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India 1930 - 1947:

Armoured & Airborne Divisions

The first armoured troops in India were formed in 1914.  It was found that armoured cars, in three car batteries, were useful in the regular fighting on the North-West Frontier of India and in Waziristan. Post the First World War, these armoured car companies were part of the Royal Tank Corps, later the Royal Tank Regiment, and they comprised the sole armoured units stationed in India.

In 1921, the Indian Army cavalry regiments were reorganised, and consolidated into twenty-one regiments. In 1937, these were divided into three groups. Each group had one regiment dedicated as a training regiment, with the other six regiments active. In March 1938, the first two regiments of Indian cavalry were mechanised, the 13th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers and the Scinde Horse (14th Prince of Wales’s Own Cavalry). Equipment was very difficult to obtain, especially tanks, so the regiments were equipped with trucks.

The expansion programme for the British Indian Army for 1940 included the raising of one armoured division for potential deployment to the Middle East. Initially called the Mobile Division, it was to comprise Indian Army cavalry regiments, and those British cavalry regiments serving in India. The organization of the 1st Indian Armoured Division was agreed by the Commander-in-Chief on 9 July 1940, and it was to consist of the 1st and 2nd Indian Armoured Brigades, and a Divisional Support Group. This division was offered to the British government for service overseas, but this offer was refused as there were no tanks with which to equip it. Instead, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, of three cavalry regiments but equipped with trucks only, was dispatched to Egypt. The raising of the 2nd Armoured Division was authorised three months after the 1st was approved.

The Indian Armoured Corps was formed with effect from 1 May 1941, and it encompassed all the cavalry regiments. At this time, it was hoped to form an armoured corps of three divisions, with new cavalry regiments raised. Late in 1941, the 1st Division was renumbered as the 31st, and its two Brigades were also renumbered. The 252nd Indian Armoured Brigade was sent to Iraq, but the 251st Brigade remained in India. The 2nd Armoured Division became the 32nd, and the third armoured division was the 43rd.

In June 1942, with the United Kingdom at war with Japan, and the Japanese Army on the border of India, the Indian Armoured Corps was reoganized again. The establishment of the armoured divisions was changed to mirror that of British armoured divisions, i.e., with one armoured brigade and one infantry brigade, with supporting arms and services. Some of the spare units were disbanded, and others became part of a Tank Brigade.

The lack of enough suitably trained personnel in India, and the shortage of shipping to deliver tanks and equipment, it was decided in late 1942 to amalgamate the 32nd and 43rd Armoured Divisions, to form the 44th Indian Armoured Division. This took effect in February 1943.

In early 1944, the Supreme Commander, South-East Asia authorised the formation of an airborne division in India. Again, the process of formation was slow, but in April 1944, the 44th Indian Armoured Division was disbanded and the 44th Indian Airborne Division came into being. None of these formations were ever deployed as such, although elements of them were used in Burma in 1944 and early 1945.

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