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April 14th 1944
Exactly 32 years after the Titanic sank (April 14-15th 1912), the SS Fort Stikine blew up at the Mumbai docks.
The story begins earlier – when SS Fort Stikine steamed out from Birkenhead in Britain on February 24th 1944. With valuable war time material. Gliders for air-force, ammunition, guns, etc. After unloading some cargo at Karachi, it set sail for Mumbai (then Bombay). At Mumbai the ship blew up. An anti-submarine gun, weighing a 30 tons was thrown a clear 500 feet away. It took some 7000 soldiers and fire fighters more than a week to douse that fire.
Why the secrecy
This explosion, now made out to be an accident, was hushed up – and a cloak of secrecy thrown over it. Camera footage from Indian film-makers was seized. Government clamped censorship. The blowing up of the SS Fort Stikine was made out to be a mystery.
What was the British Raj trying to suppress?
Was it incompetence that the British Raj was hiding? After all, the Bombay Docks had seen 60 fires in the 1939-1944 period. Or was it sabotage– Japanese hand suspected.
Gold made the wheel go round
The ship carried a consignment of explosives (1395 tons) – and gold for the Reserve Bank of India. SS Fort Stikine ‘s manifest did not list any gold or explosives – and the nature of the cargo was probably known only to the captain of the ship. The explosion rained gold bars for miles around.
The secret was out.
One thing was clear
This explosion disrupted the British Raj mint in Mumbai (Bombay then). Without gold coins, the British Raj was sunk – and two million Indian soldiers were needed badly in WWII. These soldiers, paid handsomely by the British Raj, with gold extracted from the Indian peasantry, was the spine that held the British Empire upright.
When the SS Fort Stikine blew up in the Mumbai Docks, gold bars rained all over the port. Later when some gold bars were recovered, the British claimed that this was their bullion. The Indian Govt. quietly handed over this gold – recovered by Indian Navy divers after Indian independence.
Heads … you lose … tails, I win
Recently, another small find of some 10-tola bars (125 gm) has been assigned to the SS Stikine cargo. Though other earlier reports mention that the bullion cargo was in the form of mint-sized 25 kg gold bars – and not retail 10-tola bars.
Far way from the Indian coast, off the Irish coast, in cold Atlantic waters, another WWII wreck lay, with a silver cargo, in its hold – at the bottom of the Atlantic. Silver that was being carried from India to Britain.
Britain claimed that this silver was British silver – and has disposed it off in a manner that they deem fit. I have not been able to locate any report if it has consulted the Indian Govt.
In December 1940, a British steamship bound for Liverpool left Calcutta laden with precious cargo, including up to 240 tons of silver worth an estimated $210 million in today’s dollars. Operating for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of War Transport, which requisitioned merchant ships during World War II, SS Gairsoppa joined a military convoy and headed northward into waters swarming with German submarines. On February 14, 1941, dwindling coal reserves and stormy weather forced the lagging vessel to break away from its escorts and make for the port of Galway in western Ireland.
Three days later, a Nazi U-boat commanded by the decorated German captain Ernst Mengersen launched a torpedo that ripped through Gairsoppa’s steel hull, toppling its foremast and destroying its wireless antenna. Unable to send out a distress call, the surviving members of the ship’s 85-strong crew came under machine gun fire as they scrambled onto lifeboats. Their burning craft, built in 1919 and designed for commerce rather than warfare, sank within 20 minutes, disappearing into the frigid depths of the North Atlantic roughly 300 miles west of Ireland. (via Silver-Laden World War II Shipwreck Discovered).
A war of a different kind
During the 1857 War against the colonial rule of Britain in India, unable to gain military advantage, British armed forces started using Indian populations as human shield. For each military success of the Indian armies, the British armies exacted retribution on the local non-combatant populations.
This reign of terror and brutality on home populations disarmed Indian armies and ended the war. A impressive work on this period is by Amaresh Misra – a film critic and journalist, who was moved sufficiently to research for a few years, because, “Since 1957, no Indian has written a comprehensive account of the Revolt. Indian historians have done a limited work”. Another step in this direction is Parag Tope’s forth coming book, Operation Red Lotus, on the life and wars of Tatiya Tope.
And after subduing the Indian population with this brutal campaign, Britain started a more insidious war – a propaganda war. History started getting twisted, perverted, mutilated – and over the next 100 years, Indian and world history was changed beyond recognition.
Let the games begin
After 1857, British racist propaganda and cultural baggage came covertly – to gain better traction at home and in the colonies. For instance, Priya Joshi, a researcher shows that after 1857, book shipments from Britain to India increased by a factor of three.
The death of Semiramis
In this propaganda campaign, the most interesting bit is the cold-blooded murder of the historical Semiramis. Readers will find that Semiramis as an Assyrian Queen till the 1850-60 period Western histories.
The Marchese Tommaso II of Saluzzo commissioned Jacques Iverny in 15th century to paint Semiramis, (alongwith Lampheto, Marpasia, Synoppe, Thamiris, Menalippe, Hippolyta, Orithyia, and Penthesilea) now known as The Nine Worthies. Chaucer’s character, Sowdannesse, is charged of being a ‘Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde’ in his Man of Law’s Tale. Edward Degas and Guercine made Semiramis the subject of their paintings. Calderon used her character in his plays. Mozart died before he could complete his melodrama based on Semiramis. A 16th century painter, Philip Galle used Semiramis and Babylon as the subjects of his paintings.
Mired in legend and prejudice, Semiramis is discredited in modern Western history – especially starting from 1853-1857. Her very existence denied, accused of incest, Semiramis has been tarred and condemned to the rubbish heap of modern history – and the Bible.
Semiramis established an empire that lasted, practically till WW1. Some 300 years, after the reign of Semiramis, the Assyrian Empire passed into Persian hands. From the Persians, into Alexander’s lap.
Suddenly, from 1860 onwards, Western history started treating Semiramis as a wanton, decadent, probably mythical, a perverted sluttish character.
Semiramis biggest defeat was at the hands of Indians. And soon after her defeat, was the defeat of Cyrus the Great, at the hands of Indians again. And before that were the Battles of Meggido and Kadesh, in which Indic armies confronted the Slave Empire of the Egypt. Such an Indian history was very inconvenient for the British Raj.
The Alexander mythos
Alexander’s raid of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, finally turned out to be a overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty, usurpers of the Assyrian Empire. Unable to make headway into India, as the Indian Brahmins had helped and influenced Indian princes to organize and support the Indian war against Alexander. Greek sources cite, after this realization, at ‘The City of Brahmans’, Alexander massacred an estimated 8000-10,000 of these non-combatant Brahmans.
Alexander’s massacres in India, a colonial historian informs us (without naming a source), earned him an “epithet … assigned (to) him by the Brahmins of India, The Mighty Murderer.” This Indian Brahmanic characterization of Alexander, commonly taught to English schoolchildren and present in English college texts, as The Mighty Murderer, curiously disappeared from Western-English texts soon after 1860 – and instead now “a positive rose-tinted aura surrounds Alexander” … !
Since Indian texts were completely silent about the very existence of Alexander, colonial Western historians had a free run. Using hagiographic Greek texts as the base, Alexander became the conqueror of the world.
Max Mueller – Son of Hegel
Behind this propaganda was possibly a man who is much admired (wrongly) in India today – Max Mueller. For instance in Max Muller’s colonial propagandist history, when it comes to Indian triumphs over Semiramis, she becomes half legendary. Yet in another book, the same Semiramis becomes one of ‘the great conquerors of antiquity.’ In a matter of a few pages, he dismisses Indian history completely, in a half-Hegelian manner.
Among Max Mueller’s cohorts, was Karl Marx, who wrote from London, on Friday, June 10, 1853 on India, for the New-York Herald Tribune thus
Hindostan is an Italy of Asiatic dimensions, the Himalayas for the Alps, the Plains of Bengal for the Plains of Lombardy, the Deccan for the Apennines, and the Isle of Ceylon for the Island of Sicily. The same rich variety in the products of the soil, and the same dismemberment in the political configuration. Just as Italy has, from time to time, been compressed by the conqueror’s sword into different national masses, so do we find Hindostan, when not under the pressure of the Mohammedan, or the Mogul, or the Briton, dissolved into as many independent and conflicting States as it numbered towns, or even villages. Yet, in a social point of view, Hindostan is not the Italy, but the Ireland of the East. And this strange combination of Italy and of Ireland, of a world of voluptuousness and of a world of woes, is anticipated in the ancient traditions of the religion of Hindostan. That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and of the juggernaut; the religion of the Monk, and of the Bayadere.
“The East bowed low before the blast
In patient, deep disdain,
She let the legions thunder past,
And plunged in thought again.”
Matthew Arnold’s influence in Indian education can be gauged by the fact that Indian-English language poetry was for long called derisively as “Matthew Arnold in a Saree”. Just before 1857 War, the works of another ‘influential’ poet, John Keats, became popular. In his hubristic haze, Keats wrote how,
The kings of Ind their jewel-sceptres vail,
And from their treasures scatter pearled hail;
Great Brahma from his mystic heaven groans,
And all his priesthood moans,
Before young Bacchus’ eye-wink turning pale.
Much of modern history’s debates and questions were born during this time – verily created to wage a propaganda war against India – and the world. India’s cultural stature in the pantheon of world’s societies was reduced to a minimal role – and the Greek Miracle was born.
In the dying days of the Raj
This propaganda war continued well for another 100 years. In the middle of WW2, Britain pulled out a general from the Italian theatre of war. Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler, the general in question, was sent to India – to head colonial India’s archaeological operations.
One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier-General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia … Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).
Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield? Remember, the deceptive Operation Mincement had just been completed. The Allies for readying their armies for their assault on Hitler in Europe. The outcome of the war was far from certain.
And they put a Brigadier-General into archaeology! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek! Especially, when it was clear, that they would be departing from India – sooner rather than later.
Right choice … right time
Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, in hindsight, from a Western perspective, this was sound decision. There may be the facile answer that the British were, after all ‘searching for history and truth’.
And it led Mortimer Wheeler to remark,
“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”
It is this one incident which possibly contains answers to many unanswered questions like: –
- The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
- The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan
- The many myths in Indian history
- The clues to the partition of India
- The dating problems
Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him onto the job of digging dirt.
Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for its own existence at a higher level!
- Art Review: ‘Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi’ at Asia Society (nytimes.com)
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- BAILOUTS, BRIBES AND INSIDER TRADING: Here’s What The World’s Leading Business Looked Like 300 Years Ago (businessinsider.com)
- Indian Bania On British Raj Economics (quicktake.wordpress.com)
- Indian Independence – Prison Logistics (2ndlook.wordpress.com)
- Indian History – Blind At Birth? (quicktake.wordpress.com)
- Beware the Vengeance of the Afghans (lewrockwell.com)