A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters
The west knows that the Indian army is among the largest army in the world. Presently it is the second-largest standing army, next only to China. It is a counterpoise to China, but the average American is not aware of the heritage of the Indian army. The Indian army before 1947, was known as the British Indian army but for all practical purposes was an Indian-staffed force with soldiers from the martial races of the sub-continent. The army consisted of Sikhs, Rajputs, Punjabi Muslims, Gurkhas, and Garhwal. It was a seasoned fighting force and both wars saw it play more than a significant role in the defeat of the enemies of the Allies led by the USA.
The west, however, glosses over the contribution of the Indian army though now historians are stating the palpable truth that the war against the Ottoman Empire in WWI and the Japanese in Asia during WW II could not have been won without the Indian army. True, in the European theater the Russians played a part but outside that theater on the ground, it was the Indian soldier who confronted the enemy.
Crushing the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire is one of the big fixtures of world history. During the crucial years of 1914-18, the Ottoman Empire decided to be partners with the Central powers led by Germany. It was a fateful decision as it meant facing the British Empire. The battles in Mesopotamia led to the Turks facing the Allies led by General Allenby.
A fact known to many is that the bulk of the force facing the Turks was the British Indian army. The British transported regiments of the Indian army to confront the Turks. The Turks met their match in the soldiers of the Indian army and soon lost Mesopotamia and were getting boxed in. The much-touted Kemel Moustapha could not do much and at the end of the war, the Turks had to agree to their empire being dismantled. This was the end of the Ottoman Empire which had ruled the area for close to 800 years.
The British and the French carved up the Middle East as per their whim and fancy. But all this was not possible if the British Indian army had not defeated the Turks. There is now a belated realization that the role of the Indian army during World War I is something special. Matters were not helped by a pacifist government after independence that never wanted to talk about its military heritage. Thankfully with Modi at the helm, there is a chance and now there is the better appreciation of the Indian effort to the war in defeating the Ottoman empire.
Holding the Imperial Army at the Gates of India
The Japanese army initially made spectacular advances and the British were pushed back. They Lost Singapore and Burma and the Japanese army had entered Assam and laid siege to Imphal and Kohima. Field Marshal William Slim was the commander of the British 10th army. It was the British army only in name as 90% of the troops were Indians. The British had bad dreams of losing India and so the last-ditch battle was planned by Slim at the gates of India.
The Indian army moved in and the watchword was to confront the Japanese. Severe hand to hand fighting took place and history records that the Imperial arm thrust was blunted. The siege was lifted and counter-attacks drove the Imperial army back. It was the long retreat and pursued by the Indian army the Japanese lost Burma and Singapore. The Indian national army, a motley crowd of defectors of the Indian army could not do much as like a steamroller the 8th army swept forward.
Stopping the Japanese at the gates of India and the battle of Imphal has the same significance as Stalingrad and one wonders what would have happened if the Japanese had prevailed. But it did not happen and the Indian army did its duty in crushing the Imperial army.
The two wars are receding away but now there is a realization that the role of the Indian army cannot be belittled. The British PM has acknowledged that England could not have won the war without the Indian army. Thousands of tombstones in obscure place are a testimony to the dedication of the Indian soldier. He must be rewarded and history must acknowledge that in both wars the pivotal role was of the Indian army.
Close to 3 million men served the allied cause and are the biggest contribution of any nation fighting in WW I and II.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 31, 2017:
I think it shows the respect the Egyptians had for the Indian troops stationed there.
As for the old 'Haj' he was the kind of man would do so.ething like that.
True or not, it's one of my favourite stories about the old man.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 31, 2017:
Lawrence , probably you may be correct, Indian soldiers came from the poorer strata of society as well to do Indians did not join the army. But they made up for valor and dedication and even the defeated Arabs felt an affinity with them as they were Asians. The question of leaving cigarettes for the Indian is not believable as they had good ration scales set by the English.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 30, 2017:
Hope you don't mind, but I remember a story an old Egyptian 'Haj' once told me about during the war.
He used to work as a carpenter in the bases around Cairo and told me that one of the things he used to do was he'd go into the barrack rooms and steal cigarettes from the Soldiers.
""I'd steal from the British, Americans, Australians and even the New Zealanders" he told me, "But never the Indians, they were so poor, I'd leave them the cigarettes I stole from the others!"
In Egypt the older generation remembered the Indian soldiers who served there with an affinity they didn't have for the other Commonwealth troops.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 30, 2017:
Thank you, Lawrence for the correction.I have amended accordingly.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 27, 2017:
Just a little correction (hope you don't mind). It was the British (imperial) 10th Army that stopped the Japanese just over the border from Assam.
The 8th Army was stationed in the Middle East (Egypt, Libya). It too was multinational and had a large contingent of Indian troops.
I've met men who served in the 'far east' during WWII, they all called it 'the forgotten war' as they always felt it was regarded as being 'second to' the war in Germany.
Incidentally, here in Hamilton (New Zealand) we erected a monument to the soldiers of Gallipoli, in the monument fly four flags, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and India.
India sent one of the biggest contingents to Gallipoli, fifteen thousand Indians are buried there, but very few remember them.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on January 04, 2017:
Thank you lions for your comment.its a great boost
CJ Kelly from the PNW on January 04, 2017:
Great work. I will start right now by sharing your hub on all my platforms. Keep up the good work.