18th February, 1946 Revolt

A Red Lettered Day In Indian History

Writers often use the phrase, “Red Lettered Day” to mark an important day. One such red lettered day in Indian history is, 18th February, 1946.

While a lot has been written about the various heroes of India’s Freedom Struggle, this final trigger of 18th February, 1946, is lesser known among people.

On this day in 1946, the Navy, Army, Airforce and the Police, whose rank and file comprised Indians, revolted simultaneously. This revolt was like the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the British Rule.

The united revolt against British

Royal Indian Navy Riots

In the course of events starting with 18th February, 1946, the naval officers of Indian origin in the Royal Indian Navy, captured the naval ships, lowered the British Union Jack flag and hoisted the then Indian flag as a form of revolt against the British.

It was started off by the Indians in the Royal Indian Navy stationed at HMIS Talwar in Bombay, a Communication Station. It therefore spread soon, like wildfire, to other Naval bases and ships in India.

Royal Indian Navy’s Revolt, 18th February, 1946

Through wireless network, they contacted all the naval vessels from Karachi in the west, to Chittagong in the east and informed everybody of this deed. Immediately, close to 72 war ships, manned by loyal Indians in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) trained their guns back towards the port, as a sign of readiness to attack the British.

The revolt spread like wild fire across the country, with those in the Navy, positioned onshore, starting to march against the British on the streets.

Indian Navy march against the British

Indian Air Force Strikes

Seeing the Navy revolting in Bombay, the airmen in the Royal Indian AirForce too went on a sympathetic strike. They had gained courage by the token strikes offered earlier in January by the British and American airmen spread world over, seeking demobilization and return to home base after the war.

The British administrators, who were considering air attacks on the striking Royal Indian Navy, therefore could not command the Royal Indian Air Force to get into action. They had to resort to taking the help of the Royal AirForce instead.

Royal Indian Air Force

The airmen at all airbases in India such as Bombay, Kanpur, Allahabad, Jodhpur, Vishakapatnam, Delhi. It culminated with the strike by airmen at Kohat which was the only Air Force station in India manned by the RIAF.

Indian Army Rebels

The alarmed British officers had brought in the Indian based Mahratta Light Infantry (MLI) to fire upon the Navy. Reluctant to open fire on the rebelling Indian brethren, the army fired shots but at the ground in front of the rebelling Navy men.

When the British found Indian soldiers reluctant and lenient in dealing with the rioting Navy, they had to bring in British troops to fire on the striking Navy men.

Finally with the help of the British troops, the Royal AirForce and Royal Navy from Sri Lanka and Britain the revolting Navy was intimidated and made to surrender on 23rd February, 1946.

But this firing incident was a shot in the arm for the soldiers of the Indian Army whose tolerance had already been stretched beyond limits.

Indian Army disobeyed the British

The command to open fire on their own brethren who were only making demands similar to theirs, at a time when INA prisoners, who had fought gallantly for Indian freedom, were being tried, was the tipping point for this mammoth.

The rebellion within the Indian Army came from the Indian Signal Corps at Jabalpur. Starting on 27th February, 1946 it gained momentum and seriousness, lasting until 3rd March, 1946.

Though it was contained by the British with the help of senior Indian political leaders and did not extend beyond Jabalpur, this one incident in the Indian Army was enough to shake the British confidence and might.

More than the Navy and the AirForce, the British relied heavily on the Indian Army for external as well as internal control. The confidence of the British in being able to control and hold India, took a serious hit with the strike by the Indian Army at Jabalpur.

Indian Police Refuses

When the Navy in Bombay had started to strike, the British officers had called for the support of the police. But the local police too, like the Royal Indian AirForce had joined hands with the rebelling Navy and could not be counted upon.

The Indian police constabulary also had refused to swing into action.

Jitters down British spine

There was a total breakdown of the defense service and the constabulary against the British Rule of India.

This sent jitters down the spine of the British administrators.

For the first time, the 200 year hold that the British had on India was being crushed. For, there was no way the British could quell the rising citizens of India, who were now backed by the Navy, Army, Airforce and the Police – all the armed forces.

Statue in Colaba, Mumbai in honour of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Mutiny

British offer Independence

Clement Attlee, Prime Minister of England in 1946

Within the next fortnight, on 15th March, 1946, Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of England, announced in the house of Lords, the British Parliament, London, that they were sending a mission to India, the Cabinet Mission of 1946, under the leadership of Lord Pethick Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, to discuss transfer of power to India.

The Mighty British Blink

This immediate announcement saved the day for the British in India. In this standoff between the officers in service and the Police constabulary on one side and the British government on the other, it was the mighty British who were compelled to blink first.

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