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The Forgotten Volunteers – Indian Army WWII – BBC


The Indian Army during World War II in 1939, numbered just under 200,000 men. By the end of the war it would become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in August 1945. Serving in divisions of infantry, armour and a fledgling airborne force, they fought on three continents in Africa, Europe and Asia. The Indian Army fought in Ethiopia against the Italian Army, in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia against both the Italian and German Army, and, after the Italian surrender, the German Army in Italy. However the bulk of the Indian Army was committed to the fighting the Japanese Army, first during the defeat in Malaya and the retreat from Burma to the Indian border. Then after resting and refitting the victorious advance back into Burma, part of the largest British Empire army ever formed. These campaigns cost the lives of over 36,000 Indian servicemen, another 34,354 more were wounded,and 67,340 became prisoners of war. Their valour was recognised with the award of 4,000 decorations and 38 members of the Indian Army were recipients of the Victoria Cross or the George Cross. The Indian Army was an experienced force, having fought in the Third Afghan War and two major campaigns in Waziristan, during 19191920 and 19361939 and in smaller disputes on the North West Frontier since World War I. There was no shortage of manpower to call upon, but they did suffer from a shortage of skilled technical personnel. The conversion of the cavalry force to a mechanized tank force had only just began, and was hampered by the inability to supply adequate numbers of tanks and armoured vehicles. The Indian Army of 1939, was different from the Indian Army during World War I, it had been reformed in 192 moving away from single battalion regiments to multi-battalion regiments. Overall the army was reduced to 21 cavalry regiments and 107 infantry battalions. The field army now consisted of four infantry divisions and five cavalry brigades. There was a covering force of 12 infantry brigades to protect the North West Frontier from incursions and one third of the infantry, 43 battalions, were allocated to internal security and to aid the civil power. In the 1930s, the Indian Army began a programme of modernization, they now had their own artillery—the Indian Artillery Regiment—and the cavalry had started to mechanise. By 1936, the Indian Army had committed to supplying in wartime a brigade each for Singapore, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, Burma and two for Egypt. But by 1939, further reductions had reduced the Indian Army to 18 cavalry regiments and 96 infantry battalions, in total 194,373 men including 34,155 non-combatants. They could also call upon 15,000 men from the Frontier Irregular Force, 2 000 men from the Auxiliary Force (India), consisting of European and Anglo-Indian volunteers, 19,000 from the Indian Territorial Force, and 53,000 from the Indian State forces.

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