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Subhas Bose and the Battle of Kohima -A

K. Puroh

 

Japanese in Kohima

The Japanese had gathered sufficient forces around the corridor of India after they had swept the weakened British forces out of Burma in May 1942. General Kawabe, Commander of Burma Area Army had by then at his disposal Lieutenant General Mutaguchi, Commander of 15th Army at Maymyo, the main Headquarters; Lieutenant General Yanagida’s 33rd Division in the Arakan, and Yamauchi’s 15th Division and Sato’s 31st Division toward the South East of Manipur and South East of Nagaland. The Japanese Army that crossed Chindwin River under Yamauchi’s 15th Divisions and Sato’s 31st Division , heading to Manipur and Nagaland respectively, was comprised of “100,000 men , all trained , equipped and burning with a fanatical desire for a victory.” This was sometime around the 15th march 1944.

 

Lieutenant General Sato’s headquarters was located at Homalin, a town situated at the bank of Chindwin River, 75 miles as the crow flew or about 200 miles from Kohima on the Ground. He would be in Kohima within fifteen days time It was not mere chance that Sato hit the jeep track, built by British, running from Chindwin to Jessami and Kohima. Since December 1943, a Lieutenant Masa Nishida and a mixed party of Japanese troops and Indians( Nagas recruited by Keviyalley) had been operating in the country between the Chindwin and Kohima with orders to reconnoitre five routes for the 31st Division. All the men had been specially selected and trained at the Nakama School for espionage in Tokyo, and they accomplished their mission brilliantly, though not without some hair-raising escapes and adventures. The presence of Nagas with patrols apparently prelude intelligence reports from reaching D.C. Pawsey, in Kohima.

 

The plan was that, as they entered into Nagaland, the 31st Division ( with the 15th division of its left flank, Manipur ) should move in three columns. (1)The right-hand or northern column commanded by Colonel Torikai consisted of a battalion of the 138th Infantry Regiment, with the battery of the 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment, Engineers , signals, and medical attachments. It routes were:- Laruri, Meluri, Phek, Chazouba, Merema and Zubza. His orders were to stopped reinforcement from reaching Kohima. (2) The centre column consisted of an advanced guard of the 138th Infantry Regiment with a Battalion of 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment, followed by the main body under Sato consisted of the Divisional headquarters, the 124th infantry Regiment, a battalion of the 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment, with engineers, signals , a field hospital and a transport unit. It routes were:- Jessami, Chizami, Kikruma, Chakhabama and Kohima. His objective was Kohima. (3) The left hand or Southern column moved under the divisional second-in-command,Major General Miyazaki, and this included the 58th regiment and the remainder of the 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment. It routes were:-Ukhrul to Mao then turn north for Kohima, via Viswema. Miyazaki’s orders were also to blocked Kohima Imphal road , which he did it at 72 miles near Maram on 29th March.

 

The country facing Sato’s man was “some of the wildest and the toughest in the world ” .Vehicles ,even Jeeps, were out of the question and loads had to be carried on mules, oxen and elephants…. apart from the small arms, the regiments were to carry the infantry and anti-tank guns with upto 300 rounds of ammunition for each . There were also seventeen mountain guns to be carried by the ten elephants. The division had been allocated 3000 mules and 5000 oxen , the principal task of which was to carry ammunition and rations for the troops . Even so, every man had laden with as much rifle ammunition as it was thought he could carry, and food for three weeks,’Personal effects’, Sato had ordered, understandably ,’must be kept to the minimum.’

 

Amongst the above mentioned preparedness of the Japanese forces , it may be that there was few personnel from the intelligence and field propoganda units of the INA to propagate and spread the message of Liberation of India as seen in the following two occasions during Japanese entry into Nagaland and during the battle of Kohima . Firstly , it was at Jessami when the Assam Regiment gave a surprised attack on the advance guard of the 138th Regiment of Japanese troops on 28th match 1944. The next morning , 29th march , an appeal was made in English and Hindustani ;’O Indian Soldiers , stop fighting for the British and come and join us we are freeing your country from domination’ ;needless to say , there was no response to this invitation . Secondly, on the 7th night of April , at Kohima , the Japanese had brought another weapon into action , the Loudspeaker. It had been set up near the ‘Treasury Hill'(old civil secretariate, old Assembly Secretariate and present DC’s office area), and an Indian of the INA probably, came on, speaking in Urdu: ‘Hindustan Ki Jawan!’ he called ,’ “Soldiers of India , the Japanese army had surrounded you. Bring your rifle and come over to us. We are liberating India from the iniquities and tyrannies of British rule”. One most important strategy during the war is searching the enemy corpse or bunker for items of identification and collection of information about their movement, reinforcement , position , etc. In all these from Jessami to the 64 day battle of Kohima , not a trace of INA was found, particularly under northern and centre columns.

 

The two principle villages where the Japanese had its base and gave strategic support to the Battle of Kohima and Sato’s Headquarters at Chakhabama were Cheswezu and Kikruma. During that time, fortunately , the two and its neighbouring villages were economically very sound , so for the greater part of the Battle at Kohima , without much problem the Japanese needs were provided . But towards the fag end of the battle , as Sato has signalled to Major-General Tazoe, commander of the 5th Air Force Division on 27th May 1944, begging for assistance, “since leaving Chindwin we have not received one bullet from you, nor a grain of rice… please send us food by plane”, the hospitality of the villages got exhausted which compelled the Japanese to use force and in the process one villager of Kikruma was murdered while preventing them from looting the village. Meanwhile, Sato had decided to withdraw on the 30th May, and as the Japanese began to retreat , scouts from both the villages of Kikruma and Cheswezu were sent to Pawsey and through him they brought British forces and drove the Japanese out of their village . About 3000 perished, 4000 wounded at the Battle of Kohima and more died of starvation as they retreated. In order to avoid capture these men were usually forced to seek death at their own hands.

 

 

INA and Nagaland

India National Army (INA) was mostly composed of Indians who went to the war under the British and Allied Forces and who had languished in the jails of South and Southeast Asian Countries, as Prisoner of War (POW). Its main objective was to liberate India from the British imperialism, for which they accompanied the Japanese Forces as they advanced into India from Burma. Considering the overall composition and formation of the INA, they were not only to be engaged them in the front line of the Battle, but to be used mainly as the tools of political propaganda as they along with Japanese Forces entered in the mainland with an aim to liberate India ‘where the whole population will rise, tearing the British Raj to pieces’. Therefore , Subhas Bose sometime called the INA as men of “India’s Army of Liberation,” confidently predicting that revolt was simmering just beneath the surface and with one more British reverse nothing could stop it bursting into fury from Bombay to Calcutta, from Madras to Delhi. When Subhas Bose demanded to spearhead the advance, Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, Commander of Japanese forces in South East Asia told him that “a campaign into India was being prepared”.

 

The INA was divided into three divisions. The first division, some ten thousand soldiers were put under the Command of Mahammad Zainan kiani. It was divided into three regiments or brigades which Subhas Bose wanted them after Gandhi, Nehru and Azad, in deliberate effort to make common cause with the struggle at home. Most of these devisions were engaged in Chin hills and around Imphal. The INA selected the best soldiers from the three regiments and formed the No.1. Guerrilla Regiment. The regiment went into training under the command of Shah Nawaz Khan and sent to Burma in November 1943. The soldiers themselves called it the “Subhas Brigade “. By the middle of May 1944, this regiment followed the routes of Major General, Miyazaki ; Ukhrul , Mao, Viswema and supposed to have been hoisted the Indian tricolour at a mountain top near Kohima. On 14th May, at G.P.T. ridge (present AIR and above) there was one extraordinary incident that took place where the Royal Norfolk while searching from one of the bunkers, found five of their regimental cap badges which was issued during peace time. They believed that it had obviously been taken from their men of the Royal Norfolk captured at Singapore. “stories of the Japaneses treatment of Prisoners had already reached them; and they were more eager than ever to take their revenge.” But what was found in the incident was different because, a group of the INA were believed to be present in that area during that time , so they must have deliberately left those badges behind to apprised their former comrades that they were around. Apart from this incident,records available from Japanese, INA and the British does not indicate any direct confrontation between INA and the British Indian forces in and around Kohima Battle . Even while retreating mentioned was not made about INA as far as Nagaland is concerned.

 

 

Subhas Bose (1943-1944 June)

Subhas Chandra Bose left his comfortable life and joined the Indian Freedom Movement and became its tallest leader along with Gandhi and Nehru. However, as the Second World War dragged on and having seen the motive of the British not granting Freedom to India soon, he decided to abandoned the policy of non-violence and take up arms in the form of INA and joined hands with Japanese Forces against the Allied Forces in which India was a party being under the dominion of British Empire.

 

On July 4, 1943, at Cathay Theatre in Singapore, Subhas Bose accepted the leadership of the INA from Rashbehari Bose, and on the next day while addressing INA soldiers with full military uniform gave the battle cry of ‘Chalo Delhi ‘

 

After obtaining permission from the Axis power, on October 21, 1943, Subhas Bose proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind ( free India ) in Singapore.

 

On January 7, 1944, the advance headquarters of the provisional government were moved forward from Singapore to Rangoon.

 

On April 7, 1944, Subhas Bose moved a small advance headquarters north, from Rangoon to Maymyo, 25 miles east of Mandalay, 220 miles south east of Homalin and about 420 miles or 30 days walk from Kohima. This was the headquarters of Mutaguchi’s 15th Army. Having seen the development all the way from Singapore, Rangoon and Maymyo, on April 17th, The Time Magazine reported that ‘Bose was with the Japs around Imphal”. And indeed Imphal became their main objective after the failed campaign in Arakan and Chin Hills.

 

On April 16, 1944, “before crossing the frontiers” from Maymyo, he scribble a few lines to Bhramachari Kailasam of the Rama Khrishna mission in Singapore, saying that things were going “very well at the front” and that spirits were high”, once he did so , he was not sure when he would be able to communicate with Kailasam again. Besides the INA soldiers, personnel belonging to the Reconstruction Department (provisional government ) from Singapore and Rangoon had gone forward. “We shall be meeting them in free India ” Bose wrote optimistically.

 

Around that time, Yamauchi’s 15th Division and the INA forces were advancing towards Imphal; The Bahadur group of INA, commanded by Shaukat Ali Malik had fought extraordinarily well in the Bishempur sector, and hoisted the Indian tricolour in Moirang, a few miles short of Imphal. The Japanese hope the news of the fall of Imphal could be presented as a gift to Emperor, Hirohito, whose birthday fell on April 28, and Subhas Bose and the INA believed that there would be a “flood of defection” by British Indian soldiers of the 4 Corps at Imphal. So by that time of the year , April last part, and first part of May, Subhas Bose was believed to have been somewhere around Imphal, waiting for the fall of Imphal so that, he could address the nation directly from the soil of India over the Radio and become the ” non-violent soldiers of freedom inside the country, even though they fought with arms outside India”.

 

However, because of the direct intervention of the Admiral Mountbatten , Supreme Commander of Southeast Asia Command, the American organised a continuous airlift of supplies into Imphal through out the seige which delayed its fall, and subsequently the town was saved.

 

In the meantime, Bose had returned to Maymyo, and on May 21, 1944, shifted his small advanced headquarters back to Rangoon. Because from Maymyo, he was finding it increasingly difficult to get accurate news from the front. If Imphal would fall he could just as quickly fly in from Rangoon using his small aircraft, the Azad Hind.

 

On 29th May , Bose had a successful public meeting at Rangoon where enthusiastic Indians contributed nearly five million rupees in cash and kind to help the war effect. By first week of June, Bose made a flying visit to his rear headquarters in Singapore and returned to Rangoon only towards the end of June.

 

Considering the over all scenario at that point of time, April to May 1944, when the Battle of Kohima was at its peak and the Japanese forces were thrusting towards the Indian territory and the possibility of advancing beyond the boundaries of Manipur, Assam and Bengal, Subhas Bose was expected to be available anytime , anywhere , whenever the penetration is completed . Therefore, the Head of the Azad Hind provisional government and the Supreme Commander of the INA was not expected to be in a remote and vulnerable places like Kohima and it’s surrounding villages where there existed hardly any anti-British feeling, rather , by then, Kohima District of Assam and it’s people were very homely with the British government, particularly with its District administrator , C.R. Pawsey.

 

 

C.R.Pawsey, D.C. Kohima

The impeccable relationship that Charles R. Pawsey, the Deputy Commissioner of Kohima, developed with the Nagas since 1922 and the part played by him both directly through his courage and indirectly through his influence on the Nagas, during the war was an important one . The Nagas were his children and they regarded him as their father. They trusted him completely; they knew that in no circumstance whatsoever would his word be broken; he after all conversed with them comfortably in their tongue . When the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942/43, and the Nagas found themselves in the front line , they looked to Pawsey for their salvation , knew that he would fight for them to the limit of his power . So when Japan’s thrust against Kohima began , the Nagas remained loyal to the British cause, despite the loss of their homes and territory, despite danger and death and consistently kept him informed about the movement and activities of the Japanese through out the Battle of Kohima and after . In fact it was the information he first recieved from his Nagas and passed it to the Allied Forces that the whole Division was advancing towards Kohima .

 

After the war, Pawsey, the D.C visited all the villages particularly the affected villages and recorded in detail the damages caused by the war in his official Tour Diary of the Deputy Commissioner. However, in the entire official Tour Diary till 1947, no mentioned has been made nor referred about the INA, particularly, the presence of Subhas Bose anywhere under his entire jurisdictions during the Battle of Kohima.

 

The government of Nagaland should therefore, refrain from walking the wrong side of historical facts as far as Subhas Bose’s coming to Nagaland during the Battle of Kohima is concerned and unless historical evidence to the contrary of my claim is offered, it stands undisputed that Subhas Bose never set foot in Nagaland. It is also expected that the goverment of the day functions properly with all sincerity and seriousness while laying the foundation of future generation basing on the right perspective of our history.

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