185: British Indian Army ww2 Infantry badges part 2:2

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British Indian Army ww2 Infantry badges part 2

The British Indian Army was the principal army of the British Raj in India before the partition of India in 1947. It was not designated as the British Indian Army but as the Indian Army and when used within an article or a book which has a clear historical context is often referred to as the Indian Army. During the days of British rule, the Indian Army proved a very crucial adjunct to British forces not only in India but also in other places, particularly during the First and Second World Wars.

In India, it was responsible for the defence of the regions of direct British governance (the Provinces of India, or, collectively, British India) as well as of those under British suzerainty (the Princely States).

The first army officially called the “Indian Army” was raised by the government of India in 1895, existing alongside the three long-established presidency armies (the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army) of the Presidencies of British India. However, in 1903 the Indian Army absorbed these three armies.

The term “Indian Army” was also sometimes used informally as a collective description of the former Presidency armies, particularly after the Indian Mutiny. The Indian Army should not be confused with the Army of India. Between 1903 and 1947 this consisted of two separate entities: the Indian Army itself (made up of Indian regiments originating in India), plus the British Army in India, which consisted of units of the British Army (with their origins in the United Kingdom) which were on a tour of duty in India.


The Indian Army has its origins in the years after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, when in 1858 the Crown took over direct rule of British India from the East India Company. Before 1858, the precursor units of the Indian Army were units controlled by the Company and were paid for by their profits. These operated alongside units of the British Army, funded by the British government in London.

The armies of the East India Company were recruited primarily from Muslims in the Bengal Presidency, which consisted of Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and high caste Hindus recruited primarily from the rural plains of Oudh. Many of these troops took part in the Indian Mutiny, with the aim of reinstating the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II at Delhi, partly as a result of insensitive treatment by their British officers.

After the Mutiny, recruitment switched to what the British called the “martial races,” particularly Rajputs, Sikhs, Gurkhas, Pashtuns, Garhwalis, Mohyals, Dogras, Jats and Balochis.

The meaning of the term “Indian Army” has changed over time:

1858–1894 The Indian Army was an informal collective term for the armies of the three presidencies; the Bengal Army, Madras Army and Bombay Army.
1895–1902 The Indian Army had a formal existence and was the “army of the government of India”, including British and Indian (sepoy) units.
1903–1947 Lord Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief, India, between 1902 and 1909. He instituted large-scale reforms, the greatest of which was the merger of the three armies of the Presidencies into a unified force. He formed higher level formations, eight army divisions, and brigaded Indian and British units. Following Kitchener’s reforms:

  • The Indian Army was “the force recruited locally and permanently based in India, together with its expatriate British officers.”
  • The British Army in India consisted of British Army units posted to India for a tour of duty, and which would then be posted to other parts of the Empire or back to the UK.
  • The Army of India consisted of both the Indian Army and the British Army in India.


The officer commanding the Army of India was the Commander-in-Chief in India who reported to the civilian Governor-General of India. He and his staff were based at GHQ India. Indian Army postings were less prestigious than British Army positions, but the pay was significantly greater so that officers could live on their pay instead of having to have a private income. British officers in the Indian Army were expected to learn to speak the Indian languages of their men, who tended to be recruited from primarily Hindi speaking areas. Prominent British Indian army officers included Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, William Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, Claude Auchinleck and William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim.

The main role of the Indian Army was seen as being defence of the North-West Frontier Province against Russian invasion via Afghanistan, internal security, and expeditionary warfare in the Indian Ocean area.


Commissioned officers, British and Indian, held identical ranks to commissioned officers of the British Army. King’s Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs), created from the 1920s, held equal powers to British officers. Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers were Indians holding officer ranks. They were treated in almost all respects as commissioned officers, but only had authority over Indian troops and were subordinate to all British King’s (and Queen’s) Commissioned Officers and KCIOs. They included Subedar Major or Risaldar-Major (Cavalry), equivalents to a British Major; Subedar or Risaldar (Cavalry) equivalents to Captain; and Jemadars equivalent, to Lieutenant.

Recruitment was entirely voluntary; about 1.3 million men served in the First World War, many on the Western Front and 2.5 million in the Second. Non-Commissioned Officers included Company Havildar Majors equivalents to a Company Sergeant Major; Company Quartermaster Havildars, equivalents to a Company Quartermaster Sergeant; Havildars or Daffadars (Cavalry) equivalents to a Sergeant; Naik or Lance-Daffadar (Cavalry) equivalents to a British Corporal; and Lance-Naik or Acting Lance-Daffadar (Cavalry) equivalents to a Lance-Corporal.

Soldier ranks included Sepoys or Sowars (Cavalry), equivalent to a British Private. British Army ranks such as Gunner and Sapper were used by other corps.

Operational history of the Presidency armies

Burmese War

Sikh Wars

Afghan Wars

See also: The Great Game and European influence in Afghanistan for a more detailed description.

Opium Wars


Operational history of the Indian Army

The Presidency armies were abolished with effect from 1 April 1895 by a notification of the Government of India through Army Department Order Number 981 dated 26 October 1894, unifying the three Presidency armies into a single Indian Army. The armies were amalgamated into four commands, Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. In addition to the commands, eight divisions were formed in 1903: the 1st (Peshawar) Division, the 2nd (Rawalpindi) Division, the 3rd (Lahore) Division, the 4th (Quetta) Division, the 5th (Mhow) Division, the 6th (Poona) Division, the 7th (Meerut) Division, and the 8th Lucknow Division, in addition to a number of cavalry brigades. The Indian Army, like the Presidency armies, continued to provide armed support to the civil authorities, both in combating banditry and in case of riots and rebellion. One of the first external operations the new unified army faced was the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901.

The main “conventional” warfare task of the Indian Army was to prevent an invasion of India via Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier. There was also a need to pacify warlike local people and prevent banditry. This involved numerous small scale actions. The Indian Army established the Command and Staff College in 1907 at Quetta, in present-day Pakistan to provide the army with staff officers who had knowledge of local Indian conditions.

First World War

The 15th Sikh Regiment being given a heroes’ welcome upon their arrival in Marseille, France during the First World War.

A Benet-Mercier machine gun section of 2nd Rajput Light Infantry in action in Flanders, during the winter of 1914-15.

Prior to the outbreak of the Great War, the strength of the British Indian Army was 155,000. Either in 1914 or before, a ninth division had been formed, the 9th (Secunderabad) Division. By November 1918, the Indian Army rose in size to 573,000 men. After Kitchener’s reforms of 1902-1909, the Indian Army was organised along British lines, although it was always behind in terms of equipment. An Indian Army division consisted of three brigades each of four battalions. Three of these battalions were of the Indian Army, and one British. The Indian battalions were often segregated, with companies of different tribes, castes or religions. One and a half million volunteers came forward from the estimated population of 315 million in the Indian subcontinent

The Indian Army had very little artillery (only 12 batteries of mountain artillery), and Royal Artillery (Royal Indian Artillery) batteries were attached to the divisions. There was also no corps of engineers equivalent to the Royal Engineers, although there were battalions designated as Pioneers or ‘Sappers and Miners’, which gave some divisions a whole extra infantry battalion with specialist training.

Before the war, the Indian government had decided that India could afford to provide two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade in the event of a European war. 140,000 soldiers saw active service on the Western Front in France and Belgium – 90,000 in the front-line Indian Corps, and some 50,000 in auxiliary battalions. They felt that any more would jeopardise national security. The over four divisions eventually sent formed the Indian Corps and the Indian Cavalry Corps that arrived on the Western Front in 1914. The high number of officer casualties the corps suffered early on had an effect on its later performance. British officers that understood the language, customs, and psychology of their men could not be quickly replaced, and the alien environment of the Western Front had some effect on the soldiers. However, the feared unrest in India never happened, and while the Indian Corps was transferred to the Middle East in 1915 India provided many more divisions for active service during the course of the war. Indians’ first engagement was on the Western Front within a month of the start of the war, at the First Battle of Ypres. Here, Garwhal Rifles were involved in the war’s first trench raid on 9–10 November 1914 and Khudadad Khan became the first Indian to win a Victoria Cross. After a year of front-line duty, sickness and casualties had reduced the Indian Corps to the point where it had to be withdrawn.

Nearly 700,000 then served in the Middle East, fighting against the Turks in the Mesopotamian campaign. There they were short of transportation for resupply and operated in extremely hot and dusty conditions. Led by Major General Sir Charles Townshend, they pushed on to capture Baghdad but they were repulsed by Turkish Forces.

In the First World War the Indian Army saw extensive service including:

Participants from the Indian subcontinent won 13,000 medals, including 12 Victoria Crosses. By the end of the war a total of 47,746 Indians had been reported dead or missing; 65,126 were wounded.

Also serving in the First World War were so-called “Imperial Service Troops“, provided by the semi-autonomous Princely States. About 21,000 were raised in the First World War, mainly consisting of Sikhs of Punjab and Rajputs from Rajputana (such as the Bikaner Camel Corps and Jodhpur Lances). These forces played a prominent role in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

Interwar period

Elements of the Army operated around Mary, Turkmenistan in 1918-19. See Entente intervention in the Russian Civil War. The Army then took part in the Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919.

In the aftermath of the First World War, the Indian Territorial Force and Auxiliary Force (India) were created in the 1920s. The Indian Territorial Force was a part-time, paid, all-volunteer organisation within the army. Its units were primarily made up of European officers and Indian other ranks. The ITF was created by the Indian Territorial Force Act 1920 to replace the Indian section of the Indian Defence Force. It was an all-volunteer force modelled after the British Territorial Army. The European parallel to the ITF was the Auxiliary Force (India).

After World War I the British started the process of Indianisation by which Indians were promoted into higher officer ranks. Indian cadets were sent to study at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and were given full commissions as King’s Commissioned Indian Officers. The KCIOs were equivalent in every way to British commissioned officers and had full authority over British troops (unlike VCOs). Some KCIOs were attached to British Army units for a part of their careers.

In 1922, after experience had shown that the large groups of single battalion regiments were unwieldy, a number of large regiments were created, and numerous cavalry regiments amalgamated. The List of regiments of the Indian Army (1922) shows the reduced number of larger regiments. Until 1932 most British Indian Army officers, both British and Indian, were trained at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, after that date the Indian officers increasingly received their training at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun which was established that year.

Second World War

Main articles: Indian Army during World War II and India in World War II

Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry “Khyber Pass to Hell-Fire Pass” during Operation Battleaxe in June 1941.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Indian army numbered 205,000 men. Later on during the Second World War the Indian Army would become the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in size. In doing so the Indian III Corps, Indian IV Corps, Indian XV Corps, Indian XXXIII Corps, Indian XXXIV Corps, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 23rd Indian Divisions were formed, as well as other forces. Additionally two armoured divisions and an airborne division were created. In matters of administration, weapons, training, and equipment, the Indian Army had considerable independence; for example, prior to the war the Indian Army adopted the Vickers-Berthier (VB) light machine gun instead of the Bren gun of the British Army, while continuing to manufacture and issue the older SMLE No. 1 Mk III rifle during the Second World War, instead of the Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk I issued to the British Army from the middle of the war.

Particularly notable contributions of the Indian Army during that conflict were the:

About 87,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives during this conflict. Indian soldiers won 30 Victoria Crosses during the Second World War. (See: Indian Victoria Cross recipients.)

The Germans and Japanese were relatively successful in recruiting combat forces from Indian prisoners of war. These forces were known as the Tiger Legion and the Indian National Army (INA). Indian nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose led the 40,000-strong INA. From a total of about 55,000 Indians taken prisoner in Malaya and Singapore in February 1942, about 30,000 joined the INA, which fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign. Others became guards at Japanese POW camps. The recruitment was the brainchild of Major Fujiwara Iwaichi who mentions in his memoirs that Captain Mohan Singh Deb, who surrendered after the fall of Jitra became the founder of the INA.

However, most Indian Army personnel resisted recruitment and remained POWs.[citation needed] An unknown number captured in Malaya and Singapore were taken to Japanese-occupied areas of New Guinea as forced labour. Many of these men suffered severe hardships and brutality, similar to that experienced by other prisoners of Japan during the Second World War. About 6,000 of them survived until they were liberated by Australian or U.S. forces, in 1943-45.

During World War II, after the fall of Singapore and the ending of ABDACOM in early 1942, until the formation of South East Asia Command (SEAC) in August 1943 some American and Chinese units were placed under British military command.

Post Second World War

As a result of the Partition of India in 1947, the formations, units, assets and indigenous personnel of the Indian Army were divided, with two thirds of the assets being retained by the Union of India, and one third going to the new Dominion of Pakistan. Four Gurkha regiments (mostly recruited in Nepal, which was outside India), were transferred from the former Indian Army to the British Army, forming its Brigade of Gurkhas and departing for a new station in Malaya. British Army units stationed in India returned to the United Kingdom or were posted to other stations outside India and Pakistan. During the transition period after partition, Headquarters British Troops in India, under then Major General Lashmer Whistler, controlled the departing British units. The last British unit, 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, left on February 28, 1948. Equipment from most British units was retained by the Indian Army, as only a single infantry division, the 7th Indian Infantry Division, had been stationed in Pakistan before partition.

Most of the remainder of the Indian Army’s Muslim personnel proceeded to join the newly created Pakistan Army. Due to a shortage of experienced officers, several hundred British officers remained in Pakistan on contract until the early 1950s. From 1947 to 1948, soon after the Partition of India and of the Indian Army, the two new armies fought each other in the First Kashmir War, beginning a bitter rivalry which has continued into the 21st century.

The present-day Indian Army and Pakistan Army thus were formed from units of the pre-partition Indian Army. Both of these forces, and the Bangladesh Army which was created on the independence of Bangladesh, retain Indian Army traditions.

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