ACN Nambiar

Arathil Candeth Narayan NAMBIAR, went to Berlin in 1924 as a journalist and worked with the Indian communist group there alongside his brother-in-law Chattopadhayaya (married to the OGPU agent Agnes SMEDLEY). He visited Moscow as a Soviet guest in 1929. On the outbreak of World War II NAMBIAR was expelled from Germany but later allowed to return as Subhas Chandra Bose’s deputy in Berlin, with special responsibility in cooperation with the Germans for the Azad Hind radio transmissions, becoming the German-financed leader of the Free India Movement in Europe when Bose moved to the Far East to join the Japanese. He was also concerned with the Indian Legion, composed of Indian PoWs, which in 1944 was absorbed by the SS. In 1944 Nambiar was appointed Minister without Portfolio in Bose’s provisional government and arranged the printing of Azad Hind passports. He was arrested in Austria in June 1945 and interrogated in September 1945 as a Nazi collaborator. This file includes the long report of his post-war interrogation which contains details of the various military groups set up by Bose for training in Germany and many other peripheral matters including the setting up of the secret Abwehr (Abwehr was a German intelligence organization from 1921 to 1944) transmitting station ‘Mary’ in Afghanistan.

Recently in 24th October the Nambiar file was declassified (the above paragraph is a description of Nambiar from the National Archive) and is available on the National Archive UK website, where Nambiar is described in the above manner. The Nambiar files contain correspondences between Indian Intelligence Bureau and the British Security Service, it also contains the British analysis of Nambiar’s movement and the strategy of Indian Legion in Germany, and most importantly it contains the long interrogation report of Nambiar wherein he discusses in detail the activities of Bose in Germany.

This declassified security service files was originally file number 2153 of Indian Political Intelligence (IPI), absorbed by the Security Service after 1947. The Nambiar file can be broadly classified into three sections namely-the statements of Nambiar during interrogation, the statements of M R Vyas Bose’s aide, The Secret correspondences of various branches of British intelligence services on Nambiar and Bose. While presenting the statements of Nambiar I have tried my best to put a summarized version of the main events, mostly directly citing from Nambiar’s original statement, I have also provided notes on some important people and events for better understanding. It is to be noted that the Nambiar statement mostly attests the known facts about Bose’s movements and activities in Europe, however it also throws a new light on some lesser known events like the German strategy for their influence on the Provisional Government of India, involvement of German missionaries in propaganda radio run by Indian Legion, and also the existence of secret radio transmission stations used by Bose, to cite a few. However the entire literature presented in this piece must be read keeping in mind that the events and information revealed here are mostly from secret sources, the conclusions, understanding, judgement of character and situation is based on the perspective and the interest of the parties concerned. I have made no effort to put forward my opinion or views on any issue, I have just presented all the statements as it is, although  in some places I have rephrased the original statements, keeping the meaning unchanged.

For example if you see these document which is actually an observation of Harald Kirfel (A Japanese expert and wartime instructor and interpreter, Kirfel was taken over by the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Reich Main Security Office) in 1944 to head a section whose purpose was to acquire information on the political situation in Japan) who talked with number of Indians on the future of India, “the days of British rule in India are numbered. England has got to give the Indian people their promised freedom. Japanese tutelage would be resisted even though Free India would be grateful to Japanese for any help given them in their right to freedom. It only remains a question as to whether India will become a sphere of interest or even, perhaps, a sovereign state of the Soviet Union. The influence of Bolshevik ideology in India is already very strong indeed, and in the event of a Soviet victory would gain considerably in strength. Many millions of Indians are Bolshevists who would welcome an advance of the Red Army through the Khyber Pass.” In April 1945 Kirfel received through Nambiar knowledge of the context of a telegram from Bose to Nambiar which stated-“Indian Legionaries must in circumstances fall into the Anglo-American hands without a struggle. If possible the Legion is to play into Soviet Russian hands as there is a possibility that the Legion can be further employed from Moscow into India’s Right to Freedom.”

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Indian nationalist, and Indian National Congress president-elect, Subhas Chandra Bose (center) with (from left to right) A. C. N. Nambiar (later to be his second-in-command in Berlin 1941–1943), Heidi Fulop Miller, Emilie Schenkl and Amiya Bose, Bad Gastein, Austria, December 1937. source wiki

In the interrogation Nambiar says that he was born in 15th June 1898. His father died in 1915 and mother in 1924. Nambiar was married to Suhasini Chattopadhyaya the younger sister of Sarojini Naidu in 1917. After twelve years of marriage she filed for divorce in 1929 it was granted by the Madra High court in December 1936. While Nambiar was in Paris he meets Bose in August 1941 where the latter divulged his plans to Nambiar. Bose was of the opinion that-

1. The revolutionary spirit in India had increased greatly, and large numbers were anxious for policy of action.
2. His own popularity had greatly increased, since both before and after the outbreak of the war he had toured extensively and now had a large following. At the previous session of the Indian National Congress he had held a rival meeting, which was better attended that the Congress.
3. He did not consider that Gandhi would lead an active campaign, and considered Nehru to be quite hopeless on account of his idealism and lack of realism.
4. The present situation offered a great opportunity to work with the powers that were fighting against the British.

Subsequently few notable Indians, Nambiar included, assembled in Berlin to be with Bose. All gathered at Bose’s villa in Sophienstrasse, where Fräulein Schenkel was also present, to celebrate the birthday of Bose. In this party they swear oath of allegiance to Bose, an office had already been established, and in the next morning they all were working in the said office. It was on the first floor of a three storied building of which the members later occupied all three stories. There were seven rooms and 14 men working along with four secretaries-
1. N.G GANPULE, 2. M R VYAS, 3. HABIBUR REHMAN, 4. SULTAN, 5. MAMA, 6. A. N AHUJA, 7. Dr. FARUQI, 8. DHAWAN, 9. LAL, 10. SWALHAY, 11. KENI, 12. ABDUL RAUF, 13. BHATTA, 14. KARTA RAM.

The founding of the Indian Legion:

The ceremony, which took place on the occasion of the founding of the Indian National Provisional Government of Free India Centre at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin (16 November 1943), turned out to be a flaming indictment of the British war hunger in India. In addition to numerous leading German personalities, the Japanese ambassador, General Oshima and the Republican-fascist Italy, his excellence Anfuso, attended the event. Shown here is the Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Keppler, bringing greetings and wishes of the Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. source wikipedia

On 27th January 1942, Bose held a meeting in the FIC (The Free India Centre, German Zentrale Freies Indien, was the European branch of the Provisional Government of Free India, the provisional government of the Azad Hind movement for Indian independence led by Subhas Chandra Bose. It was founded by Bose when he was in Berlin in 1942) office as a farewell party to the leading Legionaries who were going to Frankenberg to form the basis of the Indian Legion. Bose spoke in Hindusthani he was emotional and almost wept. He gave each man a flower and said that being in a foreign country that was the only gift that he could offer, but the real reward would come to them in due course when India would have been freed by their efforts. Afterwards Dr. Dhawan and one of the legionaries also spoke. Next morning N G Ganpule, Bose, Sultan (Mr. A M Sultan the prominent speaker of the Azad Muslim Radio) and Nambiar went to the railway station to see them off.

Establishment of Radio Stations:

Subsequently Bose also thought on establishing Radio station to stir up the Indian masses. The German Foreign Minister had full faith in Bose and the Ministry thought Bose to be as the right propagandist to stir up masses in India. Bose was anxious to extend the broadcasting station in Rome. He launched two radio stations one Congress Radio and second the Azad Muslim radio, both these stations were to win over the Congress and the Muslim League supporters. The Congress Radio programme was in four different languages, in English, Bengali, Tamil and Hindusthani, while for the Azad Muslim radio Sultan was entrusted with the broadcast, Dr. J K Banerjee supplied the material and Abdul Rauf Mallick did the translation. Bose was also eager to arrange transmission to America and Ireland by a spokesman of FIC over the official Radio. Bose was praised by the German Foreign Ministry for efficient transmission. It also appeared that the failure of the Cripps Mission was largely due to Bose Radio transmission. In August and September when the disturbances in India were at its height Bose himself wrote a great deal of the script. It was believed that politicians in India were adopting the line of policy advocated by the Azad Hind Radio. On the 15th March 1945 the Azad Muslim and the Congress Radio were dropped and Azad Hind reduced to half an hour, as the German had lost several transmitting stations. In April 1945 Nambiar heard from Naidu that the FIC transmission was dropped on 07.04.1945.

The Azad Hind Magazine:

By January 1942 the first number of the Azad Hind Magazine had already been published. About three thousand copies had been printed and they were distributed in Universities, technical High Schools, to individual of importance and journalists. A few copies were also sent to interested individuals living in other countries occupied or controlled by Germany. It was originally planned that Dr. Dhawan would be the editor in charge, but Bose disagreed because of the mutual difference in views. K A Bhatta was editor in charge of the magazine and many articles were contributed by Bose which appeared under the initial OM (Orlando Mazotta), few members of the FIC also contributed. The publication was infrequent and irregular six issues appeared in 1942, four or five in 1943 and seven in 1944 and after the end of it there was no further issues. Nambiar was told by Mr. Bhatta that certain numbers of copies were sent to the Far East the copies being handed over by Bhatta to Bassler (Hilmar Bassler, former head of Hitler propaganda in East Asia, an old member of the Nazi Party and at the same time a confidential agent of the SS security staff.) of the press department of the Foreign Office for further despatch. The magazine was started mainly to bring before the European Public the Indian issue according to Bose’s point of view and to supply information about India to foreign journalists.

The Azad Hind Legion:

When Nambiar meet Bose in Berlin the latter had already decided in raising an armed force to fight against the British for the liberation of India. Bose had often said that this was an old dream of his and that when he was in Europe from 1933- 1937 he was greatly attracted by the idea of the Legions started by other countries during the last year. Bose had high hopes of making an Indian Legion into an efficient military organization and also a larger unit, that he actually succeeded in raising. Bose had sent his representative to Italy on the prisoner of war question, it was decided that the Indian Legion should be built up in Germany and the Arab Legion in Italy. However in reality Italy stopped sending POW’s for the Indian legion they became interested in making their own Indian Legion! The Germans had also started their own Arab Legion and the matter was more or less became complex.

 

By January 1942 the Indian Legion had been formed at two centres, one at Meseritz and the other at Frankenberg. The Meseritz group was a part of the Lehr-regiment Brandenburg which was responsible for training intelligent soldiers in sabotage, espionage, and propaganda. The Legion at Frankenberg was also an integral part of the Azad Hind Movement. Ganpuley and Sultan were selected by Bose from the FIC to attend the affairs of the Legion. In April 1942 Col. Von Lahusen (General major Erwin von Lahousen (25 October 1897 – 24 February 1955) was a high-ranking Abwehr official during World War II, as well as a member of the German Resistance and a key player in attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler ) under whom the Meseritz was, inspected the Legion and offered a speech. Col. Lahusen was not so optimistic about the performance of the PW’s because of their lack of education and language difficulties. In September 1942 Bose visited the Indian Legion and spoke to them at length. In October 1942 Bose visited the other camp at Meseritz, he was aware that the Germans had lost interest in the Meseritz group. In September 1942 Bose was informed by Ruparti (a reserve officer with the rank of Captain, in civil he was a business man) of the Abwehr that his department needed to give training to four Indians with a view to developing the Abwehr’s communication with India. The plan was to send the party to NWFP (North West Fronteir Province) or a tribal area. Bose and Ruparti discussed this issue, and the former entrusted Swami (N G Swami) of selecting the four Indians to Far East, they were- Kartar Singh, Bhagwanlu, Kanwal Singh, Harbans Lal Mehta. They were trained in Cologne in commercial espionage and sabotage. Bose had informed Yamamoto (Col. Satoshi Yamamoto, Military Attache of the Japanese embassy in Berlin) of the possible deployment, and arrangements were made to send them to Far East.

Overall the Indian Legions were given training against many issues those as narrated by Nambiar were-

1. The soldiers thought they had a right to special considerations otherwise they could go back as prisoners.
2. Some of the German officers and more especially the NCO’s (Non Commissioned Officers) did not understand the Indian mentality, were rough in their language and ways, and used bad language which easily offended the Indians.
3. Some of the Indian soldiers were originally non combatants and could not stand the hard military training and the harsh climate.
4. The Indian PW’s though they could get promotion easily.
5. There was also a certain amount of language difficulty although it did not create big issue.
6. As time passed another fact that led to some tension was sex question. Ultimately in Holland brothels were opened.

Apart from establishing the Indian Legion Bose had also formed a special police group. He had also wished for some training in Naval warfare and looked for volunteers but none showed up to take the life of a sea-man. The plan was eventually dropped, and so was the plan for a small Indian Air force. Although many volunteered for the attractive job, but it didn’t turn practical due to technical issues.

In the midst of these projects Bose was informed of going to the Far East, it was in 05.02.1943. Bose left a note for Col. Meyer (Kurt Meyer?) and Nambiar to see that the Indian Legion would be run according to these instructions-

1. The character of the Indian Legion is to be maintained.
2. It should not be incorporated into or mixed with any other Legion.
3. If and when committed to action it should be employed against British Forces only.
4. Promotions of Indian to officer rank should be made as quickly as possible.
5. Indians should have the same position and privileges as the Germans of corresponding rank in the Legion.
6. As and when Indians were promoted to the rank of officer and NCO, the Germans should be withdrawn.
7. The Legion should not be divided into religious or communal basis.
8. Care should be taken that the Legion does not fall into the hands of the British.
9. The idea of having a few trained men in the Air force should not be dropped.
10. Instruction should be given in all modern German weapons, including heavy artillery, tanks and anti tank warfare.
11. The contact with the FIC should be set up. Krappe (Kurt Krappe, Commanding officer of the Indian Legion) and Meyer were informed by Bose that N G Ganpuley and Sultan would be in charge of the Legion and that Nambiar should be the head of the FIC be in charge of the Legion as towards it policy. Bose was disillusioned about the fact that the Germans would ever make it to the Indian soil, leaving little possibility to unite the Indian Legion with the INA.

Unrest in the Indian Legion:

A soldier of the Legion with an MG 34 in Bordeaux, in March 1944 source wiki

 

Unrest rose up when the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht,”Supreme Command of the Armed Forces”) insisted transfer of the Legion from Koenigsbrueck to Holland. The Legionaries were informed through Krappe and very soon the discontent spread. A representative from the Legion consisting of Gurrachan Singh, Gurmukh Singh, Jaswant Singh, Ali Khan and Jamil Khan came to Berlin to discuss the issue with Nambiar. The representatives were of the opinion that they were forced into isolation and further away from India, where they could be trapped or perhaps made to change allegiance again. They were asking about Bose’s whereabouts, since there was a rumour that he has been arrested by the Germans. They were also apprehensive against the fact that there was no reliable spokesman of Bose to whom they could speak. Nambiar also informed that he could not repel the order, and that the Indian Legion had no options than to move. As per Nambiar he personally went to meet the Legion where he convinced the Legionaries that the rumour against Bose’s arrest was unfounded, he could not express his current location anyway. Nambiar also informed them that the transfer was to train the troops in coastal defence. However the Germans weren’t much impressed with the behaviour of the Legion on the eve of the transfer and some even suggested that mischief makers would be shot!

 

Bose visited Koenigsbrueck with Yamamoto to administer the oath of allegiance. Bose was informed about the discontentment of the troops and the punishment of the ringleaders. The situation inside the Legion was far from satisfactory there were some murders, and a young soldier had been convicted of rape. The court had passed a punishment of three years but General Blaskowitz (Colonel General Johannes Blaskowtiz was the German Supreme Commander East, he committed suicide when the Allied tried to put him into war trials) had remarked that a severe punishment must be inflicted as matters like this were becoming common. There was also a remark that severe punishment than that which would be awarded to a German should be given because of the special erotic character of the Indians. Nambiar wrote to Keppler (Wilhelm Keppler, then an under-secretary of State in the German Foreign Office, he was appointed Director of the Special Bureau for India) against the matter but it was carefully suppressed. The situation began to calm down gradually and the Legionaries became happy again, when the news of ensuing promotions was announced and Bose’s departure to Far East was announced.

 

Troops of the Indian Legion, in Bordeaux, France in March 1944

Quite suddenly the transfer of Legion was announced again this time to France, the reason given was better climatic conditions. But in reality the situation proved worse, the Legionaries were spread over a wide area, it became difficult to maintain unity and climatic conditions were worse. Promotions had been announced Muslims and Sikhs had obtained more promotions there was sort of communal divide over the matter of promotions. The representatives of FIC continued to visit the troops, talking to them, explaining the connection between digging trenches in the European coast and the freedom movement back home! The morale of the Legion was dwindling especially because of the treatment the Indian officers received over the Germans. The representatives of the Legion told the FIC leaders that the German officers were continually leading the troops and their strict discipline and order made their life hell. In May 1944 the Legion was placed directly under the control of Waffen SS, the decision it was revealed came from Hitler. All Nambiar could do was to supply to Keppler the names of German officers who had ill feelings towards Indians. In the meantime Bose had a message for the Legion urging them to fight well and stand firmly under the leadership of Krappe, which was conveyed to the Legion.

Interesting activities of Thea Von Harbou:

Thea Gabriele von Harbou (27 December 1888 – 1 July 1954) was a German screenwriter, novelist, film director, and actress. She is especially known as the screenwriter of the science fiction film classic Metropolis and the story on which it was based. Von Harbou collaborated as a screenwriter with film director Fritz Lang, her husband, during the period of transition from silent to sound films. Von Harbou after separation from Lang developed interest in Ayi Tendulkar, a young Indian journalist. Nambiar says that after severance from both Fritz Lang and Tendulkar, Von Harbou entertained many Indians at her house. She helped many Indians with food, money and clothes on the outbreak of the war. Later it was confirmed by reports that she was employed by the Propaganda Department of the Foreign Office for the purpose. The Indians however quarrelled among themselves and became divided in two parties, one for her, and one against her. The group which was against her wanted that the money she spent on Indians were to be transferred to the Committee of the Indian Students’ Association. Bose had an understanding with her regarding the formation of the Indian Legion and she entertained the first PW who joined. By offering opportunities of wine and women to the PW and so relieving the monotony of their lives she came to have considerable influence in the life of young Indians.
Bose was keen to have close relationship with her but when he found that she was opposed by the members of FIC, and also opposed by Frl. Schenkel, he started criticizing Indians who visited her. Harbou visited the first batch of Legionaries in Frankenburg and she had leading members of the Legion coming to her house. Bose was opposed to the visit of Harbou in Frankeburg and complained to the Foreign Office, but it seemed they already had news of her visit. Nambiar says Harbou obtained her intimate knowledge of the Azad Hind Movement in order to keep the German informed.

Bose’s Planning Committee:

In April 1942 Bose had formed a Planning Committee and selected the following members-

1. K L Majumdar
2. K K Bose
3. Dr. Ram
4. MR Vyas
5. Otto Faltis (Bose’s old friend from Vienna)

Bose also wished for the participation of Dr. Hafiz in the committee, Dr. Hafiz was a Punjabi Mohammedan resident of Ankara. Hafiz was about 60 years of age, was a specialist in chemical explosives and become involved in the Indian National Committee during the last years. After several rounds of discussion Hafiz was to be included in the committee by Bose but after Hafiz went to Ankara, Bose began to realize the difficulties of this plan. About this time Saleh had left the FIC owing to his adamant pro-Muslim staunch and it appeared to Bose that if Hafiz if he came would join hands with Saleh (?) and launch a Muslim separatist movement. Therefore Bose dropped the idea.

Nambiar was made chairman of the planning committee, and under Bose two or three meetings were held. The planning committee was asked to draw up plans for aeroplane construction, for mineral resources, for arms productions, on financial issues and so on. Although the members tried their best to build up a report, “it was doomed to fail”, because the report reflected the ordinary bookish knowledge, and not the practical aspects. Bose himself contributed to the work of the planning committee by making personal contact with leading German industrialists and commercial figures. He was introduced by Keppler to the director of the Reichsbank with whom N G Ganpuley was afterwards supposed to maintain contact on behalf of the planning committee. Keppler also introduced him to Voss, President of the Skoda works, whom he also contacted with K Majumdar while his visit to Czechoslovakia.

Bose’s early negotiations:

Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop

Although Bose went first to Rome after his arrival in Germany he always intended to establish his headquarters in Berlin in spite of the coldness with which he was received by the German foreign officials. His early negotiations to establish a Free India Movement in Germany were conducted with Woermann (Dr Ernst Woermann) the head of the political department. He was especially anxious to obtain a declaration from Germany on the Independence of India, but owing to complications with the Japanese this was never forthcoming. Bose eventually secured from Ribbentrop (Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (30 April 1893 – 16 October 1946) was Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany from 1938 until 1945) the establishment of a special department of the Foreign office to deal with Indian Affairs and known as Sonderreferat Indien. Keppler was appointed head of this Department and became Bose’s chief contact with the Foreign Office. In the Foreign Office proper Melchers (Wilhelm Melchers) was responsible for the Oriental Affairs, but his general policy was very cautious in spite of Bose’s enthusiasm. Melchers was kept informed of the movements in Kabul and information concerning the activities of Free India Movement generally. In addition Ribbentrop had two members of his personal staff to deal with the reports relating to India, they were Megerle and Schmiden.