The Garhwal Rifles is one of the most decorated infantry regiments of the Indian Army. It was originally raised in 1887 as the 39th (Garhwal) Regiment of the Bengal Army. It then became part of the British Indian Army, and after the Independence of India, it was incorporated into the Indian Army.
It served during the Frontier campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, as well in both the World Wars and the wars fought after Independence. Mainly made up of Garhwali soldiers, this regiment has a distinguished record and a unique identity. Today it is made up of more than 25,000 soldiers, organised into twenty one regular battalions (i.e. 2nd to 22nd), the Garhwal Scouts who are stationed permanently at Joshimath and two battalions of the Territorial Army including 121 Inf Bn TA and 127 Inf Bn TA (Eco). The 1st Battalion has since been converted to mechanised infantry and forms part of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment as its 6th battalion.
The regimental insignia incorporates a Maltese Cross and is based on the defunct Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) as they are a designated rifle regiment. Unlike regular rifle regiments, they are one of 10 such units marching in the regular paces used in Indian Army's ceremonies.
Up to 1887, Garhwális had been enlisted in the five regiments of Gurkhas belonging to the Bengal Infantry and the Punjab Frontier Force. The Sirmoor Battalion (later the 2nd Gurkhas), which won fame in the siege of Delhi in 1857, had 33% Garhwális on their rolls at that time.
The first proposal to raise a separate Regiment of the Garhwális was initiated by His Excellency Lieutenant General, (Later Field Marshal) Sir F. S. Roberts, VC, then Commander-in-Chief, India, in January 1886. Accordingly, in April 1887, the raising of the Second Battalion of the Third (The Kumaon) Gurkha Regiment was ordered, with its class composition as six companies of Garhwális and two of Gurkhas. Based on this decision, recruiting commenced in the area of upper Garhwál and Tehri state by Major L Campbell and Captain Browne. The battalion was raised by Lieutenant Colonel E P Mainwaring of the 4th Gurkhas. Major LRD Campbell was the second in Command and Lieutenant J T Evatt, the Adjutant, both from the Punjab Frontier Force. Mainwaring raised the First Battalion at Almora on 5 May 1887 and moved it to Kaludanda, which was later renamed as Lansdowne after the then Viceroy of India, on 4 November 1887.
In 1891, the two Gurkha companies moved away to form the nucleus of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Gurkha Rifles and the remaining Battalion was re-designated as 39th (Garhwáli) Regiment of the Bengal Infantry. The ‘Crossed Khukris’ of the Gurkhas were replaced by the ‘Phoenix’, the mythical bird which rises out of its own ashes, in the crest, marking the formal beginnings of the Garhwális as a distinct class Regiment. The official title of ‘Rifles’ was received in 1892. The ‘Phoenix’ was later dropped, and the Maltese Cross which was in use by the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) was adopted.
The Regimental Centre was established at Lansdowne on 1 October 1921
The First World War (1914–18)
The Great War saw the Garhwalis in France, part of the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division, plunging into action in Flanders, where both battalions fought with valour. The regiment had the distinction of winning two Victoria Crosses; Nk Darwan Singh Negi at Festubert and Rfn Gabar Singh Negi (posthumous) at Neuve Chapelle. Nk Darwan Singh also had the distinction of being the first Indian to be presented the Victoria Cross personally by the King Emperor who came down specially to the battle front in France at Locon on 1 Dec 1914. The extent of casualties being very high, the battalions were temporarily amalgamated and designated "The Garhwal Rifles" (the two Garhwali battalions lost 14 officers, 15 VCOs and 405 killed in France). Lt Gen Sir James Willcocks, commanding the Indian Corps in France had this to say about the Garhwalis in his book "With the Indians in France" : "The 1st and 2nd Battalions both did splendidly on every occasion in which they were engaged... the Garhwalis suddenly sprang to the very front rank of our best fighting men... nothing could have been better than their elan and discipline".
Later, in 1917, the re-constituted 1st and 2nd Battalions saw action against the Turks in Mesopotamia. At Khan Baghdadi on 25-26 Mar 1918, they encircled and forced a Turkish column to surrender (consisting of 300 all ranks, complete with its Divisional Commander and staff).
As due recognition of their fighting prowess in the Great War, Battle Honours "La Bassee", "Armentieres", "Festubert", "Neuve Chapelle", "Aubers", "France and Flanders 1914-15", "Egypt", "Macedonia", "Khan Baghdadi", "Sharqat" and "Mesopotamia" were conferred on the Regiment. The 3rd Battalion was raised in 1916 and the 4th in 1918; these two battalions saw action in Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier. (In between, in 1917 a 4th Battalion had been raised through drafts from the existing three Garhwali battalions, consisting of men mostly from Kumaon; its designation was changed to 4th Battalion 39th Kumaon Rifles, and then in 1918 to 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles)
In Oct 1919, the 4th Battalion was dispatched to Kohat for action against the Waziris and Mashuds. After successful completion of operations in Kohat, the Battalion was tasked to occupy, a very important, yet difficult piquet on the Spin Ghara Ridge near Kotkai. In the consequent onslaught by Mashuds on 2 Jan 1920, the Company Commander, Lt WD Kenny held his piquet under heavy fire and waves of fanatic tribals. The company suffered quite a few casualties. When the piquet was finally ordered to withdraw, the party was continuously ambushed thus, resulting in further casualties. Lt Kenny, though badly wounded, helped in evacuation of his men while giving bold battle to the tribals till he eventually collapsed and succumbed. For his conspicuous bravery against overwhelming numbers of Mahsuds, Lt WD Kenny was posthumously awarded the third Victoria Cross. The famous Spin Ghara Ridge was renamed and was subsequently remembered as ‘The Garhwali Ridge’.
Reorganisation and Title of Royal
On 1 October 1921, as part of reorganization of the Indian Army, the ‘Group’ system was introduced and the Regiment became the 18th Indian Infantry Group. On the same day, the Fourth Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Henderson, DSO, was nominated as the Training Battalion of the Group. On 1 December the same year it was renamed as the 10/18th Royal Garhwál Rifles. Even today, veterans colloquially refer to the Regiment as Garhwal Group.
On 2 February 1921, on the occasion of laying of the foundation stone of the All India War Memorial at Delhi, the Duke of Connaught announced that in recognition of the distinguished services and gallantry, the Emperor had conferred the title of ‘Royal’ to six units and two Regiments, of which the Regiment was one. The ‘Royal’ Garhwál Rifles was sanctioned the special distinguishing mark of wearing a scarlet twisted red cord (royal rassi) on the right shoulder and the Tudor crown on its shoulder title. The title ‘Royal’ and the crown have been dropped on 26 January 1950, when India became a republic, however the lanyard retains its pride of place.
Refusal to undertake anti-riot duty in Peshawar
During disturbances in Peshawar in 1930 two platoons of the Royal Garhwal Rifles refused to board buses that would have taken them into the city to contain widespread rioting. This was after they had already faced a day of confrontation with a crowd of "Redshirt" demonstrators from the Frontier Congress movement. The NCOs involved were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment and the riflemen were discharged from the regiment. A British civil servant wrote later that "hardly any regiment of the Indian Army won greater glory in the Great War (World War I) than the Garhwal Rifles, and the defection of part of the regiment sent shock waves through India, of apprehension to some, of exultation to others."
The Second World War (1939–45)
The outbreak of World War II led to expansion of the regiment, the 4th Battalion being re-raised in 1940; the 5th was raised in 1941. An 11th (Territorial) Battalion had been raised in Peshawar in 1939 for line of communication protection duties; the 6th Battalion was raised from this in 1941.
World War II saw active participation of the Garhwalis, the 1st and 4th Battalions in Burma, the 2nd and 5th Battalions seeing action in Malaya. The 2nd Battalion was the Garrison Battalion at Kuantan in the Malay Peninsula in 1940. The only infantry battalion in Kuantan, it was put to a myriad of tasks in a widely dispersed area. Just before the Japanese offensive, it had been milked twice to assist forming new battalions. When the Japanese struck, the battalion fought gallantly, inflicting heavy casualties. The battlion was awarded Battle Honour ‘Kuantan’ and Theatre Honour ‘Malaya 1941-42’. The 2nd Battalion ceased to exist after the Malayan Campaign due to heavy casualties – the remnants captured by the Japanese. The newly raised 5th Battalion was ordered overseas in Dec 1941 while still raw and under-equipped. It sailed for the Middle East, however the destination was changed after it embarked to Singapore. The battalion fought some notable actions at Muar, Johor and then the long, bitter rearguard action to Singapore. The 7th Battalion was raised essentially as a replacement for these two battalions (later converted to a training role). It was only after the War in 1946 that the 2nd Battalion was re-raised. The 5th had to wait till 1962 for its re-raising.
The 1st Battalion moved to Burma in 1941 and fought valiantly in the effort to stem the Japanese tide. It took part in the desperate fighting in the southern Shan states at Yenangyuang, which it was awarded as a Battle Honour. It also has the distinction of being the only awardee of Battle Honour "Monywa", the last major action in the Retreat from Burma. After a period of rest and regrouping followed by intensive jungle training, the battalion was back for the Reconquest of Burma. Its actions in Arakan, Ngyakydauk Pass, the landings at Ramree, and the final entry into Rangoon won it more Battle Honours : "North Arakan", "Ngakyduak Pass", "Ramree" and "Tuangup", and Theatre Honour "Burma 1942-45".
The 4th Battalion, too, was ordered to Burma after nearly three years on the NW Frontier. After intensive jungle warfare training, it moved to Burma and fought a series of actions in the Tunnels Area, Akyab and then the mopping up operations at Ruywa before proceeding to Kuala Lumpur for disarming the Japanese who had capitulated.
North Africa and Italy. The 3rd Battalion served in Abyssinia, the Western Desert, Egypt, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and finally in the Campaign in Italy. In Abyssinia, in the opening stages of WWII, it blazed a trail against the Italians, distinguishing itself in the entire campaign. Among its Battle Honours earned are three ‘Garhwali-only’ honours : "Gallabat", "Barentu" and "Massawa". More Battle Honours followed : "Keren", "Amba Alagi", "Citta di Castello", and Theatre Honours "North Africa 1940-43" and "Italy 1943-45", bearing testimony to Garhwali valour in diverse battlefields and theatres.
The end of the War and consequent demobilisation left the regiment with three regular battalions, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Thus, at Independence, the Garhwal Rifles had only three active battalions.
After the formation of India in 1947 and the subsequent merger of the various states in India at the time, the Garhwal Princely State was among the first to be merged in with the Indian Union. Subsequently, the Regiment was transferred to the newly independent Indian Army. The 3rd Battalion participated with distinction in the J&K Operations, winning Battle Honour "Tithwal" and gaining the distinction of becoming one of the most decorated battalions of the Indian Army in any one operation after independence – it won one MVC, 18 VrCs, 01 SC (then referred to as the Ashoka Chakra Class III) and 19 Mentions-in-Despatches. The Commanding Officer Lt Col Kaman Singh was awarded a well deserved Maha Vir Chakra and his name lives on in the form of the ‘Kaman Setu’, the crossing point recently opened up between PoK and J&K (now renamed the ‘Aman Kaman Setu’).
In 1950, the Royal title was dropped from the Regiment's name when India became a Republic. Other regimental symbols that were associated with the British were also discontinued, although the regimental lanyard continued to be worn on the right shoulder in traditional 'Royal' fashion. In 1953, the Regiment's 3rd Battalion contributed to the United Nations custodian force in Korea.
Indo-China War of 1962
The 1962 Sino-Indian Conflict saw the 4th Battalion in the midst of heavy fighting in Tawang, Jang and Nuranang, where it gave an excellent account of itself, suffering very heavy casualties. The battalion’s stand at Nuranang has been singled out in most accounts of the war as a "fine example of infantry battle". For its brave stand against overwhelming odds, 4 GARH RIF was awarded the Battle Honour "Nuranang" – the only battalion to be awarded a battle honour in NEFA, a singular distinction in the context of that particular conflict. Nuranang has since been renamed Jaswantgarh, in honour of Rfn Jaswant Singh Rawat whose bravery at Nuranang merited a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra. The other Maha Vir Chakra won in this conflict was won by Lt Col (later Maj Gen) BM Bhattacharjea, the indefatigable Commanding Officer under whose leadership the 4th Battalion gave a bloody nose to the Chinese. In captivity, the survivors of the battalion were singled out for extra punishment in the Chinese PoW camp as retaliation for the heavy casualties the Chinese had suffered at the hands of the Garhwalis.
Indo-Pakistan War of 1965
In 1965, the First Battalion fought at Gadra Road, the Second Battalion at OP Hill, the Sixth Battalion at Phillora and the Eighth Battalion at Butur Dograndi, where it lost two senior Officers viz Lt Col JE Jhirad and Major AR Khan within two days. The command then fell on to youngest captain (Lt Col) HS Rautela who lead by front and got gallantry commendation by then Chief of Army Staff. Captain CN Singh of the Regiment was posthumously awarded the MVC for gallantry whilst serving in HQ 120 Infantry Brigade. First Battalion and Eighth Battalion were honoured with battle honours ‘GADRA ROAD’ and ‘BUTUR DOGRANDI’ respectively. The Sixth Battalion was awarded the battle honour ‘PHILLORA’.
Battle of Gadra City The 1st Battalion was in the Rajasthan sector and distinguished itself in operations to take Gadra City, giving a fine display of infantry tactics in desert terrain without artillery support. The battalion went on to capture Jesse ke Par, Nawa Tala and Miajlar. Among those awarded the Vir Chakra was the CO Lt Col KP Lahiri. The Battalion won Battle Honour ‘Gadra Road’ and Theatre Honour ‘Rajasthan 1965’. Captain Narsingh bahadur Singh played an important role and for his gallantry and courageous efforts he was awarded with 'sena medal'.
Operation Hill The 2nd Battalion participated in the two assaults on ‘OP Hill’. Capt Chandra Narain Singh of the 2nd Battalion was attached to HQ 120 Infantry Brigade. In a gallant night action against raiders in the Galuthi area, he led the charge that killed six of the enemy while the rest fled, leaving behind large quantities of arms, ammunition and equipment. Capt CN Singh was hit by a machine gun burst in this action and laid down his life. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously.
The 3rd Battalion was in the Lahore sector, and participated in the advance up the GT Road. It suffered 33 killed, mostly due to very heavy enemy artillery fire. The 6th Battalion was in Sialkot where some of the firecest fighting of the war took place. In the initial phase, the battalion took Charwa. It then held on doggedly to Phillaura, beating back several enemy attacks. The 8th Battalion was also in the Sialkot sector, and fought the bitterly contested battle of Buttur Dograndi, paying a heavy price including losing the Commanding Officer and the 2IC within a span of two days of heavy fighting. These actions brought more glory to the regiment by way of Battle Honour "Buttur Dograndi" and the Theatre Honour "Punjab 1965".
The 5th Battalion blazed a glorious trail during operations for the Liberation of Bangladesh. For its actions in the war, the battalion was awarded Battle Honour ‘Hilli’ and Theatre Honour ‘East Pakistan 1971’. The battalion won three Vir Chakras. The 12th Battalion had been in action since October 1971 and on commencement of active hostilities, took Hatibandha and participated in operations east of Dinajpur.
The 3rd Battalion was in the Shakargarh sector. It took its initial objectives Dhandar and Mukhwal (south of Suchetgarh) and then into enemy territory to Bair Kalan. By the time of the ceasefire, the battalion had penetrated up to Ramri, north of Chakra. The 4th Battalion was in the Jhangar sector and conducted raids on enemy outposts while holding its own ground. The 6th Battalion was in the Sialkot sector. After re-taking Nawanpind, the battalion carried the defensive battle into enemy territory, mounting three strong raids on enemy posts opposite its area. The 7th Battalion was in the Chhamb sector, fighting a series of actions culminating in the re-capture of Sangram post by the time the ceasefire was declared.
The 8th Battalion under the command of Maj H.S Rautela S.M.(now Ltcol) was also in a holding role in Punjab and captured enemy post Ghurki. In his honor the Gurki Village name was changed to Harish Nagar and was awarded the Sena Medal. They kept holding this post despite shelling that continued till the ceasefire.
The 10th Battalion fought a notable action led by Maj Mahabir Negi while capturing Raipur Crossing in the Akhnur-Jaurian sector. The Commanding Officer Lt Col Onkar Singh personally led one of the attacks, being critically wounded and later succumbing to his injuries.
The 17th Battalion was in the Batalik sub-sector and was tasked with assaulting Area Bump and Kalapathar in the Jubar Heights, a ridgeline overlooking Jubar top, astride the National Highway. The climb was arduous and all companies were ‘daylighted’ except for Capt Jintu Gogoi’s platoon. The gallant ‘Bhullas’ took Kalapathar in the face of heavy enemy fire, and then came face to face with an enemy UMG emplacement. To the enemy’s total surprise, Capt Gogoi launched an immediate attack on the UMG sangar, killing two intruders in hand-to-hand combat, being mortally wounded in the process. Capt Jintu Gogoi was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously for his bravery in utter disregard for his own safety. The battalion launched fresh attacks in the subsequent days and took Bump and Kalapathar. This paved the way for further successes – the battalion proceeded to take another dominating feature in the Muntho Dhalo complex, finally taking Point 5285 despite heavy snowfall and effective enemy fire including artillery fire due to the proximity of this feature to the LOC. The battalion was awarded Battle Honour ‘Batalik’ for its exploits in Op Vijay.
The 18th Battalion was tasked to take Point 4700 and the surrounding heights where the enemy had consolidated their positions after being evicted from Tololing and Point 5140. In the subsequent operations, the Bhullas displayed gallantry of the highest order. Capt Sumeet Roy led a daredevil attack, climbing a sheer escarpment and taking the enemy sangar by surprise. His breakthrough paved the way for capture of Pt 4700. This brave officer was later mortally wounded by enemy fire on the objective and succumbed to his injuries. Capt Sumeet Roy was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously. The adjoining features were assaulted by other companies of the 18th. Maj Rajesh Sah and Capt MV Sooraj led from the front, evicting the enemy from many a stronghold. Both these gallant officers were awarded the Vir Chakra for courageous leadership and bravery. The Bhullas of the 18th Battalion displayed indomitable courage, Nk Kashmir Singh, Rfn Anusuya Prasad and Rfn Kuldeep Singh all won the Vir Chakra posthumously. The battalion received an immediate award of the COAS’ Unit Citation, in all winning six Vir Chakras, a Bar to the Sena Medal, seven Sena Medals and the Battle Honour ‘Dras’.
Both Battalions were awarded Theatre Honour ‘Kargil’. These honours came at a high price, the regiment lost 49 personnel of all ranks killed in action.
Battle and Theatre Honours
As on date the Regiment has earned 30 battle honours. Of these, five have been awarded in the post-Independence period. The Regiment has also won the following theatre honours: Jammu & Kashmir — 1947–48, Ladakh — 1962, Punjab — 1965, Rajasthan — 1965, East Pakistan — 1971, Kargil — 1999.
Up to First World War : "Punjab Frontier".
First World War : "La Bassee 1914", "Armentieres 1914", "Festubert 1914, 15", "Neuve Chapelle", "Aubers", "France and Flanders 1914-15", "Egypt 1915-16", "Khan Baghdadi", "Sharqat", "Mesopotamia 1917-18", "Macedonia 1918". ‘Afghanistan 1919’.
Second World War : "Gallabat ", "Barentu", "Keren", "Massawa", "Amba Alagi", ‘Abyssinia 1940-41’, ‘North Africa 1940-43’, "Kuantan ", ‘Malaya 1941-42’, "Yenangyuang 1942", "Monywa 1942", "North Arakan", "Ngakyduak Pass", "Ramree", "Tuangup", ‘Burma 1942-45’, "Citta di Castello", ‘Italy 1943-45’.
Post-Independence : "Tithwal", ‘Jammu & Kashmir 1947-48’, "Nuranang", "Buttur Dograndi", ‘Punjab 1965’, "Gadra Road", ‘Rajasthan 1965’, "Hilli", ‘East Pakistan 1971’, ‘Batalik’, ‘Dras’, ‘Kargil’.
The Regiment has to its credit 03 Victoria Cross, 01 AC, 04 MVCs, 14 KCs, 52 VrC, 46 SC, 10 PVSM, 01 UYSM, 08 YSM, 284 SM (incl 06 Bar), 17 AVSM (including 01 Bar) and 40 VSM (including 01 Bar).
Decorations (Pre Independence)
Victoria Cross Recipients
•Naik Darwan Singh Negi - First World War, Festubert-France, 1914
•Rifleman Gabar Singh Negi (posthumous) - First World War, Neuve Chapelle, 1915
•Lt. William David Kenny (posthumous) - Waziristan Campaign, 1920
The Regimental Centre – Lansdowne
Lansdowne, at a height of 5,800 ft (1,800 m) above sea level, is the recruitment centre of the Garhwal Rifles. On 1 October 1921 the regimental centre celebrated its first founder's day. Now 1 October is celebrated as the raising day of the battalion. After Independence, the name of the centre was changed to Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre. The rigorous drills during the training helps to infuse a sense of discipline in every recruit. Special emphasis is laid on physical fitness, mental toughness and weapon handling. After successful completion of the 34-week training course, a Garhwali youth is turned into a soldier. The soldier is then trained for two more weeks in counter-insurgency operations. Controversy stares at army officers mess in Uttarakhand: An Army officers' mess in Uttarakhand could find itself in a row over possession of trophies of wild animals allegedly without permission from concerned authorities. Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, a statutory body constituted by the central government to protect the wildlife, has asked Uttarakhand government to take action against Garhwali Officers' Mess of Garhwal Rifles Regiment Centre in Landsdowne for possessing trophies of various wild animals. S B Negi, Additional Director, WCCB, gave the instruction to the Uttarakhand Chief Wildlife Warden, acting on a complaint lodged by an animal rights activist Naresh Kadyan. In his complaint, Kadyan alleged the Garhwali Officers' Mess of Garhwal Rifles Regiment Centre, Landsdowne, is in possession of trophies belonging to various wildlife species listed under the Schedule of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, without the permission of the competent authority. "On the subject cited above, it is requested that the action taken in this regard may be intimated to this office, please," says a communication sent today by WCCB to Uttarakhand wildlife officials. According to Kadyan, who represents an organisation called International Organisation for Animal Protection, no other mess in the Indian Army is so rich in hunting games trophies as is the Garhwal Officers' Mess, Lansdowne. A note circulated to the media says that in 1947 its collection of hunting games trophies was next only to the array of such trophies of the Maharajah of Mysore. The vintage games trophies in the mess include tiger, leopard, lion, bear, musk deer, gurar, markhor, bison, thar and ibex heads, it says. All these were shot between 1901 and 1938 and they were shot in countries including Italy, Iran, Afghanistan and Nepal, it adds.