117th Mahrattas

This article on the 117th Mahrattas will provide you with an overview of the Regiment’s service during the First World War and help you research those who served with it. I have written a separate article on the war-raised 2nd Battalion 117th Mahrattas and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view the guides click on the links below:

The 117th Mahrattas in the First World War

Lineage: Raised as the Bombay Fencible Regiment at Bombay (Mumbai) in 1800, it became the 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1803 and the 17th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1824. Then the 17th Regiment of Bombay Infantry in 1885, the 17th Bombay Infantry in 1901, the 117th Mahrattas in 1903 and the 5th Battalion 5th Mahratta Light Infantry in 1922.

Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Konkani Mahrattas, 2 Companies of Dekhani Mahrattas and 2 Companies of Dekhani Musalmans. 1919: 2 Companies of Konkani Mahrattas, 1 Company of Dekhani Mahrattas and 1 Company of Dekhani Musalmans.

Location in July 1914: The 117th Mahrattas was stationed at Poona (Pune, Maharashtra, India) having arrived from the Persian Gulf on 11th May 1911.

The 117th Mahrattas was stationed at Poona, now Pune where it was serving as part of the 6th (Poona) Division in August 1914. The Regiment was inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir A. A. Barrett, Commanding 6th (Poona) Division in 1914 who reported:

This Battalion has got through a lot of hardwork this winter and on the whole has shown up remarkably well. The men are in a first rate condition, and quite contented and cheerful.

I agree with the Brigade Commander that there has been an all-round improvement in the field training, but the tactical handling of the battalion by senior officers has not always been satisfactory. The power to grasp a situation quickly can only be gained by a close study of tactical problems.

This is a good, steady, well-drilled Battalion with plenty of esprit-de-corps. It is fit for active service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/L/MIL/7/17023.

The 117th Mahrattas received orders to mobilise at Poona on 14 August 1914 and moved to Bombay (Mumbai, India) on 12 October. The Regiment embarked on board Hired Transport Umaria which left Bombay harbour in convoy on 16 October and arrived off Bahrain on 24 October. The convoy remained off Bahrain until 2 November when it sailed for the Shatt-el-Arab with Britain declaring war on Turkey on 5 November 1914. The 117th Mahrattas landed at the port of Fao, Mesopotamia (Iraq) on 6 November 1914. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.117th Mahrattas British Officers 1914

The 117th Mahrattas served as part of the 16th Indian Infantry Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division in Mesopotamia between November 1914 and April 1916 when the Division was captured at Kut-al-Amara. The 117th Mahrattas spent most of its first year in Mesopotamia either at Basra or Shaiba, where it played a minor role in the battle (12-14 April 1915). On 20 April 1915, the Regiment moved to Khora Fort near Basra where it remained until it moved to Kurna on 26 May. The 117th Mahrattas remained at Kurna until 25 July 1915 when it began to move to Amarah, arriving on 27 July.

The 117th Mahrattas moved to Ali El Gharbi on 5 August 1915, then towards Sannaiyat on 12 August where it arrived on 16 August. Over the next two months, the Regiment moved frequently as the 6th (Poona) Division continued its advance towards Baghdad. The 6th (Poona) Division was stopped just before Baghdad at the Battle of Ctesiphon between 22 and 25 November 1915. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission recorded that 48 men of the Regiment between 22 and 25 November 1915.

The 6th (Poona) Division then retreated to Kut-al-Amara where it was besieged by Turkish forces between 7 December 1915 and 29 April 1915 when it surrendered. The 117th Mahrattas was one of the regiments which were captured and a list of prisoners of war can be found at the British Library. The 117th Mahrattas was reformed in June 1917 and moved to Kohat, North West Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) in July 1917. The Regiment moved to Bushire in September 1918 but there is no war diary recording its movements.

The 117th Mahrattas qualified for the General Service Medal with South Persia Clasp and the Medal Index Cards can be viewed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives’ website. I’d recommend viewing them on Ancestry as they are free and in colour. In the July 1921 Indian Army List the 117th Mahrattas was stationed at Belgaum (Karnataka, India) and in 1922 became the 5th Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light.

The 117th Mahrattas raised a second battalion at Arangaon on 31 March 1918 and you can read about this battalion here: 2nd Battalion 117th Mahrattas.

War Diaries of the 117th Mahrattas

There is only one war diary for the 117th Mahrattas which has been digitized by the National Archives. To download the war diary for a small fee click on the blue link below. I have transcribed some of the entries at the bottom of the page.

  • Date: 14 August 1914 – 31 October 1915
  • 16th Indian Infantry Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/ 5121/6
  • Notes: The only war diary for the 117th Mahrattas, which between November 1915 and February 1915 is very detailed. After February 1915 entries are less detailed and very little of interest happens. A large number of telegrams and operation orders, including a sketch map of Shatt-al-Arab for 1914.

Further Sources for the 117th Mahrattas

For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 117th Mahrattas, the Indian Army List should be consulted. The confidential reports of the 117th Mahrattas should be consulted which also contain the annual reports of the British officers. The reports are held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the British officers who served with it are reported on. The 117th Mahrattas Medal Index Cards for General Service Medal with South Persia Clasp can be viewed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives’ website. I’d recommend viewing them on Ancestry as they are free and in colour.

If you’d like to learn more about the Siege of Kut I can recommend Kut 1916: Courage and Failure in Iraq by Patrick Crowley.

Extracts from War Diary of the 117th Mahrattas

14 August 1914 – 31 October 1915, Mesopotamia, WO 95/ 5121/6

14 August 1914 – Poona – Received orders to mobilize as part of Force B.

12 October 1914 – 1 pm – Bombay – Arrived Princes Dock Bombay and embarked on H.T. Umaria.

07 November 1914 – 5.50 pm – Two volleys fired at ship from Turkish Custom House, replied with maxims and mountain guns.

08 November 1914 – 6.55 am – Received orders to land party and destroy above customs house. Captain Potter and 25 men detailed as covering party with a few Sappers and Miners. Destroyed house. Ship sailed at 9.45 am reaching Abadan oil refinery at 11.50 am.

11 November 1914 – Sanyeh – 2 am – Report received Turks would attack at dawn. 2. 30 am. No. 3 Double Company (Captain Potter) Machine Gun Section (Captain Franks) scouts (Lt Hungerford) ordered to Fort. Reached Fort at 3.15 am. 5.15 am. Turks attacked Fort. 6.45 am. Remainder of regiment ordered to search palm groves in a South East direction No.1 Double Company (Captain Benton) leading, followed by No.2 (Major Robinson) leading Double Company was ordered to halt at 8 am. Informed 20th Infantry that enemy has cleared out of wood and that we were retiring. Casualties Captain Franks- wounded in chest- captured 5 prisoners, 17 rifles and a considerable amount of ammunition.

23 December 1914 – Basra – Sentries on Turkish School reported firing at considerable distance but was unable to locate direction.

30 December 1914 – Basra – Orders received for all men to sleep with boots on, and ready for instant action.

04 January 1915 – Basra – 1.30 am – Sound of firing (almost 30 rounds) near souk. 7 am – Report received from Souk that party of raiders had looted house, shot 1 Arab policeman and captured 4 rifles. 2 pm – Orders to recommence night patrols (2) each of 1 non-commissioned officer, 6 men, and British officers to sleep at souk.

04 March 1915 – Basra – Left Busra for Shaiba at Field Service scale 50 carts 150 mules. 6.30pm. Arrived Shaiba took up position on perimeter and put out pickets. March very slow owing to water up to men’s waists. Carts had frequently to be unloaded and manhandled.

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