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Indian Army - Lord Kitchener's Reforms

In November 1902 Lord Kitchener arrived in India and became Commanderin-Chief. Lord Kitchener carried through a series of reforms that would stamp his name indelibly on the military history of India. Herbert Kitchener enjoyed the splendid fame of standing godfather to modern Egypt. Kitchener was a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1871, and himself found the performance of those duties so tedious that in 1874 he went surveying in Palestine. Then Kitchener went to Egypt, and began to organize a force of native cavalry. By April, 1892, he succeeded Sir Francis Grenfell as Sirdar [commander] of the Egyptian Army. It was in that capacity that he crushed the Mahdi Uprising in the battle of Omdurman, in which the Mahdi's army was annihilated at only slight losses to the British. For these services Sir Herbert Kitchener was created Baron Kitchener of Khartoum, and a sum of £30,000 was awarded to him.

An agreement between Great Britain and Egypt of 19 January 1899 established the joint sovereignty of the two states throughout Sudan. The reorganization of the country began, with supreme power being centered in one official termed the "governor-general of the Sudan," To this post was appointed Lord Kitchener, under whom the Sudan had been reconquered. Kitchener was summoned to act as Chief of the Staff with Lord Roberts, in December 1899, to South Africa to take up the command against the Boers. Lord Roberts, in December, 1900, returned to England, and Lord Kitchener assumed the command. For his services Lord Kitchener was promoted to be Lieutenant-General and General, was given a viscounty, and received the thanks of Parliament and a grant of £50,000. For great strategy the campaigns had offered no opportunities, and the occasions for generalship in command were few, but Kitchener had again proved himself a wonderful organizer and administrator in the military sphere.

There were people in England who would have gladly handed over to Kitchener's will the entire machinery of the British Empire. There were others who thought that his mind was so exclusively the mind of an autocratic organizer that he would be the ruin of any empire in which the civil power was not absolutely paramount.

The Viceroy, Lord Curzon, had repeatedly pressed for the appointment of Lord Kitchener. It was part of his policy to seek the best men who could be found; he knew that the system of Indian defence required reconstruction, and he believed Lord Kitchener to be the soldier best qualified for the task. Lord Kitchener, on his part, was equally eager to go to India. He regarded the Indian command with a feeling akin to the enthusiasm with which Lord Curzon had entered upon the Viceroyalty, and he passed with alacrity from the dusty camp at Vereeniging to the most coveted post a British general can hold.

When Lord Kitchener reached India, the administration of the army was in a stage of transition. The distinguished officers of an earlier day had effected many improvements. It was the work of Lord Roberts and Sir George Chesney, among others, which rendered possible the further reforms of Lord Kitchener; but much remained to be done. The old system of separate Commanders-in-Chief for Bombay and Madras had been abolished, and the whole of the military forces had been unified under one head; but the organisation and distribution were still based upon obsolete conceptions. The views which dominated military policy immediately after the Mutiny were only just being abandoned. The advantages conferred by the development of a great network of railways had not been properly utilised. It was not clear whether the Army of India was controlled and distributed with the object of preserving internal peace or of repelling attack from without. Stray units were scattered about the land in isolated cantonments, and sometimes British regiments were found divided up into three or four detachments, so that in such cases a whole battalion rarely drilled together.

The "Kitchener test," by which every battalion in India was subjected to severe examination under service conditions, was much scoffed at, and produced a considerable amount of grumbling, particularly in the native ranks; but after it was all over officers admitted that it had been an excellent expedient, and had revealed such weaknesses as existed. Lord Kitchener was never beloved by the Army in India, and probably he did not want to be; but he had the faculty of producing extraordinary devotion among the officers with whom he was most closely in contact, and he was respected and feared by all.

When he first took up his command, he did not form a very high opinion of the efficiency of the Indian regiments, and he is not accustomed to conceal his convictions. Again, he was inclined to look askance at some of the methods of the Native Army, which he failed to understand, and thought were pampering. He judged what he saw too much by the standard of his old Soudanese troops. Indians are quicker than Europeans at discerning what is in a man's mind, and the " Kitchener test," which wore out the sepoy's clothes and boots and accoutrements, for which he then had to pay, did the rest. In later years Lord Kitchener saw fit to revise his views about the Native Army, and in the end he became its benefactor. He doubled the kit money of the Indian soldiers, so that they got their outfit free.

In 1903 a fresh departure took place in the unification of the army, and a further reorganization' was initiated under the auspices of the Commander-in-Chief in India, Lord Kitchener. The first step in the abandonment of the principles which had held the field for so long was made in 1903 when the regiments of cavalry and battalions of infantry were re-numbered and re-named, so as to get rid of all territorial connection. The object aimed at was to have one army in India, and not four bodies in one army-a complete reversal of the older policy. The next step was to abolish the Southern or Madras Command, and practically the Madras army, substituting regiments recruited from northern races for the Madras.

Lord Kitchener, in the course of his prolonged tenure of the post of commander-in-chicf in India, set to himself the task of reconstituting the army in India as regards organization and administration, improving its military efficiency, distributing it territorially to the best advantage, and giving it the mobility and power of rapid concentration which modern warfare requires. Though able men before him had done much to make the Indian army an efficient instrument of war, Lord Kitchener brought to bear upon the problem new ideas and methods. He had this advantage over his predecessors that he enjoyed a prestige and authority that enabled him to override opposition and obtain the concurrence of the home and Indian authorities to a large, and, in many respects, a contentions, scheme of reconstruction.

The abolition of the military department and the military member of council, and the subsequent suppression of a separate department of supply, made him eventually the sole military adviser of the viceroy, and concentrated in the person of the commander-in-chicf all executive and administrative authority in military affairs. With the disappearance of the military department and military member of council, the administration of military affairs in the Government of India and the executive command of the army were united in the person of the commander-in-chief. As an exception to this unification, certain branches of army supply were at first made a separate department and placed under a supply member of council. But after three years experience of the new system Lord Minto obtained the Secretary of State's assent to bringing supply under the commander-in-chief and making the latter supreme over all branches of the army.

PeshawarFirst Division
Rawal PindiSecond Division
LahoreThird Division
Quetta Fourth Division
Indore Fifth Division
Poona Sixth Division
Meerut Seventh Division
Lucknow Eighth Division
Secunderabad Ninth Division

Even though the Crown had taken direct charge of India from the East India Company in 1857, the three Presidency armies still existed and as late as 1904 there was no "Indian Army". In that year Lord Kitchener, appointed commander-in-chief of Indian forces in 1902, embarked on a reorganization to create an integrated all-India army. This 9 division, 9 cavalry brigade plan entailed divisions were 1 through 9, and associated cavalry brigades, also numbered 1 through 9. The Kitchener reorganization established 39 cavalry regiments in sequence from 1 - 39, with each regiment bearing its traditional name.

In reorganizing the army he made the defence of the north-west frontier against the possible advance of Russia through Afghanistan his primary concern. The organization of the troops which he found existing dated from the Mutiny. It failed, he considered, to distinguish sufficiently between the requirements of internal security and those of offensive warfare. It did not ear-mark troops for these two distinct purposes and train and equip them accordingly, but left the selection and mobilization of an active army in the event of war to the last moment. He aimed, therefore, at creating out of the forces at his disposal a (some 230,000 men in all) a field army, capable of being immediately mobilized, of the strength which be required to defend India against a Russian advance through Afghanistan, until help could be obtained from England.

He proposed, to mark off this army from the troops allotted for internal defence, to distribute it conveniently by division (each division comprising some 13,500 ccjmbatants of all arms) in homogeneous military areas, and to train it in war formations under the general officers who would command in the field. He broke up the four army commands which he found existing and replaced them by nine "divisional" commands. In each divisional command he proposed to place a self-contained division of the field army together with the necessary complement of garrison troops that would be left behind for internal defence in the event of mobilization. Fully mobilized his field army would absorb some 120,000 combatant troops, or more than half the total strength of the army in India. Adequate transport and supplies were to be provided and every arrangement made to enable each division of the field army, thoroughly trained and fully equipped, to pass rapidly into a state of war, when required, without confusion and dislocation.

The re-distribution of the army, which was largely due to Lord Kitchener, although it had been often discussed before, and put on one side owing to its great cost, was an attempt to organize the army in units of command similar to those in which it would take the field. The idea was that each divisional area shall furnish one fighting division, subdivided into three brigades, to concentrate the main portion of the army in large cantonments, and abandon a number of the smaller stations. There were also to be some separate troops on the North- West Frontier, at Aden, and a divisional command in Burma.

For instance, the Eighth (or Lucknow) Division had its headquarters at Lucknow, with a brigade at Fyzabad ; a second brigade distributed between Cawnpore, Allahabad, and Benares, hundreds of miles apart; a third at Calcutta, the capital of India, and seven hundred miles from Luck- now, embracing garrisons and outposts from Dinapore to Darjeeling, and from Buxa Duar, on the Bhutan frontier, to Cuttack in Orissa, on the Bay of Bengal; and a fourth brigade in still more distant Assam, and distributed in various stations and outposts for the protection of a frontier liable to the incursions of savage tribes. To call the troops stationed all over this immense area a 'division' is, of course, merely calling old things by new titles.

Lord Kitchener's scheme was to provide a field army of sufficicnt strength to meet the maximum danger to which India was likely to bt exposed, to distribute the troops composing the field army and those assigned for internal defence into self-contained divisional commands, and to give to the divisional commanders powers and responsibilities that hitherto had been exercised by army headquarters. As subsidiary measures the defences of the N.W. frontier were strengthened, and military equipment and the pay and conditions of service of the Indian army improved.

The problem of Indian defence was materially affected by three successive events, all of which occurred during and after 1905. The first was the final defeat of Russia by Japan; the second was the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance upon a closer basis; and the third was the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Convention. None of these events made the essential requirements of Indian defence any less real or urgent; but they all had this cumulative effect, that they made it far less necessary to have troops ready to fling on the instant into Afghanistan, and to that extent they modified the calculations of Lord Kitchener. It was then that the theory emerged—and an excellent theory it was—that the divisions were to be "echelonned back" from the frontier along the main strategic lines of railway. It had also been realised in the meantime that the cost of making large increases in the forces actually stationed on the frontier would be prohibitive.

These measures were in process of being carried out, when Lord Kitchener left India in 1909 after seven years' tenure of the office of commander-in-chief. From India he returned to Egypt, and from Egypt he went to the War Office — one of the most obstinately and obtusely conservative of men becoming the colleague of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill.

It was a large scheme, involving many subsidiary reforms, such as enlarged staffs, extensive regrouping of troops and building of barracks, better training and equipment, increased pay and allowances for the native ranks of the Indian army.Though planned with the greatest economy, and though it was curtailed and altered in order to reduce expense, the scheme necessarily increased the army charges, which rose from £16,000,000 in 1901 to £20,500,000 in 1910. Financial difficulties then beset the Indian Government. Fears of Russian aggression had subsided and a halt in military expenditure was thought advisable. When the World War broke out, the reorganization so far completed fell considerably short of Lord Kitchener's original scheme, though representing a great advance on what it had superseded.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 19:23:45 ZULU