What were the ranks in the Indian Army?

Indian Officers

In reading some of the soldiers' stories featured on this website, you may come across ranks that you are unfamiliar with.

Here is a brief explanation:

Commissioned officers - the highest ranks - were identical to those in the British Army:

  • General
  • Lieutenant-General
  • Major-General
  • Brigadier
  • Colonel
  • Lieutenant-Colonel
  • Major
  • Captain
  • Lieutenant

In the First World War, those Indians who achieved any of these ranks came to the British Indian Army from one of the so called 'Princely States' - which retained a nominal independence from British rule, though had British advisers in positions of authority to ensure compliance. These states often had their own armies, largely ceremonial in function.

For example. Rana Jodha Jung Bahadur was Commander-in-Chief of Tripura State Forces. He took some of his men to the Western Front, as The Tehri Garwhal Sappers and Miners. His rank in this context was Lieutenant.

What were the ranks? Indian Officers

The long history of colonial rule in India left a legacy of inequality and the belief that Indians could not or should not be in command of British troops.

It was not until 1918 that it was announced that the King's Commission would be opened to Indians for whom ten places would be reserved in the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst to be trained as officers of the British Indian Army.

In the meantime, senior Indian members of the British Indian Army could hold commissions issued by the Viceroy. These men were called VCOs - Viceroy's Commissioned Officers. In almost all respects they were treated just the same as any other commissioned officer but they only had authority over Indian troops.

"These ranks were created to facilitate effective liaison between the British officers and their native troops. The soldiers who were promoted to VCO rank had long service and good service records, spoke reasonably fluent English, and could act as a common liaison point between officers and men and as advisers to the British officers on Indian affairs."

VCOs were always treated and addressed with respect.

Ranks held by VCOs were:

  • Cavalry regiments
    • Risaldar-Major or Ressaidar-Major (= major)
    • Risaldar or Ressaidar (= captain)
    • Jemadar (= lieutenant)
  • Infantry regiments and other arms
    • Subedar-Major (= major)
    • Subedar (= captain)
    • Jemadar (= lieutenant)

Non-Commissioned Officers included:

  • Company Havildar Major (= Company Sergeant Major)
  • Havildar or Daffadar [Cavalry] (= Sergeant)
  • Naik or Lance-Daffadar [Cavalry] (= Corporal)
  • Lance-Naik or Acting Lance-Daffadar [Cavalry] (= Lance-Corporal)

Soldier ranks included:

Sepoys or Sowars [Cavalry] (= Private)

What were the ranks? Sepoys
Sepoys of the 2/25 Pioneers, 1920

British Army ranks such as Gunner and Sapper were used by other corps.

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