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India: World War II
Country Study > Chapter 10 > National Security > Colonial-Era Developments > The Indian Military under the British Raj > World War II


The political situation in India underwent a fundamental transformation at the time of Britain's entry into World War II boycotted the session. Between 1939 and mid-1945, the British Indian Army expanded from about 175,000 to more than 2 million troops -- entirely through voluntary enlistment. The incipient naval and air forces were also expanded, and the Indian officer corps grew from 600 to more than 14,000. Indian troops were deployed under overall British command in Africa, Italy, the Middle East, and particularly in Burma and Southeast Asia. The great expansion in strength, the overseas service of Indian forces, and the demonstrated soldierly ability of Indians from all groups did much to dispel the martial races theory.

In Asia the Japanese sought to exploit Indian nationalism and anti-British sentiment by forming and supporting the Indian National Army (INA -- Azad Hind Fauj), which was composed primarily of 25,000 of the 60,000 Indian troops who had surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore in February 1942. The army was led by Subhas Chandra Bose, a former militant president of the Congress, who also appointed himself head of the Provisional Government of Azad India (Free India). An unusual feature of the INA was an all-woman, intercaste regiment composed of some 1,500 Indian women from Burma, Malaya, and Singapore. Both the women and the 25,000-strong male contingent were organized to fight alongside the Japanese in Burma, but they actually saw little action. Only 8,000 were sent to the front. Japanese and INA troops invaded Manipur in March 1944 and fought and were defeated in battles at Imphal and Kohima. By May 1945, the INA had disintegrated because of acute logistical problems, defections, and superior British-led forces. It is widely held that Bose was killed in an air crash in Taiwan as he fled at the end of the war. The British court martialed three INA officers. Nationalist-minded lawyers, including Nehru, defended them as national heroes, and the British, feeling intense public pressure, found them guilty but cashiered them without any further punishment. However, after independence Nehru refused to reinstate them into the Indian armed forces, fearing that they might sow discord among the ranks.

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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