Indian Army Formation Lineages: 3rd Independent Armored Brigade, A Case Study of the Opportunities & Difficulties


Mandeep Singh Bajwa & Ravi Rikhye

o        v. 1.0 APRIL 29, 2005

o        v. 1.1 May 15, 2005

o        v. 1.2 May 28, 2005

Note: For an excellent web history of Indian Army regimental lineages before 1947, please visit Mr. Todd Mills’ site

We were delighted to learn that 3rd (Independent) Armored Brigade is putting together its formation lineage. Whereas regimental lineages for the cavalry and infantry regiments are carefully maintained in the Indian Army, formation lineages have not enjoyed the same respect.

The information, however, came to us as a puzzle: 3rd IAB was trying to make a connection with 4th Lucknow Cavalry Brigade that emerged from the Kitchener Reforms of 1904. Before 1904, there was no “Indian Army”. The three Presidency armies still existed, even though the Crown had taken direct charge of India from the East India Company in 1857.

Lord Kitchener, appointed commander-in-chief of Indian forces in 1902, embarked on a logical reorganization to create an integrated all-India army. This was the famous 9 division, 9 cavalry brigade plan. The divisions were numbered 1 through 9, and the associated cavalry brigades were also numbered 1 through 9. So the Kitchener Lucknow Cavalry Brigade was the 8th, associated with the 8th Lucknow Division, and not the 4th, which was associated with the 4th Secunderabad Division.[1]

We are handicapped by lack of access to the Kitchener documents. A detailed search of the Internet has revealed nothing, and we may reasonably assume that a visit to London would be required. Why the Indian Army does not have such basic documents concerning its formation is a question of interest, but is beside the point for purposes of this note. We hope to have more details by the summer.

We did establish that at least as of the eve of World War I in 1914, all the cavalry brigades were intact with their previous numbers in sequence.

Looking at such data as we were immediately able to round up, it seemed to Ravi Rikhye that the 3rd IAB had a perfectly logical lineage through the 3rd Ambala Cavalry Brigade.

1914: 3rd Ambala Cavalry Brigade had[2]:

·            9 Horse

·            30 Lancers

Before continuing, we need to note that the Kitchener reorganization established 39 cavalry regiments in sequence from 1 – 39, with each regiment bearing its traditional name. In 1922 there was a further reorganization – we note this for readers who may ask, for example, why is the Central India Horse numbered 39, when everyone knows it is the 21st.

On the eve of war 1939, the designation 3rd   was shifted to the Meerut Cavalry Brigade:

· The Central India Horse
· 18th Cavalry

Meanwhile, the 4th (Secunderabad) Cavalry Brigade had:              

· 7th Light Cavalry
· 11th Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry
Till now, we find no mention of an Indian 4th Brigade in World War II, and the designation falls off the map till the post-independence period.
In 1942, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade shows up as part of 31st Armored Division in Iraq. The division HQ was at Bishtun in Iran, as part of PAIFORCE[3].  It was actually an armored brigade with:

·            2 Lancers

·            11 PAVO Cavalry

·            18 Cavalry


The second brigade with the division, whose HQ was at Bishtun, Iran (then called Persia by the official historian) was Indian 252nd Tank Brigade with two cavalry regiments (1 British) and a motor infantry battalion.


Accordingly, Ravi Rikhye concluded there was a good case for 3rd IAB to claim as its ancestor the 3rd Ambala Cavalry Brigade. When around 1969 a third armored brigade was proposed for the Indian Army, 3rd Armored Brigade was logical: there was a 1st Armored Brigade, part of the 1st Armored Division, and the 2nd IAB with its own well-documented lineage back to 1904. As no 3rd Brigade existed in the Indian Army’s Brigade post-independence brigade list, to give the new brigade the designation 3rd made good sense.


We should mention that Mandeep Singh Bajwa and Ravi Rikhye were working in different parts of the world, communicating via the Internet. When Ravi Rikhye sent his lineage to Mandeep Singh Bajwa, the latter quickly replied: There can be no connection between Indian 3rd Motor Brigade and 3rd IAB because in 1942 0r 1943, 3rd Motor Brigade was redesignated as 43rd Lorry Brigade. This formation remained on the Indian Army list at independence as part of 1st Armored Division, changing designations to 43rd Mechanized Brigade in the early 1970s, before finally becoming 43rd Armored Brigade in the middle 1980s, all the time remaining with 1st Armored Division.


Ravi Rikhye wrote to Mandeep Bajwa: “That’s fine, but the lineage can be changed.”

Not so, Mandeep Singh Bajwa wrote back. When 3rd IAB was formed in Eastern Command in 1970, its then commander, the well-known historian of the Indian Armored Corps, present-day Major-General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu, had asked AHQ for the 3rd IAB to be given the lineage of the 255th Indian Independent Tank Brigade, that fought in Burma during World War 2 with:


o        5th Probyn’s Horse

o        9th Deccan Horse


Why 255th? Because that was the senior Indian Army tank brigade. Though 1st and 2nd Indian Armored Brigades had been raised with 1st Indian Armored Division – the designations changed to 251st and 252nd Indian Tank Brigade as part of 31st Division, which was itself a renumbered 1st Armored Division, neither brigade saw serious action as a brigade. 255th Indian armored Brigade, on the other hand, did see much action in 14th Army and was an important formation in the British-India counteroffensive in Burma which saw the eventual defeat of the Japanese in South East Asia.


Ravi Rikhye wrote: “That’s fine, but what connection between 3rd IAB and 255th Indian Tank Brigade? Why didn’t General Sandhu ask for 3rd Ambala Cavalry Brigade’s lineage, changing 43rd Lorry Brigade’s lineage to something else?”


Mandeep Bajwa replied: “255th Indian Tank Brigade was the corps armor for XXXIII Corps in Burma. The new 3rd (I) Light Brigade was raised on the PT-76 for XXXIII Corps in Assam.”


To be frank, Ravi Rikhye still did not see how this was sufficient reason. But if we consider that General Sandhu may be the only Indian Cavalry historian who knows what he is about, it would have been simple for him to talk rings around AHQ, which was not, and is not, in the habit of devoting much thought to formation lineages.


So here we are: 3rd IAB has been tied to 255th Indian Tank Brigade. But where does 4th Lucknow Cavalry Brigade come into the matter, particularly as the Lucknow Cavalry was the 8th and not the 4th?


Ravi Rikhye has now emailed associates who specialize in the British-Indian Army for help on the Kitchener armies. Meanwhile, Mandeep Singh Bajwa is going to speak to General GS Sandhu.


However this turns out, what is unusual about the situation is that there is at least one formation in the Indian Army that’s trying to write its lineage. We find that commendable and heartening, and hope that others learn from the efforts of 3rd IAB.

Naturally, we at the Center for Indian Military History will be doing our small bit in this important project.


In the meanwhile, we can note that the three regiments of the 3rd (I) Light Armored Brigade fought as separate regiments and squadrons to support the three Indian Corps that launched the East Bengal campaign.[4] Though the Brigade had no opportunity to fight as a formation, its PT-76 equipped regiments did very well. They easily forded East Pakistan’s water obstacles, and advanced with infantry on the flat decks of the tanks, thus providing tank-infantry teams without having to wait for follow-up infantry to catch up. This mobility was a big factor in the speed with which India overran East Bengal. The PT-76 had flimsy armor in an effort to keep down its weight, and the regiments suffered accordingly. According to Bharat, 30 tanks were knocked off, though most were eventually restored to service.


After the campaign, 3rd IAB shifted to Jammu, becoming part of the newly raised XVI Corps. It converted to medium tanks as soon as these were available.

[1] 1914: 4th Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade

·          20 Horse

·          26 Lt Cavalry

·          34 Horse

1914: 8th Lucknow Cavalry Brigade

·          16 Cavalry

·          36 Horse

·          39 CIH


[2] We’ve restricted ourselves to the Indian cavalry regiments in these formations: including the British units leads to considerable – and needless – complexity.

[3] PAIFORCE stood for Persia and Iraq Force. It was a corps strength formation, with 10th Indian Motor Brigade, 5th, 6th, and 8th Indian Divisions, and the British 5th Infantry Division. PAIFORCE’s missions included the security of Persian and Iraqi oilfields against internal threats and a block to German forces advancing into the Caucuses. It also acted as a block in the event the Afrika Korps took Cairo and advanced into Palestine and Syria, and from there to Iraq and Persia.

[4] 45th and 63rd Cavalry, 69th Armored Regiment.