On January 15, 1949, Field Marshal Kodandera M Cariappa took over from General Sir Francis Butcher to become the Indian Army’s first Commander-in-Chief. The day has been observed as Army Day to recognise this, and to acknowledge the achievements and risks undertaken by Indian army personnel.
This Army Day was the first since new Army Chief General M M Naravane took charge.
Field Marshal Cariappa led the Indian forces on the Western Front during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 and is one of the only two Indian officers to hold the five-star rank of field marshal (an honorary rank).
Who was KM Cariappa?
Cariappa, who was fondly known as “Kipper”, was born on January 28, 1900, in Karnataka. During the First World War (1914-18), Cariappa received military training, but did not start serving. In 1919, he received the King’s Commission with the first group of Indian cadets and in 1933, he became the first Indian officer to join staff college in Quetta.
Subsequently, in 1942, Cariappa raised the seventh Rajput Machine Gun Battalion, which is now referred to as the 17th Rajput regiment.
After Independence, when politicians started demanding that Indian officers be absorbed by the British military in India, Cariappa was one of the first group of Indian candidates to be selected and was sent to Indore for training.
In his book, titled “Field Marshal KM Cariappa: His Life and Times”, Brigadier CM Khanduri has mentioned Major General AA Rudra’s recollection of Cariappa from the days they were at the Cadet School in Indore. “Cariappa was shy. He hardly talked. But he was laborious and punctilious to the minutest detail. The institution had boys from among the sons of Maharajas, Rajas and rich men. The Princes of Jamnagar, Kapurthala, Jind and Baroda had joined the same course. The non-princely types were cowed down by complexes in the face of ostentatious wealth enjoyed by the others. But Cariappa was unfazed and determined to beat everyone and take a lead.”
Under the British, Cariappa served in the Middle East, and Burma (now Myanmar). As a Brigadier in 1946, he joined the Imperial Defence College in the UK and was recalled from there to serve as a member of the Army Sub Committee of the Forces Reconstitution Committee during the Partition, as part of which he oversaw the task of dividing the military between India and Pakistan.
According to the National Army Museum, around 260,000 men, who were mostly Hindus and Sikhs, went to India, and over 140,000 men, who were mostly Muslim, went to Pakistan. Furthermore, the Brigade of Gurkhas, which was recruited in Nepal, was split between India and Britain.
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