Book Review: India’s Wars: A Military History, 1947-1971

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by Arjun Subramaniam

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. xii, 564. Illus., maps, notes, index. $40.00. ISBN: 1682472418

Modern India at War: The Formative Years

Retired Indian Air Vice Marshal Subramaniam, who is now an instructor at the Indian National Defence College, has produced a comprehensive history of India’s armed forces and their wars, from the First Indo-Pakistan War in 1947, which was sparked by partition and independence through the Third, sometimes known as the Bangladesh War in 1971. Subramaniam divides his subject into five parts.

The first two parts are essentially introductory. He opens with a discussion of his reasons for writing the book and an essay on the value of military history. Subramaniam follows this a section on “The DNA of India’s Armed Forces”, in which he gives us a short, but well done overview of the military institutions of the British Raj, from their origins through the Second World War.

In “The Teething Years”, Subramaniam gives us several chapters on the first war with Pakistan, during the tumultuous period of partition and independence in 1947, plus a look at the now-long forgotten campaigns to secure Hyderabad (1948), which was resisting incorporation into India, and Goa (1961), which eliminated the last vestige of European colonialism in the subcontinent, in a very short, but interesting clash with Portugal, giving us a look at rather well executed “triphibious” campaign.

“Across Borders”, gives us accounts of the short border 1962 war with China in the Himalayas, the 1965 frontier war with Pakistan, and the 1971 war with Pakistan sparked by the Bangladesh war for independence. Subramaniam then offers some general conclusions on the evolution of Indian military institutions.

Subramaniam’s treatment of policy, strategy, and operations is very good, and his description of tactical encounters are well written, integrating air, ground, and naval operations as appropriate, and are pretty easy to follow.

Although the perspective is Indian, Subramaniam is by no means uncritical, and offers some excellent analysis of events. Unfortunately, he omits from his account any mention of India’s several internal conflicts, against Maoists, separatists, and Islamists in some regions, or India’s role in U.N. operations in the period, such as in Korea, where Indian troops even engaged in combat air drops.

Originally published in India in 2016, India’s Wars offers an excellent overview of Indian military history since independence for both the professional military historian or the interested layman.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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