Subhash Chandra Bose, Nazi Germany And Free India Legion

Subhash Chandra Bose meets Hitler
 Subhash Chandra Bose meets Hitler

When WW2 broke out although the Congress Party had passed resolutions conditionally supporting the fight against fascism, Indian public opinion was more hostile at Britain's unilateral decision to declare India a belligerent on the side of the Allies. Among the more rebellious amongst Indian political leaders of the time was Subhash Chandra Bose, who was viewed as a potent threat enough that when the war started, the Raj put him under arrest, and later, house arrest. Bose escaped from under British surveillance at his house in Calcutta on January 19, 1941, with the help of family members, members of his party - the Forward Bloc – and later the Abwehr, he made his way through Afghanistan to the Soviet Union. Once in Russia the NKVD transported Bose to Moscow where he hoped that Russia's traditional enmity to British rule in India would result in support for his plans for a popular rising in India. However, Bose found the Soviets' response disappointing and was rapidly passed over to the German Ambassador in Moscow, Count von der Schulenberg, who arranged for Bose to be sent to Berlin at the beginning of April where he met Ribbentrop and later, Hitler. In Berlin, Bose set up the Azad Hind Radio and the Free India Centre which commenced broadcasting to Indians in short wave frequencies. The Azad Hind Radio broadcasts were estimated to have regularly been received by 30,000 Indians who possessed the requisite receiver. However, soon, Bose's aim became to raise an army that he imagined would march to India's North-West Frontier Province with German forces through the Caucasus and trigger the downfall of the Raj.

Indian soldiers alongside a German soldier


India was an important element in the German scene - a population OF 300 millions. And it was located in central Asia,

Indian soldiers trained by Nazi Germany were to join India to expel British troops to lift large numbers of troops and siding with the Japanese forces to attack the Middle East and Central Asia (USSR) Asia South-East and Oceania (Australia in particular).


The Free India Legion was organized as mixed units so that Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs, Marathas, Kumaonis and Garhwalis all served side-by- side. Approximately two-thirds of the Legion's members were Muslim and one- third Hindu and other religions, including a large number of Sikhs.That Bose's idea of developing a unified racial-nationalist identity was successful is evident from the fact that when Himmler proposed in late 1943- after Bose's Departure to the Far East- that the Muslim soldiers of the I.R. 950 be recruited into the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian) that was formed at the time, the head of the SS Head office Gottlob Berger was obliged to point out that while the Bosnians perceived themselves as people of a European identity, the Muslims perceived themselves as Indians. Hitler however showed little enthusiasm for the I.R. 950, at one stage insisting that their weapons be handed over to the newly created 18th SS Horst Wessel Division, exclaiming that "....the Indian Legion is a joke!"

Hitler was skeptical and critical of the Indian Legion because of the policy of non-violence propagated by Mahatma Gandhi

Burly Sikhs in the Free India Legion


It is doubtful that Subhash Chandra Bose envisaged the Free India Legion (or Azad Hind Legion as it came to be more popularly known by the time he left Germany for the far east) as an army sufficient or strong enough to conduct a campaign across Persia into India on its own. Instead, most historians accept that the IR 950 was to become the pathfinder and would precede a much larger Indo-German force in a Caucasian campaign into the western frontiers of British India that would encourage public resentment of the Raj and incite the British Indian Army into revolt.

To this end, Operation Bajadere was launched in January 1942 when a detachment of the Freies Indien, numbering about one hundred and having trained with the German Special Forces, were paradropped into Eastern Persia tasked to infiltrate into India through Baluchistan. They were also tasked to commence sabotage operations in preparation for the anticipated national revolt. Information passed on to Abwehr headquarters in Berlin from their office in Kabul indicate that they were successful.

Following German defeat in Europe at Stalingrad and in North Africa at El Alamein it became clear that an Axis assault through Iran or even USSR was unlikely. Bose had in the mean time travelled to the Far East where the Japanese troops were threatening India. Bose's army in South Asia, the Indian National Army successfully engaged the allies along with the Japanese 15th Army in Burma and ultimately entered India through Moirang to lay siege on Imphal. The German Naval High Command at this time made the decision to transfer the leadership and a segment of the Freies Indien to the Azad Hind Government in South Asia and on 21 January, it was formally made a part of the Indian National Army.

Rommel meets Indian soldiers

A majority of the troops of the Indian Legion, however, were to remain in Europe through the war and were never utilized in their original perceived role over Persia and Central Asia. The Legion was transferred to Zeeland in the Netherlands in April 1943 as part of the Atlantic Wall duties and later to France in September 1943, attached to 344 Infanterie-Division, and later the 159 Infanterie-Division of the Wehrmacht.

From Beverloo in Belgium, I Battalion was reassigned to Zandvoort in May 1943 where they stayed until relieved by Georgian troops in August. In September 1943, the battalion was deployed on the Atlantic coast of Bordeaux on the Bay of Biscay. The II Battalion moved from Beverloo to the island of Texel in May 1943 and stayed there until relieved in September of that year. From here, it was deployed to Les Sables-d'Olonne in France. The III Battalion remained at Oldebroek as Corps Reserve until the end of September 1943, where they gained a "wild and loathsome" reputation amongst the natives.
  Indische Freiwilligen Legion der Waffen SS

The Legion was stationed in the Lacanau region of Bordeaux at the time of the Normandy landings and remained there for up to two months after D-Day. On the 8th of August its control was transferred to the Waffen SS (as was that of every other volunteer unit of the German Army). Command of the legion was very shortly transferred from Kurt Krapp to Heinz Bertling. The Indian personnel noticed a change of command was at hand and started to complain. Noting he wasn't "wanted" Bertling kindly refused the assignment and headed back to Berlin. On 15 August 1944, the unit pulled out of Lacanau to make its way back to Germany. It was in the second leg of this journey, from Poitier to Chatrou that it suffered its first combat casualty (Lt. Ali Khan) while engaging French Regular forces in the town of Dun. The unit also engaged with allied armour at Nuis St. Georges while retreating across the Loire to Dijon. It was regularly harassed by the French Resistance, suffering two more casualties (Lt. Kalu Ram and Capt. Mela Ram). The unit moved from Remisemont, through Alsace, to Oberhofen near the town of Heuberg in Germany in the winter of 1944, where it stayed until March 1945.

II Battalion, 9th Company, of the Legion also saw action in Italy. Having been deployed in the spring of 1944, it faced the British 5th Corps and the Polish 2nd Corps before it was withdrawn from the front to be used in anti-partisan operations. It surrendered to the Allied forces April 1945, still in Italy.
A grave in Immenstadt, believed to be of five captured FIL troops shot by French Moroccan soldiers at the end of the war. The Inscription reads "Five unknown dead 4.5.1945."

With the defeat of the Third Reich imminent in May 1945, the Indian Legion sought sanctuary in neutral Switzerland. The remainder of the unit undertook a desperate 2.6 kilometer (1.6 mile) march along the shores of Lake Constance, attempting to enter Switzerland via the alpine passes. This was, however, unsuccessful and the Legion was captured by US and French forces and delivered to British and Indian forces in Europe. There is some evidence that some of these Indian troops were shot by French Moroccan troops in the town of Immenstadt after their capture. The captured troops would later be shipped back to India where a number of the troops would stand trial for treason. It is alleged that a number of the Indian soldiers were shot by French troops before their delivery to British Forces.

Manning an artillery piece, February 1944.


whether awarded any credit for India's independence or not, the events at the time show that the strategy of Azad Hind (derived from the embryo of the Free India Legion) of achieving independence from Britain by fomenting revolts and public unrest - although militarily a failure - remains, politically, a significant and historic success. Ironically, the military failure, probably worked just as well for the cause, as the Axis victory would have likely led to bondage for India, by the foreign dictatorships it was aiding.It should also be noted that officers of the INA & Bose were ready to fight the Japanese in case of exploitation of the Indian nation by them. As mentioned earlier in this article, Bose was against invasion of Manchuria & China in 1938 the first place so it would be highly unlikely that the INA would have left India to Japanese or the axis exploitation.

Recruits of the Free India Legion at Koenigsbruck.


The German military successes against the Soviet Union from June 1941, and against the British in North Africa, encouraged Bose to form "Indian Legion" in 1942, whose objective was to liberate India with the aid of the Axis forces.

 The approximately 3,500 volunteers from the "Indian Legion" were instructed in the Dresden region. They wore uniforms which had on the sleeve, the Indian national colors  on which stood a leaping tiger and the words in German said, "Freies Indien" (= "Free India").

 The language of this unit was a simplified form of Hindi, which took into account the great diversity of Indian languages and the complexity of the caste system. The German officers, assigned to the unit, learnt Hindi through a special textbook, published by the Wehrmacht, entitled Sprachlehrer-Hindustani (Hindi = Manual). The outward symbols of the Indian state were used and presented for the first time in Germany, four years before independence of India.

 In 1943, Bose founded in Hamburg the "Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft" (= The Germano-Indian society).  During the ceremonies presided over the foundation, the melody of the current Indian national anthem was played for the first time and the three Indian colors were hoisted to the mast.At the same time, the first Indian postage stamps came out of a printing press in Berlin.

 From June to August 1944, these Indians were based in Lacanau led by Commander Kurt Oberstleutnant Krappe.

 In late August 1944 they were incorporated into the Waffen SS and became known as the "Indische Legion der Waffen SS Freiwilligen" conducted under the command of SS-Oberführer Heinz Bertling.

 After fighting against the guerrillas and against the French army, they fell back on Germany.  In a desperate attempt to flee to Switzerland, the survivors were arrested by the Americans and the French. The Indian Legion was then repatriated to India, where senior officers were imprisoned.

Troops of the Indian Legion, in France

Some Nazis admired the caste system established by the Hindus, others had friendships with Indian nationalists ...

Netaji's motto: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend".  He wanted to create a legion of + / - 100,000 men who would fight alongside the Germans.  Finally they were some 5,000 men.

The departure of Subhas Chandra Bose was seen as a slap to some Indian soldiers allied with the Nazis who would not shed their blood in Europe but would rather fight against the British in India. They felt betrayed not only by Bose, but also by the Nazi Germany who forcibly incorporated the India Legion into the Waffen SS! There was a little mutiny which was quickly quelled.

The scale of the races as Hitler:

1 - Aryans = Germanic peoples and Anglo-Saxon

2 - Latin = French, Italian, Japanese, etc. +

3 - the Slavs (hence the word "slave"), Africans, Arabs, and Asians (including Indians), whose usefulness is to serve the superior peoples.

4 - = subhuman Jews, Gypsies ...

 These Germans were the interpreters of the Indian Legion


Netaji apparently was of the opinion that a tripartite declaration on Indian independence, followed by the creation of a government in exile, would give some credibility to his declaration of war against England, would lead to the brink of revolution in India, and legitimize the Indian legion.

However, Hitler had a different view. During a meeting at the campaign headquarters of the Führer, May 29, Hitler said that Netaji well-equipped army of a few thousand men could control millions of unarmed revolutionaries, and that it could not be any political change in India unless an external power knocked on his door. To convince Netaji, Hitler led him to a wall map, pointed to the German positions in Russia, and India. Vast distances must still be addressed before such a statement could be made.


It was taken in German, on the sword of the officer.

"I am the sacred oath before God that I will obey the Head of State and the German people, Adolf Hitler, German Commander of the Armed Forces during the fight for freedom from India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose, and that brave soldier, I give my life for this oath. "

Subhas Chandra Bose did not adhere to Nazi ideology. Moreover, he advocated the end of the caste system, equality between men and women ...  He was an enlightened visionary for India.

Bose married an Austrian in secret and had a daughter from this union.  This was unthinkable in Nazi ideology: The mixture of races 

Bose did not like Hitler much.

Troop of the Legion Freies Indien. The badge of the Leaping Tiger can be seen on the uniform.

The relationship between Himmler and Bose have always been excellent, Himmler repeatedly opposed sending Indian legion on the Russian front while the Wehrmacht suffered heavy losses.

In contrast, relations deteriorated between Hitler and Bose. When Hitler and Von Ribbentrop told the Netaji he could no longer ensure the independence of India, it came as a shock and disappointment to Bose and other Indian nationalists.

The last favor that Hitler gave to Bose was a passage to India by a U-180 German U-boat
Indian soldiers with a Wehrmacht soldier
Free India Legion men garland Bose
Bose addresses the Indian soldiers

The following images are from the meeting between Subhash Chandra Bose and Heinrich Himmler

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Points To Ponder....

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Bias Of Western Historians

Soviet resistance made possible a successful Allied invasion of France, and ensured the final Allied victory over Germany.

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Eastern Front: Bias Of Western Historians