Indian Army: History (1947- )
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Strategy)/ 2020
Crucial Army post mooted after Doklam gets govt nod
The government has finally approved the creation of a crucial new Army post, the acute operational need for which was felt during the 73-day troop face-off at Doklam with China in 2017, amid the ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh.
The government sanction letter (GSL) for the requisite reorganisation of the Army headquarters was issued on Wednesday, paving the way for the new post of Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Strategy) or DCOAS (Strat), said a senior official.
The present director-general of military operations (DGMO) Lt-General Paramjit Singh will be the first DCOAS (Strat). Apart from the DGMO, the directors-general of military intelligence (DGMI), operational logistics (DGOL), perspective planning (DGPP) and information warfare (DGIW) will come under him at the Army headquarters.
“It will synergise all the verticals under one post for much better synergy and coordination. The DGIW, who will have an additional DG (strategic communications) under him, will also be a new post. The creation of a new information warfare wing is being done in keeping with the needs of the future battlefield, hybrid warfare and social media reality in mind,” said the official.
TOI in August was the first to report that the creation of the crucial post of DCOAS (Strat) was being stymied by bureaucratic hurdles. The Army had even raised with defence minister Rajnath Singh the issue of the “operationally required and revenue-neutral” proposal being blocked despite it having no financial implications or additional manpower requirements.
Till now, an “ad hoc steering committee” would spring into action in the 13-lakh strong Army during any major border crisis, like the one in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in June-August 2017, or the ongoing one in eastern Ladakh, which has now entered its eight month.
Now, the DCOAS (Strat) post will synergise the massive operations, plans and logistics required to handle such emergencies. The existing post of DCOAS (planning and systems) will be transformed into the DCOAS (capability development and sustenance), with all capital and revenue procurements under him. Similarly, the DCOAS (information systems and training) will change to DCOAS (information systems and coordination).
These new posts are part of the overall restructuring and flattening of the Army headquarters recommended by one of the four studies conducted in 2018. The overall aim of the studies is to transform the Army into a lean, mean, rapidly-deployable and operationally versatile force in the years ahead.
Gen VK Singh vs the rest
The Times of India, August 19, 2016
Feud hits Army’s apolitical, disciplined ethos
The long-running factional feud between the three top army generals - General VK Singh (retd) on one side and General Bikram Singh (retd) and General Dalbir Singh Suhag on the other - has hit the 12-lakh-strong Army's apolitical and highly-disciplined ethos like never before.
"Top officers like Lieutenant General SK Sinha (whom Indira Gandhi superseded to appoint General AS Vaidya as Army chief in 1983) quietly went home after being overlooked, rightly or wrongly. Sinha, of course, later became governor," a senior officer said. The trend these days, however, is to fight legal battles and indulge in political one-upmanship, even as unseemly controversies like whether infantry is being favoured over armoured corps in top appointments, or Gorkha Regiment officers over Rajput ones, regularly rock the force. The issues do not augur well for the Indian armed forces, which are justifiably proud of their ethos and commitment to democracy. "Unfortunately, the armed forces are becoming increasingly politicised, with declining standards of leadership. Politicians and bureaucrats have actively worked to interfere in the internal working of the forces, while systematically downgrading their status and standing," a retired Lieutenant general said.
Army chief General Suhag's fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court+ , which accuses the then chief and now minister of state for external affairs VK Singh of "mala fide intent" and "mysterious design" to stall his promotion, is similar to the one he filed in the armed forces tribunal in 2012. "As a respondent in Lt Gen Ravi Dastane's complaint, General Suhag had filed it in his personal capacity then. Neither was he the Army chief then, nor V K Singh the MoS," said an officer.
But the fact remains that such internecine feuds have adversely impacted the Army. V K Singh, the Army chief from April 2010 to May 2012 was the first serving military chief to drag the government to court over his date of birth controversy. Though he had to subsequently hang his boots+ , there were reports of the UPA-II government being "spooked" by the unauthorised movement of two Army units towards New Delhi in January that year. Even after retirement, he did not give up his animosity towards his successors, Bikram Singh and Suhag, with regular statements and tweets against them, even asking defence minister Manohar Parrikar to act against rampant corruption in the force.
As chief, VK Singh did indeed shake up the system, cracking down on what he said were deeply-entrenched arms lobbies. But just before demitting office, he also imposed a discipline and vigilance (DV) promotion ban on General Suhag, charging him with abdicating responsibility in handling a botched operation by an intelligence unit under him as the 3 Corps commander in Dimapur.
Critics believe the move was intended to change the line of succession to ensure that Lt Gen Ashok Singh (retd), whose son is married to V K Singh's daughter, became the frontrunner for the chief's post.
Soon after Bikram Singh succeeded+ VK Singh as the chief, apart from overturning other decisions, he lifted the DV ban on Suhag. This cleared the way for Suhag to become the commander of the Eastern Army, and later the Army chief according to seniority. When the Modi government came to power in May 2014, it went ahead with Suhag's appointment as chief two months later, as had been cleared by the outgoing UPA-II regime. The government also distanced itself from VK Singh's continuing attacks against Suhag for protecting "criminals" in the Dimapur episode.
The defence ministry then filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that VK Singh's decision in 2012 to impose a DV promotion ban on Suhag was "illegal", "vague" and "premeditated". Later, the government unofficially admitted that the affidavit should have been drafted without the disparaging remarks against VK Singh, who was by then a minister of state.
Army Chief Accuses VK Singh Of Malicious Intent
The Times of India, Aug 19 2016
Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag has, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, accused one of his predecessors and now minister of state for external affairs General (retd) V K Singh of victimising him with the sole purpose of denying him the post of chief of Army staff (COAS). Bringing his long running animosity with Gen Singh out in the open again, Gen Suhag said he had been illegally placed under a discipline and vigilance (DV) ban in 2012.
He said the order was passed even after a court of inquiry failed to find any evidence regarding failure of command and control in a 2011operation in Assam.
The affidavit revived memories of a period when Gen Singh had launched a campaign to get his date of birth revised. The move was opposed by other officers as it was to affect the succession lineup in the force. Gen Singh felt he had been wronged over an incorrectly recorded date of birth.
However, his case was not heeded by the government, leading to a protracted legal battle which divided the Army brass.
In his affidavit, Gen Suhag has said the administrative action against him was “motivated, biased, arbitrary“ and had “malicious intent“. The government, in a 2014 submission, had backed Gen Suhag saying the allegations against him were “vague“ and “illegal“.
The affidavit has been filed in response to allegations levelled by Lt Gen (retd) Ravi Dastane that Gen Suhag was favoured during selection as Army chief. Gen Dastane had filed a petition in Supreme Court in 2014 seeking to stall Gen Suhag's appointment, but the court refused to stay his elevation.
The operation for which Gen Suhag faced a DV ban was carried out in Jorhat in Assam on the night of December 20-21, 2011 by the 3 Corps Intelligence and Surveillance Unit. “I was sought to be victimised by the then COAS (chief of Army staff) with the sole purpose of denying me promotion to the post of Army Commander.False, baseless and imaginary allegations of lapses were levelled against me in the show cause notice,“ Gen Suhag said in his affidavit.
Gen Suhag said the showcause notice issued to him “was premeditated“. He con tended that the notice was sent to him a month after the court of inquiry process and said his view stood vindicated as the Centre and Armed Forces Tribunal too concluded that the action taken against him was illegal.
“Almost one month after issue of directions on court of inquiry , the then COAS with mischievous design, mala fide intent and to arbitrarily punish me without following the principles of natural justice, issued a show cause notice which contained unsubstantiated facts and vague allegations,“ he said.
Defending Gen Suhag, the defence ministry said, “The alleged lapses observed by the then COAS...were vague, based on presumptions and legally and factually not maintainable.“
Alleging that he is the victim and not the petitioner, Lt Gen Suhag pleaded to the apex court to dismiss the petition against him.
1986: Operation Falcon
Sumdorong Chu Valley (Arunachal Pradesh)
“I may have told my family of our unit’s exploits in that sector in 1986 but my daughter was not even born then,” Ashish Das said. “Even I came to know about this post being named after me only in 2003, 17 years after we beat back troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and occupied the post at 14,000 feet,” Das said.
Das recalled how the 1986 events unfolded. The PLA made deep incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunachal Pradesh and began constructing helipads and permanent structures. Later that year, Indian Army chief Gen K Sundarji launched what was to be later known (though never officially acknowledged) as Operation Falcon. An entire infantry brigade was airlifted to a makeshift landing area at Zimithang, near Sumdorong Chu.
“We had to blast our way through Bum La and reached the Sangetsar lake. The Chinese were sitting just across. Our orders were to hold ground and we dug in. Every officer must have made 17-20 copies of wills in the intervening days and handed them over to their adjutants. We started to move forward a few days later and also blasted Kyapho that was snowed in. We did not know that we had crossed the Chinese camp but maintained our position. There were attempts to supply rations by air but the drops landed inside China. I remember surviving on rats. It was only later that skid boards were designed and rations reached us. A helipad was also constructed. There were firefights every day as we proceeded from one bunker to the next,” Das said.
He remembers it was Onam when he, along with a small party, set out to return to base when they realised that the PLA was after them. Das (then a captain) opened fire on the Chinese, which forced the latter to give up the chase. The men remained there for three days without food. “There would be heavy firing at night followed by white flares during the day and parleys with the local Chinese political commissar,” Das recalled.
1987: ‘A coup was planned,’ Lt Gen Hoon
The Times of India, Oct 04 2015
Army had plotted to topple Rajiv govt in 1987: Retd Gen
Lt Gen P N Hoon, a former Army commander of the prestigious Western Command, has claimed there was a plot to topple Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1987. He has also claimed that three crack para-commando battalions, including one from the Western Command, were told to move for action in Delhi.
The 86-year-old Hoon, who joined BJP in December 2013 as adviser, defence and security, has alleged that the then Army chief, General KrishnaswamiSundarji, and Lt Gen S F Rodrigues, the vice chief who went on to become Army chief, were involved in the plot. Hoon hints in his just-released book, `The Untold Truth', that the plan for a coup was hatched at the behest of certain very senior politicians who did not share cordial relations with Rajiv . The Lt Gen states that at his farewell function in 1987 hosted by then Punjab governor Siddharth Shankar Ray in Chandigarh, GianiZail Singh had blamed Gandhi of corruption and negligence. Singh also said Rajiv was unconcerned about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Hoon has claimed that as chief of the Western Command in May-June 1987, he was in Delhi on official work when he received a message that a letter had been received at command headquarters from army HQ seeking three paracommando battalions. The battalions included the First-Para Commando, which was under the Western Command, and the 9th and 10th Para Commando, which were under the Northern and Southern Commands. According to Hoon, these three battalions were ordered to be placed under Rodrigues.He said he immediately briefed Rajiv and his principal secretary Gopi Arora about the development and showed them the letter. “I also explained to them how dangerous this move could be, not only for the country , but also for our political system,“ Hoon said. He claims to have ordered the Delhi area commander, under the Western Com mand, not to move any troops without his permission. Hoon, who retired in October 1987, states that one minister in Rajiv's Cabinet, V C Shukla, was aware about the possibility of Army action. In Chapter 10, titled `GianiZail Singh vs Rajiv Gandhi', he says Shukla specially came down to Chandimandir to meet him. Hoon, however, concluded that Zail Singh didn't take any action against Rajiv's government fearing that it would lead to transfer of power from a democratically elected government to the armed forces.
Air Marshal Randhir Singh, a veteran of many wars, disagrees with Hoon and says there's never been any attempt at a military coup.Terming it Gen Hoon's “own perception,“ Colonel K S Pathak, a veteran and one of the founders of the special forces, says there may have been mobilization of troops in Delhi but it was for other reasons.
2012: Non-Notified Movement by Army Unit
From the archives of The Times of India
Late Jan 16 night, intel agencies report non-notified movement by a key military unit from mechanised infantry based in Hisar This is part of Mathurabased 1 Corps, commanded by Lt Gen A K Singh Column moves towards Delhi, 150 km away This is the day Gen VK Singh moved SC on his DoB Lookouts alerted. Standard protocol since 1984, when Sikh units mutineers advanced on Delhi after Op Bluestar. Lookouts confirm movement of an entire unit of mechanised Infantry with armoured vehicles mounted on 48 tank transporters Concern, as no such movement notified. Further, Army Day celebrations had ended on Jan15
Worse, reports of another movement of a large element of Agra-based 50 Para Brigade towards Delhi Lookout activated south of Delhi. Columns put under lens Defence minister informed. Centre activates contingency plan. Terror alert issued. Police told to check vehicles on highways leading to Delhi to slow traffic Defence secy Shashi Kant Sharma told to cut short Malaysia visit Sharma reaches office late at night, tells DGMO Lt Gen AK Chaudhary to explain Lt Gen Chaudhary calls it a routine exercise. Paras under his direct command DGMO told to return with full facts on mechanized unit movement He explains mechanized unit checking ability to deploy quickly during fog DGMO told to send back both columns immediately Mechanised unit was in Bahadurgarh near Najafgarh. The Paras were off Palam PM informed early on January 17
Mechanized unit checking out ability to move fast in fog Couldn’t have headed towards Ferozepur, Pak would have panicked Agra-based Paras checking feasibility of being transported by road to marry with Hercules C 130J transport planes stationed at Hindon Army says it found glitches during Paras exercise, such as missiles stored in Bharatpur Para columns had to take detour, stop at Bharatpur to pick up missiles
Why did the columns have to drive to Delhi outskirts to test readiness? The route Paras took strange. They parked themselves at Palam. The route to Hindon from Palam—Outer Ring Road, NH-24—too congested Ideally, they should’ve crossed Yamuna at Agra, driven parallel to GT Road If the idea was to marry with C 130J jets, IAF should’ve known The C 130Js were not even at Hindon that day Between Jan 15 and Jan 26, capital full with army units for R-Day. Normally, such exercises avoided during this time Why was DGMO not in the know of unit movement? If these movements were part of routine, what was the need to stop them? Why was the defence minstry not in the know?
Dogs in the Army
The Times of India, Jan 15 2016
Army dogs in R-Day parade after 26 years
Regal horses of the President's Bodyguards and BSF camels will have stiff competition in grabbing eyeballs during the Republic Day parade in 2016.A contingent of Army dogs will march smartly down the majestic Rajpath.
Thirty-six German Shepherds and Labradors, along with their handlers, will constitute the Army dog contingent at the January 26 parade, marking the return of the canines to the annual event after 1990“They will just march past and not perform tricks,“ said an official. A contingent of Army dogs will take part in the Republic Day parade after 26 years. The Army currently has around 1,200 sniffer dogs, which are primarily used for “guard duties and tracking and detection of explosives and mines“ during counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the northeast, after being trained in the Remount and Veterinary Corps (RVC) Centre and College at Meerut.
The dogs and their trainers have won one Shaurya Chakra, six Sena Medals, 142 COAS commendation cards, six VCOAS commendation cards and 448 GOC-in-C commendation cards over the years. The stellar role played by the canines was reinforced in August 2015 when Mansi, a four-year-old Labrador, and her Kashmiri master Bashir Ahmed War from the Territorial Army had made the supreme sacrifice while gallantly fighting a group of heavilyarmed infiltrators in the high-altitude Tangdhar area along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K.
The Army had also in 2015 scrapped its “humane euthanasia“ policy after it was found that it had “disposed of “ almost 2,000 horses, mules and dogs, who had outlived their active service in the force, over a three-year period.While a final policy is yet to be finalised, the Army has stopped the practice of killing of ageing animals, except for thosesuffering from incurable diseases and injuries.
Command Exit model of the Army: 2016
The Times of India, Feb 15, 2016
Army's command exit model cleared by Supreme Court, younger officers can now lead combat
Amit Anand Choudhary
The Supreme Court upheld Army's command exit model for lowering the age profile and consequent creation of additional vacancies of 1484 posts of Colonel saying that the policy change was in public interest to make the force more efficient.
A bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph, however, directed the Centre to create 141 additional posts of colonel for combat support stream but turned down the plea to extend the benefit to Army Service Corps.
The model was put in force in 2009 on the recommendations of AV Singh Committee which said that age of Colonels, who command a battalion comprising 800-odd soldiers, was a little over 40 years while the same for Pakistan and Chinese armies was 37 years. It had recommended a command-and-exit policy by which colonels would serve as battalion commanders for two to three years and exit to a non-command post by the time they reach the age of 40. To bring down the age to 37 years, it had recommended creation of an additional posts for colonels.
Upholding the policy, the bench said that the command exit model is "laudable" and intended to make Army more efficient and better equipped for combat situations. "There is nothing perverse, unreasonable or unfair about the policy that the age of officers serving in Combat Arms and Combat Arms Support will be lowered by creating additional vacancies to be allotted on Command Exit Model," the bench said.
Army comprises three streams — Combat Arms, Combat Support Arms and Services — but the creation of additional posts was not made in the Services stream, compelling the officers to challenge the policy before Armed Forces Tribunal on the ground being discriminatory. Allowing the plea, the tribunal in March last year quashed the policy.
The Centre thereafter approached the Supreme Court which stayed the operation of the order. Additional solicitor general Maninder Singh told the apex court that the policy was in the larger interest of national security and it did not violate any right of the officers belonging to Services. The Centre during the hearing had also agreed to create additional 141 posts for Combat Arms Support.
Agreeing with his contention, the Supreme Court allowed Centre's appeal. "We partly allow these appeals and while setting aside the order passed by the Tribunal direct that the appellants shall create 141 additional posts of colonel to be allocated to combat support stream," the court said.
"We have, in that view, no hesitation in holding that there was neither any recommendation regarding reduction in age profile of unit commanders in services nor was there any recommendation for creation of additional vacancies to benefit officers serving in those formations," it said.
Meat for the mess
Frozen meat replaces locally slaughtered
For the first time in 200 years, the mess at Mhow Cantonment will get only frozen meat. The practice of slaughtering goat, lamb and chicken to feed the troops stopped in the cantonment on March 31, as in other military bases in the country.
Sources confirmed to TOI that the supply of frozen, packaged meat began on April 1 and added that the meat will be stored at a centralised unit, fulfilling all health and hygiene norms. “The biggest advantage of frozen meat is that it will be far more hygienic and more nutritious,“ a officer said.
Not all agree. Col (retd) D K Ghosh said: “ As a former Army Service Corps officer, I don't agree with the new ini tiative as there are very clearly laid down directives for slaughtering of animals -from selection, to marking, slaughtering and dispatch to destination. The whole process doesn't involve more than six hours but in the new system, preservatives will be used which are generally bad for health.“
But another veteran, Col (retd) V K Saini, welcomed the change. “It is a good decision because except for a few big cantonments, the hygiene of station butcheries is not up to the mark,“ he said.
The butchery in Mhow had been operating near the railway yard ever since the cantonment was set up in 1818. Managed by an ASC detachment, the drill was unchanged for two centuries.
The contract of the butchery in charge was renewed every year until March 2017. Pandurang Sirpurkar, a cook in one of the messes of Military College of Telecommunication Engineering, said: “Cooks and chefs in the army are habituated to cooking with fresh meat but now they are trying to adapt to the new system of frozen meat.“
2017/ Humraaz, App (lication) for serving personnel
The Indian Army has developed a mobile application through which serving soldiers can track details like postings and promotions, an army official said.
Through the 'Humraaz' app, soldiers can also view their monthly salary slips and the Form 16 and also download them.
The mobile app has been developed in-house by the Army and was launched in August for prompt communication of information to junior commissioner officers and other personnels.
For security reasons, the installation of the application has been linked to verification of Aadhar details.
The Aadhar details will be verified with the Army database over (National Information Centre) NIC cloud and he will get a one-time-password on his registered mobile number.
Hence, to enable usage of this mobile application, the latest mobile number of individuals should be linked to his Aadhar number, the official added.
Suicide rate among soldiers
From the archives of The Times of India
Suicides, fragging claim more jawans than terrorists’ bullets
Now, over four times more soldiers die battling their internal demons rather than fighting militants in Kashmir or the northeast. Stress-related deaths in the shape of suicides and “fragging” show no sign of flagging in the Army, with the toll alarmingly crossing the 100 mark year after year. Consider the shocking figures. Just since 2001, 1,082 soldiers have committed suicide in the Army’s highly disciplined environs, while another 73 have died of fragging (to kill a fellow soldier) episodes. While 102 soldiers took the extreme step of ending their lives last year, 26 have died this year so far. The situation is not much better in IAF, with over 20 airmen committing suicide every year.
Navy is the best off, with its annual suicide cases remaining in single digits. Disclosing the latest figures in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, defence minister A K Antony said, “Possible causative factors for soldiers committing suicide/fatricide are stress, personal problems and financial problems.’’ “The government has taken several steps, like counselling, improvement in food and clothing, married accommodation, leave concessions, facilities for movement of troops from border areas and a grievance redressal mechanism in states,” he added. But the measures do not seem to be working, even as the yearly tolls due to terrorism and road accidents have been brought under control over the last few years.
Just 24 soldiers, for instance, were killed in action while fighting terrorists in J&K last year. With the Army establishing “clear-cut ascendancy’’ in counter-infiltration and insurgency operations, the death toll of security forces has steadily declined since a high of over 300 in 2004. On the stress-related front, the MoD-Army combine has got a fresh “psycho-social analytical study” done by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR). “The aim is to arrive at the tools to identify and spot the “at risk” soldiers. Two studies, one an impact analysis of counter-insurgency vis-à-vis peace areas and the other a psychological autopsy of suicides over the last three years, are being analyzed after being handed over to Antony,” said a source.
Suicides, fratricides: 2014- July 2017
310 Army Personnel Have Killed Themselves Since 2014: Govt
The 15-lakh strong armed forces continue to lose over 100 personnel in stress-related deaths in the form of suicides and fragging or fratricide (to kill a fellow-soldier or superior) every year. There have been 44 suicides and a fratricide case in the Army alone in 2017.
The defence ministry told Parliament that as many as 310 Army soldiers, including nine officers and 19 junior commissioned officers, have committed suicide since 2014, while 11 cases of fratricide were also reported during the period.
Minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre, in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, said while 84 soldiers had committed suicide in 2014, the numbers in 2015 and 2016 stood at 78 and 104 respectively. As for the solitary fratricide incident this year, an Army jawan had shot dead Major Shikar Thapa in a forward post in the Uri sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir on July 17. Naik Kathi Resan had fired two bursts from his AK-47 assault rifle at the young officer after being scolded for using a mobile phone during guard duty , as was then reported by TOI. Suicide and fratricide cases in the armed forces have showed no signs of being stemmed despite all the so-called measures undertaken by the defence establishment to reduce stress among soldiers, airmen and sailors deployed far away from their families.
Soldiers often undergo tremendous mental stress for not being able to take care of the problems being faced by their families back home, which could range from property disputes and harassment by anti-social elements to financial and marital problems.
Prolonged deployment in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and North-East also takes a toll on the physi cal endurance and mental health of soldiers. All this is also compounded by poor salaries, denial of leave, lack of basic amenities, ineffectual leadership and sometimes humiliation at the hands of their officers.
The defence ministry , on its part, says a large number of officers have been trained as counsellors, apart from hiring of some civilian psychological counsellors to provide “mental health services“.
Other measures include improvement in living and working conditions, provision of additional family accommodation and a liberalised leave policy as well as strengthening of grievance redressal mechanisms and the conduct of yoga and meditation as part of a unit's routine.
The first of battle tanks were manufactured by Britain during the First World War, fought from 1914 to 1918. Begun as Small Willie, used only for designing, the final product, Big Willie were used operationally for the first on 15 September 1916 in both the battles of Flers Courcelette and Somme.
If at Flers Courcelete they had little success at Somme, on the same day they had even less, with only 36 out of fifty tanks making it to launch an en masse attack.
These 30 ton machines could not cope with the harsh lunar landscape of the churned up ground, where fourteen broke down or got bogged down. Regardless of these drawbacks, a new era in warfare had begun.
The process of the Indian Cavalry bidding adieu to horses and getting equipped with tanks/armoured cars began in 1939 with The Scinde Horse getting Vickers light tanks and Chevrolet Armoured Cars.
Other regiments were given Sherman and Stuart tanks of American origin in 1943. Regiments so equipped like 7 th Light Cavalry, Deccan Horse, 16 th Light Cavalry formed the spearhead of the 14th Army against the Japanese in the liberation of Burma. Thereafter Indian regiments got a more extended assortment of tanks/armoured cars of British (Centurion and Churchill tanks and Humber armoured cars), American (Sherman, Stuart and Grant tanks and Dodge weapon-carriers) French (AMX-13 tanks)and even German (Daimler) armoured cars.
WW II, which began on 01 September 1939, ended on 02 September 1945. On 18 February 1946 some simmering issues among Indian ratings of the Royal Indian Navy resulted in a mutiny, which, as it spread, left the Brits with no option but to begin working towards an early exit from India. But not before implementing a partition that trifurcated India.
For undivided India’s armed forces it meant partitioning of men, material and weapons between India and Pakistan. This left India with twelve armoured regiments, while Pakistan got six. Independent India’s founding politico-bureaucratic combo unfortunately laid the foundations of discord in civil-military relations and a disconnect with matters military and national security which not only led to a long-term conflict with Pakistan and little later, with China too, but also fighting the first war with both these counties on greatly disadvantageous terms.
Independence came with a war already thrust on India by the newly sliced out Pakistan army. Over a year after that war began 7 th Cavalry was ordered to move to Zoji La. By then 7 th Cavalry’s configuration had changed from all 3 squadrons of Stuart tanks to one squadron of Stuarts and one each of Humber and Daimler armoured cars as well as Dodge weapon carriers.
While transporting this regiment to Zoji La was a complex feat, it shocked the daylights out of Pak troops and created a new global record of mountain warfare in military history. Because for the western world ‘mountains’ meant 8000 feet, whereas ZojiLa is at 11580 feet.
India’s political leaders and bureaucrats had neither learnt any lessons from the 1947-48 Indo- Pak war, nor heeded the advice/ requests of the military leadership before the Chinese forces on 20 October 1962 launched simultaneous offensives in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line, capturing Rezang la in Chushul in the western theatre, and Tawang in the eastern theatre. Yet again a military decision was taken to move tanks to Chushul and in this case it was 20 th Lancers, equipped with AMX-13 tanks, which was selected for the task. (The move and actions of both 7th Cavalry and 20 th Lancers are briefly described in this feature separately by officers of these regiments)
The two intense tank battles of the 1965 Indo- Pak war, fought at Phillora (Punjab, Pakistan) by Hodson’s Horse (4 Horse) and Poona Horse (17 Horse) and at Asal Uttar (Punjab, India) by 3 Cavalry, 8 Cavalry, Deccan Horse (9 Horse) and Scinde Horse (14 Horse), debilitated Pakistan’s armour and depressed it men’s morale. Pakistani tank crews began to avoid engaging Indian armoured units and even abandoned many of their fully functional tanks which were captured intact. Many tank crews hiding after abandoning their tanks were also captured. By the end of the war Hodson’s Horse had destroyed 79 tanks and 17 recoilless guns of the enemy. Pakistan suffered a crushing defeat in Asal Uttar due to the resolute stance of the Indian troops. It lost 97 tanks, including 72 Pattons; 32 tanks were captured in running condition.
India in contrast lost only five tanks. Near Khem Karan, a stretch where over a 100 destroyed Pakistani tanks were lined up, came to be known as the Graveyard of Pattons. Out of 471 Pakistani tanks destroyed in the war, as claimed by India, over 100 each were destroyed in battles of Phillora and Asal Uttar and 38 were captured.
In the period following the 1965 war, the Armoured Corps got T-54 and T-55, both made by former USSR.
In the 1971 Indo-Pak war,4 Horse led the advance into Pakistan across the Basantar river, known as Degh Nadi in Pakistan and remained in the lead till the end of the 13 day war, destroying disproportionately large number of Pakiatani tanksmostly Pattons tanks with World War II vintage Centurians. Major (later Brig) Amarjit Singh Bal was commanding a squadron of 17th Horse , which was to establish and defend a secure bridgehead on the Basantar river in Shakargarh area. Located at Jarpal, overlooking the river, his squadron was most vulnerable to enemy attack.
Despite heavy shelling by Pak artillery, repeated counter-attacks while being heavily outnumbered for over two days, Major Bal was able to inspire his men to repel destroying as many as 27 Pakistani Patton tanks.
Major Bal was awarded the MVC. Another officer of The Poona Horse and the youngest to get the PVC-postumously- was Arun Khetarpal whose role in the Battle of Basantar, did not end with this thirteen-day war, resulting in the demise of East Pakistan and the creation of the newly liberated Bangladesh.
Major Khwaja Mohammad Nasir, the squadron commander of Pak army 13th Lancers fighting against Poona Horse, who came bandaged the next day to collect the dead bodies of his fallen comrades, wanted to know more about the officer, who stood like an insurmountable rock and whose troop of three Centurian tanks was responsible for decimation of his entire squadron of fourteen Patton tanks.
His bandages were owing to injuries sustained by him in the final engagement of his and Arun tank. 13th Lancers is the same regiment which exchanged its Sikh squadron with the Muslim squadron of The Poona Horse, during partition in 1947. Regiments of T-55 and PT-76 amphibious tanks were deployed effectively in the Eastern sector during the 1971 war contributing to actions in the liberation of Bangladesh.
The Battle of Longewala, Rajasthan, during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, inspired film- maker J.P. Dutta, who made ‘Border’ a war film adapted from real life events and also depicted the tank actions.
During the run-up period prior to Exercise Brass Tacks in 1987, Pakistan army became so jittery apprehending that Indian Army in the guise of an exercise had set out to target its nukes, that it reacted in the Western sector, leading to Indian Army mobilising for war under an operation codenamed Trident. Although Pak army remained deployed in forward posture, it did not start a war, as it had done in 1947, 1965 and 1971 and the mobilisation ended after five months of stalemate.
It was after Operation Trident that a considered decision was taken to deploy a full squadron of 14 tanks in the Ladakh sector, for which 91 Independent Reconnaissance Squadron of The Scinde Horse, equipped with T-72 tanks, was detailed.
For the first time, after some modifications, a T-72 tank was accommodated in IL-76 aircraft without removing the turret. Of the 66 gallantry awards conferred on Indian Army’s Armoured Corps personnel, apart from Arun, who got one of this war’s two Param Vir Chakra, there were three Maha Vir Chakra (one posthumous and one awarded for the second time to the same person), 23 Vir Chakra, one Vishishtha Seva Medal, 17 Sena Medals (including one posthumous) and 21 Mentioned-in- Despatches. The second- time Maha Vir Chakra awardee was Brig. A.S. Vaidya of the Deccan Horse, who later became the Army Chief. 1990s onwards the Armoured Corps started getting T-90 and the Arjun tank indigenously produced in India.
To mark 100 Years of the Tank, in August-September 2016, Indian Army’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces will organize an exhibition on the lawns of India Gate, where all tanks used by Indian Army in all wars fought since Independence will be displayed along with photographs and accounts of various battles and other operational engagements over the past 69 years.
Honouring fallen enemy soldiers
In a step to “reinstate the honour of a fallen enemy soldier”, the Indian Army has restored the grave of a decorated Pakistani officer killed during a clash along the Line of Control (LoC) almost half-a-century ago. Major Mohd Shabir Khan was killed in a fierce clash with troops of the 9 Sikh Regiment in Naugam sector of J&K along the LoC on May 5, 1972. Pakistan awarded him its third highest military decoration, the ‘Sitara-e-Jurat’ medal.
In keeping with the military traditions, the 2 Maratha Light Infantry battalion of the Indian Army had constructed a grave for the fallen Pakistani officer there. “The grave had got badly damaged due to vagaries of weather and incessant shelling over time. The grave has now been restored. A fallen soldier, irrespective of the country he belongs to, deserves respect and honour in death. The Indian Army stands by this belief,” an officer said.
The Indian Army had treated the bodies of Pakistani soldiers with full respect during the Kargil conflict in 1999, though Islamabad sought to portray them as “irregulars” or militants. The restoration of the grave comes at a time when the 778-km long LoC is extremely volatile, with heavy cross-border shelling being exchanged between the two armies.