Military & Aerospace

Was it an atomic bomb?
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Issue Except: Subhash Chandra Bose September2010 | Date : 27 Apr , 2012

On 7 August, Bose was still unaware of what had happened at Hiroshima. In fact, the news of what had happened at Hiroshima was slow even to reach the Japanese Government in Tokyo. There was very little authentic reporting of what had actually taken place due to the chaotic conditions prevailing in Japan.

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That same morning, Bose left Singapore to visit the INA Training Centre at Seremban, some miles north of Singapore, in order to resolve a disciplinary problem. He had meant to make a brief visit and return to Singapore and had, therefore, not carried his radio set with him. He found himself being drawn into the affairs of the Centre. The guesthouse at Seremban was restful and he decided to spend a few nights there. He was, therefore, unaware when, on 8 August, Stalin declared war on Japan. The next day the Russians crossed the Manchurian border.

The same day, a second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, a city of 260,000 inhabitants, of whom probably 40,000 were killed and as many injured, and 1.8 square miles of the city destroyed. Though this bomb was more powerful that the first one, the uneven terrain confined the maximum intensity of damage to the valley over which it exploded.

Bose in Seremban still had no knowledge of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that peace negotiations were taking place.

When the second atom bomb fell on Nagasaki on 9 August, American physicists released a manifesto giving technical details of the atom bomb and addressed it to the Japanese scientists. Now all doubts were removed. The next day, Japan took the decision to surrender.

On 10 August, a broadcast from Tokyo announced that the Japanese Government was ready to accept the terms of the Allied declaration from Potsdam, “… with the understanding that the said declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of the Emperor as a sovereign ruler.” The following day the Allied reply was: “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.”

Bose in Seremban still had no knowledge of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that peace negotiations were taking place. It was only on 11 August that he received a telephone call from Singapore informing him that Russia had declared war On Japan. He did not let this news disturb him and went on with his careful and detailed examination of the Centre’s affairs. He was keen to follow the news of Russian advances into Manchuria and was able to obtain a wireless set in order to keep in touch with those events. He was still unaware that Japan had agreed to surrender.

On 12 August, he was annoyed to receive a message requesting his return to Singapore. He was under the impression that this was related to Russia’s moves into Manchuria. “How does this affect us?” he asked. “We shall have to go on whatever happens.”

It was only by 16 August that a few, including Bose, had really begun to understand what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the terrible power of atomic weapons.

His mind was busy examining the implications of Russia’s action. He wondered where the Japanese would make a stand. Was this another chance for him? Did it bring him nearer to a Soviet sanctuary? In fact the phone call had nothing to do with Russian moves. At about 2 am on 13 August, Bose was woken up by two of his advisers who arrived from Singapore to tell him about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and inform him that Japan was about to surrender.

It was a hot night and Bose sat on the veranda in a vest under a fan with Iyer. For a moment he said nothing, then quietly: “So that is that. Now, what next? Well we are the only people who have not surrendered.”

Bose’s first reaction was to send for Swami and Raghavan, who were then in north Malaya. He turned to Iyer and said, “Now we have got to think out what we shall do.” Iyer was anxious that he should have some sleep, but there was to be little rest that night. “It doesn’t matter,” said Bose. “We shall have plenty of sleep from tomorrow on.”

Bose reached Singapore on the evening of 13 August. He was still unaware of the nature of the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the first to call on him was Major Yoshiro Takahashi, who was a staff officer attached to the Japanese Scientific Adviser operating with the Southern Army. The Major’s face was ashen white and he found it difficult to keep his emotions under control as he told Bose that the Americans had dropped a new type of bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A single bomb was capable of wiping out a city. With barely concealed tears in his eyes, the Major informed Bose that the Japanese had began making preparations to surrender.

‘Was it an atomic bomb?’ asked Bose. On receiving a nod from the distraught Major, Bose realised the enormity of what had happened. It meant that the Allies had the ultimate weapon. His mind immediately began to race ahead.

What would that mean for the future of American-Russian relations?

Many ideas crowded his mind. But one thing was uppermost in his thoughts, now more imperative than ever that he must first go through with his plan to move with his Cabinet to Russia. Once they were safely away, he would give thought on what he should do about India.

He conferred immediately with his military and civil chiefs. They discussed Japan’s surrender and agreed on instructions to be sent to League branches. Later: Ambassador Hachiya sent him formal notice that Japan was about to surrender and told him about the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On 14 August, the Emperor accepted the terms laid down by the Allied Powers, whereupon the ‘cease fire’ was sounded.

In its history of 2,600 years, Japan surrounded by the sea, had never been defeated by any enemy, though its security was once threatened by the Mongolian invaders.

The Cabinet discussion went on throughout 14 August. There was no disagreement that the INA would be surrendered as it stood, and all records would be destroyed. But what would the leader do? In the presence of his Cabinet, Bose hinted that he was inclined to stay and face surrender with the rest. His Cabinet wanted him to go – somewhere, anywhere. In the afternoon, Bose had a tooth extracted. In the evening he saw a play about the Rani of Jhansi staged by the women of the Regiment. Most of the routine work was done but still no final decision was announced on the leader’s plan. Bose kept thinking of many alternatives.

“But it is probable that Bose’s mind was made up. Had he not written ‘There is nothing that lures me more than a life of adventure…in search of the unknown’? Now again there was the lure of adventure that had so often mastered him. Even as in 1940, death had seemed better than passivity in prison, so perhaps now, in the very crisis of uncertainty, he could not bear to sit idle… The Japanese had again in the last month rejected his request for contact with Russia, but might there not be chances in the confusion of the next few days to seek asylum there? How far had the Russians got? How soon would they be in Darien?1In its history of 2,600 years, Japan surrounded by the sea, had never been defeated by any enemy, though its security was once threatened by the Mongolian invaders.

Against this background, Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied powers was an unprecedented experience; the first the Japanese race had ever had, and it came as a terrible blow to the Japanese people. Its psychological effect on them was difficult to describe and for a foreigner to understand. Some insisted on putting up continued resistance. Some became jittery and nihilistic. Some top-ranking military leaders went into hiding or committed suicide. The whole country was thrown into a state of confusion and chaos.

It was only by 16 August that a few, including Bose, had really begun to understand what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the terrible power of atomic weapons. Several Japanese units in South East Asia still could not understand or accept the abrupt surrender orders and Prince Kanin had to be sent on a tour of those areas as the personal representative of the Emperor to explain why an unconditional surrender was unavoidable.

The Japanese Armed Forces virtually collapsed after 15 August. There was little advice to be obtained from the Japanese in Singapore. Stunned by their country’s fate, each officer was faced with the urgent problem of coming to terms with the surrender or committing honourable suicide; they could well be excused their indifference to Indian affairs. Most accepted with bewilderment their Emperor’s decision; none cared how the surrender of the INA should proceed. Late that night, under strong pressure from his Cabinet, Bose decided to leave Singapore. He kept sending messages to Headquarters Southern Army, Saigon, that he would prefer to seek refuge in Russian territory and resume the struggle from there.

1. The Springing Tiger: A Study of Subhas Chandra Bose, by Hugh Toye, Cassells London, Bombay, 1959, P. 164-165.

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