I cannot help but remember Bad Gastein in Austria. For it was here that I was once feted for a particular business triumph, many years ago. A beautiful mineral bath location, famous from the Roman times, I still recall the many hours we walked on the mountains and the final hour spent in the warm radioactive waters which just washed the weariness and pain away. It was a fascinating week that I spent there, but at that time I knew nothing of the people of this story. A couple of the characters in this story once lived there and as you will all see, this tale will possibly end at Bad Gastein.
The tale starts with a courier working in the Italian legion in NWFP located at Kabul, in today’s Afghanistan. This low level employee in the Italian legion was not to know (or maybe he did) that in his life time, another man, an Indian at that, would use his name publicly for a period of some 2-3 years, since he bore a vague Sicilian resemblance to him. One day the Italian legion in Kabul formally issued a diplomatic passport after lifting out the Sicilian’s photo, but with the Indian’s picture in its place. Well, until that day, this Indian lived in Kabul under yet another false name, this one given to a heavily bearded Pathan named Ziauddin. But for now we have to go back a little while before all that, to start the story in right earnest.
The 2nd world war clouds were hanging dark and low over Europe. The Nazis had invaded Poland in 1939. By September the Allies had declared war on Germany and by the end of the year, Russia had invaded Finland and by 1940 the war was in its second year in Europe. Russia had carved up the Baltic States, the battle of Britain had started and the wars in the Mediterranean and Africa were heating up. In India, the British were very afraid that the desire for independence would possibly alienate the Indians from providing support for the allied war effort. Such a division would mean a disaster, for much of the funds as well as war provisions were being supplied to the British from India. Talks of possible independence were underway but there were some leaders, wanting it quickly. The Japanese were considering what to do, and the Axis powers were in the meanwhile arrogantly decimating those who stood against them in Europe.
In the background the intelligence machines were all working overtime, and they were never trained on anything this massive and spread out. The British MI6 was somewhat entrenched in India and more worried about a possible ‘great game’ play where the Russians could move into India. The NKVD of Russia were playing their agents well and true in the NWFP, the Abwehr of Germany playing its games here and there, and in the background, some members of the MI6 knowing some of what was going on, and manipulating at will, after the breaking of the Enigma code.
The young man under house arrest after his starvation satyagraha in jail was considered very sick, but the police stationed outside his house were very confident that nothing untoward would happen. The man however had other plans. He had two courts cases against him and the hearing dates were nearing. He had no intentions of dying in a British jail or spending his remaining years with regrets. He had decided to break free and get the support of others like the Russians, in his larger cause. For that he had been trying hard the preceding year, but of no avail, but now there was no time to spare. So he decided to depart for Moscow and plead for support in overthrowing the British colonial anvil. And thus he decided to slip out of the country from under the very noses of the guards. The first step was disguise. Under the guise of Pathan garb and a beard, a new name was taken, that of Mohammed Ziauddin, Travelling Inspector, Empire of India Life Insurance Ltd. The man had his nephew drive him stealthily on Jan 16th 1941, to the Gomoh railway station in Dhanbad. From there he would continue on North West to the frontiers, destined for Kabul. It was thus that Ziauddin reached Peshawar around the 19th. There he was taken over by the Kirti party agent named Bhagat Ram Talwar for onward transfer to Kabul. Bhagat Ram (code name Silver) was to turn out to be the biggest double or triple agent and henchman of both the Soviets and British spymaster Peter Fleming, but all of that is another story for another day
Die hard Indian history buffs would have already recognized the identity of Ziauddin by now, for it was none other than Subash Chandra Bose. As we now know, Bose was stuck at first in Peshawar, but the date of the court hearing was near and it was imperative that he was out of India to be on the side of the law. A guide was needed to take him across the difficult terrains and incognito to Kabul. And that is how the Afridi guide finally turned up in his beat up Chevrolet to guide him out on the 21st Jan 1941. In theory they were on a pilgrimage, he was a deaf mute and traveling with Bhagat Ram Talwar’s nephew. After a stop at Pishkin Maina, they were briefly on mule back and later hitching rides on trucks to Kabul. The route was infested with spies and nosy government men. Anyway as providence would have it they reached Kabul soon.
But even though Bose had tried to contact the soviets for support for well over a year with little success, he chose to work with Talwar and the Punjabi Kirti communist party to get closer to the Russians. Now the plan was to somehow gatecrash the Soviet embassy in Kabul and explain his ideas. Talwar could not really help for this was alien territory and he was not conversant in Persian, the official language in those times at Kabul. Bose was frustrated. The attempt was useless, for the Soviet embassy would just not let them in even after knowing the illustrious bearded man’s identity. It was Feb 2nd when the most unlikely thing happened. By this time Bose had decided to contact the Germans for help, seeing no response from the Russians. As he was on his way to the German embassy with Talwar, he saw the Russians ambassadors’ car stuck in mud. Talwar walked up to him and offered Bose to the ambassador stating that Bose wanted asylum in Russia. The ambassador was suspicious; he took one long look at the heavily bearded Bose and walked away imagining a trap or deceit. That was the end of the direct Russian plan.
|Kabul in the 1940's|
By this time the escape from Calcutta was reported in the press and the Germans knew that Bose was on the loose in Kabul (probably the British, the soviets and the Italians knew as well, but they had no clue what to do with him, as yet). He was finally let into the German embassy and provided an audience with the ambassador Hans Pilger. Bose was instructed by Pilger to be wary of the network of spies in every nook and cranny of Kabul and asked to contact the embassy through one Thomas who worked for Siemens in Afghanistan. Soon after Bose left, Pilger contacted the Russian and Italian ambassador’s and told them that he smelt a British infiltration plot through this man claiming to be Bose. They decided to watch Bose for awhile.
In the truckers stop where they lived, suspicion was high, for these two men though acting and living like devout Muslims, were not actually looking for work, but wandering about the whole day. Were they smugglers or spies? An Afghan spy interrogated them, and had to be bribed away by Talwar. In the meantime Thomas at Siemens set up a meeting with Bose every 3rd day for updates, but no updates were forthcoming from the Germans. Bose’s pleas were becoming more & more urgent, and hope was lost. The bribes kept getting bigger and finally Bose had to give his gold watch to escape from the Afghan government agent (This was a period when hefty bribes were gold Rolex watches).
For some days, Bose was quartered in the home of Uttam Chand, an associate of Talwar, as Bose’s sensitive stomach revolted to the rich Afghan food, but soon he was out on the street again when Uttam Chand’s neighbor recognized him. Then he lived with a Haji Sahib for awhile.
Pilger and the Siemens (Sommer) Thomas had no replies from the high command in Berlin however Bose was planning steps of his own. Uttam Chand organized help from a ruffian Yakub to help Bose cross into the Soviet border, across the river Oxus. Bose was definite that the Soviets would help him once he was in the country though he was by now very upset with the inability of Talwar and the Kirti party in finding right contacts in the upper echelons of Moscow. It was already 45 days since he had reached Kabul, living as a deaf and dumb mendicant with no knowledge of Pashto and struggling.
At this moment, Pilger finally asked Bose to contact Alberto Pietro Quaroni in the Italian embassy. Quaroni wanted to help Bose and warned him against attempting an overtly risky overland trek on his own. As it turned out they became good friends after a while, discussing even the future and direction of Bose’s plans. Bose was quickly recommended to Rome by Quaroni who was impressed with his ideas, and preparations for his travel were being made in anticipation, new suits stitched. The Italians and Germans persuaded the Soviets to issue a transit visa, which they agreed to do, but not in Bose’s name. Now who could that be? It had to be somebody who looked like Bose, a darker man. Quaroni knew that a diplomatic courier was expected in Kabul soon and so one possibility was for Bose to take the courier’s identity and return to Europe.
The MI6 and the British knew by now (Feb 27th) where Bose was and what he was upto. But Peel at London MI6 stated that no action was to be taken for they did not want their own sources compromised and of course it was better to have Bose in Europe where he could be watched more closely. Bose, unaware of details, but aware that he was being watched, had no real choice, but to move through Moscow to Berlin. By now he had given up on Soviet support, though he did not tell Talwar that. Nevertheless, as the British discovered that Bose was on his way to Germany, they decided to take him out in Istanbul. As Prof O’Halpin discovered from British documents, two SOE operatives in Turkey were instructed by their headquarters in London to intercept Bose and kill him before he reached Germany. SOE operatives in Turkey failed to because Bose reached Germany through Central Asia and the Soviet Union. "Every time [the operatives] checked back, headquarters told them the orders were intact and Bose must be killed if found. Interestingly Bose always wanted to meet Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, his ideal, and if he had gone to meet him in Ankara (permission was never granted by the British in the past), he would have met an early demise.
Back to Kabul - On 3rd March, the Soviets agreed to grant a transit visa to Bose. Talwar who was in the guise of Rahmat khan, was to remain as Bose’s link man in Kabul (And that was how the Soviets and MI6 knew at all times what Bose was upto, in Germany). 3 days later, he was provided the passport of Orlando Mazotta, the Sicilian courier. So after six-week long wait in Kabul, a visa granted in the name of Orlando Mazzotta and this enabled Bose to travel, escorted by Dr. Wenger, formerly of the Todt organization, across the border into Russia, then a train to Moscow via Bokhara and Samarkand, finally reaching Berlin by air towards the first week of April 1941. There he was joined by Emilie Schenkel his secretary & wife.
Why did the Soviets not help Bose? Acchhar Singh of the Kirti party had assured Bose he would get support from Russia. Primarily because Bose did not have communist leanings and secondly because of the changing political scenario and equations. In the pre-winter months of 1940, Germany was courting Russia in joining the axis powers, but by winter Hitler had already drawn up plans to attack Russia by summer. The British quickly informed the Soviets once they picked it up from their spies and the coded transmissions. Soviet Russia found themselves now in urgent discussions with the allies. Not wanting to upset their new friends the British, the soviets dragged their feet while trying to figure out what to do with Bose. The MI6 probably decided that it was easier to keep tabs on Bose in Europe than elsewhere and gave their nod. The Soviets finally decided to help Bose who was as we saw cooling his heels in Kabul. And thus Orlando Mazotta got his name written in history books as the alias used by Bose for the next 3 years, in Europe. The fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, provided the occasion for Subhash Chandra Bose to finally discard his identity as Orlando Mazzotta and make his first open broadcast to India on 19 February 1942.
Peter Fleming the spymaster and MI6 deceiver was not on the scene in 1941, but by 1942, he had stationed himself in Delhi and worked out his relationship with Talwar a.k.a Rahmat Khan– code name Silver. Fleming was a suave ladies man, always smoking a pipe which people said smelt like ‘motor tires burning in syrup’, a well spoken world traveler, and a good friend of Wavell in Delhi. Silver’s misinformation to the Abwher (he was even awarded an Iron Cross by the Nazi’s) and Subash were very well manipulated by the NKVD and MI6 and the end result was an eventual disbandment of the Indian Legion in Germany according to James Aldrich.
Originally this story was told as Bose’s ‘great escape’ from Calcutta to Berlin, via Kabul and Moscow. But a detailed study of later documents and books from the 70’s reveal that all along the way the poor man and his plans were compromised, starting with his relatives and then his associates and friends. The key to all this was not the masterly operation of the MI6 or other intelligence agencies, but the fortuitous breaking of the Wehrmacht Abwher’s G Enigma code (Enigma machines were used not only by the Germans, but also the Japanese). The breakthrough was effected by Polish cipher breakers in 1932 and the details were passed to the British and others in 1939, just before the war commenced and this ensured a busy period for the men and women of Bletchley park, off London.
But then again, the period Bose spent in Germany was wasteful on one hand (and from Bose’s viewpoint) with no significant interest shown by Hitler and his deputies, as they were largely unconcerned with the plight of India. On the other hand, Bose was highly disillusioned with the Nazi plans to attack Russia. It was thus that he moved all his chips to the Japanese side. As he lived in Berlin with Emilie, creating the Indian Legion’s Azad Hind corps and broadcast his messages, the MI6 as well as the Abwehr kept regular tabs and as we now know, regular details of happenings in Berlin were also being provided by Admiral Canaris and his group to the MI6.
And it was thus that early in 1943, the British intercepted the full details of the plan to send Bose to Japan. He was to travel by submarine from Kiel in Northern Germany to few miles off the coast of the Portuguese held Madagascar, where a Japanese submarine would take Netaji into its holds and take him to Sabang in Indonesia for onward journey to Japan after traveling underwater for a total journey of some 10,000 miles. It required just one battleship to attack the German submarine on the way and send it to the sea bottom, thus killing the troublesome Indian Leader, but they did not do it, as the British Secret Service warned Churchill, that if the Germans found out, that even if such highly confidential messages were being monitored and acted upon, they would suspect that the British had the Enigma and would change all their codes, thus making it impossible for the British to spy on them. And so Bose went to Japan. The next part of his life until his apparent death was very well recorded and is not covered in this article.
I for one am not a Bose aficionado, though I found his notion of implementing a Kemal Ataturk method (of change) interesting, but like anyone studying his story I saw how meticulous he was, evening full flight, like how studied holding or drinking from a earthen Afghan cup, a Brahmin sharing water from the same cup as a Muslim, learning how to pray properly in a mosque while in Afghanistan (even if to avoid detection), eating anything he could find and traveling on mule back or walking miles and miles or being patient underwater cooped in a submarine, like Capt Nemo going from one end of the world to the other, and meeting psychopaths like Hitler & Goering because he had no other choice.
As we know, Bose was not destined to shine in Delhi, but he was a patriot nevertheless, chasing a dream he considered holy, choosing means he believed right, while treading a path others would not consider or dare, never admitting defeat or considering any attempt futile, as we see from the story of the above flight. And some may recall what he once said ‘I do not want to waste my life in a British jail, I prefer dying trying to do something meaningful’. So this was the story of Orlando Mazzotta, the adventure of a freedom fighter from Calcutta.
And maybe there is one or two of you out there who would like to know what happened to the real Orlando Mazzotta. Well, he continued with the Italian diplomatic service and when last heard of, was the Assistant secretary in the Italian consulate at Vienna Austria in 1963…
but I cannot resist adding a final twist to the tale……….
Unless of course somebody else want to assume it was perhaps Bose himself living in Austria, for as all of us know, Emilie Schenkl, Bose’s better half lived in Bad Gastein Austria and some of Bose’s fondest moments were spent with her. Would Bose want to live with Emilie, the person who believed in him or live as people still think, in remote places like Siberia or some hermitage in North India wearing sanyasi garb? You decide…
Ah! Well, who knows???
The Great Escape – Sisir Bose
Raj, secrets, revolution- A life of Subhas Chandra Bose - Mihir Bose
The Deceivers – Thaddeus Holt
Sign of the Tiger – Rudolph Hartog
Subhas -A political biography – Sitanshu Das
Back from the dead – Anuj Dhar
Letters to Emile – SC Bose
Pics – Kabul rooftops 1940’s – Peter Pinney