BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 3(1) July-August 2000

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The Brigade of The Guards

Pahla Hamesha Pahla

PVS Jagan Mohan


Prior to Independence, almost all of the infantry regiments of the British Indian Army were raised on a class system. The regimental system as it was known came into implementation in 1921 after World War I and it continued in its unchanged form till 1949. Whereas the support arms like the Army Service Corps (ASC), the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC), etc. have no specific class composition and were mixed units, the infantry regiments were strictly class units.

Some infantry regiments recruited only one class - like the Sikh Regiment or the Sikh LI. While other regiments  operated on the class-company basis. Where a unit at battalion level would have mixed companies, i.e. each company of a different class. Like the Kumaon Regiment which in a battalion used to have a Kumaoni company, a Ahir Company, a Jat Company, etc. Even traditional "Muslim" regiments like the Frontier Force Regiment or the Baluch Regiment had mixed companies, in which invariably two companies would be of the native class and the remaining two would either be Rajput or Jat or any other North Indian class. This class company system was initiated by the British primarily to avoid a repetition of the 1857 uprising.

While the class based system of organising infantry has its advantage of building better camaraderie, espirte-de-corps and reducing the officer workload, there was always a danger of communalism raising its ugly head. There was no guarantee that a regiment of a particular class would remain loyal when they come under external influence of their community or class and as Major K.C. Praval recounts, "Sticking to the class based system was tying down a modern army to medieval concepts of loyalty to caste and religion".

It was in this background that The Brigade of The Guards was raised in 1949.  The Guards, as they came to be known, was open to recruiting personnel from all backgrounds and classes. Its battalions were of mixed composition right down to the section level. The credit for raising The Brigade of The Guards should go to one man, Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa. In his earlier days as subaltern, Cariappa spent his time with the 2nd Coldstream Guards in England, and was impressed with the concept of the Guards with their handpicked officers and men.

After becoming the Indian Army Chief in 1949, Cariappa put forward the proposal to raise 'The Brigade of The Guards' on a mixed class basis, and was granted the permission by the government. And thus 'The Brigade of The Guards' was raised in August 1949. To form the regiment, Cariappa bought together four of the senior most battalions of the Indian Army, 2 Punjab (Now 1 Guards), 1 Grenadiers (Now 2 Guards),  1 Rajputana Rifles  (Now 3 Guards) and 1 Rajput (Now 4 Guards).

All the battalions had earned laurels in World War 2. The 1st Battalion, the Rajput Regiment also known as "Queen Victoria's Own", had chalked out its name in the recently concluded Kashmir fighting, where a company under Lt. K.S. Rathore had beated back attack after attack by the enemy at a hill called Tain Dhar, north of the town of Naushera in Jammu. It was in the action at Tain Dhar that Naik Jadunath Singh laid down his life defending his post. In that battle, one of the non-combatants, a sweeper, performed a remarkable act of courage when he picked up a rifle from his fallen comrades and fired away at the enemy. When the ammunition ran out, he picked up a sword from a fallen tribesman and killed three more of the enemy. 1 Rajput later took part in the relief of Jhangar and Rajauri. After the war, its contribution was recognised by the award of the Param Vir Chakra to Naik Jadunath Singh, and the Maha Vir Chakra to Lt. K.S. Rathore.

Naik Jadhunath Singh of 1 Rajput (now 4 Guards) who received the Param Vir Chakra for the battle at Tain Dhar, Naushera in the 1948 Kashmir War.
Regimental Flag of The Brigade of The Guards. The Red and Yellow colors are very prominent even in the Shoulder Flashes and Plume worn in the Cap  by the Guards.

1 Grenadiers was involved in the Gurais Sector, North of the Srinagar Valley, was awarded the battle honour for Gurais. 2/2 Punjab (Later 2 Punjab, Now 1 Guards) was involved in the Naushera Sector earning itself laurels in the form of the battle honour "Naushera" which was also given to 1 Rajput.

It was no wonder, that with such lineage and battlefield experience among its constituent units, The Brigade of The Guards was accorded the senior-most status among all the infantry regiments and was given the special privilege of  having the President of India as the "Colonel-in-Chief" and the Army Chief as the "Honorary Colonel". This was in addition to having a "Colonel Commandant" who would be the senior most serving officer from the regiment.

The Regimental Center came up at Kamptee, near Nagpur in Maharastra and the Regiment adopted the Garuda, the mythological eagle mount of the Hindu God Vishnu, as its Badge. Venerated as the vehicle of the Preserver Vishnu, the Garuda justly conveys the invulnerability and awe-inspiring might of the forces represented by it. Keeping with its seniority status among the infantry regiments, the motto Pahla Hamesha Pahla (Ahead Always Ahead) was adopted and the war cry Garud ka hun bol pyare (I am from the Guards, say o friend) has inspired many a Guardsmen into attaining heroism of the highest order. The regimental uniform of the jawans also included the shoulder flash, "The Guards" to be worn on the shoulders. The soldiers were allowed to wear a red and yellow plume on their beret caps.

A  Guards detachment in thier Red and Yellow Ceremonial Headgear, Kamarband, Lanyard and Shoulder Flashes. Guards-Ceremonial-Dress.jpg (76316 bytes)


Previous Title Titles of 1903 During WW1 Titles during 1922 Title during 1945 Post 1947 Title Present Title
7th Madras Infantry 67th Punjabis

1 Bn, 67th Punjabis

1 Bn, 2nd Punjab Regiment 2 Bn, 2nd Punjab Regiment. 2 Bn, The Punjab Regiment. 1 Bn, Brigade of Gaurds
23rd (Wallajahbad) Madras Light Infantry 83rd   Wallajahbad Light Infantry

83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry

4 Bn, 3rd Madras Regiment (Wallajahbad Light Infantry) 1 Bn, The Indian Grenadiers 1 Bn, The Grenadiers Regiment 2 Bn, Brigade of Gaurds
26th Madras Infantry 86th Carnatic Infantry 86th Carnatic Infantry 10 Bn, 3rd Madras Regiment 1 Bn (Wellesly), The Rajputana Rifles. 1 Bn, The Rajputana Rilfes 3 Bn, Brigade of Gaurds
2nd (Queens Own) Rajput Light Infantry 2nd Queens Own Rajput Light Infantry 1 Bn, 2nd Queen Victoria's Own Rajput  Light Infantry 1 Bn, 7th Rajput Regiment (Queen Victoria's Own Light Infantry) 1 Bn (Queen Victoria's Own Light Infantry), 7th Rajput Regiment 1 Bn, The Rajput Regiment 4 Bn, Brigade of Gaurds

Table tracing the lineage of the constituent battalions of The Brigade of The Guards Regiment

The Guards always remained the coveted posting for young infantry officers graduating out of the IMA or the JSW and they also had the privilege of choosing its officers. Over the years, the Guards participated in all the major conflicts, earning themselves laurels and honours. They contributed their battalions in the 1962 Indo-China War, the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, the 1971 Liberation War, the Siachen Glacier conflict and the anti-militancy operations in Punjab and Kashmir.

1962 Indo China War

The events of the 1962 Conflict and the collapse of 4th Infantry Division are too well known to be recounted here in detail. Suffice it to say that  the Guards contributed one battalion, the 5 Guards, which was part of the 48 Brigade posted at Bomdi La in NEFA. This battalion was undergoing jungle training at Dehra Dun when ordered to proceed to NEFA in October. After the collapse of 7th Infantry Brigade at Che Dong, and the fall of Tawang, the 4th Inf. Division, was consolidating its position on the Se La - Bomdi La Axis. The Divisional HQ was based at Dirang Dzong, halfway between Se La and Bomdi La, and the only way the Chinese could bypass Se La and attack Dirang Dzong was by taking the Bailey trail via Poshing La which was a track from the Tibetan border that cut the Se La Bomdi La Road at Thembang which was between Dirang Dzong and Bomdi La. To secure this possible ingress route, a platoon of 5 Guards under Captain Amarjeet Singh was sent to Poshing La to check any ingress points. Amarjeet Singh arrived at Poshing La on November 8th and over the next week, the platoon was built up to a Company strength defending the area. The Company also had four sections of the Assam Rifles to support them. However during the early days of fortifying the defences, a patrol of 24 men in which Amarjeet Singh himself was leading was ambushed by the Chinese. The gallant commander was killed in the ambush, as was 19 of his men. Only four survivors made it back. The remaining platoons of the company at Poshing La were attacked and the company had to withdraw after an hours fighting. 

The Rest of the Guards battalion was at Thembang, much south to Poshing La. On November 18th, the Chinese advanced down the Poshing La towards Thembang and faced severe opposition from the 5 Guards. The Guards used mortar and machine gun fire to break the Chinese attacks. When they ran out of mortar ammunition, they fixed bayonets and charged to stave off another attack. However heavy numbers of the enemy made their presence felt. Finally the battalion received orders to retreat and it did so falling back in the darkness. In just this  one day's fighting, the battalion had lost 78 killed and 30 missing.  Even today a visitor going along to Se La from Bomdi La would come across a monument erected to the Guardsmen who gave their lives at Thembang.

1965 Indo-Pakistan War

During the September 1965 War, two of the Regiments battalions distinguished themselves. 3 Guards in the Rajasthan sector part of the 30 Infantry Brigade advanced up to Gadra Road, clearing the Pakistani Border Rangers out of the Gadra Bulge. They received the theatre Honour "Gadra Road 1965". The 48 Brigade, which was under the 4th Division in 1962, was assigned to 7th Inf. Division in 1965 in the Lahore Sector. The 5 Guards which was part of 48 Brigade also was deployed there along the Barki Axis. It was part of the Brigade's offensive to capture Barki and was assigned the auxiliary target of capturing Nurpur village, which it undertook without much opposition on 6th September 1965. The rest of the war was spent in consolidating the gains. The 5 Guards was awarded the theatre honour, a honour that they have been denied during the 1962 War, in spite of putting up a defiant stance against the enemy.

1971 Liberation War

Six years were to pass before the Guards would be put to test again. Trouble had been brewing up in East Pakistan, where in spite of getting a majority in the Pakistan National Assembly, the Bengali Awami League was  suppressed and a military action initiated against the Bengali Pakistanis in March 1971. The military action assumed proportions of a genocide against the Bengali population by the West Pakistan-dominated military. Scores of refugees crossed over into India, and a full fledged civil war had broken out. India supported the Mukti Bahini operations against the Pakistani Army. Soon conditions deteriorated and full scale conflict broke out on 3rd December 1971. India had been well prepared for the conflict, and in the East Pakistani Sector, three Indian Army Corps began their offensive into the enemy territory. Their ultimate objective, force the surrender of the West Pakistani Army in Dacca and liberate the Bangladeshi nation. More than five Guards battalions participated in the offensive in the Eastern Sector.

But the major battles of the East were fought by 8 Guards in the 33rd Corps Sector, 13 Guards in the 101 Comm Zone and 14 Guards in the 4 Corps Sector. The Battle for Hilli and Morapara Village in the 33 Corps Sector was unarguably one of the  bloodiest battles fought in the Eastern Sector. It was fought much before hostilities even began, when on November 22nd, Indian  forces put in the assault to capture the village across the border. Supported by armour & artillery, this frontal attack on the strong Pakistani fortifications extracted its toll.

8 Guards was at that time under the command of Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh, who was involved in the leading elements of the attack. The attack on Morapara was started in the night of November 22/23 at around 0130 Hours. In spite of strong opposition  by effective fire from the enemy defences,  the battalion managed a foothold into the fortifications and went about clearing the enemy position suffering heavy casualties in bunker-to-bunker fighting. The fighting threw up lots of examples of both officers and men displaying exemplary devotion to duty by  laying down their lives. 2/Lt Shamsher Singh Samra, a young officer leading one of the assault platoons was one of them. Early on in the assault, he was hit by MG fire. He assaulted the enemy position by throwing a grenade, pulled the pin out of a second grenade when he was hit again. He died with a second grenade still in his hand. One of the NCOs of the battalion, Lance Naik Ram Ugrah Pandey was another Gaurdsman who laid down his life that day. He was successful in clearing two bunkers by throwing grenades. He took up a rocket launcher to hit a third bunker when he was hit by gunfire and died on the spot. Both Samra and Pandey received the Maha Vir Chakra.

8 Guards suffered 60 killed, including four Officers, which included most of the company commanders. Another 79 troops and officers were wounded. The battalion received three Maha Vir Chakras for its role. The Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh, received the third MVC for his personal gallantry and leadership.

Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh, the Commanding Officer of 8th Guards, who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for the assault on Morapara Village.
Lance Naik Albert Ekka, 14 Guards, who received the only Param Vir Chakra to be awarded in the Eastern Sector during the 1971 War.

The only Param Vir Chakra awarded in the Eastern Sector went to 14 Guards. This battalion was part of the operation by 73 Brigade in the Gangasagar Sector. In the early hours of December 3, the battalion put in an attack to clear the railway station. Lance Naik Albert Ekka cleared one of the entrenched positions of the enemy capturing one LMG by bayoneting two of the enemy. Ekka was wounded in the attack. The unit came under fire further on into the town by an MMG emplacement on the second floor of a building. Ekka showed considerable courage. He crawled up to the building and threw a grenade through a slit hole killing one of the enemy. Then he climbed a sidewall, entered the top bunker and bayoneted the MMG crew. This led to a quick fall of the position. Ekka himself succumbed to his injuries sustained during the fight. A grateful nation awarded Lance Naik Albert Ekka the Param Vir Chakra. The first such award to a Christian.

Another battalion of the regiment, the 13 Guards, was part of the northern thrust in the 101 Communication Zone area. Part of Brigadier Harry Kler's task force, the battalion was involved in the siege of Kamalpur and Jamalpur fortresses, and the thrust till the outskirts of Dacca.

Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Arora, GOC-in-C Eastern Command visits the officers of 1 Guards in the 33 Corps Sector. Lt. Col. Sehgal, CO of the battalion, is in the background.

On the western sector, Guards battalions were engaged against the enemy in Kashmir, Chamb and southern command sector. Here also they distinguished themselves very well,  particular mention needs to be made of Naik Nar Bahadur Chetri of 12 Guards, who was manning an anti-tank guided missile post near the Manawar Tawi river at Chamb. On December 10th, when Pakistani forces attempted to cross the river, a great battle broke out between the defending Indian troops and the attackers. Chettri was instrumental in using his ATGM post to stop the advance of a Pakistani armoured squadron trying to ford the river. Chettri personally knocked out five of the enemy T-59 tanks and earned himself a well deserved Maha Vir Chakra in the process. 2 Guards which was in the Tithwal sector was also involved in heavy fighting, particularly after the cease-fire was over and clashes broke out in the Lipa Valley area.

The Brigade of Guards distinguished themselves in the liberation war, with a honours list that included 1 PVC, 4 MVCs and a host of Vir Chakra and Sena Medal awards. Almost all the battalions of the regiment took part in the conflict unlike in the earlier wars and they won theatre honours in seven different theatres and the battle honours of Akhaura, Sylhet, Hilli, Gangasagar in the east and Shingo River Valley in the west. Field Marshal Cariappa (retd.) honoured them with the spontaneous encomium, Brave the Guards.

There was a lull in the activities of the Regiment in the period following the 1971 war. Most of the battalions returned to their peacetime duties for over a decade. It was only during the early 80s did the possibility of action for the Guards raised its head. The early 80s was a time when Sikh militants were on the rise. This ultimately resulted in Operation Blue Star, where the Indian Army took action against the Sikh Separatists by storming the Golden Temple. The attack on a religious place, distasteful as it may seem, was completely unavoidable in order to rid the holy place of terrorists. At that time, the 10th Guards, under Lt. Col. Ishrar Rahim Khan was stationed in Punjab was called to be part of Operation Blue Star. In co-ordination with other units, 10th Guards was assigned the task of storming the Temple Complex from the north and securing the Northern wing of the complex. In this task they would be assisted by BMP-1s,  Tanks of the 16 Cavalry and Troops of the 1 Para Commando battalion. Some Sikh Officers of the battalion carried out reconnaissance a day earlier disguised as devotees, running a risk of being identified and tortured if someone recognised them.

On 6th June, in the early hours of the night,  a Platoon of 10 Guards formed up to go inside the Temple Complex.  The initial platoon, which was being led by Captain Jasbir Singh Rana, climbed the stairs leading to the Parikrama area to be met by a fusillade of gunfire in which a number of troops were mowed down. Pinned by Machine Gun fire from guns cleverly cited, the Guards fought back, clearing each militant post, fighting pillar to pillar, room to room. The leader of the attack, Captain Rana, himself wounded in the leg that necessitated amputation later on. By the time the operation was completed and the objectives secured, they lost 19 Guardsmen killed and over 50 wounded.  Captain Rana was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest gallantry award during peacetime, and four other guardsmen received Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra Awards posthumously. The Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Ishrar Khan, too received the Kirti Chakra.

Afterwards, most of the Guards units were involved in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Punjab and later in Jammu & Kashmir. Three battalions had their tour of duty in the icy-wastes of Siachen Glacier. The 5 Guards was the first unit to do their tour of duty in Siachen area in 1986. They were followed by the 7 and the 8 Guards in mid-1989. The danger was more from the elements than by the enemy. The 8 Guards lost more men in an avalanche, than by gun battles during the entire tour. 53 Guardsmen gave their lives in Siachen, from the five battalions that spent their tour of duty there. The Guards battalions were present in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka too, taking part in disarming the LTTE militants in Northern Ceylon. 13 Guards and 16 Guards forming part of the IPKF Force during the period 1988-90.

In late 80s, it was decided that the battalions of The Brigade of The Guards would be mechanised and by March 1999, only four battalions were left to be mechanised. The mechanised battalions of the regiment have already acquired BMP-2 ICV (Infantry Combat Vehicles), anti-tank guided missile launchers and other equipment utilised in mechanised forces. Four of the battalions operate in the Recce & Support role, which fight right on the border as frontal support units to main battalions.

The Brigade of The Guards had come a long way since Independence, even though it was one of the newly raised regiments, it had the unique distinction of being accorded the senior most status. It had fought in every war since Independence, and in every minor conflict that the Indian Army had participated in. Its strength has come to comprise of 19 Battalions, plus two Territorial Army units, based in Eastern and Southern India.

Its honours tally of 1 Param Vir Chakra, 2 Ashok Chakra, 1 Padma Bhushan, 8 Param Vishisht Seva Medals, 6 Maha Vir Chakra, 4 Kirti Chakra, 46 Vir Chakra, 18 Shaurya Chakra, 77 Sena Medals, 10 Ati Vishisht Seva Medals, 3 Yudh Seva Medals, 16 Vishisht Seva Medals, 45 Mention-in-Despatches, 151 COAS' Commendation Cards and 79 GOC-in-C's Commendation Cards is an enviable record for any regiment.

In March 1973, the then President of India, Mr. V.V. Giri paid tributes to the stellar evolution of The Brigade of The Guards. He said, "Since Independence, no war or action has been fought without Gaurds having taken part in it...The Guards have made their inedible mark everywhere justifying their motto, Pahla Hamesha Pahla (Ahead Always Ahead)."

Select Bibliography

Lieutenant General K.S. Brar, Operation Blue Star - The Untold Story, UBSPD
Vice Admiral K.K. Nayar, Amar Jawan - A Book of Remembrance, India Book House
Major General Chand N. Das, Traditions and Customs of the Indian Armed Forces, Vision Books
Major General Lachman Singh Lehl, Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan, Vikas Publishing
Major General Sukhwant Singh, Defence of the Western Border, Vikas Publishing
Major General Sukhwant Singh, The Liberation War, Vikas Publishing
Major K.C. Praval, Indian Army After Independence, Lancer International
Major K.C. Praval, The Red Eagles, Allied Publishing


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