Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Report of the Netaji Inquiry Committee (1956)

Chapter III: Death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

"Thus, Netaji was carried along with other injured persons to Nanmon Military Hospital, Taihoku. This was a small hospital, and had four general wards with accomodation for 80 patients, and 15 more in the infectious ward. As a precaution against air raids, the main Hospital and its several branches were removed to outer areas. The Nanmon Branch was the only one left in Taihoku city, where patients received first-aid treatment before being sent to other hospitals. The Medical Officer in charge of this branch was Captain T. Yoshimi who had graduated in 1938 and was commissioned in 1940. There was another doctor, Dr. Tsuruta, who had qualified only in 1944. There was also a third doctor. The other staff consisted of half a dozen Japanese and Formosan nurses and 30 medical orderlies. The Committee examined both Dr. Yoshimi and Dr. Tsuruta. None of the Japanese nurses could be traced. A Formosan nurse, Tsan Pi Sha, who had made an important statement before an Indian Journalist Mr. Harin Shah of Indian Free Press Journal, in 1946, could not be examined as the Committee did not find it possible to visit Formosa. At 2 P.M. on the 18th August 1945, Dr. Yoshimi received a telephone message from the Taihoku Aerodrome to be ready to receive a number of persons injured in an air accident. Sometime later, a dozen injured persons including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose were admitted into the hospital. There is some discrepancy between the witnesses, as to who travelled in which vehicles, and who arrived first. But these are minor points and may be overlooked. When Netaji was taken to the hospital, most of the witnesses have said that he was without any clothes on him, but there are others who say that he came partly covered. A Military Officer identified the big-built foreigner as the Indian leader Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. His Adjutant, Col. Habibur Rehman, was also admitted at the same time.

2. When he was brought in, Netaji's condition was the most serious, but such, was his magnanimity that he told the doctors to attend to the others first, and to him last. In view, however, of his condition, the doctors attended to him first. Eye-witnesses, both medical and non-medical, have said that Netaji was burnt all over, and his skin had taken oh a dark colour, but none of them mentioned any cut injury. Col. Habibur Rehman has said that Netaji had a cut on his head 4 inches long which was bleeding. This is a discrepancy.

Netaji was examined by Dr. Yoshimi who says, "I found that he was severely burnt all over his body, and all of it had taken on a greyish colour like ash. Even his heart had burns. His face was swollen. In my opinion, his burns were of the severest type, i.e., of the third degree. There was no injury on his body from which blood came out. His eyes were also swollen. He could see, but had difficulty in opening them. He was in his senses when he was brought in. He was in high fever; his temperature was 39° centigrade. His pulse rate was 120 per minute. The condition of his heart was also weak." Dr. Yoshimi has stated that after examination of Netaji, his impression was that his condition was so serious that he was not likely to survive till the next morning. He says that Netaji's burns were caused by splashing of petrol. After examining Netaji and treating him, Dr. Yoshimi examined and treated the other injured persons. Netaji was not the only person who received severe burns. W/O Ayoagi, the Co-pilot, suffered similar burns over his shoulders. His forearms were also burnt and the legs below his knees were also burnt. All these were caused by splashing of petrol. Major Kono had third degree burns on his hands. Col. Sakai had burns on his hands. Only Lt. Col. Nonogaki did not have any burn or injury. Dr. Yoshimi has stated that Col. Habibur Rehman had burns on one side of his face and on his opposite hand. He also had a cut on his right temple.

3. Dr. Yoshimi has given details of the treatment given to Netaji. Initially Netaji's burns were dressed by Dr. Tsuruta who applied a white ointment and bandaged him all over. Dr. Yoshimi gave for his heart, one after the other, four injections of Vita-camphor and two injections of Digitamine. He also gave him three intravenous injections of Ringer-solution, 500 c.c. each. The treatment was given initially in the dressing room, and then Netaji was removed to the attached ward No. 2 where further treatment was carried on. Different witnesses have given different versions of the room in which the initial treatment was given. Dr. Yoshimi has given a sketch plan of the Hospital showing the ward where Netaji lay. There is some discrepancy between the witnesses as to who were in the same ward with Netaji. According to the two doctors, only Netaji and Col. Habibur Rehman were there. Col. Rehman says that a third person, probably a pilot, was also there. Sketch plans of the Hospital and Netaji's ward were also submitted by Dr. Tsuruta and Col. Habibur Rehman. Major Takahashi and Major Kono have said that Netaji was in a separate room, while Lt. Col. Nonogaki has stated that all the injured persons including Netaji were taken to one room, while he himself was in another room. The Interpreter, J. Nakamura, has stated that in addition to Netaji and Col. Habibur Rehman, there were three other Japanese officers in the same ward. After the lapse of years, it would perhaps be unwise to lay too much stress on such minor discrepancies, made by persons, many of whom were themselves seriously injured. It would be more reasonable to accept the statement of the two doctors that only Netaji and Col. Rehman were kept in one room. Dr. Yoshimi has stated that in the case of severe burns of third degree, the blood gets thicker, and there is high pressure on the heart. In order to relieve this pressure, blood is usually let out and new blood given in its place. Approximately 200 c.c. of Netaji's blood was let out and a blood transfusion to the extent of 400 c.c. was given to him. Dr. Yoshimi has said that this blood was obtained from a Japanese soldier in the Nanmon Military Hospital and was given between 4 and 5 P.M. that day. There is a little difference here between this and the evidence of Mr. Harin Shah, an Indian journalist, who had the chance to enquire into this matter locally, in Formosa, in 1946. According to Mr. Shah, the blood was donated by a Japanese medical student. A more serious discrepancy is in the statement of Dr. Tsuruta, who attended on Netaji, that no blood transfusion was given. Col. Rehman who was also in the same ward room could not remember if any blood transfusion was given to Netaji. There is no way of reconciling these different statements and they must remain as they are. Then Sulfonamide injection was also given to Netaji to prevent infection. Netaji's initial reaction to this treatment was favourable. Col. Habibur Rehman's injuries were also treated with ointment and disinfectant and bandaged. Thereafter, Dr. Yoshimi left, to attend the Japanese injured officers, with instructions to Dr. Tsuruta to look after Netaji and give him Vita-camphor injection at 30 minutes' interval. Except the point regarding blood transfusion, Dr. Tsuruta's evidence corroborates that of Dr. Yoshimi's. As stated previously, none of the nurses could be examined. One Kazo Mitsui, a medical orderly, at that time at the Nanmon Military Hospital, came on his own, and gave evidence and said that he had helped the doctor attending on Netaji by bringing medicines, etc.

4. Netaji was conscious at the beginning, and occasionally asked for water, a little of which was given each time. An interpreter was called in, so that Netaji could speak to the Japanese personnel if he so desired. In addition to the doctors, some nurses were also attending on Netaji. According to Col. Habibur Rehman, Netaji was taken to the "operation theatre", and given a white transfusion which he thought was camphor. The Japanese doctors did not refer to the operation theatre. In any case, since there was no surgical operation, it was not necessary to take him there. Perhaps, Col. Habibur Rehman was thinking of the dressing room attached to the ward. According to Col. Habibur Rehman, Netaji asked for water once or twice, and asked once whether Hasan was there. According to the Interpreter, Nakamura, Netaji spoke three times. The first time he said that some of his men were following him, and they should be taken care of, when they came to Formosa. The second time he said that he felt that blood was rushing to his head. This was partly corroborated by Lt. Col. Nonogaki who claims to have stood by Netaji's bed and talked to him. During all this time, Netaji must have been in very great pain, but not a word of complaint or groan escaped his lips. His stoic calm impressed the Japanese witnesses greatly. J. Nakamura says, "During all this time, not a word of complaint, either of pain or suffering, came from his lips. The Japanese officers at the other end of the room were groaning with pain, and crying out that they may be killed rather than continue to endure their suffering. This composure of Netaji surprised all of us."

5. Dr. Yoshimi has stated that about 7 or 7-30 P.M. he was informed by Dr. Tsuruta that Netaji's condition had deteriorated and his pulse was very weak. He hurried and gave Netaji injections of Vita-camphor and Digitamine. In spite of administering stimulants, his heart and pulse beat did not improve. Slowly his life ebbed away. Shortly after 8 P.M. he breathed his last. He made out a medical certificate of death in respect of the deceased, writing his name in Japanese (Kata Kana) as "Chandra Bose" and giving the cause of death as "burns of third degree". The following persons were present at his bedside at the time of Netaji's death: Dr. Yoshimi, Dr. Tsuruta, two nurses, Col. Habibur. Rehman, Mr. Nakamura (Interpreter), and one Military Policeman. According to Kazo Mitsui, a medical orderly, he was also present. According to Dr. Tsuruta, the time was about 7 or 8 P.M. Col. Habibur Rehman gave the time as 9 P.M. - six hours after the crash. It may be stated here that in a brief statement made by Dr. Yoshimi in 1946, when he was in Stanley Jail in Hong Kong, he gave the time as 11 P.M., and according to the telegram sent by the Chief of Staff, Southern Army, to O.C., Hikari Kikan, on the 20th August 1945, which was recovered by British Military Intelligence, the death took place at midnight. This was repeated in the first publication of the news on the 23rd of August 1945 by the Japanese Domei Agency. The evidence of the fellow injured persons does not help to establish the correct hour. Lt. Col. Nonogaki and Major Kono had stated that they were removed to the second hospital the same night. Major Takahashi could only say that Netaji expired the same night. Only Captain Arai said that he heard from a nurse at about 10 P.M. that Netaji had expired. So, the time of death cannot be established with accuracy; it could be any time between 8 P.M. and midnight on the 18th August 1945.

6. One of the reasons why many people cast doubt on the fact that Netaji was dead, was the manner in which the news was made known. For reasons not very clear, the Japanese authorities maintained a great deal of secrecy about it. Presumably, it was partly due to reasons of security. Even in their official correspondence between one Commander and another, Netaji was referred to by the Japanese as Mr. "T". In the Secret Telegram, dated the 20th August 1945, from the Chief of Southern Army to O.C., Hikari Kikan, it was definitely stated that secrecy is to be maintained. The Interpreter, J. Nakamura, says that the news about Netaji's death was kept a secret and known only to high-ranking Military Officers. General Isayama, Chief of the General Staff, Formosan Army, had tried to justify this hush-hush policy by saying that they did not want to make the news public, that an important person like Netaji, who had taken a prominent part against the British for the liberation of India, was fleeing to Tokyo. General Bhonsle says that the news about Netaji was promptly communicated to him at Bangkok in a series of telegrams. But Sardar Ishar Singh, who was the Adviser to the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and Chairman of the Thai Territorial Committee of the Indian Independence League, says that the news about Netaji's plane crash and death was communicated by Japanese Military authorities three or four days after Netaji had left Bangkok, that is to say, on the 20th or 21st of August 1945. Those of Netaji's party who were left behind at Saigon did not get any news about him during the time they were there, i.e., till the 20th of August, although it was the Headquarters of the Southern Army, and a part of the time General Isoda was there and in possession of the all important information. The news was broken to Mr. S. A. Ayer by Lt. Col. Tada, who was flying with him to Tokyo, on the afternoon of the 20th at Canton. Mr. Debnath Das and others who went on to Hanoi, learnt of the tragedy only from the radio broadcast from Tokyo. It was given out on the 23rd august. Then there was the curious incident narrated by Mr. Debnath Das that a couple of days later, a Japanese Staff Officer came and told him that the plane crash was just a story, and they were not to believe it, but to go on acting according to their plan. Col. Pritam Singh was told of this by Mr. Debnath Das. Next month Mr. Debnath Das went underground. There were some other persons in Bangkok whom Netaji had already instructed, just before he left Bangkok, to go underground and keep touch with him by wireless. Some small arms, ammunition and wireless transmitter were handed over to two men, Mr. A. C. Das and Mr. Sunil Roy. Mr. Das was examined by the Committee at Bangkok. He said that when he heard the news of the crash, he like others did not believe it. But although Mr. Sunil Roy had the wavelength, frequency, call signs, etc., to contact Netaji, he tried in vain to contact him. They gave up the attempt after 10 days, and believed that the plane had indeed crashed with Netaji. Mr. Debnath Das came to the surface in May 1946, in Bangkok, but could give no news about Netaji's continued existence to Mr. A. C. Das. So most of those who originally doubted the story of the plane crash gradually came to believe it.

7. Not only were the Japanese initially secretive, and delayed in publishing the news, but no convincing proof of the death of Netaji was produced before the Indians in South-East Asia. Some pictures were taken two days later after the death, one of which shows Col. Habibur Rehman keeping vigil, and another shows a sheet covering some object. From these photographs (copies in Annexure II) the dead person cannot be identified. Dr. Yoshimi has said that it was against Japanese custom to photograph dead bodies. Col. Habibur Rehman has said that he did not allow Netaji's face to be photographed as it had swollen, and was disfigured. Neither were any of his personal belongings shown as having been recovered at that time. There has been a certain amount of controversy about the watch Col. Habibur Rehman brought with him, which was later handed over by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the late Mr. Sarat Chandra Bose, elder brother of Netaji. It was a rectangular watch. Col. Habibur Rehman has stated that it was handed over to him by Dr. Yoshimi as belonging to Netaji, but Dr. Yoshimi said that he did not remember anything about it. Most of the pictures of Netaji show him wearing a round wrist watch. His personal valet Kundan Singh also confirms that he habitually wore a round wrist watch. On the other hand, it is a fact that Netaji carried in his baggage a number of watches of different kinds, including rectangular ones, which were given to him as gifts on different occasions. Some rectangular watches in a damaged condition are in the collection of articles salvaged from Taihoku Airfield, now lying in the National Museum at Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, which was inspected by the Committee. The point about the watch remains inconclusive. It may be stated here that these salvaged articles were shown to Netaji's valet Kundan Singh, who was with Netaji from his arrival in Singapore till his departure from Bangkok on 17th August 1945. Kundan Singh identified a number of articles as belonging to Netaji, such as a gold cigarette case studded with precious stones presented by Herr Hitler, a cigarette-lighter, a paper-knife used for manicuring, and an oval supari box made of gold. The question of valuables carried by Netaji will be examined later. The point that is being made here is that owing to the secrecy, delay in publishing the news, and not bringing forward proofs of Netaji's death by the Japanese authorities, many people were led honestly to doubt that Netaji had died. It is probable that in normal times such delays and omissions would not have arisen, and that things were out of gear after the Japanese surrender on the 15th of August 1945.

8. Soon after the end of hostilities, the Government of India sent two parties of Intelligence officers (police) headed by Messrs. Finney and Davies to the Far East to enquire about the whereabouts of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and if possible, to arrest him. Two Indian police officers who were in those parties, Mr. H. K. Roy and Mr. K. P. De, appeared before us and gave evidence. Mr. H. K. Roy worked in Mr. Davies' party and proceeded first to Saigon, and then to Taihoku in September 1945. He says that they interviewed the Japanese Military Officer in charge of Saigon Aerodrome, and obtained a list of the passengers of the plane. It was the only plane which left Saigon on the 17th August 1945. The last two names in that list were Chandra Bose and H. Rehman. At Taihoku, they interrogated some officers connected with the aerodrome. They said that the plane has crashed on the 18th August, and caught fire, and as a result, Netaji who had been badly burnt, was taken to the hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries the same night. They added that Col. Habibur Rehman had also received injuries, and that a number of Japanese officers had been killed or injured. Mr. Davies also examined the medical officer in charge of the Hospital, who confirmed the death of Netaji. The conclusion of the police officers was that Netaji had died as a result of air crash, and they reported to the Government of India accordingly. Mr. H. K. Roy who helped Mr. Finney to write the report states that the report was definite that Netaji was dead, and thereafter the Government of India withdrew the warrant of arrest against Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The Bangkok party seized a telegraphic message conveying the information that the plane carrying Netaji had crashed at Taipeh, on the 18th August and that Netaji had expired on the same day. The telegram in question, Signal 66, dated 20th August, from the Chief of Staff, Southern Army, to O.C., Hikari Kikan, is reproduced below:

"To QC KIKAN
From Chief of Staff, Southern Army, Staff II.
Signal 66, 20th August.'
'TOP SECRET' "T", while on his way to the capital, as a result of "an accident to his aircraft at TAIHOKU at 1400 hours on the 18th was seriously injured and died at midnight on the same date. His body has been flown to TOKYO by the Formosan Army."

(Mr.'T" as already stated, was code name for Netaji.) On being questioned, the discrepancy about the body was sought to be clarified by saying that the statement regarding Netaji's death, and not his body, was flown to Tokyo. Col. Tada was specially brought down from Tokyo to Saigon for questioning on this point. A parallel enquiry was conducted about the same time at the instance of the Director of Military Intelligence, India, for Admiral Lord Mountbatten's Headquarters at Kandy, through Col. F. G. Figgess, at that time attached to General MacArthur's Headquarters at Tokyo, about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The enquiry was handled by an American Intelligence Officer working under G.H.Q., SCAP (Supreme Commander, Allied Powers). The conclusion reached from these reports was that Netaji had died of burns at Taipeh as a result of the air crash.

9. In August 1946, i.e., the year after the events, Mr. Harin Shah, an Indian journalist visited Formosa at the invitation of the Chiang Kai-shek Government. There he took up enquiry on his own about Netaji. Mr. Shah came across a number of Formosans who had something to say as to what happened to Netaji at Taihoku. He met some medical students, who had heard that Netaji had been severely injured as a result of the air crash, and that a Japanese medical student donated blood for transfusion. He also examined at length a Formosan nurse, Sister Tsan Pi Sha, who said that she was in attendance on Netaji at the Nanmon Military Hospital. She gave correct descriptions of Netaji and Col. Habibur Rehman. In the end, she said that Netaji had died at the hospital at 11 at night. It has already been stated that the Committee had not been able to visit Formosa, much as they would have liked to, on account of the fact that there was no diplomatic connection between our Government and the authorities in Formosa. Mr. Harin Shah's evidence is, therefore, .all the more valuable, as it was taken on the spot, soon after the time of occurrence. He was satisfied on the strength of his enquiries that Netaji had died at Taihoku as a result of the air accident.

10. It will thus be seen that the evidence given by witnesses before us as to Netaji's death is corroborated by the findings of British and American Intelligence organisations who undertook independent enquiries very soon after the occurrence, and the conclusion of an unofficial enquiry conducted a year later by an Indian journalist. As for the witnesses who have deposed before us, neither from their antecedents, nor from the manner in which they made their statements, has the Committee any reason to disbelieve their stories. These witnesses are of different nationalities. Some were Japanese, Col. Habibur Rehman, an Indian (now a Pakistani), and Col. Figgess, an Englishman. They were unconnected with each other and came from different walks of life. There is absolutely no reason why they should come and depose to something which they know to be untrue. The Japanese witnesses came from all over Japan some of them at much personal loss and inconvenience. For instance, Dr. Yoshimi, who owns a medical clinic at Miyasakiken in Kyushi Island, had to close down his clinic for several days and come to Tokyo, a distance about 1,200 kilometres from his place. The Japanese Foreign Office had themselves conducted an enquiry into the matter sometime ago, and had suggested the names of some witnesses who might give us information. But Japan is not a totalitarian country and the mere fact that some names were suggested by the Japanese Foreign Office need not necessarily mean that they were compelled to tell any particular story. It may be added that the Committee examined a much larger number of witnesses than originally suggested by the Japanese Foreign Office. These witnesses were either called for by the Committee, or they themselves volunteered, in response to a newspaper notice, issued by the Committee. Most of the Japanese witnesses are not now connected with the Government of Japan, and are in no way obliged to give evidence according to any particular brief. In fact, as will be seen, different witnesses have given different stories, which would disprove any suggestion of "promoting". So, notwithstanding discrepancies and variations, which are only too likely after the lapse of so many years, the statements of witnesses must be taken as worthy of credit. These statements are corroborated by enquiries through military and non-official channels soon after the events. They all point to the fact that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died at Taihoku Military Hospital on the night of the 18th August 1945. We accept this conclusion. In a way, the sudden and dramatic death fits in with the dynamic character of that national leader and patriot, Subhas Chandra Bose. In General Shidei's service record, the cause of his death is shown as death by war. The same was true of Netaji, only in his case it was a different war, the war for the independence of India. His war was continuing. He was only changing over from one battle-field to another — from South-East Asia to Manchuria.

11. Against this mass of evidence that Netaji had died as a result of the plane crash, there are some who hold that he is alive. Those who believe this are again divided into two schools. The first, mainly consisting of certain members of the Bose family, believe that although Netaji is alive, nobody is in touch with him, and for reasons of his own, he is in hiding, and will reappear in India at a time chosen by him. The best spokesman of this school was Mr. Aurobindo Bose. According to him, Netaji was a master planner, and he had planned his last escape so well, that nobody could find his clues. The Japanese Government helped him to escape, and they have, therefore, put out an elaborate deception story which is supported by Japanese witnesses. As for Col. Habibur Rehman, he is bound by an oath of secrecy and his injuries are faked. These are largely presumptions. As has been stated before, there is a great deal of evidence that the plane had crashed and Netaji had died. There is no reason to disbelieve the numerous witnesses belonging to Japanese and other nations. From medical evidence it appears clear that the injuries of Col. Rehman were genuine. If he was under any oath of secrecy, surely the others, particularly the Japanese witnesses, were not. Yet they have corroborated each other. So, the line of reasoning of this school cannot be accepted.