Note –

‘… in this article it is argued that it was the direct defence of the United Kingdom, not overseas territories, which absorbed most of the resources which might otherwise have been committed to the continent of Europe. Moreover, it is suggested that such diversion of military effort as there was to imperial defence need not have militated against technical innovation. Finally, it is suggested that, although the Empire could make only a very limited contribution. at the outbreak of war, the Empire was an important source of manpower and raw materials, which could be mobilized in a long war. This was important, because British (and French) strategy aimed at achieving victory not at the outset of war with Germany, but after about three years….

‘… as Barnett has rightly pointed out, the Indian field army's four divisions remained ill equipped for European warfare throughout the interwar period. On the other hand, India's contribution to imperial defence can easily he underestimated, India's defence budget in 1937-8 was some £34'5 million, more than double the total of all the dominions’ defence budgets that year. An important Oxford thesis has argued that by the early 1930s it was generally accepted by military authorities that the threat of a Russian land invasion of India, which had once so dominated British military thinking, had receded, and that Indian forces were more available than ever to assist in the defence of British interests in the Middle and Far East. The degree of self-government accorded to India prevented an expansion of her defence budget which would have been sufficient to modernize the Indian army to European standards in the 1930s, but Britain retained control over Indian defence policy. Indian army units could be earmarked to provide reinforcements in the Middle or Far East, and in 1935, for example, during the Italo-Abyssinian crisis, the Indian army sent its sole anti-aircraft battery to defend the Red Sea ports. The Indian army may not have been equipped to European standards, but the professionalism of its soldiers enabled an Indian division to play an important role in the defeat of the Italian army in North Africa in 1940.

‘Against this it can be argued that some 60,000 British troops nearly a third of the regular army were stationed in India clown to the later 1930s, often engaged in internal security operations. From this point of view India can be seen as a burden on British military resources. The burden was, however, made unnecessarily heavy by British military conservatism. Adjustments to the ratio of British to Indian troops released over 10,000 British troops between 1936 and 1938, and in 1938-39 an enquiry by Lord Chatfield showed that a further three British battalions could be withdrawn, and 17 Indian battalions disbanded, if more modern methods were used to defend the North-West frontier. Even so drastic a reduction in the Indian army would still have left the equivalent of a division available on call for imperial defence purposes outside India. The surplus Indian regiments were not in fact disbanded, as the Indian army was greatly expanded after the outbreak of war. Finally, it may be noted that, from the point of view of the Indian taxpayer, the stationing of unnecessarily large numbers of British troops in India was a burden he would have preferred the British taxpayer to bear. British troops were much more expensive than Indian troops to maintain, and this was urged as a reason to withdraw more white troops or to provide British subsidies.

‘… Failure to create war industries in the dominions and India, as recommended in 1917, can thus be seen as an important reason why the Empire was a burden not only on Britain's armed forces but also on British industry.... Britain's own armaments industry was pared to the bone after the First World War, and down to the mid-1930s orders for the Indian army or any other imperial force were a bonus for the British armaments industry, which was barely surviving on home orders…. Indian ordnance factories could produce the range of weapons required for an army of the 1914 pattern — light artillery, machine guns and rifles — but India was unable to manufacture chassis for lorries or armoured fighting vehicles, and there was not, prior to 1940, any Indian aircraft industry.

‘… London's position as the centre of the Sterling Area, which included almost the whole of the Empire, except Canada, together with some foreign countries, facilitated purchases of supplies, especially in India and the Middle East, albeit at the cost of piling up the sterling balances which were to prove so troublesome to post-war governments. The payment of paper pounds for goods and services in underdeveloped countries was inflationary … the financing of an army of between 2 and 3 million men in India involved considerable deprivation there.’