The RAF had established a Coastal Command to support the Royal Navy. Its primary mission was to provide the Navy reconnaissance on German capital ship movements in the North Sea and elsewhere. Although land-based aircraft had positively sunk only one U-boat in all of World War I, it was believed that Coastal Command could serve effectively in an ASW role. But Coastal Command pilots had not drilled in submarine spotting, and the hardware had also been neglected. In September 1939, Coastal Command had 300 aircraft in its inventory, most of them obsolete, and only about half the pilots were fully trained. Only three squadrons were equipped with modern aircraft: two with long-range four-engine flying boats (Sunderlands); one with medium-range twin-engine American-designed, British-built wheeled aircraft (Hudsons). The Hudsons (replacing obsolete Ansons) were not yet fully operational.

The brand-new U-55, a Type VIIB,  commanded by Werner Heidel, age thirty, who had done well in the duck U-7, also went directly into action. Rounding the British Isles, Heidel sank two small neutrals (a Dane and a Swede), then proceeded to the Western Approaches. On the tenth day of the patrol, January 29, 1940 Dönitz alerted Heidel to a convoy, which had been detected by B-dienst. Heidel responded by sinking the 5,000-ton British tanker Vaclite and a 5,000-ton Greek freighter.

One of the convoy escorts, the sloop Fowey, left the convoy and pursued U-55 in foggy seas. Fixing the boat on sonar, Fowey attacked with depth charges, driving Heidel to 328 feet. Fowey dropped five charges, three set for 500 feet by mistake, two for 350 feet. The two set at 350 feet exploded very close to U-55, causing severe flooding and panic. Heidel temporarily contained the damage and panic and slipped away, but Fowey continued to hunt aggressively through the fog and called for help. Two British destroyers, Whitshed and Ardent, and a French destroyer, Valmy, responded, as did a four-engine Sunderland flying boat of Coastal Command Squadron 228, piloted by Edward J. Brooks.

The four ships and the aircraft hunted the damaged U-55 relentlessly. Whitshed got sonar contact and attacked with depth charges. By that time the U-55 crew could no longer contain the flooding. Believing he might escape in the fog, Heidel gave orders to surface and man the deck gun. Fowey sighted U-55 making off in the fog and opened fire. Valmy and the Sunderland joined. The Sunderland dropped a bomb and, helpfully, a smoke float and then made a strafing run. Heidel returned the fire—until the breechblock of the gun jammed.

Gunless, unable to dive, Heidel was left no choice but to scuttle. The first watch officer and chief engineer volunteered to help Heidel open the vents. When the boat started under for the last time, there was no sign of Heidel. The survivors believed he chose to go down with the boat. The other forty-one men of the crew launched a rubber life raft, jumped into the icy water, and were picked up by Fowey and Whitshed.

The loss of U-55 was known immediately to Dönitz. Eager to give a lift to the Coastal Command aviators who had patrolled the seas endlessly for months with no confirmed success, the RAF publicly claimed credit for the kill on January 31. The surface forces grudgingly conceded that the Sunderland may have helped—but not all that much. However, a British assessment committee gave Coastal Command partial credit for the kill along with Fowey and Whitshed. Doubtless some fault for the loss lay in Dönitz’s decision to send U-55 against an escorted convoy before she was adequately trained.

Early Attacks

The U-26, commanded by Heinz Scheringer, reached the Western Approaches in late June with serious engine problems. Despite the deficiencies, Scheringer patrolled aggressively, sinking three freighters and damaging another, the British Zarian, in convoy. One of the convoy escorts, the new Flower-class corvette Gladiolus, pounced on U-26 in favorable sonar conditions, dropping thirty-six of her forty-one depth charges set at 350 to 500 feet.

The charges badly pounded U-26, causing leaks but not fatal damage. In the early hours of July 1, Scheringer surfaced to charge his depleted batteries and to escape in the fog. By that time, the British sloop Rochester and a Sunderland of Coastal Command’s Australian Squadron 10, piloted by W. M. (“Hoot”) Gibson, had come on the scene in response to Gladiolus’s alert. Seeing U-26 surface, Rochester commenced a high-speed run to ram. Had the U-26’s diesels and motors been working properly and had Scheringer been able to charge batteries, the boat might have escaped. But with Rochester (believed to be a “destroyer”) bearing down firing her forward gun and the Sunderland overhead, he was forced under again.

The Sunderland saw the “swirl,” or disturbed water, where U-26 had submerged and ran in for an attack. Hoot Gibson dropped four 250-pound antisubmarine bombs, which exploded very close and rocked the boat. The bombs did no real damage, but Scheringer had no battery charge left and the boat was still leaking in the stern as a result of the depth-charge attack from Gladiolus. Fearing U-26 would be fatally damaged by the apporaching “destroyer,” Scheringer surfaced, intending to scuttle. When the boat appeared, the Sunderland dropped four more bombs, but by then U-26’s chief engineer had set in motion scuttling procedures and the crew was leaping into the water.

The U-26 went down quickly with all hatches open. Rochester came up with guns trained. After allowing the survivors to swim a while in order to scare them into talking more freely, Rochester fished all forty-eight men from the water. There were no casualties, but the scare tactic did not work. The U-26 crew was one of the most reticent to be captured, British intelligence reported.


Three of the five boats engaged in the attack on Halifax 79 returned to Lorient: U-38 (Liebe), U-47 (Prien), merely eight days out, and U-100 (Schepke), merely eleven days out. The other two, U-46 (Endrass) and U-48 (Bleichrodt), proceeded to Germany for scheduled yard overhauls and modifications. While passing near the coast of Norway on October 25, 1940, Endrass in U-46 was caught on the surface by three Hudson aircraft of Coastal Command Squadron 233. One aircraft, piloted by Arthur T. Maudsley and a Canadian, Everett Baudoux, was riddled by U-46 gunners but dropped ten 100-pound bombs; another, flown by Pilot Officer Winnicott, dropped two 250-pound bombs; the bombs of the third plane, commanded by Pilot Officer Walsh, failed to release. The bombs fell close, inflicting severe damage on U-46 and fatally injuring one crewman. Unable to dive, Endrass limped into Kristiansand, Norway, escorted by the German minesweeper M-18. From there he went on to Germany with an air and surface escort. The high-scoring U-46 and U-48 were to remain in German shipyards for the next three months.

New Equipment

Coastal Command, led by Frederick Bowhill, had matured considerably since the beginning of the war, but it was still a poor stepchild of the RAF. Its daylight aircraft patrols with Sunderlands and Hudsons had been useful in forcing down U-boats, but no aircraft of Coastal Command had yet sunk a German U-boat unassisted by a surface craft. From July 1940, when the U-boats shifted to night surface attacks, these Coastal Command air patrols had been virtually useless inasmuch as it was almost impossible to spot a U-boat at night by eye.

What was needed was ASW radar. At the beginning of 1940, the Air Ministry had provided a few 1.5-meter-wavelength ASV (airborne radar sets) for a handful of Coastal Command and Navy aircraft types (Hudson, Swordfish, Walrus) to be used to track big enemy surface ships. However, since these sets were not capable of detecting U-boats, Coastal Command and the Royal Navy had requested the “crash” production of 4,000 improved 1.5-meter-wavelength sets (ASV-II). “Unfortunately,” Admiralty historian J. David Brown wrote recently, “the Air Ministry bureaucracy failed to recognize the importance of the program” and pigeonholed the request, giving priority to Fighter Command for Air Interception (A-I) radar to help find enemy bombers. The upshot was that by the end of 1940, only forty-nine Coastal Command aircraft and a few experimental Navy Swordfish biplanes had the improved ASV-II radar sets, an appalling lapse second only to the British failure to prevent the building of U-boat pens in French Atlantic ports.

Even when properly calibrated and working at peak efficiency, the improved 1.5-meter-wavelength Mark II ASV radar in these Coastal Command aircraft was almost useless for killing a U-boat at night. For complicated electronic reasons apart from ground or sea “clutter,” the radar went “blind” when the aircraft got within a mile of the U-boat. An alert U-boat watch thus had time to maneuver left or right off the flight path of the “blind” aircraft, avoiding its bombs or depth charges.

What the aircrews needed was some means of “seeing” during that last mile to the U-boat. In late October 1940, an officer in Coastal Command headquarters, Humphrey de Verde Leigh, proposed one possible solution: a very powerful, steerable searchlight, mounted on a retractable bed in the underside of the fuselage. Bowhill enthusiastically endorsed the proposal and detached Leigh to work on it full time. But owing to technical problems, bureaucratic inertia, and indifference, it was to take Leigh a full eighteen months to work out the bugs, to gain full approval from the Air Ministry, and to get the searchlight into combat, yet another serious British lapse.


The Condors Arrive

In the North Atlantic, Dönitz’s son-in-law Günter Hessler in the new IXB U-107 found convoy Outbound 279 on February 3, 1941. After flashing an alert, Hessler attacked, sinking a 4,700-ton freighter, then shadowed during the day. Dönitz relayed the report and ordered six other boats to converge on the convoy. Still shadowing, on the following evening Hessler sank a second ship of 5,000 tons. No other boats found the convoy, but while searching for it, Salmann in U-52 and Moehle in U-123 came across the inbound Slow Convoy 20, from which they sank one ship each, as did Hessler in U-107, responding to their reports. Korth in U-93 polished off another ship from this convoy with his deck gun, a 2,700-tonner which had been damaged by a Condor.

The Admiralty got wind of the breakout of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst from the North Sea and positioned powerful Home Fleet forces (Nelson, Rodney, Repulse, etc.) south of Iceland to intercept them. A British cruiser, Naiad, got a fleeting glimpse of the German vessels southbound in the Denmark Strait, but the British disbelieved—or discounted—the report. Equipped with primitive radar, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst evaded Naiad at high speed and withdrew northward into the strait to prepare for a second try on February 3-4.

The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst had orders to attack Halifax convoys in the area west of Iceland. Assuming the attack would again draw out the Home Fleet, the OKM directed Dönitz to lay a submarine trap south of Iceland to ambush its ships. On February 8, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst intercepted convoy Halifax 106, but upon seeing that the convoy was escorted by the battleship Ramillies, the Germans, who were under orders to avoid battles with capital ships, broke off the attack. As anticipated, the Home Fleet sailed west in pursuit of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. Dönitz, meanwhile, had positioned eight German U-boats to the submarine trap south of Iceland. One of these, Herbert Schultze in U-48, sighted—and reported—a “battle cruiser and a light cruiser,” but he was unable to get into shooting position. On February 10, a Whitley of Coastal Command Squadron 502, piloted by J. A. Walker, caught Korth in U-93 on the surface and bombed the boat, hastening her return to Lorient. The repairs to U-93 were to take three months. No other boats intercepted Home Fleet units. The submarine trap was thus a failure.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk VII – 502 Sqn

Dönitz was not displeased by this diversion. He believed the Condor reconnaissance flights near Rockall Bank had forced the British to divert convoys well to the north to avoid aerial detection. Later, when the OKM released the boats of the submarine trap, he left six boats on patrol lines due south of Iceland. Since this area was beyond range of the Bordeaux-based Condors, Dönitz requested that Condor flights be staged to that area from Norway.

Southbound to African waters, on the morning of February 9, Nikolaus Clausen in U-37 ran into convoy Home Gibraltar 53. Comprised of twenty-one ships, the convoy was thinly escorted by one destroyer and one sloop. Clausen gave the alarm, then attacked, claiming three ships for 13,500 tons sunk, but again he inflated the tonnage. His confirmed score was two ships for 3,300 tons.

There were no other German U-boats in Iberian waters, but the heavy cruiser Hipper, southbound from Brest to join Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, was within easy reach, as were the Condors basing at Bordeaux. Sensing a “historic” opportunity to mount a combined U-boat, aircraft, and surface-ship attack on the same convoy, Dönitz directed Clausen to shadow the convoy and to send beacon signals. Meanwhile, Dönitz instructed Gruppe 40 to fly as many Condors as possible to the scene and invited the OKM to bring up Hipper. Five Condors took off. The OKM initially refused to commit Hipper but, on second

Homing on U-37’s beacon signals, audible at 150 miles, the Condors reached the convoy late in the afternoon of February 9. In this first successful joint aircraft/submarine operation, the Condor pilots reported damage to nine ships for 45,000 tons. The confirmed score was five ships sunk. One Condor was damaged and crash-landed in Spain, but the crew survived and eventually returned to Bordeaux.

Still shadowing the shattered convoy for Hipper’s benefit, in the early hours of February 10, Clausen in U-37 struck again. His targets this time were two “big tankers.” His six torpedoes missed the tankers but, Clausen believed, struck and sank two ships behind the tankers for 7,500 tons. Actually, he hit only one ship, a 1,473-ton freighter, which sank, making his total confirmed score three ships sunk for 4,773 tons.

The riddled convoy Home Gibraltar 53 was scheduled to merge with an inbound unescorted convoy of nineteen ships from Sierra Leone. Racing up from the southwest, Hipper came upon this convoy on February 12 and sank seven ships for 32,800 tons, her first clear success in the Atlantic. She then found another freighter which had separated from the Gibraltar convoy. She took off the crew and sank the freighter, but was then compelled to abort to Brest with engine problems for the second time. Condors escorted her into port.

Dönitz was enormously pleased with this unique operation. The combined German forces had savaged two convoys, sinking sixteen confirmed ships: eight by Hipper, five by the Condors, three by U-37. Foreseeing the possibility of combined submarine and surface-ship operations with Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, he directed that three IXBs (U-105, U-106, U-124) prepare for departure to West African waters to be followed by the U-A, which was sailing from Germany. Having expended all torpedoes, Clausen in U-37 aborted his trip to Africa and returned to Lorient, where he received unstinting praise and the news that the famous but weary U-37 was to patrol home for retirement to the Training Command.

The diversion of Condors to the U-37-Hipper operation and a decision to put Condor crews through a crash course in navigation and communications delayed the staging of these aircraft from Norway. Hence the boats hunting south of Iceland had no help from the Condors for many days.

On the afternoon of February 19, 1941, a lone Condor staging from Norway found a convoy, Outbound 287. Dönitz ordered five boats to converge on the position and Gruppe 40 to send out more Condors at first light the following morning. But the operation was a failure. Three Condors reached the area, but all gave different positions, leading to the belief that a second or perhaps even a third convoy had been detected. Adding further confusion, B-dienst picked up distress calls from a ship reporting a Condor attack in yet another position. One boat, Lehmann-Willenbrock’s U-96, homed on a Condor beacon signal, came upon the convoy in foul weather, and sank a straggler, the 7,000-ton British tanker Scottish Standard. But no other boats could find the convoy.

Several days later, on February 22, a Norway-based Condor reported a convoy near the Orkneys. Dönitz directed two boats, outbound from Germany in the North Sea, to the scene: the VIIB U-46, commanded by Engelbert Endrass, returning from a long overhaul, and a new VIIC, U-552, commanded by Erich Topp, whose duck, U-57, had been rammed and sunk in the Elbe. But, many hours later, the airmen corrected the contact report: The convoy was not near the Orkneys but two hundred miles or more west of the Orkneys, en route to Halifax. It was Outbound 288.

Upon receiving the corrected position report, Dönitz ordered four boats to intercept the convoy and, if possible, three additional, including the weather boat, Moehle’s U-123. The operation was temporarily thrown into confusion when B-dienst reported another distress call from a ship being attacked by a Condor in a position that in no way corresponded to the “corrected” position report. Dönitz rightly dismissed this last report, logging in his diary that B-dienst reports could no longer be relied upon.

A new VIIB from Germany, U-73, commanded by Helmut Rosenbaum, age twenty-seven, from the duck U-2, made contact with the convoy Outbound 288 and flashed a report. Dönitz instructed Rosenbaum to radio beacon signals and hang on “at all costs” while the other boats—and more Condors—attempted to converge. During the night of February 23-24, five German boats and the Italian Bianchi attacked. Lehmann-Willenbrock in U-96 sank three ships for 18,400 tons, including the 11,000-ton auxiliary cruiser Huntingdon. Gerd Schreiber in the VIIC U-95 sank three ships for 13,900 tons. Moehle in U-123 sank one, as did Metzler in U-69, Rosenbaum in U-73, and Adalberto Giovannini in Bianchi. In retaliation, a Sunderland and three corvettes delivered a determined depth-charge attack on the green U-69, but the damage was not serious.

During this melee, the Italian submarine Marcello, commanded by Carlo Alberto Teppati, arrived on the scene. One of the convoy escorts, the ex-American four-stack destroyer Montgomery, merely a month out of her overhaul and upgrade, spotted Marcello and attacked with guns and depth charges. The attack was successful; Marcello sank with all hands. She was the first Axis submarine to fall victim to one of the American warships transferred to the Royal Navy in the “Destroyer Deal.”


Gunther Prien in U-47 sailed directly up the west coast of Ireland. On the afternoon of February 25 he ran into convoy Outbound 290, composed of thirty-nine ships and seven escorts. Prien reported, shadowed, and broadcast beacon signals. Dönitz ordered Kretschmer in U-99 and two boats on first patrols to join: Heilmann in U-97, who was out of torpedoes en route to Lorient, and Rosenbaum in U-73, who was on weather station. He alerted Gruppe 40 to fly Condors on the following day.

Shortly after midnight on February 26, Prien attacked the convoy alone. There was no moon, but the northern lights provided excellent visibility. His first salvo sank a 5,300-ton Belgian freighter and damaged an 8,100-ton British tanker in ballast. After reloading his tubes, he came in and fired a second salvo, sinking two more freighters, a 3,200-ton Swede and a 3,600-ton Norwegian. While again reloading his tubes he continued to track and send beacon signals, adding that he had sunk 20,000 tons. But no other U-boat came up that night.

“Hunter becomes the hunted” A Sea Hurricane chases Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condors from KG 40.

Later that day, February 26, guided by Prien’s beacon signals, the Condors found and attacked the convoy. One Condor appeared at noon; five in late afternoon. Astonishingly, they sank seven ships for 36,250 tons and damaged another one of 20,755 tons. All the while Prien doggedly and bravely tracked and sent beacon signals. In his last message of the day, Prien reported that he had been “beaten off’ by Allied aircraft and had been depth-charged by escorts. He revised his sinking report upward slightly to 22,000 tons. In actuality, Prien had sunk 12,000 tons.


Across the world these last months of 1945 were months of retribution. In Europe the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders were being prepared. In Rangoon and Singapore Japanese officers were arraigned as war criminals. Dozens passed through the Gothic central prisons of these cities, interrogated persistently, aggressively, week after week, but without the benefit of whips, bamboo splinters beneath the fingernails, or bastinadoes, as had been commonplace with the Japanese secret police, the Kempeitai. In Tokyo Allied judge advocates prepared the trials of bigger figures in the war. Emperor Hirohito escaped, but the chain of events had been set in motion that led inevitably to the hanging of Hideki Tojo and his associates, sacrifices for the imperial house. In this atmosphere the British were determined to bring the INA to some kind of reckoning.

The first arrests were in Malaya and Singapore, where the INA was not merely a scattering of renegade military units but a citizen army. The arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Singapore in July 1943 had created an unprecedented wave of mobilization among the Indians of Southeast Asia. Many INA personnel were Malayan residents who had never seen India but identified with it as their great national community. The sons of middle-class families joined up; so too did the daughters, by enlisting in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, named after the heroine queen of 1857. The civilian organization – the Indian Independence League – supplied propagandists and administrators of Bose’s Azad Hind government; virtually the whole Indian business community was co-opted in one way or another, as were Ceylonese professionals, in spite of the island being peripheral to Bose’s vision. The INA had connected the educated townsmen to the largely illiterate Tamil masses on the rubber estates as never before.

On reoccupying Singapore, Penang and Kuala Lumpur, the British threw most of the leaders of the Indian Independence League into jail. This included some of the most educated and prominent personalities of the pre-war era, such as the London-educated lawyer, N. Raghavan, in Penang and S. C. Goho, a Singapore barrister who had quasi-diplomatic status before the war as the official ‘agent’ of the government of India. Not all of them had been unequivocal in their support for Bose. Journalists were a particular target, such as the most senior Asian editor of the pre-war era, Francis Cooray, a Ceylonese who ran the Kuala Lumpur daily Malay Mail. In the cells they were given a form on which to declare their work for the INA. But the pattern of arrests seemed hasty and arbitrary. The British, Cooray complained, ‘acted no better than the Japanese did on the uncorroborated evidence of accomplices and informers, who had axes to grind and grudges to pay off.’ The treatment of the troops of the INA was also haphazard. The 1,940 soldiers of the INA captured in Thailand were truculent and uncooperative. British interrogators complained of the ‘brazen insolence’ and ‘outward veneer of bravado’ with which they boasted of their defeats of Allied troops, and of the false statements they made to annoy them. But the around 2,500 INA personnel in Malaya were more mildly treated. They merely had to await repatriation until ‘loyal’ Indian soldiers were sent home and, like the Japanese, were put to work in the interim. The young British historian Eric Stokes and his mountain artillery regiment was sent to escort members of the INA back to internment in India. The local INA recruits melted away. One Indian from Singapore garrisoned in Perak was told simply: ‘If you want to go, you are free to go.’ Some of the more educated recruits were even employed by the British military. Mountbatten did not see himself as bound by policy in India, and he did not want responsibility for the INA. He tried to slow the process down: ‘There are’, he ordered, ‘to be no executions without my approval.’

The decisive moment came in the autumn when the Indian government and military authorities decided to try a group of INA officers. Indians in the army recruiting areas in the northwest told British officials ‘if only they had been shot in Rangoon or Singapore everyone would have been pleased’, but they warned that a show trial in India would be a political disaster. Why did the British proceed? The desire for retribution was strong but more than that, many officials including the viceroy believed that Congress was going to use the INA as a ‘spearhead’ in some forthcoming revolt. So Captain Shahnawaz Khan, Captain P.K. Sehgal and Lieutenant G.S. Dhillon were arraigned. These three young Punjabi officers of the INA were all graduates of the Indian staff college. They were accused of torturing and executing INA soldiers who had tried to return to their British allegiance very late in the war, in March 1945, at the INA camp near Mandalay, Mount Popa. Subhas Bose, defeated but still defiant, had urged his officers to root out treachery and backsliding as Slim’s advance into Burma gathered pace. The three officers had carried out Bose’s orders.

On 5 November 1945 three ‘smart young men, unbadged, but with a sense of command’, were ushered into a military court in the great Moghul Red Fort of Delhi. The British may have thought that the date of the trial, the 340th anniversary of the gunpowder plot against the English Parliament, was appropriate. The venue, however, was not. Among Indians, the Red Fort still echoed with memories of the previous British show-trial staged there, that of the last Moghul emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, after the rebellion of 1857–8. It was earth from the tomb of Bahadur Shah, who had died in exile in Rangoon, that Bose’s men had intended to convey in a silver casket on their ill-fated march from Burma to India in 1944.

The arguments between the prosecution and defence were hurled back and forth for days. The Indian public hung on every word. Court transcripts were published daily. One proclaimed: ‘This trial is far more sensational than the trial of Jesus Christ and many other trials around the world.’ Vallabhbhai Patel, general secretary of the Congress, got in a shrewder blow. The man who should really be on trial, he asserted, was Lord Linlithgow, the former viceroy, for sentencing 3 million Bengalis to death by famine in 1943. Points of fact arose: were the INA deserters actually executed and, if so, by whom? The British judge advocate general belittled the INA as a Japanese quisling army. The men who had joined it were either traitors or they were forced by bad treatment into its ranks. In rebuttal, the defence team argued that the INA was Indian-officered and led. Were the British quislings to the Americans simply because General Eisenhower was supreme commander in Europe? The accused exculpated their personal actions. Shahnawaz Khan said that he had sacrificed ‘my life, my home, my family and its traditions’ for his country. Dhillon is supposed to have said that the Japanese were ‘leaders of the Buddhist religion’ which was born in India. Indians should therefore work with the Japanese.

The most telling arguments, though, were those that brought international law into the scales. The British, the defence argued, had abandoned their status as a government in Malaya and Burma. Four years before in Singapore, as the garrison surrendered, Colonel Hunt had told captured Indian troops that they should ‘obey the orders of the Japanese in the way that you obeyed the British government. Otherwise you will be punished.’ Other evidence seemed to suggest that the Singapore commander, General Percival, had endorsed this position. So, said the accused, P. K. Sehgal: ‘In return for the loyalty of the Indians, the British representative handed them over to the Japanese like a flock of sheep. Thereby the British had cut off all our bonds of allegiance to the British crown.’ Buoyed up by the public reaction to this claim, the defence went on to argue that Bose’s Azad Hind government was an independent administration created by war. It controlled its own territories, even if they were only the sparsely populated Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It had an effective and autonomous army, and its government had been recognized by, among others, the government of Eire. The Azad Hind government enjoyed exactly the same status as the United States of America after the declaration of independence in 1776. The fact that Bose had failed was neither here nor there. The INA soldiers were officers of an independent army. The floggings and executions they administered in Burma and Malaya were perfectly compatible with the British Army Act of 1911.

What was striking about this line of argument was that it had been put together not solely by the three determined Congressmen among the defence lawyers, Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali, but by several hoary old Indian liberals who had been decorated by the British government and were widely regarded as loyalists by both British and Indians. If such men were arguing that the independent Indian nation already existed, how could it be otherwise? The three young officers were ultimately convicted, but only of the lesser charge of rebellion against the king-emperor. The sentences passed were never imposed. Wavell later acknowledged that the first trials should have been of men who could actually be convicted of brutality or murder. The three were later released from jail and given dishonourable discharges from the army. But the British Raj had already suffered a lethal blow. Its legitimacy, long questioned, was now seeping away. Even Ajit Rudra, a senior Indian officer who had once believed passionately that the INA had betrayed their loyalty to the king-emperor, had second thoughts. If the British had willingly released the Indian troops from their allegiance, how could they be classed as traitors?

The effect on soldiers and civilians up and down the crescent was electrifying. As the debate over the INA raged on, hundreds of thousands of Indian troops remained in Southeast Asia under British command. By far the majority were scattered over a demoralized and devastated Burma, suspicious of the BNA and doubting the intentions of the British. Nehru and other Congress politicians had already warned Auchinleck, the army’s commander-in-chief, that it would be impossible to use Indian troops to put down nationalist rebellions in fraternal countries. This hamstrung Dorman-Smith in his attempt to bring the BNA to heel over the next nine months. As Wavell reminded the cabinet on 17 October: ‘SEAC depends almost entirely on [the] loyalty and discipline of Indian troops’. Yet Attlee brushed aside his objections to the despatch of fresh levies of men from India in the face of new tasks confronting the British. It caused new difficulties as the British tried to rebuild their rule in Malaya. Indian troops were also in French Indo-China, attempting to reassert French authority in the face of communist and nationalist rebellions. And such was the drain on manpower that Britain had to risk sending 5 Indian Division from Malaya to Indonesia, where they would fight alongside British troops against the Indonesian nationalists in what was to be the bloodiest of the first wars of peace.

In Burma and elsewhere the INA issue raised the temperature of politics. There never had been a question of treating the BNA in the same manner as the INA, except among the most intransigent old British civil servants. If the INA were not really guilty of rebellion, Burmese thought, the BNA must surely be the legitimate military wing of their national movement. There was, however, one exception to Britain’s relatively prudent approach to the BNA: early in 1946 Dorman-Smith tried to bring against Aung San a charge of murder very similar to those which the British authorities had sought to pin on the ‘blacks’ of the INA. The resulting showdown ensured that either Aung San or Dorman-Smith had to go. The witch hunt against Indian civilians in Southeast Asia rapidly lost all moral force. The full weight of South Asian public opinion made itself felt in Malaya. In November a new ‘agent’ of the government of India arrived in Singapore. S. K. Chettur, an Oxford graduate and Madras civil servant, carried himself as if he were the representative of a friendly, independent power. Urbane and at ease in colonial circles, he put pressure on the British authorities to release the detainees, especially by engaging a legal team on the Red Fort trial model, and by drawing the attention of Indian public opinion to the conditions of solitary confinement of the detainees held in Kuala Lumpur. There were dark hints of racism when an Indian defendant and his Indian lawyers came in front of white judges and prosecutors. By early December 1945 this issue was causing so much difficulty in India that it led Wavell to plead with Mountbatten to either try the men or release them. The prosecutions unravelled: by the end of the year, of the 114 arrested, only three were accused of treason; of the fifty-eight cases handed to the magistrates, thirty-one accused were provisionally released and nineteen conditionally released, with the rest in abeyance. Chettur argued that all those who were innocent of violence should be freed. Any suggestion of this in November, he observed, would have thrown the British ‘into a fit’. But by January 1946 Mountbatten was willing to agree.

There was even less clarity as to British treatment of others who had worked with the Japanese. Mustapha Hussain was one of the many Malay radicals arrested. Fully expecting to be tried by the British, he surrendered himself to a local Force 136 officer, Colonel Peter Dobree, who was attached to a group of Malay fighters of the ‘Loyal Malay Soldiers’ in Perak. Mustapha discovered that his name was on an ‘arrest on sight’ list. Confined in the local police station, he warned the Malay soldiers not to be duped by the British, and found them to be already disenchanted. ‘Tuan Dobree used to eat wild-growing fiddle-head ferns with us in the jungle,’ they told him. ‘Now that he is dining with the Sultan, he hardly remembers us.’ Mustapha was moved to another police station then to Batu Gajah jail. It had a black reputation in these years: many prisoners of the Japanese, including the Force 136 agent Lim Bo Seng, had died there. Mustapha spent long months in grim conditions in a lock-up with a rag-bag of aristocratic Malay officials, former policemen and their narks. Their fates varied dramatically. Mustapha was released without trial in 1946, after an appeal from 400 former Malay Regiment soldiers for whom he had interceded after the fall of Singapore. But others with him in Batu Gajah faced imprisonment or even death. Many arrested spent nearly two years in jail without trial. Some later took their own lives. Nominally a free man, Mustapha found himself shunned by his community, sacked by the British from his old job as a lecturer, prohibited from re-entering politics and subjected to further interrogations on the history of the Malay radicals. It was but a short step from the retribution of war to the preventive detentions of counterinsurgency.

By this time there were around 1,392 complaints under investigation, but most were withdrawn through lack of evidence. Roughly half the cases that came before the special courts were dismissed. Of the 385 Malayans detained, most were released, some conditionally. At the end of January 1946 the British announced that they would accept no more complaints. A defining moment was the trial in Singapore of a Eurasian, C. J. Paglar. He was a respected medical practitioner who, for the lack of any other candidate, had acted as a figurehead leader of the Eurasian community and made a number of broadcast messages, for example on Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. He was one of the few people charged with treason. The principal defence witness was a Japanese civilian administrator in Singapore, Mamoru Shinozaki. During the war he had taken upon himself the protection of vulnerable Anglophone groups, such as the Eurasians and the Straits Chinese. Shinozaki argued that Paglar acted upon instructions, and under the compulsion of protecting his community. The Japanese regime, he said, was ‘like a stepfather after the real father, the British, left their children behind. The stepfather was brutal… Now, alas, the real father has returned and is blaming these leaders for obeying their stepfather.’ The trial was adjourned sine die. The trial divided public opinion, but most Eurasians took the view that ‘somebody had to stand up for the people to be representative.’ The Muslim president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, R. Jumabhoy, a man who had spent the war in India, reflected on the prosecutions: ‘Had I been here I’m not certain that I would not have done the same to save myself and my family.’

It was bitterly ironic that these vendettas struck hardest at those key groups the British needed to rebuild their authority. The police force was shattered by the war, and by the stigma of working with the Japanese. In Malaya, the British discharged 500 Sikh policemen, and 400 others enlisted by the Japanese. It would be many years before public trust in them would be rebuilt. This denunciation of a Chinese police inspector was not untypical:

The Wildebeeste of Syonan and the Black Snake Spitfire of Gestapodom, fit to rank with the street sweepings and organized gangsters. His very name spells doom and anathema… He experimented with the barbaric cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition. By jingo & the heavens! He was a bad egg, rotter and wicked blighter in his heyday.

Yet the British desperately needed experienced officers, and tended to listen to pleas from those who had worked under duress: ‘If I had really collaborated with the Japanese’, petitioned one officer, ‘I would have arrested hundreds of persons and not only twenty.’ The British were caught in a bind. On the one hand, many Malayans felt that old-style colonial retribution could have no further place in a territory where so many – above all the British themselves – had played morally and politically ambivalent roles during the war. Yet equally, the sight of known collaborators and profiteers on the streets alienated popular opinion. Above all, it was the unevenness and inconsistency of British justice that was the source of lasting anger. A sharp distinction emerged between colonial justice and popular justice. As soon as the newspapers began to publish again, denunciations crowded their pages: of the schoolmaster for removing the word ‘Britain’ from textbooks, ‘thereby treating Britain as an enemy’; the arrogant mistresses who had escaped arrest; charges of ‘fawning on the Japanese without shame’; even of pushing a Japanese officers’ car when the engine broke down. Reputations were blackened by dark innuendo, and this fed undercurrents of corruption, blackmail and extortion. Men with guilty consciences turned to the triads for protection. As the vengeful fury of the British began to subside, a long, slow internal reckoning was only just beginning, and for many it would never be complete.

Fay, Peter W. (1993), The Forgotten Army: India’s Armed Struggle for Independence, 1942-1945., Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press., ISBN 0-472-08342-2.


The first complete history of the Indian National Army and its fight for independence against the British in World War II.


The last days of the Raj bring to mind Gandhi’s nonviolence and Nehru’s diplomacy. These associations obscure another reality: that an army of Indian men and women who tried to throw the British off the subcontinent. The Forgotten Army brings to life for the first time the story of how Subhas Chandra Bose, a charismatic Bengali, attempted to liberate India with an army of former British Indian soldiers–the Indian National Army (INA).

The story begins with the British Indian Army fighting a heroic rearguard action against the invading Japanese down the Malaysian peninsula and ends with many of these same soldiers defeated in their effort to invade India as allies of Japan. Peter Ward Fay intertwines powerful descriptions of military action with a unique knowledge of how the INA was formed and its role in the broader struggle for Indian independence

Fay incorporates the personal reminiscences of Prem Saghal, a senior officer in the INA, and Lakshmi Swaminadhan, leader of its women’s sections, to help the reader understand the motivations of those who took part. Their experiences offer an engagingly personal counterpoint to the political and military history.

Peter Ward Fay is Professor of History, California Institute of Technology.

Praise / Awards


“Fay has made a magnificent attempt to analyse all the credible information on the history of [Subhas Chandra] Bose’s legendary Indian National Army (INA).”

–Times Higher Education Supplement

“This fine study of the Indian National Army (INA) seeks to demonstrate this army’s significance in the attainment of Indian independence and the termination of the British Empire. . . . Throughout, Fay seeks to explain why ‘constant and true’ Indians like Sahgal and Swaminadhan chose to fight alongside the Japanese and against the British . . . .”

–Pacific Affairs

“. . . a well-crafted and thought-provoking mixture of oral history and original research, providing the most comprehensive account yet published of the events leading to the formation of the INA.”


“In the standard histories of World War II military operations in Southeast Asia, the 40,000-strong Indian National Army (INA)led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose . . . under Japanese sponsorship, gets brief mention, if not a mere footnote. . . . Fay has offered the first detailed account of the formation and operations of the INA during 1942-45. . . . A welcome addition to existing literature on the subject, the work is a well-researched and written book, particularly in its use of personal diaries and interviews with Prem[nath Saghal] and Laxmi [Swaminadhan].”

–Journal of Military History

“Written engagingly in a conversational (and occasionally discursive) style,informed throughout by great sympathy for the men and women of the INA, Fay’s book deserves to become the standard account of the subject.”

–American Historical Review

“Few research-based monographs have been penned with such an engaging elegance. . . . a felicitous combination of substance and style. . . .”


“. . . one of the most interesting, well written, and significant monographs I have recently encountered in the field of modern Indian historiography. . . . [A] decidedly original and stimulating addition to the field.”

–Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire

“. . . [A] lucid and compassionate book. . . . Fay presents the most balanced account yet written of the political and military aspects of the INA. . . . [T]he book tells the INA’s story with a style and verve too often missing in historical writing.”

–Journal of the South Asian Studies Association

“. . . a very interesting book. . . . excellent.”

–War in History



Increased militancy among the Congress and its supporters owed much to the Indian National Army (INA). This force had been recruited from Indian civilians in Malaya and from Indian Army soldiers who had been captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942. The racism of British expatriate society in Malaya, the tide of nationalism among Indians in the region and the apparent invincibility of the Japanese had encouraged many Indian soldiers to throw in their lot with the Axis powers. In 1943 leadership of the INA and the civilian Indian Independence Leagues had passed into the hands of the Bengali politician Subhas Chandra Bose who, on escaping from a Calcutta prison, had made his way to Singapore via Berlin. Bose had been among the most radical of the senior Congress leaders. An inveterate foe of the British, he was willing to accept military and political help from any of their enemies. The INA had fought alongside the Japanese in their great campaign to invade India during the spring and summer of 1944. When that thrust was defeated, Bose’s force had pulled back into Burma and finally retreated into Thailand and Malaya. As the British captured INA personnel, they categorized them into three groups – ‘whites’, ‘greys’ and ‘blacks’ – according to how seriously they rated their offences against the British crown and their former comrades. Opinion among Britain’s Indian troops was mixed. Some believed the INA men should be tried, while others thought of them as misguided patriots, but most civilians in India believed that they should not be tried for treachery or desertion as the British apparently intended.

The captured INA personnel posed a real problem for the British. Local commanders were inclined to view them with hostility. Colonel Balfour Oatts, who had fought with tribal hill levies in northwest Burma, hated the INA even more than he hated Aung San’s forces. After interrogating many of them he concluded that there was nothing to be done with these feral, ‘red-eyed’ deserters and traitors. Some officers gave them grudging respect in view of their fortitude during the clash with the 14th Army near Mount Popa, while others acknowledged that in Rangoon INA men had helped administer the city before the British returned in force, saving it from yet further despoliation. There was also the delicate question of allegiance and of not alienating loyal soldiers in the Indian Army. Some rank and file sympathized with the INA because their British officers had virtually abandoned them in 1942. The British themselves were uneasily aware that the status of Bose’s Azad Hind (Free India) government and its army was unclear under international law. Was Bose’s government, headquartered in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, tantamount to a sovereign power, like the United States after 1776? Certainly, Eamon de Valera and the government of Eire thought so, because they had exchanged diplomatic notes with it. If so, the INA, however detestable, must have been a legitimate military force, no more ‘traitors’ indeed than the old Burma Independence Army, most of whose officers and men had never sworn an oath to the king-emperor and could not be held to have acted treasonably. The British in the 1940s were still an imperialist nation and many of them were unabashedly racist in their attitudes, but they had a deep respect for the rule of law and its demands. Many agonized about the legitimacy of prosecuting the INA men. For this reason they quite quickly fell back on the issue of the violence and torture exercised by INA officers against those Indian soldiers who would not join their rebel army. Trials of INA men would hinge on charges of violence against fellow Indian officers and men, rather than the more nebulous question of treachery to the king-emperor. Slowly the meaning of this retreat came to be understood among the British and Asians for what it really was: an acceptance that King George was no longer the legitimate sovereign of India.

In the meantime, the practical issue of the fate of captured INA soldiers could not be avoided. Some of them were cooped up for long periods in internment camps in different parts of Southeast Asia. Others were repatriated under guard to India and then dishonourably discharged from the ranks without pay or provisions. Here the qualms of the civil administration came into view. There was a danger that these soldiers would return to their villages and form cells of virulently anti-British nationalists. The authorities began to fingerprint them in order to trace their diffusion into a countryside already seething with economic woes, political disquiet and communal tension. The auguries were poor. When INA men began to be repatriated to India under guard, there were many demonstrations of popular support. People met them at stations, garlanded them and gave them sweets. On his release from prison the Congress strongman Sardar Patel proclaimed that ‘Congress recognises the bravery of the INA people’, though during the war Congress leaders had generally distanced themselves from the INA.

Up to the very last minute Subhas Bose had hoped that Japan would resist the Allies’ resurgence long enough for his Azad Hind government to secure something from the expected peace conference. If that did not succeed, he would approach the Soviet Union, which appeared increasingly antagonistic to Britain as the war ended. As their own nemesis approached in August 1945, the Japanese commanders finally agreed to help him make contact with the advancing Soviet armies in Manchuria. The dropping of the atom bombs and the Japanese surrender forced him to move fast. He was touring Malaya, after laying the foundation of the INA Martyrs’ Memorial at Connaught Drive on Singapore’s seafront. On 17 August he issued a final order of the day, dissolving the INA with the words: ‘The roads to Delhi are many and Delhi still remains our goal.’ He then flew out of Singapore on his way to China via French Indo-China. If all else failed he wanted to become a prisoner of the Soviets: ‘They are the only ones who will resist the British. My fate is with them.’ But as the Japanese plane took off from Taipei airport its engines faltered and then failed. Bose was badly burned in the crash. According to several witnesses, he died on 18 August in a Japanese military hospital, talking to the very last of India’s freedom.

British and Indian commissions later established convincingly that Bose had died in Taiwan. These were legendary and apocalyptic times, however. Having witnessed the first Indian leader to fight against the British since the great mutiny of 1857, many in both Southeast Asia and India refused to accept the loss of their hero. Rumours that Bose had survived and was waiting to come out of hiding and begin the final struggle for independence were rampant by the end of 1945. A later British interrogation of a Japanese civilian associated with their Southeast Asian secret-service organization, the Hikari Kikan, hints at the rumours’ source. This operative recorded that when news of Bose’s death was reported in Rangoon on 19 August 1945, several Japanese officers went to offer their condolences to one of Bose’s senior officers, Bhonsle. He had not been altogether in Subhas Bose’s confidence and told General Isoda that ‘he had a feeling that Bose was not dead, but that his disappearance had been covered up’. Despite denials from the Japanese, who had received more details on the fatal crash, INA personnel remained unconvinced and passed on this feeling to Indian civilians. When the news of Bose’s death reached India, about a week later, many did not believe it and dismissed the report as British propaganda. In Tokyo young INA leaders studying at the Japanese Military Academy were also unconvinced by the account of his death and disturbed by the hasty cremation. They guarded Bose’s ashes around the clock. There are still some in India today who believe that Bose remained alive and in Soviet custody, a once and future king of Indian independence. The legend of ‘Netaji’ Bose’s survival helped bind together the defeated INA. In Bengal it became an assurance of the province’s supreme importance in the liberation of the motherland. It sustained the morale of many across India and Southeast Asia who deplored the return of British power or felt alienated from the political settlement finally achieved by Gandhi and Nehru.

Of those Indians who did accept that Bose had perished, most eulogized him as a great patriot and military leader, even when they took the official Congress line that he was mistaken in allying with Japanese ‘fascism’. Even Gandhi thought kindly of him. To Amrit Kaur he wrote: ‘Subhas Bose has died well. He was undoubtedly a patriot, though misguided.’ Typically, however, the Mahatma immediately changed the subject and reverted to avuncular advice, adding: ‘Your gum has caused me much trouble. I blame the dentist.’ Bose’s martyrdom most directly traumatized the many young men and women from the Indian civilian communities of Malaya and Singapore who had rushed to enlist. Fearing British reprisals, the INA officers in Tokyo sought sanctuary in the USA from the new military ruler, General MacArthur. Bose’s exit further dramatized the issue of the legitimacy of the INA and the problems that the British would face in dealing with it. They had already decided to try as many as 300 of its officers, but their gradual retreat from this position over the next two years was a further demonstration that the Raj was moving inexorably towards its end.





(By E. Dwyer Gray, Sydney.)

It is, of course, fairly well known that the war tank was really a Western Australian invention. Those who would like to know the details of the occurrences in connection with Corporal Lancelot E. de Mole’s travelling caterpillar fort, will find them set out in the current issue of the “Australian Motor Owner,” which gives the whole story. The magazine does not, however, print the text of a certain striking letter from Perth, addressed to the British Minister for War on September 19, 1914. This not only informed the British Minister for War that the archives of its own department contained the plans for a perfect war tank, but foretold what tanks could do, exactly two years before the inferior Somme tanks appeared so belatedly on the battlefields. This letter is now made available for publication for the first time, and reads as follows:

“The question of armaments being of paramount importance to armies engaged in this great war, may I suggest your placing the plans, specifications, and model, submitted by Mr. Lancelot de Mole in 1912, before a committee of experts, with a view to the adoption of travelling forts against the German forces In my humble opinion no deadlier or more efficient war engine could be used than de Mole’s caterpillar fort, which can travel over broken ground, climb embankments., span canals, streams and trenches with the greatest of ease, and which, if armoured and manned with small quick-firing guns and maxims, will quickly turn the most stubborn of armies, even if they be most strongly entrenched.

A line of moving fortresses – no dreamer’s fancy, but an idea which can be actually materialised – adequately support- ed by artillery, will carry everything before it, and save the infantry. I sincerely trust that you will appreciate the value of my suggestion. Should you require the services of Mr. L. de Mole kindly request the Western Australian Government to communicate with Mr. H. J. Anketell, resident engineer, Department of Public Works, Perth – Yours, etc., G. W. D. Breadon.”

Mr. Breadon was a civil engineer by profession. He was a man of repute and capacity, and shortly after writing this remarkable letter he became a Commissioner for Munitions in India. The letter had no effect whatever. Apparently it went into the same sort of pigeonhole as de Mole’s plans in 1912. Today it accuses the British Minister for War in 1914, or his agents, and the accusation, though it has a particular application to 1914, goes back to 1912.

Some Tragic Questions.

Here observe that on November 17. 1919, a British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, presided over by   Mr. Justice Sargant, declared:- “De Mole made, and reduced to practical shape, as far back as the year 1912, a very brilliant lank invention, which anticipated, and in some respects surpassed, that actually put into use late in 1916. Counsel for the Minister for Munitions specifically admitted: ”De Mole’s suggestions would, in the opinion of present advisers, have made a better article than those that went into action.” The Chairman said to him: ”Your suggestion is sent to the Government in 1912 and 1915. Then it gets pigeonholed. That is your misfortune, but not your fault.” But what about his country’s misfortune and the calamitous consequences to mankind? How much would the war have been shortened if Britain had possessed tanks from the beginning? Would there have been any retreat from Mons? Would the war ever have become static? Millions of men may have perished on account of this ineptitude, which in fact prolonged the war for years. Even if the British   Minister for War, or his agents, had acted promptly and with sense when Breadon’s striking letter reached London in October, 1914, the whole history of the war would have been altered, and huge savings would have been effected in human lives. Dead men tell no tales, but live ones can – and this is one of them. It is time to abolish pigeonholes and to substitute searchlights.

Churchill’s Historic Letter.

On January 5, 1915, Mr. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote his historic letter to Mr. Asquith (of “Wait and see” fame) on the subject of mechanical warfare. In this he remarked:- “The question to be now solved is not the long attack over a carefully prepared glacis of former times, but the actual getting across of   100 or 200 yards of open space and wire entanglements. All this was apparent more than two months ago, but no steps have been taken and no preparation made. Yet it would be quite easy to fit up tractors with armoured shelters, in which men and machine guns could be placed, which would be bullet proof. The caterpillar system would enable trenches to be crossed quite easily, and the weight of the machines would destroy all wire entanglements. These engines could . . . advance into enemy trenches, smash   all obstructions, and sweep the trenches with their machine gun fire.”

Mr. Winston Churchill began his practical tank activities after a Dukes’ dinner on February 15, 1915, when Major Hetherington and others suggested rolling cars, with wheels the size of the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, but the above letter shows that he had received inspiration before that date. At the moment he wrote his historic letter his colleague, the Minister for War, or his agents, had Breadon’s letter locked away and ignored, whilst somewhere else in the War Office reposed plans for a perfect war tank travelling on the cater- pillar system on a chain track of steel plates. It was only after spending mil- lions on the secret evolution of an inferior type of tank that “Mother” and its adaptation appeared 0n the battlefields in September, 1916.

The Birth of the Tank.

The standard work on these subjects is “Tanks, 1914-18,” by Sir Albert Stern, long Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, and an original member of Mr. Winston Churchill’s celebrated Landship Committee of 1915, so detested by the War Office that it refused to give it the accommodation of an un-tenanted room. Britain owed even, the Somme tanks, not to the War Office and the military authorities, who consistently ridiculed and opposed all ideas of landships or tanks, but to the grit, the commonsense, the courage, and the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, and the Naval Department. In his book Sir Albert Stern writes:- “Mr. d’Eyncourt turned down a proposed truck of Balata belting, and once more our hopes sank. Then on September 22 (1915) I received the following telegram from Lincoln: ‘To Stern, Room 59, 83 Pall Mall. Balata died on the test bench yesterday morning. New arrival by Tritton out of pressed plate. Light in weight, but very strong. All doing well, thank you. – Proud Parents.’ That was the birth of the tank.”

That statement is what Mr. Winston Churchill once described as a terminological inexactitude, only in the sense that it is historically untrue. The curious telegram of September 22, 1915, signed “Proud Parents,” was not the birth of the tank. It was only the birth of “Mother” and its adaptations. The birth of the tank took place in Western Australia in 1912. But Sir Albert Stern is not to blame. He did not know de Mole’s story when he wrote his book. That the Director of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department should never have heard of de Mole’s tank is, however, just one of those mysteries which should have been probed and never was. De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918. There was also Breadon’s letter of September, 1914, and a working model one-eighth of the natural size, which did no more in London than the plans and was eventually found in what the London Press of 1919 described as “the neglected cellar of a Government department.” In 1916 de Mole’s tank was rejected by the Advisory Committee of Scientific Experts. They must have displayed some expert science to keep Sir Albert Stern ignorant of the fact that there was anything of the kind on the planet. But that he was ignorant of the existence of de Mole’s tank can be accepted as sure.

The Royal Commission of 1919 paid a high tribute to the driving force of Mr. Winston Churchill, and probably he deserved it. But no tribute was paid to the driving force of Sir Albert Stern, who deserved it more, and was his teacher about tanks. It is regrettable to have to add that on October 16, 1917. Mr. Winston Churchill weakly dismissed Sir Albert Stern from the Directorship of the Mechanical Warfare Supply Department, at the bidding of British Generals, whoso stupidity in connection with tanks he had dared to oppose and expose: appointed Admiral Moore in his place, who up to the date of his appointment had never even seen a tank, and actually referred Sir Albert Stern to America for a proper development of tanks on a large scale. But it is now a matter of history that Sir Albert Stern won through in the end.

De Mole’s Ideal Tank.        

De Mole’s tank was intended to be 37 ft. long, with a wheel base of 25ft, travelling on a caterpillar track of steel plates. It had a double climbing face, and consequently could have reversed over the roughest battlefields, which the Somme tanks could not. It would have crossed a 16ft trench with ease, either forwards or backwards. It had a high underbody clearance to prevent bogging.

The chain track was fully protected, travelling inside the armour instead of over the top. The Somme tanks were very imperfectly steered by moving the chain track faster on one side than the other, which imposed a strict limitation in length, or they could not be steered at all. ln de Mole’s tank perfect steering was secured, for the chain track could be moved laterally, thus causing it to conform lo curves. This meant that there was no limitation to length, except that imposed by weight, and the   horse-power of the motor engine used. At least three times de Mole offered his brilliant invention to his country for nothing, and it was refused. It is terrible to think what might have occurred If de Mole had been a man of the same type as Grindell Mathews. When in June, 1913, the Director-General of Artillery, wrote to him finally from the War Office, London, definitely declining the invention, and stating “it is not proposed to proceed with the matter,” some of de Mole’s friends suggested to him that he should take copies of his plans to the German Consul in Perth. All was peace, but de Mole said he would have no truck with any foreign Government.

What even the Somme tanks and their developments actually did in the war need not be stressed here. They were one of the chief factors in the final victory of the Allies. Lord Kitchener had no time for them. As Sir Albert Stern says. He was too busy even to look at the first efforts at construction. The chairman of the alleged Australian Inventions Board, sitting in Adelaide during the war was also too busy even to look at de Mole’s plans. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig supported Stern. When the tanks appeared at Delville Wood and other Somme battlefields in September 1916, he wrote: “We take our objectives where the tanks advance. Where they do not advance we do not take our objectives.” In May, 1917, he wrote: “The tanks are wonderful life-savers.” A British private wrote: “Before the tanks came the dead used to be strewn in front of the German gun emplacements like birds before a butt with a good shot inside. Now these tank things just walkthrough.”

The 1919 Tank Awards.

The British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors accorded the Australian credit and commiseration, to which a grateful Empire added later the sustaining letters, “C. B. E.” To the contrivers of an inferior tank they allotted £15,000 in cash. But the Commissioners had no choice. They were tied by the terms of their appointment, and could make awards only for “tanks actually used by a Government department” – that is, for “Mother” and its adaptations, or to those who could show, “A casual connection” between their conceptions and those Contrivances. The Somme tank awardees were Sir E. H. W. Tennyson-d’Eyncourt, Sir W. Tritton, Major Wilson, Lieut. McFie, and Mr. S. Newfield. A certified verbatim report of the Commission proceedings at Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster, on November 3, 1919, shows that two of these Somme awardees had, whilst controlling official positions, offered criticisms of de Mole’s tank, which “he felt he could not properly put forward to the Commission as being a reasoned and proper report on the position as it then was”, since “the criticisms contained in that report are criticism, which I am advised are not justified.”

De Mole’s Other Activities.

De Mole conceived his great tank idea or travelling caterpillar fort, while engaged in the organisation of heavy transport work in the South-Western part of Western Australia in 1911, and he first sent his plans to the British War Office in 1912. Caterpillar traction was already known, the celebrated American   Holt tractor being then on the scene. But the steering was awkward, and this was part of de Mole’s triumph. He made perfect steering quite easy. The Holt story is another instance of the ineptitude of the British authorities on some important occasions. They gave to America for nothing plans for which they had paid a prize, and which they were exceedingly glad to use on generous re- turn. In 1902 de Mole invented au automatic telephone similar in operation to that now in use, but the postal authorities would not even give it a trial. The model of his rejected war tank can be seen at the Melbourne War Museum. The British Museum wanted to buy it, but characteristically the Australian soldier refused to sell it, and presented it to the Australian War Museum as a gift. Just now de Mole is a resident of Cremorne, Sydney, and is working out two big ideas in connection with heavy traffic. In six months’ time every city in Australia is likely to know all about them, and the country, too. He is a civil engineer by profession, like his father, who is a citizen of Adelaide. His great-great-grand-father was the eminent engineer, Henry Maudesly, who invented the marine engine, etc.

A generous-minded man. Lancelot de Mole makes no grievance of his wrongs. But the mourning millions will never know what his wrongs cost the world in human lives, or how many of the dead, including 60,000 splendid Australians, would have been saved if the British War Office had been wise in time. The man actually responsible for the pigeon- holing of the Australian corporal’s tank plans in 1912 and the definite rejection of June, 1913, was the man who prolonged the war for years. Who was he?



Alan Francis Brooke


Considered a master strategist, Alan Francis Brooke(1883-1963) was instrumental in orchestrating the victory of Allied forces in the Second World War. As chief of the Imperial General Staff, Brooke was the chief military spokesman for the British government and the Allies. Born on July 23, 1883, in Bagneres de Bigorre, France, Alan Francis Brooke was the sixth son and ninth child of Sir Victor Brooke, third baronet of Colebrooke in county Fermanagh, and Alice Bellingham Brooke, second daughter of Sir Alan Edward Bellingham, third baronet, of Castle Bellingham in County Louth. Both parents belonged to the Protestant Ascendancy class in Ireland. The Brookes of Colebrooke had fought for the British Crown from before 1641. His ancestor, Sir Henry Brooke of Donegal, was awarded 30,000 acres of Fermanagh for his part in suppressing the native uprising in Ireland. As his mother preferred sunny southern France to the Irish climate, Brooke was raised near Pau, in southern France. His father died when he was eight years old. Brooke was privately educated and spoke fluent French and German before he mastered English. He was also an excellent horseman, hunter, and fisherman.

At the age of eighteen, Brooke entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, a traditional English school. He was shy, delicate and introspective, but did well enough to follow the family tradition by embarking on a military career. Brooke joined a battery of Royal Field Artillery in Ireland in 1902. His first four years were spent in Ireland. In 1906, he joined the prestigious Royal Horse Artillery. Three years later, he was sent to India, where he proved to be a highly efficient officer-considerate of his men and kind to his horses. Brooke was well liked and considered to be quick-witted and amusing. He was a gifted draftsman and caricaturist, and a skilled mimic. His hobbies in India were big-game hunting and horseracing. Brooke married Jane Richardson, daughter of Colonel John Richardson, in 1914. He had one son and one daughter from this marriage. His wife died after an auto accident in 1925.

Distinguished Service in World War I

During World War I, Brooke was commanding Canadian and Indian artillery units on the western front. He fought in the battle of the Somme and introduced the French “creeping barrage” system. It ensured that the ground between the enemy’s trench lines was covered and minimized the amount of exposure by advancing infantry to machinegun fire. Brooke’s work was considered to be outstanding in all engagements and, by 1918, he was a brevet lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and bar.

After the war, Brooke was sent to the Staff College at Camberley and later became an instructor there. In 1929, he married Benita Lees, daughter of Sir Harold Pelly and widow of Sir Thomas Lees. This second marriage brought a calming influence to his high strung temperament and was a source of strength, especially during World War II. Brooke kept a diary that he intended to be read only by his wife. The diary later provided material for several books including Arthur Bryant’s The Turn of the Tide, 1939-1943 and Triumph in the West, 1943-1946. By 1929, he was commandant of the School of Artillery. He also attended the Imperial Defense College, and later returned as an instructor. In the 1930s Brooke commanded first an infantry brigade, and later a mobile division-which foreshadowed the armored divisions of World War II. He was promoted to lieutenant-general and placed in charge of Britain’s antiaircraft corps and eventually the entire anti-aircraft command. Brooke was responsible for organizing and expanding this division and preparing it to meet the ominous growth of the German Luftwaffe. In this undertaking, he worked closely with Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding.

In August 1939, Brooke was made commander-in-chief of the Southern Command and sent to lead the Second Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The following month, he moved to the Franco-Belgian frontier with his untrained and poorly equipped troops. As they took up their positions during a lull in the fighting, Brooke tried to get his soldiers into the best condition he could. Despite his efforts, he still believed that his men were not well equipped and not trained as well as they needed to be. Brooke felt that French morale was weak and that Gort, the commander-in-chief, was not a good military strategist. The Allied forces were isolated in northern France and Belgium and fell back to the sea at Dunkirk. When the Belgians surrendered the British Expeditionary Force retreated. Brooke was forced to turn over command of his troops on the beach at La Panne and returned to England.

The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, asked Brooke to return to France in order to bolster the fighting forces. He arrived in Cherbourg and soon concluded that the French had lost their will to fight. Brooke realized that England did not have enough troops to defeat the vastly superior German forces. He convinced Churchill to withdraw nearly 140,000 British troops before it was too late.

Guided the Allies to Victory

In July 1940, Brooke was put in charge of the home forces and worked out plans to defeat a German attack on England. The Royal Air Force won its battle for air supremacy and the Germans postponed their invasion. In December 1941, Japanese forces bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As a result, America joined the conflict and Japan attacked British positions in the Pacific. Churchill asked Brooke to become Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) in late 1941. In this position, Brooke proved to be most effective. Churchill had a strong-willed personality and tended to set unrealistic goals. Brooke was able to keep Churchill restrained until the Allies had sufficient troop strength to defeat the Germans. He persuaded Churchill to send Field Marshal Sir John Dill to Washington, as head of the British military mission. Dill was able to smooth out many difficulties between the Americans and the British. Brooke was himself able to use common sense in his dealings with Britain’s allies. The Americans wanted to invade France from England in the fall of 1942 by crossing the English Channel. He convinced them that it was necessary to weaken the Germans by fighting in Africa and Russia before such an invasion could succeed. He also believed that the war in Europe must be won before dealing with the Japanese. Therefore, his strategy required liberating North Africa and Italy, while conducting a saturation bombing campaign against the Germans in order to weaken their will and ability to continue the war.

Brooke and Churchill

Brooke spent most of 1943 at Churchill’s side defending the British point of view at conferences in Casablanca, Washington, Quebec, Moscow, Cairo, and Teheran. Though he admired Churchill, Brooke wrote in his diary that he was the most difficult man with whom he had ever worked. His role was to turn Churchill’s visionary ideas into military realities. The two men made a great team. Churchill was the stocky fiery politician while Brooke, the aloof, strong-willed field marshal with a lean, athletic figure and closely trimmed mustache, created the balance. Brooke was able to maintain cordial relations with the leaders of the Allied forces, including Stalin. He did not trust Stalin but knew that his forces were needed in order to keep the Germans occupied and away from Britain. The American president, Franklin Roosevelt and General George Marshall, both respected him. Marshall described Brooke as being determined in his position, but agreeable to negotiation, open minded, and a delightful friend.

In January 1944, Brooke was promoted to field marshal. His staff drew up plans for the invasion of Normandy. Brooke desperately wanted to lead the invasion, but agreed that the American general, Dwight Eisenhower, should be given this role since most of the troops were American.

Selecting the right officers to lead men into battle is an important responsibility, and Brooke demonstrated unerring good judgment. Men like Bernard Law Montgomery and Harold Rupert Alexander may have gotten the most acclaim, but the fact was that he chose them and they reported to him. Brooke was considered to be a tower of strength, a man whose inner power radiated confidence. All were glad that he was the one in charge. After the war was won, Brooke received many honors: he was named Baron Alanbrooke in 1945 and Viscount Alanbrooke in 1946. In addition, he was Knight of the Garter, Royal Order of Merit, most distinguished member of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and Master Gunner of St. James’s Park, all in 1946. The governments of Poland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Portugal, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and Sweden honored him for his service in World War II.

After retiring from active service, Brooke devoted himself to his love of ornithology. He was president of the London Zoological Society from 1950 to 1954. He also became a director of the Midland Bank and sat on the boards of numerous companies. On June 17, 1963, Brooke died at his home in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, England. Researchers interested in the inner working of the British command during World War II, still turn to his journals for insight into the decision-making processes. Marshall and Eisenhower may have finished the war, but Brooke laid the foundation for their efforts.

Further Reading Bryant, Arthur, Triumph in the West, Doubleday & Company, 1959. Bryant, Arthur, The Turn of the Tide, Doubleday & Company, 1957. Dictionary of National Biography: 1961-1970, edited by E. T. Williams and C. S. Nicholls, Oxford University Press, 1981. Lanning, Michael Lee, The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of all Time, Carol Publishing Group, 1996. Magill, Frank N., Great Lives From History: British and Commonwealth Series, Salem Press, 1987.



Saukel’s project. An aerial photograph of the REIMAHG bombproof factory near Kahla, 26 December 1944. The photograph was included in the target sheet file of this factory. Allied interpreters marked the workshops and tunnel entrance area. Visible at the top is the landing strip constructed on top of the complex (courtesy U. S. National Archives and Records Administration).

The last of the six bombproof factories was the REIMAHG factory in Kahla. On 8 March 1944, Fritz Sauckel, the Reich Plenipotentiary for Labor Mobilization and Gauleiter of Thuringia, suggested to Göring the construction of a massive complex of bombproof factories in the Kahla-Pössneck area, south of Jena. Armaments giant Wilhelm Gustloff Werke teamed with OT and contracted various mining firms in order to construct these factories. Gustloff purchased aircraft producer AGO, whose Oschersleben factory was largely destroyed by American bombing. Then it established a subsidiary firm named REIMAHG (after Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring) to take over production of FW 190 and Ta 152 fighters formerly produced in Oschersleben. Construction began in a former china clay mine dug in a hillside on 11 April 1944. The mine needed relatively little adaptation, including strengthening of weak points, flooring with cement, spraying with concrete against dust, and finally whitewashing. The Jägerstab planned to commence production in August 1944, but in October 1944 the facility was still not ready. The delay has been attributed to the failure to construct a branch railway to the site at an early stage and to Sauckel’s dilettante interventions in the planning and construction process. These allegedly included the removal of the ducted air conditioning system installed by the contractors. By that time Allied intelligence had already identified the factory and determined that it was supposed to produce jets.

Hitler was briefed about the progress of the construction on 21-23 September, and he suggested that a BMW engine production line also be moved to the tunnels Göring and Saur visited the site on 10 October 1944 and two days later Hitler ordered production switched to Me 262. Messerschmitt hurriedly moved production facilities to the factory and began producing there some subcomponents. Since the tunnels were still unfinished this initial production was done in makeshift bunkers constructed on the southern side of the complex. Final assembly began only after some of the tunnels were finished in January 1945. The factory comprised 75 tunnels totaling 32 km in length, offering approximately 30,000 square meters of floor space, and four bombproof buildings with 2-meter-thick walls. Final assembly was supposed to be carried out in one of the bunkers. A special elevator was supposed to deliver completed aircraft to a 1,250-m-long runway on top of the complex, used for test flying and for delivery flights. During early 1945 around 15,000 workers- two-thirds of them slave and foreign workers-worked in the Kahla REIMAHG complex. The slave workers were provided and guarded by an SS watch. At least 3 labor camps were constructed for them around the site. 399 Production, however, never really picked up the pace at REIMAHG and it is estimated that REIMAHG completed only between 15 and 26 aircraft by the time the U. S. Army captured the place on 12 April 1945.

Thus, despite all the monetary investment (estimated at around 30,000,000 RM) and resources invested in this ambitious project, practically nothing came of it. In addition, its unique construction made it very conspicuous to aerial reconnaissance and Allied intelligence easily found it. As the first USSBS team to visit the place summed up, this factory “must have been one of Germany’s less efficient industrial enterprises.” However, REIMAHG definitely represented prevailing late-war thinking regarding armaments production in Nazi Germany. It was also another example of multiple partners’ cooperation in the field of aircraft production. Fritz Sauckel played here a central role in his double function as a local Gauleiter and as the Reich Plenipotentiary for Labor Mobilization, therefore controlling both the territory on which the complex was constructed and the workforce required for its construction.

The Last Majestic Sailing in Company

A second group of warships followed some 12km behind the vanguard with the battleship Kongo at its heart. She was surrounded by an inner ring of heavy ships – the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Chikuma, Kumano, Suzuya and Tone, with the light cruiser Yahagi fulfilling the same role as the Noshiro did in the first group. An outer circle of six destroyers completed this rear group.

Admiral Halsey, commanding US 3rd Fleet, had decided that the time had come to give Kurita’s Centre Force a searching examination and had sent scout planes out at dawn on 24 October to try to find its whereabouts. It was not certain at this stage that Kurita was intent on reaching the invasion site and doing battle with the US 3rd Fleet. It was just as conceivable that he might be intent on making for Manila Bay to bring reinforcements for the IJA troops on the ground in southern Luzon. Despite the advantages of signals intelligence, the Americans didn’t know for certain where Kurita was headed but the mystery was soon solved when a lone scout plane from the carrier Intrepid made radar contact with these enemy ships at 0746 hours on 24 October. It located them a few minutes later and reported the find at 0810 hours as they were passing south of Mindoro and moving eastwards in the direction of the Sibuyan Sea. Such a route meant only one thing to Halsey. Manila was out of the reckoning and Leyte Gulf was the obvious intended destination. This would be reached by going through the San Bernardino Strait. He ordered all his three task groups to close up and signalled McCain to abandon his trip to Ulithi and rejoin the rest of the task groups in the Philippines. It would take a couple of days to do just that since by this stage McCain and his ships were already roughly 600nm (1111km) east of the Philippines. In their absence, Halsey ordered an all-out attack on the Centre Force. In all a total of 251 planes flew off from his carriers to the Sibuyan Sea in four waves to attack Kurita’s ships. A mix of forty-five Avengers, Hellcats and Helldivers were the first ones to leave the Cabot and the Intrepid at about 0910 hours and they were followed by another forty-two from the same carriers at 1045 hours. A third wave of sixty-eight planes left the Essex and the Lexington within minutes of the second wave getting airborne, while a final group of ninety-six planes from the Cabot, Enterprise, Franklin and Intrepid began their sortie at 1313 hours.

Locating Kurita’s fleet at 1026 hours, the first wave of American planes found the enemy ships sailing in a battle formation notable for the fact that they were divided into two quite separate groups some distance apart. Each of these groups operated on the basis of an inner and outer set of concentric circles. Kurita’s new flagship, the Yamato, lay at the heart of the leading group. She was surrounded by a circle of heavy ships consisting of the super-battleship Musashi, the battleship Nagato, along with the heavy cruisers Chokai, Haguro and Myoko – all of which were spearheaded by the light cruiser Noshiro. Each of these ships maintained a distance of 2km from the Yamato at all times. Beyond this ‘inner’ 2km diameter circle was an outer ring of seven destroyers which maintained their positions a further 1.5km away from the inner core. A second group of warships followed some 12km behind the vanguard with the battleship Kongo at its heart. She was surrounded by an inner ring of heavy ships – the battleship Haruna and the heavy cruisers Chikuma, Kumano, Suzuya and Tone, with the light cruiser Yahagi fulfilling the same role as the Noshiro did in the first group. An outer circle of six destroyers completed this rear group. Kurita had devised this battle formation because he felt he needed better cover against the possibility of any heavy air attack launched by the Americans and trusted that the Japanese A.A. potential was as good in practice as it might be judged on paper. It wasn’t.

Although confusion reigns to this day about just what happened in these air strikes and who did what to whom, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the first strike succeeded initially in both torpedoing Myoko and knocking her out of the line and even more significantly obtaining both a bomb hit and torpedo strike against Musashi, one of the two behemoths in the Centre Force. Each wave thereafter targeted the super-battleship and more bombs and torpedoes struck home with devastating effect over the next few hours. At least thirty-two hits were recorded against her and she received eighteen near-misses before she finally sank at 1935 hours later that same day with the loss of 1,023 officers and crew. All the other battleships, including the Yamato, were bombed as well, but none of them received the treatment accorded to the Musashi, or were disabled even if they were hit. Four hours before Musashi sank, seeing his fleet worn away first by enemy submarines and then by Mitscher’s aircraft, Kurita had decided not to tempt fate any longer and to reverse course temporarily so as not to sail in daylight into the narrow confines of the San Bernardino Strait where his remaining warships could be subject to yet another deadly series of attacks. About an hour after Kurita turned round again and resumed his original course, he received an emphatic signal from Toyoda at 1815 hours that made it very clear where the Vice-Admiral’s duty lay. Attack was the only option and he was instructed to put his faith in divine assistance. Kurita knew what that meant. His presence in Leyte Gulf was essential regardless of what losses his Centre Force sustained in getting there. Abandoning his concentric circle formation, Kurita gathered his remaining ships into what Ugaki would later describe as a ‘compound column’ and pressed on towards his original destination.