Christopher Trevelyan © 2003-2014 |

The Indian Army on campaign 1900-1939

2/151 Sikh Infantry F.F.

by Christopher Trevelyan

(This is an abridged article. The original appeared in the Winter 2004 (Vol.21 No.4) issue of 'Durbar: Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society'.)

        In early 1918, General Sir Edmund Allenby and his Egyptian Expeditionary Force were busy preparing for a major Spring offensive against the Turks in Palestine. It was here that the War Office decided that the final breakthrough would take place. As such, Allenby was told to expect two Indian Divisions from Mesopotamia, several additional Indian battalions from India, and a dozen Indian Cavalry Regiments from France. Although he had to give up some British infantry and yeomanry regiments in the process, the Indian reinforcements were to significantly add to Allenby's already formidable force.

          These plans quickly changed however when the great German onslaught in France began on 21st March 1918. Allenby's offensive was shelved, and he soon received orders to send every available British soldier that he could spare to France. In April, both the 52nd and 74th British divisions left, and these were soon followed by nine Yeomanry Regiments, five and a half siege batteries, nine further British infantry battalions, and five machine-gun companies. In May, yet another fourteen British infantry battalions left for France. As a result, instead of supplementing Allenby's British troops as was planned, the arriving Indian reinforcements now had to replace them, leaving Allenby temporarily with far fewer soldiers than he had at the beginning of 1918.

         The loss of the 52nd and 74th Divisions was largely compensated for by the arrival of the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) Indian Divisions from Mesopotamia, while the nine Yeomanry Regiments were quickly replaced by the twelve Indian Cavalry Regiments arriving from France. Replacing the other twenty-three British infantry battalions proved to be something of a greater challenge.

         Between April and July 1918, the departed British battalions were only slowly replaced both by Indian battalions arriving from India, and through a process of creating brand new Indian battalions in the field. This was done by drawing one company each from four existing Indian battalions, and then joining the four separated companies together to create an entirely new battalion with a distinct name and number. Drafts from India later arrived to bring the donor battalions back up to strength. Unlike some of the newly raised and inexperienced battalions then arriving from India, the advantage of this process was that these newly created battalions began their existence with four companies of experienced officers and other ranks. The drawback however was that the four newly joined companies had never served together in action as an integrated fighting force.

         Eventually, eighteen of these new Indian infantry battalions would be raised, and they were named and numbered from the 1st Battalion, 150th Indian Infantry to the 1st Battalion, 156th Indian Infantry. A four battalion strong 11th Gurkha Rifles and the 40th to 45th Indian Cavalry were also created in this fashion.

       Of these new battalions, thirteen would go on to see service in Palestine during 1918 and early 1919. Seven of these were actually raised in Palestine, and they may trace their origin to a Letter from GHQ 1st Echelon dated 19th May 1918 which outlined the establishment of the following battalions:

2nd Battalion,151st Indian Infantry; 3rd Battalion, 151st Indian Infantry (later Punjabi Rifles); 3rd Battalion, 152nd Indian Infantry (later Punjabis); 2nd Battalion, 153rd Indian Infantry (later Punjabis); 3rd Battalion, 153rd Indian Infantry (later Rifles); 2nd Battalion, 155th Pioneers; 4th Battalion, 11th Gurkha Rifles.

         Self-styled as the 2/151st Indian Infantry "Frontier Force" as its four companies came from Frontier Force Regiments, the battalion was formed at the 28th Indian Brigade dump in the 7th (Indian) Divisional Area at Sarona, North-East of Jaffa, on 30th May 1918. At raising, the battalion was under the command of acting Captain A.G.A. Dunning M.C., who was the senior British officer at the time.

         When transferring to the 2/151st Infantry, each other rank brought his personal arms, personal and public clothing, personal equipment, ammunition on the man, blankets, bivouac shelters and cooking utensils. Each company also brought all of its own bombers, signallers and other specialists, as well as one or two private servants to form the Battalion mess. In addition, each company temporarily brought four cooks, two bhistis, two sweepers, and their 1st and 2nd line transport, although these were to be replaced in the 2/151st Infantry by reinforcements as soon as possible. The battalion transport establishment was set at 11 riding horses, 48 pack mules, 50 light draught animals, and 4 donkeys, while Lewis guns were to be issued in early June.

         All other ranks were considered officially transferred to the Battalion for the duration of the war and received new regimental numbers from 1-1100. They were also issued new identity discs. The battalion depot was to be located in Jullundur, India, and was allocated number 1101 and onwards to be assigned to new recruits. Later, in July 1918 Captain Stuart-Prince, 59th Rifles F.F. was appointed to command the Depot, but owing to building difficulties at Jullundur, the depot was temporarily established at Dhond near Ahmednaghar.

       Three civilian clerks were to join from India, but until they could arrive, two British clerks were attached; 11770 L/Cpl.H.Smith and 204442 Pte.T.Kinnock, both of the 1/Seaforth Highlanders. Naik Chandu Khan was made Quarter-Master Naik, and Naik Mir Khan was made Transport Naik.

    The medical equipment was drawn from the Base Medical Store Department in Kantara, and amounted to one pair of medical panniers, one field companion, one surgical haversack and two water bottles. A 80lb single fly General Service tent was also picked up from ordinance. The appointed medical officer was Lieutenant Khera, IMS.

      The month of June was spent preparing to enter 'the line'. On 1st June, the battalion marched to an area around Ramleh. While there, the very first parade of the battalion took place. The men were also to receive baths and have their clothing disinfected, but this had to be put on hold when the battalion received orders to march to Harith by 8th June. On 9th June, Lt.Col.A.A.Smith arrived to take over command of the battalion. A veteran of several pre-war Frontier campaigns in addition to his Great War experience, Smith would command the 2/151st Infantry until the end of hostilities.

   Parties of the 2/151st Infantry were soon sent to visit the 101st Grenadiers and 58th Rifles (F.F.) to learn local conditions and establish 'bhai-bandi', or camaraderie with their fellow battalions. On 17th June, the entire 2/151st Infantry marched to Beit Rima, where bathing parties were finally arranged. Ten days later, the 2/151st Infantry moved up to the front, and took over a section of the line between Kufr Ain Hill and Ghedideh Hill. It would only take a couple of days before the first casualties began to roll in, as four Sepoys were wounded on the night of 29th/30th June.

      Over the next couple weeks, the battalion was subjected to intermittent Turkish shelling with little result. Routine patrols were also carried out. On one such occasion, a party of sixty Turks was encountered, but the patrol managed to extricate itself with the loss of only one man wounded.

         On 16th July, the 2/151st Infantry withdrew from the line with the rest of the 29th Brigade, and marched roughly 20 miles to a rear area around Janiya. The battalion was joined at this time by Major R.D.Beadle, who arrived from the Senior Officers Cadre in Cairo to serve as 2nd in command.

  For the next three weeks, the entire Brigade then carried out preparations for a large scale raid on 'Gharabeh Ridge'. Held by over 600 rifles of the Turkish 33rd Regiment, 11th Division, the objective of the raid was nothing short of the complete destruction of the enemy. It was also to be the most significant assault on the Turkish line since the re-structuring of Allenby's Force, and a test for his new Indian troops. The Turkish position was a formidable one.

      Assaulting it required navigating a steep decent followed by a steep ascent and then overcoming wire. The 33rd Regiment was also one of the better Turkish units in Palestine, with few deserters thus far. As such, the 29th Brigade, under the command of Lt.Col.Wildblood of the 1/Leinsters, carried out extensive and very detailed preparations. The enemy's defences were re-created as closely as possible, and the Brigade soon began practice assaults during the day and later at night. Every detail of the advance and withdrawal was rehearsed. The men were trained on defeating the Turkish wire with 'Bangalore torpedos' and special ladders, attack routes were marked, advanced telephone wires were laid, and the men were even issued boots with felt or rope soles to help with the element of surprise.

    The raid called for the 1/101st Grenadiers and two companies of the 1/Leinster's to assault the left flank while the 1/54th Sikhs and the other two companies of the 1/Leinster's were to assault the right flank. The 2/151st was to remain in reserve, but elements were detailed to provide support. These included: 3 British Officers, 6 Indian Officers and 198 Other Ranks for prisoner escorts; 1 British Officer, 1 Indian Officer and 64 Other Ranks for runner services; 1 Indian Officer and 64 Other Ranks for stretcher bearers with 1/Leinster's; 1 Indian Officer and 96 Other Ranks as fighting men and signallers with 1/154 Sikhs; and 12 Other Ranks for signallers with Brigade Headquarters.

The raid began at 19:50 on 12th August, and was over within forty minutes. The detailed preparations and planning had paid off as nearly every objective was met. For the loss of 107 killed and wounded, the 29th Brigade captured 239 prisoners, 14 machine guns, 10 ponies, and inflicted an estimated 450 Turkish casualties. Of the British losses, the 2/151st Infantry suffered 2 Indian Other Ranks killed and 3 wounded. All four battalions received congratulations on job well done from both Brigadier-General C.L.Smith V.C., M.C., commander of the 29th Brigade, and Major-General J.R. Longley C.B., C.M.G., commander of the 10th Division.

   Over the next three weeks, the battalion carried out only routine parades, tactical exercises, and musketry practice. In early September, the first draft of 71 Indian Other Ranks arrived from the Regimental Depot, and their appearance and physique was deemed satisfactory. On 14th September, the battalion was granted the privilege of providing a guard of honour for the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Edmund Allenby, at Nebbi Saleh, while he presented awards to the 10th Division. The guard consisted of 2 British Officers, 5 Indian Officers, and 72 Indian Other Ranks. Amongst them were representatives of five different fronts during this war and eight different earlier wars, which gives some idea of the wartime experience of this 'newly-raised' battalion.

        While the 2/151st Infantry honour guard was with General Allenby at Nebbi Saleh, 'A' Company of the battalion returned to the line, and took over Kufr Ain Hill. The rest of the battalion followed the next day. From then until 19th September, the 2/151st Infantry made final preparations for the forthcoming offensive, and received all special stores and equipment required. Brigadier-General Smith, V.C., M.C., visited the battalion on 18th September, and wished it the best of luck.

  Allenby's plan for 19th September was a fairly simple one. Using his greatly overstrength XXI Corps, which comprised five of his seven divisions and a heavy concentration of artillery, Allenby sought to push aside the entire Turkish right along the coast. His three cavalry divisions would then proceed through the gap created, and cut off the enemy's lines of communication and supply, thereby leaving the rest of the Turkish frontline positions untenable. To the right of the XXI Corps was the XX Corps, which was made up of Allenby's two remaining divisions; the 10th and 53rd. Holding the line through the Judean Hills up to the Jordan Valley, the XX Corps was to assault the entrenched Turks and Germans in front of them, and then advance towards Nablus. Next to the XX Corps was Chaytor's Force, which held the Jordan Valley at the extreme right of the British line.

As part of the 10th Division, the 2/151st Infantry along with the 1/Leinster's were chosen to spearhead XX Corps' attack. Supported by the rest of the 29th Brigade, (1/54th Sikhs and 1/101st Grenadiers) the 2/151st Infantry and 1/Leinsters were to break through the Turkish line and capture Furqa Ridge. They were then to continue their advance on Selfit. At 1945 on 19th September, the artillery barrage began. Shortly afterwards, the 1/Leinsters and the 2/151st Infantry began their advance on Furqa Ridge under heavy enemy fire. The 1/Leinsters were soon held up at 'Follies Hill' by German troops, which put them behind schedule.

    They were eventually able to take the hill with the bayonet and the help of a second artillery barrage. The 1/Leinster's then went on to capture the trenches around Furqa village by 0200. The advance of the 2/151st Infantry was more successful. By around 0100, 'A' Company 2/151st Infantry had captured 'Topee Hill', 'Figure Hill', and even Furqa village itself, which was supposed to be taken by the 1/Leinsters. This decision to take the village without orders was perhaps overzealous, as it was scheduled to be bombarded by British guns only ten minutes after the 2/151st captured it, though this was averted at the last moment. 'B' Company followed 'A' Company, and after crossing the Wadi el Mutwy, also exceeded its orders by taking Kufr el Mutwy, which was supposed to be the objective of the 74th Punjabis of the 31st Brigade. 'D' Company passed up the Wadi Rashid, and itself took two hills. The Battalion Headquarters and 'C' Company followed 'D' Company, and were soon joined by 'A' Company which had come from Furqa village. The three Companies and HQ then continued to advance, and captured another two hills by 0200, early morning on 20th September.

  At 0700, the 2/151st Infantry (less 'B' Company) received orders to continue north-east towards Sejarah Ridge near Mt.Ephraim. As the battalion advanced towards its objective, it soon encountered heavy German and Austrian machine-gun and rifle fire that began to inflict serious casualties. Despite the battalion's best efforts, it was held up, as were the 1/101st Grenadiers and 1/Leinsters. Eventually, at around 1500, the 1/54th Sikhs F.F. arrived, and advancing between the pinned battalions, succeeded in carrying the Ridge, albeit at the cost of 110 casualties. Now joined by 'B' Company and with Sejarah Ridge taken, the 2/151st Infantry continued its advance. Fighting eventually began to slow during the late afternoon until it eventually ceased at dusk. This was due to the enemy retreating under the cover of darkness. On this day, Subadar Karam Dad of the 2/151st Infantry won the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class; almost certainly for the fighting at Sejarah Ridge. His citation read,

For conspicuous gallantry on 20th September 1918, when being the only Indian Officer left unwounded with his company, he personally led forward his own and other platoons to two positions, under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, notwithstanding the very heavy casualties, which included his brother who was killed. His fearless leading gave a splendid example to the company.

At 2330, the 2/151st Infantry received orders to advance yet again, although three of the companies needed a few hours rest first. Marching through the early morning of 21st September, the Battalion reached Balata at 1500, just as the last enemy rearguards were about to surrender. The 2/151st Infantry was however, machine-gunned by an enemy aeroplane while en route. Finally, the battalion encamped at Azmat by 1600, after marching 25 miles in 45 hours without a single man falling out. Casualties during these operations amounted to 143, over 100 of which were sustained at Sejarah Ridge.

2/151st INFANTRY CASUALTIES - 19th-20th September 1918

'A' Company: 2 Killed - 18 Wounded - 0 Missing

'B' Company: 3 Killed - 14 Wounded - 1 Missing

'C' Company: 4 Killed - 76 Wounded - 3 Missing

'D' Company 2 Killed - 18 Wounded - 2 Missing

TOTAL: 11 Killed - 126 Wounded - 6 Missing

    By 21st September, the infantry's role in the 'Battle of Armageddon' was essentially over. As the cavalry pushed on far ahead towards Damascus, all that was left behind for the 2/151st and the rest of the infantry was salvage operations and prisoner escort duties. Allenby's offensive was a complete success. The entire Turkish front in Palestine was broken, and the haul in captured equipment and prisoners was impressive. The four battalions of the 29th Brigade alone captured 380 Germans, 100 Austrians and over 3500 Turks.

      On 25th September, Temporary Subadar-Major Galodu Ram applied for his pension and was evacuated sick to hospital. His place was taken by Subadar Sadda Singh. Over the next five months, the 2/151st Infantry carried out only routine parades, practices, and other duties.

Col.A.A.Smith went on leave on 1st November. His place was taken by Major R.D.Beadle for the duration of the battalion's stay in Palestine and Egypt. On 25th November, the battalion left for Cairo by train, where it remained for the next two months. On 7th January 1919, a party of 3 Indian Officers and 30 Indian Other Ranks joined over 2000 Muslims from the Indian Army on a pilgrimage to Mecca as guests of the King of the Hedjaz.

     On 16th January, unexpected orders were received for two companies to proceed to Somaliland, while the rest of the battalion was to journey over 180 miles up the Nile. These orders were soon cancelled however and replaced by the much more welcome news that the entire battalion was to proceed home to India as soon as shipping permitted.

    The advanced party left for Karachi on 31st January, while the rest of the 2/151st Infantry finally set sail in early February. Only a few months after it had returned to India, the 2/151st Infantry was again called to active service during the Third Afghan War of May-August 1919. Seeing no significant action, the battalion soldiered on for another year until it was finally disbanded on 31st July 1920. Over its brief existance , the 2/151st Indian Infantry gave a good account of itself on active service, and well represented the four Frontier Force Regiments from which it sprang. Those officers and men still with the battalion at its end either retired from the Indian Army, or returned to their original units to serve on.