Major Battles of World War I

There were 7 forces, created to fight in different parts of Europe and Africa. The Indians managed to either win in attack operations or defend effectively a given area of ground. The war had new weapons, new tactics of fighting from a trench which is also called Trench warfare.

Imagine if enemy is sitting inside a dug out and you have to attack and capture him. The attacker is exposed and the defender is well protected inside the trench. That is why sheer bravery was required to win a battle. But it also caused huge casualties in the form of death and injuries.

What is Victoria Cross? It is the highest medal given for an act of exceptional courage shown in battle. It is an award given by the Government of Britain. 11 Indian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their courage and bravery in battle during the Fist World War.

1. Role in Ypres (Belgium)

The first major battle in which Indian troops took part was the First Battle of Ypres, a small market town in Flanders bordering present day Belgium. In Ypres, Belgium, the allies consisting of British Expeditionary Force (BEF), French and Belgium troops took part in the attack against Germans. There were five battles fought in Ypres and the Indian army now called BEF fought in all the battles. Troops of the Indian Corps were fully committed there and suffered heavy causalities.

On 22nd April 1915 the second Battle of Ypres began with the first gas attack in the history of warfare. Again the British Indian Corps was called upon to fill the gap in the lines. Among the British Indian troops the warning was spread. In those days there was no gas mask to defend against such gas attacks. The Indian army gave a good display of fighting skills and brave actions enabled the allies to gain victory over the Germans.

2. Role in France

With Britain entering the War on 4 August 1914, the Indian Army was soon drafted to fight in the battlefields of France and Flanders on 6 September 1914, this being the first time that Indian soldiers were deployed in Europe. The Indian Corps comprising of the Lahore and Meerut Divisions fought in the Battle of Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres, Neuve Chapelle where they provided half the attacking force for the British.

Indian troops fought in Flanders where the bravery of Sepoy Khudadad Khan earned him the prestigious Victoria Cross (VC), the highest decoration for bravery in war awarded by the Queen of England. He became the first Indian to receive this honour.

3. Battle of Neuve Chapelle

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which took place in March 1915 was a British offensive in the Artois region of France and broke through at Neuve Chapelle. On 10 March, the British began a thirty-five minute Artillery bombardment by 90 x 18 pdr field guns of the Indian Corps and the IV Corps, on the German wire, which was destroyed within ten minutes. The bombardment was followed by an infantry assault.

The Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division, Indian Corps attacked with all four battalions on a 600 yards front, from Port Arthur to Pont Logy. The Indian troops forced their way through the German wire and took 200 yards of the German front trench, despite many casualties. 40,000 Allied troops took part during the battle and 7,000 British and 4,200 Indian suffered casualties. The 7th Division had 2,791 casualties, the 8th Division 4,814 losses, the Meerut Division 2,353 casualties and the Lahore Division 1,694 losses. German casualties from 9-20 March were 10,000 men. Indian army soldiers won many Victoria Cross.

Khudadad Khan (129 Duke of Connought's Own Baluchis), Rfn Gabar SinghNegi, (2nd Battalion 39 Garhwal Rifles), Subedar Mir Dast (55 Coke's Rifles Frontier Force), Naik Darwin Singh Negi (1st Battalion 39 Garhwal Rifles), Lance Dafadar Gobind Singh (2nd LANCERS), and Rifleman Kulbir Thapa (2nd Battalion 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles) are few of them.

4. Role in Gallipoli Peninsula

The first Indian troops involved in the initial landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915 were the 21st Kohat Mountain Battery and the 26th Jacob's Mountain Battery. On 4 June 1915, the 14th Sikhs comprising 15 British Officers, 14 Indian Officers, and 514 men, moved out to attack and capture Turkish trenches.

The 14th Sikhs won glory in this advance and several soldiers won the Indian distinguished Service Medal. The performance of the 14th Sikhs in the assault of Koja Chaman Tepe, which they failed to reach, was described by General Birdwood as "A feat which is without parallel". Though no decisive result was obtained and the Allies had no substantial gains from the Gallipoli Campaign, the Indian troops, including the Medical Services, displayed great bravery and courage in the rest of the operations on the Peninsula and several were granted the Indian Order of Merit.

5. Indian Army in Mesopotamia

The largest Indian Army force to serve abroad was the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir John Nixon. The Mesopotamian campaign was largely an Indian campaign and saw deployment of the largest Indian Army force abroad. The 16th Infantry Brigade of the 6th (Poona) Division was sent from Bombay for the Mesopotamia Campaign, under General Sir Arthur Barrett, when War was declared with Turkey in November 1914.

A series of success followed including the capture of the port of Fao, dislodging of the Turks at Sahil; capture of Basra, which was a major step in protecting oilfields and refineries; storming of Shaiba-Barjisiyah; and the submission of Khafajiyah, Amara, and Nasariyah. The campaign experienced a setback at the Battle of Ctesiphon and the Indian troops retreated to Kut-al-Amara, where General Townshend decided to hold the position instead of marching down river towards Basra and thus, began the siege of Kut. Several unsuccessful attempts to lift the siege resulted in the Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad, Battle of Wadi, Battle of Hanna, and the relief attempt by General George Gorringe, usually referred to as the First Battle of Kut.

The total casualties during Mesopotamia Campaign amounted to 92,501. Nayak Shamad khan (89 Punjab regiment,), Lance Nayak Lala (41 Dogra Regiment) and sepoy Chhata Singh (9 Bhopal Infantry) won prestigious Victoria cross in Mesopotania.

6. Indian Army in Egypt and Palestine

Indian soldiers of the Sirhind Brigade were part of the first troops providing the defence of the Suez Canal. Troops from the Imperial Service Troops, which comprised men from the Armies of the Indian states, were part of the Indian effort in Egypt, alongside the 10th and 11th Indian Division, the Bikaner Camel Corps and three batteries of Mountain Artillery.

By 1917, Indian troops were a significant part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. On 23 September 1918, the 15th Imperial Service Brigade comprising of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers undertook one of the most famous cavalry actions in the Great War and recaptured the city of Haifa in Palestine. One of the lesser-known units of the Indian Army was the Bikaner Camel Corps. formed before the Great War. They later fought in Palestine and some of its personnel became part of the Imperial Camel Corps formed later in the conflict.

Rifleman Karan Bahadur Rana (3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles) and Risaldar Badlu Singh 2nd Battalion (14 Murray Jat Lancers (Deccan Horse) won the Victoria cross for their extra ordinatory services at the front of Egypt/Palestine.

7. Indian Army in East Africa

Initial attempts at attacking German East Africa were foiled, until the arrival of the Indian Expeditionary Force B consisting of the 27th (Bangalore) Brigade from the 9th (Secunderabad) Division and an Imperial Service Infantry Brigade, a pioneer battalion, a Mountain Artillery battery and Engineers were sent to Tanganyika with the task of invading German East Africa.

The force under the command of Major General Arthur Aitken landed at Tanga on 2-3 November 1914. In the following Battle of Tanga, Aitken's 8,000 men were badly beaten by the 1,000 men under their German commander Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck.

The force re-embarked on 5 November 1914, having suffered 817 casualties and the loss of several hundred rifles, 16 machine guns and 600,000 rounds of ammunition.