Patrick Blackett in India: military consultant and scientific intervenor, 1947-72. Part one

R.S Anderson


Invited to lunch at the Nehru home in January 1947, Patrick Blackett was seated beside the acting Prime Minister. Jawaharlal Nehru knew of Blackett's experience in war and military affairs, and asked him how long it would take ‘to Indianize the military’, meaning both its command structure and its weapons production and supply. He was not yet the Prime Minister and India was not yet an independent nation. Blackett's reply was a challenging one, obliging Nehru to explore two different kinds of strategy and thus two different military set-ups. For the ‘realistic’ strategy Blackett preferred, he told Nehru that Indianization could be completed in 18 months; this would prepare India for conflict with other similar powers in the region. For the unrealistic strategy, in which India would prepare for conflict with major world powers, Blackett predicted it would take many, many years. Nehru liked his approach, and wrote to him soon afterwards to ask Blackett to advise him on military and scientific affairs. From this invitation much followed.

In this paper, the first of two about Patrick Blackett in India, I examine the record from his perspective upon his work with and for the military. He was regularly in touch with military development in India between 1947 and roughly 1965, advising the Chiefs of Staff, the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister himself. He carried with him the experience and opinions generated from his military career beginning in the First World War, and most particularly his assumptions about the application of science to war from 1935 until he went to India in 1947. He kept informed about military development right through to his last journey to India in 1971, following the end of his term as President of the Royal Society.

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