What role did India play in WWII?



Pranav Mehta, Sophomore at BITS PILANI KK BIRLA GOA CAMPUS

Very few Indians would know the fact that India contributed 2.5 million volunteer soldiers to fight for the Allies during World War II (WWII), and 1.5 million soldiers during World War I (WWI). These extremely brave soldiers came from very humble and poor backgrounds but they fought ferociously on land, at sea, and in the air.

In both the wars, the British Indian Army raised the world’s largest volunteer force, a feat not known by the current generation in the country and even lesser recognised in the daily discourse of modern India.

They were heroes, some recognised but mostly unsung, who played vital roles during the war and the list is long. But one name that does stand out is of Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of Ustad Inayat Khan, a well-known musician of Indian classical music. In 1942, she joined the Special Operation Executive (SOE), a secret British organisation, mandated to work behind enemy lines.

She was trained as a wireless operator and was dropped into France to work alongside French resistance and inform the British forces on German military activity. On arrival, she discovered that her unit had been exposed but still she continued to work alone, transmitting coded messages over wireless to the British military command.





She was captured by the Germans in 1943, tortured and finally executed. Her invaluable contribution to the war effort won her the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star from the French go nment, and the George Cross from the British go nment in 1949. Both were awarded posthumously.

The Indian soldiers, on the ground, fought courageously in every battle and built an envious reputation which the Indian Army has carried forward to this day. Their exploits were seen in East and North Africa, Italy, Burma, and as far out as Singapore, Malay Peninsula, Guam, and Indo China. The role played by Air Force pilots from India are legendary and well documented. Pilots like MS Pujji and Prithpal Singh’s feats are among many who left their mark. The list of names and achievements is indeed long.

In the East, the Indian soldiers, as part of the British Indian Army, fought against the Japanese and were responsible for ultimately securing South East Asia that included Singapore, the Malay Peninsula and Burma. Were it not for the Indian soldiers, history could have been very different for the countries of this region.

Over 36,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives, 34,000 were wounded and 67,000 were taken prisoners of war. Indian soldiers of the British Army earned 17 Victoria Crosses, the highest military honour under the British.

译文来源:三泰虎  http://www.santaihu.com/48230.html 译者:Joyceliu


印度士兵在每一场战斗中都表现得英勇无畏,并赢得了令人羡慕的声誉,这种声誉一直延续到今天。他们的足迹遍及东非、北非、意大利、缅甸,甚至远至新加坡、马来半岛、关岛和印度。印度的空军飞行员所扮演的角色是具有传奇色彩的,并且作战记录优异。像Pujji女士和Prithpal Singh这样的飞行员都名留青史。





Kishore Prabhala, Principal at PLNM Degree College, Guntur, AP, India (2002-present)

There were 2.3 millin Indian army fought in World War II, British never gave credit, but Gandhiji felt after war India would get Independance but Churchill denied.

Over 89,000 Indian soldiers died fighting on behalf of British arm / navy / airforce.

The Fourteenth Army, a multinational force of British, Indian and African units turned the tide in Asia by recapturing Burma for the Allies. Thirty Indians won Victoria Crosses in the 1940s.

Numerous people sweated behind the scenes to secure supply lines and to support the Allies.

There were non-combatants like cooks, tailors, mechanics and washermen, such as a boot-maker to the Indian army named simply as Ghafur who died at the battle of Keren in present-day Eritrea and whose grave can still be seen there today.







As the historian Yasmin Khan has “Britain did not fight the Second World War, the British Empire did.”

正如历史学家Yasmin Khan所说,“英国并未参加第二次世界大战,参战的是大英帝国。”


Vishu Kapoor, studied at Department of Business Economics, University of Delhi

India was the only country which participated from both sides. Since India was a colony of British, they were sent to fight against Axis powers.

On the other hand Subhash Chandar Bose's army, Swaraj Hind Fauj was an ally to Japaneese(axis power). They fought against against British in areas of Indo-Burma border.




William Moran

India was the source of some of the greatest soldiers to fight in WW2. They were recruited in the Raj to fight for the British Empire. All told they formed combat divisions numbering

1.2 airborne,

2.4 armored

3.20 Infantry (including the Chindits)

These units exposed the racist lies of the Nazis and Japanese who repeatedly showed amazement at the fighting prowess, heroism, steadiness and loyalty of these so-called ‘sub-humans’.

Indian units could accomplish missions other units could not, and did so time and again in North Africa, Burma, and Italy.

It is to the shame of Britain and those other powers ho fought alongside Indian troops, that they have never been properly recognized or thanked.  









Jai Bhardwaj, 20 years of existence.

My answer will be from the point of view of military. As already answered by Harjeet Singh, India was a British colony and so the Indians who served during the WW2 (and WW1) didn't exactly volunteer like their western counterparts to join the armed forces but were rather forced to do so.

Nonetheless I will be dividing my answer into two parts, the first being the role of Indians (combatants and non-combatants) under the British India Army and the second being the role of Indians groups allied with the Axis powers.

我将从军事的角度来回答这个问题。正如Harjeet Singh已经回答过的,印度是英国的前殖民地,所以在二战(及一战)期间服役的印度人并不像他们的西方盟军那样属于自愿参军,而是被迫参军。


  1. Indians serving under the British India Army

1)Around 2,500,000 Indian soldiers were sent by the British to fight in it’s ongoing wars, out of which about 87,000 of them laid down their lives.

2)They fought gallantly in the Middle East and African theater of the war leading successive campaigns against the Germans and Italians, being one of the instrumental causes for the weakening of the Axis forces.

3)Played a key role in the the South-east Asian theater, particularly in the Burma Campaign, which was done so as to counter the growing Japanese influence which had been stationed at Burma.

4)Took part in the Invasion of Italy along with the US and British forces in the Italian campaign to liberate Italy from the fascist forces.






  1. Indian groups allied with the Axis powers

1)Indische Legion or The Free India Legion was a military unit raised in Nazi Germany to serve as a liberation force for British ruled India. It was initiated by Subhas Chandra Bose as his efforts to win India’s Independence over the British by waging a war against them, it largely contained Indian volunteers who were Prisoners of War (POW).

2)Battaglione Azad Hindoustan or the free India Battalion was a military unit formed in fascist Italy and was led by Mohammad Iqbal Shedai, formed with majorly ex-prisoners-of-war from India.

3)Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army was declared to be the Army of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind (the Provisional Government of Free India) under whose leadership, the INA drew ex-prisoners and thousands of Indian civilian volunteers from Malaysia and Burma. They fought along the Imperial Japanese Army in Burma, Imphal and Kohima.

  1. 印度集团与轴心国结盟



3)印度民族解放军被宣布为苏巴斯·钱德拉·博斯领导的Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind的军队,在他的领导下,印度民族解放军吸引了来自马来西亚和缅甸的前囚犯和数千名印度平民志愿者。他们与日本帝国军队在缅甸、英帕尔和科希马并肩作战。


Balaji Viswanathan

As a colony of Britain, India fought with the allies. India had 2.5 million men serving the all-volunteer army (claimed to be the largest such force in history). Indian army lost 36000 men in the war, 34K wounded and 67K caught as prisoners of war. Majority of Indian army's action was centered in the Asian theatre fighting Japan in South East Asia. Second biggest action was in north and east africa. 

However, India also had a rebel army (Indian national army) headed by the valorous fre m fighter - "Subash Chandra Bose" and this group sided the Axis to help India get out of British Empire. Indian populace was indifferent for most of the time, sometimes siding with the Axis and sometimes with the Allies. Most of Indian leaders spent time in the jail this period, cutting them off from the people.




Rahul Pandey, works at Merchant Navy

World War 2 was not only war of nations but it was also war of dominance, war of ideologies, war of identities, war for humanity. As world is commemorating 72 years of end of the war it is high time to analyse Indian contribution in the war which can be highlighted under following heads.

# Ideological support – ideological contribution of leaders were a mixed bag of responses while Gandhi Ji was most critical of Fascist aggression, Nehru and Bose saw it as war for colonial dominance, leftist parties vacillated over its response but were in favor of Indian support to British due to involvement of Russia.

# Contribution of human Resources – millions Indian soldiers participated on the side of allies and thousands perished in the service, Thousands of Indian volunteers provided medical-aid to the wounded, lacs of civilians died in aerial bombarding.

# Contribution of material resources - Indian factories manufactured war material. Indian food was diverted for the soldiers fighting on side of Allies at the loss of hungry Indians, Indian territories was used as bases for Allies Armed forces even present IIT Kharagpur was base for American Air Force, undivided Indian subcontinent provided transit root for resource mobilization on two fronts between Germany and Japan.

Despite such huge contribution, India’s role in WW2 seems to be lost in the pages of history, while the major world powers take pride in highlighting their war contribution, India should not forget its heroes. While India is seeking a permanent seat in UNSC, It is even more important for India to highlight its contribution in WW 2 and post war peace efforts.




#物资的贡献——印度工厂生产战争物资。印度民众忍饥挨饿,将食物供应给盟军的士兵,印度的领土被用作盟军的基地,甚至现在IIT Kharagpur都曾是美国空军基地,不可分割的印度次大陆在对战德国和日本的两条战线上提供了物资中转支持。



Baba Vickram Aditya Bedi, Business Adviser, Writer (2017-present)

India’s role in World War II is largely uncredited for. The British on their own did not have a chance to win against the Germans. India also had it’s economic contribution negated by England as India was never paid back for this. In fact India contributed more in terms of resources than England and all the other colonies in terms of human life and productivity.

In what was a perfect storm, the contribution of India was swept under the rug so to speak.


In recent times, a book called “Churchill’s Secret War”, by Mukerjee explores the level of the negation of India and Indian contributions to the war effort. The book was largely discouraged by many. However the book was published and has shed incredible light on World War II in India. In 1942 the Province of Bengal which the British had first connived away in 1757 from Indian rule, had a bountiful harvest. But, large scale grain export was extracted to under guise of the war effort. However this was hardly the case. It was a deliberate effort by Churchill to cause mass starvation in India Bengal and India at large, “It was not just a tactic forced out of Britain’s war needs,” says British author and academician James Woudhuysen. During this famine more than 6 million Indians died of starvation. And England deliberately made sure than no food entered India. The mayor of Calcutta sent the following cable during the crisis, “Acute distress prevails in the city of Calcutta and the province of Bengal due to shortage of foodstuffs. Entire population is being devitalised and hundreds dying of starvation. Appeal to you and Mr Churchill in the name of starving humanity to arrange immediate shipment of food grains from America, Australia and other countries.” But no food came, actually food continued to leave India. along with Indian steel and cotton. After all in Churchill’s words, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion'." When the question of grain being sent to the victims of the Bengal famine came up once more, "flourish on Indians breeding like rabbits.” Of course nothing could have been further from the truth. Churchill had no issue of taking money out of a starving India, as that year one of the “Contributions”, India was forced to make was 24 Million to the Relief & Rehabilitation Administration. In 1943 an Aircraft carrier cost 5–6 Million to make.



Charan Puneet Singh, an Indian

1.I am going to answer in a summary. You can read more on wikipedia for details:

As a supplier of raw materials - India suffered its worst famine during this time as the British diverted a major chunk of local produce for the War effort. Some 5 million died in Bengal during this time

2.As a supplier of troops: Indian Army troops fought commendably in North Africa, Italy, China, Guam and Burma  

3.As a Logistics Base: USAF used Indian Air force bases in Orissa and Bengal to fly missions in China and Japan. Indian Navy was used for Naval blockade of major routes in Indian Ocean.

4.As a political distraction to the British: The efforts by Subhash Chandra Bose, the Azad Hind Fauj and the mutineer troops had a huge effect on the thinking of British and their confidence on being able to rule India over the long term. Gandhi and Nehru were "the good boys",supporting the allied War effort.

5.As an after-market for the British WW2 Junk: Hindujas made their fortune by buying substandard British WW2 equipment marked as junk and selling it to India, yes through "Chacha" Nehru!

This is all i can think of right now, will add more later!








Wade Willson, a hobby that became a profession

India did do a lot of good in the war, and their infantry was one of the best trained. However, upwards of 5,000 troops broke from the British Army to join the German Army (before Pearl Harbor). The leader was Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose drew up plans for a German invasion of India, which he hoped would lead to the independence of that country. Bose met with Hitler, but became disgusted with Germany after their invasion of Russia (Bose was a socialist).

Then, another 45,000 (a whopping 64% of the Indian troops in South East Asia) troops broke out of the British Army after Pearl Harbor. Bose also took one submarine from Germany and one submarine from Japan. With this manpower, he declared a country called “Azad Hind.”

Meanwhile, the troops in Germany of the Free India Legion became part of the Waffen-SS, which is weird because they were not “Aryans,” and they survived until May 1945.

The 45,000 met in Malaya, and then marched with the Japanese Army. The war went on without a significant contribution from Bose.





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