Number of Soldiers: 40
India in the World War II period was still part of the British Empire, and the King of Great Britain was also the Emperor of India and was represented there by a Viceroy. So was the Indian Army. It was a professional Army of volunteers controlled by the British, and British Officers filled most of the command positions in its ranks, including its Commander-in-Chief.
This Army, at the outbreak of the war, was suited for the needs of safeguarding the Country’s security but not for war; it was poorly equipped and the equipment that was available was generally obsolete. The British began a rapid process of modernization in the Army and bringing it to a capability and fitness standard that will enable its proper operation in war.
In 1942, against the background of fear of a Japanese invasion, the then Army Commander-in-Chief, General Wavell, decided to organize the Country’s defense differently from the way it had been done until that time, and instead of the existing 4 Territorial Commands he established 3 Field Armies – the Eastern, the Northwestern and the Southern.
It was the Eastern Army that invaded the Arakan Region of Burma, in December, 1942, and then, in October, 1943, became the Fourteenth Army, under the command of General Slim. In November, 1943, the command over the Indian Army was transferred from the General Staff in New Delhi to the new, united Allied Command (SEAC), which included all the Forces in Southeast Asia.
This Army was organized according to the British Army’s organizational patterns but differed from the British in its being, more resembling the conduct of a Feudal Army. The outset of mass enlistment of volunteers to the Army’s ranks, most of whom were boor, brought all the problems of Indian Society into it as well – a variety of Races, Sects, Classes, Languages and more – something which made it difficult to find appropriate solutions to these and other problems that existed. In an Army that in 1939 numbered 205,000 Indian Soldiers, upwards of 63,000 British Soldiers and around 84,000 Soldiers from the various adjoining Principalities (who indeed were not part of the Empire but still ruled by the British), only about 400 Officers were Indian and about 4,000 were British.
In 1940, first Indian Units were already participating in the Campaign in France. Later, they participated in the Battles in North Africa, East Africa and the Middle East (in Syria, Iraq and Iran) and even in the Campaigns in Greece and Italy. Nevertheless, the main Theatre of Battle in which the Indian Army took a central part was the Campaign against the Japanese in Burma. Out of about a million Soldiers who were operating under the Allied South East Asia Command, 700,000 were Indian.
Alongside the men, over 10,000 women were also enlisted, and they operated within the framework of a special Auxiliary Force, similar to the British, that was established in 1942.
At the conclusion of the war it amounted to the largest volunteer Army in history, numbering some 2.5 million men and women Soldiers.
Its casualties included about 24,000 dead, 64,000 injured, about 12,000 missing and about 80,000 captured.
The Indian Air-Force grew in a significant way too, from about 1,600 persons in 1939 to about 29,000 in 1945, of whom 1,600 were Officers, and from scarcely one Squadron in the beginning of the war to nine at its conclusion.
The Indian Navy also grew, from about 1,700 persons in 1939 to upwards of 30,000 in 1945, and in addition to its missions protecting the Country’s coasts it engaged in operational activity in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean Theatres, while operating a number of Frigates, Corvettes and various Auxiliary Vessels.
Jews served in the Indian Army, primarily in the Ground Forces, but in the Arms as well, coming from all the Jewish Communities that existed in this Country – Bene Israel, which was the largest among them, the Baghdadi Community, which had arrived from Iraq, the Sephardic Community, which had arrived from Europe, and the Cochin Jews. After the world war, another Community that viewed itself as Jewish was discovered there – The Bnei Menashe Community. Many from the Bene Israel Congregation served in the British Garrison in Aden, where they formed ties with Yemeni Jews and were impressed by their customs in Jewish rules and in manner of prayer.