On 28 June 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austrian Empire, at Sarajevo in Bosnia was the main cause of World War-1 (1914-18). Tension between the major European power had, however, been growing for some time, fuelled mainly by Germany’s ambition to be the major power in Europe and as a competitor to Britain in Commerce and trade. This had led to the formation of two power blocks in Europe, the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Hungary; and the Triple Entente of England, French and Russia. Few would have imagined that the pistol shots in Sarajevo would lead to a brutal four year war and would draw in most of the world. Last of all did the Indian Army expect to be pulled out of fighting Pathans to fighting Germans and the Turks.


Over 1.5 million soldiers from Indian Subcontinent went to war. They fought in all major theatres of war and continued on orders even beyond 1918 in Afghanistan & Persia (up to 1920).The gallant Indian Soldiers earned 11 Victoria Cross, 5 Military Cross, 973 Indian Order Of Merit & 3130 Indian Distinguished Service Medals during the WW 1. 12 Cavalry Regiments, 13 Infantry Regiments & several other units of other Arms / Services also participated in the 13 Campaigns of the WW 1.

India provided Britain with not just men and material, but finances as well to fight World War 1. India bore £100 million towards the cost of the war. In the context of Britain; £100 in 1917 would be worth £34,000 today. An initial offer of a lump sum of £100 million was made in 1917. Three quarters of this was raised by war loans or bonds and the rest by the Government of India. In terms of direct monetary contribution India gave; £146.2 million from its revenues by 1920.

172,815 animals, which included 85,953 horses, 65,398 ponies and mules, 10,781 camels, 5,061 bullocks, 5,692 dairy cattle and 369.1 million tonnes of supplies and stores left the ports of India for various destinations. Within the first few weeks of the war, India supplied 70,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, 600,002 rifles, mortars and machine guns. Considerable quantities of shell cases were manufactured. The Army Clothing Department produced 41,920,223 garments between 1914 and 1918. Raw materials like rough tanned hides, wool, manganese, mica, salt-petre, timber, bamboo, raw silk, hemp, coir, tea, rubber, petroleum oils and food stuffs were supplied. A total of 2,737,862 tonnes of items such as rice, flour, atta, ghee, sugar, tea, tinned meat, grain and hay for animals, jam, biscuits and firewood were shipped from India up to March 1919.


Excerpts from a collection of Guardian reportage from the First World War 12 Nov 1914 :

"The people of the Raj were not consulted about their participation in the war.

More than 1 million soldiers served overseas in the Indian army – and 75,000 died. By autumn 1914, Indians were on the western front."

It was a curious sight to all of us, French or English, the day when the Indians arrived in a dreary little town of Northern France. Suddenly the Indian Lancers appeared, and the pavement on both sides of the street was at once filled by a crowd of soldiers and civilians watching the procession, as a London crowd will do in Whitehall on the day of the opening of Parliament.

In fact, those Indians looked all like kings. The Lancers sat proudly in their saddles, with their heads upright under the Oriental crowns; then came a regiment of Sikhs, walking at a brisk pace, all big and strong men, with curled beards and the wide 'pagri' round the ears; the Pathans followed, carrying on their heads that queer pointed bonnet, the 'kullah,' which reminds one of the warriors seen on old Persian tapestries – a more slender type of men, but equally determined, and with faces at the same time smiling and resolute.

The day after, we heard that during the night one of the Sikh regiment had to recapture the trench, which the Germans had taken by surprise, and that their bayonet charge was so tremendous that the enemy did not dare counter-attack. Almost immediately after that feat an order came not to allow the Indians uselessly to expose their lives by walking out of the trenches. The fact was that, in order to show their contempt for death, some Sikhs had refused to hide themselves in the trenches and had immediately drawn a fierce fire on their regiment. Fortunately, they did not insist on playing that sort of game; otherwise the Indian Army Corps would have disappeared in one week's time out of sheer bravery.

While the newly raised I Indian Corps comprising two Infantry Divisions, that is 3 (Lahore) and 7 (Meerut) along with the 4 (Secundrabad) Cavalry Brigade was deployed in France, operations in Mesopotamia and German East Africa were, in the beginning, entrusted to Indian Army aided by troops of Princely States.



The first major battle in which Indian troops took part was the First Battle of Ypres, a small market town in Flanders bordering present day Belgium. Troops of the Indian Corps were fully committed there and suffered heavy causalities, as in the case of Festubert in December 1914 and at Loos in September 1915.


On 22nd April 1915 at 5 p.m. the 2nd Battle of Ypres began with the first successful gas attack in history. Again the British Indian Corps - not yet recovered from the terrible Battle of Neuve-Chapelle - was called upon to fill a gap in the line.The Lahore Division was now under command of the British 2nd Army of Smith-Dorrien. Among the British Indian troops the warning was spread that, in case of the use of gas, a handkerchief (or the pagri-dastaar) was to be placed over the mouth. It was recommended to soak the handkerchief (or pagri) in urine.


With Britain entering the War on 4 August 1914, the Indian Army was soon drafted to fight in the battlefields of France and Flanders on 6 Sep 1914, this being the first time that Indian soldiers were deployed in Europe.

The Indian Corps comprising of the Lahore and Meerut Divisions fought in the Battle of Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres Neuve Chapelle where they provided half the attacking force for the British. Indian troops fought in Flanders where the bravery of Sepoy Khudadad Khan earned him the prestigious Victoria Cross (VC), making him the first Indian to receive this honour.

However, as evident from the number of Indian soldiers who went on to receive the Victoria Cross, the Order of British India, the Indian Order of Merit and the Indian Distinguished Service Medal, these men acquitted themselves with valour and honour.The last Indian troops remained in France until Mar 1918, when they were moved to Palestine to fight the Turks.


The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10–13 March 1915) was a British offensive in the Artois region of France and broke through at Neuve-Chapelle. On 10 March, the British began a thirty-five minute Artillery bombardment by 90 x 18-pdr field guns of the Indian Corps and the IV Corps, on the German wire which was destroyed within ten minutes. The bombardment was followed by an infantry assault.

The Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division, Indian Corps attacked with all four battalions on a 600 yards front, from Port Arthur to Pont Logy. The Indian troops forced their way through the German wire and took 200 yards of the German front trench, despite many casualties.

40,000 Allied troops took part during the battle and suffered 7,000 British and 4,200 Indian casualties. The 7thDivision had 2,791 casualties, the 8th Division 4,814 losses, the Meerut Division 2,353 casualties and the Lahore Division 1,694 losses. German casualties from 9–20 March were 10,000 men. Rfn Gabar Singh Negi, 2/3th GARH RIF was awarded VC.


Manta Singh was a soldier of the 5th Ludhiana Sikhs of the Indian Army, at the start of the WW-I, his Regiment became part of the 3rd Division, sent to reinforce the troops fighting in France.

After long months of trench warfare, in March 1915, Manta Singh's regiment prepared to engage in the first major offensive on the Western Front, the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle.

It was in this chaotic field of battle that the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs fought. During the battle Manta Singh witnessed an English comrade, Captain Henderson, suffering with a serious bullet injury. Manta Singh with utter disregard to his personal safety, moved to help his injured comrade. He pushed him to safety in a wheelbarrow that he found in no-man's land. During this evacuation he was severely injured.

Manta Singh and the injured man he rescued, Captain Henderson, had become firm friends as well as brothers in arms. When Manta Singh died, Henderson ensured that Singh's son, Assa, was taken care of. He encouraged him to join the Sikh Regiment. Throughout the Second World War, Assa Singh and Henderson's son, Robert, served together, in France, Italy and North Africa. To this day, the Singh and Henderson families remain close friends. Assa and Robert have passed away, but their sons, Jaimal and Ian, are in regular contact.


The first Indian troops involved in the initial landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 were the 21st Kohat Mountain Battery and the 26th Jacob’s Mountain Battery. On 4 June 1915, the 14thSikhs comprising 15 British Officers, 14 Indian Officers, and 514 men, moved out to attack and capture Turkish trenches.

The 14thSikhs won great glory in this advance and several soldiers won the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. The performance of the 14th Sikhs in the assault of Koja Chaman Tepe, which they failed to reach, was described by General Birdwood as “A feat which is without parallel”.

Though no decisive result was obtained and the Allies had no substantial gains from the Gallipoli Campaign, the Indian troops, including the Medical Services, displayed great bravery and courage in the rest of the operations on the Peninsula and several were granted the Indian Order of Merit.


The largest Indian Army force to serve abroad was the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir John Nixon.

The Mesopotamian campaign was largely an Indian campaign and saw deployment of the largest Indian Army force abroad. The 16th Infantry Brigade of the 6th(Poona) Division was sent from Bombay for the Mesopotamia Campaign, under General Sir Arthur Barrett, when War was declared with Turkey in November 1914.

A series of successes followed, including capture of the port of Fao; dislodging of the Turks at Sahil; capture of Basra, which was a major step in protecting oilfields and refineries; storming of Shaiba-Barjisiyah; and the submission of Khafajiyah, Amara, and Nasariyah.Indian troops manning a QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss gun mounted in a railway wagon on the military railway between Basra and Nasiriya.

The campaign experienced a setback at the Battle of Ctesiphon and the Indian troops retreated to Kut-al-Amara, where General Townshend decided to hold the position instead of marching downriver towards Basra and thus, began the siege of Kut. Several unsuccessful attempts to lift the siege resulted in the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad, Battle of Wadi, Battle of Hanna, and the relief attempt by General George Gorringe, usually referred to as the First Battle of Kut. The total casualties during Mesopotamia Campaign amounted to 92,501.


Indian soldiers of the Sirhind Brigade were part of the first troops providing the defence of the Suez Canal. Troops from the Imperial Service Troops, which comprised men from the Armies of the Indian states, were part of the Indian effort in Egypt, alongside the 10th and 11thIndian Division, the Bikaner Camel Corps and three batteries of Mountain Artillery.

By 1917, Indian troops were a significant part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. On 23 September 1918, the 15th Imperial Service Brigade comprising of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers undertook one of the most famous cavalry actions in the Great War and recaptured the city of Haifa in Palestine. This day is commemorated by the Indian Army each year as ‘Haifa day’ to honour this famous charge.

One of the lesser know units of the Indian Army was the Bikaner Camel Corps. Formed before the Great War these men used camels as their mounts and played a key role in the defence of the Suez Canal in 1915 when they routed Turkish troops in one of the few camel cavalry charges of the war. The unit later fought in Palestine and some of its personnel became part of the Imperial Camel Corps formed later in the conflict.


One of the lesser known units of the Indian Army was the Bikaner Camel Corps. Formed before the Great War these men used camels as their mounts, not horses and as such could not be sent to France in 1914.

Instead they were posted to somewhat warmer battlefields and played a key role in the defence of the Suez Canal in 1915 when they routed Turkish troops in one of the few camel cavalry charges of the war.

The unit later fought in Palestine and some of its personnel became part of the Imperial Camel Corps formed later in the conflict.


Initial attempts at attacking German East Africa were foiled, until the arrival of the Indian Expeditionary Force B consisting of the 27th(Bangalore) Brigade from the 9th(Secunderabad) Division and an Imperial Service Infantry Brigade, a pioneer battalion, a Mountain Artillery battery and Engineers were sent to Tanganyika with the task of invading German East Africa.The force under the command of Major General Arthur Aitken landed at Tanga on 2–3 Nov 1914. In the following Battle of Tanga, Aitkens' 8,000 men were badly beaten by the 1,000 men under their German commander Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck. The force re–embarked on 5 November 1914, having suffered 817 casualties and the loss of several hundred rifles, 16 machine guns and 600,000 rounds of ammunition.

Indian Expeditionary Force C was the second force assembled for service in British East Africa in 1914. This force was formed from the Imperial Service Infantry Brigade of five Infantry battalions and consisted of the Indian Army's 29thPunjabis, together with battalions from the Princely states of Jind, Bharatpur, Kapurthala and Rampur, a volunteer 15 pounder Artillery battery, 22nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery (Frontier Force), a volunteer maxim gun battery and a Field Ambulance. They were involved in the Battle of Kilimanjaro, in October 1914.


The battle for Haifa was part of a larger campaign, which marked the steady Northward offensive of General Edmund Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, sweeping out the remnants of the Turkish Seventh Eighth armies and their German allies. Once they were encircled in the Judean Hills and important targets like Nazareth and Afula were taken, the capture of Haifa port became essential; for any further movement of the force along the coast, supplies had to come through Haifa. Contrary to reconnaissance reports, Haifa had not been evacuated by the Ottoman Army. The Ottoman units, aided by the Germans and Austrians, held Artillery and machine gun positions on the slopes of Mount Carmel and controlled the narrow defile between the hill and the Kishon river which formed the approach to the town. The marshy river bank made outflanking these positions near impossible. This was the military situation that the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade faced when ordered to capture Haifa on 23 Sep 1918.

The Jodhpur Lancers, led by Major Dalpat Singh, were to take the frontal position. When they moved into the open they came under heavy fire. The going became even more difficult when they encountered the marshy river bank. Major Dalpat changed direction and headed towards the machine guns on the lower slopes of Mount Carmel. He was hit by a bullet and later died on the operating table. Captain Aman Singh took command and led the charge straight into the enemy camp. They speared the gunners and captured the guns. The defile was now open. Simultaneously, the Mysore Lancers attached the Austrian battery of light field guns.

The two regiments are believed to have captured 1,350 German and Ottoman soldiers and seized 17 guns, 11 Machine guns and a large amount of ammunition from them. They lost 8 men and 34 were wounded. Captain Aman Singh and Dafadar Jor Singh were awarded the Indian Order of Merit while Major Dalpat Singh was awarded the Military Cross. The Official History of the War describes the action “No more remarkable Cavalry action was fought in the whole course of the campaign. Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries”. Today, both the Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers are part of the reconstituted 61st Cavalry, the only horse-mounted Regiment in the Indian Army. The 61st Cavalry celebrates Haifa Day, which falls on 23 Sep, as its Raising Day.


In all these fronts Indian Army troops performed splendidly, much to the surprise of Allied forces and chagrin of opposing forces, and the long list if honours and awards bestowed on Indian units and individuals prove this point. When the war ended the Indian Army was once again reorganised to improve the system of command; achieve better balance between the fighting arms and services; to update arms and equipment and to develop a system of continuous reinforcement and expansion during war.

The army was now divided into four commands that is Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern. In 1920 the Indian Territorial Force (ITF) was raised for home defence and garrison duties, while Auxiliary Forces (India AFs) continued to be in charge of internal security.

The British government, in June 1918, issued instructions for the selection of Indian cadets for entry into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. The annual entry was to be ten in two batches of five each. At the same time a school to train Indian cadets for grant of temporary commissions was inaugurated on 1 December 1919, and 33 cadets were granted permanent Kings Commissions with effect from 17 July 1920. Field Marshal Cariappa was an illustrious member of the first batch of Indian Commissioned officers, and during subsequent years vacancies in these institutions also increased proportionately.

World War I, however, had shown glaring deficiencies in the organization and administration of the army. Efforts to set these right now started in earnest. One of the greatest deficiencies had been in the system of recruit training and maintenance of reserves. This was sought to be set right by introducing a Regimental system. Therefore, in 1922 the large and unwieldy single-battalion groups were reorganised into various regiments under Lord Rawlinton of Trent, the then Commander - in- Chief. The Regiments thus created, seniority wise, were 1 Punjab, 2 Punjab, 3 Madras, 4 Grenadiers, 5 Maratha Light Infantry, 6 Rajputana Rifles, 7 Rajput, 8 Punjab, 9 Jat, 10 Baluch, 11 Sikh, 12 Frontier Force Regiment, 13 Frontier Force Rifles, 14 Punjab, 15 Punjab, 16 Punjab, 17 Dogra, 18 Garhwal, 19 Hyderabad, Assam, Gurkhas and so on. For instance, 3/2 Punjab represented the third battalion of the 2nd senior most Regiment of Indian Army – 2nd Punjab.

However, the ten Gorkha Rifles regiments remained on two-battalion system, without any training battalion. As a result the existing 131 battalions were integrated into the newly created 19 Infantry Regiments. In the cavalry, the 39 pre-war cavalry regiments were reduced to 21, and the Silidar system was abolished. Separate Corps of Signals and Ordnance were raised as also a Veterinary Corps. An Artillery Depot was established and steps were taken to introduce mechanised transport. Thus in 1922 the modern Indian Army came into being in terms of Regiments and Corps. With regards State Forces, prior to the inception of Indian Army based on the British model, most of the Princely States had their own armies to include infantry, artillery and cavalry units amongst other logistic units or sub units. While expanding their influence over India, the British augmented their own armies through local recruitment in order to effectively fight some of these very state armies who dared to oppose their advance. Noteworthy is the fact that state armies like those of Travancore, Cochin, Mysore, Kolhapur, Hyderabad, Berar, Indore, Baroda, Gwalior, Bhopal, Saurashtra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Faridkot, Patiala, Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala, Cooch Behar and also Kashmir, to name a few, were well-trained and very well organised.

Soon after World War-1, frequent small operations were under taken to deal with the raiders and local tribesmen from across the North -West Frontier. The Indian Army, which looked for a period of peace, found it pitted against the Afghan Army which had crossed the border, and thus began the Third Afghan War. The Afghans were soon forced back across the border and the war came to an end on 8 August 1919. However, while the Afghans retreated, the tribes in Waziristan rose in revolt and were joined by the Mashuds. A force designated the Derajat Column, consisting of two brigades, three batteries of mountain artillery and other attached troops, advanced into Mashud territory on 23 December 1919 and soon found themselves entrapped.

The Mashuds were well armed; many had been with the Indian Army not too long ago and were in no mood to surrender. On the other hand the Indian troops were tired and looking forward to a period of peace. Most of the veterans had been demobilised and the new recruits still very raw. In four years of trench warfare, the army had forgotten the art of fighting in the North-West Frontier.

The column initially met setbacks and suffered fairly heavy casualties. Over a period of time their weight began to tell, troops relearned lessons of frontier warfare and by 1921 the tribes sued for peace. After a period of relative quiet the Frontier again became restive in 1930. Riots in Peshawar led to an uprising by the Afridis but this was soon contained. In 1935 the Mohamands near Peshawar rose in revolt and a force of four brigades was sent to suppress them; among the Brigadiers were Alexander and Auchinleck, both destined for high rank in World War II. In 1936, the Fakir of Ipi gave a call for holy war and fighting against his followers continued into the 1940’s. The Indian Army was also called upon to send troops to Shanghai in 1926 and Burma in 1931.



On 25 Sep 1915 in Fauquissart, France 26 year old Rifleman KulbirThapa, having been wounded himself, found a wounded soldier of the 2nd Leicestershire Regiment behind the first-line German trench. Although urged to save himself, the Gurkha stayed with the wounded man all day and night. Early next day, in misty weather, he took him through German wire, within distance from the Germans and leaving him in a place of comparative safety returned and brought in two wounded Gurkhas, one after the other.

He then went back and in broad day light, fetched the British soldier, carrying him most of the way under Enemy fire. Such an incredible act of faith and courage had by now attracted a good deal of attention, and when he emerged from his trench for the third time with one more wounded comrade over his shoulder, the German soldiers actually clapped their hands to encourage the Gurkha on. Only this time, the Gurkha walked right across the No-mans-land back to his own side.

The German high command, wrote a citation offering to honour the anonymous Gurkha. When the story reached London by words of mouth, His Majesty King George V expressed a desire to see the Gurkha soldier himself in person. The king Emperor personally decorated Rifleman Kulbir Thapa with Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.


During the Battle of NeuveChapelle, 2nd Battalion of the 39thGarhwal Rifles fought with unprecedented gallantry and valour and captured four successive lines of German trenches under intense enemy shelling and fire culminating in capture of the objective.

During this assault, Rifleman Gabar Singh Negi of the 2nd Battalion, displayed great bravery during the attack on German positions. He was one of the bayonet party accompanying the bombers, and was the first man to go around each traverse, in face of fierce resistance by the enemy, of whom he killed several. When the commander of his party was killed, he took command and carried on, driving back the enemy until they surrendered. He was killed during this engagement fighting to the end most gallantly. For his most conspicuous gallantry he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.


On 10th April 1918 at El Kefr, Egypt, Rifleman Karna Bahadur Rana and few other men crept forward with a Lewis gun under intense fire to engage an enemy machine gun. No 1 of the Lewis gun team opened fire but was shot almost immediately, where upon the rifleman pushed the dead man off the gun, opened fire, knocked out the enemy gun crew and then silenced the fire of the enemy bombers and rifleman in front of him.

During the remainder of the day he did magnificent work and finally assisted with covering fire in the withdrawal, until the enemy were close on him. Rifleman Karna Bahadur Rana received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham palace in 1919.


During the Battle of Festubert, Nk Darwan Singh Negi of the 1st Battalion of 39th Garhwal Rifles who although wounded in two places in the head and also in the arm, was invariably the first to push around each successive traverse, facing a hail of bombs and grenades at close range.

For his most conspicuous bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and was the first Indian to receive the award at the hands of HM, the King Emperor at Locon (France) on 1st Dec 1914.


On 26 April 1915, at Wieltje, Belgium, Jemadar Mir Dast led his platoon with great bravery during the attack, and afterwards collected various parties of the Regiment (when no British officers were left) and kept them under his command until the withdrawal was ordered.

He also displayed great courage that day when he helped to carry eight British and Indian officers to safety while exposed to heavy fire.

For this conspicuous act of gallantry he was awarded the VC.


On 21 Jan 1916, at El Orah, Mesopotamia, finding a British officer lying close to the enemy, L/Nk Lala dragged him into a temporary shelter. After bandaging his wounds, he heard calls from his own Adjutant who was lying wounded in the open. The en was only 100 yards away.

He stripped off his own clothing to keep the wounded officer warm and stayed with him until just before dark when he returned to the shelter. After dark he carried the first wounded officer to safety and then, returning with a stretcher, carried back his Adjutant.

For this conspicuous act of gallantry he was awarded the VC.


On the night of 30 Nov and 1 Dec 1917,Epehy, France, Lance Dafadar Gobind Singh volunteered three times to carry messages between the Regiment and brigade HQs, a distance of 1.5 miles over open ground which was under heavy fire from the enemy.

He succeeded each time in delivering the message, although on each occasion his horse was shot and he was compelled to finish the journey on foot. For this gallant act he was awarded the VC.


At Wadi, Mesopotamia, for leaving cover to assist his CO, who was lying wounded & helpless in the open, before bringing the officer into safety under the cover of darkness Chatta Singh was awarded the VC.


On 02 Sep 1918 on the West bank of the River Jordan, Palestine, when his squadron was charging a strong enemy position, Risaldar Badlu Singh realised that heavy casualties were being inflicted from a small hill occupied by machine guns and 200 Infantry.

Without any hesitation he collected six other ranks and with entire disregard of danger he charged and captured the position. He was mortally wounded on the very top of the hill. Badlu Singh died after all guns had been silenced and Infantry had surrendered. For this gallant act he was awarded the VC.