How much did India influence World War II?

Age of world wars

Sönke Neitzel

Sönke Neitzel is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He studied history, journalism and political science in Mainz, where he received his doctorate in 1994 and qualified as a professor in 1998. He then taught at the Universities of Mainz, Karlsruhe, Bern and Saarbrücken before being appointed to the Chair of Modern History at the University of Glasgow in 2011. He has been teaching and researching at the LSE since September 2012.
He became known to a wider audience through his book "Abgehört. German Generals in British Captivity, 1942-1945", which was published in 2005.
His main research interests are military history and the history of international relations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Contact: [email protected]

In the First World War, 36 nations fight against each other, the battlefields are mostly in Europe. In the Second World War, the Pacific region was the second main theater of war alongside Europe. 63 nations are involved in it.

Those killed in the fighting are first buried near the battlefields (vlo clockwise P): graves of German soldiers near Salla in Finland in 1941, Allied soldiers in Norway in 1940, American soldiers in Kiribati, Central Pacific in 1944 and Japanese soldiers in Okinawa, Japan in 1945 . (& copy Popperfoto / Fox Photos / Peter Stackpole / Time & Life Pictures / JR Eyerman / Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images)

Everywhere you come across traces of the world wars, no matter where you go. There were battlefields in Svalbard as well as in Namibia and Hawaii, in Alaska or in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. And not only the fighting on land has left visible traces to this day. More than 20,000 ships were sunk in the two wars, thousands of them are now visited by divers from all over the world: from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the Chilean Juan Fernández Islands, from the Irish west coast to Egypt and the Maldives to the coast of Australia. The graves of those who died in the fighting or later in captivity are scattered around the globe. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge alone maintains cemeteries in 64 countries. The mountain tour in the Alps, the diving trip to the Philippines, the language holiday in Malta, the safari in Tanzania, the cultural trip to China - hundreds of thousands of tourists come across the traces of the world wars on their trips every year. Almost everywhere people's lives have been shaped by these wars. And not only in Europe, but practically everywhere on the globe, whether in Greenland, the tropics of Africa or the island world of the South Pacific.

Dimensions of the First World War

As early as 1914, contemporaries were well aware that they were witnessing a struggle of a new dimension. As early as September 1914, the philosopher Ernst Haeckel said that this European conflict would become the "First World War in the true sense of the word", and the Africa researcher Hermann Frobenius published a little booklet called "The First World War" in 1914 experienced several editions. However, the term did not catch on initially. Rather, they spoke of the "World War" or the "Great War". It was the British officer and journalist Charles à Court Repington who made the term "First World War" popular with his bestseller published in 1920. In Great Britain and France, "The Great War" or "La Grande Guerre" is still the more common name to this day. Contemporaries only realized late that the hostilities in Asia in 1937 and in Europe in 1939 marked the beginning of a second world war. In 1939 the book by the British politician and writer Alfred Duff Cooper "The Second World War" was published, but it found few imitators. It was only after 1945 that this name caught on in this country.

Of course, one can ask the provocative question whether these terms have been chosen correctly at all. Was the war between 1914 and 1918 actually the "First World War"? The Seven Years War (1756-1763) finally raged not only in Europe, but also in Canada, India and the Philippines. And during the 23 years of the war between 1792 and 1815 the fighting not only took place near Austerlitz, Leipzig and Moscow, but also in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Cape Town and Mauritius. In this respect, the expansion of the First World War was nothing new at first glance.

Participation of non-European powers

And yet this war was no longer just a struggle between Europeans. Non-European powers played a crucial role. The new great power Japan took part in the war early on in order to further expand its own position of power in East Asia. In support of the allied British, Tokyo sent warships into the Mediterranean. The role of the United States was even more important. Their influence on the course of the First World War cannot be overestimated. Finally, the American entry into the war on April 6, 1917 finally decided the fight in favor of the Entente (war coalition of France, Russia, Great Britain and others) (see also Map V).
But the British Dominions also played a new role. Although they were not formally allowed to conduct their own foreign policy, they developed more and more into independent actors. South Africa in particular rose to become a formidable imperial power. German South West Africa, today's Namibia, was quickly conquered by South African troops in 1915 and occupied until 1990. However, this did not satisfy the will to expand. In the long term, the government in Pretoria wanted to create a "Greater South Africa" ​​that would extend to the equator. But this failed because of the resistance of German troops in German East Africa. The fighting raged here for four years, which soon turned into a bush and guerrilla war, which claimed huge casualties, especially among the indigenous population. It is estimated that up to 750,000 people died in German East Africa from famine, epidemics and disease.

Networked world - networked war

In 1914 the world was more connected than ever before. From Southampton, New York could be reached by ship in just five days. There was a regular bi-weekly line service to Melbourne, the crossing took 45 days. The volume of world trade had increased by a factor of 25 between 1800 and 1913. The connected world was now also waging a connected war. This enabled troops to be moved quickly from one end of the world to the other. The British war economy was able to rely on the resources of the world market, importing saltpeter from Chile, beef from Australia and machine parts from the USA.

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Africa's "contribution" to World War II

France had already raised around 100,000 soldiers in the colonies in 1939, most of them in Africa, and 340,000 men were ready in North Africa in 1943 for the Allied advance into Italy. The losses among the recruits from the colonies were high: 29.6 percent of the Madagascans who were deployed fell and 38 percent of the so-called tirailleurs sénégalais.

Great Britain brought almost 200,000 men into the army in East and Central Africa, recruited 65,000 in the Gold Coast for the battlefields in Europe and Southeast Asia and, like France, demanded contributions to the war chest. B. raised over £ 360,000 for the British War Fund (out of a few million £ that Britain's African "subjects" paid into the war chest); in addition there were war bonds, for which Great Britain owed its African colonies more than £ 200 million after the end of the war. Also in the French territories was collected: French West Africa (AOF) about 1.5 billion francs contributed to the costs of the war.

Africans contributed to a war that was not theirs. In the Belgian Congo, the male population in rural areas had to do 60 days of forced labor per year; The tin mining in Nigeria flourished as well as the sisal production in Tanganyika, mainly due to the forced labor. [...]
The raw materials from Africa were of decisive importance for the Allies: During the war years, the continent supplied 50 percent of the gold, 19 percent of the manganese ores, 39 percent for chromium, 24 percent for vanadium and about 17 percent of the copper, plus almost 90 percent of the processed Cobalts, all uranium production and 98 percent of world production of industrial diamonds.

The production of the copper mines in Katanga rose from 122,000 tonnes (t) (1939) to 165,000 t (1944). Ghana's manganese production doubled during the war years, and Nigeria produced 41 percent more tin. South Africa earned the most money from gold, became the third largest supplier of platinum and secured a dominant position in the trade in diamonds, which at the time came mainly from the Belgian Congo.

While South Africa and the British colonies primarily supplied their raw materials to Great Britain, the Belgian Congo became an important economic partner for the USA. Agriculture and industrial production were also involved in the war economy. The production of cotton, peanuts and palm oil increased significantly with the beginning of the war. Great Britain guaranteed European growers and farmers high prices for their products, paid in advance and paid even if the purchased products had to be burned or dumped into the sea due to a lack of transport and storage facilities - as happened with bananas or cocoa.

The Kenya Farmers Association became the state marketing organization for corn; In this function she determined the purchase prices and also granted loans. While white farmers were paid above the market price for their products, local farmers received significantly less - in 1943, African cotton producers in Uganda were paid only 28 percent of the export price.
In many colonies that could no longer be supplied by Europe and other overseas suppliers, a production of substitute goods arose; the higher costs of the products (such as soap and other everyday items) had to be borne not least by the African consumers. With a few exceptions, this industrialization did not withstand the opening of the market after 1945. [...]

Walter Schicho, History of Africa, Konrad Theiss Verlag Stuttgart 2010, page 102 f.



Mass propaganda

The First World War was not just a battle of factories, it was also a war of words. The emergence of the mass press, the global cable network, and political liberalization with the abolition of prior state censorship created a real world public for the first time at the end of the 19th century. In the war of words and images, the British in particular were far more successful than the Germans. By controlling the submarine cables, they had a global monopoly on news and were able to influence public opinion overseas, especially in the USA, in a favorable manner. The "German barbarians and Huns" quickly became a memorable enemy in San Francisco, Santiago de Chile and Sydney, which German propaganda could not counter.

International mass armies

During the First World War, real mass armies from overseas fought on the European battlefields for the first time. Two million Americans, 620,000 Canadians, 331,000 Australians, 100,000 New Zealanders and 32,000 South Africans fought against the Germans in Europe. An even stronger symbol that the New World was now also fighting in the Old was the use of non-white soldiers. The French deployed 485,000 soldiers from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, West Africa, Madagascar and Indochina, while the British deployed 160,000 mostly Indian soldiers.

The deployment of these troops caused quite a stir in Germany. Defamed as "cannibals" and "savages", they were accused of fighting particularly cruelly. Many thousands were captured by German troops, with remarkable consequences. The first mosque in Germany was built south of Berlin for Muslim prisoners in 1915, and Berlin ethnologists took the opportunity to conduct extensive ethnographic research. Even today there is a bizarre sound and language collection in the archive of the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Of the two million US soldiers deployed in France since 1917, there were about 400,000 African-Americans, of whom only a few tens of thousands fought on the front lines, while the others were assigned to support services. The Australian and New Zealand contingent also included a few thousand Aborigines and Maori, whose experiences we know little about. The British deployed black Africans in labor battalions, where they had to toil behind the front under inhumane conditions.

Germany only used African soldiers in the colonies themselves. A transfer to Europe had to fail for logistical reasons and was never considered before the war due to racist reservations. Hardly a dozen of the so-called Askaris (Swahili for "soldier", term for African soldiers and policemen in European colonial troops) lived in Germany after the war, where they usually had negative experiences. After the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany still paid the once promised pension to a few hundred former Askaris - until the last black African soldiers of the German Reich died in the late 1990s.

The large number of new cultural contacts during the First World War had hardly changed the racist attitudes of whites, although it had clearly promoted the desire for independence in the colonies - above all among the Arabs and Indians. Despite individual uprisings that were brutally suppressed by the British and French, the Europeans were initially able to retain control of their colonial empires after 1918.
36 states officially took part in the First World War. Due to the extensive European colonial empires and the at least economic participation of the neutrals, hardly a corner of the earth remained untouched. The battlefields were mostly in Europe and the Middle East. Nevertheless, the conflict rightly bears its name. It was the war of a globalized world.