(The article contains the views expressed by the author)
The Americans dropped nuclear bombs on 6th & 9th August 1945 and the Soviets declared War on Japan on August 10th. All calculations got upset and Japan surrendered to the Allies on 15th August 1945.
Netaji was on a visit in Malaya when he got the shattering news of Japan’s surrender. He received the news in a calm and even manner : “So that is that. Now, what next?”
Japan’s surrender was not India’s surrender. Netaji returned to Singapore immediately and held a series of meetings with his officers & advisers whole day and night. With the INA severely battered after the defeat in Burma, he decided to surrender with his troops at Singapore. But he was persuaded to take the help of the Japanese who offered to take him further east so that he does not fall into the hands of the Anglo-Americans.
On 16th August ’45 afternoon, Netaji reached Bangkok. The Japanese Minister to the PGAH (Provisional Government of Azad Hind) officially conveyed Japan’s decision to surrender and offered Netaji of any assistance from Government of Japan. In response, Netaji told him that since Japan has surrendered unconditionally, they would not be in a position to provide any protection to him. Netaji expressed his desire to go to the Soviet land.
There was no time to contact the Soviets. Soviets were also at war with Japan. He preferred his team to be a prisoner of the Soviets. And then, after establishing their bonafides as fighters for India’s freedom, would secure Russian assistance for his objective. The modalities were uncertain but the objective fixed; “an adventure into the unknown”.
At Bangkok he made quick decisions. General Bhonsle was handed over the command of the INA. A Committee was formed to look after the affairs of the IIL (Indian Independence League). From the ‘Treasures’ large donations were made to Hospital, University, Indian Association, Thai-Bharat Cultural Lodge & others. All officers & staff were paid 2 to 3 months advance pay.
Netaji chose Col. Habibur Rehman, Col. Gulzara Singh, Col. Pritam Singh, Major Abid Hasan, Debnath Das & SA Ayer to fly with him from Bangkok. They all vaguely knew that they were going to Manchuria. The Japanese arranged 2 planes to take them to Saigon, alongwith other Japanese personnel.
On 17th August early morning, the team left Bangkok for Saigon alongwith 2 large suitcases, 3’ long, containing gold ornaments & other valuables & other smaller suitcases containing Netaji’s personal kit.
The plane landed at Saigon same morning. The team took rest in the town and had lunch. But things didn’t work as per expectation. The Jap field unit was in utter confusion following the surrender. No plane was available to carry Netaji & his team. He was told that only one seat is available in a plane that was leaving Saigon the same day. And Netaji should take that seat as he is required to reach Tokyo at the earliest. Netaji refused the offer and insisted that his entire party of seven should move with him. On further consideration, one additional seat was offered. The Japs explained that the Allies have restricted their air travel and they are not sure whether aeroplane would be available in the future. They advised Netaji to accept the 2 seats. Netaji reluctantly accepted the 2-seat offer but on condition that the rest should be transported the following day. He chose Habibur Rehman to accompany him as he was in close touch with Netaji for a long time and was a senior member.
On arrival at airport with their luggage, Netaji was told by the Chief Pilot that his baggage was too heavy for the already overloaded plane. Netaji refused to travel without the 2 leather suitcases containing gold & jewelleries and despite the objection loaded them into the plane. He discarded some of his personal kit instead. Netaji bade goodbye to all those who had come to see him. That was the last time his followers saw him.
The plane took off from Saigon at 5-5.30 in the evening of 17th with 12 or 13 on board; Netaji, Habibur and the rest Japanese. The pilot decided to halt for the night at Tourane, a couple of hours journey from Saigon. Netaji and other officers spent the night in a Hotel in the town. During this stay, the Pilots made the plane lighter by unloading 12 antiaircraft machine guns & all ammunitions.
At about 5am next day, 18th August, the plane took off for Taihoku. While on the way, they got information that Russians were advancing fast and the team’s reaching Manchuria before the Russians occupied it has become doubtful. The plane landed at Taihoku at mid day. All passengers took lunch and rest at the airport while the Ground Engineer and Co-Pilot attended to a defect in the engine. After getting satisfied of its airworthiness, the team boarded the plane.
The plane took off from Taihoku at 2-2.30pm on the 18th. The take off was not quite normal. The plane made a steep ascent. Hardly had it reached a height of 30-40 m, there was a loud explosion and the plane tilted to the left. The propeller and the port engine fell off. The plane nosedived and crashed to the ground 100 m beyond the concrete runaway, broke into two and the front portion immediately caught fire.
The crash affected different persons differently. 7 persons ultimately survived with various degrees of injuries. Netaji was splashed all over with petrol but he had to rush out through the fire. Habibur followed him. Netaji’s clothes and all his body caught fire. Once outside, Habibur moved him away from the plane and took off Netaji’s clothes with great difficulty and laid him down on the ground. Major Takashi, one of the survivors, made Netaji roll on the ground to put out the fire. Netaji’s body and face was scorched with heat and his hairs singed. Habibur’s hands and right side of face were burnt but his clothes did not catch fire. He too lay by Netaji’s side.
Shortly afterwards, Netaji along with other injured persons were taken to a small Military Hospital nearby, rather a first-aid treatment centre. Among all the injured admitted, Netaji’s condition was most serious. He was burnt all over and his skin had taken a greyish colour like ash. His heart too had burns. His face and eyes were swollen. His burns were of the severest type; 3rd degree. He had high fever but surprisingly he was in his senses. The CMO Dr Yoshimi opined that Netaji was not likely to survive till the next morning. Ointment was applied all over the body, burns were dressed up and bandaged all over. 3 intravenous injections were given and 6 other injections for his heart. Some blood from his body was let out and a blood transfusion given. Netaji was conscious at the beginning, so an interpreter was called to assist Netaji speak to the Japanese personnel if desired. At 7-7.30pm Netaji’s condition deteriorated. In spite of administering stimulants, his heart and pulse beat did not improve. Slowly his life ebbed away. He breathed his last shortly after 8pm. Dr Yoshimi made out a Medical Certificate of his Death writing his name as ‘Chandra Bose’ In Japanese. Dr Yoshimi, Dr Tsuruta, 2 nurses, Mr Nakamura the interpreter, Habibur Rehman & one Military policeman was by his bed side at the time of his death. Immediately after Netaji passed away, the Japanese stood up and paid respect to his body by saluting. Habibur knelt by Netaji’s bed and prayed.
With communications in shambles and amidst utter confusion in the ranks and files of the Japanese, the local authorities avoided taking responsibility of recording or declaring death of the leader of a foreign friendly nation. They changed the name in the Death Certificate to Ichiro Okura and cremated on 22nd August. The ashes were collected in a wooden urn and kept at Nishi Honganji Temple at Taihoku. A funeral ceremony was held in the Temple on 26/27 August. Later, on 6th September, Habibur was put on a plane to carry the urn to Tokyo. Habibur was also given a wooden box 3’x2½’x2’, containing gold & jewelry retrieved from the airfield.
The official Japanese Radio announcement on Netaji’s death was made on the 23rd. The news spread all over the globe. Indians were dumbstruck with the tragic news. A ‘hartal’ was observed on 24th August all over India. ‘Subhas Day’ was observed on the 25th. But to many, the death was unbelievable. They took it as yet another deception move by Netaji to escape from the clutches of the Allies.
The Allied Forces too did not believe the news at first. They instructed the Japs to submit a Report on the news of Netaji’s death. The Japs submitted their Report on 19.9.45 confirming Netaji’s death in the crash on 18.8.45.
The British Indian Govt sent Finney & Davis to SE Asia to investigate and they too confirmed in Sept’45 Netaji’s death.
The Allied Forces conducted a detailed investigation under Col. Figges and he submitted his Report on 25.7.46 stating “It is confirmed for certain that SC Bose died …. on 18/08/1945”
Another investigation by Turner submitted on 19.10.46 reported the same news on Netaji’s death to the Allies.
The Japs undertook a detailed investigation in 1955 and came to the same conclusion through their Report dated 13.12.55 making it certain that Netaji indeed died on 18.8.1945