Book Review: The Indian Army on the Western Front: India's Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium in the First World War


by George Morton-Jack

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. x, 336. Notes, biblio., index. $99.00. ISBN:1107027462

John Sepoy on the Western Front

During the Great War, elements of the  Indian Army fought on the Western Front with the British Expeditionary Force.   Post-war accounts were, however, not kind to the reputation of the Indian Army.   Often influenced by colonialist attitudes, these offered tales of self inflicted wounds,  poor performance,  lack of courage .   

This book is a well researched and modern study of the role played by this professional force in the war.  Indian troops served in France and Belgium, East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Gallipoli.  The first Indian Expeditionary Forces were made up of prewar personnel.  On the eve of the war, the Indian Army had 190,500 "native" combat troops, plus 74,500 British troops.  The Indian and British units served in the same divisions and brigades.  

The decade prior to the out break of war in 1914 saw a number of reforms by Lord Kitchener. Indian soldiers were issued a modern rifle and machineguns,  musketry standards were raised,  and Indian units practiced infiltration and sniping at a high standard.   But if senior British officers, such as Kitchener and Douglas Haig , saw a future in which Indian troops would service outside the subcontinent , the civilian leadership, that is the Viceroy and India Office, thought otherwise.  So war planswere developed without civilian authorities knowing the details.

When war came, the Indian Army sent two infantry division and two cavalry divisions to serve in France, while a brigade was assigned to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal and another to seize Basra, two areas that would soon require much larger forces.  The divisions in France received new equipment and more appropriate European-style uniforms. The fighting in France and Flanders took an enormous toll on both British and Indian troops, but together they held until Kitchener's New Armies and Dominion forces arrived.

While focused on the role of the Indian Army in France and Belgium, this work also touches upon its operations in other theatres, demonstrating its vital contribution to the Allied v ictory.

A volume in the series “Cambridge Military Histories,” The Indian Army and the Western Front will prove valuable reading for anyone interest in the Great War or the Indian Army.

Our Reviewer:  Independent scholar Dan David is the author of The 1914 Campaign: August-October, 1914 and numerous reviews and articles.  Formerly the manager of Sky Books International, he is a member of the Board of the New York Military Affairs Symposium, and chairman of the NYMAS Book Awards Committee.  His most recent reviews for StrategyPage include Monty's Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europeand The Edwardian Army: Recruiting. Training. and Deploying the British Army. 1902-1914.


Reviewer: Dan David   

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