Finally, it is time to write about the British Empire forces for this war. It is going to be a short entry, because it is a really complex topic. My idea is to write here an introduction to the British Indian forces and then, in other entries, write about single topics such as the machine guns, the armoured cars, etc.
In meeting the threat of the Third Afghan War, the British could call a really large force. In May 1919, the British Indian Army comprised eight divisions, not including frontier militia, and five independent brigades of infantry and three of cavalry. The North-West Frontier province had three infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades and there were also three frontier brigades and a number of frontier militia and irregular corps.
An Infantry division consisted of three infantry brigades (each with one British and three Indian battalions), one squadron of Indian cavalry, one RFA field artillery brigade (two batteries of 18-pdrs. and one battery of 4.5-inch howitzers) and an Indian mountain brigade with two batteries of 2.75-inch mountain guns. Finally, there were two companies of machine guns with 16 guns each and the usual service units.
A Cavalry brigade was composed of one RHA battery with 13-pdrs. and one British and two Indian cavalry regiments, one squadron of machine guns (12 guns) and service units.
To these units forming the powerful Field Army for service in the North-West Frontier were added armoured cars and RAF detachments that increased the British firepower and reach.
The main problem for the British was manpower, but it was not really apparent in a first glance. Although many of the pre-war units of the Indian Army were still overseas, being repatriated, or on long delayed leave, there was still the equivalent of the pre-war army available in India. But here laid the problem; the quality of these troops, especially the infantry, was very low. The Indian Army had been heavily commited to the Great War, and had suffered a large number of casualties. With the depots empty, many of the new battalions had been raised in 1917 or 1918 with recruits of a lower standard.
Only two cavalry regiments and eight infantry battalions of British troops remained in India from a pre-war establishment of 61 units. They were, of course, true "Old Contemptibles", long service regulars that had maintained a high standard of training and efficiency. There were also units of the Territorial Army, part-time soldiers who had volunteered for overseas service and had been sent in order to release regular units for the fighting in Europe. After four years of mundane and boring garrison duty, away from their homes, most of them were only interested in demobilization and returning to Britain. In fact, many of the British personnel were in the transit camps, awaiting repatriation and demobilization. They were not prepared to fight a hard campaing on the Frontier.
In adition to all these disadvantages, both British and Indian units were short of experienced junior officers and NCOs because the pre-war cadres were greatly diluited due to the high loses and the many new units raised.
|Fifth Sikhs in Mardan, 1895|
In accordance with the principles laid down by Lord Curzon in 1899, the trans-border tracts of the North-West Frontier were held by irregulars, with the exception of the garrisons of Chitral, the Malakand and Dardoni in the Tochi.
The duty of policing independent tribal territories fell on Militia and Levies, giving employment to the turbulent trans-frontier men. In case of actual hostilities, they would act as outposts behind which the Field Army could concentrate ready to strike.
The Militia was organized in battalions like the regular army, and were commanded by selected officers of the Indian Army. Their uniform was the same as that of the Indian Army, with white metal buttons and shoulder numerals. They were armed with low velocity .303 rifles and bayonets.
Along the line of the Administrative Border there were a number of small posts manned by the Frontier Constabulary, a force of armed civil police who had been raised in 1913. The Constabulary had a quasi-military organization, being formed into battalions under selected civil police officers. They were armed also with .303 rifles.
There were also other minor forces, local levies beyond the border, armed with Martini-Henry, employed by political officers to garrison mud towers and to provide escorts. They had little military value.
Whislt the organization of the fighting forces was carefully arranged, the means of maintaining the army in the field were not adequate to meet the situation. As a result of the drain of resources of India since 1914, stocks of any type had been reduced to the lowest ebb and many of them could not be replaced. Animal transport had been exploited to the uttermost and the reserve of animals left in the country was very low. There was not supply of mules and there was also a shortage of camels due to heavy shipments overseas and to the ravages of surra (disease of vertebrate animals).
The Field Army attempted to meet the new situation encountered on the Frontier by the advent of the modern, small-bore, magazine rifle to the hands of the tribesmen. One way, the most obvious, was the deployment of the modern technology developed on the Western Front, as was the Lewis LMG and the hand grenade. The heavy machine gun was a powerful weapon but the climate and topographical conditions on the Frontier made difficult its use and supply, so it brought into a great prominence the use of the Lewis gun. The grenade, in the form of the hand thrown and the dischraged by rifle, had become the infantry most useful weapon (in fact, the tribesmen used it too after having captured a significant stock in the early stages of the war). But the hand grenade had a downside since excessive reliance on it tended to diminish reliance on the rifle, a serious error on the Frontier.
There was a surprising omission in the use of the trench mortar that would seem yo have been well suited to tactical requeriments.
The most important development in military technology, and a major factor in frontier warfare by 1919, was the motor transport in the form of the ubiquitous Ford, the armoured car and the aeroplane.
Motorised transport greatly increased the mobility of troops and weapons but its main importance laid in the speeding up and easing of the supply. Armoured cars proved useful in patrolling the lines of communication and in escorting convoys. About the aeroplane, I have written already an entry, but it was another very useful new "toy" for the British.
Summing up, the British Indian Army was not ready for another war in such a short space of time, but it was perfectly able to fight and defeat the Afghan forces... if the tribes didn´t take part in the fight. In the end, they were lucky.
To finish this entry, here is my last painted figure for this project, Orde Wingate from Warlord Games. I have painted him as a British Officer, perhaps an Intelligence or Political one, because I like a lot the figure (it has been sculpted by Paul Hicks).