Contingency plans in the mid-30s for an expected European war precluded the deployment of Indian troops in Europe for political and other reasons.
However, on the outbreak of war animal transport having been phased out in the British army it was decided to position some elements from the Royal Indian Army Service Corps to support the British Expeditionary Force in France. Force K6 under Lieutenant Colonel RWW Hills, MC (Military Cross) consisting of 22, 25, 29 and 32 Mule Companies and a supply depot, a reinforcement unit, part of an Indian General Hospital, and a remount section was sent to France, which reached there in December 1939.
For political reasons and reasons of cohesion and ease of supply, only Muslims were sent most being Punjabis with a few Pathans.
The animal transport units were soon in great demand for moving stores, ammunition and supplies and were stationed at Le Havre, Dieppe, Le Mans and Arras. But at the Dunkirk evacuation in June 1940, all animals had to be abandoned, together with supplies and equipment. The men were very distressed at having to leave their mules and horses behind, since they were attached to the animals in their care.
They gave them away to local people in northern France. The 22 Mule Company was captured by the Germans. A British officer stated, "During the chaos (of the withdrawal), they maintained the discipline, turn-out and self-respect which many around them had lost, enhancing the reputation of the Indian army."
Back in Britain, Force K6 was equipped initially with French army horses and later re-equipped with mules imported from the USA. Originally stationed in Cornwall, later they moved to various places in Wales and finally the north of Scotland where they trained for a possible invasion of Norway. The unit returned to India in April 1944 and deployed to Burma. Over the years I have received a number of letters and emails from people, who while growing up during the war met these Indians and remember them as being very polite and well-behaved. Children particularly relished the treats they gave them! Force K6 was the first Indian army unit to see action in World War 2.
A British officer's devotion to his troops
We have often heard about British officers' attachment to their Indian troops. The particular case of Liberal Democrat leader Lord 'Paddy' Ashdown's father, Lieutenant Colonel JWRD Ashdown, illustrates this well. Then a Captain commanding 32 Mule Company with Force K6, he was ordered by a senior commander, during the retreat to Dunkirk to abandon his Indian soldiers and mules to their fate in the face of the advancing Germans.
The British officers were to be evacuated. Abandoning the animals he could understand, they required special arrangements for evacuation which the British, desperately short of transport just could not make. However, he flatly refused to countenance any thought of leaving behind his beloved men. He repudiated the blatantly racist order, brought all his jawans back by securing berths for them on a ship bringing them back to Britain.
Back in the UK he had to face a court-martial for his insubordination. Ashdown's defence was simple. "I simply thought that these were my men, I was responsible for them, and must bring them back. That was the beginning and the end of it." Later, sense dawned upon the authorities and the court-martial was thrown out. Ashdown's dedication to his men was not an isolated case, there being many such examples among British officers.
Army enters social media
Social media is now a real power in the land. Most of the world's armed forces have long recognised its power as a force multiplier. The Indian army despite its good showing in information warfare and in harnessing the power of the media during the Kargil War took some time to realise the potential of the new medium in showcasing one's own strength and disseminating information on the principle of 'should know'.
However as on May 1, the Army's media arm, the Additional Directorate of Public Information (ADGPI) is on Facebook with the official Indian army page at www.facebook.com/adgpi.indianarmy.
Earlier, the ADGPI registered its presence on Twitter @adgpi. Both pages are updated regularly by the organisation's staff. Here's wishing the Indian army all the best in the virtual world!
Boeing P-81Neptunes inducted into navy
The induction of P-81 long range maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft at INS Rajali, the naval air station at Arokkonam in Tamil Nadu on May 15 marked a significant accretion to the Navy's maritime surveillance capability.
The aircraft will serve with INAS 312 Squadron (The Albatross). P-8I is a Boeing 737 (NG) passenger aircraft converted for military use, equipped with radar devices to detect ships and submarines within a radius of 200 nautical miles and capable of being fitted with missiles and torpedoes.
Please write in with your feedback, comments, suggestions and personal narratives of war and military service to firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 093161-35343.