The Madras Regiment is one of the oldest infantry regiment of the Indian Army, originating in the 1750s. The regiment took part in numerous campaigns with both the British Indian Army and the post-independence Indian Army.
Regimental Centre: Wellington, Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Tamil Nadu
Motto: Swadharme Nidhanam Shreyaha (It is a glory to die, doing one’s duty)
Warcry: Veera Madrassi, Adi Kollu, Adi Kollu (Brave Madrassi, Strike and Kill, Strike and Kill!)
Regimental Insignia: An Assaye Elephant posed upon a shield with two crossed swords.
The Madras Regiment was initially formed as the Madras European Regiment in the 1660s by the East India Company as the second company established in India. However, it was formed as a battalion in 1748 under the command of Major Stringer Lawrence. The battalion was involved in all the battles against the French forces in India. Lawrence structured the regiment to include two battalions, one European and one Sepoy (Indian). Both battalions were similar in structure and included seven companies each, with each company including three officers in command and seventy privates. Also part of the companies were four sergeants and corporals and three drummers.
The oldest Battalion in the Madras Regiment (and the Indian Army) was the 9th Battalion, formerly known as the Nair Brigade (Nayar Pattalam, “Nair Army”). This militia was raised in 1704 at Padmanabhapuram as bodyguards for the Maharajah of Travancore and was active in the Battle of Colachel in defeating the Dutch forces. The army was made up of soldiers from Nair warrior clans, however, after the 1940s, non-Nairs were permitted to join. The “Nayar Army” became incorporated into the Indian Army on April 1951
In 1748 Major Stringer Lawrence, a veteran of action in Spain, Flanders, and the Highlands, was hired by the East India Company to take charge of the defense of Cuddalore. He laid the foundations of what was to become the Indian Army. Training the levies to become a militia, the Madras Levies were formed into “companies” and trained to become a disciplined and fine fighting force. In 1758 Lawrence raised the Madras Regiment, forming the several Companies of Madras Levies into two battalions. 2 Madras was raised in 1776 as the 15th Carnatic Infantry at Thanjavur. The regiment has been through many campaigns with both the British Indian Army and the Indian Army. Many well-known British officers have commanded this regiment, among them Robert Clive. This regiment fought in the Carnatic wars, which were fought in South India. The elephant crest symbolizes its gallantry in the Battle of Assaye under Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington.
Thereafter the British annexed the Indian sub-continent, largely with the help of the Madras Regiment sepoys. The coming of the British rule and merging the Presidency armies into a British Indian Army led the erstwhile regiments to be reorganized. After the conquest of India, the main perceived threat to the British was from Russia. So recruitment was re-oriented towards north Indians of Punjab and Nepal. This resulted in the British reducing the strength of the Madras Regiment since the southern borders were relatively peaceful. After many years, this regiment was re-raised with fresh recruits and a draft of troops from the Madras Sappers during World War II. The newly reborn Madras Regiment performed very creditably during the Burma Campaign
Remembering the soldiers at the Ichhogil Bund action in 1965.
The Indian armed forces are celebrating the golden jubilee of their victory in the 1965 war. This is an occasion to remember a memorable battle a battalion of the Madras Regiment fought and won during the closing hours of that war, 50 years ago to this month.
The Ichhogil Canal, or the Bambanwalla Ravi Bedian Link (BRBL) as Pakistan calls it, is a defense obstacle it built in the 1950s along the Indian border linking the Ravi in the north and the Sutlej in the south. Some 45 meters wide and 5 m deep with its western bank built higher, lined with bunkers overlooking the eastern bank, it was primarily designed to block an Indian advance on Lahore, barely 12 miles away.
In early September 1965, once India chose to go on the offensive and open new fronts to counter the Pakistani offensive in Jammu and Kashmir, the thrust of the Indian Army’s XI Corps towards Lahore was underway. By September 10, the troops and tanks had overrun the township of Barki, barely 500 m short of Ichhogil, around which the Pakistani defense of the canal was concentrated. Abandoning their positions, the Pakistanis withdrew into their bunkers on the western bank and blew up the bridge over the canal to check pursuit. However, during the ensuing melee, before the Indian troops could consolidate their hold on the east bank, they managed to reoccupy a part of the bund with a sizeable force. They hadn’t been dislodged till September 22 when the deadline was fixed for a ceasefire from the following day.
The 9th Battalion of the Madras Regiment forming part of 65 Infantry Brigade under 7 Infantry Division of the Corps, which had been with the advance guard of the formation before the assault on Barki, was then holding the firm base for attack by the other two battalions of the brigade, 4 Sikh and 16 Punjab. The battalion, which was short of one Rifle Company that had been diverted elsewhere, was ordered at short notice to attack and evict the enemy from the bund.
It was a tricky mission that required the unit to assault in waves of one company at a time from the flank. The enemy, two-company strong, was entrenched along the bund with fire support from their comrades across the canal barely 150 feet away. Nevertheless, the battalion, with an abundance of young Thambis — as southern soldiers are affectionately referred to within the Army — and equally young leadership, made short work of it with a lightning charge that bordered on the reckless. Guns and tanks backed them with steady covering fire to neutralize the enemy on the far bank. The enemy was virtually routed. A number of them jumped into the canal to escape the assault, while many were lifted and thrown in, if not shot down or bayoneted. It was all over in two hours and 30 minutes from the word go at 12–30 a.m. on September 23. By 3 a.m. the bund had been overrun. The enemy casualties were heavy: 48 dead and an estimated 80 washed away. Eleven, including an officer, were taken, prisoner. An enormous amount of arms and ammunition, including two anti-tank guns, was captured. Indian casualties were heavy too; 49 including a JCO killed, and 65, including an officer, wounded.
Night of heroism
It was a night of heroism, layered with glorious acts and poignant scenes. There were two jawans of the lead platoon, Narayanan and Bhaskaran, who volunteered to silence a machine gun and crawled forward in the darkness. The gun was silenced in 20 minutes, but in the heat of the battle no one noticed their absence. They were found later, sprawled dead in front of the pillbox that housed the weapon. Sepoys Mallappan and Ramachandran were found frozen to death in sitting posture manning their machine gun, one on the weapon, and the other belt-feeding.
The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel B.K. Sathyan, was up on the bund, cheering his men. The night air was rent by the battle cry of the Madrassis, adi, kollu, or, strike, kill. The medical truck plied up and down, picking up the casualties, with the popular Medical NCO, ‘Rasam’ Thankappan, at the wheel.
The 9th Madrassis call themselves the ‘Terrors’ — that’s just what the Pakistanis found them to be that night. And for the battalion, which traces its origins to the erstwhile Travancore State Forces, it was quite an Onam, the traditional Malayali festival that the men of the whole Madras Regiment celebrate with zest in August-September.
Exploits over centuries
The history of 9 Madras is as fascinating as its exploits on the battlefield for over three centuries. Raised in 1704 as the Nair Pattaalam — later Nair Brigade — by the sovereign of Venad (later Travancore), it is the oldest unit in the Indian Army. The Nair Brigade under King Marthanda Varma trounced the invading Dutch forces in a decisive battle on August 10, 1741 at Colachel, putting an end to their imperialistic dreams in India; it was the first-ever victory achieved by an Indian native force over the Europeans. A number of Dutch officers were taken prisoner, among them Eustace Benedict de Lannoy, who was later to train the Travancore Army on modern European lines.
This army defeated Tipu Sultan’s forces in the Battle of Nedumkotta in December 1789, a battle that stemmed from the Mysorean onslaught on Travancore. It left Tipu permanently lame. Though downsized and relegated to do police work following Travancore’s unsuccessful revolt against British domination in 1809 led by Velu Thampi Dalawa, it was later resurrected. In 1934 the Travancore State Force was formed by merging the Nair Brigade with the Maharaja’s Body Guard.
They saw action in Burma and West Asia during the Second World War under the British and were, after Independence, amalgamated with the Indian Army as the 9th and 16th Battalions of the Madras Regiment respectively. Both these battalions, now composed of troops from all over southern India, have fought with distinction in the wars Independent India fought. While 9 Madras crowned itself with glory at Ichhogil Bund in 1965, 16 Madras gave an equally brilliant account of itself in the Battle of Basantar in 1971.
The 1st Battalion (former 73rd Carnatic Infantry) became the 1st Battalion of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment.
Currently, the regiment has a strength of 21 battalions as follows:
2nd Battalion (old 75th Carnatic Infantry)
3rd Battalion (old 79th Carnatic Infantry)
4th Battalion (old 83rd Wallajahabad Light Infantry)
5th Battalion (Ferocious Five)
6th Battalion (old 2nd Btn/2nd Madras Native Infantry[disambiguation needed])
7th Battalion (old 28th Madras Native Infantry)
8th Battalion (Gallant Guerrillas)
9th Battalion (former 1st Travancore Nair Infantry, Princely State Forces)
10th Battalion melee
11th Battalion (old Territorial Battalion)
12th Battalion (old Territorial Battalion)
16th Battalion (former 2nd Travancore State Nair Infantry, Princely State Forces)
17th Battalion (former Cochin State Infantry, Princely State Forces)
18th Battalion (former 1st Mysore Wadiyar Infantry, Princely State Forces)
19th Battalion (former 2nd Mysore State Infantry, Princely State Forces)
20th Battalion (raised 2009)
21st Battalion (raised 2011)
25th Battalion (old garrison battalion)
26th Battalion (old garrison battalion)
27th Battalion (old garrison battalion)
28th Battalion (old coastal defense battalion)
Besides the 21 line battalions, the Madras Regiment has three Territorial Army battalions:
110th Infantry Battalion (TA) situated in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
122nd Infantry Battalion (TA) situated in Kannur, Kerala
172th Infantry Battalion (TA) situated in Campbell Bay, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
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