikers. And although the British politicians, with the promise of large concessions, managed to stop this unprecedented protest, it became clear to London that the huge army in India was no longer a British one.
The prominent support of the British crown in disunited India could remain the militant and foreign Nepalese Gurkha for Hindus and Muslims. By the end of world war, tens of thousands of these excellent soldiers served in the English army.
But immediately after the end of hostilities, London, due to economic problems, demobilized over 20 thousands of Gurkas, effectively driving them out of the army without any material compensation.
In June 1946, the de jure still British India, took up elections to the Constituent Assembly, from which the local history of independence actually counts. Freed from the British, Muslims and Indians will soon forget about non-violence.
And what about Gandhi? Mahatma was a good man, but for an imperial metropolis his philosophy of non-violence would hardly have seemed so convincing without two million Indian bayonets.