The Jungle Books

Heavy Batteries in India



by Lt-Col Roger Ayers





[October 13th 2007]

The Heavy Batteries

The Indian Army establishment for 1890 provided for four Heavy Batteries, two Bombay, one Bengal and one Madras.

Each had 4 x 40 pounder rifled muzzle-loading (RML) guns, and two 6.5" howitzers, manned by 4 officers and 88 Other Ranks, all Royal Artillery from the Garrison Artillery.

Transport by both elephant and bullock was provided by:
  • 12 elephants, 2 per gun and howitzer, tended by 24 mahouts under a jemadar.

  • 262 bullocks tended by 131 drivers supervised by 6 sirdars under a jemadar. No number of bullocks per gun is given, but assuming the same proportion of spare bullocks as for other sizes of gun, each gun team would be 38 or 40 bullocks. There may have been different numbers for the two types of gun.
There was an unspecified number of Indian followers as grass cutters, conservancy (sanitary) orderlies and others.

The use of Elephants

Major General B.P. Hughes, in British Smooth Bore Artillery of the 18th & 19th Centuries, (Arms & Armour Press, London, 1969), comments that the most impressive means of draught that was ever used was undoubtedly the elephant:

...elephants were freely used in India during the 18th and 19th centuries. They are efficient and highly intelligent draught animals, and are surprisingly surefooted over difficult country. Their only disadvantage has been described as "a strong sense .of self-preservation", as a result of which they are not reliable under fire. After one or two unfortunate incidents when elephants galloped off with the limbers immediately after the guns they had drawn had been brought into action, the Indian Armies abandoned their use in the forefront of the battle.

They were then used for the task for which they were eminently suitable—the draught of the heavy-siege equipments on the line of march. Elephants were used to draw the 18pr guns of the Siege Train on the way to Delhi during the Mutiny in 1857. Two elephants were normally used in tandem to draw each carriage, but the lead elephant was always ready to be unhooked, and to go round to push with his fore­head against the gun muzzle if the gun got stuck.


[R.C.A.]

©Roger Ayers 2007 All rights reserved



This picture is taken from Army Life in the Nineties by Philip Warner (Country Life Books, Hamlyn Publishing, London 1975) p. 119. It shows a 'division' (later a section) of two guns, each known as a sub-division, with the gun detachment of 8 men standing in front of the team. In the rear are the two corporals who command the guns. Note how everyone is focused on the camera.










In the centre is
the subaltern
'division' commander.