The British Trading Company began licensed trading at Surat in 1600. To secure its trade lines and commercial interests in spice trade, a need was felt of a Port closer to the Malaccan Straits which resulted in successful purchase of Channapatnam (Madras), originally known as Madraspattinam. It soon became the hub of commercial activities of British Trading Company. The Madraspattinam gave birth to the new settlement of George Town and finally led to the creation of Madras City which assisted the Britishers to establish influence over Carnatic region, Arcot and Srirangapatnam as well as to keep at bay the French Forces based at Pondicherry. The fort is a stronghold with six meter high walls that withstood a number of assaults in the 18th Century. It briefly passed into the possession of the French from 1746 to 1749, but was restored to the British under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of Austrian Succession.
Today, the Fort serves as the administrative headquarters of the legislative assembly of Tamil Nadu state and still houses a garrison for troops in transit to various locations in South India and the Andamans. The Fort Museum contains many relics of the British Raj, including portraits of many of the Governors.
The Madras Regiment traces its origin to the time when in 1758, during the French siege of Fort Saint George, the Sepoy companies of Madras were organised into battalions, the 1st and 2nd Madras, numbering 2,213 men. Fighting mainly the French, Mysore and Maratha Wars under a succession of brilliant commanders like Stringer Lawrence, Robert Clive, Eyre Coote, Cornwallis and Wellesley; the Madras Native Infantry left an indelible mark, impressing their commanders with their prowess in battle, stoic endurance under all privations and gallantry. The series of Battle Honours won, show the evolution of the MADRAS Regiment from mid 1700s till early 1800s. Seringapatam and Assaye, particularly, were notable milestones in the march of the Madras Infantry.
In 1826, the regiment with 52 battalions was again deployed overseas. Their dogged defence at Kemmendine during the First Burma War saw them (26 Madras Infantry) being awarded the unique Battle Honour ‘Kemmendine’ for the perpetual record of their distinguished and persevering gallantry. The Battle Honour ‘Ava’ (or “Arracan’) was awarded to all regiments which took part in this war. Having proved their ability to fight in foreign land/ environments, the Madras battalions were again chosen to serve overseas during the First China War of 1840-42.
Shortly thereafter, Madras battalions were again deployed in Burma as peace restored when the First Burma War proved fragile. The British limited their objective to annexing Pegu and thus ended the Second Burma War of 1852-54, the MADRAS Regiment adding ‘Pegu’ to their tally of Battle Honours. Battalions of the Madras Infantry took part in the 1857 campaign in Lucknow and Central India. After two decades, the Battalions saw the Second Afghan War of 1879-80 when they were part of the forces deployed there. The scene then shifted back to Burma when Madras battalions were employed on a large scale in the Third Burma War of 1885-87.
Initially four Madras Infantry battalions formed part of the force. These were later reinforced with an additional eight battalions and the war ended with the award of Battle Honour ‘Burma 1885-87’ to the victorious forces. The next action scenes were in another far flung theatre, the North-West (1895- 98) and the Madras troops emerged from these engagements in mountain warfare with Battle Honours ‘Tirah’ and ‘Punjab Frontier’ to their credit. The Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900 saw an expeditionary force being sent to Peking which comprised, among other regiments of the Indian Army, battalions of the Madras Infantry. The battalions returned in 1901 having been awarded Battle Honour ‘China 1900’.
The Fighting Spirit of Madrassis
Veerapandiya Kattabomman – A Brave Thambi and the First Freedom Fighter against British East India Company. Kattabomman refused to accept the sovereignty of British East India Company. He did not pay taxes and instead opted to fight against them.
He was a courageous 18th-century Palayakarrar (‘Polygar’) chieftain from Panchalankurichi of Tamil Nadu, India. He waged a war with the British six decades before the Indian War of Independence occurred in the Northern parts of India.
After the Carnatic Wars, the territory came under the Nawab of Arcot and the people of old Madurai country refused to recognize the new Muslim rulers. Finally the Nawab resorted to borrowing huge sums from the British East India Company and gave the British the right to collect taxes from the southern region. The East India Company took advantage of the situation and plundered all the wealth of the people in the name of tax collection.
When Kattabomman met Jackson Durai, the Collector at Ramalinga Vilasam, the palace of Sethupathi of Ramanathapuram, the meeting turned violent and ended in a skirmish in which the Deputy Commandant of the Company’s forces, Clarke was slain. The Commission of Enquiry that went into the incident fixed the blame on Jackson and relieved him of his post, thinking the Company’s plan to take over the entire country gradually could be marred by Jackson’s fight with Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The new Collector of Tirunelveli wrote to Kattabomman calling him for a meeting on 16 March 1799. Kattabomman wrote back citing the extreme drought conditions for the delay in the payment of dues and also demanded that all that was robbed off him at Ramanathapuram be restored to him. The Collector wanted the ruling house of Sethupathis to prevent Kattabomman from aligning himself with the enemies of the Company and decided to attack Kattabomman.
Kattabomman refused to meet the Collector and a fight broke out. Under Major Bannerman, the army stood at all the four entrances of Panchalankurichi’s fort. At the southern end, Lieutenant Collins was on the attack. When the fort’s southern doors opened, Kattabomman and his forces audaciously attacked the corps stationed at the back of his fort, and slew their commander Lt. Collins. The British after suffering heavy losses, decided to wait for reinforcements and heavy artillery from Palayamkottai. Sensing that his fort could not survive a barrage from heavy cannons, Kattabomman left the fort that night. A price was set on Kattabomman’s head. Finally Kattabomman was captured and on October 16, 1799, after a summary trial, Kattabomman was hanged unceremoniously on a Tamarind tree in Kayathar (near Thirunelveli).
Kattabomman became thus the pivot of the emerging feeling of Tamil nationhood. His story is celebrated in many legends and epic poetry in Tamil. Kattabomman is today recognised by the government as one of the earliest independence fighters opposing the British and has been hailed as the inspiration behind the first battle of independence of 1857, which the British called the Sepoy Mutiny.
Vellore Mutiny – History In An Hour First War of Independence
The rebellion by Madras Sepoys against the British had commenced in Vellore.
The Vellore Mutiny on 10 July 1806 was the first instance of a large-scale and violent mutiny by Indian sepoys against the East India Company, predating the Indian Rebellion of 1857 by half a century. The revolt, which took place in the South Indian city of Vellore, was brief, lasting only one full day, but brutal as mutineers broke into the Vellore Fort and killed or wounded 200 British troops, before they were subdued by reinforcements from nearby Arcot. Summary executions of about 100 mutineers took place during the suppression of the outbreak, followed by the formal court-martial of smaller numbers.
The reasons for the mutiny revolved mainly around resentment against changes in the sepoy dress code in November 1805. Hindus were prohibited from wearing religious marks on their foreheads and Muslims were required to shave their beard and trim their moustache. In addition General Sir John Craddock, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army ordered the wearing of a round hat (resembling that associated with both Europeans and Indian Christians) with a leather cockade in place of the existing turban, a measure which offended both Hindu and Muslim sepoys and went contrary to an earlier warning by a Military Board that sepoy uniform changes should be “given every consideration which a subject of that delicate and important nature required”.
These apparently minor changes, intended to improve the “soldierly appearance” of the men, created strong resentment among the Indian soldiers. In May 1806 some sepoys who protested the new rules were sent to Fort Saint George (Madras then, now Chennai). Two of them — a Hindu and a Muslim were given 90 lashes each and dismissed from the army. Nineteen sepoys were punished with 50 lashes each and forced to seek pardon from the East India Company.
The garrison of the Vellore Fort in July 1806 comprised four companies of British infantry from H.M. 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot and three battalions of Madras Infantry; the 1st/1st Madras Native Infantry, the 2nd/1st MNI and the 2nd/23rd MNI.
Two hours after midnight on 10 July, the sepoys in the fort shot down the European sentries and killed fourteen of their own officers and 115 men of the 69th Regiment. Among those killed was Colonel St. John Fancourt, the commander of the fort. Major Cootes who was outside the fort hurried to Ranipet and informed Colonel Gillespie who reached the fort immediately.
In the meantime, the rebels had announced Tipu Sultan’s son Futteh Hyder as their new ruler and had hoisted a tiger flag atop the fort. This uprising was brought to an end by Colonel Gillespie. 800 Indian soldiers had died in this mutiny and 600 soldiers were imprisoned in Vellore and Tiruchi. Some rebels were shot dead by the British and some were hanged and eventually the mutiny was brought to an end.
There is quite a bit of similarity in the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 and the Rebellion of 1857, though the latter was on a much larger scale and is often described as the first war of Indian Independence. In 1857, the sepoys tried to quell British rule by announcing Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India, just like the mutinees tried to give power to Tipu Sultan’s son in 1806.
Battle of Colachel (1741)
Capt De Lanoy of Dutch Forces surrendering before HH Maharaja Marthanda Varma, 1741 AD
The Travancore State Forces have a long and glorious past. The present 9th (Travancore) Battalion traces its lineage to the personal bodyguard of the Maharaja of Travancore raised in 1704. Travancore forces decisively defeated the Dutch when they landed at Colachel in 1741, capturing their commander Captain De Lanoy who subsequently entered the Maharaja’s service and reorganized the state’s forces on the European model. By 1780 these forces consisted of nearly 50,000 of which five battalions of infantry and one of artillery were organised as the Carnatic Brigade. In 1809 this was disbanded except for 700 men of the 1st Nayar Battalion, the forerunners of the modern 9th (Travancore) Battalion. They formed the nucleus of the Nayar Brigade to which a 2nd and then a 3rd (Training) Battalion were added. In 1934, when the State joined the Indian State Forces Scheme, the Nayar Brigade was merged with the Travancore State Forces and trained under selected Indian Officers and NCOs. On merger of the state with the Indian Union, the 1st Battalion, as aforesaid, was amalgamated with The Madras Regiment as its 9th Battalion and the 2nd as the 16th Battalion.
Battle of Seringapatam (1799)
On 14 February 1799, the Madras Army concentrated at Vellore under General Harris, the Commander-in-Chief. The Madras Army commenced the advance towards Seringapatam with a strength of 21,649 men and included eight battalions of Madras Infantry. Later they were joined by four more Madras Battalions under Colonel Roberts from Hyderabad near Amboor. The only way to bring Tipu to terms was to strike at Seringapatam directly. On 05 April 1799, the curtains were drawn for one of the most important and historic event of all time – ‘The Battle of Seringapatam’. The British forces achieved a decisive victory after breaching the walls of the fortress at Seringapatam and storming the citadel on 04 May 1799 in a day light frontal attack. Tipu Sultan was killed in the action.
It was only in 1820, that the Battle Honour ‘Seringapatam 4th May 1799’ was sanctioned. The Madras Battalions which took part were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Madras Infantry. They received the permission to bear it on their appointments and Colours. The importance of the capture of Seringapatam was marked by the issue of medal, given for the first time to all troops i.e, Europeans and Indians.
Battle of Assaye (1803)
The Second Maratha War (1803- 05), was fought between the Armies of the Marathas consisting of 42,000 soldiers and the Madras Presidency under Lord Wellesley comprising of 6000 Infantry and 3500 cavalry. The valiant Thambis captured the fort of Assaye against stiff resistance and overwhelming cannon fire. Heavy casualties were inflicted on both sides with 428 killed, 1128 wounded and 18 missing from own side and 1200 killed and 4800 wounded on the opposing side.
In the Battle of Assaye, the Madras Battalions engaged were the 2nd, 4th, 8th, 10th and 12th (Later 24th) Madras Infantry who were permitted to wear the word ‘Assaye’ and symbol of Elephant on their Colours and appointments.
The troops were thanked by the Governor General in Council in an order, dated 30th October, and honorary colours with an appropriate device (The word ‘Assaye’ with the device of the elephant, is borne on the colours and appointments of the several regiments engaged) were ordered to be prepared for presentation to each regiment engaged.’
In recognition of the bravery of our soldiers (Thambis) in the battle of Assaye, the ‘Assaye Elephant’ was permitted to be donned as part of uniform by Madras Soldier to signify the seven qualities of Elephant i.e., Courage, Endurance, Sagacity, Strength, Confidence, Obedience, and Faithfulness naturally imbibed in a Madras Soldier.
In a letter to Major John Malcolm, Major General Arthur Wellesley gave the following opinion regarding the infantry of the confederates:-
‘Their infantry is the best I have ever seen in India, excepting our own ; and they and their equipments far surpass Tippoo’s. I assure you that their fire was so heavy that I much doubted at one time whether I should be able to induce our troops to advance, and all agree that the battle was the fiercest that has ever been seen in India. Our troops behaved admirably. Our sepoys astonished me.’
WORLD WAR I
Madras battalions were among the first to be deployed in World War I, the 63rd sailing for East Africa right at the out break. The 75th was stationed in Aden where it engaged in ‘several sharp brushes with the enemy’. The 73rd, 79th, 80th, 83rd (WLI) and the 88th took part in the Mesopotamian Campaign. Some of these regiments also saw action in Kurdistan. Other regiments served on the North-West Frontier.
North West Frontier
During 1915, 81st Pioneers was actively employed on North-Western Frontier of India and saw a good deal of fighting. It was specially commended for covering the withdrawal of British Forces to a designated location (camp) when a number of British soldiers collapsed from heat stroke. The 81st Pioneers was again employed during the Marri operations in March and April 1918.
In an effort to neutralize the raiding nuisance and to capture the entire Northern Region of East Africa (White settlements of German Colony), the British Indian Expeditionary Force of 8,000 troops were to carry out an amphibious landing at Tanga (Tanga is both the name of most northerly seaport city of Tanzania and the surrounding Tanga Region) to capture the city and thereby control the Indian Ocean.
The 61st Pioneers and 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry were tasked to form part of an expeditionary force to East Africa. The 61 Pioneers being in full strength had little difficulty in mobilizing but 63 Palamcottah Light Infantry being on reduced establishment had to indent for 400 men from its linked battalion.
The Expeditionary Force left Bombay on 16 October 1914 and arrived off Tanga on 02 November. The 61st Pioneers was one of the first units to land and was involved in fierce combat. They lost four Officers and 57 men killed and 22 wounded. In the next three years of East African campaign, the 61st Pioneers was employed chiefly on Pioneer work, while the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry carried out garrison duties.
The other units which participated as part of Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ are 83rd WLI, 73rd, 75th, 86th and 88th Carnatic Infantry.
For this campaign, the units were awarded the Battle Honour ‘East Africa’.
The British conquest of German East African colony was planned as a two pronged invasion. The port town of Tanga was to be captured by Indian Expeditionary Force ‘B’ while the Indian Expeditionary Force ‘C’ (with 4,000 men) under Brigadier General JM Stewart was to attack German defences at Longido on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
On 03 November 1914, the British force reached the slopes near Longido but at day light were caught in the effective defensive fire of strong German defences. The British attackers made no headway and having suffered substantial casualties, marched back to British East Africa Colony.
In 1915, the 64th Pioneers was engaged in suppressing a Kachin rising in Upper (1915-18) Burma, during which two NCOs received the IDSM and in the following year it proceeded to Mesopotamia, disembarking at Basra on 01 March 1916. It was continuously employed until the Armistice, mainly on pioneer work, but sustained a number of casualties in the Hai Salient. Other Madras Battalions which took part in the Mesopotamian campaign were the 73rd, 79th, 80th (Now 6 MADRAS) and 88th Carnatic Infantry, 83rd WLI (Now 4 MADRAS) (WLI) and 1/56 Infantry.
North West Frontier & Persia
In November 1919, the 80th Carnatic Infantry joined the 51 Brigade of the 17 Division and after taking part in the operations in Kurdistan saw a considerable amount of fighting during the Arab rebellion in Iraq in 1920. The other Madras Units engaged in this theatre during 1919-20 were the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry (Iraq), 79th Carnatic Infantry (North West Persia and Iraq), 81st Pioneers (South Persia), 83rd WLI (Iraq) and 88th Carnatic Infantry (Iraq).
The 75th Carnatic Infantry was on service at Aden from April 1916 to December 1920. It had several fierce actions with the enemy, notably on the 07 December 1916, when Jabri was attacked at dawn and captured. The Regiment later suffered nine men killed and six Officers and 36 men wounded atHandley Hill on 03 October 1918 during the retrograde operations. The 75th Carnatic Infantry too was involved in fierce combat but by repeated hand to hand fight and bayonet charges, theforce was able to extricate themselves.
After the Armistice, the Turkish Commander admitted that his men feared the 75 Carnatic Infantry more than any other Indian battalion ‘because they were not afraid to go in with the bayonet’ – high praise indeed.
For this campaign, the unit was awarded the Battle Honour ‘Aden’ in 1918.
Since the times of thea British Raj the Baloch tribes in Balochistan and Sindh province of Pakistan were noted for their fierce struggle to maintain their sovereignty.
During the 1917, the 81st Pioneers were actively employed on North Western Frontier of India – in Baluchistan, at Marri in March and April 1918 to suppress Baloch struggle for independence.
WORLD WAR II
1st MADRAS (Now 1 MECH INF) was inducted in Burma in February 1945 and saw action at Mount Popa, which was strongly fortified and held by two Japanese Battalions. It successfully attacked Sebauk on 13 April 1945, killing thirty one and wounding fifteen Japanese, at a loss of fifteen own troops killed.
For this action, the battalion was awarded Battle Honour ‘Mount Popa’ and Theatre Honour ‘Burma 1942-45’.
The Brigade Commander, Brig GB Dyer, DSO, OBE wrote, ‘The Officer Commanding and his team can congratulate themselves on having a fine well trained battalion and having introduced it into battle with such an outstanding success. The battalion returned to India and arrived at Madras on 11 May 1946.
During the World War II, 4 MADRAS (WLI) distinguished itself against the Japanese in various actions. In the Kabaw Valley (the famous ‘Valley of Death’), a platoon of Capt Millers company located at Shark Picquet on Tamu Road, beat back several formidable assaults on post on 22 March 1944 and counted one hundred Japanese of 1/60 Battalion dead. On Sita Ridge, Capt (Later Lt Gen) RS Noronha held his company defences for sixteendays against repeated attacks, inflicting heavy casualties on Japanese. For these operations Capt RS Noronha and Capt PL Archard were awarded Military Cross.
In April 1944, the Battalion took up positions in Palel Valley. In mid May, the battalion moved to Ukhrul Road and joined in the pursuit of enemy, which ultimately led to a great offensive resulting in the capture of Rangoon on 03 – 04 May 1945. In February 1945, Maj RS Noronha’s company was ordered to launch a feint attack on an island in river Irrawaddy for which he was awarded Bar to Military Cross.
The battalion on reaching Shwebo (City in Myanmar, approximately 113 kilometer North West of Mandalay) after a 200 mile trek across extremely difficult terrain, captured Pegado a strongly held Japanese position after a fierce fight, forcing the enemy to abandon his last line of defence North of River Irrawaddy. The battalion then moved to Sagaing (20 kilometer South West of Mandalay) where it captured Ava Bridge and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese for which it was awarded Battle Honour ‘Ava’.
Later on, the battalion moved to Mount Popa and relieved the Worcestershire Regiment. In a major battle at Kama against formidable defences, it dislodged the enemy and won the Battle Honour ‘Kama’.
After almost two years of active service, the battalion returned to India and arrived at Calcutta on 31 July 1945. For its tenure in Burma, 4 MADRAS (WLI) earned the Battle Honours ‘Tamu Road’, ‘Ukhrul’, ‘Ava’ and ‘Kama’ and Theatre Honour ‘Burma 1942-45’. Three Military Cross (Including a Bar), five Military Medals, Several Mention-in- Despatches and six Certificates of Gallantry were received by the battalion.
Write up and data provided by
Madras Regimental Centre