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Nations at war
Hughes, David, David A. Ryan and Steve Rothwell. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organisational History, vol 9: The Indian Army, part two: The Indian Army in the East, 1939-43. West Chester, OH: Nafziger Collection, 2006
Pages: iv + 131
Preface; Terms and Abbreviations; Guide to Tables; Trivia; tables; TOEs; OBs
Appendices: Unit Histories and Service; Organisations; Orders of Battle and Formation Histories
Difficult though it might be to comprehend, not everyone cares about books related to the Second World War. Even among readers of WWII books, not everyone enjoys orders of battle and tables of organization. For connoisseurs of such, however, the last couple of years have brought a cornucopia of OB/TOE volumes for the Indian Army.
In 2004, Chris Kempton's superb three-volume Loyalty and Honour: The Indian Army, September 1939 - August 1947 series appeared from Military Press, and it was strong enough to be included in the Editors Choice Awards for that year.
In 2005, volume eight of The British Armies in World War Two series arrived from Nafziger. It was actually part one of the coverage of the Indian Army by the Hughes, Ryan, and Rothwell team, dealing with the Indian Army in the Near East, North Africa, and Italy. That volume, another fine effort, stood on its own, but also offered a perfect complement to Kempton's work.
In 2006, volume nine made its appearance with part two of the Indian Army, this time covering "The Indian Army in the East 1939-1943, the Frontiers, and the Interior." This time around, Hughes and the gang have stepped up to a new level, providing even more great material about the Indian Army as well as an array of separate but related topics, mostly quite obscure.
Volume eight in many ways closely resembled the Kempton series. (See our review for a detailed comparison.) Volume nine retains the same basic resemblance, but moves somewhat away from the unit-by-unit approach and (mostly) no longer needs the intense tabular presentation of brigades and battalions. Instead, Hughes, Ryan, and Rothwell organize the bulk of the material according to campaigns and regions. Following the first part of the book (Indian Cavalry and Armor, examining three armored divisions and five brigades), the table of contents looks like this:
- Hong Kong, 1941
- Malaya and Borneo, 1941-1942
- Burma, 1941-1943
- Arakan, 1942-1943
- Ceylon, 1939-1943
- The Frontiers, 1939-1945
- The Interior, 1939-1945
- Training in the Indian Army, 1939-1945
Within each of those chapters the authors discuss all the appropriate units, but they also take the opportunity to devote far more attention to more general aspects of the subject. The chapter on Ceylon, for example, in addition to detailing the 20th and 34th Indian Infantry Divisions, provides a brilliant discussion of the relationship between Indian and Ceylonese forces, overall organization of the island's defenses, reinforcements from India, the UK, and Australia, expansion of Ceylonese forces, etc. This is great stuff, and nearly impossible to find anywhere else.
Despite its proximity to India, the Crown Colony of Ceylon had little commercial and minimal military
connections at the start of the war. As far as the British government was concerned Ceylon had only two
significant virtues. The first was financial, based on the rich tea plantations around Kandy in the southern
highlands. This had contributed to the growth of the major port of Colombo. The other was military, in
particular the great naval base of Trincomalee in the northern section of the island. The Royal Navy
considered this to be their primary base in the Far East. Singapore had a less protected harbour with
shallow water, open to a land advance down the Malayan Peninsula and close to airbases open to capture
by an enemy. In contrast, Trincomalee had long had formidable defences, a superb natural harbour with
excellent facilities and was separated by the entire width of the Bay of Bengal from any air or naval attack.
Its defences were manned by the 6th Coast Regiment, RA, whose strength is shown in Appendix C26.
The lesser defences guarding the port of Colombo were the responsibility of the locally raised Ceylon
Garrison Artillery (CGA). During the war this organisation was greatly expanded, helped by the
unusually high quality of the colonial educational system which had laid considerably emphasis on a well
developed apprentice system. As a result the Ceylon Coast Artillery grew, adding the 2nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment with its headquarters at Trincomalee and the 3rd Searchlight/Light Anti-Aircraft
Regiment at Colombo. The 1st Coast Regiment reached the strength of one field and four coast batteries
manning guns throughout the island and its dependencies.
The Ceylon Garrison Artillery was part of the military establishment which Ceylon, like all British Colonies,
possessed. As usual this was organised into two categories, units raised from local 'white' volunteers and
those formed from the 'native' population. The Europeans originally enlisted in two regiments, the
prestigious Ceylon Mounted Rifles and the stronger Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps As might be
expected, both were stationed around Kandy and Colombo. Only the Rifle Corps existed during the war,
adding a fourth rifle company when the Mounted Rifles were disbanded on September 24th, 1938. Far
more important and certainly more useful were the locally raised battalions of the Ceylon Light Infantry
These were organised on the same system as in other colonies, with European officers and senior
sergeants. Three battalions strong in 1939, a third was added in 1941, a fourth in late 1942, and a fifth in
April 1943. Unlike the European units these served throughout the island, including the semi-arid region
around Trincomalee. The Ceylon Defence Force also provided the engineer units. The 1st Fortress
Company maintained the hydraulic, mechanical and electrical equipment in Trincomalee Fortress, while
the 3rd Field Company provided field army support. There was, for a time, a 2nd Field Company. Later in
the war the Ceylon Defence Force added a number of specialised engineer units including the Inland
Water Transport, Railway Operating, Railway Construction, Electrical and Mechanical, and Mechanical
Equipment Companies. The many less technically qualified enlistees were organised into the 1st and 3rd
Auxiliary Pioneer Battalions, Ceylon Defence Force. Like all colonies there were less important units,
examples being the Ceylon Cadet Battalion and the Colombo Town Guard, the latter being the Singalese
version of the British Home Guard. The island force was also responsible for the titular garrisons of
several small Indian Ocean islands, notably Diego Garcia, Addu Attol, Cocos and the Seychelles. In April
1942, there was a small mutiny among the troops of the Ceylon Garrison Artillery on the Cocos Islands
when the troops attempted to seize the British commanding officer with the intention of forcing him to
surrender the garrison to the Japanese. The mutiny failed and three Ceylonese soldiers were executed,
the only Empire soldiers executed by court martial for high treason and mutiny during the war.
The original military establishment was quite sufficient for a sleepy, rich colonial backwater with no
apparent threat, but was clearly inadequate when, in 1941, it became apparent that there was a
considerable risk of Japanese attack. The first reaction was merely an administrative convenience. On
November 22nd, 1941 the War Office in London ordered India Command to assume control of the island's
defences. However, all that was available was newly trained infantry brigades lacking artillery and
engineer support. What Ceylon really needed was troops with battle experience and supported by
adequate artillery, and these could only be provided by London. These were obtained from two sources.
The closest and most convenient was East Africa where the colonial forces that had triumphed in Ethiopia
were reorganising. The 21st East African Infantry Brigade Group, supported by two batteries of light
howitzers, arrived on March 21st, 1942. After much pressure the Australian government agreed to divert
two brigades bound back from the Middle East to help defend Australia. These were the 16th and 17th
Infantry Brigades that arrived on March 18th and March 24th respectively. They had belonged to the 6th
Australian Division, by now already located at Darwin in the Northern Territories. A replacement
headquarters was hastily reorganised (it had been decreed that the brigades could only serve under
Australian command) in Horuna, Ceylon assuming the title of the 6th Australian Division. It was
recognised that the Australians could not stay for long (in fact they left in July 1942), while it would take
until 1943 before additional East African brigades could arrive. In the interim, India Command would have
to rely on its own recently formed and inadequately supported divisions. Of these the first to arrive was the
34th Infantry Division.
Similarly, the chapter on training provides a terrific overview of the Indian training organization as well as more detail on specific training units, such as 14th Indian Training Division (which also shows up in the Arakan chapter in its previous incarnation as 14th Indian Infantry Division).
Volume nine also takes a very expansive approach in the appendices. It starts with three pages of tabular data for Indian armored regiments, organized in the same manner as the far more extensive infantry tables in volume eight. Those tables are followed by a page of information about Indian auxiliary forces (such as the Calcutta Light Horse, Bombay Light Patrol, Calcutta Scottish, Bangalore Armoured Car Company, and so on). Two pages display TOEs for assorted Indian formations, including numbers of vehicles and weapons.
Next, Hughes and the gang look at some related topics, such as artillery at Hong Kong, and coast defenses in Malaya, Burma, India, and Ceylon, with notes on Adu Atoll, Diego Garcia, Cocos Islands, etc. The authors also devote two or three pages to Japanese units, including organizational notes and brief unit histories.
The lengthiest appendix amounts to nine pages and shows the complete Indian order of battle (including British units and Indian State Force units assigned to the Indian Army) in India as of June 1942. This encompasses armies, corps, divisions, brigades, and battalions along with some companies, batteries, and squadrons. It amounts to, quite simply, the most detailed and comprehensive Indian OB ever published.
Here's a small excerpt:
Defended port of Bombay
2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
26th Garrison Battalion 4th Bombay Grenadiers (becomes 1st Ajmeer Regiment 1st July 1942)
25th Garrison Battalion 10th Baluch Regiment
2nd Coast Regiment, IA
3rd Coast Regiment, IA
'A' Company, Bombay Battalion (AFI)
2nd Coast Battery, IA
6th Coast Battery, IA
10th (Bombay) Indian Coast Battery (AFI)
For all of the excellent content here, it turns out that The British Armies in World War Two series will include a third title on the Indian Army. Hughes, Ryan, and Rothwell are doing their best work, and no one should miss these volumes. In fact, these are so good that someone somewhere along the line should be thinking seriously about republishing the three Indian copy shop paperbacks as a single, combined, hardcover volume with snazzier graphics, more maps, and a thoughtful selection of supporting photographs.
Highly recommended, especially for connoisseurs.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the Nafziger Collection.
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Reviewed 21 January 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone