Contribution of the Indian Army to the British War Effort in World War I

M G Singh By M G Singh, 8th Mar 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

The Indian army contribution to the Allied victory is generally overlooked, but the Indian army played a significant role in the defeat of the Central powers. They also played teh major role in the push to victory in the Middle East and break up of Ottoman Empire

Indian army in WWI

World War I was a watershed in world military history as for the first time a war was fought across the world from Europe to the Middle East and Africa to China. Generally the First World War is associated more with the European theater, but other theaters were no less important.
India as an Apendage of British
At the start of the war, the Indian state was a colony of the British Empire and accordingly the British maintained an army for internal security duties. Known as the Army of India it consisted of a Southern Army and a Northern Army. This was after the reforms brought about by Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief Indian army from 1902-1909. The southern Army had responsibility from Baluchistan to South India while the Northern Army was responsible from North West Frontier Province to Bengal. At the start of the First World War the Indian army strength was 240,000 and was the largest volunteer force in the world.
Indian army and WWI
Once war broke out in Europe and German armies struck across the French plains, Britain called on the Army of India for help. It must be understood that at that time there was spontaneous support for the British all over India and Indians including wealthy princes contributed to the war effort. The Indian war effort during World War I is generally overlooked, but 1,105,000 Indian personnel fought on the side of the allies. Out of these 138,000 fought in Europe and 657,000 in Mesopotamia against the Turks, which was mostly an Indian affair. Another 144,000 fought in Egypt and Palestine and small contingents fought in East Africa and as far as China.
Indian army and Breaking of Ottoman Empire
Because of the stress on the European theater of battle the contribution of the Indian army in breaking up the Ottoman Empire and destruction of the German Forces in East Africa and the attack on German possessions in China is not given the importance that it deserves. In all these campaigns more than 60,000 Indian soldiers died fighting for the crown and the Empire.
Indian Contribution
A magnitude of the contribution can be seen from the fact that 11 Indians won the Victoria Cross and other soldiers won 9200 war decorations.
When war broke out in Europe Indian troops were in France by the winter of 1914 landing in Marseilles by 30 September 1914 and went into battle at the first battle of Ypres. They also took part in the Battle of Le Bassee in October 1914. In March 1915, the 7th Meerut Division took part in the assault at the battle of Neuve Chappelle.

The Indian fought bravely though they had difficulty in adjusting to the climate and the severe cold. The India continued as part of the Allied forces and took part in all battles on the Western front at the battles of Somme, Bezentin and Fliers-Courcelette. They took part in the advance to the Hindenburg line and lastly in the battle of Cambrai. Indians suffered over 9000 dead in France and Belgium. Indian cavalry units also took part in the last cavalry charge on horses when the Poona Horse ran the gauntlet of German machine gun fire at the famous charge at High Gates in 1915.
Indian army in Middle East
The Indian contribution to the European theater was limited, but in the Middle East in Mesopotamia where 657,000 Indian soldiers took part, it was an entirely Indian affair. The Indian forces fought admirably and captured Baghdad in March 1917 and in October 1918 after the battle of Sharqat the Turkish forces surrendered. The Mesopotamian campaign was largely an Indian affair and is generally overlooked, as greater importance is given to trench warfare and the Continental battles. Indian suffered more that 40000 dead in this campaign.
The Indian army also fought in the Sinai and Palestine campaign and took the main part in the famous battles at Gallipoli. The Indian army was also used in East Africa against the German troops holding the German colonies and the siege of Tsingtao in China which was controlled by the Germans.
Last Word
The Indian army played a significant part in the Allied victory as apart from fighting in France and Belgium they were instrumental in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, which was no mean achievement. At the end of the war the Indian army had grown to strength of 491,000 and a slow demobilization started that reduced the strength to 197,000 by 1925. The conduct and contribution of the Indian army to the Allied victory deserves greater importance than hitherto accorded.


British Indian Army, British War Effort, Indian Army, Indian Army And Allies, World War I

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author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

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author avatar Randhir Bechoo
8th Mar 2014 (#)

Insightful.Thanks for the share.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
10th Mar 2014 (#)

Nice post and interesting too with a lot of information!

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author avatar Ptrikha
11th Mar 2014 (#)

It is tragic that the Indian forces are not given due recognition for their role in WWI. I have read many texts on WWI, and I find little mention of Indian forces role in the different battles.

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