The 1st Horse (Skinner's Horse) is a cavalry regiment of the Indian Army, which served in the British Indian Army before independence. The regiment was raised in 1803 as Skinner’s Horse by James Skinner ("Sikander Sahib") as an irregular cavalry regiment in the service of the East India Company. It was later renamed the 1st Bengal Lancers. The regiment became (and remains) one of the seniormost cavalry regiments of the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army.
A second regiment of Indian Cavalry was raised by Colonel James Skinner in 1814, which became the 3rd Skinner's Horse. On the reduction of the Indian Army in 1922, 1st and 3rd Regiments were amalgamated and became Skinner's Horse (1st Duke of York's Own Cavalry) and later the 1st Duke of York's Own Lancers (Skinner's Horse) until Indian independence.
After formation in 1803 the regiment was involved in a number of the campaigns on the Asian sub-continent, notably the First Afghan War, the Second Afghan War, the First Sikh War and the Second Sikh War. In 1842 a detachment of the regiment lost 108 men out of 180 engaged in a clash at Kandahar. The 1st Skinner's Horse remained loyal during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, seeing service in the Ravi River district and distinguishing itself at Chichawatni.
It was the first Indian Army regiment sent overseas during the Boxer Rebellion and participated in the Battle of Peking. During this campaign the regiment clashed with Tartar cavalry and served alongside United States units - the first occasion where British Indian and US troops served together
The regiment was at Meerut when the First World War broke out. The regiment was a part of the 7th (Meerut) Cavalry Brigade, 2nd Indian Cavalry Division. The brigade received orders to mobilise on 24 October 1914.
The regiment was in France till August 1916. It saw extensive action in many parts of France. It was awarded the battle honours France and Flanders for its fine performance. It was sent to Mesopotamia as a part of the 7th Meerut Cavalry Brigade Headquarters. The regiment was then ordered back to India where it concentrated in Rawalpindi in August, 1916 for operations in Afghanistan. A detachment of the regiment was tasked to guard the post at Gumboz.
After World War I, the cavalry of the British Indian Army was reduced from thirty-nine regiments to twenty-one. On 18 May 1921, the two regiments of Skinner's Horse were amalgamated at Sialkot with the new title of the 1st Duke of York’s Own Skinner’s Horse. Formerly The 1st Duke of York's Own Lancers had been a "class" regiment made up entirely of Hindustani Mussalman (Muslim) troopers, while the 3rd Skinner's Horse had consisted of one squadron each of Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs and Rangars (Muslim Rajputs). After the amalgamation, the new regiment would only consist of only three Squadrons: Rajputs, Rangars and Jats. The Sikh Squadron, which had been part of the 3rd Skinner's Horse for 72 years, was disbanded.
Each of the squadrons was equipped with one Hotchkiss gun and with .303 Short Magazine Lee–Enfield rifles. The machine gun troops of the Headquarters Squadron were equipped with the .303 Vickers machine gun. The traditional "sillidar-system" of most of the cavalry was abolished shortly after World War I and Indian troopers were now provided with government horses rather than having to provide the animals themselves in return for a higher rate of pay. The DYO Skinner's Horse accordingly acquired the status of a fully "regular" regiment of the British Indian Army and received standard government-issue equipment for all purposes.
At the beginning of World War II the regiment was still mounted, but was quickly converted to act as a mechanised reconnaissance regiment and was attached to the 5th Indian Division and when the division was sent to the Sudan, formed part of Gazelle Force. During the rest of the war the regiment was attached variously to the 4th Indian Infantry Division; the British 10th Armoured Division, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade and the 10th Indian Infantry Division. The regiment fought in East Africa, North Africa and Italy and was awarded battle honours for Agordat, Keren, Amba-Alagi, Abyssinia, Senio Flood Bank and Italy. The senior Pakistani politician Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan (1915-1998), who served with Skinner's Horse in Sudan/Africa during the Second World War, has written a brief but memorable account of the regiment's service there, in his memoirs, "The Nation that Lost its Soul" (Lahore: Jang Pubs, 1995).
The regiment was switched to tanks in 1946, receiving the Stuart tank, and a year later Churchills. In 1947 with Indian Independence the regiment became part of the Indian Army Armoured Corps. The first Indian commander was Lt Col RM Bilimoria, and the regiment was stationed at Ahmadnagar. The regiment took part in the Hyderabad Police Action in 1948, following which action it stopped the use of Stuart tanks. The Churchill tank remained in use until 1957, after which the regiment was equipped with Sherman Mk IV's. Eight years later in 1965 the regiment converted to the T-54 and then to the T-55. In 1979 the regiment converted to the T-72 tank.
James Skinner (who raised the regiment) built St. James' Church, Delhi. In 2003, a special service was held there to commemorate the bicentenary of the regiment.
Like many regiments of the Indian Army, the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) underwent a series of name changes in their history.1823 1st (Skinner’s) Local Horse
1840 1st Irregular Cavalry (Skinner’s Horse)
1861 1st Regt. of Bengal Cavalry
1896 1st Regt. of Bengal Lancers
1899 1st (The Duke of York’s Own) Regiment of Bengal Lancers
1901 1st (Duke of York’s Own) Bengal Lancers (Skinner’s Horse)
1903 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse).
1921 1st Duke of York's Own Skinner's Horse.
1947 1st Horse (Skinner's Horse)
The old 1st Lancers wore yellow uniforms (uniquely in the British Empire) and the old 3rd wore dark blue. The "yellow" was actually close to mustard in shade but led to the regiment being nicknamed "Canaries" or "Yellow Boys" from its formation. Each regiment had the full-dress (mounted) long 'Kurta' worn with a turban and cummerbund for all ranks, also a full-dress (dismounted) or levee, dress for British officers only. These were not in general use after 1914 but could still be worn by officers on special assignments (e.g. as an aide-de-camp) or while attending court functions. The merged Skinner's Horse was assigned a dark blue full dress with yellow facings in 1922 but by 1931 the historic yellow and black had been restored. The yellow mess jacket and black waistcoat of the old 1st Bengal Lancers was adopted by the 1922 regiment of Skinner's Horse and was the cold weather mess dress until 1939. All six of these various uniforms are in the collection of the National Army Museum.