Regiment of Artillery: Firepower keeps the Peace

"Ultima Ratio Regum" – the cannons were always thee “last argument of kings!” Though Babur is generally credited with being the first one to use artillery in India in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526, recent research reveals that rudimentary cannons were in service with some Indian kings even before the advent of the Mughals.  Later during the reign of the Marathas, Tipu Sultan, the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the East India Company, artillery was the leading arm and `Golandaz' battalions occupied the pride of place on the battlefield.  Since then the guns have always been the "Colours" of the Regiment of Artillery.

The East India Company raised the first regular company of artillery in 1748, with a small percentage of Indian Gunners called Gun Lashkars, Tindals and Serangs.  A few Indian Mountain Batteries, officered by the British, were raised in the 19th century and formed part of the Royal Artillery.   In fact, the 1 Royal (Kohat) and the 2 Royal (Derajat) Mountain Batteries claim their descent from the troops in service with the Lahore Darbar.  The Bombay Artillery, later 5 Bombay Battery, raised on 28 September 1832, is the oldest artillery unit in service continuously since raising.  As such, 28 September is celebrated as Gunners’ Day every year by the Indian Army and units of the Regiment of Artillery.

During the late 19th century, the Indian Gunners saw action in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Afghanistan, Aden, Burma, Somaliland (Somalia), Tibet, Persia (Iran) and the erstwhile North West Frontier Province.  The Indian Mountain Batteries served with distinction during the campaigns of the First World War.  Their bravery and valour on the battlefields of Mesopotamia (Iraq), East Africa, Gallipoli, Persia (Iran), Egypt and Palestine, raised the stock of Indian solders the world over, and earned for the Gunners the right to add the coveted sobriquet `Royal' to their names.

On 15 January 1935, `A' Field Brigade, comprising four batteries of horse-drawn guns, was raised at Bangalore.  It was the first artillery unit to be officered by Indians. The young Royal Indian Artillery, won its spurs on the battlefields of the Second World War.  The names of Bir Hachiem, Gazala, Meiktila and Cassino, still evoke poignant memories of the skill and valour of Indian Gunners who won a large number of gallantry awards, including a Victoria Cross.

With independence came greater challenges and the Regiment covered itself with glory by performing with extraordinary efficiency and supreme dedication during the operations of 1947-48, 1962, 1965 and 1971.  The battlefields of Chushul, Chamb, Amritsar, Longewala and Sylhet, among many others, stand in mute testimony to the fury, zeal and the unflinching devotion to duty of the Gunners. Subsequently, during the Kargil conflict of 1999, the field and medium guns including the 155mm Bofors FH 77B, mortars and rocket launchers of the Regiment of Artillery paved the way for India’s brave infantrymen to re-capture the mountain tops from the Pakistani intruders.

With its ever-increasing range and lethality, the artillery is now capable of simultaneously fighting the contact, intermediate and deep battles. Its nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles such as the Prithvi and Agni-I and II guarantee India's nuclear deterrence. Its conventionally armed cruise missiles such as BrahMos and long-range rockets like Smerch will influence the final outcome of every future battle. The integrated and synergetic application of artillery firepower at the point of decision will ensure victory. It can be truly said that the artillery is now a co-equal partner with the other fighting arms in the successful execution of firepower and manoeuvre.
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)