KM Cariappa is a man known for many firsts, but most importantly, he is known as the man who took charge of the Indian Army from its last British Commander in Chief, General Sir Roy Bucher. Born on January 28, 1899, in Coorg, Cariappa completed his education at Central High School at Madikeri and went on to study at the Presidency College in Madras.
However, Cariappa began his Army stint under the British and was among the few selected for the first batch of KCIOs (King’s Commissioned Indian Officers) at the Daly Cadet College in Indore and was commissioned in the Carnatic Infantry. He was in active service with the 37 (Prince of Wales) Dogra in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and then posted to the 2nd Rajput Light Infantry (Queen Victoria’s Own). Cariappa went on to become the first Indian officer to undergo the course at Staff College, Quetta in 1933. In 1946, he got promoted as the Brigadier of the Frontier Brigade Group.
By Indian independence, Cariappa saw action in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Burma and became the first Indian Officer to be given command of a unit in 1942. He went on to receive many awards and accolades in his career spanning three decades. He received the prestigious order of the British Empire (OBE) for his role in the Burma against the Japanese during the Second World War.
In 1947, Cariappa became the first Indian to be selected to undergo a training course at Imperial Defence College, Camberly, UK. His role during the Partition is rarely mentioned, during which he oversaw the division of the Army. Cariappa also led the Indian forces on the Western Front during the Indo-Pak War of 1947 and successfully recaptured Zojila, Drass and Kargil and established a linkup with Leh.
On January 15, 1949, Cariappa became the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. He held the five-star rank of field marshal, the highest honour in the Indian Army, which Sam Manekshaw is the only other officer to have held. He was also awarded the ‘Order of the Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit’ by US President, Harry Truman
Even after his retirement from the Army in 1953, Cariappa was not finished yet and served as the High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand till 1956. He died in Bengaluru in 1993 at the age of 94.
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