British Indian Army: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on British Indian Army

Include this on your site/blog:


(Redirected to Indian Army (1895–1947) article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

See Indian Army for the post-independence (and post-partition) army of the Republic of India.
A group of Indian Muslim soldiers posing for volley firing orders. ~1895.

The Indian Army (IA), now sometimes called the British Indian Army to distinguish it from the modern army of the Republic of India, was the principal army of the British Raj in India during the last half-century before the partition of India in 1947.

The Indian Army served both in India and, particularly during the World Wars, in foreign regions. Further, in India, it was constituted 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).[1]

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.



A painting showing a Sowar (Sepoy), 6th Madras Light Cavalry. Circa 1845.

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 "Indian Army" is the name for the Indian Armed forces of India, and the meaning 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."[2]
  • 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. His command was known as India Command[citation needed] 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:

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.

Rank system

A photograph, circa 1895 showing a 7pdr Mountain gun of Hazara Battery in Hazara listing the crew's ranks in the caption.

Commissioned Officers

Commissioned officers, British and Indian, held identical ranks to commissioned officers of the British Army.

Viceroy's Commissioned 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 King's Commissioned Indian Officers.

Non-Commissioned Officers



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. The British Indian Army had a strength of about 150,000 men on the eve of the First World War in 1914.

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. 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. Initially the soldiers and NCOs were Indian, with British officers but later Indian officers were promoted as part of Indianisation (see King's Commissioned Indian Officer).

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. The college still continues to train Pakistani Army officers. Whereas 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 in 1932.

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 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles in Waziristan during the Third Anglo-Afghan War.


Afghan Wars

Internal Security

The Indian Army, like the Presidency armies, provided armed support to the civil authorities, both in combatting banditry and in case of riots and rebellion.

North West Frontier

The main "conventional" warfare task of the Indian Army was to prevent an invasion of India via Afghanistan. There was also a need to pacify warlike local people and prevent banditry. This involved numerous small scale actions.

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 at 155,000. By November 1918, the Indian Army rose in size to 573,000 men.[3] 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 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. These divisions and brigade formed the Indian Corps and the Indian Cavalry Corps that was eventually sent to 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[5]

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.

Second World War

Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry "Khyber Pass to Hell-Fire Pass" during Operation Battleaxe in June 1941.
Indian troops on the quayside at Singapore, November 1941
Indian Army Sikh personnel in action during the successful Operation Crusader in December 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. These forces included tank and airborne forces. 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.[6]

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,[7] 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.[7]

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.[8] British Army units stationed in India returned to the United Kingdom or were posted to other stations outside India and Pakistan. Equipment from most British units was retained by the Indian Army, as only one 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.

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.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume IV 1908, p. 85 Quote: "The British Government has undertaken to protect the dominions of the Native princes from invasion and even from rebellion within: its army is organized for the defence not merely of British India, but of all possessions under the suzerainty of the King-Emperor."
  2. ^ Oxford History of the British Army
  3. ^
  4. ^ Haythornthwaite P.J. (1992). The World War One Sourcebook, Arms and Armour Press.
  5. ^ a b Participants from the Indian subcontinent in the First World War, Memorial Gates Trust,, retrieved 2009-09-12 
  6. ^ Weeks, John, World War II Small Arms, New York: Galahad Books (1979), ISBN 0883654032, p. 89
  7. ^ a b Peter Stanley "Great in adversity": Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea website of the Australian War Memorial
  8. ^ Brian Lapping, 'End of Empire,' Guild Publishing, London, 1985, p.75-6, p.82: 'By comparison with the two great provinces [Punjab & Sindh] partition of the army and the civil service was easy, though by any other standard, it was difficult, wasteful, and destructive. ... The men were transferred in their units. Regiments of Sikh and Hindu soldiers from the north-west frontier had to make their way through Muslim territory to get out of what was to be Pakistan.'

References and further reading

  • Corrigan, Gordon (2006). Sepoys in the Trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-15. Tempus Publishing Ltd. Pp. 296. ISBN 1862273545. 
  • Duckers, Peter (2003). The British Indian Army 1860-1914. Shire Books. ISBN 9780747805502. 
  • Guy, Alan J.; Boyden, Peter B. (1997). Soldiers of the Raj, The Indian Army 1600-1947. National Army Museum Chelsea. 
  • Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume IV (1908). Indian Empire: Administrative. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pp. 552. 
  • Holmes, Richard. Sahib the British Soldier in India, 1750-1914
  • Latimer, Jon. (2004) Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray.
  • Mason, Philip, A Matter of Honour: An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men, Macmillan 1974
  • Masters, John. (1956). Bugles and a Tiger: Viking. (autobiographical account of his service as a junior British officer in a Gurkha regiment in the years leading up to World War II)

External links

Simple English

firing orders. ~1895.]]

The British Indian Army, officially called simply the Indian Army (IA), was the army in British India during British rule (1858–1947).[1][2][3] The Indian Army served as a security force in India itself and fought in battles, particularly during the World Wars.

The term "Indian Army" was used to describe the presidency armies, especially after the Indian Mutiny. However, the first army officially called the "Indian Army" was raised by the government of India in 1895. In 1903 the Indian Army absorbed the three presidency armies (the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army).

Between 1903 and 1947 the Army of India consisted of two separate parts: the Indian Army and the British Army in India. The first consisted of Indian Army regiments from India, while the second were British Army regiments from the United Kingdom which were sent to India.


), 6th Madras Light Cavalry. Circa 1845.]] The Indian Army was formed after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 when the government of Britain took over rule from the British East India Company. Before that the Company had their own army units, paid for by their profits and these joined with British Army units.

The army of the British East India Company recruited mostly Muslims in the Bengal Presidency (which consisted of Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh), and high caste Hindus mainly from the rural plains of Oudh. These troops had rebelled against the British in 1857 due to the way they were treated. And had tried to make the Mughal king Bahadur Shah II the new ruler.

After the rebellion, the British started recruiting what the British called the "martial races," particularly Marathas, Rajputs, Sikhs, Gurkhas, Pashtuns, Garhwalis, Mohyals, and Dogras.

After World War II

After World War II, the British formations and units that had been part of the British Army of India were divided between India and Pakistan.

Soon after the Partition of India, both the newly formed armies fought each other in the First Kashmir War from 1947 - '48 which begun the bitter rivalry that has continued into the 21st century.


  1. Peter Duckers The British Indian Army 1860-1914 Pub: Shire Books, ISBN 978-0-7478-0550-2
  2. Indian Army: History "the total strength of the British-Indian Army was 90,000"
  3. Brig (Retd) Noor A Husain The Role of Muslims Martial Races of Today's Pakistan in British-Indian Army in World War-II


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address