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Military Digest: From Partition to guarding borders, Western Command’s journey of 75 years

On September 15, 1947, the Western Command was raised as Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command after the Punjab Boundary Force (PBF) was disbanded in the aftermath of partition.

Western Army Commander Lt Gen Nav K Khanduri releases a first day cover along with Gen J J Singh (retd) and Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (retd) at Chandimandir. (Express photo)

The Army’s Western Command celebrated the platinum jubilee of its raising last week in Chandimandir with several former Army Commanders taking part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Command War Memorial.

On September 15, 1947, the Western Command was raised as Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command after the Punjab Boundary Force (PBF) was disbanded in the aftermath of partition. The PBF was tasked with dealing with the violence which followed partition in Punjab and one of the primary tasks of the newly raised Command at the time was maintaining law and order and evacuation of refugees.

The Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command had Lt General Sir Dudley Russel as the first Army Commander. A distinguished officer of the Indian Army Lt Gen Russel had commanded a Brigade in Africa and a Division in Italy and on return to India after the war he had supervised the maintenance of law and order in riots in Bihar. He was, this, ideally suited to be the first GOC-in-C of the command due to its role of managing the post-partition violence at the time. The DEP Command had two areas under its responsibility-Delhi Area and East Punjab Area. Delhi Area was commanded by Maj Gen Rajinder Sinhji, later General and Chief of Army Staff while the East Punjab Area was headed by Maj Gen KS Thimayya, who was also later General and Chief of Army Staff. Maj Gen Thimayya would go on to play a major role in the Kashmir operations too under the Western Command.

The Western Command Headquarters in Chandimandir has a special train as a museum which is similar to the mobile headquarters of DEP Command which had been set up on the orders of Lt Gen Russel in 1947. Lt Gen Russel wanted the Command headquarters to be mobile and to be able to quickly reach places where there disturbances being reported. The interconnected saloons of the train were guarded by a platoon of soldiers and an old Vicergal train had been made available to the Command. This train kept shuttling to various places in Punjab during the riot situations, particularly between Delhi and Lahore.

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Immediately after the refugee situation relatively subsided, the Command was involved in tackling the Pakistani attack on Jammu and Kashmir. This attack was undertaken by Pakistan with the help of its regular Army elements as well as tribals from the North East Frontier Province. An interesting aspect on this fighting was that the Army Commander, Lt Gen Russel’s old unit, 6/13 Frontier Force Rifles, in which he had served for more than 20 years and had commanded it, was now part of Pakistan Army and was fighting against Indian troops in Kashmir who were under the Command of Lt Gen Russel.

Former Western Army Commander Lt Gen SK Sinha notes in his book, A Soldier Recalls, that when he informed the Army Commander of his old unit fighting against Indian troops in Uri, the General went silent and pensive before ordering continuation of offensive operations in that sector. For any soldier his battalion is his second home and Lt Gen Sinha wrote about the turmoil that must have taken place in the mind of Lt Gen Russel while ordering action against his own unit. On January 20, 1948 Lt Gen KM Cariappa, later Commander in Chief of the Army and Field Marshal, took over as the Army Commander of the command from Lt Gen Russel. He would go on to become the first Indian Commander in Chief (designation later changed to Chief of Army Staff) of the Army. The Western Command has produced 11 Chiefs of Army Staff till date.

The Western Command went on to play a major role in the 1965 India-Pakistan war when the theatres of operations stretched from Ladakh to Rajasthan. With Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh as the Army Commander, the Command thwarted Pakistan Army’s guerrilla warfare in J&K in August 1965, checked the enemy advance in Chhamb-Jaurian-Akhnoor axis and then opened secondary fronts in Sialkot and Lahore sectors and forced Pakistan Army to redeploy its troops and put it on back foot with much success.

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The 1971 was again saw Western Command put up a stout defence in the Punjab and Rajasthan sectors against Pakistani aggression. Over the years, in the various wars and battles, 11 officers and jawans of Western Command have been awarded the Param Vir Chakra, nation’s highest gallantry award and these include Maj Somnath Sharma, Naik Jadunath Singh, Maj RR Ranade, CHM Piru Singh, Lance Naik Karam Singh, Maj Dhan Singh Thapa, CQMH Abdul Hamid, Lt Col A Tarapore and many others. In a solemn ceremony led by GOC-in-C Lt Gen Nav K Khanduri, former Army Chief Gen JJ Singh, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, Lt Gen TK Sapru, Lt Gen Surinder Singh, Lt Gen KJ Singh and Lt Gen Philip Campose, all former Army Commanders, paid their respects at the war memorial last week. A first day cover commemorating the anniversary was also released on the occasion.

Over a period of time the geographical boundaries of Western Command has time and again been red-drawn to include Northern Command and South Western Command and then again acquiring certain areas from Northern Command contiguous with operations in the plains in Jammu area.

First published on: 19-09-2022 at 00:13 IST
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