Every belligerent nation had their own name for the conflict. The Indians called it the Southern Invasion; to the Malayans it was the Burmese Incident; the Chinese, reliably grandiloquent, termed it the Intervention Against Barbarian Imperialism. English historians refer to it as the Indian Ocean War, Russians as the Caucasian Campaign, Italians as the Indian Containment War, and Norwegians – deliberately ironic, mocking the phrase which was rumoured to be the real reason of the conservative government for entering the struggle – as the Short Victorious War. In this welter of confusion, a unified historiography is hard to construct; as a small beginning, we shall use the simple and straightforward name “Indian War”.
The Indian War, then, was a struggle with many objects: To restore the balance of power – and of trade – by reducing Indian near-hegemony in Asia (Malaya); to acquire colonies felt to be particularly rich or strategically important (Norway, England, Italy); to expand influence in the Middle East (Russia); to aid a powerful ally (China); and, of course, to preserve prestige, industrial pre-eminence, and eventually sovereignty (India). It is fair to say that most of these aims were achieved, except the overarching one which officially drew powers from as far afield as the Atlantic and Mediterranean into an Asian struggle: India emerged from the conflict with the loss of a few inconsequential territories, and with her industries and balance of payments somewhat battered by the blockade, but without any significant dent to her real national power. The loss of the Congo, Somaliland, and the Moluccas were, no doubt, painful for Indian nationalists to contemplate; but these overseas territories, however strategically important or rich in natural resources, formed no part of the core of Indian strength, the vast population of the subcontinent itself. The forced abrogation of the very favourable trade treaty with Greece was more serious; but such was the productivity of the Indian economy, and the size of its internal market, that even the erection of a tariff barrier around a hitherto-captive market did not appreciably halt its growth.
As a project to prevent India from becoming a hegemonic power, then, the Indian War was a failure, in spite of the nominal victory of the attacking powers. The Indian subcontinent, it turned out, was defensible even against attackers with complete freedom to land wherever they liked on its long coast. Several successful landings were made under the huge guns of the attacking fleets; but once their initial impetus was spent, they were each surrounded, counterattacked, and contained. Throwing around enormous masses of men and materiel on the world’s most modern railroad network, the Indian generals were able to transform each initially-promising offensive into a slow advance, then a grinding crawl, and at last a deadlock as stalemated as the mutual slaughters of Malaya and China on the swampy Burmese front. That done, however, they found themselves faced with the same problem that had stymied their enemies: Once a front had stopped moving, there was no shifting it in either direction. The now-familiar strategic litany emerged from the tactical decisions made by men at the front responding to immediate needs: Machine guns, barbed wire, trenches, artillery; above all artillery, and the trains that carried shells and men by the hundreds of thousands to feed the guns.
Nonetheless, it was Indian soil that had been invaded, and as long as the front stood close enough to Mombai that the wind occasionally carried thence the eternal rumble of the guns, there remained the slim possibility that some chance combination of luck and incompetence would carry an Allied offensive to the world city. Even to have heavy artillery within effective range of the city would be disastrous to the bankers and financiers, the manufacturers and slumlords, who formed the elite of the Indian polity. In addition, the utter defeat of Sind brought the possibility of a Russian invasion across the Northwest Frontier; while the Pakistani hills are eminently defensible, nobody in Mumbai can have relished the thought of yet another grinding attritional struggle on Indian territory. Finally, even wealthy India was feeling the economic strain of supplying all those guns and railroads; on the Allied side, Norway had long since reached the point of requiring Russian subsidies to maintain the field, and others were also feeling the strain. The Peace of Ulan Baator was, consequently, a compromise: India made territorial concessions, but did not submit to the terms of tribute – “reparations” in the diplomatic terminology of the day – or reduction of her war strength that had initially been demanded. The effectiveness of such paper shackles may be doubted; the fact remains that they were not imposed.
The war ended, then, rather uselessly: Indian hegemony had not been decisively averted, but neither had it been established. A clear victory by the coalition that reduced India to merely the first among equals in Asia; or alternatively a complete defeat that raised it to worldwide pre-eminence capable of smashing any threat – either outcome might have formed the foundation of a lasting peace in Asia, based on true geostrategic strength. As it was, the issue had been raised but not settled: Was India a hegemonic power, or not? Many of the events of the twentieth century, for good and for ill, were to revolve around this, the famous Indian Question.
From the foreword of Hindu Hegemon: The Indian Question from 1885,
(c) Moscow University Press 1973.
Screenshots! Some Indian counterattacks:
Clearly, this here front ain’t going nowhere.
World map; annexations resulting from the Indian War outlined in black. Liberated France shown with blue stripes; the fighting front runs along the Pyrenees. Yellow crosses and blue line indicate where the Nordsjøflåte swept aside the Spanish blockade.
Bonus! A preview of the naval war with Spain, which will likely become quite intense this session:
You may be asking yourself, “why is Spain opposing ancient wooden sailships to modern ironclads?” A reasonable question; the answer is that ancient wooden sailships are quite sufficient to blockade the coast of France, which tends to be defended by three men in a leaky rowboat. In good years, when the Minister of Marine is particularly persuasive, they are allowed a dog. So Vaniver very reasonably didn’t string out his scarce modern ships in a thin blockade line, where they would be vulnerable to the concentrated fleet of an actual naval power.