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The Imperial Service Troops were forces raised by the Native States of the British Raj in India that were available for service alongside the British Indian Army when such service was requested by the British government.[1] At the turn of the 20th century, they aggregated about 18,000 men.[1]

The troops were routinely inspected by British army soldiers and generally had the same equipment as Indian soldiers in the British Indian Army.[1] Although their numbers were small, the Imperial Service Troops were employed China and British Somaliland in the first decade of the 20th century, and later saw action in World War I.[1]



In March 1885, after a Russian force defeated the Afghan army at Panjdeh, a village on the ill-defined Russian-Afghan frontier, the British were alarmed and immediately dispatched the Army of India to the north-west frontier.[2] The "Panjdeh incident," however, also resulted in generous donations of money for a potential war effort from many Indian rulers, most notably the Nizam of Hyderabad.[2] Although the incident was later resolved in a compromise, the timely support of the Indian princes prompted the British to create a stand-by force of approximately 20,000 soldiers recruited from the armies of the Native States, but trained and equipped by the British Indian Army.[2] The cost of the training and new equipment was borne by the Native Sates.[2]

Armies of the Native States

The armies of the Native States were bound by many restrictions that were imposed by treaty arrangements and existed mainly for ceremonial use or for internal policing. According to Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. IV 1907, p. 85,

"Since a chief can neither attack his neighbour nor fall out with a foreign nation, it follows that he needs no military establishment which is not required either for police purposes or personal display, or for cooperation with the Imperial Government. The treaty made with Gwalior in 1844, and the instrument of transfer given to Mysore in 1881, alike base the restriction of the forces of the State upon the broad ground of protection. The former explained in detail that unnecessary armies were embarrassing to the State itself and the cause of disquietude to others: a few months later a striking proof of this was afforded by the army of the Sikh kingdom of Lahore. 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 the possessions under the suzerainty of the King-Emperor."[3]

In addition, other restrictions were imposed:

"The treaties with most of the larger States are clear on this point. Posts in the interior must not be fortified, factories for the production of guns and ammunition must not be constructed, nor may the subject of other States be enlisted in the local forces. ... They must allow the forces that defend them to obtain local supplies, to occupy cantonments or positions, and to arrest deserters; and in addition to these services they must recognize the Imperial control of the railways, telegraphs, and postal communications as essential not only to the common welfare but to the common defence."[4]

See also





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