Origins of the Colonial Indian Navy

Colonial Indian Navy-Establishment of the Bombay Marine

The English East India Company was established in 1600.

In 1612, Captain Thomas Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Swally. This encounter, as well as piracy, led the English East India Company to build a port and establish a small navy based at the village of Suvali, near SuratGujarat to protect commerce.

The Company named the force the Honourable East India Company’s Marine, and the first fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612.

This force protected merchant shipping off the Gulf of Cambay and the rivers Tapti and Narmada. The ships also helped map the coastlines of India, Persia and Arabia.

In 1686, with most of English commerce moving to Bombay, the force was renamed the Bombay Marine. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Anglo-Burmese Wars. The Bombay Marine recruited many Indian lascars but commissioned no Indian officers until 1928.

Expansion of Her Majesty’s Indian Navy


Sailors of the Indian Navy breaching the Delhi gates during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine became His Majesty’s Indian Navy. The British capture of Aden increased the commitments of Her Majesty’s Indian Navy, leading to the creation of the Indus Flotilla. The Navy then fought in the China War of 1840.

Her Majesty’s Indian Navy resumed the name Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, when it became Her Majesty’s Indian Marine. The Marine then had two divisions; the Eastern Division at Calcutta and the Western Division at Bombay.

In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, Her Majesty’s Indian Marine was titled the Royal Indian Marine in 1892. By this time, it consisted of over 50 vessels.

The Royal Indian Marine in World War I

The Expeditionary Forces of the Indian Army that travelled to FranceAfrica and Mesopotamia to participate in World War I were transported largely on board ships of the Royal Indian Marine. The convoy transporting the first division of the Indian Cavalry to France sailed within three weeks of the Declaration of War, on 25 August 1914. At the outset of the war, a number of ships were fitted out and armed at the Naval Dockyard in Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Kidderpore Docks in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The Indian Marine also kept the harbours of Bombay and Aden open through intensive minesweeping efforts. Smaller ships of the Indian Marine, designed for operations in inland waters, patrolled the critical waterways of the Tigris, the Euphrates and Shatt-al-Arab, in order to keep the supply lines open for the troops fighting in Mesopotamia. A hospital ship operated by the Indian Marine was deployed to treat wounded soldiers.

By the time the war ended in 1918, the Royal Indian Marine had transported or escorted 1,302,394 men, 172,815 animals and 3,691,836 tonnes of war stores. The Royal Indian Marine suffered 330 casualties and 80 of its personnel were decorated with gallantry awards for service in the war. The Royal Indian Marine played a vital role in supporting and transporting the Indian Army throughout the war.

The first Indian to be granted a commission was Sub Lieutenant D.N Mukherji who joined the Royal Indian Marine as an engineer officer in 1928.

The Royal Indian Navy in World War II

In 1934, the Royal Indian Marine became the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). Ships of the RIN received the prefix HMIS for His Majesty’s Indian Ships. At the start of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy was very small and had eight warships. The onset of the war led to an expansion. Additionally, Indian Sailors served on-board several Royal Navy warships. The large number of Indian merchant seamen and merchant ships were instrumental in keeping the large stream of raw material and supplies from India to the United Kingdom open.

Indian sailors started a rebellion also known as The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny in 1946 on board ships and shore establishments, which spread all over India. A total of 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors were involved in the rebellion.

The Royal Indian Navy retained its name when India gained independence in August 1947 as a dominion within the Commonwealth. It was dropped when India became a republic on January 26, 1950.

Partition and Independence of India

In 1947, British India was partitioned and the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Royal Indian Navy was split between India and Pakistan, with senior British officers continuing to serve with both navies, and the vessels were divided between the two nations.

More information: Vessel type, India …

Vessel type



Frigate HMIS Tir

HMIS Kukri

HMPS Shamsher

HMPS Dhanush

Sloop HMIS Sutlej

HMIS Jumna

HMIS Kistna

HMIS Cauvery

HMPS Narbada

HMPS Godavari

Corvettes HMIS Assam
Minesweeper HMIS Orissa

HMIS Deccan

HMIS Bihar

HMIS Kumaon

HMIS Rohilkhand

HMIS Khyber

HMIS Carnatic

HMIS Rajputana

HMIS Konkan

HMIS Bombay

HMIS Bengal

HMIS Madras

HMPS Kathiawar

HMPS Baluchistan


HMPS Malwa

Survey vessel HMIS Investigator
Trawler HMIS Nasik

HMIS Calcutta

HMIS Cochin

HMIS Amritsar

HMPS Rampur

HMPS Baroda

Motor minesweeper(MMS) MMS 130

MMS 132

MMS 151

MMS 154

MMS 129

MMS 131

Motor launch (ML) ML 420
Harbour Defence Motor Launch(HDML) HDML 1110

HDML 1112

HDML 1117

HDML 1118

HDML 1261

HDML 1262

HDML 1263

HDML 1266

Miscellaneous All existing landing craft

When India became a republic on 26 January 1950, the name was changed to the Indian Navy, and the vessels were redesignated as Indian Naval Ships (INS).

Vice Admiral R. D. Katari was the first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, appointed on 22 April 1958.

Courtesy of


Stalin and the Allies

A Victory Parade in Red Square was scheduled for June 24, 1945. I came to Moscow for the occasion. I wanted to watch our troops marching and to rejoice with all our people in the capital of our Homeland. Eisenhower came to Moscow, too. He stood with us in the Lenin Mausoleum to review the parade. This was the first time I met Eisenhower. Stalin gave a huge banquet. All our military leaders were there. So was Eisenhower. I don’t think Montgomery; the English commander was there. Stalin had formed good relations with Eisenhower and even better ones with Roosevelt. He had bad relations with Churchill that and even worse ones with Montgomery.

After the war, but before my transfer from Ukraine back to Moscow (at the end of 1949), I frequently heard Stalin speak about Eisenhower’s noble characteristics in conversations with his inner circle. Stalin always stressed Eisenhower’s decency, generosity and chivalry in his dealings with his allies. Stalin said that if it hadn’t been for Eisenhower, we wouldn’t have succeeded in capturing Berlin. The Americans could have been there first. The Germans had concentrated their forces against us as they prepared to surrender to the Americans and British. Stalin appealed to Eisenhower in a letter to hold back his armies; Stalin told Eisenhower that according to his agreement with Roosevelt and in view of the amount of blood our people had shed, our troops deserved to enter Berlin before the Western Allies. Eisenhower then held his troops back and halted their offensive, thus allowing our troops to take Berlin. If he hadn’t done this, Berlin would have been occupied by the Americans before we reached it, in which case, as Stalin said, the question of Germany might have been decided differently and our own position might have turned out quite a bit worse. This was the sort of chivalrous generosity Eisenhower demonstrated. He was true to Roosevelt’s word.

However, at this time Truman was president, and Stalin had no respect at all for Truman. He considered Truman worthless. Rightly so. Truman didn’t deserve respect. This is a fact.

At the very end of the war Stalin was very worried that the Americans would cross the line of demarcation in the West. He was doubtful that they would relinquish territory which Roosevelt had previously agreed to give us at Tehran. The Americans could have said that the line their troops reached was the new boundary dividing the zones of occupation. But the Americans pulled their troops back and deployed them along the line which had been set in Tehran. This too says something about Eisenhower’s decency.

The Germans were hard pressed by our troops and couldn’t resist any longer. They were supposed to throw down their arms and surrender to us. However, they refused to do this and moved west instead to surrender to the Americans. Once again, Stalin addressed himself to Eisenhower, saying the Soviet troops had shed their blood to crush the Germans and now the Germans whom they encountered were surrendering to the Americans. Stalin complained that this wasn’t fair. This was on the Austrian front, where Malinovsky was directing our advance. Eisenhower ordered the commander of the German army to surrender to the Russians who had defeated his army.

Stalin once made a similar request to Churchill. The Germans were fleeing from Rokossovsky and surrendering to the English in a region occupied by Montgomery. Stalin asked the English not to take prisoners and to compel the Germans to surrender to our troops. But nothing of the sort! said Stalin angrily. ‘Montgomery took them all, and he took their arms. So, the fruits of victory over the Germans were being enjoyed by Montgomery!’

Both General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery were representatives of the same class, the bourgeoisie. Yet they decided this question differently. They interpreted differently the principles of partnership, agreement and honour. Whenever I had dealings with Eisenhower in later years, I always remembered these actions of his during the war. I kept in mind Stalin’s words about him. Stalin could never be accused of liking someone without reason, particularly a class enemy. He was incorruptible and irreconcilable in class questions. It was one of his strongest qualities, and he was greatly respected for it. *

*it is easy to believe that Stalin was more than surprised by the restraint shown Eisenhower and others in the matter of halting the Allied advance into Germany. Certainly, he was furious with Montgomery for taking prisoner large number of Germans fleeing from the Soviet advance. He was of course perfectly correct in telling Khrushchev that he got on better with Roosevelt than with Churchill. Roosevelt held British imperialism in the deepest suspicion and was convinced that he could come to a personal understanding with Stalin.

What were my impressions of the opinions Stalin expressed about the interrelations of the Allies during the war and specifically about Roosevelt and Churchill? Judging from what he said, I think Stalin was more sympathetic to Roosevelt than Churchill because Roosevelt seemed to have considerable understanding of our problems. Roosevelt and Stalin had a common antipathy for monarchy and its institutions. Once he told me about the following episode. When they were in Tehran sitting over dinner, Roosevelt raised his glass and proposed a toast to the president of the Soviet Union: Mr. Kalinin.

Everyone drank and after a few moments Churchill raised his glass and proposed a toast to the king of Great Britain. Roosevelt said he wouldn’t drink that toast.  Churchill’s back went up, but Roosevelt was firm. No, he said. I won’t drink. I cannot drink to an English king. I can never forget my father’s words. Stalin explained that when Roosevelt’s feather left for America from England or Ireland, he said on the boat to the young Roosevelt, the king is our enemy. Despite all the requirements of etiquette, Roosevelt didn’t raise his glass. *

*it would be interesting to know whether in fact Stalin did tell the story of Roosevelt’s refusal to drink to the king. If he really believed that President Roosevelt’s father had emigrated to the USA from Ireland or England, he must have been badly briefed. It seems likely that Khrushchev is confusing one of Stalin’s anecdotes about the coolness between Roosevelt and Churchill at Tehran with a muddled memory about the immediate ancestry of president Kennedy.

In disputes during the working sessions in Tehran, Stalin often found Roosevelt siding with him against Churchill. Thus, Stalin’s personal sympathies were definitely reserved for Roosevelt, although he still held Churchill in high esteem too.  Churchill was not only a great English statesman; he held one of the leading positions in the conduct of world politics. At the time of the Allies failure in the Ardennes, which threatened their invasion landing, Churchill asked Stalin to divert the forces of the German army onto us. This required that we launch an offensive which wasn’t part of our plans at the time and which shouldn’t have come until considerably later, it it turned out to be most profitable for us. Stalin did well to demonstrate our goodwill towards our ally in a time of need.

Churchill certainly played an important role in the war. He understood the threat hanging over England, and that’s why he did everything he could to direct the Germans against Soviet Union. —in order to pull the Soviet Union into war against Germany. When Hitler attacked us, Churchill immediately declared that England considered it necessary to make a treaty joining forces with us against Germany. Here, too, Stalin’s did the right thing. He accepted Churchill’s proposal and signed a treaty. After a certain time, America entered the war, and a coalition of three Great Powers came into existence.

It’s difficult to judge what the intentions of the Allies were towards the end of the war. I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that they desired to put a still greater burden on the shoulders of the Soviet Union and to bleed us even more. Or perhaps it’s as they explained: they weren’t sufficiently prepared for a landing. Their arms production wasn’t sufficiently developed. They needed more time and so on.  Both explanations were probably true, but I think they were mostly dictated by their desire to bleed us dry so that they could come in at the last stages and determine the fate of the world. They wanted to take advantage of the results of the war and impose their will not only on their enemy, Germany, but on their ally, the USSR, as well. I can easily imagine how this thought played a significant role in their thinking.

To look at it from a class position, it was in the Allies’s interest to rely on the Soviet Union as a wartime ally, despite the fact that our country was founded on Socialist principles. We had to unite our forces against a common enemy. None of us could have won the war single handed. But while exerting our collective efforts against the common enemy, each of us remained on his own class position. The Western Allies were certainly not interested in strengthening us. England and America, from their class positions, knew they had to help us to an extent, but they still wanted the Soviet Union to be considerably weaker after the war so that they could dictate their will to us.

For our part, we knew it would be useful to be considerably stronger at the end of the war in order for our voice to carry more weight in the settlement of international questions.  If we had succeeded, the question of Germany wouldn’t have been decided the way it was at Potsdam. The Potsdam decision was a compromise based on the distribution of power among the Allies at the end of the war. The one sidedness of the agreement was particularly reflected in the clauses concerning Berlin and Vienna. These cities were located in the zone occupied by Soviet troops, and it would have seemed that they should have been part of our zone. However, the Allies didn’t give them to us. Berlin and Vienna were each divided into four sectors. We received one sector, and the Western powers-England, America and France-received the other three. This says something about the distribution of power at the end of the war.

When we began our advance west and were approaching the border of Germany, the Allies were compelled to hurry up, and launch their landing. They were afraid we might push considerably farther than the boundaries defined at Yalta.

Nevertheless, we must still give credit to the Allies for their contribution to the common cause of defeating Hitlerite Germany. In order to avoid excessive haughtiness, the people and the Party of the Soviet Union must be properly informed about the contribution of the Allies to the common cause and to the Soviet Union itself. If the past isn’t analyzed objectively, the building of the future will be based on illusions and primitive patriotism instead of proved facts. Unfortunately, our historical records about WWII have perpetrated the illusion. They have been written out of a false sense of pride and out of a fear to tell the truth about our Allies’ contribution-all because Stalin himself held an incorrect, unrealistic position. He knew the truth, but he admitted it only to himself in the toilet. He considered it too shameful and humiliating for our country to admit publicly.

But, telling the truth needn’t have been humiliation. Recognizing the merits of our partners in the war need not have diminished our own merits; on the contrary, an objective statement would have raised us still higher in the eyes of all peoples and it would not in the least diminished our dignity and the importance of our victories. But in this case truthfulness was unthinkable for Stalin. He tried to cover up our weaknesses. He figured that it would make us stronger than our enemy and that we would be feared more. This was stupid. He should have known that you can’t fool the enemy. The enemy can always see for himself and analyze on his own. It’s also possible that Stalin feared that openness about the history of the war might backfire on him personally. That’s a different matter. But I think we should have openly admitted what happened and not tried to cover up. We would have been helping our country and our cause by not trying to hide our mistakes, by revealing them for people to see, no matter how painful it might have been. The people would have understood and supported us. If necessary, they would have forgiven the mistakes which had been committed. When I did expose the mismanagement of the war, the people were able to say, Here Khrushchev is criticizing Stalin, but he is using Stalin only for purposes of illustration in a constructive analysis. That’s perfectly true. I don’t think it’s ever too late for the new generation which will soon replace the current leadership of our country, to cast objective light on the beginning of the war. We must study the past in order not to permit in our own time those mistakes which were permitted earlier. We must prevent them both in the present and in the future.

To acknowledge the material aid which we received in the past from our adversaries of the present doesn’t have any bearing on the situation today. We shouldn’t boast that we vanquished the Germans all by ourselves and the Allies moved in only for the kill. That’s why I give my own view of the Allies contribution, and I hope that my view will be con by the research historians who investigate objectively the circumstances which developed between 1941 and 1945. The English helped us tenaciously and at great peril to themselves. They shipped cargo to Murmansk and suffered huge losses. German submarines lurked all along the way. Germany had invaded Norway and moved right next door to Murmansk.

As Mikoyan confirmed after his trip to America, we received military equipment, ships and many supplies from the Americans, all of which greatly aided us in waging the war, After Stalin’s death, it seemed that all our artillery was mounted on American equipment. I remember proposing, Let’s turn all the automotive equipment we’re producing over to the military so that the tractor-mounts  in our parade will be Soviet made.

By this time, I wanted to stress how many of our cars and trucks we had received from the Americans. Just imagine how we would have advanced from Stalingrad to Berlin without them! Our losses would have been colossal because we would have had no manoeuvrability. *

*The Soviet tanks were the finest in the world; it until Stalingrad the Soviet army had virtually no mechanized transport. It was with Americans and British trucks that it was able to advance swiftly, complete the encirclement of the German forces around Stalingrad, and sweep out rapidly across the steppe to shatter the German armour at Kursk – and on to Berlin and Vienna.

 In addition, we received steel and aluminium from which we made guns, airplanes and so on. Our own industry was shattered and partly abandoned to the enemy. We also received food products in great quantities. I can’t give you the figures because they’ve never been published. They are all locked away in Mikoyan’s memory. There were many jokes going around in the army, some of them off-colour, about American Spam; it tasted good nonetheless. Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army. We had lost our most fertile lands-the Ukraine and the northern Caucasus.

I repeat, the Allies gave us this help neither out of compassion for our people, nor out of respect for our political system, nor out of hope for the victory of Socialism and the triumph of Marxism-Leninism. The Allies helped us out of a sober assessment of the situation. They were facing a matter of their own life or death. They helped us so that our Soviet army would not fall under the blow of Hitlerite Germany and so that, supplied with modern weapons, we would pulverize the life force of the enemy and weaken ourselves at the same time. They wanted to wait to join the war actively against Germany at a time when the Soviet Union had already spent its might and was no longer able to occupy a decisive position in the solution of world problems.

In this chapter we have the first public acknowledgment by any Soviet politician of the immense part played by Lend-Lease and American and British aid to the Soviet army. It is a pity that Khrushchev felt unable to speak in these terms when he was in power. The Soviet people have never been told what this aid amounted to, and the whole issue has been so clouded with propaganda of one kind and another, that there are all too many people in the West who have never properly understood the magnitude and importance of the Allied contribution.

Courtesy of:  Khrushchev Remembers; translated by Strobe Talbot; Little Brown Company Boston, Toronto, 1970



Drawing Arbitrary Lines

The last British viceroy of India was Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was known as Dickie to his friends. A member of the British royal family, cousin to King George VI, Mountbatten was dynamic and ambitious, and during World War II, he had risen to the post of Commander in Chief of Allied Forces, Southeast Asia. A naval man, his chief career goal was to become Lord Admiral of the British Navy, a post that had been denied his father during World War I because of the family’s German background. In addition to his other qualities, Mountbatten was charismatic and handsome, and his stock was raised further by his marriage to Edwina, an intelligent and driven woman in her own right. Still in his mid-40s at the end of World War II, Mountbatten was at the leading edge of a rising generation of British officials and politicians, and both he and Edwina developed a close relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

Mountbatten was hesitant to accept the post of Viceroy of India when it was first offered to him by Prime Minister Clement Attlee in January 1947. He feared that the situation in India, then threatening to descend into widespread rioting if not outright civil war, could only turn out badly, and he did not want to damage his reputation by presiding over a desperate British departure. He was only convinced to take the post after a conversation with his cousin, the king, and after Attlee agreed to grant him almost unlimited powers to organize the transition to Indian independence. Attlee, for his part, was happy to agree. He wanted someone in India with Mountbatten’s drive and stature to replace the well-intended but pessimistic Lord Wavell.

Mountbatten was sworn in as viceroy on March 24, 1947. He tried to get the situation in hand quickly by arranging face-to-face meetings with top Indian officials, thinking that this personal approach might work better than arranging meetings with all present, which had a history of ending in stalemate. For the rest of March and into the first weeks of April, Mountbatten held several meetings with top Congress Party officials Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, as well as with Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. He also met with Mahatma Gandhi, the symbolic head of India’s independence movement, who at the time was concerned about both the growing violence in India and the apparent likelihood that the country would be divided. The meetings convinced Mountbatten that the partition of India was now the only realistic possibility left if Britain was to achieve its goals. Jinnah was simply too set in his conviction to see Pakistan become a reality, and Nehru and other leaders were unwilling to grant concessions to Jinnah or his Muslim League that might prevent or delay partition. Britain’s goals were a peaceful withdrawal and the assurance that India and Pakistan remained tied to their soon-to-be-former colonial overlord by accepting membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Mountbatten’s charisma was such, and his arguments forceful enough, that even the hesitant Patel agreed to accept the principle of partition. Only Gandhi continued to resist the idea, but he had no official post in the Congress Party or India’s interim government, so his objections had no binding force on the decisions of others.

The agreement that Mountbatten hammered out with India’s leaders was dubbed Plan Balkan by members of the viceroy’s staff who likened it to the divisions of southeastern Europe in the years before World War I. During those territorial divisions, the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had dominated the regions of southeastern Europe known as the Balkans for several centuries, retreated. It left behind a complex patchwork of ethnicities and religious groups that, in that sense was like India. Some of these groups, such as the Serbs, aggressively pursued nationalist interests whereas others sought simply to preserve a sense of territorial or cultural integrity. The conflicts that arose in the Balkans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries were some of the prime causes of World WarI. Mountbatten’s staff feared that the Balkanization of India would prove violent, as well. One of the administrators, Chief of Staff Lord Ismay, later wrote, No one in India thought it was perfect. Yet nearly everyone agreed that it was the only solution which had any chance of being accepted by all political parties, and of ensuring an equitable deal for all minorities. It was not a gamble. There was no other way. Plan Balkan went through several drafts before Krishna Menon, a congressional civil servant, devised a solution that satisfied Mountbatten’s insistence that India remain within the British Commonwealth. Menon’s proposal was that both India and Pakistan become immediate. Commonwealth members and that India’s many princely states, rather than becoming independent, would join either India or Pakistan. It was, in effect, an acknowledgement that the partition of India was imminent.

Mountbatten approved of the plan and set out to convince Nehru and Patel of its merits.  Both had cone around to accepting the principle of partition but, perhaps impatient to actually govern after years of struggling for independence, they hesitated to remain closely tied to Britain. Jinnah had fewer such qualms, as he recognized that Commonwealth status would enable Pakistan to maintain strong military ties to Britain. Once Nehru was reassured that the plan would not permit individual provinces to break away from India beyond Pakistan, he pronounced himself satisfied. Patel, whose political arm twisting would secure the support of the entire Congress Party, agreed to it on condition that Britain leave India quickly, well before the June 1948 deadline announced by Attlee. Plan Balkan had now become Plan Partition.


On June 2, the viceroy convened a meeting of important Indian leaders, whose number included the Sikh representative, Baldev Singh but not Gandhi, although the Mahatma later turned up on his own. It was the first such gathering of importance since December 1946. There, Mountbatten secured Jinnah’s public rejection of the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have left India united. After all the principals left to consider the partition plan,  once again, Mountbatten met with Jinnah, where with some difficulty, he got the Muslim League leader to stop his endless negotiating and acquiesce to the partition plan as it then stood. The deed was done. Mountbatten had already secured the agreements of congressional leaders and the Sikhs. His final gesture at the meeting was to present Indian leaders with a prepared document entitled The Administrative. Consequences of Partition. It required them to face the practical consequences of their decision, to unravel the web left behind by three centuries of common habitation of the subcontinent-three centuries that is, of British presence, in which most of the unraveling would be practical and administrative: the division of government offices and property, the national debt and the armed forces. For many Hindus and Muslims, ties dating back ten centuries would have to be sundered, and many of these ties were abstract yet still vital, notably the connection of villagers to their surroundings and to neighbours who practiced a different faith. The partition plan, meanwhile, became public knowledge on June 3, but it did not specify precisely where the actual borders of India and Pakistan would be.

In a press conference, Mountbatten announced that the date of Britain’s departure would not be June 1948, nor sometime near the end of 1947, as he had originally thought. It would be August 15, 1947, two years after Japan’s surrender ending World War II. On July 4, the official Indian independence Bill was presented to the British Parliament; London having had to scramble to make Plan Partition and the August 15 deadline official. The British pronounced themselves quite pleased with events; one, Lord Samuel, said that “it may be said of the British Raj as Shakespeare said of the Thane of Cawdor, nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.” Even Conservative leader Winston Churchill, who had announced in 1931 that to leave India would mean the end of the British Empire, gave his assent to the plan, and it passed into law on July 15. London’s leaders seemed to have little comprehension of the chaos their quick departure would cause. Meanwhile, in Delhi, Mountbatten printed up hundreds of large tear-off calendars to be placed in government offices, each new page noting that India was one day closer to independence.

The quickness of Britain’s departure left little time to accomplish the practical aspects of partition now that the ideal had been achieved. India’s governmental assets had to be separated, its civil service divided, its armed forces split, and, most importantly, borders had to be drawn. None of these tasks were accomplished without conflict or misgivings or, in the case of the borders, great violence. Adding even greater risk to the plan was the fact that India would simply take over a going concern with everything in place. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be starting from scratch, without an established administration, without armed forces, without records, without equipment or military stores.

Commissions and committees came up with formulas to divide government property, and the concerned officials were so conscientious that they worried about every railroad car, filing cabinet, desk lamp, and even instruments in police hands. After much discussion both sides agreed on a 1 to 4 ratio for government property. For cash assets and their counterpart, the national debt, the ratio was 82.5% for India and 17.5% for Pakistan. Government employees, meanwhile, generally remained in their places across the subcontinent or, if they worked for the central administration, made a choice between India and Pakistan. Establishing these arbitrary boundaries was reasonably straightforward, if not without conflict.

The division of India’s armed forces was more troubling for those directly involved and provided a clear example of the arbitrary borders being drawn. Although material assets, such as guns and ships, were divided in the same ratio of other government property, the same could hardly be done with the soldiers. Most troops were reassigned based on religion, a task fraught with difficulty, since, for example, many Muslims did not want to go to Pakistan, and other troops were neither Muslim, Hindu, nor Sikh. Many troops felt that their loyalty to the armed forces and to their comrades was more important than their communal ties, and they did not want India’s new borders forced upon them.

Meanwhile, officers were given the choice of either the Indian or Pakistani armies; mostly Hindu and Sikh officers chose India, but for Muslims the choice could be very difficult. Many Muslim officers had families and other ties to India and did not wish to uproot themselves. Others felt loyalty above all to Indian Muslims and the ideal of Pakistan, and they hoped to carry the traditions of the Indian army into the new country. These officers made their choices but, in some cases, brothers found themselves in separate armies, which, within months, were to oppose one another on the battlefield. Their fellow Hindu or Sikh officers, meanwhile were often just as distressed at the very idea of partitioning a force that had served India and the empire loyally for decades and had managed to remain aloof from politics.


Mountbatten’s plan had made no provision for any specific borders between India and Pakistan. No one had. All anyone knew was that Pakistan would have two wings, an eastern and western, separated by hundreds of miles of Indian territory. They also knew that, as part of the agreements tentatively reached already, the eastern province of Bengal would be divided, and so also would the western province of Punjab. Jinnah was forced to accept what he had earlier argued would be a moth-eaten Pakistan, shorn of some economic assets of the two provinces: part of the rich agricultural lands of the Punjab, as well as the Bengali city of Calcutta.

The division of Bengal and the Punjab were about as arbitrary as they possibly could be, the only guideline being to separate areas of dominant Hindu and Muslim populations. To draw the borders, Mountbatten organized two boundary commissions, one each for Bengal and the Punjab. At their head was a prominent London lawyer named Cyril Radcliffe. He knew almost nothing of India, which was one reason he was chosen for the task and flown to India on July 8.  Mountbatten and other officials thought his ignorance of India would allow him to act without prejudice towards either side.

Radcliffe’s commission met in a heavily guarded bungalow on the grounds of the viceroy’s mansion in Delhi. The Englishman worked with eight prominent India judges, four each chosen by Congress and the Muslim League. To his despair, Radcliffe quickly found that the principle of drawing borders based on population concentrations could hardly be done clearly and evenly; Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs (who mostly hoped to live in India) were simply too dispersed. Some areas had a clear majority, but in thousands of villages, especially in the Punjab, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had lived side by side for centuries. Inevitably, large numbers of people were going to find themselves placed in countries where they did not wish to live or where they might not be welcome.

The potential borders might also give rise to devastating economic effects. The Punjab was watered by the Indus River system, which flowed down from the Himalayas in the north. Complex irrigation networks using these waters had turned the Punjab into the most agricultural part of India. Any new borders would not cross only cross the rivers, they would also split irrigation networks; a water pump that fed Indian fields, for instance, might be placed in Pakistan, making the entire system virtually useless. The economic vitality of eastern Pakistan was also in danger, although the drawing of the border there was generally more straightforward than in the Punjab. Eastern Bengal’s main product was jute, a natural fibre used to make bags and other packaging materials. Most of the jute was processed in factories in Calcutta. If the boundary commission decided to award Calcutta to India, millions of jute farmers would lose their livelihoods, turning eastern Pakistan into the rural slum that many feared. Meanwhile, pending any new arrangements, thousands of Calcutta factory workers might be made idle and therefore a potential threat to civil order.

The partition of the Punjab presented a particular danger to the Sikhs. They made up only 2% of India’s population, but the Punjab was their traditional homeland and was where most Sikhs lived. Drawn to the armed services, Sikhs had served in numbers disproportionate to their total population in the armies of British India, and a military leader named Baldev Singh had served as both the representative of the Sikhs and of the military during the independence negotiations of previous years. Their martial tradition derived, in part, from their perceived need to defend themselves from Muslim kings whose habit of oppressing Sikhs dated back to the seventeenth century. The Sikh population, one-sixth of the total, was scattered throughout the Punjab, and the area had been the home of an independent Sikh kingdom during the early 1800s.

Sikh concerns were not at the forefront of Radcliffe’s boundary commission, whose borders were mostly based on Hindu or Muslim interests. Sikhs in the western Punjab feared that the new borders would place them in a Muslim state where they would face renewed oppression in a repeat of earlier patterns of Muslim-Sikh hostility.  Militant Muslims, meanwhile, had little interest in seeing a large Sikh population maintained in western Pakistan. The situation was ripe for conflict and misunderstanding, especially as both Muslims and Sikhs began to, take up arms to defend themselves or to plunder the other. One of the Radcliffe’s few clear choices was to award the city of Amritsar, the site of the Sikhs’ Golden Temple and their holiest spot, to India.

Some Sikhs lived in India’s princely states, and the Sikh maharaja of Patiala was the head of the Council of Princes that had represented the states in India’s independence negotiations. The princes were very concerned to preserve at least some of their authority and privileges after independence. Many claimed that, since the British had entered into separate agreements with each of them, their states should return to full independence once the British left. Neither Nehru nor Jinnah had sympathy for these arguments, and Mountbatten was not about to let the question of the princely states slow down the rapid march towards independence.  Plan Partition required the princes to choose either India or Pakistan and be forced to sign articles of accession in each case, giving up any claim to political power. In exchange, the princes could keep their titles and a portion of their estates, which were sometimes vast and extremely wealthy. Groups of diplomats travelled to visit each of the princes, and by early August, almost all of them, recognizing the inevitable, had signed the accession documents. Three holdouts remained. One was the Nizam of Hyderabad, reputedly the richest man in the world. He controlled a state that was nearly as large as Britain and theoretically wealthy enough to survive on its own. He was a Muslim prince, however, in a state populated mostly by Hindus, and one that would be landlocked, surrounded by India once independence occurred. Another holdout was the ruler of Junagadh, a small state on the coast, north of Bombay. The third hesitant prince was the ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh. His indecision, and Kashmir’s strategic importance, led to the first armed conflict between India and Pakistan in the fall and winter of 1947.

Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s boundary commissions proceeded throughout July and early August with their unhappy task. They finally presented their boundary awards to Mountbatten on August 13, and Radcliffe, under heavy guard, returned to Britain, where he remained haunted by his decisions until his death. Mountbatten decided to tell nobody of his partition plan, not even Nehru or Jinnah, before independence had been accomplished. He feared not only escalating communal violence, but that news of the specific borders would dampen enthusiasm over the coming independence celebrations, when any troubles would be the responsibility of the Indian and Pakistani governments, not the British one. He kept the newly drawn borders locked in a safe in his office and diverted any complaints from Indian and Pakistani officials on the matter.

Territorial Loose Ends

India still contained territories controlled by others when it became independent in August 1947. Since Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders wished to consolidate their new nation and prevent any fragmentation, they had to find ways to incorporate these territories and ensure both that India’s new territorial boundaries were secure, and that further fragmentation would not occur,

 Three princely states remained independent that August, their leaders refusing to accede to India, even though most of their counterparts had already done so. One of these was Kashmir, which only acceded to India under the threat of an invasion from Pakistan and whose status is still a source of conflict. The other two required drastic action by India’s government.  One, Junagadh, was a small state on India’s western coast, north of Bombay. Its prince, a Muslim wanted to cede his state to Pakistan, even though Pakistan lay some 150 miles away and most of Junagadh’s population was Hindu. Nehru’s government mounted a naval blockade of the coastal kingdom and, in October 1947, sent an army of 20,000 to take control of the state by force. The prince exiled himself to Pakistan, and Junagadh’s accession to India was legitimized by a vote among its people in 1948. It was integrated into the state of Gujarat.

 Hyderabad, a large and wealthy kingdom that possessed, among other features, its own currency and its own airline, proved more troublesome. Its leader, the Nizam-ul-Mulk, wanted to remain completely independent of both India and Pakistan. When the Nizam refused to give up his independence, Nehru and his deputy prime minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, granted him a period of one year, until August 1948, to change his mind. After the year had passed and the Nizam still had not given in, the government authorized a large-scale invasion that resulted in four days of fighting and a victory for India, Hyderabad and nearby territories became the Indian state of Andrea Pradesh.

 Other parts of India still remained under the control of European colonial powers. In the south near Madras was Pondicherry, a possession of France since the seventeenth century. Realizing that there was little point to maintaining such a small outpost against the desires of India, the French relinquished it peacefully in 1954. France had already, in 1951, surrendered its other outpost: the settlement of Chandernagore in the suburbs of Calcutta.

 On India’s west coast was the large Portuguese enclave of Goa, the oldest European possession in India. Nehru began negotiating with Portugal’s military government soon after independence, but the Portuguese did not want to give up an enclave that they had held for more than 450 years and that was once the centre of their Asian empire. Fed up, Nehru sent in the army in 1961. The Portuguese were unable to mount any effective resistance over several days of fighting, so Goa became part of India, as did Portugal’s other small outposts, Damian and Diu, north of Bombay. Both Goa and Pondicherry were made Indian states and retained a distinctive part-European character.

Radcliffe had been unable to justify awarding Calcutta to East Pakistan, given the importance of the city to recent Indian history. Moreover, it contained large populations of Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups. He placed the border of East Pakistan just to the east of the city itself, leaving the region without a major city. Calcutta’s governor H.S. Suhrawardy and other separatists thought, even in the spring and summer of 1947, that East Pakistan should become an independent country. In a clear example of creating new troubles by determining boundaries based on stated religious affiliation alone, Bengali Muslims had little in common with Muslims in the Punjab or other western provinces; indeed, aside from their religion, they were little different from Bengali Hindus, with whom they shared the Bengali language and numerous customs. Jinnah himself, meanwhile, had never even visited eastern Bengal, and it remained separated from Pakistan by hundreds of miles. Still, neither Jinnah nor Nehru was willing to accept partition into three rather than into two, and they completely rejected calls for Bengali independence.

The boundary awards in the Punjab gave the city of Lahore, one of India’s largest, to Pakistan, whereas Amritsar, only 40 miles away, remained in India. Elsewhere, the line was fairly arbitrary. Radcliffe and his advisers used the only available maps, which were old and outdated, and despite a few visits and flyovers, he gained very little accurate sense of the Punjab topography. Sometimes, not only villages but farms and even houses were separated by the blunt axe that severed Punjab. in a last-minute decision that was to have far reaching consequences, Radcliffe awarded the district of Gurdaspur to India. Gurdaspur provided the only reliable land route connecting India to Kashmir. Had the district instead been awarded to Pakistan, it is likely that Hari Singh, Kashmir’s maharaja, would have had no other choice but to cede Kashmir to Pakistan as well.

With the boundary set and the plans protected, Mountbatten prepared for the final withdrawal of Great Britain and the independence celebrations of India and Pakistan. One concession he had to make on the deadline was to shift it to August 14 rather than August 15. Hindu astrologers had pronounced August 15 to be an extremely inauspicious day and, in a nation where people consulted astrologers for important decisions on matters ranging from marriage to starting businesses to going to war, such opinions mattered. Astrologers determined that August 14, however, would be auspicious, and independence ceremonies were scheduled for midnight on that day.

On August 13, Mountbatten and his wife travelled to Karachi, the city proclaimed the capital of Pakistan. They were met there by Jinnah, who had been unanimously elected president, or head of state, by Pakistan’s constituent assembly on August 11, and the two travelled by open car to recognize the new nation’s independence. Jinnah’s lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan was to be the nation’s first prime minister and as such, the head of the government. Mountbatten later remembered being rather nervous because of rumoured assassination attempts, but Jinnah maintained his customary cool and aloof demeanor. Pakistan’s independence celebrations were as elaborate as could be expected, but Karachi had few facilities appropriate for large celebrations, or even for large-scale governmental administration. This left most of the celebrating to cheering crowds in the streets, which the two leaders’ car passed through. Karachi, a city of 350,000, was overwhelmed by the 250,000 visitors and migrants who had arrived to witness the independence celebrations and to shout again and again, Pakistan Zindabad! or long live Pakistan!

 Mountbatten gave Britain’s farewells to the assembled representatives of Pakistan’s diverse peoples in the crowded—and heavily guarded—assembly hall that had been chosen for the occasion. He was followed by Jinnah, who thanked Mountbatten and the British and expressed his certainty that the two nations would remain on good terms. Jinnah made a more dramatic speech on August 11, before the constituent assembly. There, he proclaimed that Pakistan would be a nation of complete religious freedom and tolerance, not the Islamic state that many feared. He assured his people that my guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your cooperation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.

India’s formal independence celebrations began at sundown, when a procession of Hindu sannyasin or holy men, presented a collection of sacred symbols to Jawaharlal Nehru, designated India’s first prime minister, at his Delhi home. Also, that evening, Great Britain’s flag, the Union Jack, was struck from flagstaff at military and government posts around India for the last time. As in Karachi, hundreds of thousands of celebrants and migrants converged on Delhi to witness the celebrations firsthand, whereas millions of others readied festivities of their own in India’s cities and villages.

At midnight, after India’s constituent assembly had been sanctified by further Hindu rites and after a choir had sung the Congress anthem Vande Mataram, (I Bow to Thee, My Motherland), a Sanskrit poem whose adoption had angered Muslims earlier, Nehru rose to speak. His speech delivered extemporaneously, without notes, and delivered across India via the radio, announced:

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

Soon after, India’s new flag, a tricolour of orange, white and green was raised at Delhi’s Red Fort, an edifice originally erected by the Mughals. The Gandhian spinning wheel that had graced the banner earlier was now replaced by a sign reflecting a much earlier symbol of India’s heritage: the Asoka Buddhist wheel of life. India had achieved independence. The planned processions of Nehru, Mountbatten, and other leaders through Delhi’s streets the next day proved impossible. The crowds were too thick and, to many people’s surprise, both exuberantly happy and peaceful.

At 5:00 P.M. on August 16, Mountbatten revealed Radcliffe’s boundary awards to India’s and Pakistani leaders—Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan had flown into Delhi for the occasion. None were pleased. The placements of Calcutta, Lahore and Amritsar were no surprise, but other issues inspired ill feeling. Balder Singh was dismayed that so many Sikh holy places had been awarded to Pakistan. Indian leaders were unhappy that the mostly Buddhist Chittagong hill tracts, in far eastern Bengal also went to Pakistan. Jinnah, for his part, was disappointed that Gurdaspur District, which again provided India’s only road link to Kashmir, went to the Indians, despite an earlier warning to Mountbatten’s staff that this would have a most serious impact on relations between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Radcliffe had apparently based his Gurdaspur decision on Nehru’s desire to leave Kashmir connected to India pending the decision of the hesitant maharaja, Hari Singh, to join one of the two nations.

The borders were revealed to the public on August 17, and those Punjabi villages whose residents had cautiously flown both Indian and Pakistani flags on August 15 now knew their status. The immediate effect was to vastly increase a torrent of migration towards India or Pakistan that had already begun. Within weeks, 11.5 million people were on the move. Ten million of these were in Punjab, as 5 million Hindus and Sikhs made their way towards India and a similar number of Muslims headed for Pakistan. These millions were people who had found new arbitrary borders drawn around them, often with little attention paid to tradition or other communal relationships, or to areas that had served the agricultural needs of its inhabitants for generations. The migrations were accompanied by communal violence that left hundreds of thousands dead.  V.P. Menon, a member of Congress who had played a large part in refining the partition plan and convincing many of India’s princes to accede to it, said simply as India became independent, now our nightmares really start. He seemed to understand that the drawing of new national boundaries did not automatically create viable new nation-states, especially in a land as diverse and complex as India, a land where people’s loyalties might be attached as much to a religious community, caste, cultural group, or village as they were to a traditionally defined nation-state.

Courtesy of:


Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Cabinet Mission

Wavell and the Labour Government

With Labour Party’s victory at the polls in July 1945, Attlee, as the new prime minister, continued his opposition to Wavell’s proposed policies for India. According to Irail Glynn, the Labour Party also preferred, like its predecessor, that men in Whitehall to be the final judges of the policies to be adopted in India. Wavell was this kept in the dark by his own superiors resulting eventually in his failure to deal with the Indians in an atmosphere of mutual trust and to prevent the Pakistan plan from emerging soon.

Labour Party had been a strong supporter of the Congress and a big proponent of self-government in India for years. Above all, during the recent election campaign it had promised that if Labour is returned we would close the India Office and transfer Indian business to the Dominions Office . . . This act would give them confidence that they are no longer governed from Whitehall. At the start of the new parliament on 21 August 1945, Attlee replied to a question by Woodrow Wyatt about transferring Indian affairs to the dominions office by declaring that he had no statement to make.

The Labour Government on 13 August 1945 undertook three important steps:

  • Release of the Congress prisoners
  • Removal of ban on Congress
  • Immediate ordering of general elections in India.

Wavell was called to London immediately in this regard and he gave his briefing about the problems of the Indian political scene. But ground realities were different as the Hindu-Muslim conflict had reached such a point that in the opinion of David McIntyre,

 Only one week before the Victory Parade, Wavell was predicting the possibility of violent uprising, requested orders as to whether he should plan to scuttle or to stay.

  • It had become clear after the Governors’ Conference on 2 August 1945 that elections to verify the claims of the Congress and the League should be held before the formation of the central and provincial ministries.
  • Secondly, the Pakistan issue must be dealt with and its drawbacks brought to notice of all parties, especially the Muslims.

Wavell went to England with this frame of mind but was taken aback, for Whitehall had a diametrically opposite understanding of, and consequently, a different stance concerning the Indian problem. Although the Cripps Proposals had been rejected by both the Muslim League and the Congress, they had remained the only outstanding offer of the British government during the Second World War. R.J. Moore is right in suggesting that,  the irony is that by the time Labour achieved office, its scheme for the transfer of power (Cripps Proposals) was no longer feasible.

The Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in his briefing to the India Committee suggested that the best guarantor of political progress in India were still the Cripps Proposals. He said that while the constitutional issue was being settled, there would presumably be a time lag during which the business of India had to be carried on. He also suggested means for forming a provisional Executive Council from a provincial panel.

Wavell demanded two things during his talks in London:

  • That the Pakistan issue be tackled
  • The elections take place for the Constituent and Provincial assemblies.

The general elections which were held in 1945-46 witnessed that the Muslim voters gave an overwhelming mandate in favour of Pakistan while the Hindus overall voted for Congress which stood for a united India. This most visible victory of the League, however, was not accepted by the Congress and the British as a complete and wholehearted mandate of Muslims for Pakistan.

Durga Das has recorded his meeting with Attlee in 1945 and writes,

Attlee did not conceal his deep agitation over the Muslim demand for Pakistan and agreed with my plea that a minority should not be allowed to hold up progress of the majority to self-rule. He added that his intention was to promote in India a structure that would give her federal unity . . . He considered the Congress as a party which was the true advocate for freedom and the League a disruption its one and expressed the hope that in the impending elections the League candidates in Punjab, Sindh and North West Frontier would be defeated. That would help preserve the unity of India.

 However, contrary to the desires of Attlee and many other well-known political pundits the results of elections to the Central Assembly and the provincial seats forcefully strengthened the case for Pakistan. Even then, Wavell was not ready to accept ground realities and thought that it was time for the British government to make a clear statement regarding its intentions for acceptance or rejection of the Pakistan demand. He held that the Congress and the League would be unable to settle/arrive at any agreement about the Pakistan issue and this would result in a political deadlock. He thought that His Majesty’s Government should not allow another deadlock in the event of parties failing to come to terms and, therefore, must be ready to offer its own plan.

The Labour Government, though it agreed with the seriousness of the demand for Pakistan, wanted to find out for itself whether it could be dealt with effectively by some other means. They decided to send a fact-finding mission consisting of members of the Parliament to India. Wavell welcomed this proposal and rejected the other one according to which the two main leaders from the Congress and the League should go to London for talks. The Parliamentary delegation was able to confirm that Jinnah was firm on his stand. It also concluded that the demand for Pakistan was not a bargaining counter on the part of Jinnah, therefore, it had to be faced and tackled by appropriate political means.

Wavell and the Cabinet Mission

The British government decided, the foundation of a provisional constitution for India must be based upon the 1935 Act, and such a constitution must continue to provide a unitary framework, but within it means of satisfying, to the greatest degree compatible with preservation of India as a single state, the aspirations of Indian Muslims for self-rule. This was the game plan of the India Office as conveyed to the Cabinet Mission on its departure for India.

According to Philip Ziegler, Lord Pethick-Lawrence was technically to be in charge of whatever negotiations were necessary; but in fact, Cripps and the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, took over responsibility. The Cabinet Mission which came to negotiate with Indians about the formula and modus operandi of the transfer of power, did not wish to include Wavell, the Governor General, during its workings in India. Probably they thought they knew more than him, therefore, they thought of him as less than useful. The Labour Government, however, included him after his note of protest. Though they decided to include Wavell as one of the negotiators, he was not taken into confidence about their game plan. Wavell rightly observed, I may be left with all the loose and awkward ends to tie up, and perhaps to implement a policy with which I do not agree. He, therefore, made it clear that he should not be treated as a communicator but negotiator and mediator and if it is the wish of H.M.G. that I should be responsible for implementing in India any settlement to be negotiated, I must really and genuinely be consulted.

Wavell’s relationship with Cripps had never been cordial, and it worsened with time. Wavell thought that Cripps could not be an honest and impartial negotiator because he is sold to the Congress point of view. Wavell deplored that both Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence failed to maintain high standards of impartiality, fair play and justice while they were dealing with the Hindu-Muslim problem. He complained to the prime minister that the late Cabinet Mission had too many unofficial advisers and indirect contacts, which had made his job and the job of the Mission more difficult in settling disputes. Further, he said, I thought it was a mistake that the Mission should have had, outside the official discussions, such a continuous and close touch with one of the two main parties, the Congress. This naturally aroused the deep suspicions of the Muslim League about the intentions of the Cabinet ministers.

Wavell was dissatisfied with the tactics of double-cross and underhand dealings adopted by the Cabinet delegation during their negotiations with the Indian leaders.  Cripps methods created suspicion and confusion as Wavell thought that Abdul Kalam Azad and Jinnah were being presented with different propositions. According to Patrick French, in the end the Delegation created more problems than they solved, and the last chance to retain a united India disappeared.

The Cabinet. Mission Plan had pleased neither the League nor the Congress. The Cabinet delegation, especially Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, knew that without Congress’s support of the plan, a government of a united India though with a weak centre, could not be formed. Cripps, especially wanting to avoid the formation of a government by Jinnah at all costs, persuaded the Congress to at least accept the long-term part of the plan. Wavell wrote on 25 June 1946:

The worst day yet, I think. Congress has accepted the Statement of May 16, though with reservations on its interpretation. They did not intend to do so, having always said they would not accept the long-term policy unless they accepted the short-term one, the Interim Government. Now Cripps, having assured me categorically that Congress would never accept the Statement of May 16, instigated Congress to do by pointing out the tactical advantage they would gain as regards the Interim Government. So, did the Secretary of State. When I talked to him on this, he defended on the grounds that to get the Congress into the Constituent Assembly was such a gain that he considered it justified. It has left sin an impossible position vis-à-vis Jinnah.

 Describing the delegation members’ underhand dealings with the Congress, Sudhir Ghosh has written:

This ‘parity’ between the majority and minority, between the Muslim League and the Congress, was of course wholly unacceptable to the majority party. In giving Mr. Jinnah such an indication, the Viceroy had seriously slipped up and the Secretary of State was disturbed about it. He sent for me on 12 June and told me how upset he was about it all. Was there no way of persuading Gandhiji to find a way out of this tangle? I told the Secretary of State that only thing to do was to have a heart-to-heart talk with Gandhiji and to appeal to him for help. So, he asked me if I could not fetch Gandhiji to his house for a talk that evening . . . It was because of Gandhi’s influence that the Congress accepted the long-term part of the plan only on 25 June.  

Pethick-Lawrence and Cripps were partly successful in trying to clear up the mess created by Wavell’s assurances to Jinnah because he had refused (Wavell) to allow the Muslim League to form the Interim Government without the Congress, contrary to his earlier assurances. Wavell’s justice, fair play and honesty were now put to the test. He told Alexander,

I should normally ask to be relieved of my appointment after what happened; that I thought I had been placed in an impossible position with the M.L. (Muslim League) and that Cripps had not been quite straight.

He thought of resigning but soon dropped the idea, reasoning that his resignation would badly expose the conduct of the three Ministers and His Majesty’s Government and did not want to embarrass either of them. Though Wavell regretted for a short while the failure of not forming the Interim Government, he still believed, we must try to leave India united; and we must secure the cooperation of the Congress which represents the great majority of Indian political opinion whatever our views on the past record of that party. Besides, he held that too much dependence on the shifting views and actions of a set of inexperienced, short-sighted and sometimes malevolent politicians had caused the failure.

According to Kevin Jeffreys, certainly, in assessing the record of the post-war Labour Government, historians are agreed that Attlee’s party made only limited advances towards its stated aim in 1945—the creation of a socialist commonwealth. In some policy areas, continuity with wartime practice was undeniable. Under Ernest Bevin, for example, the surprising choice as Foreign Secretary, hopes of a ‘socialist foreign policy’ soon disappeared as the Cold War got underway, but in case of India it seems oversimplification of the facts. The Labour Government had high regard and respect for Congress and wanted to quickly transfer power to their so-called socialist brothers. This state of mind led the delegation to appease the Congress at all costs during the negotiations and they used all means, moral or otherwise to enlist its leaders’ support for keeping India united.

 Meanwhile Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence continued their daily secret meetings with the Congress leaders. Lawrence took daily walks, with Agatha Harrison (Secretary, India Conciliation Group), a friend of C.F. Andrews, who was himself an associate of Gandhi which prompted concerns about their integrity in Wavell’s mind. He thought, but far more unfortunate than these was the presence of Agatha Harrison and Horace Alexander, who lived in the Congress camp, were completely sold to Gandhi and saw the S.of S. almost daily.

According to Sudhir Ghosh: why Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, at moments of crisis in the India-Britain negotiations, chose to meet Gandhiji secretly in the garden at the back of the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi without making knowledge either of the British Viceroy or of the Indian political leaders in a struggle to hand over power to an undivided India is, I see now many years later, a poignant as well as a dramatic story.

 While saluting the services of these English leaders for the Congress, B/R. Nanda, a biographer of Gandhi quite frankly admits:

Not merely the compulsion of events, but a measure of idealism went into the policy which Prime Minister Attlee initiated and carried through during the years 1946-47. And in so far as the British Government was impelled by idealism, by a desire to open a fresh chapter in Indo-British relations, it was a victory for Gandhi, who had pleaded for thirty years for transformation of a relationship between the two countries. Among the advocates of this transformation were several English men and women. Hume and Wedderburn, C.E. Andrews and Horace Alexander, Brailsford and Brockway, Laski and Carl Heath, Mauri Lester and Agatha Harrison who never wavered in their sympathy for the Indian cause in their own day they represented a tiny and not-too-influential minority, but in the fullness of time their opinions became the national policies of their country.

 Even Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence quite frankly admitted that they had contacts with the Congress leaders about the nature of which Wavell was unclear. Lawrence admitted that he wrote a secret letter to Nehru while he was in Simla. However, even such favours failed to win Congress’s support as it kept raising the bar. Even, Pethick-Lawrence later conceded,

We think you will agree that it was our experience that it is the consistent practice of Indian parties to take up a bargaining position well in advance of what they expect to get and we feel that it would be fatal to deal with Nehru’s letter on assumption that it is final challenge under threat of a direct breach with Congress. We regard it rather as another attempt, such as was constantly made during Mission’s negotiations, to squeeze some further concessions out of H.M.G.

The Labour Party did not mind letting Jinnah down while trying to appease the Congress. It cared the least for upholding any moral standards while dealing with him. And the Cabinet Delegation also decided to blame him for its failure.  Lawrence went to the extent of using provocative language and even passed irresponsible remarks about Jinnah.

Wavell before offering the formation of the government to the Congress, wanted some clarifications. He wanted to make it clear to the Congress that it must first accept the statement of May 16 fully and sincerely on the lines laid down by the Mission. Besides he did not want any reduction in the powers of the governor-general unless both parties agreed to it. He also requested Whitehall to stand firm against any blackmailing by the Congress. He wanted to correct the Congress’s impression that they had got the British on the run. But the prime minister told him to carry on with what he had been directed to do. But perhaps the greatest of all the impediments to a solution was the state of mutual mistrust amongst the various political actors. According to Leonard Mosley,

Jinnah and the Muslim League mistrusted the Congress and Congress mistrusted the Viceroy; Wavell mistrusted the Labour Government; Attlee did not necessarily mistrust Wavell but had certainly lost faith in him.

Attlee asked Wavell to accept Sir Maurice Gwyer as political adviser. Wavell felt very bad about it and thought that the prime minister and his Labour Government did not trust his political wisdom because it was not sufficiently pro-Congress. He wrote,

 I had a letter from the PM, pressing me again Maurice Gwyer as Political Adviser. He has obviously been told that I receive nothing but official I.C.S. advice and that my political judgement is therefore unsound, i.e., not sufficiently pro-Congress. I think my judgement is better than H.M.G.’s and shall say so; and tell him that if H.M.G. don’t like it their duty to find another Viceroy, as I will not be a figure-head.

Nonetheless, he acted upon the directions and started negotiations with Nehru. Nehru, sensing the weak and awkward position of the governor-general vis-à-vis his own government in London began to behave as if he had already become the Prime Minister of India and expected Wavell to act accordingly. Wavell, under the circumstances, was forced to accept his suggestions.

Wavell was convinced that a coalition government would not only help to bypass the demand for Pakistan but help avoid a civil war as well. However, Nehru and Gandhi did not share his feelings and insisted that the Congress Party should solely be allowed to form the Interim Government regardless of the consequences. When Wavell warned that one-party rule would lead to a certain civil war, as was obvious from the carnage on the Direct Action Day, Gandhi pounded the table and said, if a bloodbath was necessary it would come about in spite of non-violence. Gandhi in his letter on 28 August told Wavell that Congress would not bend itself to adopt what it considered a wrong course because of the brutal exhibition recently witnessed in Bengal. Such submissions would itself lead to an encouragement and repetition of such tragedies. Therefore, he advised Wavell to wholly trust the Congress concerning the formation of the Interim Government.

Wavell aware of the repercussions and the backlash it would bring to induct one party rule in a multi-religious country with hostile feelings, three days before induction of the Nehru’s government, again asked His Majesty’s Government to declare the Grouping was a mandatory part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. To him, it was not a matter of legal niceties but of practical considerations and also because it would put the full weight of His Majesty’s Government behind that important part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Wavell wrote:

 Though the consequences may be serious I think it as well that things have come to a head. Calcutta with its 4,400 dead, 16,000 injured and over 100,000 homeless showed that a one-party government at the Centre was likely to cause fierce disorders everywhere. Far from having any sobering effects, it had increased communal hatred and intransigence. If Congress intentions are as Gandhi’s letter suggests the result of their being in power can only be a state of virtual civil war in many parts of India while you and I are responsible to Parliament.

But Pethick-Lawrence did not agree with Wavell’s statement that Congress always meant to use their position in the Interim Government to break up the Muslim League and in the Constituent Assembly to destroy the grouping scheme. In response to him he advised Wavell, we should therefore like you to avoid pressing the grouping question to a final issue before the Interim Government takes over and has a period in office. Thus, Wavell was left with no choice but to invite the Congress to form a new government in September 1946.

But Jinnah was not ready to yield to such pressure tactics on his principled stand for Pakistan, referring to which Ayesha Jalal has written,

Not to be outwitted and without wasting further time, Jinnah accepted Wavell’s offer of joining the Interim Government on 13 October 1946. Wavell had made this offer despite opposition from Nehru and His Majesty’s Government. His aim of bringing the two parties together was an attempt to try and solve the major constitutional and political issues, especially those related to Pakistan, but it seems that enough time had already been wasted and now only the adoption of the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety could have ensured the unity of India. Such delays had already created doubts in Wavell’s mind that things were moving too fast to be contained simply by bringing the two parties together.

Wavell sincerely believed that the Congress’s objection to the Grouping clause was contrary to the Cabinet Mission’s interpretation, therefore, he showed reluctance to call the meeting of the Constituent Assembly unless the Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety. He maintained that the Compulsory Grouping part was the crux of the Cabinet Mission Plan whereas the Congress leaders believed that accepting that part would result in ‘Balkanization’ of India. In fact,

 at this stage a difference of opinion between the Viceroy and the London authorities was noticed. Attlee and Pethick-Lawrence not only regretted Wavell’s intimation to Congress that he would not call the Constituent Assembly until the point about grouping was cleared up, but also asked the Viceroy not to take any steps which were likely to result in a breach with the Congress.

Now Wavell pressured the Muslim League that it must either attend the Constituent Assembly meetings or otherwise resign from the Interim Government to which Liaquat Ali Khan responded that the League members would be ready to resign whenever required, but they would not accept the long-term plan unless His Majesty’s Government declared that the provinces must meet in Sections. Wavell did try again as he himself was convinced that the League’s stand was right. He also knew of the growing risk of civil war in case of the League’s resignation from the government which might put the life, property and interests of the British imperialists in jeopardy. He was equally aware of the growing tendency towards militancy in the League circles which he himself conceded was because of a lack of firmness and honesty on the part of the British government.

Failing to convince Whitehall to make an unequivocal statement regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan, Wavell on 20 November 1946 announced the decision of His Majesty’s Government to call the Constituent Assembly on 9 December. In fact, the Labour Government itself had been under extreme pressure from Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel who had twice threatened to resign from the Interim Government if their demand for dismissal of the League ministers from the Interim Government was not met. Thus, in order to break the deadlock and to bring about a settlement on the issue of the Constituent Assembly, Whitehall invited two representatives each from the Congress and the Muslim League along with one Sikh to fly at once to London for discussions.

On 2 December 1946 in London, Wavell apprised His Majesty’s Government:

The Muslim League leaders raised cries of Pakistan and Islam in danger originally to enhance their prestige and power and thus their bargaining value as a political party. They have now so inflamed their ignorant and impressionable followers with the idea of Pakistan as a new Prophet’s Paradise on earth and as their only means of protection against Hindu domination, that it will be very difficult to satisfy them with anything else. I think Jinnah is honest in saying that he had great difficulty in putting across the Mission Plan with his party, though he was probably wise enough to recognize it as a reasonable compromise worth trying at least for a period.

He recommended to the British government to make the fullest use of the present discussions to try and restore the Mission’s plan to its originally intended form. He feared that it would be impossible to carry out the present negotiations with any hope of success unless the Labour Government made up their mind ‘whether or not they are prepared to stand up to the Congress’. On their part the British government thought that Wavell had outlived his usefulness in his present position so did not heed his advice and decided to re over him. The immediate reason for his removal, however, was his insistence upon implementing his ‘Breakdown Plan’ in case of a political deadlock which he felt was imminent.

Courtesy of: The Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press Karachi 2011

Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Conservative Party

This chapter attempts to investigate the relationship between the British government in India and His Majesty’s Government in London during Wavell’s viceroyalty of India. It discusses the difference in ideas, approaches and plans of Wavell with the British political leaders and bureaucrats such as Winston Churchill, Sir Stafford Cripps, Leopold Amery, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Clement Attlee, and examines their actions, because they shaped the policies of the British government towards British India.

Wavell and the Conservative Party

Wavell’s relationship with Churchill had never been cordial but it worsened soon after he became the Viceroy of India because the British War Cabinet under Churchill realized, owing to their divergent ideas with Wavell that they had chosen the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong place.  Firstly, the War Cabinet had appointed Wavell as no suitable replacement to Linlithgow was available. Secondly, Whitehall wanted to preserve law and order in the country and did not want to touch upon the political and constitutional problems of the country. Amery wrote in his diary, Winston would not have been as keen about Wavell as Viceroy if he had realized how thoroughly Wavell backs up Allenby’s policy of sympathy with Egyptian nationalism. Amery opined that he would not be at all surprised if Wavell went a long way in trying to find a solution to the Indian problem.

Wavell, of whom Churchill thought of in cricketing terms as a ‘night watchman’ inserted to stonewall until the end of the war offered fresh options, on the contrary was a politically savvy military officer who started making plans for political changes in India even before he had assumed the top office in India. His first plan is known to history as the Wavell Plan. He was concerned about the tense political relationship then existing between the British government and the Indians and wanted to change that with a proactive approach.

The War Cabinet* issued a draft directive to the Viceroy, originally suggested by Cripps on 29 September 1943 and then approved it so that the new Viceroy should be able to approach the political leaders in India as and when he considers it desirable. But it was amended on 4 October on a more restrictive sense with the addition of the words but should consult the War Cabinet about the time and form of any invitation to be issued.

*The wartime Coalition Government in UK was headed by Winston Churchill of the Conservative Party and its Cabinet was composed of outstanding political personalities. The India Committee of the British Cabinet set up in 1942 was the powerhouse for Indian policy-and decision-making. Its members were chosen for their wide knowledge of India. Besides Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chaired the committee, other well-known ministers included Simon, Anderson, Grigg, Butler, Amery and Cripps, and Wavell was indirectly answerable to this committee via the Secretary of State for India, who acted as a middle-man between the Viceroy and the British government. Besides the above, Wavell was also answerable to the War Cabinet and Whitehall with regards to any political initiatives in India

The British Cabinet’s instructions exhorted Wavell to give top priority first to the defence of India and he was warned to beware above all things of raising political issues that might prejudice India’s war effort. All this meant in other words that he should simply forget about the political situation in India. Thus, not only did the Wavell Plan go into cold storage, the course of action proposed and endorsed by a majority of the India Committee was ruled out. Wavell also gathered from his private discussions with Churchill that the latter feared a split in the Conservative Party and some kind of a parliamentary trouble in case of any fresh step regarding political reforms in India.  Churchill was not ready to take this risk and was determined to block it as long as he was in power. *

*Churchill cancelled the meeting of the Cabinet on India and invited Wavell to see him alone. Winston had a formula for a directive which, in Wavell’s eyes, was mostly meaningless. It entailed instruction to improve the lot of the Indians; to make peace between Muslims and Hindus, and only at the end indicated that political progress during the war was not debarred.

Churchill never wished to see his new Viceroy taking initiatives on the political front in India. *

*Though Wavell always came up to the expectations of Winston and won many laurels on the battlefield, he never received the acknowledgements and recognition from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his services. In June 1941, Churchill wrote to Wavell that he had concluded that public interest would best be served by the appointment of General Auchinleck to replace you in command of armies of the Middle East. Although he acknowledged and appreciated Wavell’s services in the region but was very angry with him, as he had become impatient at Wavell’s reluctance to take the offensive against the Germans. He got into serious doubts about the intellect and vision of Wavell whom he always saw as an unimpressive and boring kind of person. He thought he was more like ‘the chairman of the golf club’. Quoted in Ronald Lewin, The Chief, p. 26; Churchill transferred him to the position of Commander-in-Chief of India in June 1941. Despite Wavell’s repeated requests he did not grant him home leave for some days. John Connell, Wavell: Scholar and Soldier, pp 464-507, Wavell was called back to London in April 1943, never to return as commander-in-chief for India.  The confidence of Churchill on the generalship of Wavell began to waver. Churchill decided to remove Wavell. Their relations became strained and when Wavell returned to England from the United States of America, instead of going back to India, he was told to take some of his overdue home leave.

He was annoyed with Wavell’s political views and his insistence on pursuing them that he even refused to attend Wavell’s farewell party when he was leaving for India as the viceroy-designate. On 7 October 1943, Amery recorded in his diary,

Winston who seems to have been rather on the rampage at first and more or less accused Wavell of playing for his hand and trying to do a public stunt to which Wavell seems to have said that he had no desire to go to India and was quite willing to resign if the PM did not trust him.

 Wavell, in spite of all these impediments did introduce some confidence building measures in India like his determined efforts to help the victims of the Bengal famine.

At the beginning of his viceroyalty, Wavell had a high opinion of Gandhi, thinking that he would help in resolution of the political deadlock in India. In spite of Whitehall’s reluctance, Wavell released him from prison in 1944 as he had been seriously ill for some time. Wavell also wrote many letters to Whitehall concerning Gandhi’s demand that he wanted to talk to the Viceroy concerning the formation of a national government. Amery wired back to Wavell on 4 October in which he stated that the entire Cabinet was perturbed over his contacts with Gandhi. They considered Gandhi a political dead horse and believed that Wavell’s re-opening of negotiations with him would revive his political career.

Wavell’s actions on behalf of Gandhi led to severe disagreements with the people in London including an exchange between the Viceroy and the British Cabinet which created a row with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who wanted no part of negotiations with Gandhi. The debate gathered momentum over the next few days. Amery maintained that the Viceroy should have avoided a direct collision with the PM and the Cabinet on an issue, not of substance, but of tone and wording. Amery lent his dissent to the War Cabinet’s decision at its meeting on 14 August, recorded in the minutes that on the ground that in a matter not of broad policy, but of wording and tone, the earnest and repeatedly expressed opinion of the Viceroy should not be overridden. 

 Wavell nearly resigned over his stand concerning Gandhi’s release from prison, but he withdrew from his earlier determination to do so. There was a strong Indian reaction to His Majesty’s Government’s decision of not having parleys with Gandhi. Wavell complained to Amery of an obviously hostile Cabinet who seem to have no confidence in my judgement on any matter and justified his complaint by reference to the previous incidents. Indian reactions to Wavell’s reply had been strong and Wavell rightly suggested that the Cabinet has destroyed at one blow my reputation for fairness and good temper in my correspondence with Gandhi. In his protesting letter to Amery, Wavell wrote, they have now turned down my recommendations for:

  1. Indian Finance Minister
  2. Section 93 in Bengal at the beginning of the year
  3. Bajpai’s status
  4. The form of my reply to Mr. Gandhi; and
  5. My requests for food imports, of which my great persistence has produced an inadequate amount. He warned Amery that His Majesty’s Government must really give up trying to treat the Government of India as a naughty and tiresome child whose bottom they can smack whenever they feel like it.

Future interaction between Wavell and Whitehall suffered immensely due to this episode. It substantially weakened Wavell’s position in the eyes of the Indians and he feared that there might be a Congress-League coalition against the British government. *

*Gandhi-Jinnah talks were expected to be held soon and possibly result in a compromise between the two main parties. Wavell believed that Gandhi had the talent and would manoeuvre successfully as Jinnah would not totally understand his feelings and intentions. He wrote that ‘I am sure that Gandhi’s real object is to get the Working Committee out of detention and that he will go a very long way (with the usual mental reservations) in dealing with Jinnah to secure the cooperation of the Muslim League. Having drafted an agreement of some kind he may tell Jinnah that he is at a disadvantage because the working committee, who alone can commit the Congress, are in detention and may suggest a joint approach to Viceroy to secure their release.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.87; Wavell to Amery 15 August 1944, Wavell Collections

In the meantime, a further clash between Churchill and Wavell occurred when Whitehall suddenly announced that the pay and allowances of the British forces serving in the Far East were to be increased. Despite the fact that under the rules of defence expenditure the costs would mainly fall on India and would almost inevitably involve a corresponding increase in the pay of Indian forces and result in increased inflation in India, the Delhi government was not consulted. Wavell did not like such decisions being made in London without even consulting Delhi.

In one of his private telegrams of protest to Amery which was imprudently permitted to come to notice of Churchill, Wavell feared that the Council will take the line that if His Majesty’s Government has to bribe the British forces to fight in the Far East, they should pay the bill. Wavell’s use of such flagrant language against him and Whitehall was more than insubordination and highly treasonable in the eyes of Churchill, who condemned Wavell’s seditious language and accused him of insulting the British soldier. Wavell noted in his diary that this exchange of letters and controversy would neither improve Churchill’s mindset about India nor would it improve personal relations between the two.

He visualized right at the outset that if the British government did not take the initiative to break the political and constitutional deadlock in India, it would result in chaos, civil war and partition of India. By middle of 1944, Wavell once again stressed upon the home government to reconsider his earlier Wavell Plan, which had been turned down in 1943. He was also conscious of the fact that India’s services in the war must be recognized along with other contributions which India had made towards turning the tide of war.

Amery had been keenly observing these developments and formulated a new approach to the Indian problem. In his letter of 3 October 1944 to Wavell, he explained his plan in detail stating that India’s main grievance and source of bitterness was not the existing Government of India but Downing Street and the House of Commons. He further added that Indians constantly felt discriminated in all spheres of life by decisions taken by outsiders.

Based on his own soul-searching, Amery suggested to Wavell that he should announce that India would enjoy dominion status. He also visualized that the Viceroy would be more powerful and would exercise the power to override his council or dismiss it with his own judgement and without any prior approval from the Secretary of State for India or Whitehall.

Amery was not only interested in seeing the Delhi government rid of the remote control from Whitehall but also wanted to sideline the demand for Pakistan. He wanted to ensure:

This continuance of unity of India under the present Government does not preclude an eventual Pakistan, though I believe that in fact it would create an atmosphere in which at any rate the extreme Pakistan demand would no longer make the same appeal, and more practical considerations get the upper hand.

 He chalked out a programme in which the Congress would be empowered to impede the Pakistan demand. Therefore, he thought the essence of the idea in fact would be to release the Congress internees and to send an invitation to them to take part in coalition governments in the provinces and to participate in planning the future constitution at leisure. Amery feared that the division in Indian society was so obvious that the proposed Wavell Plan would result in further division among them. Similarly, after the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Amery suggested that, since the two main organized parties were incapable of finding a solution, both should be excluded from, or sparsely represented on the contemplated constitution-making body. To him, the best remedy was to avoid establishing a council proposed in the Wavell Plan and set up a council consisting of non-political elements instead. It would form a very suitable nucleus, partly because it would already include representatives of the princes.

On 6 December 1944 India Committee met to discuss the Wavell and Amery plans. The Wavell Plan was bitterly criticized by its members including Amery who put forward his own alternative scheme. He explained that what he had in mind was a body of some 40 to 50 persons, thoroughly representatives of all sections, parties, and interest groups and in particular the martial races of the Punjab. However, his idea was dropped, and Wavell’s proposals were postponed for another six months.

However, neither the British Parliament could be bypassed nor, could the two major political parties of India be ignored as proposed by Amery. Wavell was of the view that Amery has a curious capacity for getting hold of the right stick but practically always the wrong end of it.

 As Wavell did not appreciate the response from the India Committee* he decided to write directly to the prime minister. After complaining of the various grievances of the Delhi government against London, he informed Churchill that the current Government of India could not continue indefinitely, or even for long—the British Civil Service, on which the good government of the country had until then depended, might almost be described as moribund, the senior members being tired and disheartened. He said that with the approaching end of the Japanese war, political prisoners would have to be released and they would find a fertile field for agitation in food shortages and unemployment, following the closure of war factories, unless their energies had previously been diverted in trying to solve the constitutional problem.

*Wavell writing to Amery said that ‘I definitely do not agree with your remedy. If we held general elections in the present state of feeling there would be a great increase in communal bitterness, with unfortunate results on the war effort; and I do not believe that a constituent assembly on the Cripps model could be formed or would produce any useful result at this stage. I have reason to think that the Muslim league would not agree to a constitution-making body of this kind. Jinnah told Mudie a few days ago that he would not hear of such a proposal and gave figures to illustrate his objection; he repeated his opinion in another letter that Jinnah told Mudie during their recent talk that the Muslim League would not accept anything of the kind, as the method of the election of the Constituent Assembly outlined in the Cripps offer would be dis satisfactory to the Muslims. Wavell to Amery, 5 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series 1944-45 p. 134.

Wavell, recommending an approach to Gandhi and Jinnah and their followers, said,

But the Congress and the League are the dominant parties in Hindu and Muslim India and will remain so. They control the Press, the electoral machine, the moneybags, and have prestige of established parties.

 He held that even if Gandhi and Jinnah disappeared tomorrow, he could see no prospect of having more reasonable people to deal with. He insisted on consideration of his plan because the commander-in-chief, governors of all eleven provinces, and the senior members of the services supported his plan.

Churchill’s response on 26 November 1944 clearly showed that he disagreed over the urgency of the matter. He held that these large problems require to to be considered at leisure and best of all in victorious peace. Wavell was anxious to write another letter to convince the prime minister of the urgency of the moment and to inform him of the psychological advantage but was restrained by Amery’s advice.* Amery suggested to him to refrain from a direct communique to the prime minister and promised to influence the members of the War Cabinet to get the matter referred to the Cabinet India Committee.

*Wavell wrote that ‘I have been careful not to commit myself with Jinnah or anyone else. It would be quite impossible for me to shut myself up and refuse to see any of the Indian politicians or to try to find out what they are thinking. I am sure it is right that I should continue to see political personalities as opportunity offers, to have a chance to size them up. I think you can trust me not to give away anything.’ Wavell to Amery 27 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series, 1944-45, pp 134-5

The India Committee in its meeting of 6 December disagreed with the vitals of the Wavell Plan but did invite him to London for a face to face meeting where he could justify the details of his plan.

Wavell thought that it would be a grave mistake to postpone, because of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru’s non-party conference, as that would produce no proposals of value; and he proposed that he should reach London about 15 January. Now, Churchill directed Amery to place before the Cabinet the question of whether Wavell should come home at all at this juncture. He feared, I expect he is going to make trouble and stage a scene for resignation. But Wavell was quite conscious of the urgency for getting both the parties to work together in the coalition government and this would, he expected, generate team spirit. Their cooperation would also help to sideline the Pakistan issue. He met with Jinnah on 6 December 1944 and got an opinion. Writing to Amery on 12 December 1944, Wavell told him:

Jinnah was prepared to accept the unity of India as an ideal, but an ideal quite unattainable in present conditions. He said that the Muslims had been led by their experience of Congress domination to regard Pakistan as the only possible solution. I put it to him that if in the critical post-war years, on which the whole future of India may depend, we were busy cutting up the country, all parties would suffer, and that it would be very much better to hold India together for the time being at least and to undertake partition only if the Hindus and Muslims found in practice that they could not carry on.

Wavell thought that Jinnah would cooperate if an Executive Council was constituted under the present constitution.

Wavell arrived in England on 23 March and his first meeting with the India Committee took place on 26 March. * Attlee, who chaired the meeting, was horrified at the thought of a rule by the brown oligarchy. ** Attlee declared, he was dismayed that we should hand over the people of India to a few very rich individuals who would control the caucuses without responsibility to anyone. Wavell noted in his diary on 18 April that Attlee started attacking me at once . . .John Anderson complained that I would not admit that I was making radical changes in the constitution. Cripps was absent; Grigg and Simon were hostile.

*Attlee refused to allow Wavell to see a record of discussions on the Indian constitutional problem in the India Committee, as ‘the making of this request is, I fear, only another example of having a Viceroy with no political experience.’ Hugh Tinker remarks that ‘Attlee’s complaint seems particularly peevish when we recall that the man he chose to succeed Wavell, Mountbatten, had even less knowledge of British politics.’ Hugh Tinker, Viceroy Curzon to Mountbatten p. 193.

**Attlee also held that a government responsible neither to parliament nor to a legislature would leave His Majesty’s Government powerless to protect the Indian masses, who would be defenceless. He also said that the new members would owe allegiance to an outside body and not to the viceroy, who would be forced more and more into the position of a Dominion Governor-General. Therefore, effective control would pass to an Executive Council ‘responsible only to the party caucuses.’

India Committee showed a lack of concern about the Indian problem and tried to avoid the Wavell Plan. They did not want to go beyond the Cripps offer of 1942. Churchill, like Attlee, also disapproved of the Wavell Plan. At that moment, Wavell realized,

now I think we have missed the bus in any case. The sudden collapse of the Germans and the approaching reoccupation of the whole of Burma will make Indian politicians less accommodating than a few months ago. If I got my own way now, I feel it would be too late.

Wavell’s repeated requests annoyed Churchill who gave an ungracious reply to him and said, I do not consider that your visit to this country was necessary at the present time.

In the meantime, the War Cabinet had been replaced by a “caretaker” Conservative Cabinet in June 1945. However, this time both the India Committee and the Cabinet accepted the Wavell Plan but not in its entirety. Thus, Wavell called the Simla Conference in June 1945 which, however, failed to produce any results.

One of the main reasons for Churchill’s continued tense relations with Wavell was that the former was vehemently opposed to granting of freedom to India. Wavell rightly wrote to Churchill, I know you have often found me a difficult and troublesome subordinate; I have not always found you an easy master to serve. Wavell got nothing from Churchill which could have made him popular in India. Amery much later conceded that the failure of the Simla Conference in 1945 was due to Churchill’s obstinacy. Churchill never wanted Wavell to succeed in his political plans for India and it can be rightly said that it was he, not Wavell, who was responsible for the failure of the Simla Conference. *

*Wavell went to see Churchill on 31 August 1945 when he had been ousted from power. He had an hour-long meeting with him. Churchill was in a good mood and ‘revealed that the only reason he had agreed to my political move was that India Committee had all told him it was bound to fail.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.168.

By Courtesy : Wavell and the Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press, Karachi 2011


How War Was Precipitated


The last thing that Hitler wanted to produce was another great war. His people, and particularly his generals, were profoundly fearful of any such risk—the experiences of WWI had scarred their minds. To emphasize the basic facts is not to whitewash Hitler’s inherent aggressiveness, nor that of many Germans who eagerly followed his lead. But Hitler, though utterly unscrupulous, was for long cautious in pursuing his aims. The military chiefs were still more cautious and anxious about any step that might provoke a general conflict. A large part of the German archives was captured after the war and have thus been available for examination. They reveal an extraordinary degree of trepidation and deep-seated distrust of Germany’s capacity to wage a great war.

When in 1936, Hitler moved to reoccupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland, his generals were alarmed at his decision and the reactions it might provoke from the French. Because of their protests only a few token units were sent in at first, as straws in the wind. When he wished to send troops to help Franco in the Spanish Civil War they made fresh protests about the risks involved, and he agreed to restrict his aid. But he disregarded their apprehensions about the march into Austria, in March 1938.

When, shortly afterwards Hitler disclosed his intentions of putting the screws on Czecho-Slovakia for the return of the Sudetenland, the Chief of the General Staff, General Beck, drafted a memorandum in which he argued that Hitler’s aggressively expansionist programme was bound to produce a world-wide catastrophe and Germany’s ruin. This was read out at a conference of the leading generals, and, with their general approval, sent to Hitler. As Hitler showed no sign of changing his policy, the Chief of the General Staff resigned from office. Hitler assured the other generals that France and Britain would not fight for Czecho-Slovakia, but they were so far from being reassured that they plotted a military revolt to avert the risk of war by arresting Hitler and the other Nazi leaders.

The bottom was knocked out of their counter-plan, however, when Chamberlain acceded to Hitler’s crippling demands upon Czecho-Slovakia, and in concert with the French agreed to stand aside while that unhappy country was stripped of both territory and defences.

For Chamberlain, the Munich Agreement spelt peace for our time. For Hitler, it spelt a further and greater triumph not only over his foreign opponents but also over his generals. After their warnings had been so repeatedly refused by his unchallenged and bloodless successes, they naturally lost confidence and influence. Naturally, too, Hitler himself became overweeningly confident of a continued run of easy success. Even when he came to see that further ventures might entail a war he felt that it would be only a small one, and a short one. His moments of doubt were drowned by the cumulative effect of intoxicating success.

If he had contemplated a general war, involving Britain, he would have put every possible effort into building a Navy capable of challenging Britain’s command of the sea. But, in fact, he did not even build up his Navy to the limited scale visualized in the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. He constantly assured his admirals that they could discount any risk of war with Britain. After Munich he told them that they need not anticipate a conflict with Britain within the next six years at least. Even in the summer of 1939, and as late as August 22, he repeated such assurances—if with waning conviction.

How, then, did it come about that he became involved in the major war that he had been so anxious to avoid?

The answer is to be found not merely, nor most, in Hitler’s aggressiveness, but in the encouragement,  he had long received from the complaisant attitude of the Western Powers coupled with their sudden turn-about in the spring of 1939. That reversal was so abrupt and unexpected as to make war inevitable.

If you allow anyone to stoke up a boiler until the steam-pressure rises beyond the danger point, the real responsibility for any resultant explosion will lie with you. That truth of physical science applies equally to political science—especially to the conduct of international affairs.

Ever since Hitler’s entry into power, in 1933, the British and French Governments had conceded to this dangerous autocrat immeasurably more than they had been willing to concede to Germany’s previous democratic Governments. At every turn they showed a disposition to avoid trouble and shelve awkward problems—to preserve their present comfort at the expense of the future.

Hitler, on the other hand, was thinking out his problems all too logically. The course of his policy came to be guided by the idea formulated in a testament which he expounded in November 1937—a version of which has been preserved in the so-called Hossbach Memorandum. It was based on the conviction of Germany’s vital need for more lebensraum—living space—for her expanding population if there was to be any chance of maintaining their living standards. In his view Germany could not hope to make herself self-sufficient, especially in food-supply. Nor by buying it abroad could she obtain what was needed since that meant spending more foreign exchange than she could afford. The prospects of her obtaining an increased share in world trade and industry were too limited, because of other nations’ tariff walls and her own financial stringency. Moreover, the method of indirect supply would make her dependent on foreign nations and liable to starvation in case of war.

His conclusion was that Germany must obtain more agriculturally useful space—in the thinly populated areas of Eastern Europe. It would be vain to hope that this would be willingly conceded to her. The history of all times—Roman Empire, British Empire—has proved that every space expansion can be effected only by breaking resistance and taking risks . . . Neither in former times nor today has space been found without an owner. The problem would have to be solved by 1945 at the latest— after this we can only expect a change for the worse. Possible outlets would be blocked while a food crisis would be imminent.

While these ideas went much further than Hitler’s initial desire to recover the territory that had been taken from Germany after WW1, it is not true that Western statesmen were as unaware of them as they later pretended. In 1937-38 many of them were frankly realistic in private discussions, though not on public platforms, and many arguments were set forth in British governing circles for allowing Germany to expand eastwards, and thus divert danger from the West. They showed much sympathy with Hitler’s desire for lebensraum—and let him know it. But they shirked thinking out the problem of how the owners could be induced to yield it except to threat of superior forces.

The German documents reveal that Hitler derived special encouragement from Lord Halifax’s visit in November 1937. Halifax was then Lord President of the Council, ranking second in the Cabinet to the Prime Minister. According to the documentary record of the interview, he gave Hitler to understand that Britain would allow him a free hand in Eastern Europe. Halifax may not have meant as much, but that was the impression he conveyed—and it proved of crucial importance.

Then in February 1938, Mr. Anthony Eden was driven to resign as Foreign Minister after repeated disagreements with Chamberlain—who in response to one of his protests had told him to go home and take an aspirin. Halifax was appointed to succeed him at the Foreign Office. A few days later, the British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, called on Hitler for a confidential talk, in continuation of Halifax’s November conversation, and conveyed that the British Government was much in sympathy with Hitler’s desire for changes in Europe to Germany’s benefit—the present British Government had a keen sense of reality.

As these documents show, these events precipitated Hitler’s action. He thought that the lights had changed to green, allowing him to proceed eastward. It was a very natural conclusion.

Hitler was further encouraged by the accommodating way that the British and French Governments accepted his march into Austria and incorporation of that country in the German Reich. (The only hitch in that easy coup was the way many of his tanks broke down on the road to Vienna). Still more encouragement came when he heard that Chamberlain and Halifax had rejected Russian proposals after the coup, to confer on a collective insurance plan against the German advance. Here it should be added that when the threat to the Czechs came to head in Sept. 1938, the Russian Government again made known, publicly and privately, its willingness to combine with France and Britain in measures to defend Czecho-Slovakia. That offer was ignored. Moreover, Russia was ostentatiously excluded from the Munich conference at which Czecho-Slovakia’s fate was settled. This cold-shouldering had fatal consequences the following year.

After the way the British Government had appeared to acquiesce in his eastward move, Hitler was unpleasantly surprised by their strong reaction, and the partial mobilization, which developed when he put the heat on Czecho-Slovakia in September. But when Chamberlain yielded to his demands and actively helped him to impose terms on Czecho-Slovakia, he felt that the momentary threat of resistance had been a face-saving operation—to meet the objections of the large body of British opinion headed by Mr. Winston Churchill, which opposed the governmental policy of conciliation and concession. He was no less encouraged by the passivity of the French. As they had so readily abandoned their Czech ally, which had possessed the most efficient Army of all the smaller Powers, it seemed unlikely that they would go to war in defence of any remnant of their former chain of allies in East and Central Europe.

Thus, Hitler felt that he could complete the elimination of Czecho-Slovakia at an early moment, and then expand his eastward advance.

At first, he did not think of moving against Poland—even though she possessed the largest stretch of territory carved out of Germany after WW1. Poland, like Hungary, had been helpful to him in threatening Czecho-Slovakia’s rear, and thus inducing her to surrender to his demands—Poland, incidentally, had not exploited the chance to seize a slice of Czech territory. Hitler was inclined to accept Poland as a junior partner for the time being, on condition that she handed back the German port of Danzig and granted Germany a free route to East Prussia through the Polish Corridor. On Hitler’s part, it was a remarkably moderate demand in the circumstances. But in successive discussions that winter, Hitler found that the Poles were obstinately disinclined to make any such concession and had the inflated idea of their own strength. Even so, he continued to hope that they would come around after further negotiations. As late as March 25, he told his Army Commander-in-Chief that he did not wish to solve the Danzig problem by the use of force. But a change of mind was produced by an unexpected British step that followed on a fresh step on his part in a different direction.

In the early months of 1939, the heads of the British Government were feeling happier than they had for a long time. They lulled themselves into the belief that their accelerated rearmament measures, America’s rearmament programme and Germany’s economic difficulties were diminishing the danger of the situation. On March 10 Chamberlain privately expressed the view that the prospects of peace were better than ever and spoke of his hopes that a new disarmament conference would be arranged before the end of the year. Next day, Sir Samuel Hoare—Eden’s predecessor as Foreign Secretary and now Home Secretary—hopefully suggested in a speech that the world was entering a Golden Age. Ministers assured friends and critics that Germany’s economic plight made her incapable of going to war, and that she bound to comply with the British Government’s conditions in return for the help that it was offering her in the form of a commercial treaty. Two ministers, Mr. Oliver Stanley and Robert Hudson, were going to Berlin to arrange it.

The same week Punch came out with a cartoon which showed John Bull awaking with relief from a nightmare, while the recent war scare was flying out of the window. Never was there such a spell of absurdly optimistic illusions as during the week leading up to the Ides of March 1939. Meanwhile the Nazis had been fostering separatist’s movements in Czecho-Slovakia, to produce a breakdown from within. On March 12 the Slovaks declared their independence, after their leader, Father Tiso, had visited Hitler in Berlin. More blindly, Poland’s Foreign Minister, Colonel Beck, publicly expressed his full sympathy with the Slovaks. On the 15th, German troops marched into Prague, after the Czech President had yielded to Hitler’s demand to establish a Protectorate over Bohemia and to occupy the country accordingly.

The previous autumn, when the Munich Agreement was made, the British Government had pledged itself to guarantee Czecho-Slovakia against aggression. But Chamberlain told the House of Commons that he considered the Slovakia’s break-away had annulled the guarantee, and that he did not feel bound by this obligation. While expressing regret at what had happened, he conveyed to the House that he saw no reason why it should deflect British policy. Within a few days, however, Chamberlain made a complete about-turn—so sudden and far-reaching that it amazed the world. He jumped to a decision to block any following move of Hitler’s and on March 29 sent Poland an offer to support her against any action which threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist.

It is impossible to gauge what was the predominant influence on his impulse—the pressure of public indignation, or his own indignation, or his anger at having been fooled by Hitler, or his humiliation at having been made to look a fool in the eyes of his own people.

Most of those in Britain who had supported and applauded his previous appeasement policy underwent a similar violent reaction—sharpened by the reproaches of the other half of the nation, which had distrusted the policy. The breach was cemented, and the nation reunited, by a general surge of exasperation. The unqualified terms of the guarantee placed Britain’s destiny in the hands of Poland’s rulers, men of very dubious and unstable judgment. Moreover, the guarantee was impossible to fulfil except with Russia’s help, yet no preliminary steps were taken to find out whether Russia would give, or Poland would accept, such aid.

The Cabinet, when asked to approve the guarantee, was not even shown the actual report of the Chiefs of Staff Committee—which would have made clear how impossible it was, in a practical sense, to give any protection to Poland. It is doubtful, however, whether this would have made any difference in face of the prevailing mood. When the guarantee was discussed in Parliament it was welcomed on all sides. Mr. Lloyd George’s was a solitary voice when he warned the House that it was suicidal folly to undertake such a far-stretched without first making sure of Russia’s backing. The Polish Guarantee was the surest way to produce an early explosion, and a world war. It combined the maximum temptation with manifest provocation. It incited Hitler to demonstrate the futility of such a guarantee to a country out of reach from the West, while making the stiff-necked Poles even less inclined to consider any concession to him, and at the same time making it impossible for him to draw back without losing face.

Why did Poland’s rulers accept such a fatal offer? Partly because they had an absurdly exaggerated idea of the power of their out of date forces –they boastfully talked of a cavalry ride to Berlin. Partly because of personal factors:

  • Colonel Beck, shortly afterwards, said that he made up his mind to accept the British offer two flicks of the ash off the cigarette he was smoking.
  • He went on to explain that at his meeting with Hitler in January he had found it hard to swallow Hitler’s remark that Danzig must be handed back, and that when the British offer was communicated to him he saw it, and seized it, as a chance to give Hitler a slap in the face. This impulse was only too typical of the ways in which the fate of peoples is often decided.

The only chance of avoiding war now lay in securing the support of Russia—the only power that could give Poland direct support and thus provide a deterrent to Hitler. But, despite the urgency of the situation, the British Government’s steps were dilatory and half-hearted. Chamberlain had a strong dislike of Soviet Russia and Halifax an intense religious antipathy, while both underrated her strength as much as they overrated Poland’s. If they now recognized the desirability of a defensive arrangement with Russia they wanted it on their own terms and failed to realize that by their precipitate guarantee to Poland they had placed themselves in a position where they would have to sue for it on her terms—as was obvious to Stalin, if not to them.

But beyond their own hesitations were the objections of the Polish Government, and the other small powers in Eastern Europe, to accepting military support from Russia—since these feared that reinforcements by her armies would be equivalent to invasion. So, the pace of the Anglo-Russian negotiations became as slow as a funeral march.

Very different was Hitler’s response to the situation. Britain’s violent reaction and redoubled armament measures shook him, but the effect was opposite to that intended. Feeling that the British were getting opposed to German expansion eastward, and fearful of being blocked if he tarried, he drew the conclusion that he must accelerate his steps towards lebensraum. But how could he do it without bringing on a general war? His solution was coloured by his historically derived picture of the British. Regarding them as cool-headed and rational, with their emotions controlled by their head, he felt that they would not dream of entering a war on behalf of Poland unless they could obtain Russia’s support. So, swallowing his hatred and fear of Bolshevism, he bent his efforts and energies towards conciliating Russia and securing her abstention. It was a turn-about even more startling than Chamberlain’s—and as fatal in its consequences.

Hitler’s courting approach of Russia was eased because Stalin was already looking on the West from a new slant. The Russians’ natural resentment of the way they had been cold-shouldered by Chamberlain and Halifax in 1938 was increased when, after Hitler’s march into Prague, their fresh proposal for a joint defensive alliance had a tepid reception, while the British Government rushed into an independent arrangement with Poland. Nothing could have been more certain to deepen doubt and heighten suspicion.

On May 3 a warning, unmistakable except to the blind, was conveyed in the news that Litvinov, Russia’s Foreign Commissar had been release’ from office. He had long been the chief advocate of co-operation with the Western Powers in resistance to Nazi Germany. To his post was appointed Molotov, who was reported to prefer dealing with dictators to dealing with liberal democracies.

Tentative moves towards a Soviet-Nazi entente began in April but were conducted on both sides with extreme wariness—for mutual distrust was profound, and each side suspected that the other might be merely trying to hinder it reaching an agreement with the Western Powers. But the slow progress of the Anglo-Russian negotiations encouraged the Germans to exploit the opportunity, quicken their pace, and press their suit. Molotov remained non-committal, however, until the middle of August. Then a decisive change took place. It may have been prompted by the Germans’ willingness, in contrast to British hesitations and reservations, to concede Stalin’s exacting conditions, especially a free hand with the Baltic States. It may also have been connected with the obvious fact that Hitler could not afford to postpone action in Poland beyond early September, lest the weather might bog him down, so that the postponement of the Soviet-German agreement until late in August ensured there would not be time for Hitler and the Western Powers to reach another Munich agreement—which might spell danger for Russia.

On August 23 Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, and the pact was signed. It was accompanied by a secret agreement under which Poland was to be partitioned between Germany and Russia.

This pact made war certain, and more so because of the lateness of the timing. Hitler could not draw back on the Polish issue without serious loss of face in Moscow. Moreover, his belief that the British Government would not venture on an obviously futile struggle to preserve Poland, and did not really wish to bring in Russia, had been freshly fostered by the way that Chamberlain had, in late July, started private negotiations with him through his trusted adviser, Sir Horace Wilson, for an Anglo-German pact.

But the Soviet-German Pact, coming so late, did not have the effect on the British that Hitler had reckoned. On the contrary, it aroused the bulldog spirit—of blind determination, regardless of the consequences. In that state of feeling, Chamberlain could not stand aside without both loss of face and breach of promise.

Stalin had been only too aware that the Western Powers had long been disposed to let Hitler expand eastward—in Russia’s direction. It is probable that he saw the Soviet-German Pact as a convenient device by which he could divert Hitler’s aggressive dynamism in the opposite direction. In other words, by this nimble-side-step he would let his immediate and potential opponents’ crash into one another. At least this should produce a diminution of the threat to Soviet Russia and might well result in such common exhaustion on their part as to ensure Russia’s post war ascendancy.

The Pact meant the removal of Poland as a buffer between Germany and Russia—but the Russians had always felt that the Poles were more likely to serve as a spearhead for a German invasion of Russia than as a barricade against it. By collaborating in Hitler’s conquest of Poland, and dividing it with him, they would not only be taking an easy way of regaining their pre-1914 property but be able to convert eastern Poland into a barrier space which, though narrower, would be held by their own forces. That seemed a more reliable buffer than an independent Poland. The Pact also paved the way for Russia’s occupation of the Baltic states and Bessarabia, as a wider extension of the buffer.

In 1941, after Hitler had swept into Russia, Stalin’s 1939 side-step looked a fatally short-sighted shift. It is likely that Stalin overestimated the Western nations’ capacity for resisting and thus exhausting, Germany’s power. It is likely, too, that he also overestimated the initial resisting power of his own forces. Nevertheless, surveying the European situation in later years, it does not seem so certain as in 1941 that his side-step proved to Soviet Russia’s disadvantages.

For the West, on the other hand, it brought immeasurable harm. The primary blame for that lies with those who were responsible for the successive policies of procrastination and precipitation—in face of a palpably explosive situation.

Dealing with Britain’s entry into the war—after describing how she allowed Germany to re-arm and then to swallow Austria and Czecho-Slovakia, while at the same time spurning Russia’s proposals for joint action—Churchill says:

. . . when every one of these aids and advantages has been squandered and thrown away, Great Britain advances, leading France by the hand, to guarantee the integrity of Poland—of that very Poland which with hyena appetite had only six months before joined in the pillage and destruction of the Czechoslovak State. There was sense in fighting for Czechoslovakia in 1938, when the German Army could scarcely put half a dozen trained divisions on the Western Front, when the French with nearly sixty or seventy divisions could most certainly have rolled forward across the Rhine or into the Ruhr. But this had been judged unreasonable, rash, below the level of modern intellectual thought and morality. Yet now at last the two Western democracies declared themselves ready to stake their lives upon the territorial integrity of Poland. History, which, we are told, is mainly the record of the crimes, follies, and miseries of mankind, may be scoured and ransacked to find a parallel to this sudden and complete reversal of five or six years’ policy of easy-going, placatory appeasement, and its transformation almost overnight into a readiness to accept an obviously imminent war on far worse conditions and on the greater scale. . .

Here was decision at last, taken at the worst possible moment and on the least satisfactory ground, which must surely lead to slaughter of tens of millions of people.

It is a striking verdict on Chamberlain’s folly, written in hindsight. For Churchill himself had, in the heat of the moment, supported Chamberlain’s pressing offer of Britain’s guarantee to Poland. It is only too evident that in 1939 he, like most of Britain’s leaders, acted on a hot-headed impulse—instead of with the cool-headed judgment that was once characteristic of British statesmanship.

Courtesy of: History of the Second World War by B.H. Liddell Hart, G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York 1970

The Atomic Bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war

Atomic Bomb

1938: In December, Fritz Strassmann & Ottoman Hahn, two German physicists succeeded in splitting the uranium atom.

1939: Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein

1942 September: Manhattan project was turned over to the military. Project’s military commander:  Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Robert Oppenheimer, a leftist and communist chosen by Groves as Manhattan Project Coordinator. He created and coordinated the most destructive weapon. Assembled were:

  • Enrico Fermi
  • Leo Szilard

First nuclear chain reaction achieved in an atomic pile.

1945 March 9: LeMay’s masterpiece, 300 planes sent over Tokyo. Incendiary and napalm used to kill 100,000 and 1,000,000 homeless. Stench caused vomiting in planes. American military bombed 100 cities, some with no military value taking more than an estimated 1/2 million lives; the atomic bomb can be viewed as a chilling and logical next step.

Leo Szilard and others understood that this bomb they were building was a primitive prototype of what was to follow:

  • Szilard,
  • Harold Urey (Nobel prize winner, chemistry)
  • Astronomer Walter Bartky

attempted to see Truman to caution him against the use of the bomb, but were re-routed to South Carolina to speak with Brynes, whose response appalled Szilard. Mr. Brynes knew at the time as the rest of the government, Japan was essentially defeated. He was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe and that possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more amend to. Leslie Groves also admitted that in his mind Russia was always the enemy and the project was conducted on that basis. A petition was signed by 155 project scientists for Truman, but Oppenheimer barred it and alerted Groves. Groves had recommended Szilard to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war, in May 1945 General Marshall supported Oppenheimer suggestion to share information with Soviet scientists but Brynes vetoed the idea.

1945 May:  the Japanese war council decided to feel out the Soviets for peace terms to keep the USSR out of their war and to seek better surrender terms from the Americans. This was a delicate negotiation; the US intelligence had been intercepting Japanese cables since the start of the war. On July 18, a cable sent from Tokyo to Japanese ambassador in Moscow seeking surrender terms said: unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. Truman unambiguously categorized this: “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”

  • Forestall noted an evident desire of the Japanese to get out of the war
  • Stimson describes this as Japanese manoeuvrings foe peace.
  • Brynes pointed to Japanese peace feelers
  • They all knew that the end was near, the Japanese were finished. Several of Truman’s close advisers urged him to modify the unconditional surrender to signal that Japan could keep its emperor and speed the end.

MacArthur: the hanging of the emperor would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. Jimmy Brynes told Truman that he would be crucified politically if the imperial system was retained. Once again, his advice prevailed. Truman and Byrnes believed that they had a way to speed the Japanese surrender on American terms without Soviet help, thereby denying the USSR the territorial and economic concessions promised by Roosevelt. MacArthur: considered the bomb completely unnecessary from the military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the US had told them that they could keep the emperor.

Opposition was sufficiently known that Groves posted a requirement that US commanders in the field . . . clear all statements on the bomb with the War Department. “After three years of the highest tension we did ‘t want MacArthur and others saying the war could’ve been won without the bomb.”

1945 July 16, 0529 and 45 seconds: Alamogordo, New Mexico, the bomb turned the refuge of the founding fathers into a militarized state. War in Europe ended May 8. First atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6.

  • Iwo Jima: 7000 US Marines and sailors were killed, 18,000 wounded.
  • Okinawa: 12,000 Americans killed or missing and 36,000 wounded. 100,000 Japanese and 100,000 Okinawans were killed. Many of them committed suicide.
  • 1900 kamikaze attacks which sank 30 and damaged 360 naval vessels
  • Marshall told Truman that he expected no more than 31,000 casualties.
  • Estimated 1/2 million German, Italian and French civilians were killed because of British and US bombing.
  • 79,000 US and equal number of British aircrew members were killed

1945 July Potsdam: Big three discussing the post war world. Truman had said that his primary reason for going to Potsdam was to ensure Soviet entry into the war, an assurance that Stalin was ready to give again. Truman in his diary: He will be in the Jap war on August 15.

Allied intelligence concurred:  an entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Yet it was clear to most that the Japs were already finished. By the end of 1944, the Japanese navy had been decimated, the air force was badly weakened, railroad system was in tatters, food supply shrunk, public morale plummeting.

Truman had delayed the start of Potsdam for two weeks giving the scientists the time to ready the bomb test. It worked. Stimson gave him the news. The conference began the very next day. He later read the full report. The test was terrifying, almost beyond comprehension. Truman’s demeanor changed immediately, Churchill was stunned by the transformation.

1945 July 24: Truman informs Stalin that the US possesses a new weapon of unusual destructive force.

Klaus E.J. Fuchs a man of ideological conviction, part of the British scientific mission at Alamogordo had delivered technical information relating to the bomb to his Soviet handlers. Stalin already knew that the test had succeeded. On return, Stalin remarked to Gromyko on return to his villa that the Americans would use the atomic monopoly now to dictate terms in Europe. But that he wouldn’t give in to that blackmail. Stalin concluded from Truman’s behaviour at Potsdam that the US wanted to end the war quickly and renege on its promised concessions in the Pacific.

1945 July 25: Truman approves directive signed by Marshall and Stimson ordering the use of the atomic bomb against Japan after August 3 asap weather permitting. He expected the Japanese government to reject the Potsdam declaration which failed to give any assurances about the emperor. The US even vetoed Stalin’s wish to sign the declaration adding that Stalin’s signature would have signaled Soviet entry in the Pacific war. It was an incredibly underhanded behaviour by the US both toward the Japanese and USSR.

Truman accepted responsibility for the decision, it was Groves who drafted the final order to drop the bomb. He contended Truman didn’t really decide: “As far as I was concerned his decision was one of non-interference. Basically, a decision not to upset existing plans. Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.‘ He described Truman scornfully as ‘a little boy on a toboggan.

Six of America’s seven five-star officers who received their final star in WWII declared the bomb morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both.

  • General Douglas MacArthur
  • General Dwight Eisenhower
  • General Henry Arnold
  • Admiral William Leahy
  • Admiral Earnest King
  • Admiral Chester Nimitz

Eisenhower: the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.

After the war was over, General Curtis LeMay said, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks. The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.

1945 August 6, 0245, 3 B-29s took off from the island of Tinian for Japan. Six and a half hours later the Enola Gay cane into sight of its target. 300,00 civilians, 45,000 Korean slave labourers. From 31,000 feet at 330 mph. The bomb (uranium) fell5 miles to two thousand feet and then detonated. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, 200,000 by 1950. Officially the US reported 3243 Japanese troops killed. Japanese did not surrender

1945 August 9:  Stalin honouring his pledge to Churchill now moved I 1/2 million men to the eastern front and attacked Japan on three fronts in Manchuria.  700,000 Japanese killed, wounded or captured. Also attacked in Korea, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island. Later that morning on August 9 before Japan had time to react to the Soviet invasion, the US dropped a second atomic bomb (Plutonium) on Nagasaki. 40,000 died immediately.

  • General Masakazu Kawabe: in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock. Because we had been in constant fear of it with a vivid imagination that the vast Red Army forces in Europe were now being turned against us.
  • Suzuki: Japan must surrender immediately. “There was little mention in the Japanese cabinet of the use of the atomic bomb by the US.”
  • The dropping of the bomb was the pretext seized upon . . . As a reason for ending the war. But it is almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”

On August 14, five days after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki and with desperate fighting still raging against the Soviets, Emperor Hirohito exerted his personal power. Hirohito speaking to the Japanese people directly ordered surrender over the radio.

Truman’s estimate of the anticipated American casualties kept climbing as the years went by. In 1991 President George H. Bush praised Truman’s tough calculating decision which spared millions of American lives.

Attributing victory to the bomb insults the memory of the many men and women who gave their lives to defeat the Japanese year by year.

1945 October: Truman met Oppenheimer to inquire when the Soviets would have the bomb. Oppenheimer replied he didn’t know. Truman responded that he knew the answer, never, giving Oppenheimer an insight into his ignorance. He told Dean Acheson, “I don’t want that SOB in this office ever again”.  Later Oppenheimer was attacked by right wing conservatives as an agent of the Soviet Union and subjected to numerous by the FBI.  Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked in 1954. His crime was opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb which he considered a weapon of genocide. The dropping of the atomic bombs did not make the Soviet forces any pliable. They occupied the Northern portion of Korea Peninsula face to face with US forces in the south.

  • The Japanese could keep the emperor for stability of Japan.
  • Condoleezza Rice named Truman her man of the century to Time Magazine.
  • It was a warning to the Soviet Union.

Henry Wallace: it is obvious that the attitude of Truman, Brynes and both the war and navy department will make for war eventually.”

Robert Oppenheimer met Henry Wallace shortly after the war: he proposed international control of atomic technology to assuage Soviet fears over US intentions. In September, Stimson sent a memo to Truman saying that the Soviets should be treated as allies, saying that they should be trusted. He proposed that America should dismantle its bomb if the Soviets accepted a ban on atomic research and thus submit to an international system of control.

Wallace allied himself to Stimson indicating the absurdity of trying to keep an atomic monopoly. ” I then went in some length into the scientific background describing how foreign Jewish scientists had in the first place sold the President in the fall of 1939. I indicated the degree to which the whole approach had originated in Europe and that it was impossible to bottle the thing up no matter how much we tried.

Navy Secretary Forestall argued that the Soviets could not be trusted, the Russians like the Japanese are essentially oriental in their thinking. Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes/ Forestall hardline faction.

“Some have spoken of the American century, I say that the century on which we are entering, century which will come out of this war can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people peace, all the rest becomes easy. “–Henry Wallace

In 1946 ran for president. Accused of being a Soviet sympathiser, he compromised himself during the pressures of the Korean War and the McCarthy period loudly condemning the Soviets but decried support for Vietnam. He died in 1965. He remains the unsung hero of the second world war showing the world a kinder vision of America. Though his vision was opposed at every step it did not die.

 Roosevelt: No man was more of the American soil than Wallace. In July 1944 Roosevelt acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman committed his greatest blunder. He could have resisted and had Wallace at his back as his VP, but he was tired of defending his vision for world peace, near death. His sad moment points most clearly to the fallibility of all human history. To fail is not tragic, to be human is. What might this country be if Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman.