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What happened to the Armed Forces when India and Pakistan became independent?

On 20th February 1947 the new Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, announced in the House of Commons that Lord Mountbatten had been appointed to replace Lord Wavell as Viceroy, that the British would withdraw from India and power would be transferred to the Indians by June 1948 at the latest.     Mountbatten arrived in India on 22nd March 1947 and, following initial discussions with the various Indian leaders, concluded that a plan for a united India drawn up a year earlier was going nowhere.  He was still hopeful that a united India would emerge after the British withdrawal.  On 17th May 1947, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, C in C India, broadcast over the radio to the Indian Armed Forces, informing them that no agreement had been reached, that the British Government had looked carefully at the proposals for separate independent States but concluded that “…they, therefore, cannot agree to divide India into separate States, though they do think that some way must be found for the predominantly Muslim areas to govern themselves if they wish to do so.”    Despite this, on 3rd June 1947 Mountbatten announced that a plan had been drawn up for the partition of the subcontinent and set the date for independence as 15th August, just 73 days hence.

Mountbatten formed an Inter-Party Partition Committee under his chairmanship, consisting of two members of the Congress, two of the Muslim League and one minority representative,    with a number of expert sub-committees to consider specific issues, including one on the division of the Indian Armed Forces.  By 30th June a first determination had been made of how the Army would be divided based on an estimate of the existing proportion of Muslims to non-Muslims in the Army which was 30:70. 

The first stage of partition would be on a more or less rough and ready division of the existing forces on a communal basis; the next phase would be to comb out the units themselves on the basis of voluntary transfer.  To this, however, there would be one exception, namely that a Muslim from Pakistan now serving in the armed forces would not have the option to join the armed forces of the Indian Union and similarly a non-Muslim from the rest of India now serving in the armed forces would not have the option to join the armed forces of Pakistan. There would, however, be no objection to non-Muslim personnel from Pakistan and Muslim personnel from the rest of India electing to serve in the armed forces of the Indian union.  


By 3rd July the Armed Forces Reconstitution Committee (AFRC) had decided on the division of infantry regiments in a ratio between India and Pakistan of 15:8.    The Pakistan Infantry was to be based on:

1st, 8th, 14th, 15th and 16th Punjab Regiments

Baluch Regiment

Frontier Force Regiment

Frontier Force Rifles

2nd Punjab Regiment, with its regimental centre at Meerut, went to India since it was expected that many Eastern Punjabi Muslims who were serving in it would opt to serve in the Indian Army.  All other Infantry units also went to India.


The Armoured Corps was divided in the proportion of 12:6 with the following going to Pakistan, each of which was to consist, after ‘combing out’, entirely of Muslims:

6th DCO Lancers, 11th PAVO Cavalry (both Light Armoured)

5th Horse, 13th Lancers, 19th Lancers (Medium Armoured)

Guides Cavalry (Heavy Armoured)

Artillery and Engineer units had for some time been constituted on a communal basis and so their division between the two new Dominions was not so problematic.  The Artillery was divided in a proportion of 18½ to 8½ regiments; Engineers in a proportion of 61:34 companies. Other Corps were decided in a series of subsequent meetings of the AFRC so that by the time of Independence all had been considered under phase one.  Combing out of units under phase two was to continue for some months to come. 

The position regarding the Royal Indian Navy and Royal Indian Air Force was different.  As Auchinleck noted:

In the Navy and Air Force there are no Muslim units or Hindu units. All classes and creeds are inextricably mixed in all units, occupations, trades and establishments and the complete breaking down and rebuilding of all units and establishments will be necessary before separate, new and efficient forces can be made out of the existing “all-India” forces. Moreover, the installations necessary for the maintenance of new separate forces will have to be created in each state where they do not now exist.

Pakistan eventually received 16 ships including two sloops, 2 frigates, 4 minesweepers, 2 trawlers, 2 motor minesweepers and 4 harbour defence motor launches.  As for the Air Force, there were ten squadrons to divide (2 transports and 8 fighters).  The Armed Forces Reconstitution Committee recommended the proportion should be 70 : 30 but this led to some disagreement.  Eventually it was decided that a ninth fighter squadron would be formed from the immediate reserve of aircraft available throughout India and placed at the disposal of Pakistan. 

On achieving Independence both countries became Dominions within the Commonwealth. Lord Mountbatten stayed on as the first Governor-General of India with General Sir Robert Lockhart as India’s first Chief of Army Staff; Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah became Pakistan’s first Governor-General with General Sir Frank Messervy as Pakistan’s first Chief of Army Staff.  Field Marshal Auchinleck, the last Commander-in-Chief India of the British era, stayed on as Supreme Commander until such time as his work on separating the administrative machinery for both new armies had been completed.  He had no operational control over either Army.


   Nicholas Mansergh  Constitutional Relations Between Britain and India. The Transfer of Power, 1942-1947 (12 volumes).  London: HMSO, Vol IX, Number 438. (hereafter  TOP, Volume Number, item number)


   Major-General Shahid Hamid, Disastrous Twilight (London: Leo Cooper, 1986) pp63-64 and IOLR/L/WS/1/742.


   By 27th June this Committee had become the Partition Council and later, by the addition of the two nominated Defence Members of the new Governments plus the C-in-C, also became the Provisional Joint Defence Council (up to independence)/ Joint Defence Council (following independence).  The Partition Council met on twenty occasions between 27th June and 1st December 1947.   The Provisional Joint Defence Council met on seven occasions in the run-up to Partition and a  further nineteen occasions as the Joint Defence Council between 16 August 1947 and 19 March 1948 during which numerous technical details of the division of the Armed Forces were discussed. Partition Proceedings, Vols IV and V (BL, IOR Neg 3659)





   Fourth Meeting of the Partition Council dated 10 July 1947, Item 2 – Allocation of Armoured Corps and Infantry Units.  Partition Proceedings,  Vol 5, p.32, BL/IOR/NEG/3659.  This proportionate division of Infantry did not include the Gurkhas who as mentioned in footnote 2 above, became subject of a separate tri-partite agreement between the UK, India and Nepal. Nor did it adequately reflect the fact that a regiment could consist of anything from 3 to 6 battalions, so the proportion of regiments did not exactly reflect the proportion of active battalions.  Taking the Gurkhas out of the equation the proportionate division was closer to 18:8.  The Gurkhas are not further considered in this paper but see, for example, Tony Gould. Imperial Warriors: Britain and the Gurkhas (1999) for more information on this important subject.


   Note by Commander in Chief in India, 27th May 1947. Cabinet Office India and Burma Committee. Paper I.B. (47)89 –  Division of the Armed Forces of India between “Pakistan” and “Hindustan”.  TOP X No 547 and BL/ IOR/L/P&J/10/79: ff35-9 

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