Tne Indian Army's
Camel Troops 1948-75
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
The Indian Army traditionally had no camel troops except for a few Animal Transport companies based on camels. The Bikaner State Forces had a very old and efficient camel regiment raised in 1465 and called the Ganga Risala named after Maharaja Ganga Singh. (During the British rule in India, approximately 500 states retained their soverign identities while acknowledging British overlordship. Many of the larger states contributed combat troops to the British-Indian Army, and were termed State Forces. Editor.)
The Ganga Risala had a fine record of service, having distinguished itself in China in 1900, Somaliland in 1902-4, Egypt in World War One, and the Middle East in World War Two. It was supported by the Bijay Battery also mounted on camels. During World War Two, the Bikaner Camel Corps also distinguished itself in the operations against the Hurs in Sindh.
Depredations and raids into Indian territory by the Hurs after Independence led to the raising of a camel mounted Defence Battalion from the irregular forces of Jaisalmer in 1948. In 1951, on the merger of the State Forces with the Indian Army the two units were amalgamated together as the Ganga Jaisalmer Risala and offered logically to the Aromored Corps, who turned up its noses at the thought of camels! Another cavalry General, the dynamic Shiv Verma, himself an avid polo player, having taken over as the Colonel of the Grenadiers found that the Regiment had only three battalions, which placed it at a disadvantage vis a vis other larger regiments. (The Grenadiers are a post-1947 regiment and were formed taking three battalions from other regiments. At the time, most regiments had 8-10 battalions. Editor.) .He arranged for the induction of the Ganga Jaisalmer Risala into the Grenadiers as it's 13th Battalion.
Another two battalions, both of State Forces origins, were inducted into the Grenadiers as the 7 and 8 Grenadier, but did not last long in the role being soon converted to standard infantry battalions. 13 Grenadiers soldiered on and contributed to the colourful Republic Day Parade on Rajpath in New Delhi. The 1965 war saw them in action in Bikaner and Jaisalmer sectors foiling Pakistani efforts to infiltrate and capture territory prior to and after the cease fire to use as bargaining chips at the peace talks. A total of 22 squadron actions were fought during the war. Major Jai Singh carried out a raid on the Pakistan post of Ghunewala deep inside their territory The battalion routed Pak forces at Tanot, killing 2 officers and 100 men and regained a lot of Indian territory.
Pakistan's nibbling away at territory in the desert convinced Indian planners that this hitherto neglected sector needed to be reinforced. Among a number of new raisings another camel battalion, 17 Grenadiers, was inducted. Both battalions captured a lot of Pakistani territory during the 1971 war, each operating independently in Bikaner and Gadra sectors. Their performance was highly commendable.
Sadly, the Indian camel battalions were converted into standard infantry battalions in 1975 on the lapse of government sanction. On enquiries being made about the reason for doing so it was found out that unlike the horses and the horsed cavalry the camels and camel corps had no lobby. You could'nt ride or play any game on camels whereas horses of course were used for polo!
An attempt was made by a corps comander in the desert area to reinduct camels a few years back because he was convinced of their utility. 13 Grenadiers and 24 Rajput were selected to convert and for two years kept hanging around awaiting government sanction which ultimately was not forthcoming. Thus ended the Army's tryst with the ship of the desert!
You may ask what happened to the Bikaner Bijay Battery. It was converted into a mule-borne mountain battery during World War Two 2 and now forms part of the Indian Army's Regiment of Artillery, though the mules are now gone!
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