IssueVol. 28.4 Oct-Dec 2013| Date : 31 Jan , 2014
By age-old convention, most wars have various forms of tactical operations undertaken under one overall plan – set-piece, irregular and Special Operations, for example. Indeed, the so called ‘conventional war’ has always had unconventional tactical recourses built into it. The infantry battalion has been in lead role in such irregular or unconventional operations, its flexibility of structure, weaponry and training allowing it to be moved by any mode of transport and fielded in any of the kind of aforesaid operations – all with equal proficiency and without much ado. The final test may, therefore, be to evaluate the significant flexibility which the infantry battalion has traditionally possessed.
“Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot but make it hot by striking.” —William Sprague
The central concern must be about the intangible assets that go to impart battle winning characteristics to any military unit…
Days of the Infantry
Evolution of the infantry as the decisive arm of war fighting is a phenomenon moored at the rise of British power in India, around the middle of the eighteenth century. Before that, victory favoured that force which committed its cavalry more effectively. After its introduction in the First Battle of Panipat, artillery joined as the second battle winner. Notably, these arms had generally been fighting as distinct elements of battle, inter-arm coordination being difficult if not impossible to implement. Arguably, it was the period of the Carnatic Wars and the Battles of Plassey and Buxar when the infantry’s steadfast defence from fortified redoubts followed by ‘volley and charge’ tactics carried the day, with artillery and cavalry playing their designated roles to prescribe the outcome1. Indeed, having conquered India with their ‘Sepoys’, it was the British who crowned the infantry as the ‘Queen of Battle’. It is important to understand as to why they chose to do so – because similar factors prevail even today.
With the decline of the Mughal Empire, horse-cavalry became difficult to maintain. Horses had to be imported from West Asia over a tedious logistics chain and bred in large depots. Obviously, it was frightfully expensive to raise and maintain cavalry. Development of the artillery, having earlier pushed the elephant arm to the services role, made cavalry charges even more costly to execute. An overseas trading company, stingy with investments as it had to be, the British East India Company, therefore, found it expedient to build up the infantry’s role in their campaigns. Development of field-craft, field works and tactical ground manoeuvres with high-technology artillery in support thus turned into an effective recourse of battle dominance, while the cavalry reconnoitred and shaped the battlefield before being committed to deliver coup de grace.2