Reconstructing the last journey

Reconstructing the last journey

By G.D.BAKSHI | | 5 December, 2015
Did Bose really die in an air crash?
What really happened to Subhas Chandra Bose, a man considered by many as India’s greatest martyr? With the Netaji files set to be declassified in January next year, the time is ripe to take stock of this great historical mystery, writes G.D. Bakshi.

What really happened to Bose? Did he die at Taihoku in Taiwan on 18 Aug 1945? Did he perish in that plane crash? The initial plane crash narrative was perhaps carefully constructed by the Japanese to help Bose escape to Soviet Union and continue his struggle with Russian help. Was this narrative usurped  later by the British Intelligence to cover up the possible  incarceration and murder of Bose? Did the Nehruvian regime itself adopt this narrative to facilitate the elimination of India’s greatest patriot and  thus remove from the scene the one man who was indeed instrumental in getting us freedom and to that extent he  would be a rival claimant for the PM’s office in New Delhi? To what extent did the Nehruvian dispensation go in colluding with the colonial masters to eliminate a rival for the top leadership position in India? The nation eagerly awaits answers to all these questions and more — including, what happened to the INA treasure?
The Netaji files will start tumbling out of the closet from 23 January 2016. The Prime Minister has also promised to take up the case with his Russian hosts in December this year when he visits that country. It is essential however that we gather the scattered bits of information now available to form a coherent construct of what could have happened and thereby search in a more focussed manner through the forest of files. The Plane crash theory has been subjected to three Commissions of Enquiry already. The Mukherjee Commission ruled it out categorically. The Gumnami Baba hypothesis has been well documented but DNA testing refutes this. It could well be a clever ploy by Intelligence Agencies to soften the blow for the Indian people and give a benign burial to the Bose mystery.

The Soviet Hypothesis

That leaves the last Soviet  hypothesis alone that needs methodical analysis and verification. For this, documentary evidence would have to be searched for in India, Russia, Japan and the UK to bring final closure. Surprisingly, even before the documents are declassified, some essential elements of information are already available in the open domain to provide strong clues that could guide the search process in a structured manner. The works of two American historians — Peter Fay and Joyce Chapman Lebra are critical for our search of the Soviet and Japanese angles to this great mystery. The works of these authors throw considerable light on some organizations and individuals that had a critical role to play in the disappearance of Netaji. Iqbal Malhotra’s article in Open magazine sums up this research rather neatly.

The Japanese Intelligence Organisation — Kempeitai

The Kempeitai was the Japanese Military Poilice organisation (like the German Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS)). It also performed Intelligence functions. It used to liaise with foreign Intelligence Agencies like the German Abwehr and Italian Servizio Informazioni Militare (SIM). It had both — Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence functions. By the end of World War II, it had a strength of 36,000 and was the equivalent of NKVD. Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda was the Supreme Chief of the Kempeitai in the Kwantung Army deployed in Manchuria. He was the first cousin of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. The Kempeitai also worked through a host of ultra-nationalist Japanese Secret Societies like Black Dragon and Golden Lilly, which had a major role in Intelligence operations. It is believed that the Kempeitai played a very significant role in organising the disappearance of Bose and also in hiding the INA Treasure (War-chest).

Dramatis Personae

One of the Japanese officers who is thought to have played a key role in helping Bose to escape to Manchuria was Lt. Gen. Tsunamasa Shidei. He was a Russian speaking officer who had served in the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria from 1942-45. Suddenly on 23 May 1945 (a week after the German surrender) and collapse of Japanese and INA forces in Burma, he was reassigned to the Burma theatre from Manchuria. There he served under Field Marshal Count Terauchi and interacted with Bose. Bose was then working on his post-war plans. Initially he had thought of staying on in Burma and waging a guerilla struggle from there against the British, with the help of the Burmese National Army (BNA). After the Japanese defeat however, the BNA suddenly switched sides and went over to the British. This torpedoed the stay behind in Burma plans of the INA. Around this time, Bose began to think in terms of escaping to the USSR to continue his struggle to free India now with Soviet help.
On 30 June 1945, Gen Shidei was again sent back to the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. On 17 August 1945, surprisingly, we find him back again in Saigon — this time to welcome Bose on board the aircraft. It is safe to assume that he was there to escort Bose out of the Southern Theatre of war in Asia.

The Last Journey

Bose met the Japanese Southern Army Expeditionary Force Commander — Field Marshal Terauchi at Singapore. On 16 August 1945, Bose left Singapore for Bangkok in Thailand. Bose was presented two strong boxes with Gold Ornaments and Treasure by the Indian Diaspora (this was after the Japanese surrender). Along with Maj Gen Sabino Isoda, the Japanese Liaison Officer with the INA and Colonel Habibur Rehman — Bose left Bangkok for Saigon on 17 August 1945.
Bose boarded a Mitsubishi Ki-21 “Sally” the same day from Saigon. This was a medium bomber modified for deploying secret agents of the Kempeitai (Secret Police) of the Kwantung Armies. Lt Gen Shidei was onboard to welcome Bose. He had returned just 18 days after his departure from Burma for Manchuria. Just 8 days ago the Soviets had invaded Manchuria. Japan had surrendered on 16 August 1945. In all probability, Shidei had been in negotiations with the Russian SMERSH (military police cum intelligence organisation) to negotiate the surrender cum asylum for Bose and for himself.

One of the Japanese officers who is thought to have played a key role in helping Bose to escape to Manchuria was Lt. Gen. Tsunamasa Shidei. He was a Russian speaking officer who had served in the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria from 1942-45. Suddenly on 23 May 1945 (a week after the German surrender) and collapse of Japanese and INA forces in Burma, he was reassigned to the Burma theatre from Manchuria.
 


There are indications that the Soviets were keen to get hold of the Kempeitai’s Secret Unit 731, which had been conducting research on Biological and Chemical Warfare. Both the Americans and Soviets desperately wanted to get hold of this research data and scientists/technicians — hence Unit 731 was a major bargaining chip in any surrender negotiations. This unit had been led by Lt Gen Shino Ishii. He and a large part of his team had reportedly escaped to surrender to the Americans with the bulk of the scientific data on experiments conducted. Reportedly they were granted amenesty by Gen MacArthur in exchange for this highly prized data.
The Kempeitai Bomber flight took off from Saigon around noon on 17 August 1945. It made a halt at Tourane (now Danang – the famous battlefield of Vietnam War). This was just 90 minutes flying time from Saigon. So, why did the plane halt here? It was probably to unload the treasure, which would now be kept in safe custody of the Kempeitai. Surely, Bose was not going to  lug this treasure across the Soviet lines in Manchuria.

In all probability, the Russian speaking Gen Shidei had brokered a deal with the SMERSH for surrender of the Kwantung Army and intact capture of Unit 731 in return for amnesty and asylum for himself and Bose in the USSR. This is borne out by evidence — that Shidei was never captured and tried for war crimes either by the USA or USSR. Along with Gen Shidei, Bose must also have sought asylum in the USSR through SMERSH.


On 18 August 1945 at dawn, the plane took off, supposedly for Taihoku airfield in Taiwan. This incidentally, was the headquarters of the Kempeitai Naval Intelligence. The plane is said to have landed there around noon and after refueling took off.  It had barely climbed 200 ft. when the plane is said to have caught fire and crash landed. The fact is there are no records of any such plane crash in that whole month in Taihoku. There are no records of four persons being cremated there also. The fact is that the plane took off for Dairen in Manchuria, with Bose and Shidei, but without Colonel Rehman — who was left behind to spread the story of the air crash.

Situation in Dairen, Manchuria

So what was the situation in Dairen on 18 August 1945 when Bose is supposed to have landed there? The Soviet Army was on the gates of this city after the swift blitzkrieg by Marshal Zhukov. Units of the SMERSH, the Soviet Military’s Secret Police were already inside Dairen. They were in touch with the Kempeitai to broker a surrender of the Japanese forces and get  their hands on the documents and data of Unit 731.

SMERSH

A brief look at the Soviet Smersh organisation would now be essential to piece together what could have happened. The SMERSH was set up in 1943 by the direct orders of Stalin to politically consolidate the territory captured by the Red Army. There were thousands of Russians in Manchuria, including Russian émigrés from the Tsar era. The SMERSH was headed by Victor Abakumov, who is said to have had a close, personal friendship with Stalin. Colonel Georgii Utekhin of the SMERSH was in Dairen. He was in charge of arresting all foreigners in areas secured by the Red Army.  He reported directly to the SMERSH Chief. SMERSH operatives had convinced Gen Otozo Yamada, Chief of the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria to surrender along with the remaining staff of the notorious Unit 731. Most of its staff was later absorbed into the Soviet biological warfare facility at Sverdlovsk (Yekatarinburg, Ukraine).

The Fate of Bose

So what happened to Bose? In all probability, the Russian speaking Gen Shidei had brokered a deal with the SMERSH for surrender of the Kwantung Army and intact capture of Unit 731 in return for amnesty and asylum for himself and Bose in the USSR. This is borne out by evidence — that Shidei was never captured and tried for war crimes either by the USA or USSR. Along with Gen Shidei, Bose must also have sought asylum in the USSR through SMERSH.
Bose therefore simply  disappeared within the folds of the Iron Curtain in the USSR. Since, as per the Allies, he was a war criminal (especially from the Anglo-US perspective) and India was a Crown Dominion until 26 January 1950 — it made little sense for Bose to come in from the cold — even if he wanted to. Most of the convicted Generals of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria were shipped in March 1950 to Camp Number 48 in the Lezhnevsky District in Siberia, some 50 kms from Suzdal in the Soviet Gulag.
In 1951, the SMERSH organisation was disbanded and its leadership purged. Both Viktor Abakumov and Colonel Georgii Utekhin were executed. As a consequence, Bose and Gen Shidei would have become unprotected assets of a disbanded Intelligence Organisation. In such circumstances, they would have been shipped out to the Soviet Gulag. Even more likely, they could have been simply executed as they were considered as inconvenient.

The Intelligence / Covert Operations Cooperation Treaties

If Bose had reached Manchria and surrendered to the Soviet SMERSH in Dairen would it have been so difficult for the US and British intelligence to get to  know about it? US intelligence was already  in contact with the Kempeitai for gaining access to the data of Unit 731.  What is generally not so well known is that the Inteligence agencies of USSR and UK — the NKVD and Mi-6 and SOE had signed two secret intelligence cooperation agreements regarding cooperation in secret intelligence sharing and covert operations. As part of this the British and American Intelligence agencies had shared top secret data from their code breaking machines about the  Japanese and the German operational plans. The first Agreement had been signed in Dec 1941in Moscow between NKVD and MI-6. The second protocol was signed between the two intelligence agencies on 03 Mar 1944 to coordinate global secret operations. Did the British intelligence invoke these Intelligence sharing agreements to seek custody of or gain access to Bose in the Soviet prisons? If yes , it starkly opens up the possibility of the extended torture of Bose for information and even his possible elimination on British behest. It would have been most convenient for the British to seek to interrogate Bose in Soviet prisons and get him executed there as it would avoid any repercussions in India. The British did not at all want Bose back in India where there would have been a massive outcry. So the best solution was to   spread the canard that he had died in the air crash. That gave them the luxury of interrogating him at length and then quietly having him done away with. Would the Soviets have cooperated with the British in this? In 1945 — perhaps  yes — because the two countries were still war time allies and the cold war was yet to begin. Besides the Soviets had never shown much enthusiasm in 1941 for granting asylum to Bose who had ultimately to go to Rome and then Berlin. This automatically made him persona non grata in the USSR.  So there are strong possibilities that this did happen. Only archival research in the right quarters can verify this.

Cherntsy Village Cemetery

So where did the journey of Bose, the greatest Indian martyr end? Iqbal Malhotra conjectures that there is a cemetery in Cherntsy village where the dead corpses were buried in separate sections for different years. This he says , is  confirmed by laconic inscriptions on the concrete tomb stones. Were Bose and Gen Shidei buried there? Is this cemetry where the story ends?

The Search Engine

The complete records of all these events in the former USSR and Japanese Manchuria will not possibly be there  in Indian archives .India therefore needs to urgently do the following to unravel the Bose mystery. In specific we need to
Petition the Japanese Government for access to the Kwantung Army and Kempeitai’s records;
Petition the Russian Government for access to the records of the SMERSH during the Manchurian Strategic Operation Offensive
Send a team to village Cherntsy in Lazhnevsky District in Russia to explore Camp No. 48, its records and its cemetery.
Petition the British and American Govts for records of the MI- 5 and American OSS on Netaji
What the Files in India will throw light on would be the Nehruvian dispensation’s possible  conspiracy and  collaboration with the British in trying to bury the legacy of Bose. Quite obviously, the Indian Government knew that Bose had not perished in the crash. In trying to deliberately  spread the Air crash canard, was it trying to cover up the tracks of the British Intelligence, which had possibly zeroed in on to Bose and used the Intelligence Cooperation Treaties of 1941 and 1944 with the USSR to get hold of Bose, interrogate him and get him executed in Siberia itself to avoid an outcry in India. If the Indian Government collaborated-  wittingly or unwittingly in this horrific act of treachery – it would be a monumental national shame that will be hard to live down. It would shame us all as Indians for ever.

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