# The Empire and the century/The Indian Army

THE INDIAN ARMY

By LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR EDWIN H. H. COLLEN, G.C.I.E., C.B.

At no period of our history has it been more imperative than at the present time that those who believe in the Empire should understand what its constituent forces are, and how these can be applied to the maintenance of its security. The days of isolation of the Mother Country are sped, never to come again; but the task is one of enormous difficulty, requiring years of labour and the efforts of many minds, both of statesmen and of soldiers. Unless we apply ourselves earnestly to it, in a patient and scientific spirit, we shall never achieve that which should be the aim and object of this long and laborious work, the safety, peace, and honour of all the dominions over which the Sovereign of this island-kingdom rules, whether by his Lieutenants and Viceroys, or through the constitutional Governments of those great countries oversea, united to us by the bonds of race, religion, speech, interest, and sentiment.

In all the discussions which have taken place since the war in South Africa upon the vital subject of the defence of the Empire, at. least three main points stand out sharply above all the mists of doubt and detail gathering round them: the need for an army for service oversea, capable of large expansion, the powerful help which can be given by the armed forces of the self-governing Colonies, and the fact that the defence of the land frontier of the Empire means the defence of the land frontier of India. It is true enough that the defence of India has long been recognised as the essential military problem of our times. Statesmen and soldiers who have made this question their study, who have been connected, whether for long or short periods, with England's great Eastern dependency, have over and over again pleaded for a just consideration of the military claims of India. By precept and by practice, a long and distinguished succession of Governments of India have endeavoured to establish the doctrine, and, although the full measure of our responsibilities has not always been taken, even in the East, efforts have been steadily, if gradually, made to give effect to the principles of defence. But until quite recently these things have been dealt with from the Western point of view, in an insular and isolated fashion. 'India must look to herself, and no doubt we shall come to her aid if she is hard pressed, as we have done before. So long as we supply her with drafts for her normal garrison, she must be content to rest assured that we shall do our best when the time comes, if it ever does come; but we cannot make any promises. We may have to stand against enemies in our own gates, and we must be careful not to encourage false hopes. 'India has great natural barriers, and she must make the most of these'—and a great deal more to the same effect. This sort of argument has now somewhat fallen into the background, but its supporters are still not inactive, and they have been reinforced by the fact that the military Power, Russia, whose outposts have been pushed nearer and nearer to the Indian border, has sustained a series of defeats from a people small in numbers, but animated by lofty patriotism, by the courage which despises death, and by a long-sustained effort to organize their forces for victory. There is a very simple reply to those who do not believe in the possibility of Russian aggression in Afghanistan. Russia has undoubtedly lost heavily in military power and prestige in Asia, and this fact, and the probable change in her domestic institutions, may operate to prevent her from troubling us for some time to come. But of this there is no certainty, and we must not overlook the possibility that Russia, after a period of recuperation, will profit by the lessons she has learned, and emerge with far greater military strength than she possessed before the war. Undoubtedly all this will take time. Russia cannot recover, and reorganize her military system, in a day or in a year. Our position in the East is also immensely strengthened by the recent treaty with Japan. We shall have breathing-time for our own task, and that task is so to organize our own forces that we may be able to reinforce India, and other possessions, in such a way and to such an extent that we may insure the safety of the vast country which has been committed to our keeping. Such a policy is perfectly consistent with an endeavour to establish an 'understanding' with Russia. It makes for peace, and not for war.

It is fortunate that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has proclaimed more than once, in clear and unmistakable language, that the problem of the British Army is the problem of the defence of Afghanistan—in other words, of the defence of India. If that declaration is thoroughly pressed home into the national mind, then it must follow, as the night the day, that, despite all difficulties and opposition, we shall obtain, although not without infinite toil, a military system which will enable us to rise to the height of our responsibilities. It is, then, of the first importance that the people of England should understand what the Indian Army is; what its evolution has been; its characteristics; how far it meets the conditions of the problem; what has been done to render it capable of performing, with the aid of the support which must be forthcoming from the central power of the Empire, the task which may be before it; what the lessons are which we may learn from the past; and that they may be able to judge with impartiality whether we are on the right track in our efforts to render it a more efficient military weapon.

Before attempting to describe what the army in India is, let us consider for a moment the nature of the task it has to undertake. It is not merely the defence of India or of Afghanistan, whichever way we like to put it. It is the active defence of India, and, added to that, the maintenance of order within India itself. And if we remember that the area of India is 1,870,000 square miles, that the frontier line is about 6,000 miles long, that its length from north to south is some 1,900 miles, and its breadth from east to west about the same, and that the population of India is 800,000,000, we may form some idea of the magnitude of the problem. Now, this vast population, consisting mainly of those who, in one form or other, adhere to Hinduism, and of Mohammedans, the great preponderance being on the side of the Hindus, is of the most varied character, just as the language and the characteristics of the country are varied. Amidst plenty of peace-loving folk desirous of living and dying as their fore-fathers did, there are elements of violent disturbance, and the stupendous natural upheavals which have produced the terrible catastrophe we have lately lamented are only emblematic of the explosive forces which lie beneath the fair and tranquil surface. It is a common saying amongst experienced men who know India well, that 'we are living on a volcano'; and this is said by those who have the greatest affection for their native fellow-subjects, . but who know that there exists, and must exist, in the vast congeries of peoples and races, and tribes and castes, those who are dissatisfied with British rule, and who are ready to work on an inflammable material. We have had plenty of disturbance in past times, and must expect it in the future. Fanaticism, religious bigotry, and extreme credulity are potent enemies to peace and order if the power of control is weakened or removed; and although they may be jeered at as alarmists, there are many shrewd observers, some of whom have had long and intimate contact with the people, who are inclined to think that, with the process of assimilation of Western ideas which is going on, the respect for authority is being lessened rather than increased. However this may be, few will be found to deny that the every-day task of maintaining the Pax Britannica throughout this immense Empire is no light one, and that it will be tenfold heavier whenever war beyond the frontier causes the depletion of our garrisons.

The regular army in India embraces both British and native troops, the former in round numbers some 74,000, and the latter 157,000 with a small reserve of 25,000, and a total of 486 guns. But just as in this country we have a second line of militia, yeomanry, and volunteers, so in India there is a second line of European volunteers, Imperial service troops, militia, and military police, numbering about 76,000. We see, then, that the total regular army, British and native, including the reserve, is 256,000 strong, and the second line 76,000. The reserve is to be increased to 50,000, and might be further enlarged. If we choose to put it in another way, we can say that the British Army and volunteers number 106,000, the regular native army and its reserves 182,000, and the native auxiliaries 44,000. Of the British portion of the regular army it is unnecessary to say much. The cavalry regiments, batteries of artillery, and battalions of infantry relieved periodically from home maintain in India the splendid traditions of the regular army—an army which has won victory for England in every part of the habitable globe—and keep up the admirable regimental system which has survived all the changes of the last and present century, and is admitted to be the best training-school for the officer or private soldier. The units of the British force are maintained at high strength, because they must be ready to take the field, and a further increase in that strength would be most desirable.

The regular native army comprises batteries of mountain guns, sappers, cavalry, and infantry. It draws its recruits from the North-West Frontier and beyond for

 Commands. British. Native. Cavalry. Artillery. RoyalEngineers. Infantry. Total. Cavalry. Artillery. SappersandMiners. Infantry. Reserves. Total.[1] Punjab 1,881 3,619 91 14,460 20,051 9,411 3,725 585 39,775 10,908 53,496 Bengal 1,881 4,522 95 17,550 24,048 7,018 1,393 708 24,072 5,435 33,191 Madras (Division) 1,256 1,968 28 6,188 9,440 1,839 37 1,569 26,185 3,276[2] 29,630 Bombay 627 4,178 46 11,358 16,209 6,673 1,575 1,398 25,197 5,223 34,843 Burma (Division) — 290 — 4,132 4,422 — 680 170 5,931 — 6,781 Reserves — — — — — — — — — — 24,842 Auxiliary forces — — — — 32,000 — — — — — 44,500[3] Total 5,645 14,577 260 53,688 106,170 24,491 7,410 4,430 121,160 24,842 227,283

 British troops 74,170 Auxiliary forces (volunteers) 32,000 .mw-parser-output .__bar{text-decoration:line-through}.mw-parser-output .__bar_inner{color:transparent!important}———— 106,170 Native troops 157,941 ⁠„⁠reserves 24,482 Auxiliary forces  ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ Imperial service troops 18,000 Militia 6,000 Military police 20,500 ———— 227,283 Grand total 333,453 The 'levies' in the Punjab and Baluchistan, numbering about 4,000, are not included, as they are not officered by Europeans or enrolled as military bodies.

Patháns, from Nepal for Gúrkhas, from the Punjab for Sikhs and Punjabi Mohammedans, and from the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh for Hindustanis—both Hindus and Mohammedans. The Western or Bombay area furnishes Mahrattas, Rajputs, and some Mohammedans, while the Madras territories are now called upon to furnish only a few men, Tamils (Hindus) and Mohammedans. The centre of military activity has shifted more and more to the north, and the tendency is to draw to a much larger extent upon the resources of that part of India. And to complete this brief summary, the whole army, British and native, is now divided, according to the latest scheme, into three large Commands—the Northern, Eastern, and Western, with divisional commands in Southern India and in Burma. These territorial Commands are again divided into divisional areas, and the troops are eventually to be organized into mobile divisions, leaving other troops for garrison purposes, and to form movable columns to maintain order. The accompanying tables show the strength and distribution of the military forces (see pp. 668, 669).

Before these new schemes are discussed, it will be well to consider, although necessarily with brevity, what are the characteristics of the material of which the native army is composed; for it is this material to which we have to trust largely in the hour of stress and peril, and our plan of reorganization must be based upon a knowledge of its conditions and capability. Let us first look at the main constituents of the army—Patháns, Sikhs, Punjabi Mohammedans, Dogras, Gúrkhas, Jâts, Hindustanis, Mahrattas, Rajputs, and Madrasis. There are other classes from which we draw recruits, but these are the main elements. Of these, the Patháns and Gúrkhas may be called 'foreigners,' as they do not belong to British India, although many Pathán tribes dwell within the British borders. Patháns are physically fine men, and, as soldiers in our ranks, brave, loyal, and devoted. The merits of Gúrkhas are well known. They are brilliantly courageous, cheerful, staunch, and dogged. The Sikh is a splendid soldier in physique, in character, and resolute bravery. Neither he nor the Gúrkha could pass examinations or reach a standard of education such as some think should be exacted of all soldiers, but both have the true soldierly instinct, and no finer soldiers can be found. The Punjabi Mohammedan is an admirable soldier—although the quality varies with the particular tribe-sturdy, brave, and with many martial instincts. The Dogra from the lower Himalayas becomes an excellent fighting man. Jâts, mainly from the Delhi territories, furnish good material. Hindustanis, Brahmans, and Rajputs still produce good soldiers, but have fallen from their high estate since the days when we conquered India with their aid. The Rajput is not the soldier he once was, but is still capable of doing good service when well led. The Mahratta, once the fighting man of the Deccan, who did such fine service under Wellington, seems to have lost much of his military virtue; while the Madras soldier, whether Tamil (Hindu) or Mohammedan, is no longer the soldier of our early history in India. When we think of all that these men have done for us—of how Wellesley's Madras battalion fought at Assaye, of the story of self-devotion at Arcot, and of 'Who will follow a damned black fellow?' as the little Madras Sepoy shouted when he dashed over the ground swept by the storm of battle—it is impossible not to regret the decay of the military spirit But peace and civilization, as well as our own neglect, have been the contributory causes, and we have to face the situation. To some the solution would be to have none in our ranks but Patháns, Sikhs, Punjabis, and Gúrkhas. To others this seems to be a most dangerous doctrine, and probably the true remedy is to be found in steering the middle course, and by careful selection endeavouring to get the best men from the areas longest under our rule, as well as from the northern countries. Of one thing we may be quite certain—we can never have material of a uniform standard of excellence, and what we have to do is to look to it that we improve what we have got.

Now, these classes and races group themselves naturally into the northern, eastern, western, and southern areas of India. The key of the policy which, after many years, led to the reorganization of 1895 was decentralization, power of mobilization, with the more complete segregation of the races. It was to be one army divided into four watertight compartments—the Punjab, Bengal (or Hindustan), Bombay, and Madras. It was found by experience that, for example, Sikh regiments degenerated, and were prone to assimilate with other elements, when quartered long away from their homes. There was to be no 'localization' in the exact sense, but so far as was practicable the troops were to be stationed in the main area from which they were drawn. The idea was not merely the preservation of the balance of power, which all history has taught is necessary in dealing with mercenary Asiatic armies, but to introduce a simpler and decentralized system; not to focus everything at the far-off headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, but, while putting him at the head of the whole army, to delegate responsibility to high and powerful commanders of the forces. In fact, to make the chief command one over four armies, call them what you will, instead of having independent local armies, and in the case of Bengal dangerously overgrown and amalgamated.

The statesmen and soldiers who supported this 'reorganization,' with long experience of India and the character of the people, were fortified by every incident in the military history of India, in their desire to preserve the country from the dangers of an immense amalgamated army. They felt, too, that from these four or five commands (for Burma was to be separate as at present) would spring the field army in due proportions, which could be mobilized more easily from these areas, each with its own military resources, than from a huge military force, unified and governed by a central power. The native soldier does not enlist from any sentiment or patriotic feeling; he may come from a fighting stock, but he passes under our standards because soldiering is a good trade, and his pay and pension are assured. The reorganization of 1895 made for safety and mobility. The men were not disturbed; the Sikh knew he would be for the most part within hail of his home and under Generals, great and lesser, who would identify themselves with him and his country. And so it was with the others.

The first step in the abandonment of the principles which had held the field for so long was made in 1908. 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 battalions, with the exception of ten battalions maintained at a reduced strength. The re-distribution of the army, which is understood to be largely due to Lord Kitchener, although it has been often discussed before, and put on one side owing to its great cost, is an attempt to organize the army in units of command similar to those in which it would take the field, as follows:

 Divisional Commands. Northern Command ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ Peshawar, First Division. Rawal Pindi, Second Division. Lahore, Third Division. Western Command ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ Quetta, Fourth Division. Indore, Fifth Division. Poona, Sixth Division. Eastern Command ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ Meerut, Seventh Division. Lucknow, Eighth Division. Secunderabad, Ninth Division.

The idea is 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 will also be some separate troops on the North-West Frontier, at Aden, and a divisional command in Burma. No details are as yet available showing how far the concentration will go, but as a division consists of one cavalry and three infantry brigades, and divisional troops such as artillery, sappers, and pioneers, besides other auxiliary services, it is evident that the redistribution will involve a heavy building programme. From a strictly military point of view, the troops should be actually concentrated in divisions; but there are many reasons of the strongest kind against such an arrangement. In a country of the vast extent of India it would be out of the question to have troops at nine points only, and the real question is, does the advantage of concentration compensate for the disadvantages? The troops cannot always be training. In the hot weather most of the British troops should be away in the hills, while the native soldiery require liberal furlough to visit their homes, and their wives and families. This is an essential condition of the existence of the native army, a married army with the families living in distant homes. Under the previous arrangements field divisions were drawn from particular areas, but not symmetrically. That was impossible. Some of the divisions, but not all, could have been trained together in the cold weather, under the Generals who would lead them in the field, and have had all their stores and transport at hand; but they could not be actually concentrated, and neither under the old nor the new plan can the troops, the units, always be the same, as there must be changes of station in relief.