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

By Pradeep P. Barua | Go to book overview

5

The Roots of Doctrine: Modernization of the Indian Army, 1919-1939

In the years preceding the First World War, critics of the Indian army and particularly the Cardwell system had described it as an “albatross” around the neck of the British army. When the system was reintroduced after the war in the 1920s, a new generation of critics took up the anti-Cardwell torch. To many of them it appeared that the British army was essentially “regulated by the conditions prevailing on a portion of one of the frontiers of the Empires' constituent parts.” 1 The chief concern was that the Indian army, with its sights firmly set on frontier warfare, would hamper any progress the British army might make toward mechanized warfare, the buzzword of the “progressives” in the interwar British army. An older concern was that imperial commitments, to India in particular, would sap the strength of the small postwar British army.

This pessimism about the Indian army's ties with the British army became the chief concern of a younger generation of British reformers—including Fuller, Ironside, Hobart, and Lindsay—all of whom saw the Cardwell system as a major barrier to change in the British army. 2 However, running concurrently with this negative view of the Indian army was another radically different appreciation of its utility. This opinion, held primarily by senior officials at Whitehall, began to regard the Indian army as nothing less than an indispensible partner to the smaller British army in the defense of the entire British Empire, a view no doubt consolidated by India's considerable contribution in the Great War. These optimists won the debate on military modernization in the interwar period. They helped initiate events that would not only better integrate the Indian army into the greater scheme of imperial defense, but also dramatically influence the military doctrines of the two armies. This chapter is an attempt to analyze the

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