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The work of Force 136 in Burma was not all about training Karens and Kachins to fight as guerrillas. In an earlier blog post, the story of a Chinese agent called Li Jui was told. Here is the story of an Indian agent known to SOE as Naik Anil Ghosh, but who was also known as A.C. Dey and Sunil Datta Gupta. In some reports, he is simply referred to as ‘SDG’. His code symbol was BBR/105.
SDG was parachuted into Burma on 14 June 1943 near the town of Letpadan. His operation was code-named Mahout, and his mission was to find his way to Rangoon and gain employment in the docks with other Indians. Once employed, SDG was to start his subversive activities, spreading propaganda to cause discontent amongst his fellow workers. After the aircraft dispatched him, nothing was heard of SDG until July 1945 when he reappeared. Force 136 were very keen to find out what he had spent the last two years doing. The following comes from extracts of SDG’s statement, which was supported by a signed witness statement.
Upon landing, SDG buried his equipment and ‘lay in a marsh until the evening of the following day.’ He then started his journey to Rangoon by walking to the nearest railway station. A sentry challenged SDG, and, pointing in the wrong direction, said he had come from Tharawaddy. The sentry, suspicions aroused, took him to an Indian policeman who locked him up. SDG claimed he had a fever, and was looking for an Indian home where he might get help. The police believed him, perhaps because laying up in a marsh for a day had indeed given SDG a fever. Begging for a job, the police released him ‘and S.D.G. was at large again.’
Finding an old Bengali doctor, SDG was given medicine and then, finding out he needed a vaccination certificate to get to Rangoon, he was promptly vaccinated. With the requisite bit of paper, SDG made it to Rangoon by 19 June. By the evening he had found work as a dish washer in an ‘Indian eating-shop’, but in the morning he left to find ‘a better job.’ He did not find a ‘better job’, but did find employment near where he was supposed to rendezvous with his other Mahout agent. In August, having not made a successful rendezvous, SDG went back to Letpadan and dug up his money which he then exchanged into Japanese currency.
Back in Rangoon, SDG found work in the railway yard as a fuel clerk. His job was to ‘receive and deliver wood and to keep accounts.’ During this time, he still had no luck at making a rendezvous with his partner Mahout agent. He also started his sabotage work, setting fire to the wood pile destroying around 15,000 logs. The Japanese blamed the fire on ‘careless smoking by coolies.’ A second fire was put out by guards before doing much damage.
In order to spread dissatisfaction amongst the workers, ‘”If Japs really wanted to free Asiatics”, S.D.G. told the coolies, “Why didn’t they give freedom to the Koreans? Why did they come to China which already had freedom? Japs are finding it very difficult to get into India. That is why their talk of giving freedom to India – in the hope of getting Indian help”.’
Further: ‘”You are working” he would say to them, “on less pay than a coolie outside the railways. You are continually risking your life for this starvation pay”. (Allied bombing was pretty regular) [“]See the leaflets the British are dropping? They say, all Indian coolies must leave the areas of docks and railways and go back to the villages. They are going to bomb heavily.”‘
It was difficult, or impossible even, to prove that SDG’s work was the cause, but apparently coolies ‘were continually leaving work.’
By March 1944, SDG gave up attending the rendezvous and decided to confide in the head clerk at the railway shed. The Head Clerk, described as a ‘Burmese Mohammedan’ told SDG that he alone should make the decision about whether or not to continue with his mission. Until now, apart from the fires and the subversion described above, SDG had only managed to put a few troop trains temporarily out of service by putting sugar in the boiler. He decided he would continue, the Head Clerk apparently ‘approved’, and arranged to send SDG to the central Burmese Railway School so that SDG could learn Japanese. He also helped SDG out with food and money.
At the Railway School, SDG ‘learnt the Japanese language and also about Japanese culture, civilisation, education, economics, politics. The divinity of the emperor was rubbed well in, with slapping, caning and bad food.’ Living amongst other Indian and Burmese students, SDG continued to point out Japanese lies, using the newspapers to expose discrepancies in what they were being told. On 22 September 1944, SDG was arrested.
At interrogation, SDG told the cover story he and the Head Clerk had agreed together. Blindfolded under a rain jacket, SDG was driven to a Japanese officer’s house where he was instructed to write down his life story. On the second day, he was accused of being a British spy who had parachuted into Burma in December 1943, but SDG was able to say that he had worked at the railway yard since August. On the third day, the tactic was to bring Indian National Army (INA) men to question him, asking SDG to join the INA, and asking him if he had come to kill the head of the INA, Subhas Chandra Bose.
On 26 September, an Indian who claimed to have escaped to Burma from India to join the INA began his interrogation, claiming that he recognised SDG from India. In India, the man said that he had trained agents for the British, and that he had seen SDG in 1942. SDG continued to deny all questions, even though at least one of them was true – SDG had been an Anusilan [sic] Party member and had indeed frequented Russa [Russia?] Road. The Anushilan Samiti was a revolutionary socialist party that had its roots in pre-Great War India.
With Indians having failed to break SDG, the Japanese officer now tried using torture. At first he was subjected to ’60 hour stretches of starvation broken by sumptuous feasts. Finally when S.D.G. asked how the torture of an innocent Indian was going to serve the cause of Indian independence the Jap officer changed his tactics. He started straightforward torture.’
SDG endured two days of being hit around the head with bamboo, being hanged from the ceiling by his feet and having his head swung against the wall, and being hit with a belt buckle. Asked to confess, SDG maintained his innocence and was beaten unconscious. Later, possibly the next day, they plied SDG with brandy to get him drunk and continued to ask questions about parachutists, so SDG after a time ‘decided to act as if he were dead drunk.’ According his statement, SDG ‘raved’ about how he hated the British at the top of his voice so convincingly that they put him to bed.
The next day SDG was allowed a bath and told that he was free to to ‘roam about the place at will.’ Suspecting a ruse, SDG stayed in his room, until on 24 October he was taken to the headquarters of the Kempai Tai, the feared Japanese military police. For at least ten days, SDG was subjected to more torture, including electrocution.
‘Getting nothing out of this, they took him to a deep tank full of water. He was tied to a harness, swung on a rope and let down into the water. He was suffocated but they lifted him out to give him a chance to take in one mouthful of air in a gulp and down he went again. He was taken out more dead than alive.’
Christmas 1944 came and went. SDG was living off the scraps of Japanese meals, still subject to beatings and deprived of water. One day, SDG recognised the Japanese officer who had first questioned him in 1943. This officer secured SDG’s release on 3 March 1945.
The kindness of the Head Clerk at the railway yard extended beyond the immediate help he gave to SDG in 1943-44. After SDG had given his statement to Force 136, Maung Ba Shin hand wrote a supporting statement, corroborating SDG’s story. It prompted this:
The document is signed by Lt.Col. Frederick Fleming Wemyss, who had worked in the Political Warfare (PW) section of Force 136. By November 1945, Wemyss was back in his pre-war job of Burma policeman.
Like Li Jui, what happened to SDG – Sunil Datta Gupta – or Anil Ghosh or A.C. Dey after his mission as a secret agent is not known.
Addition: 30 December 2021. SDG was awarded the British Empire Medal. Here’s his recommendation: