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The 'Indian take' of Operation Crusaders
India, as a colony of the British, fought several battles, quite bravely in the Second World War. However, the history of Indian contribution remains neglected and forgotten in the official records. Here's the account of Indian soldiers fighting off the German soldiers in their African colonies.
Destroying German tanks during WWII; Image source: Wikipedia

Happened on 24th November 1941

Let's take a look at the history of colonization to understand fully the causes that led to World War. After the Napoleonic wars, the industrial revolution in Europe was in full bloom. It was, without doubt, one of the most astonishing phenomena that have taken place in world history. Now, these spreading industries were looking for raw materials for their factories.

The British were looking for ways to capture areas in Germany controlled African regions to have better control over the red sea and a more direct route to India. There was this particular colony of Germany in East Africa that the British desperately needed as it provided a naval base and could cut off the British line of communications from Cape to Cairo. With this in mind, the British set out to war.

It was the Indian troops who fought in this war. They were underequipped, not well trained and lacked proper supervision which is why they suffered heavily. With the passage of time, they became better and better. However, it seems the German forces were still underestimating the Indian troops which is why they weren't prepared for what happened next.

Italy and Germany were defending the part of Egypt and Libya. The number of troops was in favour of Italy however, General Wavell, leading the British army attacked an invasion on Libya despite the unfavourable odds with 2 divisions of whom the 4th Indian division was extremely deadly. The Italians were pushed back to the north of Africa known as the battle of Sidi Barani.

Following the victories, comes Operation Crusader which began on 18th November 1941, the western Desert campaign during World War II. The British Eight army consisted of Indian soldiers to defeat the Italian german force at the Egyptian–Libyan frontier

The Eighth Army launched a surprise attack on 18th November. The Indian forces attacks led them to a loss of 530 tanks. By 23rd November, the African Brigade was completely destroyed and Rommel the commander of the German-Italian forces ordered the 'dash the wire' on 24th November.

Claude Auchinleck, the British Army commander was on the verge of defeat with the bold counterattack put forth by Rommel. Rommel's innovative use of 88mm anti-aircraft guns fired a hole in the defence of the Indian army. Rommel became unstoppable taking over Tobruk and Gazala. The British had to withdraw.

The Generals didn't have a high opinion of Indian troops, however, all that was going to change. The 8th Army of the Indian troops held their ground against the Germans on the Mareth line in the mountains. It turns out Indian troops expertise in mountain warfare was unrivalled. The 4th Division came as back up which went through the mountains surprising the opponents.

The battle continued till December when Rommel was faced with a shortage in supply and had no choice but to shorten his lines of communication. Driven to the endpoint he had to withdraw the Axis forces to the Gazala position and then finally to El Agheila.

The Indian forces gained their victory because of good fighting spirit, determination and sound judgement which remains unwritten in the official records. They led the famous battle of Kilimanjaro Hill and the surrender of German Forces in Portuguese East Africa. However, their history isn't present in any official records all that is present is memories. The original official records remain with the British which were never extracted.
Astha Kumari Author
Currently a resident of neverland who is confused most of the time. Prefers to paint places that I am too lazy to visit and only bursts my bubble to yoke together my love for words and aesthetics.

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