Indian Legion Stamps and Postal History

    Azad Hind

    In 1938, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose a self-proclaimed nationalist became leader of the Indian Nationalist Party. The purpose of the Nationalist Party was to expel the British forces from India by whatever means available.
    Bose, who lived in Calcutta was incarcerated by the British and was later released in 1941 because of his ill health. During the time of his release Britain and its allies were at war with the Axis powers. Shortly afterwards on 17 January 1941, Bose who was under British surveillance managed to escape with the assistance of the "Abwehr," German Intelligence.

    He traveled towards the Northwest part of India, crossing Afghanistan in order to reach the Russian border, where he was assisted by the "NKVD" Soviet Intelligence. Disappointed that the Russians would not provided him with support, he fled to Berlin for help.
    Arriving in Berlin, he was greeted by top German Foreign Officials. In early 1942, Bose had signed an agreement with Hitler proclaiming the provisional government of Free India "Azad Hind."

    India Legion Stamp

    Indische Freiwilligen-Legion 950.

    Meanwhile in North Africa, the entire British 3rd Motorized Brigade, composed of Indian personnel was taken as prisoners of war (POW). On 15 May 1941, a German intelligence airforce officer was sent to the POW Camp for the purpose of recruiting English speaking Indian troops. The German officer managed to convince 27 Indian Officers to fly towards Berlin. These 27 officers and Indian residents living in Germany meet with the Indian Leader Subhas Chandra Bose where they discussed the propaganda value of recruiting and forming of the Azad Hind or Indian Legion.

    The Indian leader had toured the Annaberg camp, where about 10,000 Indian prisoners were held; and gathered enough volunteers to form a regiment. Subsequently around 6000 Indian POWs were recruited and sent to the training camp at Frankenburg. About 300 Indian troops were selected for further training and sent to Konigsbruck near Dresden, where they received German uniforms.

    A special designated arm shield was worn on their uniform. The shield had the Indian national colors in horizontal stripes with a leaping tiger superimposed over the white band of the tricolor and with the inscription "Freies Indien" on top.

    Sikhs in the Legion were permitted to wear a turban as dictated by their religion. These men constituted the "Freies Indien" Legion of the German Army and took their oath of allegiance in a ceremony on 26th August 1942. Eventually the Indian Legion expanded from 300 to 2000 members. The Germans designated it the "Indische Freiwilligen-Legion Regiment 950" (Indian volunteer Legion Regiment 950), who was commanded by the German officer Oberstleutnant Kurt Krappe.

    Its personnel were two-thirds Moslem and one-third Hindu. This time all the Legionnaires wore German uniforms with an arm shield. The Legion had German Officers and the language used was English. At Bose's recommendation, all volunteers, regardless of previous rank, began their military training as privates. By mid-January 1943, the legion effective strength was composed of 1503 Hindus, 516 Sikhs, 497 Moslems and 77 others divided into three battalions. The Indian formation with 2593 men was attached to the German 404th Infantry Division and assigned to the Zeeland region of Holland.

    From early May to early September 1943, the Indian Legion was stationed in Zeeland. On 17 September 1943, the Indian Legion left Haarlem, Holland and re-deployed to St Andre de Cubzac in southwest France. By early May 1944, the Legion was assigned to the Zandvoort region. In June 1944, the Legion was sent to the Bay of Biscay, France to relieved the 822nd Georgian Infantry Battalion undertaking "Atlantic Wall" duties. Following the allied invasion of Normandie, the Legion was withdrawn temporarily to the Netherlands.

    By August 1944, the Legion was transferred into the Waffen-SS with a strength of 2300 men. The unit was sent to France without it's six anti-tank guns and seventy-one motor vehicles. Designated as the "Indische Freiwilligen-Legion der Waffen-SS" under the command of SS-Oberfürer Heinz Bertling. However, when Bertling was appointed as new commander he found out via a German message that he was not wanted (even the Indians objected to the change), with this message he returned to Berlin. Command was giving to Kurt Krappe. The Indian Legion was tasked for non-combative assignments and serve for propaganda purposes, however it did confronted French Free troops in the town of Dun. During house-to-house fighting, the Legion suffered its first combat fatality, Lt Ali Khan, who was buried with military honors. The legion lost more men killed during night marches through Luzy, crossing the Loire and moving towards Dijon, France.
    By December 1944, the legion was moved into the empty military training camp at Heuberg, Germany. The Indian troops stayed in Heuberg until the end of March 1945, when they marched along the Bodensee in an attempt to cross over into neutral Switzerland via the Alpine passes. It was here where the American and French forces overran the Indian Legion. They were marched into captivity and eventually shipped backed to India where they awaited their trial for treason.

    Indian Volunteers in other Axis formations

    The German Branderburgers and agents recruited men from the Indian Legion. The Indian volunteers were incorporated as part of 4th Regiment, 800.Bau Lehrdivision zür Besonderen Verwendung Branderburg" (800th Special Purpose Construction Training Division Brandenburg). They were quartered at Meseritz, where they were trained in parachuting and sabotage operations. In January 1942, 100 Indian airborne troops were launched into eastern Iran in order to infiltrate into India through Baluchistan and start sabotage operations against the British. Oberleutnant Witzel in Afghanistan reported to the Abwehr that the Indian landing had been successful. Eventually the operation was disbanded.

    It should be noted that after some success in recruiting Legionnaires, Subhas Chandra Bose was taken by German submarine U-180, where they were transferred in rough seas near Madagascar to the Japanese submarine I-29. On 6 May 1943, the Japanese submarine arrived at Sabang harbor on We Island off the northernmost tip of Japanese occupied Sumatra (Malaysia). There the Japanese took him to Singapore where he set up his provisional government of Azad Hind on 21 October 1943. He organized an Indian National Army, composed of three divisions in Burma. These divisions did see some extensive action while fighting along side the Japanese. Some Indian units under Japanese subordination were allowed to administer the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Bose was killed in an air crash on the island of Formosa on 18 August 1945. The Azad Hind movement disappeared with his death.

    Meanwhile in early 1942, the Italians formed an Indian Legion in North Africa, by recruiting prisoners of war (POW). The Indian Legionnaires wore Italian army tropical uniforms. On their right sleeve they wore an arm shield patch showing the Indian national colors. However the Indian Legionnaires refused to serve under Italian command, and the project was disbanded.

    Postal History

    In February 1943, the German postal service in collaboration with the Hindu leader Bose printed propaganda stamps honoring the Azad Hind movement. The designers for the Indian Legion stamps were two of Germany's top artist, whose names were Werner and Maria von Axter-Heudtlass. Bose himself met with Maria von Axter-Heudtlass to approve certain designs.

    Ten stamps were printed with six different designs. The first seven stamps were semipostals, the surcharge was for the administration of Andaman and Nicobar Islands under Japanese control. These stamps were printed in the "Reichsdruckerei" (Government Printing Office) in Berlin.

    Indian Legion Stamps

    Indian Legion Stamps

    The stamps show six themes to be depicted on ten denominations. Three were regulars and the rest semi-postals:
    1. Value (1+1 Anna) depicts a Sikh firing a German MG34 machine gun.
    2. Values (1/2, 1 and 2+2 Annas) show a peasant plowing a field.
    3. Values (2-1/2, and 2-1/2-2-1/2 Annas), picture a woman spinning cloth.
    4. Value (3+3 Anna), a nurse comforting a wounded soldier.
    5. Values (8+12, 12 Anna +1 Rupee), India breaking chains.
    6. Value (1+2 Rupee), soldiers carrying the Free India Banner.
    A set of 21 stamps exist, which are perforated (10mm x 12mm) and imperforated. A million copies were produced for the lower values and 500,000 for higher values, except the 1+2 Rupee stamp, only 13,500 varieties were printed. All the stamps exist in different colors and have the word Azad Hind printed. These stamps were intended to be use by the Indian forces under Japanese control.

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