Indian Army HistoryIndia's present-day army has emerged from the land forces set up by the British between the 1600's and the 1800's. But there have been many other Indian armies throughout the nation's history. India has been ravaged by internal wars and invasions, and a number of warlike people have come to prominence over the centuries, most notably the Rajputs and the Sikhs.
The roots of the modern Indian army are traced to the forces employed by the English (later British) East India Company, chartered in 1600, and the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes Orientales), established in 1664. The British East India Company arrived in India in 1607. It formed armed troops of men to act as factory guards in Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1662. By 1708, the three presidencies of Bengal (Calcutta), Madras, and Bombay were formed, and each established its own armed forces. British units were divided into three armies corresponding to the company's centers of Bengal (headquartered at Fort William in Calcutta), Bombay (or Mumbai in the Marathi language), and Madras (headquartered at Fort Saint George). The French, headquartered at Pondicherry (Puduchcheri) by the 1670s, were the first to raise Indian companies and use them in conjunction with European soldiers. The war between France and England in 1744 forced a reorganization of the East India Company's forces, and artillery and an ordnance service were introduced. Subsequently, in the 1740s, the British started to organize and train Indian units.
In 1748 the East India Company armies were brought under the command of Stringer Lawrence, who is regarded by historians as the progenitor of the modern Indian army. Under his guidance, British officers recruited, trained, and deployed these forces. Although formally under a unified command, the three armies in practice exercised considerable autonomy because of the great distances that separated them.
In 1796, the company had 18,000 Europeans and 84,000 Indians in its uniform, and these numbers had been expanded to 37,000 and 223,000 by 1830. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the vast majority of the soldiers of each army was composed of Indian troops known as sepoys (from the Hindi sipahi, meaning police officer, or, later, soldier). Sepoy units had Indian junior commissioned officers who could exercise only low-level command. British officers held all senior positions. No Indian had any authority over non-Indians. In addition to these all-Indian units, the British deployed some units of the British Army. The forty battalions ot which which the Madras army was composed was homogeneous, the men of each regiment being recruited generally from the southern parts of the peninsula. The Bombay Army was smaller than that of Madras, consisting of only thirty battalions of infantry, with a little over 20,000 men. The whole of this force is raised generally from the districts occupied by it. The Bengal Presidency was not garrisoned wholly by the regular army.
By the middle of the 19th Century the armies of the Native States looked formidable on paper, for they were said to number altogether about 380,000 men, of whom 69,000 were cavalry and 11,000 artillery, with some 4,000 guns. These figures were very deceptive. A small portion only of these so-called armies had any military organisation. They consisted for the most part of men who could hardly be called soldiers. The majority of them are maintained for purposes of display, without the least idea that they can ever be used for fighting. The so-called array includes multitudes of the armed retainers of the chiefs and nobles, and nearly the whole of the men whom we should class as police.
There were only two cases in which it seemed possible that the armies of the Native States might become causes of anxiety to the Government. The first was the army of Gwalior. Among all the armies of the Native States this was the most completely organised. It consisted of about 11,000 men, of whom about 6,000 are cavalry, all fairly drilled and disciplined, with several fully equipped batteries of artillery. The largest of the armies of the Native States was that of the Nizam of Hyderabad, also a foreigner in the country belonging to him. It was so heterogeneous a body that it was difficult to state its numbers, but that part of it which may with some reason be called an army consisted of about 45,000 men.
The troops of the Rajputana States consisted, on paper, of more than 100,000 men, with 1,400 guns, but these figures had no military significance. The men were not, for the most part, soldiers in the service of the State, but the members of a military class. None of the guns were equipped for service.
The troops of the Sikh States were composed of good material; they were well officered, and have on occasions done excellent service for the British Crown. They are devoted to their chiefs, who are conspicuously loyal, and bound to the British Government by mutual goodwill and good offices, which had extended over many years.
The troops of no Native State possessed arms of precision ; they had no breech-loading rifles, no rifled ordnance, and very little organised artillery. They were, for the most part, an un-drilled, wretchedly armed rabble, and two or three British regiments, with a battery of horse artillery, would disperse 50,000 of them. With the few exceptions named, they could not cause the British anxiety. They were not armies in the ordinary sense of the term.
Field brigades were organized, then divisions, until at last, just before the Mutiny of 1857, the British had 311,000 native troops, forming, with the European forces, 40,000 strong, three 'presidential ' armies, and various local forces and contingents. These separate armies, belonging to the presidencies of Fort William in Bengal, Fort St. George in Madras, and Bombay, had grown up into almost independent forces. The total strength of the Indian army, in 1857, the year before the mutiny, consisted of 45,522 Europeans, and 282,224 natives.
The Crown assumed the government of India, and after the Mutiny was quelled a period of reconstruction followed. The local European forces were merged into the general army; the native armies were reorganized on the ' irregular' system, under which there were but few British officers in each regiment; a Staff Corps was formed; but in creating a new Bengal Army, the Madras and Bombay armies, the Punjab frontier force, and the Hyderabad contingent, all of which had done admirable service in putting down the rebellion in a series of arduous campaigns, were maintained as separate entities.
Shortly after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58, the role of the presidency armies was reevaluated. In 1861 the Bengal Army was disbanded, and the total number of sepoys was reduced from 230,000 to 150,000 while the British element was increased from 40,000 to 75,000. Most Indian artillery units were disbanded, and artillery was placed under British control. Under the aegis of the imperial "divide and rule" policy, which had its inception at this time, the British ensured that a sense of nationality would not be allowed to develop among the sepoys. The growth of such feelings, it was feared, would undermine the prospects of imperial control. Accordingly, Indian regiments increasingly were organized on a territorial basis; individual companies -- and in some cases entire regiments -- were drawn from the same religious, tribal, or caste backgrounds. When companies from several regiments were grouped into battalions, considerable efforts were made to promote cultural and social distinctions among companies of different compositions.
The total strength of the army in British India during the year 1866 consisted of 66,814 Europeans, and 117,095 natives. The staff and staff-corps consisted of 1,866 Europeans; the engineers, sappers and miners, 378 Europeans and 2,794 natives; the artillery, horse and foot, of 12,299 Europeans and 1,891 natives; the cavalry, of 6,050 Europeans and 18,776 natives; the infantry of 45,910 Europeans and 93,631 natives; and the invalids, veterans, and warrant officers, of 810 Europeans; the medical establishment being included in each arm of the service. Of these total numbers, 38,993 Europeans and 43,394 natives were stationed in Bengal, 14,184 Europeans and 46,485 natives in Madras, and 13,638 Europeans aiitl 27,268 natives in Bombay ; those stationed in the northwest provinces and Punjab being included in the presidency of Bengal. Among the remarkable features of the iul- ministration of Sir John Lawrence, is gent-rallf counted the execution of a grand scheme of great military barracks and fortifications. Jn>t before Sir John Lawrence's arrival, LorJ Elgin government had determined to provide barracks after the most approved sanitary fashion for the English troops, and strategical buildings and appliances, such as might be required in an emergency, thus saving- soldiers' lives ??? rendering it possible to hold the country with a smaller number than the 90,000 of 1859- The development and maturing of his poh? fell to his successor, and Colonel Crommelffl, the first of military engineers, was placed it the head of a special department for this par- pose. Some time was necessarily spent in agreeing upon model plans for the housin:: ot soldiers. As in the course of 1864 and IS*"' the scheme gradually assumed shape, it vx found that its cost would be not under ta millions sterling. It is now expected that the whole of India will be supplied withnt» barracks and forts on the best plan and of the most durable character by the close of 1871, by which time, too, the Great Trunk railfsy system of Lord Dalhousie will be ??????? besides several extensions. Forts and fort if. Ím posts are being constructed at almost ever/ military station, and especially near every gra' railway station a place of refuge, for womenand children and non-combatants, is to be provided against an emergency. These posts take Uk form of a four, five, or six-sided enclosure flanked by bastions at the angles, and of which the hospitals and two or more barracks constitute the curtains. Sueh posts are to be form« at Nowgong, Sealkote, Jnllundher, Umbalb. and Hyderabad, in the Deccan. Where the« are magazines and positions exposed tribes, or commanding unruly neighbors, great forts are to be erected. The main constituents of the army were Pathans, Sikhs, Punjabi Mohammedans, Dogras, Gurkhas, Jats, Hindustanis, Mahrattas, Rajputs, and Madrasis. There are other classes from which we draw recruits, but these were the main elements. Of these, the Pathans and Gurkhas may be called 'foreigners,' as they did not belong to British India, although many Pathan tribes dwelled within the British borders. Pathans are physically fine men, and, as soldiers in our ranks, brave, loyal, and devoted. The merits of Gurkhas are well known. They are brilliantly courageous, cheerful, staunch, and dogged. The Sikh is a splendid soldier in physique, in character, and resolute bravery. Neither he nor the Gurkha could pass examinations or reach a standard of education such as some think should be exacted of all soldiers, but both have the true soldierly instinct, and no finer soldiers can be found.
The Punjabi Mohammedan was an admirable soldier - although the quality varies with the particular tribe - sturdy, brave, and with many martial instincts. The Dogra from the lower Himalayas became an excellent fighting man. Jats, mainly from the Delhi territories, furnish good material. Hindustanis, Brahmans, and Rajputs still produce good soldiers, but have fallen from their high estate since the days when the British conquered India with their aid. By around 1900 the Rajput was not the soldier he once was, but was still capable of doing good service when well led. The Mahratta, once the fighting man of the Deccan, who did such fine service under Wellington, seemed to have lost much of his military virtue; while the Madras soldier, whether Tamil (Hindu) or Mohammedan, was no longer the soldier of our early history in India.
By the end of the 19th Century the regular native army drew its recruits from the North-West Frontier and beyond for Pathans, from Nepal for Gurkhas, from the Punjab for Sikhs and Punjabi Mohammedans, and from the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh for Hindustanis-both Hindus and Mohammedans. The Western or Bombay area furnished Mahrattas, Rajputs, and some Mohammedans, while the Madras territories are now called upon to furnish only a few men, Tamils (Hindus) and Mohammedans. The center of military activity had shifted more and more to the north, and the tendency is to draw to a much larger extent upon the resources of that part of India.
From 1879 through 1903 immense progress was made in every branch of the army and in every department appertaining to it. Increase of the army by 10,000 British and 20,000 native troops, reserves, linking of battalions, establishment of regimental centers, the amalgamation of hitherto separate presidential departments, the creation of Imperial service troops, increase of pay to the native army, reorganization of recruiting, re-armament, elimination of inferior material, introduction of the double-company system in the infantry, complete reorganization of the transport, increase to the supply and transport corps, establishment of mounted infantry schools, formation (1886) of a plan of mobilization and its development, completion of frontier and coast defences, reform of horse-breeding, remount, and military account departments, institution of an ambulance corps, a great development in the manufacture of warlike stores, and continuous improvements in the sanitary service of the army were some of the measures which were carried out prior to 1903.
Administrative reforms in 1895 abolished the presidency armies, and command was centralized under the aegis of a single army headquarters at Delhi. In 1895 that the Bengal Army was divided into two parts, or Commands-the Punjab, with its Pathan, Sikh, and Punjabi regiments; the Bengal, with its Hindustanis - and the Madras and Bombay armies allotted to the areas to be known as the Madras and Bombay Commands; while the Commander-in-Chief in India was given full powers over all, with the intention that he should delegate to the Generals commanding the forces in these great territorial areas a large measure of initiative and responsibility.
The key of the policy which, after many years, led to the reorganization of 1895 was decentralization, power of mobilization, with the more complete segregation of the races. It was to be one army divided into four watertight compartments-the Punjab, Bengal (or Hindustan), Bombay, and Madras. It was found by experience that, for example, Sikh regiments degenerated, and were prone to assimilate with other elements, when quartered long away from their homes. There was to be no 'localization' in the exact sense, but so far as was practicable the troops were to be stationed in the main area from which they were drawn. The idea was not merely the preservation of the balance of power, which all history has taught is necessary in dealing with mercenary Asiatic armies, but to introduce a simpler and decentralized system.
In the early twentieth century, the process of centralization continued; and during this period, the separation between military and civilian spheres of influence and the ultimate primacy of civilian authority gained final acceptance in both civilian and military circles. The army in India had to undertake not merely the defense of India or of Afghanistan, but the active defence of India, and, added to that, the maintenance of order within India itself. The area of India is 1,870,000 square miles, the frontier line is about 6,000 miles long, its length from north to south is some 1,900 miles, and its breadth from east to west about the same, and the population of India was 300,000,000.
The regular army in India of 1900 embraced both British and native troops, the former in round numbers some 74,000, and the latter 157,000 with a small reserve of 25,000, and a total of 486 guns. But just as other countries have a second line of militia, yeomanry, and volunteers, so in India there was a second line of European volunteers, Imperial service troops, militia, and military police, numbering about 76,000. The total regular army, British and native, including the reserve, was 256,000 strong, and the second line 76,000. The reserve is to be increased to 50,000, and might be further enlarged. The British Army and volunteers numbered 106,000, the regular native army and its reserves 182,000, and the native auxiliaries 44,000.
In 1903 a fresh departure took place in the unification of the army, and a further 'reorganization' was initiated under the auspices of the Commander-in-Chief in India, Lord Kitchener. The first step in the abandonment of the principles which had held the field for so long was made in 1903. The regiments of cavalry and battalions of infantry were re-numbered and re-named, so as to get rid of all territorial connection. The object aimed at was to have one army in India, and not four bodies in one army-a complete reversal of the older policy. The next step was to abolish the Southern or Madras Command, and practically the Madras army, substituting regiments recruited from northern races for the Madras.
The re-distribution of the army, which is understood to be largely due to Lord Kitchener, although it has been often discussed before, and put on one side owing to its great cost, was an attempt to organize the army in units of command similar to those in which it would take the field. The idea is that each divisional area shall furnish one fighting division, subdivided into three brigades, to concentrate the main portion of the army in large cantonments, and abandon a number of the smaller stations. There will also be some separate troops on the North- West Frontier, at Aden, and a divisional command in Burma.
For instance, the Eighth (or Lucknow) Division had its headquarters at Lucknow, with a brigade at Fyzabad ; a second brigade distributed between Cawnpore, Allahabad, and Benares, hundreds of miles apart; a third at Calcutta, the capital of India, and seven hundred miles from Luck- now, embracing garrisons and outposts from Dinapore to Darjeeling, and from Buxa Duar, on the Bhutan frontier, to Cuttack in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal; and a fourth brigade in still more distant Assam, and distributed in various stations and outposts for the protection of a frontier liable to the incursions of savage tribes. To call the troops stationed all over this immense area a 'division' is, of course, merely calling old things by new titles.
Even though the Crown had taken direct charge of India from the East India Company in 1857, the three Presidency armies still existed and as late as 1904 there was no "Indian Army". In that year Lord Kitchener, appointed commander-in-chief of Indian forces in 1902, embarked on a reorganization to create an integrated all-India army. This 9 division, 9 cavalry brigade plan entailed divisions were 1 through 9, and associated cavalry brigades, also numbered 1 through 9. The Kitchener reorganization established 39 cavalry regiments in sequence from 1 - 39, with each regiment bearing its traditional name.
|Northern Command||Peshawar||First Division|
|Rawal Pindi||Second Division|
|Western Command||Quetta||Fourth Division|
|Eastern Command||Meerut||Seventh Division|
During World War I (1914-1918), Indian Army units served on the Western Front, and at Gallipoli and in Salonika. But the main effort was in Mesopotamia, where more than 300,000 Indian soldiers were deployed. During World War I, India's contribution of troops, money, and supplies to the Allied cause was substantial. More than 1 million Indian soldiers were sent abroad, and more than 100,000 were either killed or wounded.
The mobilization for the war effort revealed a number of shortcomings in the military establishment. Officer casualties had a particularly pernicious effect on military formations because only the British officers assigned to a battalion had the authority and standing to exercise overall command. In addition, Indian officers from one company could rarely be transferred to another having a different ethnic, religious, or caste makeup. As a consequence, after the war most battalions were reorganized to ease reinforcement among component companies.
In 1921, the Indian Army was re-organised. The Infantry was grouped in 19 groups, each called a Regiment. Battalions became mixed class battalions, with companies of prescribed classes. The double company system was abolished. Each Regiment had five active battalions, one Training Centre and one Territorial Battalion.
Strong pressure from the Indian public drove the British to begin training a small complement of Indians for commissions as a first step in the Indianization of the officer corps. The Royal Indian Air Force was established in 1932, and a small Indian marine unit was reorganized into the Royal Indian Navy in 1934. Indian artillery batteries were first formed only in 1936. Although the practice of limiting recruitment to the martial races had proved inadequate during World War I and entry had been opened to "nonmartial" groups, the traditional recruitment emphasis on martial races was nonetheless resumed after demobilization.
The political situation in India underwent a fundamental transformation at the time of Britain's entry into World War II. The viceroy and governor general of India, Victor Alexander John Hope, Marquis of Linlithgow, without consulting Indian political leaders, declared India to be at war with Germany on September 3, 1939. The legislature sustained the viceregal decree and passed the Defence of India Bill without opposition, as the representatives of the Indian National Congress boycotted the session. Between 1939 and mid-1945, the British Indian Army expanded from about 175,000 to more than 2 million troops -- entirely through voluntary enlistment.
Altogether, more than 620,000 Indians served overseas During World War II (1939-1945), Indian Army strength rose to more than two million. Indians fought in North Africa and Italy. After Japanese forces defeated United Kingdom troops in Burma, the Indian Army had to defend its own country at the battles of Imphal and Kohima in 1944. The Japanese besieged Kohima but never captured it. About 340,000 Indians served in the Allies' 14th Army, which eventually drove the Japanese out of Burma.
The incipient naval and air forces were also expanded, and the Indian officer corps grew from 600 to more than 14,000. Indian troops were deployed under overall British command in Africa, Italy, the Middle East, and particularly in Burma and Southeast Asia. The great expansion in strength, the overseas service of Indian forces, and the demonstrated soldierly ability of Indians from all groups did much to dispel the martial races theory.
In Asia the Japanese sought to exploit Indian nationalism and anti-British sentiment by forming and supporting the Indian National Army (INA--Azad Hind Fauj), which was composed primarily of 25,000 of the 60,000 Indian troops who had surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore in February 1942. The army was led by Subhas Chandra Bose, a former militant president of the Congress, who also appointed himself head of the Provisional Government of Azad India (Free India). An unusual feature of the INA was an all-woman, intercaste regiment composed of some 1,500 Indian women from Burma, Malaya, and Singapore. Both the women and the 25,000-strong male contingent were organized to fight alongside the Japanese in Burma, but they actually saw little action. Only 8,000 were sent to the front. Japanese and INA troops invaded Manipur in March 1944 and fought and were defeated in battles at Imphal and Kohima. By May 1945, the INA had disintegrated because of acute logistical problems, defections, and superior British-led forces. It is widely held that Bose was killed in an air crash in Taiwan as he fled at the end of the war. The British court martialed three INA officers. Nationalist-minded lawyers, including Nehru, defended them as national heroes, and the British, feeling intense public pressure, found them guilty but cashiered them without any further punishment. However, after independence Nehru refused to reinstate them into the Indian armed forces, fearing that they might sow discord among the ranks.
From V-J Day to the end of August, 1947, the net reduction in the strength of the Indian and Pakistan armies amounted to 1,648,772 men and women. Of these, 32,677 were British and Indian / Pakistan officers, 12,177 were officers and auxiliaries of the WAC(I), 49,024 were British other ranks serving with Indian and Pakistan armies and 1,533,570 were Indian and Pakistan ranks, including 64,321 civilians attached to Indian /Pakistan armies. In August, 1947, there was a net reduction of 492 officers, 1,566 Indian and Pakistan ranks, 2,639 non-combatants enrolled and 2,348 British other ranks attached to Indian and Pakistan armies. During that month 144 army units were disbanded. A total of 8,668 army units had been disbanded, 61 Indian State Forces units have returned to the states and 11 Nepalese contingent units have returned to Nepal. Up to the end of August, 1947, a total of 37,458 I.S.F. personnel have returned to their states and 9,178 Nepalese contingent personnel had returned to Nepal.
The old Indian Army prior to 15 August, 1947, was divided into three Commands Northern, Southern and Eastern. A fourth, Central Command, was raised during the war and disbanded in September, 1946. Of the Indian divisions which took part in the World War II, the 6th, 8th, 10th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 23rd, 25th, 26th and 39th were disbanded, those remaining being the 4th, 5th, 7th Infantry Divisions, 1st Armoured Division and the 2nd Airborne Division.
Independence and the partition from Pakistan imposed significant costs on the Indian defense establishment that took years to redress. The partition of the country into the two Dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947 meant a division of the armed forces. The Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Army and the Royal Indian Air Force were divided between the two Dominions on a territorial-cum-optional basis and the result was a division in the approximate proportion of one-third to Pakistan and two-thirds to the Union of India.
The partition of the country entailed the division of the armed forces personnel and equipment. As a result of partition, regiments and formations of the armed forces of India, which had for long years been composed of sub-units comprising men of various castes and creeds, had to be reorganized into regiments containing only representatives of their own Dominion. Such a division and re-organization of tho armed forces needed a co-ordinating authority, which was provided by the Supreme Commander's Headquarters. Field-Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleok, former Commander-in-Chief, was appointed as Supreme Commander with the specific purpose of reconstituting the armed forces for the two Dominions under the directional control of the Joint Defence Council, which consisted of representatives from both Dominions, the Governor-General of India, Earl Mountbatten being the independent chairman.
On 15 August, 1947, the army was divided into Indian Army and Pakistan Army. Northern Command was allotted to Pakistan and the Southern and Eastern Commands were allotted to the Indian Army. A new Command, Delhi and East Punjab Command, was raised on 15 September 1947. There was also a considerable amount of expansion in B.I.A.S.C. transport services. From 36 A.T. Coys, and 29 M.T. Units of various types, they were increased to 80 A.T. Coys, and 304 M.T. Units. The elephant for the first time was taken in the service and was found to be very useful in Burma. Bullocks were also utilized to provide transport in static areas. Other additions to the service were tank transporters, amphibians and water transport companies. There has also been a very great expansion in air supplies, which at one time was the main source of supply in Burma.
Predominantly Muslim units went to Pakistan, followed later by individual transfers. Close to two-thirds of all army personnel went to India. As a secular state, India accepted all armed forces personnel without regard to religious affiliation. The division of the navy was based on an estimation of each nation's maritime needs. A combination of religious affiliation and military need was applied to the small air force. As a result of partition, India also received about two-thirds of the matériel and stores. This aspect of the division of assets was complicated by the fact that all sixteen ordnance factories were located in India. India was allowed to retain them with the proviso that it would make a lump sum payment to Pakistan to enable it to develop its own defense production infrastructure.
Independence also resulted in a dramatic reduction of the number of experienced senior personnel available. The armed forces of India used to contain a very large British element but the government of new India decided to completely nationalize her armed forces. Only a small number of British officers, mostly in technical branches, were retained on contractual basis for a short period to fill the gap. In 1947 only six Indians had held brigade-level commands, and only one had commanded a division. British officers, out of necessity, were retained for varying periods of time after independence. British chiefs stayed on the longest in the navy and the air force. The navy had a British service chief until 1962 and the air force until 1954. The armed forces also integrated qualified members of the armies of the former princely states that acceded to India. The term sepoy, made popular during the colonial era, was dropped about this time, and the word jawan (Hindi for able-bodied man) has been used ever since when referring to the Indian soldier.