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The Indian Army, 1850–1950  

Anirudh Deshpande

In 1850, the armed forces of the English East India Company were comprised of three Presidency Sepoy Armies and the Bombay Marine sometimes called the Indian Navy. A British Army garrison drawn on rotation from infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, numbering around 50,000, was stationed in India as a counterpoise to the sepoy armies. Between 1750 and 1850, the sepoy armies developed as self-contained forces with separate budgets, commands, recruitment, artillery, infantry, and cavalry. In 1850, the Bombay and Madras Armies, theoretically autonomous, were subordinated to Calcutta. Entrusted with the conquest of north and northwest India, the Bengal Army became the largest sepoy army in the 19th century, recruiting high-caste Purbias from the Gangetic plains. Numerous Bengal Army regiments mutinied in 1857 and a major military reorganization in 1859 was recommended by the Peel Commission. The consequence was the single “class” (actually an ethnic or caste community) company and mixed-class battalion model. Numerous Sikh and Gurkha units were regularized in the Bengal Army and the number of Purbia battalions was reduced. The Presidency Armies were reformed again after the Second Afghan War (1878–1880) on the recommendations of the Eden Commission (1879). From 1875 to 1900, Indian military recruitment was influenced by the “martial races” theory, which remained influential up to 1947. In the 1880s, the movement toward the unification of the Presidency Armies strengthened. In 1891, the presidency staff corps became the Indian staff corps, and in 1895 a single four-command Indian Army came into existence. Between 1902 and 1909, the regiments were renumbered in a new series and reforms were carried out by Lord Kitchener. These reforms failed to stem the growing criticism of the Indian Army in official circles. The result was the appointment of the Nicholson Committee in 1912 whose recommendations were preempted by World War I (1914-1918). World War I highlighted several deficiencies in the Indian Army, most of which remained unaddressed until World War II. In the interwar years, a massive retrenchment and budgetary constraints restricted the modernization of the army. Limited Indianization, the setting up of the Indian Military Academy (IMA), and technological obsolescence were the chief characteristics of the history of the Indian Army in the interwar years. Finally, the Chatfield Committee observations (1939) painted a grim picture of Indian defense; British rearmament from 1932 had left precious little money for the Indian Army. In 1947, the Indian Army was divided into the Indian and Pakistani Armies, commanded by senior British officers up to the early 1950s. In sum, the Indian Army was decisive in the expansion and consolidation of the British Empire in Africa and Asia. Further, its services in the two world wars ensured the survival of the Empire and, thereby, Britain itself. Although the loyalty of this army was tested by small and large mutinies, it generally remained a trusted instrument of British control in south Asia between 1858 and 1947.


Africans in World Wars I and II  

Joe Lunn

World Wars I and II were very probably the most destructive conflicts in African history. In terms of the human costs—the numbers of people mobilized, the scale of violence and destruction experienced--as well as their enduring political and social impact, no other previous conflicts are comparable, particularly over such short periods as four and ten years, respectively. All told, about 4,500,000 African soldiers and military laborers were mobilized during these wars and about 2,000,000 likely died. Mobilization on this scale among African peasant societies was only sustainable because they were linked to the industrial economies of a handful of West Central European nation states at the core of the global commercial infrastructure, which invariably subordinated African interests to European imperial imperatives. Militarily, these were expressed in two ways: by the use of African soldiers and supporting military laborers to conquer or defend colonies on the continent, or by the export of African combat troops and laborers overseas—in numbers far exceeding comparable decades during the 18th-century peak of the transatlantic slave trade—to Europe and Asia to augment Allied armies there. The destructive consequences of these wars were distributed unevenly across the continent. In some areas of Africa, human losses and physical devastation frequently approximated or surpassed the worst suffering experienced in Europe itself; yet, in other areas of the continent, Africans remained virtually untouched by these wars. These conflicts contributed to an ever-growing assertiveness of African human rights in the face of European claims to racial supremacy that led after 1945 to the restoration of African sovereignty throughout most of the continent. On a personal level, however, most Africans received very little for their wartime sacrifices. Far more often, surviving veterans returned to their homes with an enhanced knowledge of the wider world, perhaps a modicum of newly acquired personal prestige within their respective societies, but little else.