The First Ethnic Chief Of The Indian Army


Active member
Field Marshal
K.M. Cariappa
C-in-C, 15 Jan 1949 - 14 Jan 1953
Infantry, Rajput Regiment
Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was born on 28 January 1899 at Shanivarsanthe in erstwhile Coorg, which was centrally administered by the British. Cariappa, known as Chimma to his relatives, had his formal education in the Central High School at Madikeri, after which he pursued his college education at Presidency College, Madras.
At the Presidency College, Cariappa grew up equally attached to books and plays under the guidance of renowned academicians. He was an active sportsman and played with vigour and brilliance, games like hockey and tennis. In addition to this, he loved music and had fondness for a sleight of hand tricks.
When World War I had concluded in 1918, Indian politicians of the time raised a demand to sanction Indians to the King's Commission. After strict screening, Cariappa was one among the privileged ones who was selected for the first batch, which underwent rigorous pre-commission. He joined the first batch of KCIOs (King's Commissioned Indian Officers) at Daly Cadet College at Indore and was commissioned in Carnatic Infantry at Bombay.
Cariappa saw active service with the 37 (Prince of Wales) Dogra in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and was later posted to the 2nd Rajput Light Infantry (Queen Victoria's Own) which became his permanent regimental home. He was the first Indian officer to undergo the course at Staff College, Quetta in 1933. In 1946, he was promoted as the Brigadier of the Frontier Brigade Group. It was during this time that Colonel Ayub Khan - later Field Marshal and President of Pakistan, 1962-1969 - served under him.
Cariappa served in Iraq, Syria and Iran from 1941-1942 and then in Burma in 1943-1944. He spent many of his soldiering years in Wagiristan. He earned his Mentioned-in-Despatches' as DAA and QMG of General (later Field Marshal) Slim's 10th Division. He was the first Indian Officer to be given command of a unit in 1942. After command he volunteered to serve in 26 Division engaged in clearing the Japanese from Burma, where he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
In 1947, Cariappa was the first Indian who was selected to undergo a training course at Imperial Defence College, Camberly, UK on the higher directions of war. During the traumatic period of partition, he handled the division of the Indian Army and sharing of its assets between Pakistan and India, in a most amicable, just and orderly manner. He was then the Indian officer in-charge to oversee the transition.
Post-Independence, Cariappa was appointed as the Deputy Chief of General Staff with the rank of Major General. On promotion to Lieutenant General he became the Eastern Army Commander. On outbreak of war with Pakistan in 1947, he was moved as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command and directed operations for the recapture of Zojila, Dras and Kargil and re-established a linkup with Leh. In all this, he showed tremendous energy in moving troops, against heavy odds and finally ensuring success.
On being appointed as the first Commander-in-Chief of an independent Indian Army on 15 January 1949, he was instrumental in;
Integration of troops and turning an imperial army into a national army.
Raised the Brigade of the Guards and the Parachute Regiments on an all-India caste composition.
Raised the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and Territorial Army (TA) using troops from the Regular Army.
His career in the Army during which he had the rare distinction of being first in many spheres is a continuous tale of upward progress;
The first Indian to be commissioned at the age of 19.
The first Indian cadet to be commissioned from Daly Cadet College, Indore.
The first Indian Brigadier.
The first Indian to enter Imperial Defence College in England.
The first Indian Officer to enter Staff College, Quetta.
The first Indian Major General in 1947.
The first Indian Chief of Staff.
Cariappa held no truck on commission in the Indian Army and in picturesque, forthright language remarked after the partition, "I don't care a damn if a man is a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi or Christian as long as he plays the game to serve our country well. This is all that matters to me." His association with the Indian Army is spread over an unbroken period of more than 29 years, during which he had wide experience of staff and command work. After his retirement from Indian Army in 1953, he served as the High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand till 1956.
Cariappa settled down amidst greenery and nature, in his own Roshanara at Madikeri after his retirement from public service. He loved the environment and the flora & fauna around him. He lived a life of simplicity and dignity, which was the hallmark of a man. He spent a lot of his leisure time educating people about cleanliness, pollution control and other essential issues. During the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars, he visited the front lines to talk to the troops and keep their morale up. Every Jawan of the Indian Army is inspired by his words. He always said, "An officer is nothing without the soldiers." He gave the following credo to the Indian officers, which remains even now the guiding spirit.
Apart from being a military man, Cariappa had insight about the status of the country. He is quoted as saying, "In modern warfare, a large army is not sufficient, it needs industrial potential behind it. If the army is the first line of defence, the industry is the second." Cariappa had even said that "soldiers know the facility of wars to solve the internal problems. We ought to be ashamed that today they had more peace in war than peace in peace." Such insight has placed him above many in this field. "Army is there to serve the Government of the day, and we should make sure that it does not get mixed up with party politics. A soldier is above politics and should not believe in caste or creed," was another insight of this soldier.
He was affectionately known as Kipper and as the story goes, a British officer's wife found it difficult to pronounce Cariappa and shortened it to a convenient Kipper. The name stuck. In the years that followed, his colleagues, and others who knew him well, continued to call him Kipper. He lived and remained, as he said, "an Indian and to the last breath would remain an Indian. To me there is only two Sthans - Hindusthan (India) and Foujisthan (the Army)." Cariappa had great concern for the nation and saw himself as an Indian first and only then as an officer of high rank, which is one of the reasons why he is still held in high esteem by his fellow men in his native Coorg and the rest of the country. If there is one man whom the Kodavas can identify with reverence and respect it is undoubtedly Cariappa.
Cariappa took active part in the reorganization of armed forces in many foreign countries. He was a much traveled man and visited parts of China, Japan, United States, Great Britain, Canada and most of the European countries. He was conferred with 'Order of the Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit' by US President, Harry S. Truman. As a token of gratitude of the nation for the exemplary service rendered by him, the Government of India conferred the rank of Field Marshal on Cariappa in 1983.
Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa is an unforgettable name in the history of Indian Army. Old soldiers never die, they just fade away and he has proved this proverb. He has been a legend in his lifetime and he has left an indelible impression that would inspire the people of India, for a long time to come. He breathed his last at Bangalore at a ripe age of 94, on 15 May 1993. The legendary hero of this great country who professed duty, discipline and loyalty to the nation is now history.