Regular Cavalry
Bengal Light Cavalry

The regular cavalry established by the East India Company relied on the patronage of Indian rulers. In 1760 the first troops of Moghul Horse (rissalahs) to be raised were commanded by Sirdar Minza Shahbaz Khan (1st Horse) and Sirdar Khan Tar Beq (2nd Horse) and a third was raised in 1765. All three were disbanded in 1772.

Then in 1776 there were two regiments raised for the Nawab Wazir of Oudh and a third in 1776. The first two were disbanded in 1783 but the third continued as a troop for a while. A troop of Pathans was formed in 1778 and called the Kandahar Horse, then in 1783 this and the third troop were raised up to regimental strength. The third troop became the 1st Regiment of Light Cavalry and the Kandahar Horse became the 2nd Regiment.

A third and fourth regiments were raised in the mid 1790s, four more in the early years of the 19th century and two more in 1825. The 11th was the last to be raised as late as 1842. The officers were British and the other ranks were Indian but all were dressed in British style uniforms except for the other ranks' head-dress. All these cavalry regiments were disbanded during the Indian Mutiny.

1st Bengal Light Cavalry
2nd Bengal Light Cavalry
3rd Bengal Light Cavalry
4th Bengal Light Cavalry
5th Bengal Light Cavalry
6th Bengal Light Cavalry
7th Bengal Light Cavalry
8th Bengal Light Cavalry
9th Bengal Light Cavalry
10th Bengal Light Cavalry
11th Bengal Light Cavalry

Regular Cavalry
Madras Light Cavalry

The Madras Cavalry regiments did not suffer the same fate as the Bengal regiments and managed to last until Indianisation in 1947. The following numbering did not become fixed until 1788. Up until then there were various raisings, disbandments and re-numberings.

The first troop of cavalry raised by Lieutenant James Kilpatrick was in 1748 but they disbanded in 1752. In 1758 a new troop of British cavalry was raised of only 2 officers and 36 other ranks. The Nawab Mohamed Yusef Khan offered 500 Indian horsemen which were enlisted but later returned to the Nawab. In 1761 three Troops of European cavalry were organised, using British troopers in two Troops and de Beck's foreign deserters in another. Each Troop had 5 officers and 60 other ranks but they were disbanded in 1772.

In 1767 the Nawab of Arcot placed 2,000 of his horsemen at the disposal of the Company. They were under British officers but during a mutiny they were reduced from 8 regiments to 4. In 1784 it was decided to make a regular establishment based on these four regiments but due to a misunderstanding there was a revolt and three of them (1st, 2nd and 4th) were disbanded. The remaining regiment was the 3rd and this became the 1st Regiment. A second Regiment was made up of the remaining loyal troops and the 3rd and 4th Regiments were raised the following year at Arcot. The 5th was raised in 1787.

Unfortunately the numbering at this time was very confusing because regimental seniority depended on the age of the commandant, so, as the commandant changed, so did the number. This state of affairs lasted from 1784 until 1788 so that the 5th became the 1st and pushed all the other numbers down one place. The new 5th was disbanded in 1796 but replaced in 1799 and a 6th also raised. The 7th was raised in 1800 and the 8th in 1804.

1st Madras Light Cavalry
2nd Madras Light Cavalry
3rd Madras Light Cavalry
4th Madras Light Cavalry
5th Madras Light Cavalry
6th Madras Light Cavalry
7th Madras Light Cavalry
8th Madras Light Cavalry

Regular Cavalry
Bombay Light Cavalry

There were two attempts to form Bombay Cavalry before they formed established regiments. As early as 1672 a Troop of horse was raised, of 50 British troopers, reducing to 25 in 1677, raised up to 40 after that, and disappearing the following year. Then in 1720 a Troop of European dragoons was raised which took part in an expedition against Angria but they were disbanded by 1727.

In 1803, Colonel John Murray asked to raise a Troop of cavalry and permission was granted. Two years later a second Troop was approved but not raised until 1816. A year later they were of regimental strength thanks to draughts from the Madras Cavalry. A third regiment was raised from the Poona Auxiliary Horse in 1820. In 1842 the 1st Regiment were converted to Lancers.

1st Bombay Light Cavalry
2nd Bombay Light Cavalry
3rd Bombay Light Cavalry

Irregular Cavalry
Bengal Irregular Cavalry

At first these units were called Local Horse and were raised by Europeans from volunteers who owned their own horse and equipment and were prepared to provide for themselves in the field. This was called the sillidar system. Sometimes a local leader called a sirdar would bring a whole group of horsemen and act as their officer within the regiment. The firearms and ammunition would be provided by the regiment. By the early 1900s the system was regulated so that a recruit did not need to bring a horse but paid a cash equivalent. He also had a monthly amount deducted from his pay for replacement of worn-out kit, and which acted as an insurance against his horse getting killed.

In the early days, uniform were not very military but the colour of the alkalak or kurta was regulated as was the colour of the turban and kummerbund to make members of each regiment recognisable, especially necessary in the heat of battle. The difference between regular and irregular cavalry was very obvious. There was much stricter discipline in the regular cavalry and the standard of intelligence generally lower. The irregular cavalry appealed to men of free spirit and attracted British officers of like mind. After the Mutiny, the regular regiments disappeared and the irregulars formed the nucleus of the cavalry taken over by the crown from the East India Company. By the end of the 19th century, the cavalry were smart disciplined units but still retained the sillidar system.

1st Skinner's Horse
2nd Gardner's Horse
3rd 1st Rohilla Cavalry
4th Skinner's Horse
5th Local Horse (Gough's)
6th Regiment of Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Oudh)
7th Irregular Cavalry
8th Irregular Cavalry
9th Irregular Cavalry
10th Bundelkund Legion
11th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
12th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
13th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
14th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
15th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
16th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
17th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
18th Bengal Irregular Cavalry

Irregular Cavalry
Hyderabad Contingent

Hyderabad was by far the largest Indian State and it's ruler the most fabulously wealthy. The rulers of India all maintained private armies and employed European officers to lead them. The Nizam of Hyderabad had a large native army officered by the British, not only of cavalry but artillery and infantry. The original rissalahs of the Nizam's Horse were re-organised in 1816 into three regiments under Nawab Jalalud-Daula, Nawab Mustafa Yar Jung and Rai Barchi Mull, aided by British officers. In 1825 the native chiefs retired leaving the rissalahs under the command of the British officers.

1st Regiment Nizam's Cavalry
2nd Regiment Nizam's Cavalry
3rd Regiment Nizam's Cavalry
4th Regiment Nizam's Cavalry
5th Regiment Ellichpur Horse

Irregular Cavalry
Bombay Irregular Cavalry

The earliest unit was the Poona Horse raised in 1817 but they were called the Poona Auxiliary Horse until 1847. All these regiments expanded into two, three or four regiments in the 1860s but were reduced soon afterwards. In matters of organisation and dress they were similar to the Bengal Irregulars.

Poona Auxiliary Horse
Gujerat Irregular Horse
1st Scinde Irregular Horse
2nd Scinde Irregular Horse
South Mahratta Horse

Irregular Cavalry
Punjab Cavalry

After the First Sikh War of 1845-46 the fighting qualities of the Sikhs impressed the British so much that in 1846 the first two regiments of Sikh infantry were raised at Ferozepore and Ludhiana. In the same year a frontier brigade was raised to police the frontier comprising the Corps of Guides and four more infantry regiments of Sikhs.

After the Second Sikh War of 1848-49 the Punjab was annexed, bringing the British into contact with the Pathan tribes of the North-West Frontier. This led to the formation of what later became the Punjab Frontier Force, comprising the Frontier Brigade raised in 1846, five regiments of Punjab Irregular cavalry and 6 regiments of Punjab irregular infantry. From 1851 to 1865 the regiments were titled Punjab Irregular Force abbreviated to PIF so that they were nick-named Piffers, a word that continued in use up to 1947.

Each regiment had 4 squadrons, and so that the the religious/ethnic groups were clearly defined, each squadron, or half-squadron, consisted of one type only. The types found in the 5 regiments were Sikhs, Dogras, Hindustani Mulims, Hindustani Hindus, Punjabi Muslims and Pathans.

1st Punjab Cavalry
2nd Punjab Cavalry
3rd Punjab Cavalry
4th Punjab Cavalry
5th Punjab Cavalry

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by Stephen Luscombe