British Indian Army

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British Indian Army

active 1858/1895 to August 15, 1947
Country Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire, British India
British Raj Red Ensign.svg
structure Indian Army
British Army in India
Wars see missions of the British Indian Army

Napier , Kitchener , Roberts

Risaldar Major of the 14th Murrays Jat Lancers , from AC Lovett, circa 1912
Indian troops in Singapore, 1941

The British Indian Army was the army of the Crown Colony of British India (1858–1947). While their men were recruited from all areas of the colony (in addition to today's Republic of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh ) as well as from Nepal , the majority of their officers came from the United Kingdom . At the time of the British Empire , it formed the Army of India or Army in India together with the British Army in India , i.e. the contingents that came exclusively from the United Kingdom . Its official name was actually just Indian Army and was introduced in 1895. In the meantime the term British Indian Army is also used for the entirety of the British and Indian troops in British India in order to distinguish them from the modern Indian Army .


After the suppression of the Sepoy uprising , the British East India Company was dissolved in 1858 . The supremacy of the British East India Company over British India was transferred to the British Crown by the Government of India Act 1858 . The British government saw the British East India Company's practices in treating the Indian population as the main cause of the uprising. The trading company's territories were placed under the Crown and its regiments with local men became the army of the British Government of India, while the regiments with men from the motherland were taken over into the British Army . The British Indian Army at that time consisted of three armies :

  • Bengal Army
  • Madras Army
  • Bombay Army

In 1895 they were united to form the Indian Army, but unofficially the tripartite division existed until around 1904. All soldiers were volunteers and were entitled to a pension after 21 years of service . The greatest concentration of units of the British Indian Army was on the North West Frontier , the north-west border into Afghanistan . The British feared that Russia would attack from there for supremacy in Central Asia , The Great Game . Nine divisions were stationed there.

The troops in India were commanded by the Commander-in-Chief in India . Prominent commanders in chief were Robert Napier , Lord Roberts , Lord Kitchener , Claude Auchinleck and Archibald Wavell .

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener carried out extensive reforms, above all the merging of the three armies under one command. The resulting Army of India consisted of 1903-1947:

  • Troops made up of local soldiers with mostly British officers, the so-called Indian Army and
  • British Army troops commanded to India for a specific period (20 years), British Army in India .

While a considerable part of the positions in the company officers was provided by locals, the higher ranks were largely reserved for the British, although the proportion of locals there also increased over the course of time.

The Indian Army included at the beginning of the 20th century 141,890 man infantry , 24,854 man cavalry and 3,104 man artillery . The British Army in India comprised 77,075 infantry, 6,056 cavalry and 17,140 artillery.

The British and Indian units were a combined North and South army in a joint command structure consisting of nine infantry divisions and eight Cavalry - Brigade was.

From 1911 Indian troops were allowed to receive the Victoria Cross , the highest British war award. Khudadad Khan was the first soldier in the British Indian Army to receive this award for outstanding bravery in the face of the enemy in 1914.

The Indian Army fought during the First World War mainly on the Mesopotamia and Palestine fronts as well as in East Africa . On the western front , the deployment of two divisions near Neuve-Chapelle in the spring of 1915 was particularly noteworthy. Strong forces had to remain in India to secure the north-western border. Over a million men were deployed overseas, and a total of more than 70,000 members of the Indian Army died in World War I.

When the Second World War broke out , the Indian Army was 205,000 strong. In the course of the war it grew to over 2.5 million men.

The division of the Indian subcontinent into two states in 1947, the Indian Union and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan , led to the establishment of the Indian Armed Forces and the armed forces of Pakistan and the division of the British Indian Army. The British units based in India returned to their homeland. Four of the ten in Nepal recruited Gurkha - regiments remained in British service, the other regiments were transferred to the newly established Indian Army.

British-Indian Army operations


  • Boris Mollo: The Indian Army , Blandford Press, Poole 1981, ISBN 0-7137-1074-8 .
  • Byron Farwell: Armies of the Raj: From the Mutiny to Independence 1858-1947 . Norton, 1990, ISBN 978-0393026795 .
  • TA Heathcote: Indian Army. The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822-1922 . David and Charles, Newton Abbot et al. 1974, ISBN 0-7153-6635-1 , ( Historic armies and navies ).
  • Arthur Hodges: Kitchener . Vanguard Verlag Schlegel, Berlin 1937.
  • John Kaye : The history of Indian mutiny. A detailed account of the synchronous incidents at Mirath, Delhi, Culcutta, Banaras, Allahabad, Kanpur, Punjab, NWFP and Kashmir during 1857-58 . Sang-e-Meel Publ., Lahore 2005, ISBN 969-35-1705-9 , (Reprint. Originally published, Calcutta 1888).
  • George Fletcher MacMunn, Alfred Crowdy Lovett: The Armies of India . Intl. Lancer Press, Lancer 2009, ISBN 978-1-935501-01-5 , (Reprint. Originally published, London 1911).
  • Shrabani Basu: For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18, ISBN 978-9385436499
  • Kaushik Roy: The Army in British India. From colonial warfare to total war 1857-1947 , London / New York (Bloomsbury) 2013. ISBN 9781441168450

Web links

Commons : British Indian Army  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files