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The Indian Army in 1900

In the early twentieth century, the process of centralization continued; and during this period, the separation between military and civilian spheres of influence and the ultimate primacy of civilian authority gained final acceptance in both civilian and military circles. The army in India had to undertake not merely the defense of India or of Afghanistan, but the active defense of India, and, added to that, the maintenance of order within India itself. The area of India is 1,870,000 square miles, the frontier line was about 6,000 miles long, its length from north to south was some 1,900 miles, and its breadth from east to west about the same, and the population of India was then 300,000,000.

The regular army in India of 1900 embraced both British and native troops, the former in round numbers some 74,000, and the latter 157,000 with a small reserve of 25,000, and a total of 486 guns. But just as other countries have a second line of militia, yeomanry, and volunteers, so in India there was a second line of European volunteers, Imperial service troops, militia, and military police, numbering about 76,000. The total regular army, British and native, including the reserve, was 256,000 strong, and the second line 76,000. The reserve is to be increased to 50,000, and might be further enlarged. The British Army and volunteers numbered 106,000, the regular native army and its reserves 182,000, and the native auxiliaries 44,000.

By the year 1900 the Indian Staff Corps, consisting of a corps of British officers for regimental employment in the native army, for staff departmental, and other duties, numbered 2,600 effectives, with a tendency to increase. Of these 26 are general officers. The Indian Medical Service numbered 700 officers of all ranks, with a subordinate establishment of 500 military assistant surgeons. The establishment of British troops in India numbered 73,500. They were periodically relieved from home, the tour of service varying from 9 years for cavalry up to 15 years for artillery and infantry.

The Native Army Active Reserves, mainly infantry, were growing, and numbered about 21,000, nearly half of whom belonged to the Punjab command. They consisted of men who had served with the colors from five to twelve years, and were called out annually for one month's training at regimental centers. There was also a large garrison reserve of all arms, consisting of old soldiers who have served twenty-one years, and were on the pension establishment.

An addition to the army of five native battalions at the expense of the imperial Government was made in 1900 as the result of India being called upon to furnish garrisons for Mauritius and other colonial stations over sea. These new battalions were raised from such warlike and hardy races as Sikhs, Punjabi Mahommedans, Jats, and hillmen in Northern India. Of these three were included in the Punjab army, and two in that of Bengal.

The auxiliary forces consist, in round numbers, of 31,000 Volunteers (British), 18,000 Imperial Service Troops (Native), 5,000 North-West Frontier Irregular Corps (Native), and 15,000 Burma and Assam Military Police Battalions (Native) The volunteers were drawn from the British element of the population, organized in corps in the different commands — rifles, mounted and foot, light horse, and artillery — under district general officers. Well armed and trained, they were of great defensive value.

The Imperial Service Troops came into existence in 1888, when the principal feudatory chiefs spontaneously offered men and money towards co-operation in imperial defense. Portions of their forces, under the instruction of a staff of British inspecting officers, were raised to such a pitch of general efficiency as to let them to take a place in line with the army of India. By 1900 they consisted of 8,000 cavalry, 8,000 infantry, with pioneers, mountain artillery, camel and transport corps, and had done good service in the field at Gilgit, on the Punjab frontier, and in Chun. They were under the orders of the Government of India.

The North-West Frontier Irregular Troops were organized in eight corps as rifles and militia, under two and three British officers to each corps, and formed an efficient advanced frontier force for service in the tribal countries beyond the administrative border. They were under the political authorities of the frontier province, and were recruited from the Afridi and other mountain clans along the border.

The Burma and Assam Military Police were organized in battalions under British officers, seconded from their regiments for this duty. They were recruited from the best material in the Punjab and neighborhood, and formed a very efficient irregular force for service on the eastern frontiers. They were under the provincial civil governments.

The supreme military power in India was vested by law in the Governor-General in Council, subject to the control of the Secretary of State for India. The business of the army was conducted through the military branch of the Government secretariat, which was immediately under the military member of Council. The secretary of this branch, like all the others, held a position somewhat above that of an under-secretary of state in England as, apart from his responsibility to the military member, the duty rested with him of personally bringing to the knowledge of the Viceroy every matter of special importance.

The executive head of the army was the Commander-in-Chief in India. He was responsible for its efficiency, was the adviser of Government in all military matters, and was an extraordinary member of Council with a voice in it, and precedence next after the Viceroy. Besides the great department of command and discipline of which he was the head, there were various army departments, for the most part spending — ordnance, accounts, commissariat-transport, Indian medical service, army remount, clothing. These, together with what came up from the Commander-in-Chief, made up the whole business of the army, and were administered by the military department of the Government by the military member of Council. All orders were issued by the secretary of this department in the name of the Governor-General in Council.

In 1900 the peace establishment of the Indian cavalry regiment was 11 British officers, 17 native officers, 608 other ranks — total 636, organized in 4 squadrons. Their armament was sword, lance, and Lee-Enfield carbine. Of the 40 cavalry regiments 25 were lancers. The British officers in each regiment filled the grades of commandant, squadron commanders (one of them second in command), adjutant, and squadron officers. Native officers were in command of half squadrons, and one of them was native adjutant as assistant to the British adjutant.

The infantry battalion is 11 British officers, 16 native officers, other ranks 896 — total 923, organized in 8 companies under native officers, and in 4 double companies under British officers. The British officers filled the grades of commandant, double company commanders (one of them second in command), adjutant, quartermaster, and double-company officers. One of the native officers was native adjutant. The armament was the Lee-Enfield rifle.

There were 9 battalions of pioneers, trained and armed as infantry, and instructed as pioneers, with a special equipment. The 3 corps of sappers and miners are organized in companies. They were armed as infantry and trained and equipped as engineers. They varied in strength; that of Bengal being 20 officers Royal Engineers, with 31 warrant and non-commissioned officers, 23 native officers, other ranks, 1414 — total, 1488: that of Madras, 22 officers and 34 warrant and non-commissioned officers R.E., 24 native officers, 1490 other ranks — total, 1570; that of Bombay, 14 officers and 20 warrant and non-commissioned officers R.E., 15 native officers, 886 other ranks — total 935. The R.E. officers filled the grades of commandant, superintendents, instruction, park and train, adjutant, company commanders, and company officers. The native mountain battery consisted of 4 officers Royal Artillery, 3 native officers, 253 other ranks — total, 260.

All army accoutrements were of brown leather manufactured in India. The grades of the cavalry native officers were risaldar-major (one to each regiment), risaldara and ressaidars in command of troops, and index them jemadars; those in the infantry were subadar-major (one to each battalion), subadars in command of companies, and under them jemadars. Promotion is made by selection. Selected non - commissioned officers were promoted to the commissioned grades, and direct commissions were also given to native gentlemen of rank and position, who were required to serve a probationary period before confirmation. Many members of old military aristocratic families served in the ranks in order to win a commission.

The full dress of the Indian army varied in color — red, blue, dark green, and drab. The fighting and working dress of all was of "khaki" color. Khaki uniform, which had been adopted in the imperial army, was used first by the Punjab Frontier force in 1849. It developed during the campaign in India in 1857, and became general during the Afghan war. The word is derived from the Persian "khak," meaning dust, ashes.

A medical officer of the Indian Medical Service was permanently attached to each corps. The establishment of British officers mandated absentees on leave. All appointed to the staff or other duty for a term of years, are seconded in their regiments. Their army rank was regulated by substantive rank in the staff corps or by brevet. The temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel was given to a major selected for the appointment of commandant, and that of major to a captain for that of second in command. The principle which it was endeavored to preserve was that none but approved British officers should be appointed to native regiments. They were first trained and tested in British regiments before appointment to the staff corps.

Annual field-training was carried out first by squadrons and double companies under their own commanders, followed by that of the regiment, and of larger bodies of the combined arms at every station where available. Camps of exercise were a great feature in India, where unrivalled facilities existed close at hand for training the troops in every kind of country, which are taken full advantage of. Musketry was a strong point in the training. The course was a very practical one, and the result was that the Indian soldier soon developed into a first-class shot.

Recruiting was conducted by British recruiting staff officers at various centers throughout the commands, and also at regimental headquarters where men offered themselves, particularly cavalry. Subject to certain restrictions as to active service, a man may claim his discharge after three years service, but it was optional with him to serve on for pension, or to pass to the reserve after five years service. The army drew its recruits as a rule from the peasant or yeoman class, men of good physique, hardy, enduring, and courageous. There was no lack of them. The service was very popular and well paid, and had a liberal system of pensions for long service and wounds, and also family pensions for widows or orphans in case of death on active or foreign service, an attractive feature which appeals to the homes.

It would be difficult in any country to find finer fighting material than that furnished by Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans, Rajputs, and Jats, men who have on many a field stood shoulder to shoulder with the best and bravest of the British force. There was hardly any practical limit to the number of excellent soldiers that in case of necessity can be raised at short notice from the "martial races" of India, who possessed great aptitude for military training.

The Indian army was heterogeneous as a whole but homogeneous in its units. The variation in these units is great. About one-third of the regiments are composed of one class—tribe, caste or religion—such as Gurkhas, Sikhs, Rajputs, Jats, Mahommedans, hillmen, &c, while the rest were composed of class squadrons and companies of the above and others. Their languages differ, but there was one common to all which they soon acquire — the Oordoo or Hindustani — the language of the camp or lingua franca of India, which originated with the old-time Mahommedan invasions of India, a mixture of Persian, Arabic, and Hindi. It was obligatory upon all staff corps officers to pass in Hindustani, and upon the regimental officer to pass in the language peculiar to the men in his regiment.

In India the transport and supply services were termed the commissariat-transport department. It was under the control of a commissary general-in-chief (a major-general) who had directly under him a commissary-general for transport only. Each command had a commissary-general. Under them were assistant and deputy assistant commissary-generals. This department fed and clothed the army in the held, and the British troops in quarters. All native troops in India during peace were independent of the commissariat for food and forage, making their own arrangements regimentally, as their pay included the provision of these items. The transport consisted of corps of mules and camels, trains of pony and bullock carts, with elephants for special work. Regiments and corps on the mobilization roster kept in charge a proportion of mule transport.

The ordnance department, under a director-general of ordnance (a major-general), was officered from the Royal Artillery. There is an inspector-general to each command. The military works services, under a director-general (a major-general), is officered from the Royal Engineers. There was a chief engineer in each command.

The organization for war was by brigades and divisions. Regiments and batteries on the mobilization roster were required to keep up a special equipment for field service, and on receipt of orders to mobilize know precisely what to do. Besides the divisions (four) which were always maintained in a state of readiness, there were other troops specially detailed for the lines of communication. When regiments moved in course of relief to stations outside the mobilization area, their place in the list was taken by the relieving corps to which they made over their special equipment.

By 1900 the number of the military forces of the many native states of India, great and small, was returned at 90,000, mostly ill-armed and ill-trained, one-third of which were cavalry. This total does not include the 18,000 well armed and organized imperial service troops furnished by twenty-three of these states. Kashmir had a force of Dogra Rajput infantry, hardy, inured to hill marching, and valuable in protecting the far north corner of that state about Gilgit and Chitra. A considerable part of the Gwalior and Hyderabad forces was fairly well drilled, and possessed some equipped batteries of artillery. The Sikh states had good Sikh troops, well drilled and fairly officered. They were very loyal to their chiefs. Rajputana could supply a large force of cavalry, all members of a military class. There was much excellent material among these troops which, under the hands of British officers, could be made useful in escort duty and keeping open lines of communication. Among the states, guns abounded of all sorts, sizes, and conditions. They may be put down at 500, all smooth-bores of old pattern, half of them movable. Very little of their artillery was organized.

Nepal was not included in the native states of India. It pays no tribute. This mountainous state, the homeland of the Gurkhas, has maintained close and friendly relations with the Indian Government since the accession to power of the Jung Bahadur in 1816, esi>ecially after he had, to use his own expression, "stood on London Bridge." In 1657 he personally led a strong Gurkha force of infantrv and artillery to co-operate with the British army at Lucknow. Nepal has an army of 48,000 infantry, capable of expansion, and about 600 guns of various kinds.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 19:23:44 ZULU