It is the 19th of April in 1943. Company Havildar Chhelu Ram of the 4th Rajputana Rifles was getting some rest after continuous combat against the German Afrika Korps in Djebel Garci, Tunisia. The Germans had been holding this barren hill as a last stand and were fighting tooth and nail for it. On the decisive night of 19-20 April, 1943, CHM Chhelu Ram single handedly took down an entire machine gun nest and neutralise 5 Germans in it with a Thompson submachine gun. Following this, came back and retrieved the injured company commander and got him taken to safety. He then assumed the command of the company and continued to lead until he made the supreme sacrifice himself. CHM Chhelu Ram received the highest honour of the British Empire, the Victoria Cross (VC). To the Germans’ despair, CHM Chhelu Ram, is just one among the many brave hearts of one of the most elite regiments of the Indian Army, The Rajputana Rifles.
While every regiment of the Indian Army has had a gallant past, the Rajputana Rifles stands out as one of the model Military formations. The immaculately disciplined training, the ability to keep the morale high in tough times and the sheer number of occasions on which its men and officers have displayed unparalleled bravery has proved that they are the torchbearers of the Indian Army into battle.
Rajputana Rifles Cross belt depicting battle honours
The Rajputana Rifles is the senior most rifle regiment of the Indian Army. The origins of the Regiment date back to 1778 when the 31st Bengal Native Infantry was raised at Cawnpore by Captain Masarak. The Regiment was baptised by blood in 1817 when it fought the Marathas at the Battle of Kirkee. The advent of World War II caused the regiment to expand by raising 13 new battalions. The Rajputana Rifles fought in 3 continents in the Second World War. 1 Raj Rif fought in Sidi Barrani and Kereena, 4 Raj Rif was in Suez in 1939, 7 Raj Rif was involved in the Malayan operations. 8 Raj Rif was in the Arakans and won a victory in the Battle of Rathedaung while 5 Raj Rif was moved to Imphal and 3 Raj Rif crossed the Chindwin. 6 Raj Rif remained responsible for law and order in war-torn Sumatra. The contribution of the Rajputana Rifles in the second World War is, however, not acknowledged and highlighted in a way that befits the valiant regiment.
Almost right after India had been freed from the shackles of British rule, the regiment swung into action to answer the Motherland’s call when Pakistan launched Operation Gulmarg to annex Jammu and Kashmir in 1948. The first units of 6 Raj Rif were flown into Srinagar on November 5 1947. In fierce action in the next few months the Raj Rif pushed the raiders back past Uri. It was here that the unit earned its first Maha Vir Chakra (MVC). On 29 April 1948, 6 Raj Rif was tasked to capture the Nalwa Picket, also known as “Uri ka Morcha” for its strategic importance. In the attack rifleman Dhonkal Singh was hit but despite his injury he crawled forward and threw a grenade that silenced the enemy. The attack resumed but was held up by another group of enemy soldiers. Again Dhonkal Singh crawled forward to kill two more of the enemy before losing his life. For this sustained effort in the face of the enemy, Rifleman Dhonkal Singh was awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra.
Dhonkal Singh's bravery however was only the beginning, on 16th July 1948, 6 Raj Rif under the command of Lt. Col. S. S. Kallan was given the task of capturing Dara Pari hill, a dominating feature that was heavily defended by Pakistani Army irregulars. On 18th July the battalion attacked along the narrow and razor sharp ridges. Company Havildar Major Piru Singh was with the lead assaulting company. As automatic fire felled many riflemen from the leading section, Piru Singh encouraged his men and charged the nearest machine gun, killing the crew. A stray grenade burst wounded him but undaunted by this he charged the next trench and bayoneted two men. As he charged towards the next trench a bullet hit him in the head. In his dying moments he hurled a grenade wiping out those who had shot him. For conduct in battle above and beyond the call of duty, Company Havildar Major Piru Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC). This was a first for the Regiment and in spite of the casualties 6 Raj Rif went on to claim the Battle Honour ‘Dara Pari’.
The next involvement of the Regiment was in peacekeeping operations in Korea as part of a custodian force to take care of POWs in August 1953. 5 Rajputana Rifles spent a six month tour of duty earning admiration from the UN Force commander for handling its task with compassion and tact.
In 1965, when reports of Operation Grand Slam being launched started coming in, Rajputana Rifles was swiftly deployed to Jammu and Kashmir. 18 Raj Rif occupied the defenses near Khem Karan and got caught up in the Pakistani armored attack in that sector. The unit had occupied positions in hedgehog manner as a result they were initially overrun in parts but yet others held out posing a major problem for the enemy. Lt. Col. Raghubir Singh maintained his cool and continued to employ his anti- tank weapons to destroy the tanks around them. A hopeless situation turned to victory. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. The unit was also awarded the battle honor ‘Asal Uttar’.
Rajputana Rifles officers with a knocked out Pakistani Tank in Khem Karan , 1965
The Rajputana Rifles was involved in the war on both fronts in 1971. Several battle honours including ‘Mynamati’ and ‘Basantar’ were awarded beside a large number of gallantry awards.
Even when it was not at war with Pakistan, the Indian Army has been involved in Counter Insurgency (CI) operations in the North East and J&K and the ongoing battle for the Siachen Glacier. The Raj Rif has always had a high profile in CI ops. Every battalion has served a tour in these operations starting with 3 Raj Rif tenure in the 1950’s. The rank and file quickly adapted to the cunning and guile required for these operations.
It was in India’s first televised war, the Kargil war of 1999, that Raj Rif finally became a household name. In 1999 the Pakistanis moved into Indian territory and seized unoccupied posts in the mountains overlooking the Kargil region. They used this position of vantage to shelling a strategic road, National Highway 1A (referred to as 1-Alpha in the military). As the intrusions were discovered the Indian Army had the tough job of dislodging well occupied defenders at 15000 to 19000 feet with no way to circle them as crossing the Line Of Actual Control (LoC) was ruled out by the Government of India. 2 Raj Rif was given the task of retaking Tololing. The timely victory at Tololing succeeded in lifting the Indian Army’s morale. Success here was then followed with more battles on surrounding objectives. The unit received seven Vir Chakras. It also received the Unit Citation on the spot, a first in the Indian Army.
Rajputana Rifles martyrs Kargil war, 1999
The long list of battle honors and gallantry awards earned in blood over a 200 year history will continue to motivate the Regiment. In recent times its performance in India’s first TV war has served to educate a wider audience about its unmatched gallantry and regimental élan. The Regiment continues to do excellent work with the Rashtriya Rifles in the Counter Insurgency operations in Kashmir valley.
As time passes the trends in warfare place greater reliance on technology. Success in war depends intricately on the ability of the soldier to use technology properly in the field. This however means that the man behind the machine has to have higher performance standards and accordingly the regiment’s modernization has been aimed at the cutting edge of soldiering. There is no doubt that the steely men of the regiment will continue to lend character and soul to the body called the Rajputana Rifles.