Christopher Trevelyan © 2003-2014 |

The Indian Army on campaign 1900-1939

Indian Mountain Artillery

by Christopher Trevelyan

         During the British Raj, few could rival the status and fighting reputation of the Indian Mountain Batteries. Throughout their existence, hardly an expedition on the North-West Frontier went by without at least one Battery being attached to provide always needed artillery support. Indeed, wherever the infantry went, no matter how treacherous the terrain or fierce the enemy, so too did the Batteries of the Indian Mountain Artillery follow. In addition to service on the 'Frontier', Indian Mountain Batteries served in North-East India, Burma, Afghanistan, Tibet, the Middle East, Africa, and during the Great War; Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, East Africa, Persia, Palestine and of course the North-West Frontier again. In each campaign and on each front they served, Indian Mountain Artillery consistently proved that they were second to none in fighting skill, physical endurance and unflinching loyalty.

    The oldest Indian Mountain Battery can trace its origins back to 1827, while a further four were raised by the time of the 1857 Great Mutiny. With its conclusion, these five batteries would be the only Indian artillery units to avoid disbandment. Throughout the remainder of the 19th Century, and during the years leading up to and including the Great War, a total of twenty-five more Batteries were raised. Of these fifteen were 'war babies', but such was their value that only six would be disbanded in the early 1920's.

    Throughout their history, the reputation of Indian Mountain Batteries was enhanced by the fact that they were officered by the very best the Royal Artillery had to offer. Such talented men competed to join because a tour in an Indian Mountain Battery, unlike other branches of artillery, virtually guaranteed seeing active service. Indian officers (VCO's) and other ranks were also the best available, as the relatively small number of batteries and their role as the only Indian artillery meant that there was always a surplus of volunteers, and this in turn meant that only the highest quality of recruit was accepted.

    Although light in calibre, the guns of Mountain Batteries were designed to be disassembled and transported by pack mule in up to eight loads for use in terrain that would otherwise be impossible to traverse with larger and more conventional artillery.

    The earliest guns were the tiny 3 Pounder SBML (Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading) and 4 2/5 Inch SBML howitzer of c.1850. These were replaced in 1865 by the 7 Pounder RML (Rifled Muzzle Loading) and this in turn was replaced in 1879 by the significantly improved and significantly heavier 2.5 inch RML, also known as Kipling's Screw Gun (all mountain gun types from this 2.5 inch RML on had barrels that split in two for transport).

    For the Great War, the 10 Pounder BL (Breech Loading) and 2.75 Inch guns (pictured above) equipped the Indian Mountain Artillery. Only in the last year of the war was the next model, the 3.7 Inch (pictured below), introduced in East Africa. Upon entering service, it immediately became clear that this piece was vastly superior to all previous models, and it would soldier on as the standard mountain gun during the inter-war years and throughout World War II.


    The following is a brief outline of the war services of the first five Indian Mountain Batteries that were raised before the Great Mutiny. Only space restrictions prevent the mention of the other batteries; many of which would come to compile war records that would rival those of the Batteries mentioned below.

1st ROYAL (KOHAT) MOUNTAIN BATTERY F.F. - The premier Indian Mountain Battery was raised at Bannu in 1851 from disbanded Sikh artillerymen following the second Sikh War of 1849. The Battery saw action keeping the Frontier quiet during the Indian Mutiny, and would see continuous action in the small campaigns there throughout the 19th Century. During the Second Afghan War of 1878-80, the 1st (Kohat) Battery served with Lord Roberts at Peiwar Kotal, and would see heavy action at Kabul. During the Great 1897 Frontier uprising, the Battery would be on strength with the sizable Tirah Field Force. In the early stages of the Great War, the 1st helped defend Egypt from Turkish aggression, and soon thereafter landed at Gallipoli where they would support the Australians and New Zelanders until the eventual pullout. Later, the Battery would be sent to Mesopotamia and Persia, where it would finish the war. During the inter-war years, the Battery saw service in Waziristan in the early 1920's and again in the late 1930's.

2nd (DERAJAT) MOUNTAIN BATTERY F.F. - The 2nd, like the first, was also raised from disbanded Sikh artillerymen, although two years earlier in 1849 at Dera Ghazi Khan. In 1857, one detachment saw service against mutineers in Oudh and Bundlekand. The Second Afghan War, saw the Derajat Mountain Battery at Roberts' side throughout the war; from the heights of Peiwar Kotal and Charasia to the defense of Kabul and then on to that most famous march south to Kandahar. After the war, in addition to numerous minor Frontier campaigns throughout the Century, the 2nd took part in the Major-General Low's relief of Chitral Fort in 1895 while two years later it took part in the operations of the Tirah Field Force. In the Great War, the 2nd in 1916 joined the campaign against Col.Von-Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa, where it would remain until the Armistice. After the war, the Battery saw service during the Third Afghan War of 1919, the Mohmand Campaigns of 1933 and 1935 and operations in Waziristan against the Fakir of Ipi from 1936 on..

3rd (PESHAWAR) MOUNTAIN BATTERY F.F. - The 3rd Battery was raised in Peshawar in 1853, and soon thereafter took part in numerous Frontier campaigns, the most important of which was the brutal Ambala (Umbelya) Campaign of 1863. From December 1871 to February 1872, the Battery took part in the Looshai campaign far across on the other side of India. During the Second Afghan War, the 3rd saw service around Kandahar in 1878. In the Great War, the 3rd was one of the two original mountain batteries to land in Mesopotamia in late 1914, where the battery remained until returning to Indian in 1917 to see yet more Frontier fighting, including the Third Afghan War. The Battery would soldier on in Waziristan during the early 1920's and again in the late 1930's.

4th (HAZARA) MOUNTAIN BATTERY F.F. - The 4th was raised in 1851 at Haripur from Hazara gunners that were trained by a Major Abbot in order to help defend the Hazara District of the North-West Frontier. Like the three other Frontier Force Mountain Batteries, the 4th soon saw action in numerous small campaigns on the North-West Frontier. In 1878, the 4th helped Sir Sam Browne take the great Khyber Fort of Ali Musjid, and later took part in the relief of Kabul, where it remained as part of the garrison when Roberts marched on Kandahar. From 1885-87, the Battery took part in the war with Burma. In 1895, the Battery was back fighting on the Frontier as part of the Chitral Relief Force. During the Great War, the 4th left India in 1917 for East Africa where it would remain until the Armistice. Between the wars, the Battery saw service in the Third Afghan War of 1919, the Red Shirt and Afridi Disturbances of 1930-31, the Mohmand Campaign of 1933, and operations against the Fakir of Ipi in Waziristan in the late 1930's.

5th (BOMBAY) MOUNTAIN BATTERY - Raised in 1827 as the Bombay Foot Artillery, the 5th is the oldest Indian Mountain Battery, and the only one that served in the Second Sikh War at the siege of Mooltan in 1849. The 5th was also the first Battery to serve outside India, when it took part in the 1867-68 Abyssinia Expedition. The Battery did not play a role in the Second Afghan War, but took part in the war with Burma from 1885-87. In 1896, the Battery was back in Africa, although this time at Suakin in the Soudan. By 1897, the Battery had returned to the Frontier, and served in the Second Division of the Tirah Field Force. In the Great War, The 5th served on the Frontier, the Persian Seisten Cordon in 1917 and during the last mopping up operations in Mesopotamia in 1917-1918. During the inter-war years, the 5th only saw active service against the Fakir of Ipi in Waziristan in the late 1930's. It should be pointed out that, unlike the 1st-4th Indian Mountain Batteries, the 5th (Bombay) was never part of the Punjab Frontier Force.


    Over their long history, Indian Mountain Batteries altered their numerical designations and titles several times, although for the most part maintaining some consistency. This can nonetheless be confusing to the medal collector, especially if he is interested in World War One medals or the 1908 and 1936 India General Service Medals. For example, one may come across such medals named to the 21st Mountain Battery, the 21st Pack Battery, the 101st Pack Battery and the 1st Mountain Battery, even though all are to the same Battery. To help clarify this, the following brief outline of Mountain Battery Designations is given. This is not a list of every little change (and there were many), but it does cover the majors ones, and the ones that would be encountered on a medal.

    From 1880, the Batteries were known by their name and number; for example, No.1 Kohat Mountain Battery, P.F.F. or No.3 Peshawar Mountain Battery, P.F.F.

    In 1903, the number 20 was added to the old number, so the No.1 Kohat Mountain Battery, P.F.F. became the 21st Kohat Mountain Battery (F.F.) and the No.3 Peshawar Mountain Battery, P.F.F. became the 23rd Peshawar Mountain Battery (F.F.). This change was made to avoid confusion with British Mountain Batteries (which while serving in India, were made up of British officers and gunners, and Indian drivers.). Indian Mountain Batteries would be known by these designations during the Great War.

    In 1920, the word 'Pack' replaced 'Mountain', so the 21st Kohat Mountain Battery (F.F.) became the 21st Kohat Pack Battery (F.F.) and the 23rd Peshawar Mountain Battery (F.F.) became the 23rd Peshawar Pack Battery (F.F.).

    In 1921, the number 80 was added to the numerical designation and the 'Frontier Force' title was omitted, so the 21st Kohat Pack Battery (F.F.) became the 101st (Kohat) Pack Battery and the 23rd Peshawar Pack Battery (F.F.) became the 103rd (Peshawar) Pack Battery. 1922 brought the 'Royal' title to the 101st (Kohat) Pack Battery (F.F.) only, and returned the (Frontier Force) title to the first four batteries.

    1924 saw the Indian Mountain/Pack Batteries become Batteries in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. As a result, 'R.A.' was added to the title of each Battery. Other than adding these two letters, no other effect was made in organization or administration.

    In 1927, the number 100 was dropped from the numerical designations, 'Pack' was reverted to 'Mountain' and 'Indian' was added, so the 101st Royal (Kohat) Pack Battery, R.A. (F.F) became the 1st Royal (Kohat) Indian Mountain Battery, R.A. (F.F.) and the 103rd (Peshawar) Pack Battery R.A. (F.F.) became known as the 3rd (Peshawar) Indian Mountain Battery, R.A. (F.F.). In 1928, 'Indian' was dropped from the titles, while in 1939, Indian Mountain Batteries were transferred from the Royal Regiment of Artillery to the Indian Regiment of Artillery, which had been formed in 1935. As a result of this, 'R.A' was dropped, while the brackets around F.F. of the first four batteries were also eliminated. With this last title change, the Batteries of the Indian Mountain Artillery would fight throughout World War Two.

    Although brief, it is hoped that this overview of the history of the Indian Mountain Artillery, the war services of the five oldest batteries, and the titles the Batteries fought under from 1880-1947, will be of some use to medal collectors who may encounter medals named to Indian Mountain Batteries, and students of military history who may encounter these Batteries in their readings.