Friday, Sep 24, 2021

The Indian Jungle Book

How the Indian Army got battle ready to face the apparently-invincible Japanese forces in the summer of 1942.

The Indian Jungle Book
The Indian Jungle Book
India's War: The Making of Modern South Asia, 1939-1945
By Srinath Raghavan
Allen Lane | Pages: 550 | Rs. 699

The revamped training system was not as smooth as it sounds. Both the training divisions were dogged by the shortage of experi enced officers. Most of the trainers themselves had only a hazy idea of the realities of fighting in the jungle. In fact, many of them had to undergo a crash course in jungle warfare before they could pretend to teach others. The unfamiliarity with the terrain also lent an air of artificiality to the efforts of the training divisions. To come up to speed on jungle craft and lore, the training divisions resorted to an interesting expedient. They sought the services of India's best-known big-game hunter: Jim Corbett. The sixty-eight-year-old 'Carpet Sahib' was a legendary figure in the hills of Kumaon and beyond. The author of best-selling books — especially Man-eaters of Kumaon and The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag — had been associated with the army earlier. During the Great War, he had raised a Kumaoni labour levy of 500 men and commanded them on the Western Front. With the onset of the Second World War, he had served on the district Soldiers' Board, helping out with recruitment. Now, with the honorary rank of a lieutenant colonel, Corbett became an instructor in jungle craft. 

Corbett spent time with both the training divisions and travelled to other formations across India as well. His principal contribution was to allay concerns among the troops that the jungle was an alien environment — as much an enemy as the Japanese. Using slides, illustrations and short films, Corbett lectured on a range of themes relating to survival in the jungle: animal and human tracking; edible and inedible plants; brewing tea with herbs and wild honey; identify ing snakes and bird calls. The troops were evidently taken by the genial old man and his tales of the jungle. As one of his students put it, he seemed a cross between 'a magician and a master-detective'. Man-eaters of Kumaon became required reading in the training divisions. It was also translated into Roman Urdu by GHQ India, so that officers could read it out to soldiers.13 

That said, racy accounts of shikar (hunting) would have scarcely sufficed to prepare the troops to fight the Japanese. Rather more important were the training instructions and pamphlets, memoranda and circulars that flowed among formations and units. Yet this pro fusion of paper carried the risk of confusing as much as clarifying. As the Infantry Committee had noted, 

many doctrines exist, all of them fundamentally different and all of them being put into effect in different parts of India. They would stress the urgent need for GHQ to control the Pandits, who produce such doctrines, so that the training of the recruit and the trained soldier can follow one accepted doctrine.14 

In order to streamline the doctrine, the fourth edition of The Jungle Book was published in September 1943. This training pamphlet was considerably revised to take into account the lessons of all operations against the Japanese, including the recent ones in Arakan.15 

An updated edition of Instructors' Handbook on Fieldcraft and Battle Drill was issued, along with Battle Drill for Thick Jungle. Both these pamphlets helped convert doctrinal principles into tactical practice. Simultaneously, units and formations were being educated about the tactics adopted by the Japanese and ways of countering them. The operation in Donbaik, for example, had underscored the defensive strength of the Japanese bunker system. After a careful examination of this experience, various training outfits organized lecture-demonstrations of techniques to be adopted in attacking the bunkers. Training companies would carry out in slow motion the various phases of the attack and the operation would be dissected in the subsequent discussion. The use of light tanks in a 'bunker busting' role was also carefully examined. The evolving doctrine realized the mistakes made earlier — use of tanks in small numbers and lack of all-arms training — and sought to rectify them. Similar efforts were made to disseminate doctrine on dealing with Japanese offensive tactics: infiltration, encirclement and the use of roadblocks. The solu tion lit upon by the Indian army was the use of 'boxes': compact and strong all-round defensive positions, which if necessary could be supplied by air. Ironically, the idea of a 'box' had been discred ited in the Western Desert, particularly after the first battle of Alamein. In the Burma campaign, though, it would prove rather more successful.16 


Fighting an experienced opponent in the jungle called for not only intense training but a high level of physical fitness. By 1943, though, the physical standards of recruits to the Indian army had sharply plummeted. Given the widespread scarcity of food across most parts of India — including famine in some — it is hardly surprising that recruits were malnourished and afflicted with nutritional diseases such as anaemia. Special feeding was required to bring them up to the minimum acceptable operational standard. Indeed, the availability of good quality food was a major incentive for joining the army. 

In the initial months of the war, the army rigidly adhered to the physical standards laid down in the Recruiting Regulations of 1939. The men recruited during this period were not prone to malnutrition. They needed no more than the normal peacetime scale of rations to fight well in the Middle East. With the surge in expansion from 1941, the army realized that recruits of the peacetime standards were unavailable in adequate numbers. So physical standards had to be relaxed. Even these standards proved difficult to maintain, leading to a further lowering of them in June 1942. 

By early 1944, the army was forced to reduce the standards still more. Only the infantry saw a slight upward revision in standards — owing to the recommendations of the Infantry Committee. Yet recruiting officers were given leeway to take in men who weighed 5 lbs below the new scale — provided they felt that the recruit could gain this weight by eating army rations for three months. In practice, recruiting officers took in men who were underweight by 10-20 lbs.17 Importantly, the drop in physical standards applied as much to the martial classes as to the newer social groups entering the army. In fact, the fall in standards of the martial classes was steeper. Since these groups remained the cutting edge of fighting formations, the India Command's nutritional anxieties multiplied. 

The declining physical standard of the recruits necessitated revi sions to the army's scale of rations. At the outbreak of war, the peacetime scale of daily rations provided by the RIASC amounted to 3,385 calories. Units could supplement this by purchasing additional rations, for which they were given a monthly allowance of Rs. 0.6 per soldier. Rampant inflation, however, rendered this pittance entirely worthless. In early 1942, the cash allowance was raised to Rs. 2 per soldier per month. In September 1942, it was further increased to Rs. 3. By this time, units were also struggling to source food from local markets.18

Source: B. L. Raina (ed.), Preventive Medicine (Nutrition, Malaria Control and Prevention of Diseases) (Delhi: Combined Inter-Services, Historical Section, India & Pakistan, 1961), Appendix II.

Alongside these measures, the India Command began nutritional testing of troops to arrive at a more scientific scale of rations. As else where, the availability of trained personnel proved problematic. In January 1943, a nutritional section was established in the medical services directorate of GHQ India. This set-up turned out to be inadequate for conducting field surveys and advising units on nutrition. Hence, the director of the Nutrition Research Laboratories in Coonoor, Dr W. R. Aykroyd, was roped in as an honorary consultant and his team supported the efforts of the army. 

Preliminary investigations in 1942 had shown that the vitamin A and C content of Indian rations was well below the generally accepted estimates of optimum requirements. A more detailed study of a pio neer engineer unit in September 1942 had not only confirmed these findings but found that the scale of rations was deficient in practically all nutrients and calories. Clearly, Indian troops were subsisting on a very narrow margin of nutritional adequacy. In January 1943, the medical services director recommended placing all Indian troops on the higher, field-service scale of rations (3,950 calories per day). Brit ish troops in India had already been upgraded to this scale in October 1942. The India Command demurred. For one thing, the RIASC was not yet ready to procure and supply to all Indian units on this scale. For another, the additional financial burden was believed to be too onerous. After six months of discussion, the India Command decided to do away with the additional cash allowance and introduce an enhanced daily scale of rations for non-operational areas.19 

Reality did not match the ration scale, however. Troops deployed on the Burma frontier consumed on average about 3,550 calories per day. A study by the newly formed Indian Operational Research Sec tion observed: 'Compared with a 20 year old Englishman of similar weight (a low standard for a mature man is some 10 lbs heavier), the average weight of the Indian troops fell short by 14 to 23 lbs.' The energy value of food consumed by them was almost 500 calories short of the minimum prescribed. Their food was deficient in all vari eties of vitamins. There was a 'serious shortage of meat'. Each man got 14 grams of animal protein — a third of the figure accepted as 'the absolute minimum daily requirement'. The report grimly concluded that the 'men cannot be expected to maintain maximal output of work on the energy available in the diet supplied'.20

And yet the India Command proved itself unable to upgrade the ration scale. Part of the reason was differences among nutritional experts on the methods of testing. Many believed that simple clinical investigation by stripping men to the waist and examining for signs of deficiency would suffice. Experts were divided over the utility of biochemical and other clinical aid in surveying troops. By 1944, how ever, a consensus developed on methods of survey — mainly owing to the influence of practices pioneered in the United States (by the Fatigue Laboratory at Harvard) and Britain. It was agreed that four different types of data had to be collected: nutritional measurement of ration scale; analysis of food actually consumed; medical exam ination of soldiers; and biochemical testing of blood and urine samples. 

On this basis, studies were conducted from mid-1944 to early 1945 in two recruiting centres to ascertain the effects of army diet on the recruit's physical condition. The sample of recruits was divided into two groups: one received only the basic ration (3,950 calories) and the other received an additional 16 fl oz of milk every day (4,250 calories). The investigations revealed that the average wartime recruit gained 5-10 lbs within four months of enlisting. Thereafter, he con tinued to gain weight at a slower rate. The extra milk did not make any difference in the average weight gained. A further study exam ined the response of recruits to meat and milk in rations. One group was placed on the basic diet. A second was given 12 oz of meat instead of the normal 2 ozs. And a third group was given 48 fl oz of fresh milk instead of any meat. The results showed that while all three diets increased the weight of the recruits, those on the meat diet gained the most and those on the milk diet the least. Analysing the detailed results, the investigators concluded that the advantage of the meat diet lay not in its greater calorific value, nor yet in the higher proportion of animal protein, but in the inherent nutritional quality of meat that seemed to stimulate the general metabolism.21 

In the wake of these surveys, GHQ India decided that the daily ration scale in field service or training should provide a minimum of 4,200 calories, including 100 grams of protein. Animal protein sup- plied daily to the Indian soldier increased from 14 grams in 1943 to 32 in 1945. In practice, though, they got only 23-26 grams a day.22 Part of the problem was the difficulty encountered in the supply lines leading up to the Burma frontier. 

Equally constraining were dietary restrictions observed by Indian troops. Muslims would not touch pork and ate only halal meat; Hin dus ofter forswore beef and the meat of female animals; Sikhs took only non-halal meat; and certain groups like Jats were strictly vegetarian. Soldiers of all backgrounds regarded even certified meat with considerable suspicion.23 

Culture compounded the problem in other ways too. The Indian soldiers' methods of cooking tended to dilute the nutritional content of their diet. Vegetables were boiled in water and clarified butter (ghee) for two or more hours; rice was cooked with excessive water. The Paxton cooker provided to Indian units was typically used for storing rations or utensils — the cooks preferring to light up a tradi tional brick-and-mud stove, which coughed up enormous quantities of smoke as well as reducing the quality of the food. 

Then there was the long-standing tradition in the Indian army — mirroring wider societal practice — of giving soldiers two meals a day: one just before noon and the other in the evening. With the enhanced ration scales, it became clear that the soldiers' digestive systems could not cope with 2,000 calories at one go. When the Fourteenth Army sought to change this routine in 1943, there was considerable objec tion from the Indian units. As the senior VCO of one battalion said: 'Hazur, aisa to hamare unit mein kabhi nahin hua' ['Sir, this has never happened in our unit']. Commanding officers, too, tended to see this as 'a shattering of old-time tradition'.24 

By 1944, however, a new regime was enforced. Soldiers started their day at around 5 a.m. with sweet milky tea, supplemented with sugar-coated fried biscuits or chapattis. Between 10.30 and 11.30 a.m. they took rice or chapattis with a vegetable curry. Tea was brewed again at 2.30 p.m. And around 6 p.m. they had their main meal of the day: chapattis or rice with vegetable curry supplemented by eggs, fish or meat and fruit. Efforts were made to educate troops to avoid wasting food on the plate. Copies of a booklet Food and Fit ness were issued to all units to make them conscious of nutrition and health.25

 A directorate of food inspection was created within GHQ India in 1944. To improve the standard of cooked food, the idea of creating an Indian army catering corps — along the lines of that of the British army — was examined but not implemented.26 The supply corps was already overwhelmed by the magnitude of its tasks. The mere management of multiple ration scales — forty-three on the last count — for Allied troops in India taxed its resources. As the official historian of the supply corps noted in dismay: 'there were strange items such as an hydrous lanoline (wool fat issuable on medical recommendation), burghal (a kind of dal [lentil] admissible to transjordanian troops), mealie meal (in South African rations) and so on which the Indian clerk and issuer had never heard of'. Indian ration scales, too, had their own peculiarities — not least the allowance on medical advice of opium to addicts.27 

Even so, the supply corps mounted a superb effort to keep up with the burgeoning demands. The army's systems of procurement, hold ing and distribution were radically overhauled and modernized. In 1939, the Indian army had only one, small supply depot in Lahore. From late 1942, a series of depots linked to transportation hubs were constructed in Karachi, Benares, Bilaspur, Panagarh near Calcutta, Avadi near Madras, and Waltair near Vizag. These depots had mas sive storage sheds linked by an internal rail network. By 1944, their total capacity stood at 328,000 tons. The supply corps also obtained and produced dehydrated food and meat as well as other nutritional substitutes such as multivitamin tablets. A cold storage network was created from scratch to provide fresh beef to British and African soldiers. Four types of ration packs of varying bulk and calorie content were created for troops out on patrol and other operations. Methods of supplying forward forces by air were learnt, practised and per fected.28 The supply corps did not manage to fully bridge the nutritional gap, but its valiant efforts ensured that the Indian soldiers that fought the Japanese in 1944 were not the emaciated men of the earlier campaigns. 

Nutrition was only one aspect of the wider problem of military health. Of equal concern was the vulnerability of Indian troops to disease. As Slim noted, 'We had to stop men going sick, or, if they went sick, from staying sick.'29 Especially dangerous in the India-Burma theatre was malaria. In 1942, 83,000 soldiers had been admitted to hospitals in the Eastern Command with malaria; many more were not, owing to the shortage of beds.30 One of the reasons for the Arakan debacle had been the epidemic scale in which malaria had struck troops of the Eastern Army command. The Infantry Committee observed that malaria accounted for 90 per cent of the casualties in the Arakan campaign.31 What's more, troops had lost confidence in the utility of preventive measures against mal aria and were refusing to co-operate with malaria control efforts. The army began a major drive to educate the troops - using lectures, pamphlets and circulars — about the nature of the problem and methods of controlling it. Notwithstanding these efforts, it was realized that the confidence of troops in anti-malaria meas ures could only be restored by securing a substantial drop in malaria rates.32

The Indian Medical Service (IMS), a hybrid civil-military entity, had a considerable track record in malaria research. It was an officer of the IMS, Ronald Ross, who had first demonstrated that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes.33 During the Second World War, however, the IMS was in grave crisis. The requirement of catering to public health as well as the military had stretched the service to breaking point. As a senior Indian doctor colourfully put it in late 1943, the IMS had 'produced twins, both males — lusty rascals — vigorously kicking... One of them is destined to wear the Sam Browne and the other the Hippocratic Toga. But they must part company immediately and begin to lead independent lives straightaway.'34 

The somnolent Malaria Institute of India was revivified in 1942, when the Rockefeller Foundation offered to donate the equipment of its malaria research unit in Coonoor. The offer was at once generous and timely. The institute accepted it with alacrity and embarked on a renewed programme of malaria research. The director of the institute, Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Covell, was appointed consultant malariologist to GHQ India. Covell travelled extensively across India, inspecting units and formations. He also travelled to Australia, New Guinea and the United States to understand their methods and medicines for combating malaria.35

In the summer of 1943, Covell outlined a series of preventive meas- ures to be adopted by units and soldiers. First, and most important, was the selection of sites for deploying troops. 'In a malarious coun try', he wrote, 'no site should be selected within half a mile of local habitations, unless it is the only one available.' Second, adult mosqui toes had to be killed by spraying pyrethrum insecticide. Third, personal protection measures such as the use of mosquito nets at night, full-sleeved shirts at dawn and dusk, and anti-mosquito cream — a non-greasy version was made available — had to be regu larly enforced. Fourth, small doses of mepacrine should be taken as a prophylactic drug. Covell argued that this would only work if mepacrine was classed not as a medicine but as a ration. Drawing on French and Italian campaigns in Macedonia and Abyssinia, he con cluded that both personal protection and suppressive treatment could only work 'where a very high degree of anti-malarial discipline is maintained. Experience has shown that such discipline cannot be brought to the requisite degree [of] protection unless officers com manding units are made aware that if it breaks down they are likely to be deprived of their commands.'36 As Fourteenth Army Commander, Slim took this advice seriously. 

Good doctors are no use without good discipline. More than half the battle against disease is fought, not by the doctors, but by regimental officers. It is they who see that the daily dose of mepacrine is taken, that shorts are never worn, that shirts are put on and sleeves turned down before sunset. 

Slim began organizing surprise checks of whole units, every man being examined. 'If the overall result was less than 95 per cent positive I sacked the commanding officer. I only had to sack three; by then the rest had got my meaning.'37 Special anti-malaria units were created to carry out other activities such as spraying and installation of drain ages. In 1944, pyrethrum insecticide was supplanted by DDT. The Malaria Institute had first received DDT towards the end of 1943. To be used against mosquitoes, DDT had to be turned into a solution in kerosene or xylene-triton. Both these solvents were hard to come by in India and expensive as well. Several experiments were conducted to find a cheap alternative. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research suggested turpentine; GHQ India could only spare toluene. Eventually, they settled on a medium kerosene extract as a solvent. Experiments carried out on the efficacy of DDT underscored its problematic environmental effects: 'amount [of DDT] which did not completely kill the vegetation in the area was found to be insufficient for adequate control of mosquitoes in the area'. When sprayed on water, it 'killed a large number of small fish'. The India Command was undeterred by such considerations, though it did abandon the idea of aerial spraying of DDT within India after a few trials over Delhi.38 

The cumulative effect of these measures was a steady decline in the incidence of malaria among the troops of the Fourteenth Army. Allowing for seasonal variation — mid-November to mid-March was the period when transmission of malaria was always low — the results are striking. From a high point of almost 3,300 men per day in July 1943, the numbers afflicted daily dropped to 1,700 in July 1944 and reached 370 in June 1945. 
Equally important were the organizational innovations that enabled the rapid recovery of those laid low by malaria and other diseases.39 The Infantry Committee had noted that on average the men who had contracted malaria took between three and eight months to return to their units. This deprived battalions of their experienced personnel for unacceptably long periods. In consequence, the committee had recommended the creation of special medical organizations directly behind the front line.40 Slim sanctioned the raising of Malaria Forward Treatment Units (MFTU). These were effectively field hospitals, located a few miles behind the front and capable of treating 600 men at a time. Apart from reducing transit and treatment time, the MFTUs also discouraged men from malin gering in the hope of getting away from their battalions for lengthy periods.41

Another innovation was the establishment of Corps Medical Centres — combined units that pooled all Allied medical resources to enable forward treatment of battle casualties. These centres, usually made up of MFTUs and Casualty Clearing Stations, included mobile surgical units. The latter were made possible by blood transfusion units that had been raised in 1942. At this point, blood transfusion services were scarce in India. Barring Bombay, Madras and Calcutta none of the cities and towns had a blood bank. Over the following year, the army transfusion units were equipped and trained in Cal cutta and Dehra Dun. By December 1943, an elaborate transfusion service organization was operating from the base transfusion unit in Dehra Dun to field ambulances on the Assam and Arakan fronts. Despite the shortage of refrigeration, the Fourteenth Army created small blood banks at various places and prepared wet plasma. Blood donation propaganda also proceeded apace: civilian donors were awarded a badge of white metal with a bronze star of India.42 The availability of such facilities near the front lines not only helped reduce the casualty turnaround times, but also bolstered the morale of the men. 

13. Martin Booth, Carpet Sahib: A Life of Jim Corbett (London: Constable, 1986), pp. 224-6; Alan Jeffreys, 'The Officer Corps and the Training of the Indian Army', in Kaushik Roy (ed.), The Indian Army in the Two World Wars (Leiden: Brill, 2012), p. 298. 
14. Report of the Infantry Committee, 1-14 June 1943, L/WS/1/1371, A AC. 
15. Military Training Pamphlet No. 9 (India): The Jungle Book (Delhi: General Staff India, 1943). 
16. T. R. Moreman, The Jungle, the Japanese and the British Commonwealth Armies at War 1941-45: Fighting Methods, Doctrine and Training for Jungle Warfare (London: Frank Cass, 2005), pp. 98-102. 
17. B. L. Raina (ed.), Preventive Medicine (Nutrition, Malaria Control and Prevention of Diseases) (Delhi: Combined Inter-Services Histor- ical Section, India & Pakistan, 1961), p. 14. 
18. Ibid., pp. 53-4. 
19. Ibid., p. 55. 
20. Extracts from No. 1 Indian Operational Research Section Report, 12 November 1943, WO 203/269, T NA. 
21. Results of these surveys were published by A. M. Thomson, O. P. Verma and C. K. Dilwali in Indian Journal of Medical Research, vols. 34 (1946) and 35 (1947). 
22. Raina, Preventive Medicine, pp. 20-22. 
23. Report on Nutritional Status of Indian Troops - Fourteenth Army, by Canadian Nutritional Research Team, 31 May 1945, WO 203/269. 
24. A Medical Officer, 'Feeding the Indian Soldier', Journal of the United Services Institution of India, vol. 74, no. 314 (January 1944), pp. 90-92. 25. Raina, Preventive Medicine, pp. 6, 79. 
26. Cf. Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food (London: Allen Lane, 2011). This otherwise excellent book misleadingly claims that a catering corps was created in the Indian army. 
27. Moharir, Army Service Corps, p. 45. 
28. Ibid., pp. 20-49; Raina, Preventive Medicine, pp. 61-3, 92-6, 139-41. 
29. William Slim, Defeat into Victory (Dehra Dun: Natraj Publishers, 2014; first published 1956), p. 178. 
30. Mark Harrison, Medicine & Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 194-5. 
31. Report of the Infantry Committee, 1-14 June 1943, L/WS/1/1371, AAC. 
32. Raina, Preventive Medicine p. 278. 
33. David Arnold, Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 
34. Note on Indian Medical Service by Lieutenant Colonel G. B. S. Chawla, Part II, Group XXII, Part II, Cariappa Papers, NAI. 35. Raina, Preventive Medicine, pp. 362-3. 
36. G. Covell, 'Malaria and War', Journal of the United Services Institution of India, vol. 73, no. 312 (July 1943), pp. 303-6. 
37. Slim, Defeat into Victory, p. 180. 
38. Raina, Preventive Medicine, pp. 369-70. Harrison, Medicine & Victory, p. 186. 
39. Report of the Infantry Committee, 1-14 June 1943, L/WS/1/1371, A AC. 
40. Harrison, Medicine & Victory, p. 197. 
41. B. L. Raina (ed.), Medicine, Surgery and Pathology (Delhi: Combined 
42. Inter-Services Historical Section, India & Pakistan, 1955), pp. 621-51. These discussions are available in L/WS/1/1576, AAC.


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