MC (3 April 1914 – 27 June 2008), popularly known as Sam Bahadur (“Sam the Brave”), was an Indian military leader who was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the five-star rank of field marshal. His distinguished military career spanned four decades and five wars, beginning with service in the British Indian Army in World War II. Manekshaw rose to become the 8th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army in 1969 and under his command, Indian forces conducted victorious campaigns against Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that led to the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971.
Education and early life
Manekshaw was born in Amritsar to Parsi parents, Hormusji Manekshaw, a doctor, and his wife Heerabai, who moved to Punjab from the small town of Valsad on the Gujarat coast. After completing his schooling in Punjab and Sherwood College, Nainital, and achieving a distinction in the School Certificate examination of the Cambridge Board at the age of 15, he asked his father to let him to become a soldier.
When his father refused to send him until he was older, in an act of rebellion, Manekshaw took the entrance examination for enrolment into the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun. He was successful and as a result became part of the first intake of 40 cadets on 1 October 1932. He graduated from the IMA on 4 February 1934 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British Indian Army (which later became the Indian Army after Independence)
Manekshaw’s military career spanned four decades, from the British era and World War II, to the three wars against Pakistan and China after India’s independence in 1947. He held several regimental, staff and command assignments. Manekshaw went on to become the 8th chief of the army staff, led the Indian Army successfully in a war with Pakistan and become India’s first field marshal. On commissioning, as per the practices of that time, Manekshaw was first attached to the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Scots, a British battalion, and then later posted to the 4th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment, commonly known as the 54th Sikhs.
World War II
World War II, the then-Captain Manekshaw saw action in Burma in the 1942 campaign on the Sittang River with the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment, and had the rare distinction of being honoured for his bravery on the battlefield. Fearing that Manekshaw would die, the general pinned his own Military Cross ribbon to Manekshaw saying, “A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.” The official recommendation for the MC states that the success of the attack “was largely due to the excellent leadership and bearing of Captain Manekshaw”. This award was made official with the publication of the notification in a supplement to the London Gazette on 21 April 1942 (dated 23 April 1942).
Manekshaw was evacuated to Rangoon and on arrival was close to death, having been hit by seven bullets in his lungs, liver and kidneys. It was Sher Singh, his orderly, who evacuated him from the battlefield. Having recovered from his wounds, Manekshaw attended the 8th Staff Course at Command and Staff College, Quetta, from 23 August to 22 December 1943. He was then posted as the brigade major of the Razmak Brigade, serving in that post until 22 October 1944 when he was sent to join the 9th Battalion, 12 Frontier Force Regiment in Burma, as part of General William Slim’s 14th Army. he helped repatriate over 10,000 former prisoners of war (POWs). He then went on a six-month lecture tour to Australia in 1946, and after his return was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, serving as a first grade staff officer in the Military Operations Directorate.
Upon the Partition of India in 1947, his parent unit – 12th Frontier Force Regiment – became part of the Pakistan Army (rechristened Frontier Force Regiment), and so Manekshaw was reassigned to the 16th Punjab Regiment, before being posted to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Gorkha Rifles, which he was detailed to command.
While handling the issues relating to Partition in 1947, Manekshaw demonstrated his acumen for planning and administration, and later was able put his battle skills to use during operations in Jammu & Kashmir in 1947–48. After commanding an infantry brigade, he was posted to the Infantry School at Mhow as the school’s commandant and also became the colonel of 8 Gorkha Rifles (which became his new regiment, since his original parent regiment, the 12th Frontier Force Regiment, had become part of the new Pakistan Army at partition) and 61st Cavalry. Manekshaw then commanded a division in Jammu and Kashmir. A stint at the Defence Services Staff College followed where he served as the commandant. It was here that his outspoken frankness got him into trouble with the then Defence Minister, V. K. Krishna Menon. A court of inquiry was ordered against him. The court, presided over by the then-Western Army Commander, Lieutenant General Daulet Singh, exonerated Manekshaw. Before a formal ‘no case’ could be announced, war with China broke out. Manekshaw was then promoted to lieutenant general and moved to Tezpur to take over IV Corps as its GOC.
A year later, Manekshaw was promoted as army commander and took over the Western Command. In 1964, He moved from Shimla to Calcutta as the GOC-in-C of the Eastern Army. As GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, he successfully responded to an insurgency in Nagaland for which he was later awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1968.
Army chief: Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
On 7 June 1969, Manekshaw became the 8th chief of army staff when he succeeded General P P Kumaramangalam. As chief of the army staff, he rendered yeoman service to the nation by forging the Indian Army into an efficient instrument of war. His years of military experience were soon put to the test as India decided to help the Mukti Bahini rebels against West Pakistani forces.
Towards the end of April 1971, Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister of India at that time, asked Manekshaw if he was ready to go to war with Pakistan. Manekshaw refused, saying that his single armoured division and two infantry divisions were deployed elsewhere, that only 13 of his 189 tanks were fit to fight, and that they would be competing for rail carriage with the grain harvest at that point of time. When the Indian Army finally went to war in December that year, under Manekshaw’s leadership, it proved victorious against the Pakistan Army. The war, lasting under a fortnight, saw more than 45,000 Pakistani soldiers personnel taken as prisoners of war, and it ended with the unconditional surrender of Pakistan’s eastern half, resulting in the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation.
When the Prime minister asked him to go to Dhaka and accept the surrender of Pakistani forces, Manekshaw declined, magnanimously saying that the honour should go to his army commander in the East, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora.
Honours and post-retirement
For his distinguished service to the country, the President of India awarded Manekshaw a Padma Vibhushan in 1972 and conferred upon him the rank of field marshal, a first, on 1 January 1973. He became one of the only two Indian Army generals to be awarded this prestigious rank; the other being Kodandera Madappa Cariappa who was awarded in 1986. Manekshaw retired from active service a fortnight later on 15 January 1973 after a career of nearly four decades, and settled down with his wife Silloo in Coonoor, the civilian town next to Wellington Military Cantonment where he had served as commandant of the Defence Services Staff College, at an earlier time in his career. Popular with Gurkha soldiers, Nepal fêted Manekshaw as an honorary general of the Nepalese Army in 1972.
In May 2007, Gohar Ayub, son of Pakistani Field Marshal Ayub Khan, claimed that Manekshaw had sold Indian Army secrets to Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 for 20,000 rupees, but his accusations were dismissed by the Indian defence establishment.
Following his service in the Indian Army, Manekshaw successfully served as an independent director on the board of several companies, and in a few cases, as the chairman. He was outspoken and hardly politically correct, and when once he was replaced on the board of a company by a man named Naik at the behest of the government, Manekshaw quipped, “This is the first time in history when a Naik (corporal) has replaced a field marshal.”
On the military knowledge of politicians: “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter
On being placed in command of the retreating IV Corps during the Sino-Indian War of 1962: “There will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.”
About the Gurkha: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.”
You received three at this age; when I was of your age, I received nine bullets and look—today, I am the commander in chief of the Indian Army.” – During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War when he met an injured soldier in army hospital with three bullet wound