Military


1st Horse / Skinner's Horse

From an apprentice to a carpenter to the founder of a cavalry regiment was what Col James Skinner to be when he was born to Scottish father and Rajput princess in 1778. His mixed blood could not get him a commission in the Company's service but his outright martial skills and generosity for his men of 'Hindoostan' paved the way for Captain Skinner's Horse of Irregular Cavalry to be formed on February 23, 1803. James Skinner came a long way from fighting under General De Boigne, the powerful commander of the Scindias, until the British army under Lord Lake defeated the Marathas led by Perron. Eight hundred men on horses offered their services on one condition-they wished to be led by James Skinner. Thus, the "Yellow Boys", called so because of their uniform, galloped into future to transform unto an armoured regiment. Clinging to its roots for two hundred years, the regiment hops to celebrate at headquarters in Gwalior this month. Sainik Samachar joins the regiment on the occasion.

The successes of Skinner's Horse in various campaigns motivated a large number of native horsemen to don the regimental colours. By 1814, the strength of the regiment was 3000. At this point, the regiment was divided into three corps, each one thousand-strong. The 1st Corps was known as Captain Skinner's Corps of Irregular Horse. The 2nd Corps of Skinner's Horse was raised in 1814 under the command of Maj Robert Skinner. The 3rd Corps was disbanded in 1819. The 2nd Corps became famous as the 3rd Skinner's Horse.

Skinner's Horse in World War-I

The regiment was at Meerut when the World War-I broke out. The regiment was a part of the 7th Meerut Cavalry Brigade. The brigade received orders to mobilise on October 24, 1914. On the evening of November 13, the regiment entrained at the Meerut station for Bombay. The intervening time had been spent drawing mobilisation stores and collecting winter clothing from all over India.

The embarkation began on November 17. Two hired transporters - Rajah and Rani-were allotted to regiment. On November 19, the convoy, consisting of 32 transporters escorted by a French light cruiser Duplex, set sail. On November 26, it reached Aden. On December 3, the convoy reached Suez Canal and the next day was spent sailing up the Canal which was held by Indian troops. The regiment reached Marseilles Port in France by December 15.

The regiment was in France till August 1916. It saw extensive action in many parts of France. It was awarded the battle honours France and Flanders for its fine performance. A detachment of the unit was sent to Mesopotamia as a part of the 7th Meerut Cavalry Brigade Headquarters. The Machinegun Squadron which was tasked for the operation did a commendable job and Jamadar Amir Lal Bahadur of this squadron was awarded Military Cross. For his command of the regiment in France, Lt Col Wall was awarded Companion of St Michael and St George. Risaldar Major Balwant Singh received the Order of British Indian 2nd class and was promoted three years later to the 1st class. The regiment was ordered to move to Rawalpindi where it finally concentrated on August 6, 1916 for operations in Afghanistan.

The Skinner's Horse moved from Rawalpindi for operations in the hilly tracts of Afghanistan. A detachment of the regiment was tasked to guard the post at Gumboz. The detachment was later reinforced with additional troops. The defence of Gumboz post has been considered worthy of inclusion in the official list of battles and citations received during the war. For his gallant actions during this war, Maj Gaussen received Companion of the Indian Empire while Lt Lyons was awarded Military Cross. Dafadar Lal Singh (posthumous) and Lance Dafadar Khem Singh were awarded Indian Order of Merit, 2nd class.

After World War-I, orders were issued for reducing the numbers of Indian cavalry regiments. Accordingly, on May 18, 1921, two regiments were amalgamated at Sialkot under the command of Lt Col ECW Conwoy-Gordon and was called 1st Duke of York's Own Skinner's Horse.

The 1st Duke of York's Own Lancer comprised Muslims only whereas the 3rd Skinner's Horse consisted of one squadron each of Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs and Rangars (Muslim Rajputs). After amalgamation, the new regiment consisted of only three Sabre Squadrons- Rajputs, Rangars and Jats. The Sikh Squadron, which formed part of the 3rd Skinner's Horse for 72 years, had to be disbanded.

As a result of amalgamation, the major change was disappearance of the lance. Now the regiment was armed with the straight thrusting cavalry sword similar to that of the British Cavalry Regiment. Each of the four troops in Sabre Squadrons had one Hotchkiss gun and rest of the fire power was provided by .303 short (Enfield) mag rifles. The machinegun troops of the Headquarters Squadron had .303 Vickers machinegun. Before amalgamation, Skinner's Horse had been mounted on Walers (Australian) horses brought from dealers in Calcutta and Bombay. After amalgamation, remounts were provided by the Army Remount Depot. Now the regiment acquired the status of a regular force of the Indian Army and got itself equipped with the latest weapons which helped in later campaigns across the globe.

Skinner's Horse in World War-II

In September 1939, when World War II was declared, Skinner's Horse was still a mounted regiment. When the mobilisation regulations were opened, one of the first orders was: Swords will be sharpened! That the regiment was able to take its place as a reconnaissance unit as a part of a motorised brigade in East Africa within nine months and was in action as early as the autumn of 1940 was a matter of pride to all ranks. Skinner's Horse retained its reconnaissance role throughout the war serving as a part of Gazelle Force, 5 Indian Division, 4 Indian Division, 10 Armoured Division, 3 Indian Motor Brigade and 10 Indian Division. The war began at a time when this cavalry regiment was ordered to hand over its horses and start learning all about mechanisation. Barely had the men got used to the new ways and methods, they were sent off straight into battle.

Rawalpindi is full of nostalgia in the annals of the history of the Skinner's Horse. It was here, in October 1939, that the regiment bid farewell to its horses and embarked on its journey towards mechanisation. An era spanning more than a century ended. The men set forth in right earnest to master their mechanical mounts. Having fought so gallantly on horsebacks for over one hundred years, the time had come finally to say adieu to horses and to get mechanised. On 28 October 1939 at Rawalpindi, the regiment paraded on horses for the last time.

The first vehicles to be inducted into the Skinner's Horse, in December 1939, were 30 Morris 30-cwt lorries which were six wheelers. Lt Col AM Bradfoot, the then Commandant, put his men on a rigorous training schedule. For the men, the transformation from a sowar to a driver was not easy. For the simple Indian soldier who had only handled animal transport till then, mechanical means of transport was a wonder to behold. The first board of officers constituted to assess the capabilities of the men comprised three Majors who were squadron commanders. All three returned ashen-faced after the new drivers were 'through with them' as their driving skills left much to be desired. It was realised later that the men were probably overawed due to the presence of a senior British Officer with them in the driver's cabin. One soldier even tried to stand up to attention whenever given an order, banging his head against the roof!

The Morris lorries were well past their prime when received. Continuous training of greenhorns took their toll on these vehicles. It was only the skill and devotion of the regiment fitters that kept these vehicles going. In May 1940, the regiment was given 30 new Chevrolet trucks. These had to be collected from Bombay. The newly trained drivers did the regiment proud by driving from Bombay to Rawalpindi with no mishap. The regiment received orders to prepare for redeployment to the Middle East in July 1940. By September 1940, the regiment had 350 trained drivers, apart from a full complement of mechanics. It was a tribute to the hard work and single-minded dedication of the officers and men who trained hard and reached battle-worthiness in such a short time.

Later, it prepared itself for war as a mechanised unit and on September 22, 1940, it sailed from Karachi for the Port of Sudan to fight against Italians in Africa. The regiment acquitted itself extremely well in World War II and won battle honours one after another. It saw its first action in the area of Tendalai where 'B' and 'C' Squadrons were attacked by the enemy. In this action, both squadrons captured some 237 Italians and killed twenty. The casualties in the regiment were only three.

Skinner's Horse fought its next battle at Keren where it launched a series of attacks to clear the enemy from the area. In April 1941, the regiment fought its famous action at Amba-Alagi Pass. Initially, the Pass could not be captured due to heavy artillery fire by the enemy. It was then decided to attack the OP (out-post) position. Before the men reached the location, the enemies fled away leaving all their equipment. Later, there was no resistance from the enemy. Two Italian officers along with an interpreter surrendered to 'C' Squadron.

For the next three years, the regiment stayed in Africa and carried out all its tasks magnificently. At most of places, it was given reconnaissance tasks, where it gained some valuable information for its formation headquarters. Finally, it embarked for Italy and reached its new location on May27,1944. During the Italian campaign, it did extensive patrolling in its armoured cars and harassed the enemy. For its gallant actions in World War II, the regiment was awarded battle honours Agordat, Keren, Amba-Alagi, Abyssinia, Senio Flood Bank and Italy.

While fighting the war in Iran in 1942, the regiment was handed over brand new T-16 Bren carriers. These were tracked armoured vehicles and had the Bren machine-gun as its main armament. The Bren carriers were excellent fighting vehicles and they saw service with the regiment till the end of World War-II. The regiment had been redeployed to Italy after seeing action in Iran. The Humber Mk IV armoured cars were given to the regiment there. The Humber had a 37 mm canon as its main armament and a 7.62 mm MG mounted co-axially as its secondary armament. The regiment also received half-tracked armoured cars which were white in colour and were used as personal carriers. A Sabre Squadron consisted of two troops of Humbers, two troops of T-16 tracked carriers, one infantry troop based on the half-tracks and a 3-inch mortar section. The HQ Squadron had a troop of Humbers with a 6-pounder gun mounted on each armoured car. The 6-pounder was later replaced with 75 mm Howitzer.

Skinner's Horse and Tanks

It was in 1946 that the regiment received its first tank, Stuart. It had a 37 mm gun as its main armament. In 1947, while under the command of Lt Col RM Bilimoria, the first Indian Commandant, the regiment was stationed at Ahmadnagar. The regiment was given Churchill tanks which had a 75 mm gun apart from 7.62 mm co-axial MG. The regiment took part in the Hyderabad Police Action in 1948. For this, the Churchills were left at Ahmadnagar and the Stuart tanks were used. After the Hyderabad Police Action, the Stuart tanks were dropped and the Churchills were taken over once again. The Churchill tanks remained with the regiment till 1957. The next tank to be taken over was the Sherman Mk IV. The Sherman remained in service with the regiment till 1965.

The sixties saw a warm relationship between India and the erstwhile USSR. The T-series of tanks were inducted into the Indian Army during this period. The regiment converted to T-54 in 1965 and, thereafter, to T-55. The T-55 was, at that time, considered to be the best tank available in the world. This was proved in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The T-55 saw service with the regiment till 1979.

The T-72 tanks started getting inducted into the Army in the late seventies. Skinner's Horse was amongst the first armoured regiments to receive this tank. The tank is a potent weapon platform. It has a 125 mm main gun, a 12.7 mm anti ac MG, a 7.62 mm MG mounted co-axially with the main gun and smoke grenade dischargers. Since 1979, improved versions of T-72 have been inducted into the regiment. At present, T-72 M, T-72 M I and T-72 Ajay tanks constitute the armament of Skinner's Horse.



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