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Indian Army - Between the Wars

The army in India was composed of British regular troops, which formed part of the British army transferred for a period of service to the Indian establishment, and of the Indian army. The latter consisted of Indian troops, raised in India by the Indian Government, and commanded by Indian officers (native officers as they were called) holding the viceroy's commission, and by British officers holding the king's commission. Under new arrangements at the time of the Great War, a certain number of king's commissions in the Indian army were given to Indians; in some cases in recognition of distinguished service in the Indian army and by way of promotion, and in others to young men of good education on conditioner their undergoing training in England at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

The numerical proportion in which the two component parts of the army in India should stand to each other was fixed in the first instance in 1858, when the Crown assumed responsibility for the government and defence of India. It was further considered in 1893, when the rapid advance of Russia in Central Asia gave rise to anxiety for the security of India. The ratio of one British soldier to 2-5 Indian soldiers was then definitely adopted and has since been adhered to as the permanent basis of the army in India, though liable in emergencies, as in the World War, when India was for a time almost denuded of British troops, to be departed from. The proportion is struck on the regular forces, including the imperial sen-ice troops maintained by native states. No account was taken, on the one hand, of the Auxiliary Force, which was recruited on a voluntary system from the European and Eurasian community, or, on the other hand, of the reserves of the Indian army, the Indian territorial force, the armed police or the armies of the native states.

The mobilization for the war effort revealed a number of shortcomings in the military establishment. Officer casualties had a particularly pernicious effect on military formations because only the British officers assigned to a battalion had the authority and standing to exercise overall command. In addition, Indian officers from one company could rarely be transferred to another having a different ethnic, religious, or caste makeup. As a consequence, after the war most battalions were reorganized to ease reinforcement among component companies.

The inquiry of the Mesopotamian Committee set up by Act of Parliament, and the grave indictment of the Indian military system, as regards both administration and organization, contained in the Committee's report. The system was described as cumbrous, slow-moving and oycrcentralizcd in the last degree. The new commander-in-chicf (Sir Charles Monro) effected some improvement, but the Afghan War of 1919, followed by the Waziristan campaign, led to renewed complaints against Indian army administration.

The Indian Government suffered both in purse and in military reputation from the Afghan War of 1919. That war and the Waziristan campaign cost the Indian taxpayer 15,000,000. The hurried mobilization of a large army on the frontier at the beginning of the hot weather and the carrying out of operations in an inhospitable country during the hottest months of the year severely strained the war-worn military machine and revealed defects in its working. The hardships experienced by the troops and the shortcomings of the supply and medical departments provided material for press attacks on the Indian military system and a repetition of the Mesopotamian breakdown was freely predicted.

Under Lord Chelmsford's viceroyalty, the appointment of a Committee, with Lord Eshcr as chairman, to inquire into the organization and administration of the army in India, was deemed necessary. An inquiry into the organization and administration of the army in India was overdue, and in the autumn of 1919 the Secretary of State appointed a committee, with Lord Esher as chairman, to undertake it. The committee visited India in the winter and reported in the following May. Their recommendations covered much ground, from the relations of the High Command in India to the War Office and the India Office, the duties and position of the commander-in-chief in the Government of India, the administration of the army in India as part of the armed forces of the Empire, to the pay and pensions of officers and men of the Indian army.

In the judgment of this Committee, which reported in 1920, the existing military system, as regards both organization and administration, was defective in many respects. Their recommendations would, if acted on, modify considerably the Kitchener scheme. Effect was given by 1921 to one such recommendation involving an extensive measure of delegation and decentralization. The nine divisional commands created by Lord Kitchener were replaced by smaller territorial units, and these were grouped into four army commands, the commanders of which would dispose of much work hitherto dealt with by the commander-1n-chitf and army headquarters. The Infantry was grouped in 19 groups, each called a Regiment. Battalions became mixed class battalions, with companies of prescribed classes. The double company system was abolished. Each Regiment had five active battalions, one Training Centre and one Territorial Battalion.

Some of these recommendations raised large questions of policy. Others involved a considerable increase in the Indian military budget. The more important proposals of the Committee regarding thr functions of the military forces of India in any scheme of Empire defence, the authority to be exercised over their organization and administration by the British War Office, and the position and duties of the commander-in-chief remained before the Indian Government and the Cabinet.

The report was unfavorably viewed in India. As they stood, the proposals were not acceptable to Indian nationalists, who saw in them a design to subordinate the Indian army to the necessities of the Empire and to encroach on the independence of India. It was thought to harbor a design to increase the control of the War Office over the military forces of India and to place them at the disposal of the home Government. The Legislative Council expressed these apprehensions in a series of resolutions which the Government of India undertook to lay before the Secretary of State. The Government of India also undertook to effect all possible economies in military expenditure.

The British troops were necessarily the most costly part of the army in India, and both on this account and from a sense of national pride Indian critics of military expenditure pressed for a reduction in the British element. Up to 1921 the Indian Government and its military advisers, though committed generally to reducing army charges that had doubled since 1914, had not admitted that the British garrison could be safely reduced. In a debate in the Legislative Assembly in March 1921 the commander-in-chief (Lord Rawlinson) made out a strong case for not altering the proportion of British to Indian soldiers while the requirements of internal and external defence were unchanged.

Strong pressure from the Indian public drove the British to begin training a small complement of Indians for commissions as a first step in the Indianization of the officer corps. The Royal Indian Air Force was established in 1932, and a small Indian marine unit was reorganized into the Royal Indian Navy in 1934. Indian artillery batteries were first formed only in 1936. Although the practice of limiting recruitment to the martial races had proved inadequate during World War I and entry had been opened to "non-martial" groups, the traditional recruitment emphasis on martial races was nonetheless resumed after demobilization.

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