by Aditya Nag
On 15th Feb 1942, newspapers across the world read “Singapore Falls to the Japs.” The biggest military defeat for the British in the Second World War and one of the worst defeats in the Asian campaign for the Allies.
The impregnable fortress of Singapore was manned by around 90,000 troops whose bulk was made up of soldiers from India. Even after the surrender, a small but tactical force of Indian British Army soldiers kept on fighting in the sewers, who were eventually brutally persecuted by the Japanese.
Word spread like wild fire onto the streets of India. Cities like Calcutta, Cuttack, Vizag and Madras were fearing that the Japanese could be coming any day now!!!
The war in the Pacific was one that was far off and the war in Europe could only be heard on the radio. The local newspapers would publish some picture of the war, but when Singapore fell, the World War had finally arrived at the subcontinent.
The Allies were unprepared for the scale of the war machine that the Japanese brought with them. Soon there were stories going around about a ‘U-boat’ landing in Madras and massive sea and air invasions via Bengal, by the Japanese. It was a ‘free for all’ situation and rumours spread fast like wild fire.All German and Japanese people were looked at with suspicion.
During 1939 when the Second World War began, the Indian British Army barely measured up to 200,000 men including 34,000 noncombatants. With the sudden surge of the Japanese invading force, by late 1941, the British could muster another 200,000 men, but most were ill equipped and un-prepared for the onslaught.
In Singapore alone over, 45,000 of the troops captured were Indians, which was a huge blow to the British morale.
The war had to be won by the Allies because of various reasons (which we shall not delve into) and Indian men were the key to victory.
Enticed by either the pride to fight for the British Indian army or protect themselves from the Japanese (the Japanese forces had executed men who refused to join the INA.) Indian men and women joined the ranks as Sailors, Fighting men, Aircrew, Pilots and Captains. The army had swelled up to 2.5 million fighting men, by the end of the war.
Odisha too contributed in this great effort, even in the midst of the Bengal famine which was one of the worst man-made disasters, the eastern feudatory states(princely states of Odisha) gave men, materials and arms to the British government. Lakhs of Odias went on to join the war effort and saw action in all theatres of the war starting from France till Papua New Guinea and beyond, in the Pacific Ocean.
Coffee Bytes,presents two little known and unique stories of Odia valour in World War 2, since 8th May is also known across the world as VE Day(Victory In Europe Day).
Born to Bira Kishore Ray (the first Chief Justice of the Odisha High Court) & Latika Sundari Devi, Subhas Kishore Ray was one of those lakhs of men from the hinterland of provincial British India, who had volunteered for the fight. History provides us some information about this man. A graduate from the Royal Indian Military College, Dehradun,with an unmatched record, till date, he was also one of Odisha’s first pilots.
Subhas, a young lad from Cuttack along with a few others ended up training as a Pilot for the British Coastal Defense Force and was posted at the Juhu airfield before he relocated to Calcutta in 1942, along with his ‘Hawker Hart’ reconnaissance aircraft.
The young Subhas was probably inducted into the RAF at Drigh Road, Karachi Airbase. On 25th October, 1942, Subhas along with his crew member took off for a mission to recon an area of the Bay of Bengal and coastal Burma.
It would be his last fateful flight as later on, his aircraft was reported missing and since that day, whereabouts of this Odia pilot are still shrouded in mystery. Some say he died on impact as wreckage was discovered later somewhere on the Burmese coast, but later investigations could not establish it.
Many years later his brothers and family members found out from another Odia man who was working as a plumber, he categorically stated that another Odia man was interred in a Burmese prison camp and that he had lost his memory and only remembered his family name. Upon investigation, it was found that the man in question had been relocated to some remote prison facility in Burma. His name would have been lost in obscurity had it not been for his sister who had made a donation in memory of her gallant brother at the Kala Vikas Kendra.
Subash Kishore Ray inspired many a young man from Odisha to join the Air Force. A gallant and brave man, he earned his stripes long before he even became a pilot. He is credited to have saved a boy who had fallen into the ocean. A real hero of Odisha, about whom we know so little today. Till date his family is yet to find closure and know the final whereabouts of t h i s m a n who hailed from a simple background but went onto become one of Odisha’s first pilots.
Another hero of Odisha on whom we would like to bring the spotlight is Maharaj Kumar Drubhendra Chandra Bhanjadeo. Son of the iconic Maharaja Shriram Chandra Bhanjadeo, he was the heir to the throne of Mayurbhanj (one of the most progressive princely states of Odisha). Flying was his passion. Records show that he was a well established flyer since 1937. So when the war broke out, D.C.Bhanjadeo joined the 353 Squadron RAF, without thinking about his own safety.
As we stated earlier, the mood in the sub-continent was such that the Japanese could land up on Indian soil, any day. Soon, the evacuation of Calcutta began under the backdrop of the Bengal famine. Men, machines and arms were moved inland to protect them from enemy incursions. For once, the British were actually retreating and falling back. To provide them support from air, the young and talented pilots of the Royal Airforce, gradually flew out to various other smaller bases like Amarda Road bomber training airfield, RAF Cuttack, Jharsuguda airfield etc., in their obsolete aircrafts. And in one of these evacuations, on 2nd August, 1942, Maharaj Kumar D.C.Bhanj ade o, t he charismatic flyer of Odisha, took off along with Krishna Lal Mukherjee on their Lockheed Martin Hudson light bomber aircraft.
As they headed towards RAF Cuttack, their aircraft was caught in a summer northwester near Cuttack and started to dive into a highly populated area. Sensing the impending disaster of a bomber crashing into a densely populated area D.C.Bhanjadeo and Krishna Lal Mukherjee managed to steer the aircraft away from the inhabited area, rather than bailing out, but sadly crashed onto a desolate field in the process. As the bomber went down onto the ground the aircraft caught fire and exploded killing both occupants instantaneously.
A lot of Odia people volunteered, enlisted or were even forced to join the war effort since their liege lords were asked to do so. But what we mustn’t forget is that it is because of these Indian pilots, tank commanders, artillery gunners, navy seamen or the sepoys who fought really hard, the war was won by the British.Odias have carved a niche for themselves, in the top echelons during the war through their valour and grit.
Through this article we also intend to reach out to all our readers to contribute their experiences about any surviving family members who served in the Second World War. ❏