A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

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A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by mundaire » Tue Sep 10, 2019 11:50 am

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A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj
Amitabha Gupta
September 8th 2019
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On a busy street at Red Cross Place in Kolkata, three canons stand guard outside a doorway. In present times, an iron collapsible gate is all it takes to keep thieves and vagabonds at bay, so why bring out the heavy artillery?


The canons, upturned and ornamental, are clearly markers from another era. Along with a memorial nearby, they are all that remain of the ‘greatest daylight robbery’ that sent shock waves through the British administration in India. It was a heist pulled off by Bengal’s revolutionaries with nothing more than great ingenuity and a bullock cart. Also called the ‘Rodda Arms Heist’, the incident left the British administration flabbergasted and outraged at being outwitted under their very noses!

The Rodda Arms Heist took place in 1914 and refers to the theft of a huge consignment of pistols and cartridges from a Calcutta-based British arms retailer Rodda & Co. The arms and ammunition, stolen by Bengal’s revolutionaries and then distributed among their ranks to be used during the freedom struggle, was described by the British as the “event of the greatest importance in the development of revolutionary crime in Bengal”. The pistols from this stolen cache were used in events such as the famous ‘Kakori Train Conspiracy’ and even by revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad.

What makes the Rodda Arms Heist so fascinating is not only the way it was executed, but the cast of characters involved and the events that it influenced. Here’s a snippet from the era.
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The Mauser C96 pistols stolen in the ‘Rodda Arms Heist’ of 1914|Amitabha Gupta

In the early hours of 21st July 1916, the neighbourhood around Zakaria Street in Calcutta was rudely awakened when the police raided the house of a 22-year-old Marwari businessman. The young man had already been packed off by his family to Mukundgarh village in Shekhawati in Rajasthan. By afternoon, his associates were arrested in connection with a large arms robbery that had taken place two years earlier. But till the end of his life, the young businessman ‘officially’ denied his involvement in this revolutionary activity. The man was none other than India’s future business tycoon and founder of the Birla Group – Ghanshyamdas Birla or G D Birla.

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Ghanshyamdas Birla (1894-1983)|Wiki Commons

This story finds a mention in Akshay Mukul's book Gita Press And The Making of Hindu India (2015) . Interestingly, Mukul in his book confirms that a cache of stolen arms was indeed kept at G D Birla’s house in Kolkata.

To understand just how important the arms heist was, let us proceed to the events of 26th August 1914 in Calcutta.

The Background
In 1914, as the international spotlight was firmly focused on World War I (1914-1918), the freedom struggle in India continued to gain momentum. Bengal had already been in the grip of revolutionary fervour since the region was partitioned in 1905, and was a tinder box at the heart of the freedom movement.

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The revolutionaries who carried out the Rodda Heist|Amitabha Gupta

There had been several high-profile assassinations of British officials carried out by revolutionaries from 1908 to 1912, and even shifting the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 had not diminished their zeal and determination. The situation was ideal for a pan-India revolt; all the revolutionaries needed were arms and ammunition. A daring assassination attempt was made on the Viceroy Lord Hardinge on the streets of Delhi in December 1912, which had him fatally injured. In short, the revolutionaries felt that the situation was ideal for a pan-India revolt with Bengal. All they needed was plenty of arms.

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Rash Behari Bose and Bagha Jatin|Wiki Commons

The man behind the assassination attempt on the Viceroy, was Rash Behari Bose, who had then gone into hiding. Towards the end of 1913, Rash Behari Bose visited Benaras accompanying another equally famous revolutionary Jatindra Nath Mukhopadhyay alias Bagha Jatin outlining the prospects of a pan-Indian revolution with his comrades at Jugantar party. Bagha Jatin ( was in talks with the Germans for three ships full of arms from Germany, which eventually never arrived. Meanwhile, another group of revolutionaries, called “Attomnnati Samiti” under revolutionary Bipin Behari Ganguly, made their own plans to acquire arms in collaboration with “Mukti Sangha” of Dacca and set their eyes on gun retailer Rodda & Co in Calcutta.

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The office of R.B Rodda & Co at 2, Wellesley Place, Calcutta|Amitabha Gupta

R.B Rodda & Company

Originally listed as Brown & Rodda & Co, R B Rodda & Co manufactured guns in Birmingham, England, but was better known as a luxury retailer catering to colonial British and Indian society in the Victorian era, with shops in Birmingham, London, Calcutta and many other Indian cities. The Calcutta office was at 2 Wellesley Place (now Red Cross Place, Kolkata) while its godown was near present-day Standard Assurance building in Dalhousie Square, alias BBD Bagh, in Kolkata.

In June 1914, the British government placed an order of 50 Mauser C96 semi-automatic pistols and 46,000 7.63×25mm Mauser cartridges with Rodda & Co. Mauser C96 was a very popular weapon during the Boer War, World War I, Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil War, Chinese Civil War and, later, even World War II. The store manager handling this important order was F W Prike.

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The Mauser C96 pistols|Amitabha Gupta

Little did Prike know that Rodda & Co’s Jetty Clearing Clerk, a man named Srish Mitra, whose job it was to take delivery of the consignment, was a mole for the Indian revolutionaries and had been planted by Bipin Behari Ganguly.

Mitra informed his colleagues that the arms consignment would be arriving on a ship named <em>Tactician</em>, and was to be unloaded at the dock near the Customs House. The Customs Office was located where the Reserve Bank of India building stands today, about 500 metres from the godown of Rodda & Company.

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The Old Custom House, Calcutta|Amitabha Gupta

Mitra was responsible for clearing the consignment from the Customs House and delivering it to the godown.

There were several meeting planned between the revolutionaries and a plan was made. Several of them thought it was too absurd, and backed out of the heist. A revolutionary named Srish Pal convinced the rest and they decided to go ahead with the plan.

The Heist: D-Day

On 26th August, 1914 Mitra left the Rodda & Company office at 11 am for the Customs House, with the documents and money given to him by the unsuspecting Prike. When Mitra emerged, members of the Attomnnati Samiti stationed on the other side of the street started walking towards Dalhousie Square, to keep watch on Intelligence Bureau agents during the heist.

What is truly fascinating about this operation is its simplicity – it was pulled off without any fancy gadgets; only a bullock cart!

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Entrance of Vansittart Row where Godown of Rodda & Co was located|Amitabha Gupta

After it was cleared at the Customs House, the arms consignment was to be loaded onto six bullock carts and delivered to the Rodda & Company godown. A revolutionary named Anukul Mukherjee had arranged a seventh bullock cart, which was to tag along as if it was a part of the other carts. It was driven by another revolutionary Haridas Datta, who was dressed as a garowan (bullock cart driver), thanks to excellent make-up by a young Marwari, Prabhu Dayal Himmatsingka.

To throw off possible suspicion, Datta deliberately arrived a little late, and Mitra ‘scolded’ him, to make it all seem real. Mitra then loaded the 50 Mauser pistols with shoulder stock and bullets into the seventh bullock cart.

Datta was to guide the bullock cart from the Custom Office to the Malanga lane, from where the arms were to be transferred to a house of another revolutionary at Jelia Para Lane, in a car. The sky was cloudy and through brief showers, Datta drove the bullock cart on the streets of Dalhousie Square. As he pressed ahead, revolutionaries Srish Chandra Pal and Khagen Das emerged from the shadows, armed with loaded guns, and started walking on either side of the cart.

Accompanied by Mitra, the six bullock carts turned into Vansittart Row but the seventh cart driven by Datta kept going straight. The cart wended its way through several lanes and by-lanes till it reached the intersection of Malanga Lane with Nirmal Chandra Street at Wellington Square. Since it was raining now, visibility was low and the road was quite deserted. The wooden boxes were unloaded in front of the Ironyard of one Kanti Mukherjee on Nirmal Chandra Street. A car was supposed to arrive to pick up the consignment.

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Kanti Mukherjee’s Office (Ironyard) where the arms were unloaded&nbsp;|Amitabha Gupta

Meanwhile, Mitra rushed to Malanga Lane from his office, on the pretext of locating the seventh cart. He immediately left for Rangpur on the Darjeeling Mail, departing at 17:06 hours, to go into hiding.

However, the designated car did not arrive on time. As a result, the revolutionaries convinced two hackney carriage (horse-drawn taxis) drivers to deliver the boxes to Jelia Para Lane, where they were to be unloaded at the colleague’s home. From the entrance of Jelia Para Lane, the boxes were then dragged inside the house of a revolutionary named Bhujanga Bhusan Dhur. It was evening now, and at Dhur’s home, the arms were packed into a few steel trunks for distribution. The empty wooden boxes and packaging papers were burnt.

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Bhujanga Bhusan Dhur’s house, where the stolen arms were first hidden and unpacked|Amitabha Gupta

Distributing The Arms
The next morning, the trunks were to be distributed to various revolutionary groups but, before that, they were temporarily stored at some hostels and the godowns of various Marwari businessmen, including G D Birla. The man who helped hide the cache was Hanuman Prasad Poddar, a member of the Marwari Sahayak Samiti and founder of the famous Gita Press. The arms were later distributed to various revolutionary groups including those who had initially doubted the success of the heist.

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Hanuman Prasad Poddar|Amitabha Gupta

Aftermath of Robbery
It was only on 29th August that Prike discovered that Mitra had been absent from work for three days. He sensed something was wrong and it was only after the consignment of guns and bullets were found missing that he linked the two events. The police were immediately summoned and the heist made headlines all across India. The Statesman newspaper called the heist ‘The Greatest Daylight Robbery’.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Charles Augustus Tegart was in charge of the case. After locating the hackney carriage drivers, several arrests were made. Revolutionaries who had participated in the heist like Kalidas Basu and Narendra Nath Banerjee and Bhujanga Bhushan Dhar were each sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Haridas Datta was imprisoned for four years. It took another three years to arrest Srish Chandra Pal and Khagen Das. Also arrested were Hanuman Prasad Poddar and his friends. GD Birla somehow escaped arrest but the Marwari community shunned these revolutionaries.

The key planner of the heist – Srish Mitra alias Habu – was never arrested. From his hideout in Rangpur, he had fled to a tribal village. From there, he vanished without a trace.

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Memorial plaque in front of Anukul Chandra Mukherjee’s house|Amitabha Gupta

The significance of the Rodda Arms Heist can be gauged from a statement in the report prepared by the President of the Sedition Committee, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, in 1918. On Page 56 of the report, Rowlatt notes, “The authorities have reliable information to show that 44 of these pistols were almost at once distributed to 9 different revolutionary groups in Bengal, and it is certain that the pistols so distributed were used in 54 cases of dacoity or murder or attempts at dacoity and murder subsequent to August 1914. It may indeed safely be said that few, if any, revolutionary outrages have taken place in Bengal since August 1914, in which Mauser pistols stolen from Rodda &amp; Co have not been used.”

Shaken by this audacious revolutionary act, Sir Rowlatt would later impose the draconian Rowlatt Act (suspending civil liberties), protests against which later led to the infamous Jallianwalla Bagh massacre.

The arms from the heist were distributed across India and were used in some of the most iconic revolutionary events that took place. Revolutionaries like Jatin Bagha used them in gun battles with the police; they were used in the Kakori Train Robbery of 1925; and the famous Chittagong Arms Robbery of the 1930s was executed using these weapons. Rash Behari Basu carried one of these pistols with him, and even Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad received at least one Mauser pistol each.

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Rodda Arms heist Memorial on Ganesh Chandra Avenue|Amitabha Gupta

Lest We Forget
As a reminder of the Rodda Arms Heist, Gopal Mukherjee (popularly known as ‘Gopal Pantha’), nephew of the heist’s chief planner, Anukul Mukherjee, erected a memorial on Ganesh Chandra Avenue on behalf of a local committee called ‘Jatio Artotran Samitee’. The memorial comprises four busts – of Bipin Bihari Ganguly, Anukul Mukherjee, Girindra Nath Banerjee and Haridas Datta – where they stand to date. There is also an artwork of a Mauser C96 pistol with its wooden shoulder stock at the memorial, and an artwork of Srish Mitra walking towards oblivion. Gopal Mukherjee’s grandson Santanu Mukherjee takes care of the memorial. Bhujanga Bhusan’s son Purna Chandra Dhur and nephew Barendra Chandra Dhur are still alive till date. They still remember first hand account of the robbery and possess important documents of the case.

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Bhujanga Bhusan Dhur’s son Purna Chandra Dhur (R) and nephew Barendra Chandra Dhur|Amitabha Gupta

The Rodda Arms Heist was a dramatic milestone in the freedom movement, especially for Bengal’s revolutionaries, yet it is largely forgotten. There is little mention of it even in most history books. The arms retailer at 2 Wellesley Place has long since shut shop and its signboard has vanished but the stoic canons at the doorstep appear determined to prevent the events of 26th August, 1914 from being completely erased.

Author Bio
Amitabha Gupta is a heritage enthusiast, travel writer, photographer and blogger who has been writing on the heritage of Eastern India for travel magazines and publications.
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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by dsingh » Tue Sep 10, 2019 12:24 pm

It was biggest robberry 13,000 mauser Pistols were stolen Ras bihari bose was also behind it but never caught .Most of the Pistols were recovered some were not recovered as it was in thouands .Few hundred came to Azad .Chitagong heist Ferrozepur heist were more daring many milatary weapons like machineguns were taken but most were recovered. Another heist was the jathedar Kishan Singh of Babar Akalis who armymen stole hand grenades and kept armed movement till 1946 .Jathedar kishan singh along with 9 men were hanged 7 days before bhagat singh hangings with pianao wires .They were called Babars means lions and Akalis as they were puritans not with any political group. Havaldar Santa Singh also took 303 rifles and stenguns grenades in 1931 .He escaped from portblair jail and died in 9 hour gun batle in lahore in 1944 .Many heros remained unknown .Capt Mohan Singh ji was real founder of INA.

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by Shivaji.Dasgupta » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:38 pm

dsingh wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 12:24 pm
It was biggest robberry 13,000 mauser Pistols were stolen Ras bihari bose was also behind it but never caught .Most of the Pistols were recovered some were not recovered as it was in thouands .Few hundred came to Azad .Chitagong heist Ferrozepur heist were more daring many milatary weapons like machineguns were taken but most were recovered. Another heist was the jathedar Kishan Singh of Babar Akalis who armymen stole hand grenades and kept armed movement till 1946 .Jathedar kishan singh along with 9 men were hanged 7 days before bhagat singh hangings with pianao wires .They were called Babars means lions and Akalis as they were puritans not with any political group. Havaldar Santa Singh also took 303 rifles and stenguns grenades in 1931 .He escaped from portblair jail and died in 9 hour gun batle in lahore in 1944 .Many heros remained unknown .Capt Mohan Singh ji was real founder of INA.
Dear D Singh
Just to Correct You. It was Only 50 Units of Mouser C96 Pistols Ordered By Dalai lama with Approx 47000 to 50000 Rounds of Ammo. This was ordered for the Body guard team of HH Dalai lama. Two books wrote it Differently as the revolutionaries never able to count the ammo due to lack of space and time. Due to lack of Time and logistics problem Revolutionaries were forced to leave the Leather Holster, Extra Rifle butt etc. Details of the plan was in the link below.


viewtopic.php?f=44&t=24914&start=15


The Details available with me about the distribution among the team was as such.

1. 5 Units of pistol with 1200 Rounds of ammo to Jatin Mukherjee and His band of Fighters who died with a battle with British Military Police. 4 Units of Mouser and 2 Double barrel Muzzle loading Rifle was Recovered after the battle. 1 was missing.
2. 10 units with 1500 Rounds of Ammo was given to Gadar party who were in plan to stage the Gadar Mutiny.
3. 5 Units were with Anushilan samity Kolkata team. Ammo Unknown
4. An Unknown Number was with Jugantar Kolkata and Bangladesh based teams ( That time it was Bengal only)
5. As per Records of British police 38 of 50 Units of Mouser was recovered. 12 were lost for ever.


Regards
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Shivaji

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by dsingh » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:11 pm

sorry I mixed up during ww1 mauser pistols were stolen in largenos from Kollkotta I thought some armouries were sacked in army bases during that time

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by Shivaji.Dasgupta » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:46 pm

No probs bro. :D
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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by MAGNUM » Wed Sep 11, 2019 12:57 pm

After Azad's death in the shootout , the pistol recovered was a colt .32 acp , perhaps the .30 Mausers were used in the kakori train case , would be interesting to know what happened to the Mausers in the possession of Azad & his fellow revolutionaries.

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by Shivaji.Dasgupta » Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:26 pm

.30 mauser was never with Azad and his team. At least no knowledge. they were mainly use colt .32 ACP pistols and Revolvers of different models smuggled by Gadar party and other activists of that time.
some army stock loot weapon was also in this list but Again mostly Revolvers.
Surya Sen and His Band of Fighters were armed primarily with Four Army Version Colt revolvers and one .303 Rifle ( with only 70 Rounds of Ammo).

Remember, The Arms Heist was happen in 1914 and by next 15 Years Most of the weapons were recovered.
one Mauser was used by Binay Badal Dinesh Trio in writers building shoot out and one more was used by saheed Sardar Acchar Singh Cheema. but their origin is unknown to me yet.
I am Trying through the Different Documents to get the details of weapons used by the our Freedom fighters
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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by dsingh » Sun Sep 15, 2019 11:31 pm

Mauser was like Ak 47 after ww 2 to Indian freedom fighters in various states.Most powerful armed movement was in Bengal and Punjab.Apart from Bhagat Singh Many individuals made great sacrifices like some wrestlers of Amritsar Akharas were given death penalty when they killed a british officer and its soliders with bare hands .After bloody Gurdwara liberation movement in which 500 as official records but unofficial records 2000 people died in non violent movement with massacre of 275 people in Nanakana saheb in 1921 .Armed movement gained popularity and Punjab police acting chief was killed with hand grenade and .32 revolver in 1944 along with his mistress his name was DIG BITEY. In punjab sikh fighters used hand grenades and handbombs along with colt revolvers and 12 bore double barrel guns plus .303 rifles but mauser was raely used from 1920 -1946.Other weapons used were swords even late Giana Zail Singh ex president of India was involved armed movement.

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by ASIF007 » Mon Sep 16, 2019 10:33 am

Beautifully planned and executed Robbery. The article states that the godown of R.B Rodda & Company was at Standard Assurance building which is presently the ARMS DEPARTMENT of Kolkata.

I wonder what happened to :

1.)R.B Rodda & Company - meantioned in the article

2.)Manton & Co. - Gun , Rifle , Fishing Tackle Manufacturers - 13 Old Court House street and 1 Mangoe Lane Calcutta & Kashmir Gate, Delhi

3.) Hall & Anderson - Shikar Clothing Specialist- Chowringhee & Park Street Kolkata.

Peter Bryne author of Gone are the Days (1948-1969) -visited these shops for some of his hunting weapons .

Why did these English shops eventually close down?

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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by mundaire » Mon Sep 16, 2019 10:39 am

They all came under Indian ownership after independence and carried on running their business.

However, the government's early 1950's decision of not renewing arms import licenses for arms dealers (individuals could still import when returning from overseas), was the first big blow to such businesses!

The second blow was the 1972 ban on big game hunting.

The third, was the ban on all firearms imports in 1986.

The final nail in the coffin was the early 1990's blanket ban on all forms of hunting.

Cheers!
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Re: A Great Robbery That Shook the Raj

Post by Shivaji.Dasgupta » Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:43 am

ASIF007 wrote:
Mon Sep 16, 2019 10:33 am
Beautifully planned and executed Robbery. The article states that the godown of R.B Rodda & Company was at Standard Assurance building which is presently the ARMS DEPARTMENT of Kolkata.

I wonder what happened to :

1.)R.B Rodda & Company - meantioned in the article

2.)Manton & Co. - Gun , Rifle , Fishing Tackle Manufacturers - 13 Old Court House street and 1 Mangoe Lane Calcutta & Kashmir Gate, Delhi

3.) Hall & Anderson - Shikar Clothing Specialist- Chowringhee & Park Street Kolkata.

Peter Bryne author of Gone are the Days (1948-1969) -visited these shops for some of his hunting weapons .

Why did these English shops eventually close down?
Dear ASIF 007--

1. R B Rodda was shifted to Indian Ownership but again with new Rules the Owners were not Interested to Continue. Mr. Rodda the Present Member of Rodda Group UK at Present is a member in this Forum.

2. Manton &Co.also Shifted to Indian Ownership and Eventually Closed down.

3. Hall and Anderson closed their business shortly after Independence. No records after that.
Regards

Shivaji

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