India Under the Crown

On 1 November1858, Queen Victoria assumed the governance of India. It was appreciated that the British could no longer function in India purely as a military power. They, therefore, concentrate on improving their system of administration and introducing social reforms. In spite of the large disbandment of ‘disloyal’ units, the British Army soon expanded to about 90,000 strong, and every garrison had a third British troops. The East India Company’s European regiments were transferred to the British Army, and artillery was transferred to the Royal Artillery, except for five mountain batteries of the Punjab irregular force, and four batteries of the Hyderabad contingent.

Queen Victoria

Between 1860 and 1878, the Presidency Armies were not engaged in any major campaigns. However, there were many expeditions on the North-West Frontier; in Eastern India and the North-Eastern Frontier.

As a part of British Government’s policy, during the second half of the nineteenth century the Indian Army was assigned the responsibility and consequently was involved in a number of campaigns in the Far East, Burma and East Africa. These included the second China War (1857-60), North West Frontier (1861-1903), Second Afghan War (1878-80), Egypt (1882),Sudan (1884-85), the Third Burma War (1885-87) and soon after in British East Africa, Punjab Frontier (1897), China (1900) and Tibet (1904). The Indian Army won several battle honours in each of these campaigns.

However, the focus of attention was increasingly being drawn towards the North-West Frontier, Afghanistan and Central Asia, fearing a Russian invasion of India from that direction. Britain was, therefore, psychologically and militarily drawn into the so called ‘Great Game’ rivalry with the Russians. As a result, between 1895-1898 the Indian Army was engaged in three major campaign in the North West Frontier, namely Chitral, Malakand and Tirah. In all these fronts they won great honours and accolades.

In 1895 the Presidency Armies were abolished and the process commenced of dividing Indian Army into four commands that is Punjab, which included North-West Frontier and Punjab Frontier Force; Bengal; Madras which included Burma, and Bombay which included Sind, Quetta and Aden. Certain units and local corps, however, remained directly under the Government of India. Incidentally, the Frontier Force and the general north-western orientation of the Punjab and Bombay Commands was a fallout of European imperial rivalry. As early as 1840, Britain was firmly resolved to check the expansion of Imperial Russia into South-Central Asia.

In addition, the Government of India also comprised the Civil Police; the Volunteer Force recruited from within the British and Anglo-Indian communities; the State Forces and Imperial Services Troops from the princely States.

In November 1902, Lord Kitchener became Commander-in-Chief and immediately set to work on further reorganisation and redistribution of the Army in India. Since the recruitment pattern shifted further towards the north-central areas towards the end of 19 Century, in 1903 it again became necessary for Indian battalions to be given new names like Madrassis, Punjabis, Bengal Infantry (with the term ‘native’ dispensed with much earlier), Marathas, Rajputs, Sikhs, Jats, Garhwalis, Moplahs and so on, depending on their recruiting pattern. To cite an example, the initial five battalions of the Madras Presidency were further redesignated as ‘Punjabi’ battalions. By adding a numerical 60 to their Madras Infantry designation, these battalions then became 67, 69, 72, 74, and 87 ‘Punjabis’ respectively. A similar restructuring took place in the other Presidencies. Lord Kitchner completed the unification of Indian Army, which had begun in1895. Further reorganisation to include a centralised command and control was resorted to in 1903. The four commands were reduced to two, that is Northern Army and Southern Army, and all infantry regiments after re-numbering were grouped into brigades and divisions placed under permanent commanders with staff.

Troops at the NWFP

There existed 39 Cavalry regiments and 129 Infantry battalions of which Bengal comprised 48, Punjab 9, Madras 33, Hyderabad 6 and Bombay 30. Later five of the original Madras battalions were disbanded and 15 were converted to Punjabis. By 1908 the Northern Army comprised five divisions and three brigades; Southern Army of four divisions in addition to the Burma Division, and the Aden Brigade. This made a field army of 1,52,000, including nine divisions, eight cavalry brigades and Internal Security troops of over 80,000.

In 1903 an expedition under Colonel Young husband was sent to Tibet to force the Dalai Lama to negotiate a treaty to stabilise the northern frontier of India. When the Tibetans refused to negotiate, the force marched to Lhasa and reached there after some severe engagements. A treaty of trade and friendship was signed on 7 September 1904 which ensured better and more secure relations with Tibet.