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Red Sun Over the British Empire:occupation of the Andaman Islands

MG Singh- early retired Airforce senior officer who is now a corporate advisor. He is also a global traveler and writer

red-sun-over-the-british-empireoccupation-of-the-andaman-islands
red-sun-over-the-british-empireoccupation-of-the-andaman-islands

Introduction

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of almost 1000 islands that form part of an Archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. Most of the smaller islands are uninhabited except one Sentinel Island which is populated by the Jarawa tribe. The bigger Andaman Islands have been colonized by Indians from Bengal and Madras and the Car Nicobar island is occupied by tribals who have a close affinity to Malaysians.

The islands were first discovered by the Dutch and later passed into the hands of the English. In 1789 the British set up a Naval base and in 1869 they Incorporated all the islands as part of British India. All the islands were also grouped as one administrative unit with its capital at Port Blair under a Commissioner. They also up a jail where Indian revolutionaries were incarcerated. This is the infamous Cellular Jail.

Port Blair was the primary military objective as control of this port would mean controlling the entire ocean around. The British Indian government was keen to defend the islands initially and had set up a garrison of 300 Sikh militia along with 23 officers. They further bolstered the strength in January 1942 with a Gorkha detachment of 4/12Frontier Force Regiment of the 16th infantry division.

The Japanese offensive in Southeast Asia however took them by surprise and on 8 March 1942 Rangoon was captured by the imperial army. The British now recognized that Port Blair had become impossible to defend, and on March 10 the Gurkhas were withdrawn to the Arakan peninsula, leaving only the Sikh militia to defend Port Blair.

After the capture of Rangoon, the Japanese high command turned their attention to the Andaman Islands and Port Blair. Plans were drafted for the invasion of the islands The Japanese strike came on 23 March 1942. It was a sledgehammer blow.

red-sun-over-the-british-empireoccupation-of-the-andaman-islands
Japanese surrendering to Lt Col Nathu SINGH Aug 1945

Japanese surrendering to Lt Col Nathu SINGH Aug 1945

Invasion and occupation

In the early hours of 23 March 1942, the Japanese force approached the Andaman Islands. It was a massive force and consisted of the aircraft carrier Ryaju, the cruiser Chokoi and 15 other warships including destroyers and frigates. This force remained on the high sea while a detachment of one light cruiser Yura and transport ships carrying one battalion from the 18th infantry division and the 9th base force proceeded for the assault. One training cruiser Kashii and four other warships and wine sweepers were also part of the attack force.

Port Blair was occupied without firing a shot and the Sikh militia surrendered. Many of them joined the Indian National Army. Chief Commissioner Waterfall, Deputy Commissioner Major A.G. Bird, and the other British administrative officers were imprisoned. Later they were sent to Burma.

The Japanese now took over the administration of the islands. The islands were put under the authority of Colonel Bucho, whilst several junior Indian officials in the administration were elevated to more responsible posts. The Japanese also released the prisoners in the Cellular Jail and many of them became their collaborators.

The Japanese had a force of about 600 soldiers along with the local police to control the law and order situation. The occupation of the Japanese however turned out to be a nightmare as the sadistic streak witnessed in Nanking earlier came to the fore. Many Indians who the Japanese felt were spies were simply taken to the Central ground their arms and legs broken and then summarily beheaded. This state of affairs continued for a year until Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Japan in 1943.

On 29 December 1943 as a token of solidarity with the Indians the Japanese passed control of the islands to the Indian National Army led by Bose. General Lokanathan was appointed the first governor of the Andaman Islands. Subhas Bose also visited the islands to hoist the Indian flag but that was all the limit to which the Indians were allowed. Efforts were made by the local Indian community to try and brief Subhas Chandra Bose about the atrocities of the Japanese but somehow it did not register with him and he went away. This will remain a black mark on the conduct of the Indian wartime leader. Many people feel that he failed the people of the Andaman Islands.

Despite a provisional government having been set up in the Andaman Islands by Subhash Chandra Bose, effective control remained with the Japanese. In disgust, General Lokanathan resigned and went away never to return.

During his interrogation after the war, Lokanathan admitted that he had very little control over the administration. The Japanese retained control over the police force. He was powerless to prevent the worst Japanese atrocity, the Homfreygang massacre on 30 January 1944. This was a terrible deed as 44 Indians civilians were shot dead by the Japanese on suspicion of spying for the British and to top it many of those shot dead were members of the Indian Independence League which were supposed to be supporting Japan.

The Japanese occupation lasted for 3 1/2 years. Towards the end of their rule, the situation became extremely bad and there was a shortage of food all around. It is estimated that about 2000 Indians were shot dead or beheaded by the Japanese on various charges during their rule. Nominal control was with the Indian provisional government but it was only on paper.



red-sun-over-the-british-empireoccupation-of-the-andaman-islands

Liberation

The British Indian Army had launched a counteroffensive in Burma in the fall of 1944. Lord Mountbatten the supreme commander of allied forces in the east had no plans for the liberation of the Andaman Islands because the bigger priority was to capture Rangoon and Singapore. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan saw the Japanese government sign on the dotted line. At that time the Andaman Islands were still under the occupation of the Japanese army. The Japanese also carried out atrocities on the island of Car Nicobar where an airfield had been constructed. The Japanese soldier's executed many of the menfolk who refused to work as laborers. I have been to the Andaman Islands and also spent time at Car Nicobar base which is now a major flying wing of the Indian Airforce. I learned from the locals that the Japanese impregnated innumerable tribal girls. This fact has not been publicized.

The sun had now set on the rising sun. A British naval warship HMS Sandbar now approached Port Blair. The Japanese were called to the ship to surrender. Vice Admiral Teizo Hara and Major-General Tamenori Sato surrendered to Lt Col Nathu Singh Commandant 1/7 Rajputs on 15th August 1945 onboard the ship. Nathu Singh later rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General. The occupation of the Japanese of the Andaman Islands is a sad story of missed opportunities. I am yet to understand the psyche of people who profess to follow the Buddha yet resort to atrocities and rapes and impregnating defenseless women. Maybe it has something to do with their genes. I am afraid similar atrocities are attributed to the Chinese also. I wonder what is the solution.


Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2020:

The occupation of the Japanese of the Car Nicobar and Andaman island was a bleak period. I have already written what is the imperial Army did in Car Nicobar Island to the woman it's all very sad and I wonder what Bose was doing

tom on October 07, 2020:

black days in andaman and nicobar islands ,manas publishers

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2020:

Tom, Netaji made compromises with the Devil

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2020:

Tom must read this book, let me see I can get hold

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 07, 2020:

Thanks, Sankhajit

tom on October 07, 2020:

bird was beheaded,rn submarines landed indian and btish guerilla commandos who evaded japs,japs pushed indians into sea from landing craft,rabin ray chaudhary claims that netaji was aware of these atrocities ,but kept quiet ,because he wanted japenese help,indian civil labor build death railway ,thousands killed,netaji was aware about this,three million indians lived peacefully jap occupied south east asia,only in andamans indians suffered,brtish massacred indians in 1857

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on October 06, 2020:

interesting message