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The defeat was all the more disgraceful since General Yamashita’s attack was an audacious bluff – his forces were 30,000 and out of ammunition, while 85,000 British and Commonwealth troops surrendered. Percival agreed to station 1000 British troops in the town centre to keep order while the Japanese took over. Elsewhere it was the Allied troops own discipline that broke down, as they looted and rioted, turned their guns on their officers and fought over the few places on boats out. British reports blamed the Australian troops for the ‘bestial’ behaviour and breakdown in order. Australian General Gordon Bennett who escaped to Sydney defended himself against charges of desertion, in a number of trials, so that his name became slang for an unlikely escape.20 The British troops abandoned their allies among Malays and Chinese, forcing them off the boats leaving Singapore. ‘I will never help the British again’ vowed local Kuomintang leader Lim Bo Seng. Under the light of the invasion the British Empire’s white supremacy was thrown into relief.21 The officials in charge of the evacuation of Burma got the white Europeans out before the other for the darker races, Indians, Anglo-Indians and Burmese.
The non-whites were held back in transit camps while transport for the whites was sorted out. The two races were marched along separate routes, a ‘white road’ and a ‘black road’ – though the Europeans did have Naga tribesmen to act as coolies. Without supplies, medicine or much in the way of transport, thousands of the less favoured died of hunger and disease. Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress went to meet the refugees as they finally arrived in Assam, and told the world about the colour bar operating in the British evacuation.22
According F.C. Jones of the Royal Institute of International Affairs:
The Japanese ensured that the old order of Western political domination could never return. But they did more than this. They attacked not only Western rule in Asia, but the whole Occidental way of life.23 In the ruins of Singapore, the Japanese army set about sorting through the Chinese that the British had left behind. They were screened and thousands were killed in the ‘cleansing’ of the Sook Ching, between 18 February and 4 March 1942. At the post war trials of the Japanese the numbers killed were put at 5000, though Singapore’s Chinese leaders put the number far higher – as high as 50,000. The Japanese military saw the Chinese in East Asia as hostile – but they did not see everyone that way.
The Indian National Army
Of the surrendered Commonwealth troops most, 50,000, were from the British-Indian Army. On 17 February they were corralled into the Farrer Park Race Course, expecting the worst. An Indian officer translated Major Fujiwara’s address, which opened with the words ‘Beloved Indian soldiers!’ As Fujiwara promised to back Indian independence, the troops broke out into wild cheers.
We hope you will join the Indian National Army. The Japanese Army will not treat you as prisoners, but as friends. We will recognise your struggle for freedom and give you all-out assistance.24 On that day more than half of those Indian troops – 42,000 of them according to one count – who had until then been under British command, joined the Indian National Army.
The Indian National Army had been formed by Captain Mohan Singh on 1 January
1942. Taken prisoner at Alor Star in December 1941, Singh was made the officer commanding by a wounded Lieutenant Colonel Fitzpatrick. Singh agreed to help the Japanese restore order after Indians and Malays had attacked Chinese shops, for which he came to the attention of Major Fujiwara. Fujiwara introduced him to Lt. General Yamashita of the 25th Army, and they agreed to form an Indian Army fighting against the British, alongside the Japanese. Two companies of the Indian National Army, under Captain Allah Ditta, joined the battle to take Singapore. With the recruitment of the surrendered British-Indian army at Singapore, the Indian National Army had become a real force. The large expatriate Indian communities in East Asia sent delegates to a conference in Tokyo on 28 March 1942, led by the exiled nationalist and Japanophile Resh Behari Bose, which announced the formation of an Indian Independence League. ‘Without the liberation of India’, Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō told the Japanese Diet, ‘there can be no real mutual prosperity in Greater East Asia’. Another conference in June gathered enthusiastic support from the Indian diaspora in East Asia. Chairman Rash Behari Bose warned ‘the octopus grip of the Anglo-Saxon imperialism in the east must be destroyed, root and branch’.25 As we shall see, in India proper, the Indian National Congress was harshly suppressed by the British, and though its leaders were unhappy with the pro-Japanese INA and IIL they were in no position to stop it.
Over time, the Indian National Army under Mohan Singh began to feel that it was being used. Singh and other officers were overheard complaining, and the Japanese arrested them. Without Singh at its head, the INA more or less collapsed. But the army got a second lease of life with the arrival of the radical Congress leader Subhas Chandra Bose in Tokyo on 2 May 1943. Bose had been elected the chairman of the Indian National Congress in 1938, but broke with Gandhi calling for a more confrontational policy. Bose left India to escape his trial for sedition set for 26 January 1941. In Europe he sought help from the Axis leaders, though both Ribbentrop and Ciano refused to back an Indian nationalist challenge to the British Empire (Goebbels on the other hand, helped Bose set up the Azad Hind Radio). Seeing the damage Japan was doing to the British Empire in the east, Bose argued hard with his German sponsors to be allowed to leave. In June 1943 he talked a now sceptical Tōjō around once again to the appeal of an Indian independence movement.
Arriving in Singapore on 2 July 1943, Bose was garlanded by the Indian diaspora, who gathered up their small funds of money, family gold and jewellery into a great fund for the reborn INA. Taking over from Rash Behari Bose’s Indian Independence League, Subhas Chandra Bose announced a Provisional Indian Government – Azad Hind – founded on 4 July. Bose had got Tōjō’s promise that Japan would give ‘unconditional help to the Indian Independence movement’ – which cause he pledged himself to once more in the Japanese Diet on 16 June 1943. ‘We shall have to be awake and alive, on our guard, not only against the enemy British imperialism’ Bose told a journalist, but also ‘against imperialistically inclined Japanese bureaucrats’.26 Among Bose’s troops were a women’s regiment, 1000strong, led by Dr Lakshmi Swaminathan, and named after the Rani of Jhansi. Under the slogans ‘To Delhi!’ and ‘Jai Hind’, Subhas Chandra Bose rallied the INA. His hope was that once the INA attacked British positions on Indian soil ‘a revolution will break out not only among the civil population at home, but among the Indian Army which is now standing under the British flag’.27 Nor were these hopes fanciful as Britain’s dictatorship over India began to sway and captured troops deserted to the INA. Ian Stephens, editor of the Calcutta Statesman thought that all Bose would have to do was to parachute into Bengal and 90 per cent of the population would rise up and follow him.28 On 29 December 1943, the Japanese handed over offices on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal that they had captured the previous March to the Provisional Government, so that Bose could rule over liberated Indian territory.
Subhas Chandra Bose
The Indian National Army went on to fight in the pivotal battle of the war in the Far East, at Imphal in 1944, alongside the Japanese Army, with the aim of capturing territory in northeastern India, and in June of that year the Shah Nawaz Regiment did get to the South of Kohima, crossing the border into Assam on 6 April 1944, though they were forced back shortly afterwards. Tensions between the Japanese and the INA ran high as Shah Nawaz thought that he was being denied a full combat role. No doubt that was true, but there were also commanders who believed in the INA’s mission, like Lt. General Masakazu Kawabe, who looked on the approaching defeat with despair.
So long as there remains any step to take we must persevere. The fate of both Japan and India depends on this operation. I said to myself that I would commit double suicide with Bose.29 At Imphal the INA casualties were 20,000 of a force of 40,000, and 1500 were captured.
Tōjō ordered the retreat on 8 July 1944, and the course of the Indian National Army in the field was from that point on one of retreat. Later, though, the INA would play a pivotal role in the political struggle for India’s freedom.
As an American dependency, and one that had been promised self-government, the Philippines were less open to Japanese appeals to revolt. But nor was the recently-elected ruling council that committed to becoming part of America’s Pacific War.
When President Manuel Quezon made US General Douglas MacArthur Field Marshall and founder of the Philippine Army, he was giving a nod to the country’s sponsor: thirty-five years before MacArthur’s father had been Governor General. The outgoing Governor General Frank Murphy warned that under General Douglas MacArthur the country was being ‘militarised’ and with the US sanctions making war likely, the Japanese saw the Philippines as a dagger to their throats.30 In 1941, Roosevelt had the Philippine Army once more placed under formal US command, though MacArthur had an independence that grated Washington. In the event, MacArthur’s battle plan to confront any Japanese invasion force on the beach were hopelessly out-dated, and the Japanese destroyed the entire US air force in the Philippines as they lay idle at Clark Air Base and the Cavite Naval Base south of Manila. ‘I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground’, said General George C. Marshall.31 Roosevelt promised back-up, cabling to Quezon that ‘Every vessel available is bearing … the strength that will eventually crush the enemy,’ but those promises were empty.
‘ROOSEVELT REASSURES THE GALLANT FILIPINOS’ headlined the New York Times.
The US – British Joint Basic War Plan ‘Rainbow Five’, adopted by Roosevelt’s Army-Navy Joint Board set out the goals of concentrating all resources against Germany and Italy (‘Europe First’). ‘Strategy in the Far East will be defensive’ because ‘the United States does not intend to add to its present military strength’ there.32 As the truth sank in that there was no help coming President Quezon tried to pull out of the war: ‘We must try to save ourselves and to hell with America’, he told Carlos Romulo: ‘the fight between the United State and Japan is not our fight’. MacArthur cabled the State Department that ‘the temper of the Filipinos is one of almost violent resentment against the United States’. War Secretary Henry Stimson, Army Chief George Marshall and Roosevelt looked over Quezon’s plea for neutrality and refused it on the grounds – finally admitted – that the Philippines was not an independent country but a possession of the United States. Marshall said that the key question was moral: ‘it was a part of the necessary tragedy of war that this moral issue must be met by a command to other men to die’. MacArthur was told to prepare his forces to hold out as long ‘as humanly possible’.33 The United States Armed Forces in the Far East retreated along the Bataan Peninsula.
They left Manila after destroying ten million gallons of gasoline and tons of food that they did not have the means to take with them. Their equipment was poor, without helmets, and with canvas shoes – ‘there was no Philippine army to speak of’ Eisenhower, then MacArthur’s second-in-command, admitted on the eve of the war. Food stocks in Bataan were twenty days’ worth of rice and forty of meat and fish. All the troops were put on half rations. Filipino and American troops (of whom there were 20,000) in the US Army Force Far East (USAFFE) forces were used to being treated differently – the Americans were paid $30 a month, a Filipino $7. In Bataan, the American troops were mostly held in reserve while the Filipinos were on the front line. On capture, the differences in nutrition told: of 50,000 interned by the Japanese more than half, 26,000 died, while of 9000 Americans one sixth died. According to MacArthur’s press releases the USAFFE was ‘greatly outnumbered’, but in fact there were 50,000 Japanese troops on Bataan and 70,000 USAFFE.34 Hiding in the underground tunnels in the Island of Corrigedor MacArthur was called ‘Dugout Doug’ by his troops.
As defeat loomed, MacArthur left, issuing the statement, ‘I shall return’. The Office of War Information wanted it to read ‘We shall return’, but MacArthur got his way and it became a key slogan in Pacific War propaganda, and in the MacArthur cult. Quezon awarded MacArthur an honorarium of half a million dollars and a promise of his old job back after the war.35 In Sydney MacArthur received a telegram from the officer he left in charge, MajorGeneral Jonathan Wainwright, ‘tell Quezon and MacArthur we have done our best’, asking permission to surrender. MacArthur cabled back that he should prepare an attack with the last of his starving men. To Washington MacArthur cabled ‘it is of course possible that with my departure the vigor of application of conservation may have been relaxed’.36 The Japanese had no trouble finding willing collaborators among the Filipino elite. With Attorney General José Laurel at its head, the new government was ‘led by the capital’s prewar elite – the General’s friends and Quezon’s colleagues’. At first MacArthur was outraged saying that on return ‘it shall be my firm purpose to run to ground every disloyal Filipino who has debased his country’s cause’. Over time, though, Quezon nagged and pleaded with MacArthur to sympathise with the collaborators who were ‘virtually prisoners of the enemy’.
While Harold Ickes kept up the pressure for punitive action, MacArthur changed his tune insisting that there was ‘no prima facie case of treason’ where a man had accepted duties under the Japanese.37