Thursday, 9 June 2011

Oldest Indian Mountain Batteries (Frontier Force) and Evolution of Mountain Guns


This Battery too, like the 1st to 3rd, was raised from the disbanded artillerymen of Sikh Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Battery was raised at Haripur in 1851 and trained by Major Abbot to help the British Army defend the Hazara district of the North West Frontier. More details of this Battery can be found in my earlier posts. 


Raised in 1827 as Bombay Foot Artillery, the 5th is the oldest Indian Mountain Battery. Ironically, the battery was used by the British against the forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Second Sikh War at the siege of Multan in 1849. The Battery was the first to serve outside India when it took part in Abyssinia Expedition in 1867-68.

It did not play a role in the Second Afghan War but took part in the war with Burma from 1885-87.

In the year 1896, the Battery was back in Africa and deployed in Sudan. In 1897 it came back to the Frontier and served in the Second Division of the Tirah Field Force. During the First World War, the 5th served on the Frontier, the Persian Seiten Cordon in 1917 and during the last mopping up operations in Mesopotamia in 1917-1918.

Later, the Battery saw action in the war against the Fakir of Ipi in Waziristan in late 1930’s. It is worth pointing out, that unlike the 1st to 4th Mountain Batteries which were raised out of the disbanded Artillerymen of the Sikh Forces, the 5th never been part of Punjab Frontier Force.

Picture below is of 3.7 Inch Howitzer Mountain Gun deployed in a snow bound operational location
                               ( Me, the then Gun Position Officer (GPO) standing in the center)


Before I conclude my article on the Indian Mountain Batteries, a few lines about the need of maintaining Mountain artillery & also the gradual developments of its guns, seem imperative to visualise their importance in battles.

The guns with the Mountain Batteries used to be light in calibre & designed in such a way that they could be dismantled into eight parts, carried on well trained mules to difficult mountain terrains, and deployed at designated gun positions after quick assembling.

The record time for dismantling or re-assembling a gun used to be between 45 to 50 seconds. The mules used to be known as “Mules MA” i.e. Mules Mountain Artillery, well built and much taller in comparison to "Mules GS" (General Service).

Each mule was designated to carry a particular part of the gun and accordingly, numbered as No1, 2, 3, & so on. The saddle for each mule was specially designed to enable the animal to trot, canter or gallop without dropping or damaging the load.

Like soldiers, the mules also had to under go vigorous training and therefore, their discipline and devotion to duty used to be unerring & beyond doubt; they were ready to serve, always and every where. The mules of each gun detachment would follow the lead mule (Mule No.1), maintaining their positions in sequence and once unloaded & the gun brought in action, they would remain completely still and silent. 

The picture below shows my 2nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery (FF) moving to operational area in 1963

The earliest guns were the tiny 3 Pounder SBML (Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading) and 4.2/5 Inch SBML Howitzer of 1850 vintage. These were replaced in 1865 by the 7 Pounder RML (Rifle Muzzle Loading). In 1879, this too was replaced by the significantly improved and heavier 2.5 Inch RML – also known as Kipling’s Screw Gun. The advantage of this gun ( and all later versions) was that its barrel could be split in two for easier transportation.

During the Great War (First World War), all the Mountain Batteries were equipped with 10 Pounder BL or 2.75 Inch RML guns. It was only  in the last year of the war that the next model, the 3.7 Inch Howitzer, was introduced in East Africa, and proved to be far superior to the previous models. This continued as standard mountain gun during the inter-war years and throughout World War-II, and later on until 1965-66.

Below picture is of my OP (Observation Post) team at forward location. Me in the centre with my two TAs                      (Technical assistants)


  1. Great posts dad - very informative. Love the picture with the mules in transit! :)

  2. Thanks Rashmi. The fist is really ful of such stories..

  3. Hi ,,Great read ,, i have a medal for mher singh of 2 derjat m battery 1936-37, can you shead some light on this regiment

  4. Thank you. Perhaps you can give me more details about the medal so that I can check with the regiment.

  5. Hi, very informative piece. I was wondering if you could help me i have great interest of finding out about my grandfathers life he was in the Indian Navy back in the 60's and 70's in calcutta. His name is Abhijit Singh Sodhi and was a member of the crew that bought the first submarine to India, where can i look to find more about this?

  6. Hi, maybe you could help me out i am trying to find out about my grandfathers life. His name was Abhijit Singh Sodhi and he was in the Indian Navy back in the 60's and 70's and i have heard that he was part of the crew that bought the first submarine from Russia to India. I have tried to reach many of relatives in India but have had no luck, do you know where and who i can reach to find this information, thanks!