GEN PP KUMARAMANGALAM – THE FATHER OF THE MODERN INDIAN ARMY
By Lt Col CR Sundar, President Tamil Nadu BJP ExServicemen’s Cell
01 Jul 2013 is an important date in the calendar of the Indian Army. It is the Birth Centenary of General PP Kumaramangalam, one of the greatest Chiefs of the Indian Army. Though he is not much spoken about, the shape he gave to the Army during his tenure from June 1966 to June 1969 still forms the basis of our organizational structure, national war strategy and division level tactics. It is said that the remodeling of the Army that was done by him and the new thinking that was imbued under him formed the ground work for the resounding success that was achieved by the Armed Forces during the 1971 war against Pakistan.
PP Kumaramangalam, who belonged to a well to do family of zamindar politicians, was born in his family estate at Kumaramangalam near Thiruchengode in Salem District. His illustrious father P Subburayan was a freedom fighter, diplomat, Chief Minister of the Madras Presidency, a Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet and Governor of Maharashtra.
After early education at home he was sent at the age of 11 to a prep school in UK from where he went to Eton College for his Secondary education. He is a graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He was commissioned in 1933 and was the second Indian Officer to be commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery. When he retired in 1969 he ended the line of King’s Commissioned Indian Officers.
In September 1940, during the Second World War, Italians attacked Egypt which was then a British Protectorate. They were beaten back and Tobruk in Libya was captured and held by Indian troops. In early 1942 Kumaramangalam was posted to the Artillery unit in Tobruk. In June 1942 Tobruk fell to the German Africa Corps under Rommel. Kumaramangalam was taken as Prisoner of War to Italy. He escaped, was captured again and sent to a high security prison in Germany called Stalag Luft III from where he was released in 1945 after the end of the Second World War. The film “The Great Escape” was made based on his life. During the war he had won two important decorations – DSO and MBE.
In 1948 he became a Brigadier. In 1963, as a Lieutenant General, he was given command of the Eastern Command as its General Officer Commanding in Chief. The following years, successively, he was made the Deputy Chief and Vice Chief and finally on 08 Jun 1966 he became the seventh Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, the first Artillery officer to rise to that position.
It was as Chief that he was to exhibit his brilliance. He realized that India would have to be prepared to face war on two fronts – against Pakistan and against China. Whereas the terrain in the Pakistan front is plains, we face the Chinese across the Himalayas with high mountain peaks, ravines and high altitudes. Ability to use vehicles in such an area is limited due to lack of roads. Heavy vehicles and equipment cannot be used and men have to mostly move on man-pack basis. For logistics one has to rely on mules.
At the time when Kumaramangalam took over as Chief the government was considering creating two different armies, one for the mountains and one for the plains. Kumaramangalam did not agree with this because such an organization would not only be expensive but also unwieldy. Further formations from one area cannot be employed in another area.
So he hit upon the idea of having the infantry division as the normal fighting formation. The one organized to fight on the plains would be the Standard infantry division. The one designed to fight on the mountains would be designated as Modification ‘M’. A Mod ‘M’ infantry division would have the same basic structure as the Standard Division except that heavy guns and equipment not portable and usable in mountains would be removed and those usable in the mountains, including extreme cold clothing and equipment would be issued. Thus within a matter of days a Standard division could be converted into a Mod ‘M’ division and vice versa and forces could effortlessly be shifted across theatres depending upon the strategic needs of war.
He was aware of the problems faced by the Indian Army in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Pakistan war of 1965. He decided to rearm and re-equip the Army. For example in the Pakistan war the standard weapon of an Infantry soldier was the .303 bolt action rifle. This weapon was heavy and had a very low rate of fire. He had it replaced with the 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle. He took up the case for importing sturdier Australian mules so that they could carry more load in the mountains.
He then caused all the military educational books and manuals, called GS Pamphlets, to be revised so that new ideas could be taught to the men of the Army.
Kumaramangalam’s genius lay in the fact that he prepared the Indian Army for the next war, a task not easily undertaken and accomplished by normal run of the mill Generals. Our nation is lucky in that at the right juncture, when a man of outstanding ability was required to lift an Army that had not crowned itself with glory during two decades of independent India, we were blessed with a warrior son who understood the need and found scholarly solutions to meet our ends. In June 1969 he handed over the baton to another great warrior, Field Marshall SHFJ Manekshaw who wielded this new Army to gain a resounding victory over Pakistan in 1971.
Even before the sword he had forged was tested in the fire of war in 1971, so sure was the nation of his achievements that the he was decorated with the award of Padma Vibhusan in 1970 by a grateful India.
This brave son, this soldier and intellectual, Gen PP Kumaramangalam passed away on 13 March 2000 at the age of 87.
It would be appropriate if on the occasion of his Birth Centenary which falls on Monday, 01 Jul 2013 all veteran and patriots met to pay homage to the memory to this great hero warrior.