India’s participation in the Second World War

India played an integral role in World War II. Indians were also in the unique position of having fought for both sides, the Allied powers and the Axis powers, during World War II. While officially the Indian Army fought on the side of the Allied forces, many PoWs (prisoners of war) fought beside the Axis powers. However, India’s contribution has gone mostly unacknowledged in the international arena, and India too largely ignores the sacrifices made by its people. While almost all the countries that fought on the side of the victors, i.e. the Allied powers, either gained positions of special importance in international institutions (from which they benefit to this day) or won special concessions, India failed to extract any material benefits from its contribution made towards the victory of the Allied powers.

Indian Army’s contributions

The Indian Army was actively involved in World War II from 1939 to 1945. At its prime, approximately 2.5 million Indian men were involved in the Second World War. This included men who were part of the tank, artillery and the airborne forces. Over 80,000 Indians lost their lives in the line of fire. The Indian Army’s most notable contributions were made in North Africa, Italy and the then Burma.

The only commendations that the soldiers ever received were the 30 gallantry medals awarded by Great Britain to Indian soldiers.

Prisoners of War

The Indian National Army raised under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose fought valiantly on the side of the Japanese. This Army consisted of thousands of Indian men who were being held as PoWs in Malaya and Singapore. In Germany, the Nazis raised a Tiger Legion Unit that was mainly used for purposes of propaganda. These soldiers wore German Army uniforms along with a badge representing the Indian flag.

It must be noted here that though many Indian PoWs fought on the side of the Axis powers, not many believed in their ideologies such as Nazism, Fascism etc. For the PoWs, it was more about the opportunity to consolidate and fight against Britain rather than fight for the Axis powers.

Question for UPSC Mains:
What was India’s contribution to the Second World War? What role did the Indian prisoners of war play? Throw light.