When stories of the valor and bravery of the Indian forces are told, one cannot help but mention General Thimayya. Kodandera Subayya Thimayya, General K S Thimayya, or Timmy, as he was lovingly addressed by his colleagues, was undoubtedly one of the eminent soldiers in the Indian army.
With a career spanning 35 years, General Thimayya has had major achievements, including commanding the Infantry brigade in Burma during one of the battles fought in the Second World War.
He was also instrumental in leading a surprise attack on Pakistani raiders during post-independence clashes in 1948.
General Thimayya – Family And Early Education
General Thimayya was born on 31 March 1906, in Mercara (now Madikeri) to a family of coffee planters. His father, Subbaya, belonged to an affluent family from the Cheppudira clan. His mother, Sitamma, was a well-known social worker, who also received the prestigious Kaisar-e-Hind Medal for her contributions to public service.
Thimayya had five siblings – Ponappa, Gangu, Dachu, Amavva, and Somayya. He was enrolled in St. Joseph’s College in Conoor at the age of eight along with his brothers.
However, due to the harsh disciplinary ways in the school, his parents readmitted the boys to Bishop Cotton Boys School in Bangalore.
Though he wasn’t a bright student, Thimayya showed a lot of interest in extra-curricular activities like sports. When he joined the school’s Auxiliary Force, he started harboring the dream of joining the armed forces.
Joining The Military Academy
After he left school at the age of fifteen, Thimayya enrolled in the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College, a newly set up institution to train young Indian cadets to join British Army’s prestigious academy, Sandhurst. Indians found it extremely difficult to get selected to train at this college. Also, it didn’t guarantee the cadets under training a place at Sandhurst.
Interested cadets had to pay a huge sum as admission fee and pass the examination as well as interviews with top army officials. Thimayya was one of the few who made it to Sandhurst. At Sandhurst, Thimayya saw how Indians were illtreated by the British.
Indians were forbidden from participating in many functions, like dancing, unlike British cadets. After he passed out of Sandhurst, Thimayya travelled to Paris and Pigalle, before sailing to India to start his career.
A Great Start To A Colorful Career
When Thimayya reached Bombay, he was surprised to not find his name on the list which had names of cadets and the place where they’re posted at.
Thanks to this error, Thimayya was given the opportunity to make a choice where he’d like to be posted. As Bangalore was the closest city to his home, Mercara, he opted for Bangalore.
After spending a year socializing with his colleagues at the battalion in Bangalore, Thimayya requested to be posted elsewhere so that he could hone his skills. Eventually, he was posted to the 4th Battalion of the 19th Hyderabad Regiment in Baghdad in 1927.
The soldiers in the regiment were much different from the ones in Bangalore. They worked hard and didn’t socialize as much. Initially, Indians were not allowed in prestigious clubs and societies. When the regiment’s chief, Lieutenant Colonel, Hamilton-Britton, had a word with the club, they gave Indians access to these societies for free.
Thimayya was posted to Allahabad a year later when India’s nationalist movement gained momentum. During his posting for four years in the city, he got to see and meet many nationalist leaders.
Unlike Baghdad, the British continued to discriminate against the Indian soldiers and Thimayya and his colleagues didn’t get any memberships in social clubs.
Thimayya excelled at his duties and responsibilities and soon was promoted to the post of Adjutant. In 1931, Thimayya’s battalion stationed on the North-West frontier. He had many experiences here, including fighting local Pathan tribals during a skirmish.
Marriage And Family
In 1935, Thimayya left for Bangalore on leave. Here, he met Nina Cariappa and eventually fell in love with her. They got married in a month and settled down at Quetta. Unfortunately, there was a massive earthquake at Quetta that year.
Nina was actively campaigning for the needs of the ones who suffered as a result of the earthquake. She was later awarded the Kaisar-e-Hind medal for her philanthropic work during this time.
When Nina was expecting their child, Thimayya requested to be posted at Madras, at it would be close to Mercara, where Nina would be having the delivery. Their baby girl, Mireille, was born in March 1936.
A month later, Thimayya was promoted as Adjutant at the University Training Corps in Madras. He spent four years at the regiment in Madras.
Thimayya was promoted to the rank of Major and spent the next two years at Singapore, where he successfully managed to stop a mutiny. He was granted a transfer to Agra as Second-in-Command spending the last few months of 1941 there.
Service During The Second World War And India’s Fight For Independence
During the Quit India Movement in 1942, Thimayya’s battalion was called many a time to manage mobs. Though he was asked to open fire, he spoke to the crowd calmly, ensuring the protests are peaceful. He left for Quetta later to attend a course at the Staff College.
After the successful completion of the course, Thimayya was the first Indian officer to serve as GSO2 (Ops) of 25th Indian Division in Madras. The battalion soon moved to Burma to fight the Japanese army in the Second World War. In 1943, Thimayya was promoted as Commanding Officer of the same battalion he was a part of in Agra.
He was instrumental in leading a surprise attack on the Japanese soldiers, ensuring the safety of all Indian troops. The battalion advanced to other cities in Burma in the next two years to fight the Japanese troops. In 1945, Thimayya led the 36 Infantry Brigade, achieving a milestone of being the first Indian to do so.
The General went to Singapore when Japan surrendered and signed on behalf of India. After the Second World War, he led the 268th Indian Infantry Brigade as a part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. He spent a year here until 1947 when he was sent back to India to be a part of Indian Armed Forces Committee.
KS Thimayya’s Service In Independent India
The Indian Armed Forces Committee was responsible to check the military weapons and other equipment that the British were leaving to India after the latter achieved independence. After his stint at the committee, Thimayya became Major-General.
His first responsibility as Major-General was to lead the 4th Infantry Division and to ensure the movement of people to India and Pakistan is peaceful. The following year, Thimayya commanded the 19th Infantry Division in Jammu and Kashmir to chase Pakistani raiders off Kashmir.
Top Indian officers, including Thimayya, conducted many conferences to discuss strategies to make this possible. After a few failed attempts, Thimayya led a surprise attack on one of the first tanks and successfully drove the raiders of the region and captured Kargil, Leh, and Dras, amongst other regions. Thimayya remained in Srinagar until 1949.
In 1949, Thimayya was asked to command the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun. The following year, he was promoted as a Brigadier and the year later, as Quartermaster General. Thimayya was selected by the United Nations to take part in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea.
After a successful stint there, he left for India and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in 1953. Thimayya was the first officer to command the Southern, Eastern, and Western Commands at different points in his career.
General Thimayya’s Tenure As Chief Of Army Staff
Thimayya was then promoted to the top post of Army Chief in 1957, at 51 years of age. He was the 6th Chief of the Indian Army. Though he expected to handle major responsibilities and make important decisions as Army Chief, it didn’t happen.
Thimayya got into a conflict with V.K. Krishna Menon, who served as Minister of Defence during that time. Both Thimayya and V.K. Menon were cordial with Prime Minister, Nehru. But when Thimayya resigned from his post in 1959, Nehru requested him to withdraw his resignation.
Thimayya had requested a few changes in the army, which were neither accepted by the defence minister nor the Prime Minister. In 1961, when Thimayya completed 35 years of service in the military, he put down his papers. This was a few months before the Indo-China War of 1962. Thimayya was succeeded by P.N. Thapar, his batchmate at Sandhurst.
Life After Retiring From The Indian Army
Thimayya spent his retired life with his wife and child at his mansion, Sunny Side, at Mercara. When India lost the war in 1962, a defence council was formed to discuss important matters about India’s defence.
Thimayya was one of the members of this council. Though he gave a lot of suggestions to the government, the council never really took off and the meetings soon became occasional.
He soon took up the post of Deputy President of United Planters Association of South India in Conoor. In 1964, the United Nations approached Thimayya to command the UN Forces in Cyprus to manage the post-independence conflicts in Cyprus.
While in service, Thimayya suffered a heart attack and died on 18 December 1965. His mortal remains were placed at UN’s headquarters in Nicosia, where dignitaries paid their last respects.
Later it was flown to Beirut, then to Bombay, and finally to Bangalore. Many officials had come down to bid farewell to one of India’s most distinguished officers. Thimayya was buried at Lal Bagh gardens in Bangalore and given a seventeen-gun salute.
The Ranks Received By General Thimayya
- Second Lieutenant: 1926
- Lieutenant: 1928
- Captain: 1935
- Major: 1943
- Lieutenant-Colonel: 1946
- Colonel: 1945
- Brigadier: 1945
- Major: 1947
- Major-General: 1950
- Lieutenant-General: 1953
- General (COAS): 1957
Honors Received By General K S Thimayya
- Padma Bhushan Award for civil services in 1954
- General Service Medal for his services when India got independence in 1947
- Indian Independence Medal for his role in independent India in 1947
- Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Burma Star for his services during the Second World War (1939 to 1945)
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Over ages and eras, Karnataka has produced numerous noteworthy personalities who have contributed commendably to the nation in different ways. Famous personalities of Karnataka have made their mark in domains including social work, education, sports, politics, literature, dance, music, cinema and philosophy.
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