On December 7, 1941 all the world knows what a rude awakening it and the people of the United States, a major world power caught napping amidst the peaceful leis and alohas of that Pacific paradise, had when it’s naval bastion, Pearl Harbor on the island of Hawaii, was attacked and destroyed by a large clandestine Japanese naval force. In one fell and dastardly stroke Imperial Nippon became the masters of some 2 million square miles of oceanic territory reaching from the Aleutian Island territory of the U.S. in the North Pacific to Australia and New Zealand in the South Pacific; and from the western shores of North and South America to the islands fronting the Asian land mass. The Pacific Ocean had, indeed, become Japan’s Lake. It took the Japanese Navy just one-hour and forty-five minutes to accomplish this! Possibly, never in the annals of military history of mankind was so much territory taken in so little time by such a small country, in such a hideous way. Imperial Nippon was, indeed, the mouse that roared. It was also now Master of the Eastern Seas.
Tucked away at the extreme western edges of this newly acquired territory was the British naval bastion of Singapore, a cul de sac of a tapering Malaysian isthmus pointing directly into the seas of newly acquired Japanese sea power with monstrous 15 inch land-based guns, and an army of some 134,000 British, Indian and Australian troops to back up Imperial Britannica,on whose shores ‘the sun never sets’.
In short order, and in masterly conceived and accomplished open warfare, the Japanese neutralized the Dutch and British forces on Sumatra and Java, and accepted the capitulation of Siam, present day Thailand. With the neutralization of the Sumatran and Andaman Seas and Siam came the occupation, in days, of the entire western Tenasserim straits of British Burma north of Singapore, the huge British Army situated there found itself surrounded. But this did not faze the British Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell who insisted (like his bulldog Prime Minister Churchill) that Great Britain’s fighting ability and the honor of the British Empire was at stake in its defense. My Father seconded Wavell, who was his hero. “We’ll blast them out of the Straits (of Malacca) and send them piling back to their island homes!” The War with Imperial Nippon, he believed, would end in February 1942, and so we did not have to try to escape by sea to Madras, India like many Brits, Indians and Eurasians did.
Instead of a naval attack on Singapore which would place a large naval force at the mercy of Britain’s monstrous land based guns, the Japanese, adept at the clandestine and the strategy of surprise, simply slung their rifles and machine guns on their small military bicycles and pedaled south from Siamese bases down jungle trails and paths, and attacked the Brits from the north, the latter’s naval guns, geared only for a sea attack, were useless since they were not pinion-based and so could not turn their sights on the land based enemy to the north. With a slight whimper of resistance the British, completely surrounded with no escape routes by sea or land, waved the white flag of surrender on February 15, 1942. That defeat of British imperial arms has been claimed to be the largest defeat of a British Army throughout that island nation’s history. Indeed, it was the biggest victory by one island empire, Nippon, against another island empire, Great Britain. "In all the war I never received a more direct shock," wrote Churchill. "Over all this vast expanse of water Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked. The mastery of the Pacific has passed into Japanese hands and the strategic balance of the world was, for the time being, fundamentally changed."
Given this circumstance one would have hoped that the victor would have been benevolent in its total triumph, if only to gain the respect and cooperation of the nations of Asia to become a part of its much touted Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Alas, that was not to be the case. Instead, a deep seated racial superiority of the Nipponese militaristic clans, but not the general populace, that they were divinely generated by the gods and, therefore, all others were inferior, was reinforced by the fact that they had apparently not lost a single sea battle in some 300 years, and the totality of their present successes throughout southeast Asia, just as the Nazi minions felt a similar superiority and power to ransack the continent of Europe of its “inferior” denizens.
At that time, alas for them, Japan had not faced the ferocity of the American Bald Eagle which they taunted to leave its isolated high craggy nest... nor the Indian Bengal Tiger which awaited them in the steaming jungles of Kohima and Imphal.
It has been claimed by some that the occupying force had only disdain for the captured Allied troops since, according to their militaristic “bushido” tradition of warfare, they considered surrender to an enemy a horrific dishonor not only to the individual sakutai or soldier but also to his family and country. Death was the only option left to a warrior in a lost engagement, not surrender. Instead, the Japanese occupation forces ran amuck after it first placed that huge captive armed force in a POW concentration camp called “Changi.” It then went to work, in all its warrior valor, on a war of vengeance against the poor Chinese civilian population by transporting men, women and children in trucks by the thousands and killing them on the beaches…
It so happened that about this time an Indian freedom fighter, Subhas Chandra Bose, decided to use a confrontational diktat against the British occupation of India, instead of the non-violent, non-cooperation peaceful philosophy of Ahimsa as propounded by Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru, and followed by the majority of Indians which thankfully succeeded, while his (Bose's) failed. Thinking it an appropriate time to align his movement for Indian independence for maximum support, Bose aligned it with Imperial Nippon, an Axis power, and with the active support of the Germans. As far as I am aware, Bose never acceded to the Nazi or the fascist philosophy of his allies, but writings of his have been cited as having a bent for the authoritarian governments of Soviet Russia. Instead, it was more of a case of: the enemies of my enemy Great Britain, are my friends. The Japanese seeing Bose, a Bengali nationalist stalwart, as a free pass into the Indian province of Bengal which bordered the western mountains of British Burma, played along by accepting his proposal to use the captured British Indian troops in Singapore to help them secure entry into the Indian sub-continent, and so formed the Indian National Army under their aegis and his command.
They could now release the large Indian troop component from the camps and concentrate on the European Brits, Dutch and Aussies, as well as the American soldiers captured in Java and Sumatra and sailors captured when the USS Houston, the American flagship of the South Asiatic Fleet, was sunk by them with a loss of a thousand men. These prisoners were herded into ships and trains and transported, along with over one hundred thousand local Burmese and Indian enslaved laborers, to a place in Siam at which the Siamese Death Railway into Burma was planned with engineering ingenuity and inhumane detail.
Therefore, in one brilliant political ploy Bose extricated some tens of thousands of Indian troops in Singapore to, ( according to their marching song: 'Delhi Chullo') to ‘march to Delhi’, but was unable to persuade a few thousand of their compadres who refused to bear arms against their fellow ganapats (soldiers) in the British Indian Army. These too, unknown to the world, would be enslaved in Japanese held island redoubts such a Rabaul, in circumstances as brutish as any which would play out on Siam’s Death Railway on the River Menam Kwae-noi.
They too would prove the spunk and valor of Indian men of arms by their resistance even to death by sword beheadings by their Nippon masters.
Thus the lines would be drawn for some 40,000 Indian troops of the Indian National Army, backed by an increasing number of rested and fully armed Japanese divisions, to meet the newly formed Indian Army on the Indo-Burmese border. What was probably never appreciated by Bose, or the non-cooperation tactics of the other Indian leaders, that fully three million Indian men would flock to the services and constitute the largest volunteer army the world had seen in that war to prevent all wars, by the bravest of it's generations.
Copyright 2008 by Joseph Alwyn Valu. All Rights Reserved.