Saturday, October 30, 2010

‘FREIES INDIEN LEGION’ – Reminiscences of a Secret Indian Army in the Nazi Germany.

The ‘Indian National Army’ or ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ formed under the brilliant vision of the great Indian hero ‘Netaji’ Subhash Chandra Bose is emphatically remembered throughout India for its prominent role in providing the organized external armed resistance to free India from the evil clutches of the British Empire. This Indian army formed with the active help of Japan amazed everyone with achieving unattainable feats of glory and valor on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. However the very same India has been totally oblivious for decades about the existence of an another Indian Army formed by ‘Netaji’ in Nazi Germany for initiating an armed struggle for Indian independence from the western front of the war.

Freies Indien Legion inspected by the Nazi German War Staff.

This army known as the ‘Freies Indien Legion’ occupies a significant place in Second World War, as it became a symbol for India’s firm resolve to fight against its imperial captors for which they were even willing to fight under the camp of the Axis powers. It also acted as a precursor to the subsequent formation of the ‘Indian National Army’ on a much larger scale later on. So let us draw attention to how this enthralling story unfolds from the vault of history which not only tells about the birth of this army but also explores the deep connection which the Axis Powers under the leadership of Adolf Hitler had in this external struggle for Indian Independence.

The dawn of Second World War brought a big dilemma in front of the Indian leadership in British India. They had to choose whether they should lend support to the Reining Champions (the Allied Powers) such as – USA, Britain, France, Canada etc or to support their Formidable Challengers (the Axis Powers) such as – Germany, Italy and Japan in this ultimate bout which was prized for the world domination.

The British Government in the capacity of being the Imperial master took a unilateral decision to embroil its colony India into the war on its side without even consulting the Indians about it. The main political party ‘Indian National Congress’ immediately reacted by making loud protests for being sidelined on this issue however they later on agreed to support the decision subject to certain conditions out of which the question of resolving India’s Independence was the most important one.

Happier Times: Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi along with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose at a Congress Rally.

Despite this stand of Congress the public was still outraged for being forcibly made to fight for their enslavers against those nations with whom India never had any sort of enmity in the past. ‘Netaji’ Subhash Chandra Bose who broke away from the Congress recently and whose popularity rivaled that of Mr. Gandhi by then understood this public sentiment and saw a solution emerging within this crisis which could help in India’s quest for freedom from the British Empire. He very well understood that the British would eventually break their promise and would never undertake a sincere effort to resolve India’s aspirations for freedom just like they did after the First World War. Thus supporting Britain and their allies in the war would eventually yield no benefit at all to the Indian cause.

He also saw that the might of British Empire was so great that mere peaceful and non-violent ways wouldn’t suffice in throwing off a determined colonial power from the country unless the very power centre of that very empire which was Great Britain itself is totally destabilized. Therefore the wisdom for doing so lied in the fact that if India diplomatically treats Britain’s enemies like Germany and Russia as its friends then may be the fall of British Empire along with the subsequent achievement of the freedom of India could be clinically engineered.

In view of this fact ‘Netaji’ immediately spoke against India’s participation in war for which he was soon arrested in Calcutta. However being an expert fugitive he escaped from detention and reached Afghanistan in order to establish contact with the Russian and German authorities over there. After that he proceeded to Russia where he saw that the Communist authorities were not very interested in helping for the Indian cause. This disappointment led him to go to Germany for soliciting the support of Axis Powers in resolving the question of Indian Independence. Germans who were looking for mustering diplomatic support for their war welcomed ‘Netaji’ on a highly positive note which was also seen in the cooperative attitude of their allies Italy & Japan.

The German foreign minister Ribbentrop assured ‘Netaji’ of Nazi Germany’s help in founding the entire organized structure of Indian resistance against the British right from the scratch. This included all possible help in terms of finance, men, materials, place of operations, knowledge, infrastructure etc. Thus the Indian resistance movement began to build swiftly with the active support of the Nazis and very soon all the members of Axis Powers officially recognized India as an Independent Nation.

As the Indian Resistance movement was growing from strength to strength in terms of arousing the national sentiment all across the globe via their propaganda machinery, a sound military strategy was being developed for building a strong armed force for liberating India. The idea was to prepare two liberation forces, one in the west and other in the east who can jointly storm British India and liberate it from the chains of slavery. The efforts to develop such an army in form of ‘Freies Indien Legion’ began primarily in Germany under the direct supervision of ‘Netaji’ himself.

However the proposition was not that simple, the first problem was procurement of trained soldiers for the struggle. This was resolved as the Indian POWs taken by the Wehrmacht (German Army) during the battles in Africa were deported back to Germany for their induction into the ‘Freies Indien Legion’. The Officers of SS (Germany’s Main Security Units) as well as their Propaganda Ministry worked in close efforts with their Indian counterparts in winning over the loyalty of these POWs to the cause of India’s liberation. The result was that majority of the POWs agreed to enlist in the liberation army.

It was agreed that the Indian soldiers and officers would be treated at par with their German counterparts. They will not only receive the best German weapons to handle but they would also be trained in the most modern ways of German armed combat that had become the hallmark of the Germany’s tremendous success in the beginning of Second World War.          

The main effort towards this worthy cause was taking place in the city of Konigsbruck, where the official uniforms were issued to the soldiers along with the most updated weapons. The uniform had a blend of both German militarism as well as Indian nationalism. The German ‘Fledgrau’ uniforms were issued with the badges of ‘Azad Hind’ Flag (comprising of Indian tricolors with a Tiger leaping in the centre). Finally on the 26th August 1942 the ‘Freies Indien Legion’ took its formal oath as an integral unit of the German army under the joint leadership of both ‘Netaji’ Subhash Chandra Bose and Adolf Hitler.

‘Netaji’ then envisaged organization of ‘Freies Indien Legion’ on the German Army pattern (Inspired by the concept of one paramount national identity proclaimed by National Socialism i.e. ‘Nazism’) of having a single unified army with the national identity being supreme. The British Army pattern of categorizing an army on the basis of cultural, regional and traditional aspects was done away with. This little army began to grow swiftly in numbers as new Indian expatriates joined it and soon it formed the size of a standard German Regiment which was soon motorized as well as armed with heavy weapons.

Meanwhile taking inspiration and learning from the military organization efforts of ‘Freies Indien Legion’, a similar sort of effort took place in the Japanese held regions of the South East Asian regions for forming the second army meant for fighting on the Eastern Front. ‘Netaji’ had always visualized that the ‘Freies Indien Legion’ supported by the armed units of German Wehrmacht would enter India through Persia (Iran) and the Russians being a party to the non-aggression pact with Germany would allow them to carry out simultaneous assaults from the Russian boundaries touching the British Empire of India.

However the fate had chosen things to happen differently as Germany suddenly declared war on Soviet Union on June1941 amidst scaling tensions and its fierce Operation Barbarossa began to sweep the Russian country like a ravaging tornado. At that time a daring military operation was conceived wherein on January 1942 one hundred Indian paratroopers of the ‘Legion’ were dropped in Eastern Iran. The Operation was code named “Bajadere” and its objective was to infiltrate into India via Baluchistan for orchestrating sabotage operations against the British in preparation of an anticipated national revolt which was to be subsequently instigated. However German slowdown in Russia during the war affected the success of the operation drastically.

The plans of ‘Netaji’ now began to turn on their head owing to this relentless German War on Soviet Union. Desperate to see his plans going awry due to the circumstantial changes ‘Netaji’ sought permission to meet Adolf Hitler for discussing the future course of action. These two colossal personalities soon met where both of them tried to test the mettle of each other. ‘Netaji’ aptly raised objections about Hitler’s endorsements of British rule over India in his book Mein Kampf .Hitler expressed the reason behind his view to be the non serious efforts of Indian Congress leadership in the use of nonviolent means and peaceful processes which as yet of now had proven feeble in their objective to drive a determined enslaver out of their country.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose  leader of the Government of India in exile meets the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler.

Hitler proposed that in case of German victory over Soviet Union he would personally march along with ‘Netaji’ (indicating his full support) from the Caucasus mountain ranges into the frontiers of British India. However since ‘Netaji’ wanted to take immediate action he proposed to transfer him from Germany to Japan via U-Boat (Submarine) in order to let him assume the control of the Indian National Army which was prepared on a much larger scale in Singapore. Thus in view of the situation wherein the Japanese forces were beckoning the Indian frontiers and the German forces being still far away from there, ‘Netaji’s’ attention drastically shifted from the Western Front to the Eastern Front of war.

However before his departure ‘Netaji’ was concerned that the ‘Freies Indien Legion’ doesn’t becomes a sacrificial pawn regiment in the grand plans of German War Effort. He took promise from the Nazi German authorities to prevent any sort of misuse of the Legion and what facts in historical records tells us is that the promise indeed was kept honorably by Germany.

The account of Indian Soldiers of the Free Indian Legion shows that they were treated much better by the Nazi German officers as compared to the British Officers in their former employment. This comes as a major surprise considering the image of racial biasness which was the normal perception of the world towards the Nazi German Army.

The Famous German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel meeting the Indian soldiers of the Freies Indien Legion

The ‘Legion’ was always kept away from any sort of German mission involving armed combat. However when the Western front of Europe was anticipating an Allied invasion the ‘Legion’ was indeed asked to perform light duties in the formation of obstacles along the coastal lines in order to build the grand fortification known popularly as the “Great Atlantic Wall. Besides there were reports suggesting minor armed skirmishes involving the soldiers of Legion when the Allied invasion took place in France. When a gallant officer Lieutenant Ali Khan was martyred he was buried with full military honors by the German Waffen SS who had now undertaken the operational command of the Legion from the Wehrmacht.

The members of the ‘Legion’ then had to retreat as the Allied forces heavily outnumbering the German forces were advancing from everywhere. The German counterattacks and their subsequent victory in Arnhem (Operation Market Garden) gave the retreating columns including the members of legion ample time to seek sanctuary within the boundaries of Germany. However when Germany began to be surrounded by the joint forces of Americans, British ,Soviets etc the remaining soldiers of the ‘Legion’ decided to cross borders and move to the neutral nation Switzerland in order to escape persecution at the hand of the vengeful Allied forces.

However on their route for escaping via Alps passes they were captured by the Allied forces. It was alleged that many of the captured Indian soldiers were killed in cold blood by the French soldiers. The other remaining soldiers along with their senior personnel were then sent to British India to face the famous Red Fort trial that became a huge national rallying point for the masses to come in full support of these soldiers cause to liberate India.

By then the efforts of ‘Freies Indien Legion’ and ‘Indian National Army’ began to cast its spell on the British. These brave soldiers of both the national liberation armies openly expressed their gladness for what they had done and they expressed not even an ounce of remorse or guilt. Seeing this the Indian soldiers of the British colonial army began to get involved in acts of sporadic mutiny and the mood of the already desperate Indian people began to slowly drift from Gandhi’s Non-violence to ‘Netaji’s’ call for use of Force to throw out the British.

Great Britain which lay vehemently annihilated in the process of its epic struggle with Nazi Germany began to see that it was not any more feasible to sustain such a huge global empire. The severely battered armed forces and its devastated economy were in no point to amend the situation. The British feared that the amount of radicalization which ‘Netaji’s’ forces had invigorated into the Indian masses may eventually spiral out into a violent war which would not only result in slaughter of British citizens over there but also bring humiliation of a subsequent defeat. Thus they realized that the political wisdom lied in peacefully giving the freedom to India and ensuring a graceful departure from the country.

Hence the role of ‘Freies Indien Legion’ and ‘Indian National Army’ is of pivotal importance as their painstaking efforts brought in the much required antidote of Fear Psychosis into the war torn British Imperial mindset which ultimately led to India becoming an independent nation. Despite such an unparallel contribution towards the goal of Indian independence although the efforts of the latter army has been acknowledged but the sacrifice of ‘Freies Indien Legion’ still waits for its due place in the National History of modern India. 

© 2010 Neelabh Chaturvedi. All Rights Reserved.

[ NOTE : The objective of this article is to tell about the History of India's Struggle for Independence and NOT to further the views of any other political ideology concerned. Please don't unnecessarily equate the expression of Indian Nationalism with that of White Racism. Please learn to see it in the Spirit of the Study of History at least. ]


  1. Thanks a lot Sir for your appreciation :-)

  2. Well i have always been fascinated by this great man. Had absolutely no idea that he even approached the Germans. Well written.
    Btw there are many theories surrounding Netaji demise. Can you shed some light on that as well.
    I read somewhere that the documents related to that is a highly classified which the Govt of India is reluctant to disclose.

  3. Hi Siddharth thanks a lot for your Query and Appreciation for my article. Really Netaji's life is a legend in itself that has been surrounded with mysteries.

    As far as his demise is concerned there has been modest documentation done to show that he did died in the air-crash.However there has been in the past many new revealing evidences that have negated this view outrightedly.

    What I can say is that the Mukherjee Commission report has trounced the entire story build up around Netaji's death and this has raised the question that if Netaji didn't died in the plane crash then what became of him later on. Why has there has been lack of effort on India's part to unravel the truth of our hero's death.

  4. So Siddharth I would say that the blog of "The Iron Will" has taken your query into consideration and after a throrough research on the subject I would post another article dealing specially with Netaji's Demise and the mystery around it. Please join the following of blog if you haven't so that you can be readily in touch with your answers as soon as we post them over here. :-)

  5. Thanks for sharing this article Neelabh. It reminds us of how great Neta Ji was and it also reminds us that how this nation has almost forgotten such a great personality..

  6. Hey thanks a ton Piyush for your compliments.....really words such as these are in true sense the real incentive for me to keep on writing such articles and simultaneously to keep on improvising the quality within it.

    Yes I also do think just like Sardar Patel , our beloved national hero 'Netaji' have not been accorded their right place in our history.

  7. I am still waiting for the blog to be updated!

  8. Dear Brother Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose did a wonderful job. Even today he inspires the Indian Youth. No one has doubts including Gandhi on Netaji's patriotism. We were in the rule of British Imperialism for a period c1600 - 1947 ((* British Rule in India (c.1600-1947)). Hitler declared umteen number of times in his speeches that 'Germans means rulers and only Germans can rule the world. German ruler Adolf Hitler's in human cruel thinking, on the name of Nazism, is as dangerous as British Rule. Nothing less nothing more. Because of Adolf Hitler Germany touched hes high spirits and because of him only Germany gone to darkest states. - Dr Gautham Kashyap