Remembering General Thimayya – India’s All Time Best Soldier


New Delhi: It is time to remember one of greatest sons of India on his Birth anniversary on Wednesday. Man of Men, as the General Thimayya is called. He was the only Indian to command an Infantry Brigade during WW2 and regarded as the most distinguished Combat Officer the Indian Army ever produced.

Born on March 31,1906, Mercara’s Kodandera Subayya Thimayya was called “without doubt the greatest” by Major General E D’Souza, PVSM (Retd).

“General Thimayya was not only a brilliant tactician and strategist but one whose vision went beyond everyone else’s. The challenges he faced, and his response to them, were simply incomparable,” said Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, MC when asked who he thought was the best General of the Indian Army. Famous author Humphrey Evans in his book, ‘Thimayya of India” described Thimayya as a legend who led a life of a great soldier and a man with ethics.

As a child, he was always ahead in extracurricular activities. At the tender age of 15, young Timmy joined the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College. The institution trained Indian cadets to join British Army’s prestigious academy, Sandhurst.

It was considered a tough shot to get admission to the institute, especially by an Indian. But, Thimayya managed to do so. After life at Sandhurst, Thimayya got posted at Bangalore. A year later, he served with the 4th Battalion of 19th Hyderabad Regiment in Baghdad in 1927.

Padma Bhushan awardee, General Thimayya led the Infantry brigade in Burma during the Second World War. He was also known for playing a key role during the surprise attack on Pakistani raiders during post-independence clashes in 1948.

During his 35 years long career, General KS Thimayya got recognised with the General Service Medal and Indian Independence Medal for his services when India got independence in 1947.

After his two-year stint in Singapore, Thimayya was granted a transfer to Agra as Second-in-Command, spending the last few months of 1941 there. He served as the Chief of Army Staff from 1957 to 1961. He excelled in shouldering his duties and responsibilities.

The history between Pandit Nehru and Thimayya goes back in time. It is said that they had cordial relationships with one another. However, many believed that it was also Nehru because of whom Thimayya had resigned. In September 1959, General Thimayya sent his resignation to Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India. But, soon he withdrew it.

It is believed that the resignation was motivated by his unhappiness with the style of functioning of the then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon. They both had disagreements over the promotion of senior officers. However, Shiv Kumar Verma’s book gives another version, that it was in fact Nehru and Menon’s conspiracy to discredit the army chief and a series of other events that led to India’s Worst defeat during the Indo-China conflict of 1962.

An excerpt from the book.. says-

“Nehru was waiting for Thimayya and for the first time, the normally reticent Timmy exchanged angry words with the prime minister. He told Nehru that his arbitrary decision of making NEFA [North-East Frontier Agency] the responsibility of the army, made public in Parliament, was preposterous and completely against Indian interests. Thimayya felt that Nehru had completely compromised the army.

Without providing the additional resources required, handing over the borders to the army was a meaningless gesture; this would allow the Chinese the opportunity to claim that the Indians were the aggressors, for they always went to great pains to describe their own troops as border guards. Thimayya asked Nehru to find a way out of the mess in the next couple of weeks, after which he departed. Immediately after Thimayya’s departure, the shaken prime minister summoned Krishna Menon to Teen Murti.

Both Nehru and Menon knew that Nehru was in serious trouble. He had got away with the admission in Parliament earlier in the day only because the triple whammy—ongoing clashes on the border, the construction of National Highway G219 across the Aksai Chin and the Khenzemane and Longju incidents—had come as a shock to the members of the House. At any rate, it was unlikely that any of the parliamentarians knew the terrain or understood matters pertaining to the military to raise any meaningful questions. Thimayya wanted Nehru to undo the mistake; but should the prime minister formally withdraw his statement about deploying the army and revert to the previous arrangement, he would be committing political hara-kiri. “

The other side of General Thimayya was different from the one in the service. In 1935, he fell in love and married philanthropist Nina Cariappa after a month of meeting her.

Another anecdote that speaks of his personality was when he had detained the son of a senior politician after he and some goons mistreated and tried to molest the wife of an Army officer of 5 JAT in Amritsar in 1959. The matter made noise in the Parliament too. Upon being summoned, General Thimayya’s response silenced the opposition, “If we cannot defend the honour of our women, how can you expect us to defend the honour of our country?”

He was also loved in Korea. He was hailed as the Korean War hero. For his service in Korea, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan award in 1954. India and Indian army had a major role to play in the end of the 3-year long Korean War that started in 1950. General Thimayya had handled the Korean War situation so well when many thought that Indians could not do.

After his retirement in 1961, the UN requested for General Thimayya’s service again in 1964 to command the UN troops operating on Cyprus in keeping with his reputation of impartiality displayed in Korea.

Books like Thimayya: An Amazing Life, Thimayya Of India: Without Doubt the Greatest, speak of the legacy General Thimayya has left behind, a shoe that would remain untouched for generations to come.

It is said that the General handled every situation with cool judgement and cheerful confidence. Recently, Sunny Side, General’s ancestral home was converted into a museum to celebrate the brave, colourful and inspiring life of former Army Chief General Thimayya.


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