From Major Amin
TLDR: The British officers of the EIC army were a crucial force multiplier. The same regiments WITHOUT British officers were much less effective. I would add that by 1947, they seem to have figured out how to train Indians to be as good, at least at junior levels. But not yet at higher command levels?
British officer of East India Company the greatest force multiplier
sepoy perceptions about military effectiveness of english east india company Excerpts from Sepoy Rebellion of 1857- 59 Reinterpreted by Agha.H.Amin ,17 August 1998 Military effectiveness of British East India Company • May 2021 • DOI: • 10.13140/RG.2.2.35734.88648 •
Sepoy Perceptions about EEIC Military Effectiveness
The Bengal Army was the brain child of Lord Clive’s military genius. The Bengal sepoys related to each other by blood relationship and caste bonds had served the EEIC for some 100 years when they rebelled in 1857. These men had a very close contact with the British and had observed them from very close quarters. Any neutral and unbiased account of the events of 1857 clearly proves that the Britisher as an officer was never disliked by the sepoys. As an officer who served in Pakistan Army I can state with conviction that the British provided excellent leadership to the Indians. They definitely knew how to lead and inspire the Indian, leading them from the forefront which I am afraid few of at least our native post 1947 in Pakistan. People who rose to be Generals did not lead from the front, either in Burma or in 1965 or in 1971.
The sepoy admired and revered the British officer. In 1857 he was rebelling against the system instituted by the EEIC. Against policies formulated by men constituting a board of directors in far off England. The greasing of cartridges with pig or cow fat similarly was also an administrative decision. The sepoy perceived the British officer as a fair and brave leader and many British officers reciprocated these feelings. One of the British commanding officer committed suicide when his native infantry regiment was disbanded. Many others resisted disbandment of their units. One troop of 3rd Light Cavalry the most crucial unit of Bengal Army Sepoys as a matter of fact loyally fought for the British in 1857. It appears, however, that sepoy perceptions about EEIC military effectiveness changed from absolute faith in the invincibility of the EEIC as a military machine to skepticism from 1804 to 1857.
Before we proceed further we must state that the first major reverse or defeat which the EEIC suffered in India was in 1780 at the hands of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan who were heading forces whose opponents Hector Munro and Baillie in 1780 were defeated in a manner which was described by Fortescue the official historian of the British army in the following words, “The blunders had been flagrant and from a military point of view, Munro must be held solely responsible for one of the greatest calamities that has ever befallen the British arms”469. But this happened with the Madras Army.
The Bengal Army sepoy realized for the first time in 1804 that the that EEIC was not invincible. This happened while dealing with the Mahrattas and not the Afghans who came much later. In 1804 five battalions of sepoys and about 3000 irregular horse left by the C in C Bengal Army Lord Lake to keep the Mahratta Holkar in check under the command of Colonel Monsoon were forced to make a disastrous retreat from Central India to Agra470. The results of this reverse were short term since Lord Lake immediately assumed personal command and defeated the Mahrattas. However, the harm had been done and the myth of invincibility of the EEIC as far as the Bengal Army was concerned was challenged for the first time. Monsoon’s retreat was followed by a much more serious reverse which for many years shattered the EEIC myth of invincibility. This happened at Bhurtpore, the Hindu Jat fortress which is the only fort in British Indian history which a British army in India failed in a siege to capture. Leading the EEIC army in this case was a man of no less a stature than Lord Lake who had previously captured Delhi and destroyed Mahratta power in North India in battle of Laswari. (It must be remembered that Panipat – 1761 checked the Mahrattas, but this was temporary since within few years they recaptured Delhi. It was at Laswari on 01 Nov. 1803 that one European infantry regiment and a couple of Bengal Army Regiments composed of roughly 3/4 Hindu soldiers and 1/4 Hindustani Muslims destroyed the Mahratta Army) 471. In 1805 Lake failed to capture Bhurtpore. He made a first assault in January 1805 but failed to capture the fort. The British troops became so demoralised that the three European regiments i.e. HM 75 Foot, HM 76 Foot and the 1st Bengal Europeans refused orders to attack and withdrew 472! Almost a thousand casualties were suffered but repeated British assaults were repulsed. At last on 24 February Lord Lake withdrew his army from Bhurtpore. Subsequently, the Hindu Jat Raja sued for peace in 1805 due to reasons of political expediency; but the fact remained that militarily this Hindu Jat Raja had not been defeated! The EEIC never forgot this defeat and later on they did capture Bhurtpore but this was much later i.e. on 18 January 1826. Siege of Bhurtpore The force used at Bhurtpore this time was larger than the one the EEIC used to recapture Kabul in September 1842473 in the first Afghan War.
Another reverse which the EEIC suffered was in the Nepal war of 1814-16. General Bal Bhadra,the indomitable Gurkha commander in Anglo Nepal War of 1814-16 Here their initial advance into Nepal was repulsed. Nepal was subsequently defeated using the Bengal Sepoys but again the harm had been done. The sepoy’s confidence in the British officer was a little shaken. The EEIC retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in the first Afghan war was not a big disaster keeping in view the numbers involved. There were only 700 Europeans in some 5000 troops in the weak and starved brigade which withdrew from Kabul in January 1842 and which was destroyed by an overwhelming force of some 30,000 Afghans taking advantage of harsh weather and shortage of food in this EEIC force. The EEIC troops largely composed of Bengal sepoys did subsequently recapture Kabul in September 1842. But the human mind is not a computer and the net significant impression produced on the sepoy was that the EEIC had been forced to retreat.
The extremely tough resistance of the valiant Sikhs in the First and Second Sikh wars again produced a strong impression on the mind of the Bengal Army Sepoy. At Mudki the main British army survived just because the Sikh general Tej Singh did not attack them,474a otherwise their destruction was certain. Battle of Mudki This was a battle fought on absolutely plain land, unlike Afghanistan where the Afghans bravery had a deep connection with adverse mountainous terrain. The impressions of the Sikh wars were the deepest in convincing the sepoys that the British were not invincible. In Afghanistan the mountains, the adverse weather and the small numbers were an excuse; but at Chillianwala everything favoured the British and yet they failed! Tej Singh the Hindustani Hindu imported by Ranjit Singh from Meerut,UP in hope that a non Punjabi general would be reliable just as Nawaz thought in case of Musharraf. Tejh Singh turned out to be the traitor who betrayed Sikhs at Moodki All these disasters from 1804 till 1849 certainly had an influence on the mind of the Bengal sepoy and reinforced his decision to rebel in 1857. The sepoys felt in 1857 that they could meet the Europeans on the battlefield as an equal.
Their perceptions were however erroneous in one area. They did not realize that the principals force multiplier of sepoy efficiency was superior leadership of the British officer. Without British leadership the military effectiveness of the sepoy reduced by some 75%. Since the British suppressed the initial rebellions in Punjab they were able to use Punjab and Frontier’s manpower to create new regiments or in using comparatively new regiments raised in 1846-49 which were used with as much effect at Delhi as the Bengal sepoy units at Kabul or Ghazni or at Gujrat. The British officer of 1857 was the greatest force multiplier of military effectiveness by virtue of leadership which was far superior to be “Rebel” leadership in terms of “Resolution” “Tactical Efficiency” reinforced by an iron frame administrative organisation created by the EEIC during its 100 year rule in India and its eight year old rule in the Punjab.
One thought on “British Officers of the EIC army. A force multiplier.”
There was no real “leadership” that guided the sepoy mutiny. Bahadur Shah Zafar was drafted most reluctantly, but had no real interest in playing the role. Tatia Tope never had a broad following. The sepoys agreed on little other than disaffection against Company Bahadur. It is called the Sepoy Mutiny because the populace in general did not participate in the conflict other than avail of loot and plunder.
The EIC was able to establish its writ because the Mughal Empire declined precipitously and a potential successor state – the Marathas – were more interested in exploiting large tracts of North India, as opposed to evolving a polity that could stand the test of time. Chaos ensued, and the elites and the populace at large saw the EIC as a stabilizing force. In 1857, North India was once again on the cusp of the chaos that had been experienced a hundred years back. The mutiny was allowed to be crushed.
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