Punjab Cavalry

Evolution, Role, Organisation, and Tactical Doctrine
11 Cavalry (Frontier Force)
1849-1971 by Col. M. Y. Effendi (retd)

Reviewed by Usman Ansari

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Karachi, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-19-547203-5

Noted writer and historian M.Y. Effendi makes an outstanding effort to cover the history of his old regiment, 11 Cavalry (more readily known to history as Prince Albert Victor’s Own – PAVO). His work traces the ancestry of this illustrious unit from its days as the 1 Punjab Cavalry (Daly’s Horse) and 3 Punjab Cavalry fighting tribesmen on the borders of nineteenth century British India, right through to the modern period in the aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Having served with the regiment operationally in the 1965 Indo-Pak war Effendi can approach this aspect of the regiment’s history from his own perspective and experiences. Indeed, the narratives of the regiment’s exploits, during both major Indo-Pak conflicts, are approached in a straightforward, balanced manner without prejudice or bias. In being refreshingly free of jingoism, therefore it avoids the pitfalls of so many other books on the Indo-Pak conflicts written by South Asian writers. This is therefore an invaluable resource when it comes to these conflicts, if only from the perspective of 11 Cavalry. For other periods Effendi has utilised the official unit history and eye witness accounts to provide what amounts to a comprehensive account of 122 years of almost non-stop fighting. This includes policing the north-western frontiers of the Raj, the Indian mutiny, wars in Afghanistan, the Mesopotamian campaign in WWI, the Cyrenaica and Burma campaigns of WWII, efforts to stop India annexing Kashmir on independence, and of course the two major Indo-Pak wars.

Punjab Cavalry is more than a mere list and description of battles fought though, (something it so easily have been). As the sub-title suggests it attempts to provide more than this, to explain what made the regiment what it was, and does so very well. With the occasional humorous tale and anecdote thrown in Effendi provides a more accessible and rounded piece of work. It is therefore difficult to fault this very well researched piece of work. However, a small number of valid criticisms can be made. These are primarily minor mistakes he makes in describing some of the weapon systems employed by Pakistan. The main one being misidentifying the Pakistan Army’s variant of the Sherman tank (which he seems to have little love for) describing the M1 76mm armed version used by Pakistan as the Sherman Firefly when it is in actual fact an American E4 variant retrofitted with the American 76mm (the Firefly had its 17 Pounder/76.2mm turned on its side in order to fit in the turret and was identifiable due to the rather smaller and more rounded ‘muzzlebreak’ when compared to the slightly larger more angular ‘muzzlebreak’ on the surviving Pakistani 76mm-armed Shermans). Also, some of the illustrations do not quite match the very high standard of work even though the sketches of various vehicles are otherwise very good. Most of the vehicles mentioned do still exist in Pakistan in various forms so simple photographs of these preserved vehicles may perhaps have been better than pictures of models. The language in terms of ‘military speak’ could perhaps have been toned down a little further in order to have made the work more accessible as well, but it should not be a problem for most readers. The chief criticism though is very poor standard of editing that badly lets Punjab Cavalry down. The editing was obviously done by a person or persons who know nothing of the subject. Therefore there are consistent mistakes that creep in which detract from what is otherwise a very high quality piece of work..

Criticisms aside, Punjab Cavalry is a resource that should be on the bookshelf of every serious historian interested in the military history of South Asia, and would teach those with a general interest in the history of South Asia during this 120 year odd period a thing or two as well. It is a book well worth having.