By Sudhir K Arora
The Kumaon Regiment traces its origins to 1813 when Henry Russel (British Resident at the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court) raised two battalions of troops, adding on some older battalions of local rulers (the “Nizam’s Contingent”), to form “Russel’s Brigade”, later the “Hyderabad Contingent”.
The troops hailed from the United Provinces & Avadh. In October 1917, a battalion of Kumaoni troops was raised at Ranikhet (as the 4/39th Garhwal Rifles, to become 4/39th Kumaon Rifles a month later), finally becoming 1/50th Kumaon Rifles in April 1918, part of the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (the erstwhile ‘Hyderabad Contingent’). From 1923 onwards, the regiment comprised Kumaonis, Jats and Ahirs. On 27 October, 1945, it was redesignated the 19th Kumaon Regiment, the British giving in to persistent demands for re-naming. Post-Independence, it became ‘The Kumaon Regiment’. The regimental crest was appropriately the ‘demi-rampant lion’ from the Coat of Arms of Sir Henry Russell’s family.
In World War I, the Regiment’s battalions served in Mesopotamia, Persia, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine and East Africa. Two State Forces units– 4th Gwalior Battalion (later 14 Kumaon) and the Indore Infantry (later 15 Kumaon) –which joined the Regiment in 1953, also fought in The Great War.
In World War II, battalions of the Regiment were in the Middle East, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and the Arakan. Lt Col KS Thimayya distinguished himself in command of the 4th at Kangaw, being awarded the DSO and promoted to Brigadier. He was the only Indian to command an active brigade in WW II. (Lt Col SM Srinagesh, appointed Commanding Officer of the 6th in 1942, was the first Indian CO in the Regiment.) Both these distinguished officers rose to be Chiefs of Independent India’s Army. (Gen TN Raina was the third ‘Kumaoni’ to become Chief).
The training battalion based at Agra became the Training Centre in 1942, finally moving closer ‘home’ to picturesque Ranikhet in May 1948 as the Regimental Centre.
Operations in J&K (1947-48): 1 (Para) Kumaon formed part of the first Indian Army formation to move to J&K when the ‘raiders’ attacked, taking over defence of Srinagar airfield. The 4th Battalion began arriving on 31 Oct 1947, the first to land being Major Som Nath Sharma and his ‘A’ Company. (Though his left hand was in a plaster cast as he had injured himself in a hockey match, such was his spirit that he insisted on being with his men in action). Three days later, the gallant Maj Sharma and his men, along with a Company of the 1st, fought a horde of tribals at Badgam. Though hopelessly outnumbered, they greatly delayed the enemy advance and thus ensured the safety of the vital Srinagar airfield. Major Som Nath Sharma (less than 25 years old) was everywhere, inspiring his men to heroic action – fighting till the last. He was posthumously awarded India’s first Param Vir Chakra. (Fittingly, 4 Kumaon became the first recipient of the President’s Colours in independent India’s Army on 8 April, 1961, at Ranikhet.)
1 (Para) Kumaon played a stellar role during the epic siege of Poonch. The young CO, Lt Col Pritam Singh, MC, was promoted to Brigadier and assumed command of the besieged garrison. Poonch was saved only due to his sheer grit, tenacity and out-of-the box tactics. Sadly, when the siege was lifted after over a year of fighting and many decorated for bravery, Brig Pritam Singh, the real hero, was court martialled on flimsy charges and thrown out of the army! It seems he had rubbed some political and military powers-that-be the wrong way. The grateful citizens of Poonch revere him as their saviour and his statue stands proudly in the town square. (It is high time that this injustice was reversed and his honour restored, even if posthumously. India owes it to its heroes).
Sino-Indian Conflict 1962: ‘Delta’ Company, 6 Kumaon, saw bitter fighting in Walong (NEFA), among the only units to launch attacks on the Chinese. In one such action to prevent their brigade being outflanked, they fought to the last man and last round, finally overwhelmed by a Chinese counter-attack. As many as 119 brave Kumaonis were killed, the rest wounded or taken prisoner. In Ladakh, ‘Charlie’ Company, 13 Kumaon, under Major Shaitan Singh attained immortality in the icy heights of Rezang La. On 18 November, 1962, they were attacked by Chinese human waves. They stood firm, inflicting heavy casualties till the frustrated enemy brought massive artillery fire on the post. There was no surrender. Of the 124 bravehearts at Rezang La, 114 died fighting. In February 1963, they were “found in their trenches, frozen stiff, still holding their weapons”. Major Shaitan Singh, who had inspired his men to superhuman valour, was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. Every man who died at Rezang La will live on forever in the nation’s memory, their last stand ranking with Saragarhi.
1965 Indo-Pak War: 3 Kumaon (Rifles), the 4th, 8th (CO Lt Col MV Gore killed in action), 11th, 14th and 15th saw heavy fighting in the J&K sector. The 6th and the 9th fought in Punjab.
1971 War: Nine Kumaoni battalions served with distinction in the Eastern sector – 3 Kumaon (Rifles), the 4th, 9th, 12th, 14th and 17th. The Naga Regiment (affiliated with the Kumaon Regiment) was also blooded in the Eastern Theatre. In the West, the 5th, 6th and 7th fought in J&K/Punjab; the 13th and 15th in the Southern theatre.
In 1984, 4 Kumaon (with elements of Ladakh Scouts and 19 Kumaon), established the Indian Army’s presence in Siachen. Five battalions of the Regiment did tenures as part of the IPKF in Op Pawan (Sri Lanka). The 9th and the 15th were in Op Blue Star (1984), for which Maj Bhukant Misra and Nk Nirbhay Singh were awarded the Ashok Chakra, posthumously. The Regiment has seen extensive deployment in Counter-Insurgency Operations in the North-East and the Valley; Sub Sujjan Singh of 13 Kumaon being awarded the Ashok Chakra posthumously in 1994. Nk Rambeer Singh Tomar, 15 Kumaon/26 Rashtriya Rifles, won the fourth Ashok Chakra for the Regiment posthumously in 2001.
During ‘Op Vijay’ Kargil-1999, 1 Naga was amongst the first to be inducted into operations in Dras. It successfully took ‘Black Rock’ (Point 5140 complex), and ‘Pimple’ (renamed ‘Naga Hill’). 2 Naga took ‘Twin Bump’.
Uttarakhand is indeed not only ‘Devbhumi’ but also ‘Veerbhumi’ – it’s two large Infantry Regiments (The Kumaon Regiment and The Garhwal Rifles) comprising over 55 battalions have blazed trails of glory, ever ready to answer the call of the nation, over and beyond the call of duty.
(The author is a military historian, editor and publisher and has worked with several regiments in bringing out their histories. The views expressed are personal).