COMMAND - OLDEST FIELD FORMATION OF INDIAN ARMY

 

Introduction

 

1.         The Southern Command officially came into existence on 01 Apr 1895. However, the saga began on 31 December 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to “The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies”. They obtained a “farman” from Emperor Jahangir to establish a factory at Surat in 1613. This Company came to be known as the East India Company. Through trade, the fortunes of the Company grew and their ambitions increased.

 

2.         In 1661, the East India Company acquired the Island of Bombay for the princely annual rental of £10. This Island, ceded by Portugal to England as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry, became the headquarters of the Bombay Presidency. Being firmly ensconced, the East India Company slowly expanded its presence to the hinterland through gradual conquests. The turning point was their victory over Baji Rao II, the last of the Peshwas, in the Battle of Kirkee, on 5 November 1817. This allowed them a foothold in Poona.

 

Establishment of Poona & Kirkee Cantonments

 

3.         As British influence extended into the Deccan, there arose a need for a greater military presence. The British already had a small encampment west of the Mutha River, in an area called Garpir, in Kirkee (now Khadki) where they had initially established themselves. However this did not cover the approaches to Poona from the north or east. As more troops were required to be billeted, a larger area was occupied east of the Mutha River, leading to the establishment of Poona Cantonment in 1819.

 

4.         In 1835 Poona was declared the monsoon capital of the Bombay government. Over time, it became one of the strongest military stations of the British in the Peninsula. With the establishment of a Cantonment alongside the City of Poona, a dual identity was forged based on the moorings of tradition and modernity. Today, Pune and Khadki Cantonments have imperceptibly merged into the greater metropolis of Pune.

 

5.         The Military Structure.  With the British government assuming direct control after 1857, a more formalized structure of the armies was put in place. In 1879, the Presidency Army System was integrated into a Unified Army of four commands under one Commander-in-Chief. The Presidency armies were abolished with effect from 01 April 1895 by a notification of the Government of India through Army Department Order Number 981 dated 26 October 1894, unifying the three Presidency armies into a single Indian Army.

 

This Order further divided the Army into four Commands, each under a Lt Gen, as follows:-

(a)       Bengal (Assam, Bengal, UP, and parts of Central Provinces).

(b)       Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden) headquartered at Poona.

(c)        Madras (including Burma).

(d)       Punjab (including North West Frontier and Punjab Frontier Force).

 

6.         In 1908, the four Commands were done away with and replaced by two Armies. The Northern Army with five Divs was located at Rawalpindi; the Southern Army, with its five Divs and a Bde located at Poona. The original system of four commands was once again reverted to in 1922 as under:-

 

(a)       Northern Command – Rawalpindi.

 

(b)       Eastern Command – Nainital.

 

(c)        Western Independent District – Quetta (with the status of a Command).


(d)       Southern Command – Poona.

 

7.         Period From 1920-1947.     The first major operational challenge arose during the Second World War when it was anticipated that Japan or Germany could mount a seaward assault on India. In April 1942, Southern Command was re-designated as the Southern Army and first time, its HQ shifted to Bangalore to accommodate the GHQ from Delhi to Poona, if the need arose. During the War the primary role of Southern Command was to defend the ports and connected airfields of Madras, Vishakhapatnam, Cochin and Bombay. Assigned the operational role of defending Southern India from invasions and Sea borne raids, it was given an additional task of preparing certain bases, ports and communications for launching an offensive when required.

 

8.         Southern Command did not actively engage in any operations during the Second World War, however, it remained a major training theatre for operations in Burma.

 

Post Independence

 

9.         Post-Independence, the Army was divided into regional commands. Southern Command was the senior-most and was given the charge of defending the territory in the Southern theatre, as also providing aid to civil authority, whenever requested. As brought out, at the time of Independence, Southern Command had primarily a training, administrative and support role. Geographically, it was the largest Command (covering most of peninsular India). The first Indian General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Command   was Lt Gen KS Rajendrasinhji, who was the senior-most officer after Gen (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa, the Chief of the Army Staff and succeeded him as the second Chief.

 

10.       Baptism by Fire.  In the pre-independence era, Indian units and formations were organized for operations against both irregular levies inland as well as for actions overseas. The International Border was with Afghanistan thus Southern Command was not actively involved with defence of borders. Events that unfurled in the aftermath of the Partition changed all that. Southern Command was now actively engaged in safeguarding national territory and bringing recalcitrant states to heel in the process of national consolidation. It was largely responsible for Junagadh and Hyderabad signing the Instrument of Accession to India. This ‘Nation Building’ process carried on till 1961, when operations for the liberation of Goa were conducted by an Infantry Division, under the operational control of Southern Command.

 

11.       The first serious action along the Western border came about in the 1965 War with Pakistan in the Kutch Sector. In January 1965, fighting broke out in the Rann of Kutch, a sparsely inhabited region, when the Pakistani forces began using tracks inside Indian Territory. An Inf Bde was moved in and kept as reserve. In April 1965, Pakistani troops attacked Indian positions in the Rann of Kutch. A hastily constituted force, named Kilo Force under Maj Gen PO Dunn comprising two Inf Bdes was formed to contain this attack. It was in the wake of these operations that the necessity of field formations under Southern Command gained impetus.  Later the Kilo Force was re-designated as Infantry Division.

 

12.       In September 1965, the operational responsibility for the Barmer sector was given to Southern Command and entrusted to an Inf Div.

 

13.       Delhi and Rajasthan Area, with its Advance Headquarters at Jodhpur, participated in the 1965 war under the Western Command. On 03 November 1966, this Formation was designated as 12 Inf Div, under Maj Gen JFR Jacob and was placed under Southern Command.

 

14.       Indo–Pak War 1971: The Defining Moment. The defining moment came in 1971 when Southern Command was deployed in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Kutch. Here, its formations together with the IAF were engaged in a tenacious defence at Laungewala which thwarted the Pakistan offensive in the 12 Div Sector. There was an equally audacious offensive by 11 Inf Div to capture Khokhropar and Gadra City. Southern Command, for the first time, executed large-scale desert operations and captured over 9,000 square kilometres of enemy territory in the Barmer Sector. This was the largest area captured in the Western Theatre.

 

15.       Formation of the Desert Corps. With two combat Divs on the Order of Battle of Southern Command and the increasing operational importance of the Desert Sector, a Corps HQ was sanctioned in January 1987. HQ 12 Corps, also known as the Desert Corps was raised at Jodhpur under Lt Gen A K Chatterjee in February 1987.

 

16.       Southern Command Today.      Today, the Southern Command comprises of two Corps with their Headquarters, located at Jodhpur and Bhopal. Amongst the static formations are the Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa Area, with its HQ at Mumbai and the Dakshin Bharat Area with its HQ at Chennai.  Southern Command encompasses eleven States and four Union Territories covering nearly 41 percent of the country’s landmass. Its formations, establishments and units are spread over 19 cantonments and 36 military stations.

 

Aid to Civil Authorities

 

17.       The Command has been actively involved in aid to civil authority during major calamities and natural disasters in its area of responsibility which includes providing assistance & relief during Earthquake in Koyna near Satara (Maharashtra) in 1960, Khadakwasla dam burst in 1961, Earthquakes at Latur in 1993 and Bhuj in 2001, the Tsunami of 2004, Flood rescue and relief operations on a number of occasions.  Some of the natural disasters in the recent years where troops of Southern Command played a prominent role include Chennai floods - 2015, Gujarat & Rajasthan floods - 2017 and floods in Kerala - 2018.

 

Conclusion

 

18.       In the post Independence era, Southern Command carved its own identity and redefined its roles and aspirations. It is the only Command to have been engaged in overseas operations, it has participated extensively with other armies in exercises while also performing yeoman service in disaster relief, both within its confines and beyond the nation’s borders. With its strong foundation of two centuries of growth, it has consolidated and built itself into a formidable field army - one of the finest in the world. Having proved itself repeatedly in battle, Southern Command stands poised in the new millennia, geared up to undertake even more diverse roles - both operational and humanitarian.