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The Tokyo Boys: Indian Trainee Pilots With the Imperial Air Force

MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.



The great Indian wartime leader Subhash Chandra Bose has a special place in the heart of the Indian nation. Even now millions believe that he is still alive and this myth is fostered by some diehard supporters who have a questionable agenda. The government of India has set up three commissions of inquiry into the death of Subash Chandra Bose. Out of these, the first two concluded that he died in a crash at Taipei but the third judicial inquiry presided by Justice Mukherjee came up with the conclusion that Netaji did not die in the air crash and probably escaped Russia.

My take on this is that Netaji died as accepted by his wife and daughter in Germany, in the air crash at Taipei and his ashes are kept in the Renuka Temple in Tokyo. Netaji had arrived in Japan in 1943 by a hazardous passage in the U-boat from Hamburg to the Indian Ocean. He was transferred to a Japanese submarine in the middle of the sea and taken to Tokyo, where he had an audience with General Tojo the Japanese Prime Minister.

The Indian National Army had already been set up by the Japanese with the help of General Mohan Singh but later they arrested the general and confined him to an island close to Rangoon. The reasons for this are not clear but it is possible that General Mohan Singh was an independent man and he did not listen to the Japanese. By May 1943, Bose had taken control of the Indian National Army and set up a government in exile. He launched a propaganda campaign among the captured POWs of the Indian Army. He had a one-point message that to free India blood will have to be shed.

Bose threw his lot with the Imperial Army and the Indian National Army strength rose to 50,000. It went into combat along with the Imperial army. Bose had an excellent equation with the Japanese who treated him with a lot of deference and respect worthy of a head of state. In his discussions with the Japanese army leadership, he was able to convince them that there was a need to have Indian youngsters as pilots who would form their own Air Force like they had formed the army.

The Japanese agreed but it took some time for GHQ in Tokyo to approve the proposal. The Japanese had been training many officers at their military academies and it must be noted that General Chiang Kai Shek, the Chinese leader was trained at the Military Academy in Japan. The Air Force Academy had been an exclusive preserve and no other nationality had ever been trained there. Yet the Japanese agreed to train Indian pilots and accordingly set up a selection procedure for Indian nationals who were keen to become pilots and fight with the Japanese Air Force.

Bose also propagated the need of young Indians boys to join the air wing of what was to be later the air wing of the Indian National Army. It is on record that 46 young men of Indian origin from Burma, Singapore, Malaya, and India volunteered to join the Air Force. These 46 boys came to be known as the Tokyo boys and they have a special place in the Indian freedom movement.

The boys were also interviewed by senior leaders of the Indian National Army and the final selection Board was the Japanese Air Force generals. The Tokyo boys were then airlifted to Tokyo to begin their training.

Intelligence reports indicated to the British that Indians were going to join the Imperial Academy and the British were worried as large numbers of POWs had switched sides and joined Subhas Chandra Bose. They felt that the Tokyo boys would create more problems for them.


At the academy

The 46 Indian young men known as the 'Tokyo boys ' were flown to Tokyo and from there taken to the basic training Academy. This was a severe regime for the candidates and the purpose was to strengthen them mentally and physically. They were also to be got ready for flying training at the Imperial Air Academy.

The Indian young men who went to the basic training center were given the rank of cadet. To many of the men, the conduct of the people of Japan was an absolute revelation. Many have recorded that they were struck by the gentle and soft behavior of the Japanese common people. This was in sharp contrast to the harsh and brute manner of the Japanese military operating in Burma and Malaya.

The important point to note here is that the Imperial Air Force never trained any other nationality, other than Indians. These young men began their training in January 1945 and the Japanese at that time were pretty sure that they would be able to conquer India. Many have recorded the euphoria of joining the academy as a cadet.

The Japanese concentrated a lot on physical training and the cadets were put through a rigorous regime of physical training, long-distance, country running, and parades. At the end of basic training, the cadets were given the option of whether they would like to join the Air Force Academy or the military Academy. It is on record that only 10 cadets opted to join the Air Force Academy and the balance of 36 cadets opted to join the military Academy.

This was because of the aura created around the imperial Army and the fact that the air force pilots were generally subservient to army commanders. But before being sent for training to the air Academy the cadets were given a rigorous selection Board test. They were also supposed to undergo a pilot- aptitude battery test and if you pass these tests you were to be sent to the training Academy.

The 10 boys went to the air force academy and were the first foreign trainees ever to have entered the portals of the premium training Institute of the Japanese airforce. This itself was a great honor and showed that the Japanese had India very much in their plan of victory. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose also visited Tokyo during that time and interacted with the cadets.

The 36 other carriers had opted for the military academy were easily integrated there as the academy had trained many foreign officers earlier.

The main problem was the food where apart from fish, other meats were not available, and once in a way, the cadets were served octopus meat. There were very few vegetables also and sugar was scarce. The blockade on Japan was having a telling effect and hot beverages were served without sugar.

From March onwards the American bombing crescendo on Japanese cities increased as the Americans now had the long-range B-29 and B 36 bombers. They had also captured bases like Guam closer to the Japanese mainland.

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As there was a shortage of fuel the cadets were initially taught on gliders. They learned to manoeuver with gliders and land gliders and once they passed the gliding test was taken on to the powered flight. Many cadets have reported that there was a shortage of fuel and hence the training on the Japanese warplanes was extended.

The cadets were however well treated and had the same privileges as the Japanese cadets. They were allowed to book out once in 15 days and that also under the supervision of a Japanese army captain who went along with them.

Despite the paucity of fuel, the cadets who passed the gliding test continued on to the powered flight. In August 1945, two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.

The atomic bombs brought about the surrender of Japan and Emperor Hirohito agreed for a ceasefire, despite vast areas of China and Southeast Asia still under occupation of the Japanese.

The commandant of the Air Force Academy was shocked by the Japanese surrender and committed harakiri (ritual suicide). Many others also committed suicide than to surrender to the Americans. The Indian cadets watched when the American planes began to land in Tokyo to take over the administration of the city. All the cadets were rounded up but given a barrack to stay. The Americans also treated the Indian boys in a very humane manner and give him the same rations as they give to their troops. After being on the frugal diet for many months many of the Indian trainees felt greatly thankful to the American who gave them a sumptuous meal packet every day. They were not subjected to any labor or hard work and only kept confined. Many of the American officers told the Indian's that they appreciated what they had done as they had also fought for their independence against the British.


Japanese surrender and after

The British were pressing for the Tokyo boys to be handed over to them but the Americans were not in the mood. But finally, after the high-level intervention, the Indian cadets were put under the control of the British. The treatment changed and they were told by the British in charge Colonel Figgs that if he had the option he would shoot them at the first opportunity as traitors. Many of the young boys stood up to the Colonel and told him that they were not traitors but were fighting for the independence of India. The British Colonel told them that he would see to it that they are hanged when they get back to Delhi.

The Tokyo boys were then transported to Delhi and they waited to be tried after the culmination of the main trial of the leaders of the INA. The rest is history; the showcase trial in the red Fort commenced but the British by then had realized that their days in India were over and the victory over Hitler was a Pyrrhic one. Within two years of the end of the war, the British had no choice but to leave India, and Field Marshal Auchinleck commuted all the sentences of the leaders and they were set free.

No action was taken against the Tokyo boys also and was allowed to go home. The 10 Air Force cadets of the Japanese Imperial Academy were absorbed in various jobs in the country. One of them Ramesh Benegal joined the Indian Air Force and rose to become an Air Commodore. One of them joined the Burmese navy, others joined commercial airlines. The curtain has come down on the Tokyo boys but it is an interesting episode towards the end of the Second World War.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 12, 2020:

Possible, I am not aware of it.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 11, 2020:

I must also read this book

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 08, 2020:

Anupam, It's such a pleasure to read your comment. There are many books on the subject and I do not know where to begin but I suggest you could get a list from Google. One of the reasons that India (that is basically the Hindus) lost freedom for 900 years was because of the fact that they neglected the Art of War. The downslide started with Emperor Asoka who became non-violent and that tradition continued right down to Gandhi. It is inconceivable as noted by the historian Sarkar that 250 million people were controlled by just 100,000.

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

Tom, thanks.

tom on October 07, 2020:

you are welcome

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on October 07, 2020:

Great! Please share a few war stories that I must watch. Earlier I hated to watch blood shed or war. I used to get unconscious with the sight of blood but now I have made myself too strong to get fainted with the truth in front of me.

Please recommend a few stories on real war histories.

Thank you so much Tom.

I tried to find the book by PC Lal on amazon, It was quite costly.

I'll read it sometime later

But I couldn't find the other book by Ray Choudhury which he talked about

People like us also get benefitted from your conversation.

Yes, one other book he had talked about, by the brother of Shyam Benegal.

I know Manohar, it is sad that Bollywood doesn't show the real bravery acts of our soldiers. It's just living in the fake fictions. Now every common man knows it very well that Bollywood is run by dons not heroes.

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

Tom has a lot of knowledge on military history and has impressed me.

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

Anupam the role of the military leaders and the soldiers must be made public and the best way is through cinema. Look at the way Hollywood makes war movies they are so authentic and I have seen at least 100 of them..

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

Anupam, he is an enthusiast and has lots of exciting information.

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

Thanks Tom

tom on October 07, 2020:

more information on benegal is in bharat rakshak iaf website,as per internet he was related to shyam

tom on October 07, 2020:

i dont have hub page account,my hobby is military history

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on October 06, 2020:

Who is this Tom? Tried to reach his profile but it seems he doesn't have a hubpage account

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on October 06, 2020:

It's a delight for us to know the truth from the brave officials. Thank you for sharing.

Though I wish a clarification from you, (it's not related to your articles but what's shown in most of the Bollywood movies) Is it right to show the intelligent steps taken by the army officials known to the world?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 06, 2020:

Yes Tom I agree that Bollywood has been pretty callous in not making films on our heroes.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 06, 2020:

I have read PC Lal's book.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 06, 2020:

Tom, I didn't know that the Air COMMODORE was a relative of Shyam Benegal. How was he related? can you let me have this info as the air commodore was born in Burma.

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