The Kumaon Regiment is the most decorated regiment of the Indian Army. The regiment traces its origins to the 18th century and has fought in every major campaign of the British Indian Army and the Indian Army, including the two world wars. Kumaon gets its recruits from Kumaonis of Kumaon division and Ahirs from the plains.
Martial History of Kumaonis
Kumaonis have been famous for their valour, their legendary courage and their indomitable honour. The Kumaonis were never fully subjugated by the powerful Muslim dynasties of Delhi. They often offered their martial services as mercenaries, and fought on both the British as well as Gurkha sides in the Anglo-Nepalese War. Their valour was recognized by the British and they were enlisted in the British Army. Interestingly, the famous 3rd Gurkha regiment was known as the Keemaon battalion when it was formed and included Kumaonis along with the Gurkhas. They were classified as a Martial Race by the British. The achievements of the regiment are a living testimony of their martial traditions.
The Kumaonis were in the military of the East India Company from the early 19th century. They often moved to other states in search of military service, including in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
The Nizam's Contingent was formed when Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, became Governor-General of India and formed a plan to rid India of French influence. His first action, on arriving in India in 1798, was to effect the disbandment of the Indian units of the Nizam under the command of Monsieur Raymond and officered by non-British Europeans. These soldiers were formed into the British officered Nizam's Contingent that fought at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799 against Tippu Sultan in the final battle of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War.
In 1813, Sir Henry Russell, then British Resident in the court of Nizam of Hyderabad, raised the Russell Brigade comprising two battalions. Later, four more battalions were raised and they were known as the Berar Infantry. In addition, two battalions known as the Elichpur Brigade, were raised by Nawab Salabat Khan, Subedar of Berar, as a part of the Nizam's forces. The men of the Russell Brigade were chiefly Hindus, recruited from Oudh and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
By 1853, at the time of the signing of a treaty between the Nizam and the British, the Nizam's forces consisted of 8 battalions. The force was renamed as the Hyderabad Contingent, and became part of the British Indian Army.
During World War I, a Kumaon Battalion was raised at Ranikhet on 23 October 1917 as 4/39th Kumaon Rifles. In 1918, it was redesignated as 1st battalion, 50th Kumaon Rifles and a second battalion was raised. These were merged with the Hyderabad Contingent into the 19th Hyderabad Regiment in 1923. Some units of the regiment were demobilized after World War I, but the regiment was again expanded during World War II.
On 27 October 1945, the 19th Hyderabad was renamed as 19 Kumaon Regiment. Post-independence, it has been known as the Kumaon Regiment.
World War I
During World War I, the first all Kumaoni battalions were raised. The first was formed in 1917 as the 4/39th (Kumaon) Royal Garhwal Rifles and redesignated in 1918 as the 1st Battalion, 50th Kumaon Rifles when it fought in the Battle of Megiddo (1918). A 2nd Battalion was also raised in 1918 but disbanded in 1923. The Hyderabad Contingent, with its mixed Kumaoni, Jats, Ahirs and Deccan Muslims, continued and fought with distinction in the Great War. In 1922, during the Indian Army reorganisation, the six regiments of the Hyderabad Contingent were renamed as the 19th Hyderabad Regiment and infantry companies formed from the Kumaon region replaced many of the Deccan Muslim based companies. In 1923 the 1/50th Kumaon Rifles joined the 19th Hyderabad Regiment as the 1st Kumaon Rifles. In 1935 the battalion commanders attempted to have the regiment renamed as the 19th Kumaon Regiment, due to the diminishing links to the Deccan and Hyderabad regions. The request was refused.
World War II
The 19th Hyderabad Regiment in 1939 consisted of four regular battalions; the 1st (Russell's), 2nd (Berar), 4th and The Kumaon Rifles. The Hyderabads expanded during the war adding another eight battalions to the 19th Hyderabad Regiment. Two more battalions, the 1st and 2nd Hyderabad Infantry, were raised as part of the Indian State Forces. The battalions of the 19th Hyderabad Regiment fought in the Middle East, North African Campaign, Persia, Battle of Malaya, Battle of Singapore and Burma Campaign.
The Kumaon Rifles were based in Hong Kong at the beginning of the Second World War but were transferred to the Middle East as part of the 24th Indian Infantry Brigade. The battalion took part in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in 1941 under Major-General William Slim. They remained in Persia as part of the garrison throughout the rest of the war.
The 4th Battalion was part of the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade based in Malaya when the Japanese Army invaded in December 1941. The 4/19th Hyderabads were one of the few battalions in Malaya that were relatively well trained in jungle warfare. Although the battalion performed well in the fighting retreat in north-west Malaya, they were practically annihilated at the disastrous Battle of Slim River on 7 January 1942. The few survivors of the 4th Battalion were withdrawn to Singapore where they took part in the brief defence of the island before it surrendered on 15 February 1942.
Battle of Walong
This was the only battle of the war in which an Indian unit attacked the Chinese, rather than defending. On 14 November 1962, 6 Kumaon single-handedly attacked and captured Chinese defenses in the Walong sector, Arunachal Pradesh without any artillery or aerial support.
The Chinese retaliated with wave after wave of human bodies and artillery. The Kumaonis were vastly outnumbered by over 10 to 1, but held the ground and repulsed every attack until all their ammunition was exhausted, without any logistical support. They then engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and fought to the last man and bullet. Five times as many Chinese soldiers died in the battle. The Chinese succeeded in retaking the defences when there was no Kumaoni left standing.
Five Vir Chakras were awarded to 6 Kumaon soldiers for the battle; the Battalion celebrates 14 November as Walong Day.
Battle of Rezang La
The 13 Kumaon, an all-Ahir company of the regiment, made a last stand at the Rezang La pass on 18 November 1962 during the Sino-Indian War in 1962. It was led by Major Shaitan Singh.
The area assigned to 13 Kumaon was defended by three platoon positions, but the surrounding terrain isolated 13 Kumaon from the rest of the Regiment. The Indian artillery was located behind a hill feature, and could not train its guns on the target. Therefore, the Indian infantry had to fight the battle without the protective comfort of the artillery. The Chinese suffered no such disadvantage and brought on heavy artillery fire on the 13 Kumaon’s Charlie Company.
The Chinese attack, which was expected, came through a dry river bed. It was repulsed with heavy machine gun fire by the Indian soldiers. The Chinese regrouped and attacked persistently with more reinforcements. Major Shaitan Singh, the Company Commander, went from post to post raising the morale of his men and continued to fight even after being seriously wounded. The Chinese ultimately defeated the Indian side. 114 Indian soldiers out of a total of 123 were killed. A memorial in Rewari, where many of the Ahir soldiers came from, claims that 1300 Chinese soldiers were killed in the battle.
Major Shaitan Singh posthumously won the Param Vir Chakra for his actions; this was the second instance of a Kumaon Regiment soldier winning this award (the first being Major Som Nath Sharma). Other soldiers defending Rezang La who were awarded Veer Chakras were Naik Hukum Chand (posthumous), Naik Gulab Singh Yadav, Lance Naik Ram Singh (posthumous), Subedar Ram Kumar and Subedar Ram Chander.
Battle of Kumaon Hill
Two companies of Kumaon captured Kumaon Hill after ousting companies of 23 Azad Kashmir Battalion and the Special Service Group from the heights on 21 September. Captain Surendra Shah and Naik Chander Singh were awarded the Vir Chakra for the battle.
Battle of Maharajke
On 7 September 1965 a Kumaon battalion attacked and captured a Pakistan Army stronghold in village Pagowal, 13 miles inside West Pakistan. On 7 September, 9 KUMAON, under the command Capt V K Bogra further advanced and captured Maharajke. Naik Ganesh Dutt of the 9 Kumaon was awarded the Vir Chakra for his role in capturing Maharjke against Pakistani defenses.
Battle of Chhamb
To preempt Pakistani attacks into India, a Kumaon battalion was advanced into the Mandiala Heights in West Pakistan at the end of August 1965. Before they had the chance to set up any defenses, the Pakistan Army began a major offensive in the Chhamb sector during the early hours of 1 September, accompanied by massive artillery shelling targeting the Kumaon battalion's positions. There followed an armored thrust by two Pakistani armored divisions. Faced with enemy advancing from 3 sides, the battalion held off for a day and a half. On 2 September, the battalion was ordered to withdraw after they had destroyed four Pakistani tanks. One Vir Chakra was awarded for the action.
Indo-Pakistan War of 1971
Kumaon battalions were deployed and fought on both the Eastern and the Western fronts during the war.
The Indian Army's initiative to hold the Siachen Glacier consisted of units of the Kumaon Regiment and the Ladakh Scouts. It was led by Major R.S. Sandhu, who was awarded the Vir Chakra for his leadership. Captain Sanjay Kulkarni's unit was the first to land on Bilafond La and hoist the Indian tricolour. Kumaon units were instrumental in Indian success in capturing the glacier and repelling Pakistani attempts to retake it.
Anticipating a Pakistani attack on the glacier at the start of the spring thaw in 1984, a full Kumaon battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) D.K. Khanna, marched on foot with full packs and equipment for weeks in the dead of the winter across Zoji La, through the world's toughest terrain, highest altitudes and most forbidding climate. Naik (later Subedar/Honorary Captain) Ram Mehar Singh was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for his gallant role during the move. This turned out to be a vital move that enabled Indian victory in Operation Meghdoot.
Kumaon units were deployed to Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan. A Kumaon battalion was the first Indian Army unit to land in Jaffna at the Palali airfield. It successfully cleared the Kokuvil area, and moving to Mallakam. A number of LTTE militants were killed or captured.
Another battalion was deployed to search and destroy LTTE camps in the Kumurupiddi and Irrakandi areas of the Trincomalee Sector. Among the areas in which Kumaon units were deployed and operated included Kilividdi of Muttur Sector, Sampur, Vellvutturai and Point Pedro.
Kumaon units were deployed during Operation Vijay to oust Pakistani Army regulars who had infiltrated the Kargil sector posing as insurgents. In difficult terrain and hostile weather conditions, they cleared and captured a number of altitude features. The regiment was honored with a number of gallantry awards for the operations.
The Kumaon regiment also has affiliated to it three battalions of the Naga Regiment and two Territorial Army units (the 111th Inf. Bn. & 130th Inf. Bn.) ; a Naval Ship & an Air Force Squadron. Furthermore, the following regiments were also associated with this regiment at one time: