The strength of the Indian Army before World War II (1939-45) was disproportionate to its size and situation and had been reduced considerably (after) World War I. Finance, imperial policy and political opinion in the country restricted its numbers.
Nationalist opinion in India was opposed to greater expenditure on defence till a responsible government was formed. The Indian Army was looked upon, with some justification, as almost an army of occupation in India and as an instrument of British imperialism.
Moreover, the Indian forces were based on a system of voluntary recruitment which was affected by the political atmosphere. As a result, recruitment in the early years was confined to certain small areas and communities.
With the declaration of India's belligerency, expansion of the Indian Army commenced. In the first two years, it did not reach great heights. In the last six months of 1940, no less than 35 new infantry battalions were raised. By the end of 1941, ten infantry divisions and one armoured division had been raised, bringing the Indian Army to a total strength of almost 900,000. By the end of 1942, it had reached 1,546,468 men serving in India and overseas.
Apart from fighting formations, a large number of non-divisional and line of communication units, field artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft regiments, engineer, signal, medical, ordnance and supply and transport units were formed.
A special force, also called Long Range Penetration Group, was formed of hand-picked troops specially trained and equipped to operate well behind the Japanese lines in Burma. In 1943-44, this special force performed spectacular feats of endurance, bravery and ingenuity, though at a cost which many experienced commanders considered unduly high.
The recruitment system was rationalized, and the needs of the three services were fully coordinated. Difficulties which had arisen, by the use of Punjabi instructors for training recruits from south India, were gradually overcome. On Oct 1, 1945, the total strength of the Army in India and overseas was 2,644,323 including 240,613 men of the British Army stationed in India.
During the war years, all classes and territories in India contributed, towards recruitment, for the armed forces, a total of 2,581,726 men. Of these, the Army absorbed 2,499,909 and the navy and air force had 28,972 and 52,845 men respectively.
The war accelerated the pace of Indianization. When all avenues of feeding the army in India with British officers had been closed, owing to the needs of the British Army itself, extensive recruitment in India to the officer ranks was resorted to. From about 1,500 officers in 1939, the number rose to about 15,000 in 1945.
The Indian armed forces served in many regions and fought in various theatres. The most severe loss was in Malaya. In this theatre as well as in others, the Indian Army's total casualties came to 175,000 officers and men, of which the killed in action came to about 20,000.
Drawing up the balance sheet, the war in its economic consequences for India, on the asset side, gave spurt to industry, increased employment and added to financial solvency. On the liability side, the picture was none other than gloomy.
An objective estimate of the economic effects of the war will not omit the unbearable sufferings of the poor and the lower middle classes. The war also introduced tremendous social changes, not always healthy.
There was a perceptible setback in output, and the old established industries dwindled because of the over-straining of their machines. But these consequences became apparent later.
New Delhi: Excerpts from "India And The War", official history of the Indian Armed Forces in World War II, brought out by the History Division, Ministry of Defence. Re-published this week by Pentagon Press and made available to IANS:
First Published: Thursday, November 01, 2012, 09:51