Army Chiefs

General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya, DSO

General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya assumed charge of the Indian Army, as the 4th Chief of Army Staff, on 07 May 1957. Timmy, as he was better known, was a graduate of the Royal Indian Military College in Dehra Dun, a necessary stepping stone for a commission in the Indian Army. He was commissioned into the Army in 1926 and was attached to the Highland Light Infantry. He was soon posted to the 4/19th Hyderabad (the name changed to Kumaon in 1946) Regiment. He cut his soldiering skills on that famous training ground in the Northwest Frontier (present-day Pakistan), battling recalcitrant Pathan tribals.

Timmy's merits were soon recognized and just before World War II he was posted as an Adjutant at the University Training Corps in Madras, as a fitting example for young Indian undergraduates interested in joining the Indian Army, of what a good soldier should be. Due to an illness he was evacuated to India in 1939, just as World War II broke out, and was posted as the Second-in-Command of the Hyderabad Regimental Centre. He did however serve during the war and his record as a company commander, battalion commander and brigade commander came to the fore in operations against the tenacious Japanese in Burma.

He did his Staff College in Quetta and was posted to the 26th Infantry Division as a Grade II Staff Officer. His infantry division was conducting jungle warfare training and was preparing to go into Burma to face the Japanese Army during World War II. In Burma, he was posted to his old battalion as a Commanding Officer, which he led with outstanding success in battle. For a short while the battalion was under the command of the 3rd Command Brigade, with Brigadier C R Hardy at the helm, who during the height of a battle presented a trophy to the 8/19th Hyderabad. It was a green beret - the command's head dress - with a little typed message on a card, "We cannot buy anything here but we would like you to accept this as a token of our great admiration for the bravery and achievement of your battalion." He was also promoted to the rank of Brigadier in the field! For his outstanding service in battle, he was awarded the much coveted Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and also Mention-in-Despatches.

His innate talents of professional soldiering and leadership were soon recognized by Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. He was specially selected to lead the 268th Indian Infantry Brigade as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan after World War II. He got this assignment due to his outstanding battle experience as a Brigadier and being the only Indian to command a battle formation in the field. As an independent brigade, the 268th had done excellent work in the Burma Campaign and it had to represent, in Japan, the might & valour of the Indian Army. India made great contributions in stopping and later defeating the Axis forces and had raised the greatest volunteer fighting force in all of history, with more than two million men. More than two-thirds of the Allied land forces in South-East Asia were men of the Indian Army and among them were the original battalions of the 268th Brigade. It was now to be commanded by Timmy, who had won great honour and renown in the fighting against Japan.

Timmy proved to be an outstanding commander and his diplomatic skills emerged as he had to deal with General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theatre, the other Allies and the vanquished Japanese. His popularity was to be seen to be believed and he was most suited by his personality, charm of manners and unassailable reputation, to impress on the Japanese the calibre of Indian commanders. He represented the country during the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore, followed by the surrender of the Japanese in the Philippines. At the ceremony of Japanese surrender in Singapore, Timmy signed on behalf of India. He was awarded the 'Keys to Manila' when he was sent to the Philippines. As Indian Independence approached, he was recalled to India by Field Marshal Sir Auchinleck for greater things.

He returned to India in 1947, during the Partition, as member of the committee to agree to the allotment of weapons, equipment and regiments that were to remain in India, or to be allotted to Pakistan. Soon after the commission was completed, he was promoted to the rank of Major General and was then assigned the command of the Fourth Infantry Division and also to take over the Punjab Boundary Force, dealing with the exodus and intake of refugees fleeing to their respective countries. His next appointment was command of the 19th Infantry Division in Jammu & Kashmir to drive the raiders and the Pakistan Army out of the Kashmir Valley. He succeeded in driving them beyond Uri and he ordered Stuart Light Tanks of the 7th Light Cavalry to the dizzy heights of the Zoji La Pass, to drive out the entrenched raiders and Pakistan Army regulars from the dominating heights. He established the best of relations with Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and even Prime Minister Nehru, but his pleas to give him three more months to drive the raiders back to Muzzarfarabad fell on deaf ears and instead, Prime Minister Nehru went to the United Nations (UN). The rest is history.

Thereafter, Timmy served as the Commandant of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. The experience gained by him in Japan stood him in good stead when he was specially selected by the United Nations to head the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea. It was a very sensitive and delicate task dealing with unruly Chinese and Korean prisoners. Here again, through sheer charisma, impartiality, firmness and diplomacy, he completed this task to the satisfaction of the world body. He returned to India and served as the Chief of the Southern Command and took over the reins of the Indian Army on 07 May 1957. In 1959, he handed his resignation in protest to Prime Minister Nehru due to Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon's blatant interference in purely Army matters. Fortunately for the Indian Army, and the nation, Prime Minister Nehru persuaded him to withdraw his resignation and he continued as the Army Chief till his retirement on 07 May 1961, completing 35 years of distinguished military service.

After retirement from the Indian Army, the UN sought his services yet once again when he was appointed as the Commander of UN Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in July 1964. He carried out this ticklish issue with consummate diplomatic skill earning the confidence of both parties. Alas, he passed away during his tenure as UNFICYP in December 1965 and his mortal remains were flown to Bangalore for the last rites. Of all the eulogies for him, the late Lieutenant General Premindra Singh Bhagat, VC (Retd.) summed it up best, "A General Thimayya is not born in every generation. The likes of him there will seldom be a soldier. The General is a man's man, the Army his soul and his soul the Army."

Profile of General K S Thimayya - Colonel C.N. Cariappa (Retd.)

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