Saturday, 7 October 2017


World War-1 and Post War Reforms
On 28 June 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austrian Empire, at Sarajevo in Bosnia was the main cause of World War-1 (1914-18). Tension between the major European power had, however, been growing for some time, fuelled mainly by Germany’s ambition to be the major power in Europe and as a competitor to Britain in Commerce and trade. This had led to the formation of two power blocks in Europe, the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Hungary; and the Triple Entente of England, French and Russia. Few would have imagined that the pistol shots in Sarajevo would lead to a brutal four year war and would draw in most of the world. Last of all did the Indian Army expect to be pulled out of fighting Pathans to fighting Germans and the Turks.
During World War-I, 1, 40,000 Indian Army troops were deployed on various fronts oversees. Trench warfare was entirely new to the Indian soldier. These trenches were continuous deep ditches, damp and muddy and prone to collapse under heavy bombardment, a complete contrast to the dry hills and scrub of the North-West Frontier. Though initially they moved into the theatres of war ill trained and ill-equipped, they rose to various challenges with dexterity and fervour, to be fully equipped and trained in due course.
While the newly raised I Indian Corps comprising two Infantry Divisions, that is 3 (Lahore) and 7 (Meerut) along with the 4 (Secundrabad) Cavalry Brigade was deployed in France, operations in Mesopotamia and German East Africa were, in the beginning, entrusted to Indian Army aided by troops of Princely States.
The first major battle in which Indian troops took part was the First Battle of Ypres, a small market town in Flanders bordering present day Belgium. Troops of the Indian Corps were fully committed there and suffered heavy causalities, as in the case of Festubert in December 1914 and at Loos in September 1915.
In this theatre, apart from Ypres, Festubert and Loos, many Indian units also earned laurels at La Basse, Givenchy, Aubers, Armenties, Neuve Chapelle and Somme. It was in these battles that two Indian soldiers-Khudadad Khan and GS Negi earned the coveted Victoria Cross for their valour. In November 1915 the Indian Corps was withdrawn from France and sent to Egypt. The cavalry brigade, however, remained on the western front and took part in the battles of Somme in 1916 and Cambrai in 1917.
In the Middle East, units of Indian Army and many of the Princely States were deployed for the defence of Suez Canal and for operations in Gallipoli, Persia, Mesopotamia, Palestine and East Africa. On the Mesopotamia front Indian troops, who were earlier rushed to Bahrain to protect oil refineries, were regrouped to launch an invasion on southern Mesopotamia in October 1914. The local Turkish garrison was driven back, and Basra was captured by the Indian Army in November 1914. They then advanced to Kut-el-Amara and beyond to Ctesiphon, but subsequently withdraw to Kut and put up a stiff resistance there under very difficult conditions till it fell to the Turks. It was, however, recaptured in 1916 and was followed by the capture of Baghdad and Ramadi. Some of the troops remained in Iraq upto 1920.
In Egypt and East Africa Indian Army troops were deployed throughout the war for the defence of Suez Canal, operations in Gallipoli and for various campaigns in Africa including that of Kilimanjaro. At the Palestine and Syrian fronts they participated in the battles of Jerusalem, Gaza, Megido, Sharon and Hafia.
At the Persian front, where Indian troops were deployed throughout the war, they again performed splendidly. At the outset of the war Russian troops had occupied most of northern Persia, despite their declaration of neutrality. When Turkey entered the war Indian troops were deployed in the north-western coast of Persian Gulf so as to protect British oil interests, contain the Russians and to obtain a base for operations in Mesopotamia.
In all these fronts Indian Army troops performed splendidly, much to the surprise of Allied forces and chagrin of opposing forces, and the long list if honours and awards bestowed on Indian units and individuals prove this point. When the war ended the Indian Army was once again reorganised to improve the system of command; achieve better balance between the fighting arms and services; to update arms and equipment and to develop a system of continuous reinforcement and expansion during war.
The army was now divided into four commands that is Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern. In 1920 the Indian Territorial Force (ITF) was raised for home defence and garrison duties, while Auxiliary Forces (India AFs) continued to be in charge of internal security.
The British government, in June 1918, issued instructions for the selection of Indian cadets for entry into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. The annual entry was to be ten in two batches of five each. At the same time a school to train Indian cadets for grant of temporary commissions was inaugurated on 1 December 1919, and 33 cadets were granted permanent Kings Commissions with effect from 17 July 1920. Field Marshal Cariappa was an illustrious member of the first batch of Indian Commissioned officers, and during subsequent years vacancies in these institutions also increased proportionately.
World War I, however, had shown glaring deficiencies in the organization and administration of the army. Efforts to set these right now started in earnest. One of the greatest deficiencies had been in the system of recruit training and maintenance of reserves. This was sought to be set right by introducing a Regimental system. Therefore, in 1922 the large and unwieldy single-battalion groups were reorganised into various regiments under Lord Rawlinton of Trent, the then Commander - in- Chief. The Regiments thus created, seniority wise, were 1 Punjab, 2 Punjab, 3 Madras, 4 Grenadiers, 5 Maratha Light Infantry, 6 Rajputana Rifles, 7 Rajput, 8 Punjab, 9 Jat, 10 Baluch, 11 Sikh, 12 Frontier Force Regiment, 13 Frontier Force Rifles, 14 Punjab, 15 Punjab, 16 Punjab, 17 Dogra, 18 Garhwal, 19 Hyderabad, Assam, Gurkhas and so on. For instance, 3/2 Punjab represented the third battalion of the 2nd senior most Regiment of Indian Army – 2nd Punjab.
However, the ten Gorkha Rifles regiments remained on two-battalion system, without any training battalion. As a result the existing 131 battalions were integrated into the newly created 19 Infantry Regiments. In the cavalry, the 39 pre-war cavalry regiments were reduced to 21, and the Silidar system was abolished. Separate Corps of Signals and Ordnance were raised as also a Veterinary Corps. An Artillery Depot was established and steps were taken to introduce mechanised transport. Thus in 1922 the modern Indian Army came into being in terms of Regiments and Corps. With regards State Forces, prior to the inception of Indian Army based on the British model, most of the Princely States had their own armies to include infantry, artillery and cavalry units amongst other logistic units or sub units. While expanding their influence over India, the British augmented their own armies through local recruitment in order to effectively fight some of these very state armies who dared to oppose their advance. Noteworthy is the fact that state armies like those of Travancore, Cochin, Mysore, Kolhapur, Hyderabad, Berar, Indore, Baroda, Gwalior, Bhopal, Saurashtra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Faridkot, Patiala, Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala, Cooch Behar and also Kashmir, to name a few, were well-trained and very well organised.
Soon after World War-1, frequent small operations were under taken to deal with the raiders and local tribesmen from across the North -West Frontier. The Indian Army, which looked for a period of peace, found it pitted against the Afghan Army which had crossed the border, and thus began the Third Afghan War. The Afghans were soon forced back across the border and the war came to an end on 8 August 1919. However, while the Afghans retreated, the tribes in Waziristan rose in revolt and were joined by the Mashuds. A force designated the Derajat Column, consisting of two brigades, three batteries of mountain artillery and other attached troops, advanced into Mashud territory on 23 December 1919 and soon found themselves entrapped.
The Mashuds were well armed; many had been with the Indian Army not too long ago and were in no mood to surrender. On the other hand the Indian troops were tired and looking forward to a period of peace. Most of the veterans had been demobilised and the new recruits still very raw. In four years of trench warfare, the army had forgotten the art of fighting in the North-West Frontier.
The column initially met setbacks and suffered fairly heavy casualties. Over a period of time their weight began to tell, troops relearned lessons of frontier warfare and by 1921 the tribes sued for peace. After a period of relative quiet the Frontier again became restive in 1930. Riots in Peshawar led to an uprising by the Afridis but this was soon contained. In 1935 the Mohamands near Peshawar rose in revolt and a force of four brigades was sent to suppress them; among the Brigadiers were Alexander and Auchinleck, both destined for high rank in World War II. In 1936, the Fakir of Ipi gave a call for holy war and fighting against his followers continued into the 1940’s. The Indian Army was also called upon to send troops to Shanghai in 1926 and Burma in 1931.

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