Gentlemen of the Raj: The Indian Army Officer Corps, 1817-1949

By Pradeep P. Barua | Go to book overview

6

The Crucible of War: The Second World War and the Emergence of the Indian General Staff

The very same day Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to Parliament that Britain was at war with Germany, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow informed India over the radio of the circumstances in which “we find ourselves at war with Germany today.” 1 The viceroy's declaration set off a political firestorm. The Indian National Congress, angered by the viceroy's lack of consultation with them, rejected his declaration and Congress Party ministers of all seven provinces where the congress held a majority resigned. 2 Although noncooperation and political agitation by the congress represented a potential problem for the Indian army, Linlithgow was more concerned about preventing Hindu-Muslim conflict among the soldiers. 3

The war itself came as no surprise to the Indian government. Feverish planning (if not action) had been underway for some time to transform the Indian army into a capable modern intervention force. The first real test for the Indian army came in the desert of North Africa. Here two armies—the British Commonwealth and the German—pitted their imperfect doctrines of warfare against each other. At the end of an immense struggle the Afrika Korps was all but wiped out and the British Commonwealth forces emerged with a radically different appreciation of how to wage “modern” war. In the East, in Burma and Malaya, this scenario repeated itself between the British Commonwealth forces and the armies of imperial Japan with the same end result.

By the conclusion of the Second World War, India had become the single largest colonial contributor to the British war effort. 4 During the war India raised a military force of 2,500,000 professional soldiers, sailors, and airmen, the largest force of its kind in the world. This force suffered casualties including 24,338 killed, 64,354 wounded, 11,754 missing, and 79,489 pris-

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