India's Divided Loyalties?

Peter Heehs looks at the Indian army who threw in their lot against the Raj and with the Japanese in the Second World War.

The fall of Singapore was one of the greatest disasters ever suffered by the British armed forces. Left unprotected by the destruction of the American fleet in Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the warships Prince of Wales and Repulse, the garrison waited helplessly as the Japanese army swept down the Malay peninsula. The siege began on February 8th, 1942, and was over a week later. 85,000 men, what was left of the British, British-Indian, and Australian forces, surrendered to the invader.

Not all the defeated soldiers had to spend the next three years in Japanese prison camps. Of the 60,000 Indians that surrendered, 25,000 chose to go over to the enemy. They became the core of the Indian National Army (INA), which two years later took part in the Japanese invasion of India. In that campaign INA soldiers faced their own. countrymen, members of General William Slim's mostly Indian 14th Army, which crushed them and the Japanese army they served, greatly hastening the end of the war. In May 1945 Rangoon was retaken by an lndian division; the same month the ragtag remains of the INA laid down their arms.

Soldiers are sworn to serve their country in peace and war. But to what country did the Indians who surrendered in Singapore owe their loyalty? To Imperial Britain, or to an India that was engaged in a struggle for independence? After the war, arrested members of the Indian National Army were classed as 'white', 'black', or 'grey' according to the perceived innocence or culpability of their motives. Most were considered grey. However much wartime publicists, and even some historians, view complex issues in monochromatic terms, little in warfare is really black-and-white.

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