Battle of Imphal

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Imphal and the INA

The Indian National Army (INA) Memorial Complex in Moirang. The Complex also includes the site where the Indian tri-colour was hoisted for the first time in India in April 1944. The Indian National Army (INA) Memorial Complex in Moirang. The Complex also includes the site where the Indian tri-colour was hoisted for the first time in India in April 1944. Photo by Ranjit Moirangthem

“…to Netaji himself – what is happening in and about Imphal is of enormous importance" - Peter Ward Fay, The Forgotten Army

It is hard to overstate the centrality of the Battle of Imphal to the INA story. As Peter Ward Fay wrote in The Forgotten Army on the INA viewpoint at the time: ‘To Shah Nawaz [Khan] and his battalions climbing the Chin Hills, to Prem [Kumar Sehgal] pushing papers in Rangoon though he would much prefer a field command, to Lakshmi [Sehgal] wondering when she will receive word to collect her women and go forward once more with Netaji, to Netaji himself – what is happening in and about Imphal is of enormous importance. Bursting into India, after all, is what the Indian National Army is all about, its raison d’être, the excuse for its existence. It can only be done at the Burma-India border. No other place offers an approach.’

Moreover, what happened during the Battle of Imphal is all the more fascinating as it had Indian troops on both sides: those that made up the majority of the British Army and those in INA units alongside the Japanese.

Men of the INA Special Groups entered Manipur together with Japanese forces in mid-March 1944. On April 14, Colonel Malik of the Bahadur Group hoisted the INA flag for the first time on the Indian mainland at Moirang, where the INA Memorial Complex stands today.

Some 7,000 men from the INA’s 1st Division also participated in the Battle of Imphal. The commander of this Division was Colonel Mohammad Zaman Kiani. Sugata Bose informs in his book His Majesty’s Opponent that the Division’s headquarters were set up in the village of Chamol. Its Gandhi Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Inayat Jan Kiani, was deployed on the left flank of Yamamoto Force on the Tamu-Palel Road and set up its headquarters in Khanjol at the end of April 1944. A group of some three hundred soldiers from this Brigade set off via the village of Purum Chumpang for a planned joint attack (with the Japanese) on the Palel airfield. This did not come to pass and the INA men were repelled. Through May, despite attacks by British forces, this Brigade stayed in and around Khanjol and Mittong Khunou.

The 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Subhash Brigade – commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Shah Nawaz Khan – that had earlier been active in the Chin Hills reached as far as Ukhrul in mid-May. The Azad Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gulzara Singh, was deployed in June on Yamamoto Force’s right flank and set up its headquarters in Narum.

However, the INA met the same fate at the Battle of Imphal as the far larger force they accompanied, the Japanese, and all Brigades began their withdrawal on July 18, 1944.