Tuesday 7 September 2021

‘Their Infantry and Guns Will Astonish You’


Reason to Revolution No. 73, ‘Their Infantry and Guns will Astonish You’ - The  Army of Hindoostan and European Mercenaries in Mahratta Service 1780-1803 is, coming hot on the heels of ‘Bullocks, Grain and Good Madeira’, a prime example of famine to feast in terms of new books from Helion covering aspects of the military history of India and the ascendency of the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) at the end of the eighteenth and start of the nineteenth centuries. 

I don’t know about their infantry or guns being astonishing but this book certainly is! This is author Andy Copestake’s first book and it’s an absolute cracker! This is a period of Indian history about which I knew very little, being focussed more on the Sikh Wars and after. Having had the opportunity to read this book I found myself becoming more and more enthused with doing further reading on the subject. I’m amazed at just how much information and detail is packed into these 200 or so pages, and I really couldn’t have asked for more in terms of getting understand the history of European-trained and led troops under the Mahrattas. These so-called 'Trained Brigades' were raised in response to the amazing successes of the European-led troops fighting for the HEIC where traditional native forces were scattered with apparent ease by vastly inferior numbers of troops. The book uncovers a wealth of information on the formation of these brigades in response to the threat posed by the HEIC, and focusses on the the most successful of these formations, the Army of Hindoostan, starting with just two battalions in 1784 but increasing to a force of 30,000 men and 200 guns led by the Savoyard mercenary Benoit de Boigne and fellow European officers including Scots, English, French, Irish, Italian, Dutch and Germans. We are treated to an extensive, detailed and completely fascinating account of the history and campaigns of this formidable force and some of its commanders, where victory after victory was won against other native Indian forces until their defeat at the hands of the British at Assaye, Delhi and Leswaree.

Of course, the author also describes the organisation, orders of battle, armament and uniforms of these troops, as well as giving us an insight into who these enigmatic European soldiers of fortune were. There is some particularly interesting information on troops' pay scales and on supply arrangements. As always, the contemporary anecdotes and excerpts of letters that are scattered throughout the book are an attraction  for me as they give a little life to the overall (excellent) narrative.

The book is well written, clearly the result of a tremendous amount of research through a vast range of primary and secondary sources. It is lavishly illustrated with numerous contemporary black and white images, a good number of maps and eight pages of some of the most gorgeous colour images I've come across in a Helion publication for some time. I don't know what it is (probably my vivid imagination) but some of them, for example plates 'v', 'vi' and 'viii' almost seem alive. The book concludes with yet more invaluable information, with a list of the officers of the Army of Hindoostan and when, in what formation they served and their fate if known, as well as an outline of some of the other European-led formations in the service of a wide selection of Princely armed forces. The glossary will be useful for anyone not familiar with Indian terminology.

Overall then, Helion and the author are to be commended on producing such an enjoyable book on such a fascinating subject and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with any interest in the subject.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tip - this sounds like a most interesting read. Added to the wish list ;)