Military History Indian Army in World War I
Kaushik Roy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0039


The Army of India (or Army in India) included the Indian Army, Imperial Service Troops (henceforth IST), and the units of the British Army stationed in India. The latter were paid by the government of India and in the subcontinent came under the operational control of the Commander-in-Chief India. The IST comprised selected units of the princely armies, which were commanded by British officers and included in the table of organization for deployment inside and outside India along with the British units and the Indian Army. The Indian Army was composed of Indians as rank and file but was officered by the British. Until 1914, the army was used for internal security, guarding the borders of the Raj against the Pathan tribes, and also against a probable Afghan invasion sponsored by Russia. Occasionally, the army was also used for guarding the extra-Indian imperial outposts of Britain. During World War I, the Army in India was used against the Central Powers. The Indian Army became the largest volunteer army in the world, a feat that would be repeated during World War II. In 1914 the Army in India comprised 76,214 British and 154,437 Indians. In 1918 the number of combatant Indian soldiers rose to 573,000. The mobilization of massive amounts of military manpower between 1914 and 1918 had long-term consequences both for the colonizers and the colonized.

General Overviews

In a narrative style, Menezes 1993 provides a bird’s-eye view of the deployment and politics of the Indian Army during the Great War. For organizational details of the different combatant arms and the logistical apparatus of the Army in India, Heathcote 1974 is informative. Omissi 1994 in a monograph covering the period from the aftermath of 1857 “Indian Mutiny” until the beginning of Second World War, highlights the internal structure of the Indian Army, especially the loyalty mechanism and recruitment. Roy 2008 provides an overview of the social and organizational aspects of the Indian Army and the IST just before the beginning of World War I. Roy observes that the Indian Army was not geared for large-scale overseas operations before 1914. Pati 1996 examines the manpower and economic resources provided by India to Britain and the resultant political decentralization of the Raj.

  • Heathcote, T. A. The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822–1922. London: David & Charles, 1974.

    Details about the organization of the different fighting arms of the Indian Army are available in this volume.

  • Menezes, S. L. Fidelity and Honour: The Indian Army from the Seventeenth to the Twenty-First Century. New Delhi: Viking, 1993.

    A retired Indian Army officer, in his general history of the Indian Army, gives an account of the civil-military relations, recruitment, battlefield deployments, and discipline of the Indian soldiers during World War I.

  • Omissi, David. The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940. London: Macmillan, 1994.

    Omissi’s social history of the Indian Army points out the complex inter-linkages between the British policy of recruitment of the “martial races” and construction of regimental identity for ensuring cohesiveness and loyalty of the troops.

  • Pati, Budheswar. India and the First World War: 1914–1918. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 1996.

    This volume gives an account of the material resources provided by India and the political changes that occurred in response.

  • Roy, Kaushik. Brown Warriors of the Raj: Recruitment and the Mechanics of Command in the Sepoy Army, 1859–1913. New Delhi: Manohar, 2008.

    This monograph provides a social and organizational overview of the Indian Army and the Imperial Service Troops just before the onset of the Great War.

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