Book Review: The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857 - 1947

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by Kaushik Roy

London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Pp. xviii, 238. Maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $120.00. ISBN: 1441177302

The “Indian Army” under the Raj

Roy, author of several works on South Asian military history, here examines the “Indian Army” from the “Mutiny” of 1857 through to the end of the British Raj in 1947, with partition into Pakistan and India.  His principal theme is that the primary purpose of the army was always internal security, followed by the defense of India from foreign invasion, with imperial obligations coming in a distant third.  As a result, the Indian Army had several unique characteristics. 

The Raj limited recruitment largely to the so-called “Martial Races,” which not coincidentally were the least restless under British rule, mostly Sikhs and Moslems from the northwestern regions, rather than Hindus or Bengalis.  In furtherance of its security mission, the Indian Army was also largely organized, trained, and equipped for “small wars,” at which it became very adept, a matter covered in several chapters.  This meant, of course, that when the army was called upon to take part in “big war”, that is the two world wars, it required extensive restructuring, retraining, and reequipping, and ultimately even an expansion of the recruiting base beyond the “Martial Races,” with major political and cultural implications, a subject covered by a chapter each on the wars and one on the “interwar” period.  A final chapter reviews the last years of the Indian Army and its division between Pakistan and India.   Although primarily an organizational history, Roy covers operations sufficiently to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of this unique military institution, which by 1945 was the equal of any army in the world. 

A volume in the Bloomsburh series “Studies in Military History,” edited by Jeremy Black, Roy’s The Army in British India is an excellent overview of the history and character of the Indian Army, stripped of much of the colonial fiction.  

Note: The Army in British India is also available in e-book form, ISBN 978-1-4411-6845-0.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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