The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Elizabeth I
at the end of the sixteenth century for the purpose of extending trade into Asia as well as providing a cheap and diplomatically safe
way of intruding into the Spanish Empire's (mostly Portuguese actually but the King of Spain was also King of Portugal at the time) backyard.
Its first captains were typical Elizabethan warrior-merchants
seeking to gain profit by honest trade or by more primitive methods
. In the process they set up a number of trading posts with the permission of Grand Mogul
, that is the ruler of most of India. The catch was that the Grand Mogul's power was disintegrating in the face of European powers and internal pressure. Because of this The Company began to hire local mercenaries to defend its trading posts. From this seemingly innocuous policy The Raj
was slowly born. The next two hundred years were a long Gambit Pileup
between The Company, other Europeans, the Grand Mogul, and the various local Asian powers.
During this time The Company evolved into a state of its own that often was more like an ally then a subject of the British crown. The East India Company's security guards evolved into a full fledged army; indeed one larger then most European armies and just as well trained and armed. Each time a major war
broke out, this provided a convenient excuse to gobble up possessions of the enemy and not coincidentally, to conquer and assimilate
local powers accused of being to sympathetic toward said enemy. By Waterloo
, the Company and by extension Britain was the only power in the subcontinent.
After this came a number of small scale wars and counter-insurgencies and one big rebellion; the Sepoy Rebellion (Sepoy meaning "Indian Infantryman") or Great Mutiny in the mid-nineteenth century. This was caused by discontent in the ranks and a feeling that the Company's Vast Bureaucracy
was unsympathetic to their cultural traditions. A number of regiments revolted and declared themselves for the Grand Mogul(long an anachronism but still a useful figurehead). This sparked a full scale civil war in which the loyalist company troops with the help of crown forces defeated the rebels in a bloody campaign marked by hard fighting and rather spectacular atrocities on both sides (notoriously the Cawnpore massacre by the rebels, and on the other side the practice of shooting captured rebels out of cannon). At this the British government decided that the Company had made a mess of things and should get back to trading tea and leave ruling to rulers. And the Company's army became the Queen's... or rather, the Empress's, as Queen Victoria
was rather miffed at the thought that her daughter, as wife of German Crown Prince Frederick
, would become an Empress and technically outrank her; Benjamin Disraeli
saw the India fiasco as a way to give the Queen an imperial title, making the new colony the Empire
of India, allowing the Monarch to be an Empress.
The British Indian Army (as it is referred to in The Other Wiki) fought in a number of local wars, notably in actions against tribesmen in Afghanistan and along its borders. During the Great Game, the Indian Army would have been responsible for providing the primary defence of the colony if the Russians decided to invade India. It also performed gallantly in World War I
and World War II
The Indian Army had a number of colorful eccentricities. It was a complex and highly varied army reflecting both the Indian cultural labyrinth and the romantic British taste for quirkiness in their institutions. More specifically it smoothly adapted the famous British regimental system to harness local ethnic loyalties into the government's service. One controversial aspect of this was the Martial Race
theory which held that certain cultures provided better soldiers. Those who favored this claimed that these were people who grew up in tough places where they Had To Be Sharp
. Others, not unreasonably, claim to this day that it was simple bigotry, and some even claim that it was a Government Conspiracy
to Divide and Conquer
. Not all of this army was from "martial races" and some notable regiments like the Badras Sappers and Miners
were from "non-martial" cultures. By World War II
the demand for Cannon Fodder
was so high that even Untouchables were fighting and accounted themselves fairly well. This "dilution" does not seem to have hurt the efficiency of the Indian Army; arguably World War II
was India's finest hour
At Partition, it split itself to give birth to Indians with Iglas
and Pakistanis with Panters
- The Assimilator: A lot of the best troops in this army had once been enemies of the British.
- Badass Army : It had the advantage of drumming up volunteers from a large population which had a low standard of living and regarded soldiering as a highly honorable trade. Thus The Raj could pick and choose and create one of the most effective armies in the world, arguably better on average then native British. Even the Wehrmacht was afraid of them.
- Bling of War : With regiments representing scores of tribes and castes, and wearing the traditional costumes of each, they looked awesome on parade.
- Colonel Badass : So many.
- Common Ranks: Mostly the British Indian Army used the same ranks as the British Army, but there were some additional ones. Because Indians could not become commissioned officers until the twilight years of the Empire, extra ranks were invented for them to go between (white) non-commissioned and commissioned officers. These include Subedar and Jemadar—the latter being the inspiration for the name "Jem'Hadar" in Deep Space Nine, who similarly are soldiers commanded by officers of a different race.
- Crowning Moment Of Awesome: Every regiment that is reasonably old has a Crowning Moment Of Awesome sometime in its history.
- Forever War: The Northwest Frontier (Afghan border). Some books claim that officers thought this place a Warrior Heaven.
- Four-Star Badass: Several of Britain's most famous generals commanded Kipling's Finest at one time or another. Only one or two were "great captains"(Wellington and possibly Slim) but a number were competent and brave commanders.
- Mega Corp.: The East India Company grew so large from its trading that at times it appeared to be a government all its own, more allied with the British Empire than part of it.
- Mighty Whitey: Subverted. Until Independence almost all the officers were British. However this was mainly because Asian-born officers were not allowed until well into the twentieth century and they had a lot of red tape to cut through first even after that.
- Multinational Team: The structure of the British India Army included people from all the castes and even some who weren't from India.
- Never Live It Down: After the Great Mutiny, several generations of Indian soldiery had to live with the fact that The Government didn't quite trust them.
- Opposing Combat Philosophies: The Military technology match up between Europeans and Asians was roughly equal in the eighteenth century. The chief difference was tactics. India had some of the finest cavalry in the world. However many Indian princes were to sloppy to train their Infantry properly while Kipling's Finest had long learned that with very good Sergeant Rocks (which they had) they could train an infantry force out of anything, whether Europeans or local mercenaries. Sikhs were an exception. Their army was a European copycat and probably as well drilled as any Army from an equivalent sized European nation.
- Old Shame: The Indians with Iglas regard some battle honours from this era (mainly those deemed to have been oppressive towards India or her neighbours) as "repugnant" and do not commemorate them. These include Carnatic, Assaye, and the Mysore and Punjaub campaigns.
- Proud Warrior Race: The "martial race" belief resulted in the recruitment of hunters and those from areas with a long history of conflict.
- Puppet State: A number of troops were contributed by officially independent rajahs who were allied to the British government. This status remained until the present Indian government assimilated them.
- Rival Turned Evil: The Indian National Army in World War II were a group of Indian nationalists who formed an army that had the goal of forming an independent country with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Said country was probably meant to be some combination of Fascist, Hindu Supremacist, and Axis satellite. In India, Bengal and Pakistan today, however, its leader Bose and the army itself are widely celebrated (one of the few things all three countries agree on); given the sort of company the INA kept, that may say something about the twilight years of British rule in India.
- Despite its authoritarian backers, the INA was also years, if not decades, ahead of the British armed forces establishment with its placement of women, creating an all-women Rani of Jhansi regiment for both combat and medical uses, named after the famous woman who resisted the East India Company.
- Sibling Team: Richard and Arthur Wellesley. Richard was Governor-General. His more famous brother became the Duke of Wellington.
- Took a Level in Badass: This army started as warehouse security. It became one of the best armies in the world in a few hundred years. That is really taking a level in badass.
- True Companions : Each regiment is supposed to be made up of these.
- Underestimating Badassery: Napoleon Bonaparte once sneered at The Duke of Wellington for being a "sepoy general" . Presumably he thought that an insult. He was later corrected in his mistake.