Indian Soldier- Always against the odds, Never one to give up

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Indian Soldier
Always against the odds, Never one to give up
October 24, 1746: A small army of one thousand men put together by the French East India Company, consisting of 300 Europeans and 700 Sepoys, the French-trained Indian soldiers, faced a massive Mughal Army of 10,000 across the Adyar estuary on the southeastern seaboard of India. In a feat of arms which has few parallels in history, the puny French force forded across the river braving artillery and trounced their opponents in a classical show of European musketry salvo; drawn up in three ranks and advancing while firing successive volleys of shot, before they pounced on the enemy with bayonets. The French had made a point; numbers didn’t matter, training and discipline did. This landmark event in Indian History was to conceptualize the greatest military enterprise the subcontinent has ever known – the creation of the Indian Army. The British, who were mere bystanders to the event, were to pick up the trend and raise the first of their Presidency Armies, the Madras Army and closely thereafter the other two, the Bengal and the Bombay ones; all of which were later, towards the end of the 19th Century, to be amalgamated to form the grand edifice that’s the Indian Army.

The grit shown by those doughty sepoys on that October morning so far back became the hallmark of Indian soldiers down the centuries as they battled on, winning one war after another through the jungles of Burma or on the shores of China, across the mountains of Northwest India in Afghanistan or in Persia or far away Abyssinia. And come the Great War the daredevilry of the Indian cavalry charges rejuvenated the rest of the allied troops reeling under the German onslaught. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Commander in Chief of the Allied forces in France during that war had this to say about the prowess of the Indian troops while addressing them at the end of the war:
“Return to your homes in the distant, sun-bathed East and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern land of France and Flanders, how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined enemy; tell all India that we shall watch over their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We shall cherish above all the memory of their example. They showed us the way; they made the first steps towards the final victory.”

They carried that tradition to the Second World War making their epic last stand at Kohima to defend India and later, in a reversal of roles, driving the Japanese all the way back to the sea. Kohima has since been recognized as one of the greatest battles of that war and a string of others that followed in the Burma campaign was no less fierce either.

Hardly had India gained independence when our troops were in action evicting the marauding tribesmen from Kashmir. 1962 saw the country and the army being surprised by the Chinese. Yet our soldiers didn’t fail though it was made to look that they lost a war which they weren’t actually given a chance to fight due to official bungling, making it ‘The War That Wasn’t’ as military historian, Shiv Kunal Verma, has aptly titled his recent book on it.
Pakistan played dirty in 1965 and bought itself a bloody nose as Indian tanks knocked at the gates of Lahore. That was the lesser of their woes as six years later, they committed hara-kiri trying to steamroll the Bengalis and ended up losing their eastern wing as the Indian Army swept through that part of Asia in a whirlwind operation to carve out a new nation, taking nearly a hundred thousand of them prisoner.

The gritty Indian soldier battled on fighting half a dozen insurgencies if there was no external threat and always coming to the rescue and relief of people as no others could whenever there was a natural or man-made disaster; even while rallying under the UN flag on strife-torn territories spread across the globe in peace keeping operations time and again that has seen India emerge as the largest contributor of peace keeping forces for the world body over the years.

And then in April 1984, to counter the treachery of an ever-troublesome western neighbour, the Indian soldiers occupied the highest battle stations any army has ever occupied in the history of warfare; two passes, Bilafond La and Sia La, at the formidable heights of 18000 and 20000 feet from sea level in the waste land of Siachen Glacier. These troops operating in a hostile terrain under sub-zero temperatures continue to persevere against all odds more than three decades on. The tales of their heroism are legion.

Then in 1987 the Indian Army was dragged into a wasteful war in Sri Lanka where a civil war was raging. Inducted as peace keepers to begin with and ending up fighting the rebels, it fought on bringing a semblance of peace, only to be withdrawn after two years for political reasons.

Wily Pakistan played its ace in the months preceding the summer of 1999 and sneaked in troops to occupy the heights of Kargil that overlooked the Indian supply route to Siachen, so as to choke it. They were in for a shock however, finding themselves under ferocious assaults by infantrymen scaling the heights in unparalleled daredevilry while the Indian guns pounded them mercilessly and the Indian Air Force played merry hell into them cutting off their logistics. Hammered and humiliated, Pakistan was reduced to begging the US to intervene so that they could at least extricate their dead and the dying trapped on those murderous peaks. They paid dearly for underestimating the will and determination of the Indian Soldier.

A force which fights to win, one which refuses to train its troops in operation withdrawal, Indian Army battles on, at least a one-third of it perpetually committed in active operations. It has been in the business of fighting right from the days of its inception as few other armies have been, the many battles its troops fought over the centuries the true testimony to its prowess. They have always been Better than The Best.

Capt. D P Ramachandran
Capt D P Ramachandran is a war veteran & military history enthusiast who writes about Indian Army’s battles of the past. He can be reached at captdpr@gmail.com
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