India & WW II

Remember my Hum Dono blog? Where I was writing about watching Hum Dono the movie while flying across the US with seatmates wondering who this strange guy was, seeing black and white movies from a foregone era, on the laptop, but then who cared? The dual role Devsaab’s in that movie were at the Burma front, fighting the Japs….

WW II has always fascinated me, though I have still many a page left to read on that tragic war that stretched a long six years. I am still to wade through the great 3rd Reich book written by William Shirer. Over 60 million people died in a war that mobilized over 100 million troops from 61 nations. India was primarily involved as a supplier of troops supporting Britain and as a base in the CBI Theater – the
China Burma India Theater of the war front.

I had heard from my grandmother that grandpa used to fight for the British Army, but he was stationed around the North African theatre fighting at Persia, Egypt and all those places. I never saw him, but one thing I can say, I surely got his travel bug.

So, have any of you ever heard of the
Calcutta key? Well take a look at this brochure provided to Yank personnel who came to live in the Indian bases in the late 30’s & 40’s. It says among other things

If you come here with an open mind you will find Calcutta is "Teek-Hai" (Okay). Of course, it's just like visiting any big city back home(USA): you can have a good time, or a bad time, depending on how well you take care of yourself. Incidentally, the people here like us. They think we're all right. Thanks to the good behavior of the American soldiers who preceded you, a friendly welcome from these folks awaits you. If you behave equally as well, a similar welcome will await your buddies who follow you in here. "Teek-hai ?"

And the
Red Cross guide – a classic from the yesteryears…take a look.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Indian army numbered 205,000 men. During World War II the Indian Army became the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in size. These forces included tank, artillery and airborne forces. Indian soldiers won 30 Victoria Crosses and 4,000 gallantry awards during the Second World War. They proved to be the most heroic, as Princess Nurunissa Inayat Khan had wished!! 36,000 Indians were killed in the war. Read some tales of valor, at this link.

Well, even though India sent millions to fight the war, it had a smaller role at home and was involved as the receiving end of some bombing as well, like the day when the Japs chasing a couple of American ships bombed the Vizag harbor. As usual,
The Hindu proved to be a treasure trove, and this newspaper’s extensive online archives provided me with most of the information you see here...

Vizag, Now when I was a kid, it went by the name Waltair!! The mood during the war is best described by a lady
who recounts those days.

There were rumours that Jap ships had been sighted a few miles off the Machilipatnam coast. This created panic to such an extent that air- raid exercises were practised and people started digging crude shelters. Civil defence was formed in each town. Some anti-air raid precautions had to be taken and blackouts were one of them. Streetlights were switched off. People were told to cover their windowpanes to prevent the lights from being seen outside. The upper portion of the headlights had to be painted black. We could only imagine the trauma of those living in cities under constant bombardment. We had no television those days and only the rich owned radios. The daily newspaper was the only source of information. Prices of essentials shot up due to scarcity. Supplies had to be sent to the armed forces and this created a shortage of essentials. Wheat and potatoes had become luxury items overnight. The price of textiles went up five or six times. A kind of coarse cloth called "Standard Cloth" was issued by quota on ration cards. I think that was the beginning of the issue of ration cards. If there was one good thing we learned during that time, it was to be economical. Paper, soap, kerosene and sugar were in short supply. We learnt to manage with whatever little we had. Thrifty ladies invented several recipes to make use of leftover food. The number of invitees to weddings was restricted. Some new departments like supply and ration departments came into existence to facilitate the equal distribution of essential commodities.

The day was April 6th, 1942. American ships loaded with ammunition were headed for Burma and were soon spotted and chased around by Japanese ships. That is when the ships moved on to hide in the port in Vizag. One of the chasers was a Jap aircraft carrier. A few planes first did the reconnaissance run at 8AM and then a five plane formation came back after noon to strafe the coast. The planes aborted their machine when the Swedish Bofors guns on the American ships opened fire. They came back again to drop some bombs, three of them hitting a pipeline, the power plant etc. Marine Meller, one of the ships was later hit by a falling bomb, which did not explode. The missionaries at the nearby St Aloysius School retrieved the 350 kg bomb, where it was displayed until 1995. Since then it was moved to the Visakha museum.

The Axis power, Germany, had previously attacked Madras during WW 1, and that story is recounted in my blog
about the ship Emden...Madras had a small part to play in WW II as well

Fort St George – Madras - The two main exhibits in a case include a fragment of the shell fired by the German Cruiser 'EDMEN' on Madras city during the First World War and the shell, which was fired in retaliation. Another interesting exhibit is the percussion cap of a bomb dropped on Madras city during the Second World War by a Japanese aircraft.

Reference articles

Pictures & some content - Courtsey various web sites hyperlinked


Nanditha Prabhu said…
yes! heard about the earth quake!we were just talking about our earthquake experience!
Guru said…
I read Shirer's book many years ago. But the books by Antony Beevor gives good insight into Hitler's Berlin in 1945 when Russians were advancing into Berlin.

I visit Berlin almost every year and take this opportunity to learn more about Hitler's years and about the cold war in later years.

My first boss when I took up my job after EE graduation in early 1960s in Bangalore was a German who was in Luftwaffe as a fighter plane pilot. Later in early 1970s when I studied and worked in the States I had chatted with German army officers who contributed to WW2 effort from Germany and who later migrated to States. Apart from Werner von Braun, dozens of German engineers and engineering professors settled in the States after 1945. I knew in at least two universities in the States, the EE graduates in engineering schools in until early 1970s were asked ( one could say 'required')to do internships in the then West Germany, a stromng hint of the influence of these German Professors.
Maddy said…
guruji - Thanks a lot for dropping by, I will get a Beevor book from our excellent library nearby. I have to commend these superb US library systems, they have so much wealth which people don't appreciate!! The first time I heard about the transfer of these scientists (some of nefarious backgrounds even) to US & USSR was when I read Michener's Space...a brilliant book.
Maddy said…
nanditha - I was a bit surprised when i read that the nuclear plant in Japan that leaked during the recent earthquake was not really built to seismic standards!!
Guru said…
Many with Nazi past emigrated to US after the war with active support from the US Government. Even the US at that time believed in superirity of Germans. I lived in Ohio for a few years in 1960s which had a large German immigrant population. The reason why Neil Armstrong (a professor in my university at that time who used to take the elevator with us most mornings)was celebrated was that the Ameria at that time saw in him a real American(son of the soil),unlike Werner Von Braun the designer of the rocket which took him to the moon. Americans rounded up all the scientists in the V2 rocket project starting from Werner von Braun and brought them to their country.

My American landlady who was Jewish and left Germany when her family were shipped to concentration camp in 1930s came back from shopping in Kroger one evening and tightly hugged me crying uncontrollably. It appeared that the her Nazi -sympathising neighbour in her German town who betrayed her family to Gestapo was behind her in the check out counter that day. She cried saying again and again'the devil followed me"!
Nags said…
I liked your comments about India and WW2. I have also read a lot about WW2 and am interested in the air war particularly though naval and army battles also attract my attention. I have a good collection of books on WW2 and airplanes in general of both WW1 and WW2. I am keen to know more about Indian airfields which were used in WW2 like phaphamau in Bengal and Cholavaram in Chennai which wear a deserted look now when compared to the historic days they have seen. When I visited the US last year in 2007, I went to the Canton Public Library and read many books on WW1 and WW2 which were there. I also saw many documentaries on the wars. Those were historic times and I sometimes ask my father and mother to recount those times to me.
Maddy said…
thanks nags for dropping by - i remember going to see a car race at sholavaram - for that is what the airstrip is used for these days!!