India Business Guide

World War II India Japan Calcutta

World War II India Japan Calcutta

As part of the British Empire during the Second World War, India found itself in the position of a de-facto ally to Britain’s Western allies, including the United Stated of America. In the years 1942-44 during World War II, Japanese fighter planes bombed Calcutta trying to destroy the crucial Howrah Bridge as well as operations at the sea port.

India was a major aerial supply route, for an American military mission that came to be known as ‘flying over the Hump’, a term of reference for flying over the Indian Himalayas. Though extremely dangerous (several U.S. planes had crashed on the mission), it was the only way for the allies to send supplies to China in support of its war against Japan, while avoiding Japanese occupied Burma.

The eastern Indian state of Calcutta (now Kolkata), because of its proximity to China and Burma, was as an important hub in execution of the military operations. In fact, the Red Road in Calcutta had even been used an emergency runway for operation Hump.

However, by May 1942, the Japanese had overrun Burma, having defeated the British and Chinese ground troops, and felt that Calcutta was well within their reach. The city was “blacked out” from sunset to sunrise to make it harder for the bombers to accurately hit their targets. Calcutta boasted of a good air defense system which was respected by the Japanese fighter pilots who raided only at night and ensured they flew high.

On 20 December 1942, bombers of the Japanese Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) bombed the city, damaging its infrastructure. The city was bombed several times over the next few days, the most notably on the night of 24 December.

Initially caught off guard by the skilful nighttime attacks, the British responded swiftly. The British Air Force bomber pilots destroyed many Japanese fighter planes, including the Japanese flying boat base, thereby crippling the Japanese ability to launch long-range aerial attacks.

In 1943, London further strengthened the aerial defense by sending radar guided night fighters to India. These hugely maneuverable fighters were successful in destroying the several Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-21 and Mitsubishi Ki-46, which proved to be a further blow to Japanese aggression in the region. Sporadic aerial attacks by Japan on Calcutta continued until December 1944, a few months before the end of the Second World War.

The ace fighter pilots of the allied forces destroyed numerous Japanese planes and helped to save many of the architectural marvels of Calcutta. The British also deployed their radar-equipped night fighters to score several victories.  The British Air Force started using Spitfires in August 1943. The speed and maneuverability of these fighter planes helped them bring down many Japanese aircraft and turned World War II in the allies’ favor.

In 1943, the Japanese raid on Calcutta’s Kidderpore docks took a heavy toll of property and lives. Hundreds of people were killed and many ships and warehouses were destroyed in this attack.  Japanese bombing of Calcutta continued sporadically until 1944 when Japan deployed its fighter planes elsewhere. World War II ended the next year.


History notwithstanding, in 2013 the Japanese chief of army staff General Eiji Kimizuka and his wife Junko Kimizuka visited Kolkata, travelling down the same Red Road on their way to visit the Victoria Memorial, a landmark structure in the city built at the peak of the British Empire in India.





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