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Indian Army - World War II and Partition

The political situation in India underwent a fundamental transformation at the time of Britain's entry into World War II. The viceroy and governor general of India, Victor Alexander John Hope, Marquis of Linlithgow, without consulting Indian political leaders, declared India to be at war with Germany on September 3, 1939. The legislature sustained the vice-regal decree and passed the De fence of India Bill without opposition, as the representatives of the Indian National Congress boycotted the session. Between 1939 and mid-1945, the British Indian Army expanded from about 175,000 to more than 2 million troops -- entirely through voluntary enlistment.

Altogether, more than 620,000 Indians served overseas During World War II (1939-1945), Indian Army strength rose to more than two million. Indians fought in North Africa and Italy. After Japanese forces defeated United Kingdom troops in Burma, the Indian Army had to defend its own country at the battles of Imp hal and Ohm in 1944. The Japanese besieged Ohm but never captured it. About 340,000 Indians served in the Allies' 14th Army, which eventually drove the Japanese out of Burma.

The incipient naval and air forces were also expanded, and the Indian officer corps grew from 600 to more than 14,000. Indian troops were deployed under overall British command in Africa, Italy, the Middle East, and particularly in Burma and Southeast Asia. The great expansion in strength, the overseas service of Indian forces, and the demonstrated soldierly ability of Indians from all groups did much to dispel the martial races theory.

In Asia the Japanese sought to exploit Indian nationalism and anti-British sentiment by forming and supporting the Indian National Army (INA--Az ad Hind Frau), which was composed primarily of 25,000 of the 60,000 Indian troops who had surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore in February 1942. The army was led by Sub has Chandra Bose, a former militant president of the Congress, who also appointed himself head of the Provisional Government of Azad India (Free India). An unusual feature of the INA was an all-woman, intercaste regiment composed of some 1,500 Indian women from Burma, Malaya, and Singapore. Both the women and the 25,000-strong male contingent were organized to fight alongside the Japanese in Burma, but they actually saw little action. Only 8,000 were sent to the front. Japanese and INA troops invaded Manipur in March 1944 and fought and were defeated in battles at Imphal and Kohima. By May 1945, the INA had disintegrated because of acute logistical problems, defections, and superior British-led forces. It is widely held that Bose was killed in an air crash in Taiwan as he fled at the end of the war. The British court martialed three INA officers. Nationalist-minded lawyers, including Nehru, defended them as national heroes, and the British, feeling intense public pressure, found them guilty but cashiered them without any further punishment. However, after independence Nehru refused to reinstate them into the Indian armed forces, fearing that they might sow discord among the ranks.

From V-J Day to the end of August, 1947, the net reduction in the strength of the Indian and Pakistan armies amounted to 1,648,772 men and women. Of these, 32,677 were British and Indian / Pakistan officers, 12,177 were officers and auxiliaries of the WAC(I), 49,024 were British other ranks serving with Indian and Pakistan armies and 1,533,570 were Indian and Pakistan ranks, including 64,321 civilians attached to Indian /Pakistan armies. In August, 1947, there was a net reduction of 492 officers, 1,566 Indian and Pakistan ranks, 2,639 non-combatants enrolled and 2,348 British other ranks attached to Indian and Pakistan armies. During that month 144 army units were disbanded. A total of 8,668 army units had been disbanded, 61 Indian State Forces units have returned to the states and 11 Nepalese contingent units have returned to Nepal. Up to the end of August, 1947, a total of 37,458 I.S.F. personnel have returned to their states and 9,178 Nepalese contingent personnel had returned to Nepal.

The old Indian Army prior to 15 August, 1947, was divided into three Commands Northern, Southern and Eastern. A fourth, Central Command, was raised during the war and disbanded in September, 1946. Of the Indian divisions which took part in the World War II, the 6th, 8th, 10th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 23rd, 25th, 26th and 39th were disbanded, those remaining being the 4th, 5th, 7th Infantry Divisions, 1st Armoured Division and the 2nd Airborne Division.

Independence and the partition from Pakistan imposed significant costs on the Indian defense establishment that took years to redress. The partition of the country into the two Dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947 meant a division of the armed forces. The Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Army and the Royal Indian Air Force were divided between the two Dominions on a territorial-cum-optional basis and the result was a division in the approximate proportion of one-third to Pakistan and two-thirds to the Union of India.

The partition of the country entailed the division of the armed forces personnel and equipment. As a result of partition, regiments and formations of the armed forces of India, which had for long years been composed of sub-units comprising men of various castes and creeds, had to be reorganized into regiments containing only representatives of their own Dominion. Such a division and re-organization of tho armed forces needed a co-ordinating authority, which was provided by the Supreme Commander's Headquarters. Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleok, former Commander-in-Chief, was appointed as Supreme Commander with the specific purpose of reconstituting the armed forces for the two Dominions under the directional control of the Joint Defence Council, which consisted of representatives from both Dominions, the Governor-General of India, Earl Mountbatten being the independent chairman.

On 15 August, 1947, the army was divided into Indian Army and Pakistan Army. Northern Command was allotted to Pakistan and the Southern and Eastern Commands were allotted to the Indian Army. A new Command, Delhi and East Punjab Command, was raised on 15 September 1947. There was also a considerable amount of expansion in B.I.A.S.C. transport services. From 36 A.T. Coys, and 29 M.T. Units of various types, they were increased to 80 A.T. Coys, and 304 M.T. Units. The elephant for the first time was taken in the service and was found to be very useful in Burma. Bullocks were also utilized to provide transport in static areas. Other additions to the service were tank transporters, amphibians and water transport companies. There has also been a very great expansion in air supplies, which at one time was the main source of supply in Burma.

Predominantly Muslim units went to Pakistan, followed later by individual transfers. Close to two-thirds of all army personnel went to India. As a secular state, India accepted all armed forces personnel without regard to religious affiliation. The division of the navy was based on an estimation of each nation's maritime needs. A combination of religious affiliation and military need was applied to the small air force. As a result of partition, India also received about two-thirds of the matériel and stores. This aspect of the division of assets was complicated by the fact that all sixteen ordnance factories were located in India. India was allowed to retain them with the proviso that it would make a lump sum payment to Pakistan to enable it to develop its own defense production infrastructure.

Independence also resulted in a dramatic reduction of the number of experienced senior personnel available. The armed forces of India used to contain a very large British element but the government of new India decided to completely nationalize her armed forces. Only a small number of British officers, mostly in technical branches, were retained on contractual basis for a short period to fill the gap. In 1947 only six Indians had held brigade-level commands, and only one had commanded a division. British officers, out of necessity, were retained for varying periods of time after independence. British chiefs stayed on the longest in the navy and the air force. The navy had a British service chief until 1962 and the air force until 1954. The armed forces also integrated qualified members of the armies of the former princely states that acceded to India. The term sepoy, made popular during the colonial era, was dropped about this time, and the word jawan (Hindi for able-bodied man) has been used ever since when referring to the Indian soldier.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 19:23:46 ZULU