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The Synthesizing Role of The I.N.A. Martyrs' Memorial: Moirang & The Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph: Lotpaching (Red Hill)

Manindra Singh Mairembam

5. Last Bid In the 'Imphal Campaign':

Reverting to the Imphal campaign, the spiritually undaunted Japanese were still not prepared to call off the campaign even in the following months to come. This became clear when Major General Tanaka took charge from Lt General Yanagida in June 1944 of the 33rd Division of the Japanese Army, and immediately thereafter was preparing for a fresh attack on Imphal by calling upon all resources available by issuing a Special Order on the 2 June 1944 in the name of the Japanese Emperor. This special order highlighted the consistent bravery, never-say-die attitude, uncompromising purpose and hell-bent determinism of the Nippon army bastion, just short of hara-kiri, and called upon all his men to make a last-ditched effort:

"Now is the time to capture Imphal. Our dead defying Inf. Group expects certain victory when it penetrates the main fortress of the enemy. The coming battle is a turning point. It will decide the success or failure of the Greater East Asia War..."

"On this war rests the fate of the Empire: All officers and men, fight courageously!"18

But weather-wise, it was already too late. It was the midst of Monsoon _ one of the 3M's, the three dreaded factors behind the failure of the Imphal campaign. Both time and situation were against Major General Tanaka of the 33rd Japanese fighting formation. He had to face the hard reality quite nakedly and blatantly. Nevertheless, Colonel 'Saku' frankly reported to the new Commander at his Hqs at Tokpa Khul citing that the Imphal campaign had failed due to underestimation of the fighting strength of their opponent's defence around Bishnupur and at Point 5836; and further that there were insufficient reconnaissance before launching the attack. The strength of the 214th Regiment which started with 4,000 men were reduced to only 460, of which only half were battle-worthy on the eve of their final withdrawal in July 1944.

The entire offensive proved a total disaster on the Japanese side and would stand out as one of the worst of its kind in the ever-chronicled annals of military history. Many died not merely in battle action, but worse still from disease like malaria, dysentery, malnutrition and starvation. Eye-witness accounts from the civilian population of Manipur valley and hills would hauntingly tell stories of the famished Japanese soldiers surviving on edible jungle roots, more like the dead than alive, during those critical days. And many wounded and captured soldiers preferred to commit Hara-kiri, rather than falling into enemy hands.

According to some conservative Allied estimate the Japanese ought to have lost at least 30,000 soldiers between mid-March and mid-June 1944. But according to their own admission, Japan lost no less than 65,000 soldiers:19

Table No. 10-1:
Estimated Loss of Japanese Soldiers in The Imphal Campaign

Formation: Pre-Campaign Strength: Post-Campaign Strength: Casualties:

1) 15th Division: 20,000: 4,000: 16,000
2) 31st Division: 20,000: 7,000: 13,000
3) 33rd Division: 25,000: 4,000: 21,000
4) Rear Units: 50,000: 35,000: 15,000
Total 1,15,000 50,000 65,000

Ultimately the Japanese army realized the eventuality of defeat after braving all these difficulties during the last five-month long assault on Imphal. In the face of the imminent heavy casualty, monsoon and the impossible chance for any further war-operation with the depleted army strength, General Mutaguchi Commander of the 15th Japanese Army gave orders on the 20th July, 1944 to all the fighting troops operating in Manipur to retreat.

By February 1945 another very critical Allied strategy to end the three-year old land-and sea blockade of China by Japan proved effective with the supply line to a beleaguered China restored by completing the construction of a road to Kunming, capital city of South China across Upper Burma from Assam plains. The said project across over 1,000 km wild jungle of upper Burma was dismissively derided by even the war-time British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a 'laborious task, unlikely to be finished until the need for it has passed,' although very surprisingly completed by February 1945 on much more than war footing (double quick time) but at the loss of over 1,100 US servicemen and many more local labourers in the cold winter months of 1944-45.

Its military purpose to bust the 3-year old physical isolation by the Japanese war generals of China over land and sea was ultimately achieved when a convoy led by US General Joseph W Stilwell completed the journey from Assam to Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province and a regular supply-chain of war materials, food and other essential supplies to a debilitated China restored _ another setback to Japan's ambitious war game-plan across the entire Asia.

The six-decade old history of the Stilwell Road _ so long disused and now in shambles _ is still fresh but more vividly as an inspiration for strategic planners in their race against time of developing the northeast region by tying it up with Beijing's development of its southwest region, once the poorest region of China, in which context one Indian patriot now observes:

" If the Japanese could be defeated because you were able to link Assam with south-west China, can't we defeat the Japanese once again in the economic race by linking the northeast region with south-west China?"

Soon thereafter two atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in close succession and following President Truman's warning of such repeated bombing the Japanese did surrender. Thus ended the five-month old war from the firmament of Manipur and 'Imphal' remained the forbidden fruit. It proved elusive exactly like the proverbial Takene No Hana, which literally means 'A flower on the Lofty Heights', but according to the Japanese legend: "Something which, though very tempting, is after all beyond one's reach."

In that crucial mission on 6th August, 1945 Paul W. Tibbets Jr was the pilot of the B-29 bomber, dubbed as the Enola Gay, which dropped the 9,000-pound "Little Boy" nuclear bomb at 8.15 a.m., with crews: navigator Major Theodore Van Kirk, and bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee. Even after the atom bombing of Hiroshima on the (6 August 1945) killing much more than the officially estimated 38,000 people (ultimately leaving 75,000 dead) and bringing about unprecedented devastation, the then Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki could not fully grasp the reversal of fortune following the Hiroshima trauma on the Japanese nation and played for time.

Japan's pre-War fukoku nation-building design, tinted with militarism although it had meant an impoverished people, had swept the entire southeast Asia and almost swooped down on the Imphal valley _ with their unofficially declared intent to declare a sovereign independent Manipur on the occasion of the ensuing birthday of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. His War Council meeting (9 August 1945) proved too late for yet another atom bomb exploded three miles off Nagasaki giving Japan a traumatic blow and they couldn't have lingered on. Japan had to pay a horrific price: 1,40,000 dead immediately and 80,000 other Japanese succumbing in the aftermath according to Hiroshima officials. Though Tibbets saw little of the devastation he himself wreaked upon Hiroshima, he reportedly saw the devastation in the other Japanese city of Nagasaki after the second bomb 'Fat Man' was dropped. He reportedly said in 2003: "A couple of the streets we walked had swelled", while trying to describe the buckling of the earth caused by the intensity of the blast: "Damnedest thing you've ever seen.".

August has been a cruel month in history. Six decades ago, if Hiroshima was flattened and Nagasaki devastated, in the process rampaging, not armed Nipponese combatants but, ordinary men, women and children with a certain amount of glee, as much unnerving, as later on revealed by the evidences of war devastations. For, the choice of the 'Target Committee' had for instance three reasons for preferring Hiroshima and Nagasaki over Kyoto, Yokohoma, and Kokura. First, they are larger than the three-miles area in diameter and important targets in a large urban area; second, the blast would create effective damage; and third, they are unlikely to come under conventional assaults by August 1945. There was even an opinion in the choice of Hiroshima that the hills adjacent to it would create a "focusing effect" increasing the damage potential of the blast. Even the times the bombs were dropped, were in the morning rush hours, when maximum people would be out in the streets and become exposed. Japan was stunned with "Shock and Awe" (using the term much later used by another US president while attacking Iraq). Thus more like a bolt from the blue came the Japanese surrender, naturally reversing the I.N.A-led attack on Manipur for freedom.

Col. Dr. R. M. Kasliwal of the Indian National Army had in a message described the goings-on in the Imphal Campaign so vividly:

"Our armies along with those of our allies chased the British forces deep into the Manipur sector. Some of our troops reached Kohima and occupied that town. The Fortress of Imphal was surrounded and all communications and approaches to this town were cut except the air route. Our troops in spite of living on half rations, tried and exhausted, showed high morale and were prepared to undergo any amount of suffering. Then suddenly the Japanese withdrew their air support. They diverted it to their homeland. Still our troops fought on doggedly and bravely and retained their ground. Preliminary preparations had also been made all over Asia for celebrating the 'Fall of Imphal'. And then came the bolt from the blue. Rains, heavy rains, torrential rains started one month before their schedule time. Our communication lines were cut. No rations could reach our troops, but still they fought bravely and gave their lives on the battlefield. And then their ammunitions were exhausted. Their guns stopped firing, machine guns stopped the tut-tut sound and even the rifle fire became feeble and sporadic, yet these men wanted to fight with their bayonets."


Even after the Japanese surrender, the imperialist system in India had to face tremendous crises, following mass revolutionary movement and freedom struggle (1945-47), in the form of demonstration, strike, hartals, revolutionary storm of the INA soldiers, Police strike, revolt of soldiers, whereafter the British, exhausted and war-worn, chose in the July 1945 postwar election to reject Prime Minister W. Churchill under whose Conservative Party Government the British won the war, but to send up a new Labour Party Government under a less-stubborn Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who however was soon to decide the ultimate handing-over of power at midnight of 14-15th August, 1947. One of the greatest heroes of the freedom struggle, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was mainly responsible for forcing Britain to leave India. During his India visit in 1956 Lord Attlee condescended to this fact when asked that, when the 1942 Quit India movement had fizzled out, what situation had emerged in 1947 as forcing Britain to leave India. Lord Attlee had then gone on record to state: "We had no alternative but to leave India" and that the main reason was Subhas Chandra Bose who had weakened the foundation of loyalty of Indian soldiers to the British Crown. Further to facilitate a time-bound handing-over of power, the reticent Lord Wavel was taken away and a properly-instructed Lord Mountbatten was sent in as the Viceroy-cum-Governor-General of India.

Former Chief Justice P. B. Chakravarty of Calcutta High Court in a letter to historian R. C. Majumder had once written: "My direct question to him (Attlee) was that since Gandhi's 'Quit India' movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Attlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji."21

The former Prime Minister in his frank mood was reiterating the reasons why as the leader of the then British Government had decided to leave India, earlier expressed in the then British Parliament in July 1947 in response to the query of the then leader of the British Opposition. In Attlee's own words, the two reasons were:

a) The Indian mercenary army was no more loyal to the British Crown; and

b) England was not in a position to organize and equip its army on such a large scale so as to control India.22

The British finally quit when they became convinced that the foundations of loyalty being shaken among the British Indian soldiers _ the mainstay of colonial power _ as a result of the INA exploits that became known to the world only after the cessation of hostilities in East Asia. Netaji had materially altered the situation arising from the crushed August, 1942 'Quit India' movement. The INA itself could not succeed in the crucial 'Imphal Campaign'. But its victory in defeat was such that an entirely new revolutionary climate was created in India. When the veil of censorship clamped on INA and Netaji was removed, the Indian public came to know of his heroic deeds. In particular, the revolts in early 1946 that followed in the Indian Navy and certain units of the IAF and Indian Army were the direct results of the new awakening that was taking place in the ranks of the Indian armed forces, just as Netaji predicted in the beginning of the INA's freedom struggle.

The Indian nationalistic movement was at its lowest ebb because both the August 1942 movement and the Azad Hind crusade failed. There were all-round frustration and despondency. And yet in the midst of such despondency, the INA came to the Indian scene as a 'Godsend' and the shadow of one man dominated the entire scenario. That man was Netaji. Even Mahatma Gandhi admitted in an interview to Louis Fischer in 1947: " I regard Bose as a patriot of patriots. "Such postwar upsurge brought the Indian nation on the threshold of freedom. On the day of trial of Major-Gen. Shah Nawaz, Col. P. K. Sahgal and Col G. S. Dhillon, the whole story of INA and Netaji's heroics came to light and the defence proceedings so ably led by Bhulabhai Desai became the lead stories in all national papers. Jai Hind became the new national slogan. And these three INA personnel became heroes overnight. In their revelations, all those millions of Indians who lay crushed and sullen under British oppression found new strength and new pride in themselves.

By way of a contrast, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about the INA soldiers as such: "What to do with the men who had served in the Indian National Army, which fought in the war on the side of Japan, and has been a sore point for some time." Already the British Government dealt sufficiently harshly with them so that even the Independent Government was finding it difficult to give them the status of martyrs. One has to keep reminding oneself that the victor writes the history, and that in the history written by the Britishers it was Japan which invaded India (Imphal and Kohima sectors) and that INA under the command of Netaji would be given scant mention, howsoever much Netaji had told in no uncertain terms that the fighting on the sacred Indian soil would be along with the INA troops in the lead or along with the Japanese Army.

In the same tenor as 'Japan invading India in 1945', the pro-British historians would describe the battle of Kohima as 'one of the greatest' victories of the Allied forces attributed to Lord Mountbatten, but would hardly devote some space to describe the INA victory in the Moirang battle where the Tiranga flag was planted on 14 April 1944 at 5 P.M. when the INA & Japanese Army reached Trongloubi & captured British camp. Likewise some unfolding becomes necessary even in his death-by-air-crash theory, unsuccessfully attempted by two Commissions, and now being attempted by a third Commission, whose completion still precariously hangs on an official report from Taiwan about any Taihoku air crash or not on that fateful day.

On March 19 Prime Minister Nehru stated on the floor of the Dominion Parliament that the INA personnel would not be allowed to rejoin the Indian army _ rejoin; because they surrendered when the Japanese defeated the Allied forces in Burma _ but would be allowed to enlist as home guards. State forces, constabulary, police and civil services, and that their 'dismissals' from the Indian Army would be changed to 'discharges.' On September 1 the Dominion Parliament passed a bill creating a territorial army for India to start with 1,30,000 officers and men.


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