The first Indian Commander-in-Chief of India (General KM Cariappa Biography)

The first Indian Commander-in-Chief of India (General KM Cariappa Biography)

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of India after India won her independence from British Rule. He was one of the most decorated army officers of Independent India and previously of the British Indian Army. In this article we are going to take a detailed look at his life. But before we do that, let us look at the snapshots of his life in a tabular format.

Snapshots of life of Commander-in-Chief Kodandera Madappa Cariappa
Nickname Kipper
Birth Date and Year January 28, 1899
Birth Place Shanivarsanthe in Coorg, Mysore (currently in Kodagu, Karnataka)
Death Date and Year May 15, 1993 at the age of 94
Place of Death Bengaluru, India
Military Allegiance First to British Indian Army, later to Indian Army
Service Years 1919 to 1953 and then 1986 to 1993*
Commands Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army
Commander of Western Army
Commander of Eastern Army
Commander of 1/7 Rajput
Rank Field Marshal
Battles or Wars Fought World War II
1947 Indo-Pak War
Awards Won OBE or Order of the British Empire
Legion of Merit


Timeline View of Commander-in-Chief Kodandera Madappa Cariappa’s Career
1919 Was selected as Second Lieutenant on a temporary basis in British Indian Army
1921 He was moved to position of Lieutenant on a temporary basis
1922 He was appointed as Second Lieutenant permanently
1923 Promoted as Lieutenant
1927 Promoted as Captain
1938 Promoted as Major
1942 Promoted as Lieutenant Colonel on a temporary basis
1944 Made Brigadier on a temporary basis
1946 Made Lieutenant Colonel. Then, promoted to Brigadier
1947 Becomes Indian Army’s Major General
1948 Made Lieutenant General
1949 Made Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army
1953 Relinquished office of Commander-in-Chief
1953 Made High Commissioner of India to New Zealand and Australia
1983 Honored as Field Marshal by Indian President
1993 Died while in service at the age of 94

General KM Cariappa Biography

Did you notice?

In this article so far, we mentioned that he was in service till 1993 when he died at the age of 94 years. How come someone be in service till that age? Good question!

Here is the answer:

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal. Field Marshal is the highest honor in which a military officer is bestowed with 5 stars. Sam Manekshaw was the only other Field Marshal apart from Cariappa. It is a rule in Indian Army that a Field Marshal will be considered in active service until the day he dies. A Field Marshal never retires even if he becomes very aged.

Now that we have looked into the life of Kodandera Madappa Cariappa in a snapshot, let us take a detailed look.

Birth and Education of Kodandera Madappa Cariappa

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was born in Mysore’s Coorg district. The exact place of birth was Shanivarsanthe. The place is now in Karnataka’s Kodagu district. The date of his birth was January 28, 1899. He was one of the 6 siblings of the family of which four were brothers and two were sisters. His father Madappa was actually a government official under British Colonial Rule and worked in the revenue department.

Madikeri’s Central High School was from where Cariappa completed his formal education. He completed schooling in 1917. After that he joined Madras Presidency College from where he received his college education. It was while being in college that he came to know that British government had started recruiting Indians into the army and he also learned that the government planned on training the Indian recruits in India only. He wanted to become a soldier and hence, he applied for it.

There were 70 applications in total. Out of these 70, 42 were selected. Cariappa was one of them. Once selected, Cariappa was selected for Indore’s Daly Cadet College. He turned out to be impressive there and despite not being from any aristocratic family, he managed to graduate with 7th rank in the merit order.

It is interesting to note that he actually received his military training when World War I was going on (i.e. during the period 1914 to 1918). Though he was already undergoing military training, he was not sent on any active duty. After Cariappa graduated from Daly Cadet College, he was sent off to Bombay’s Carnatic Infantry.

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa’s Military Career Prior to Independence

Over time Kodandera Madappa Cariappa worked his way up the ladder and became a decorated army office. He became a temporary Second Lieutenant in 2nd Battalion of Bombay’s 88th Carnatic Infantry. In 1921 he was promoted as Lieutenant but on a temporary basis. From there Cariappa was moved to 2/125 Napier Rifles, which was located in Mesopotamia (currently Iraq). He came back to India in 1922 and in June he was permanently assigned as Second Lieutenant. The following year he was permanently assigned as Lieutenant. Then in 1938 he became Major and by 1946, he was promoted as Brigadier.

By the time India earned her Independence, Kodandera Madappa Cariappa had already served in various places of the world including Japan, Burma, Iraq, Syria and Iran. By this time, he was also appointed as office of OBE or Oder of the British Empire. In 1947, Kodandera Madappa Cariappa was sent to Camberly, UK’s Imperial Defence College where he underwent ‘Higher Directions of War’ training. This made him the first Indian to have been selected for this training.

During 1947 partition, it became the responsibility of Kodandera Madappa Cariappa to split military assets between the newly partitioned countries of India and Pakistan. Partitioning of the Indian Army and its assets wasn’t a piece of cake to cut but he handled it in orderly and peaceful manner.

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa’ Career After Independence

When India earned her Independence, he was made Deputy Chief of General Staff and was given the rank of Major General. Later in 1947, he was raised to the rank of Lieutenant General, making him Eastern Army’s commander. That was the period when India went into war with Pakistan, which is why he was promoted as commander of Eastern Army. In January next year, he was made army commander for Delhi and East Punjab Command, which was later renamed as Western Command.

In January next year, that is in year 1949, he was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army, making him the first Indian to hold that position. He replaced Sir Roy Bucher, who was actually a British.

Once he became Commander-in-Chief, he undertook the responsibility of transforming the army that British left into India’s national military force. That’s when he introduced Guards Brigade in 1949 and Parachute Regiment in 1952. In 1958, Guards Brigade was renamed as Brigade of the Guards.

Parachute Regiment became India’s first army regiment to recruit Indian irrespective of class and caste. Because of Kodandera Madappa Cariappa’s extraordinary records and achievement, Harry S. Truman – the then US President in 1949 awarded Cariappa with Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit. That is actually an US Army award.

In 1953, Cariappa decided to retire from active service. That is when he was appointed as High Commissioner of India to New Zealand and Australia. Though he moved out of active service, he never broke his ties with Indian Army. In order to boost the morale of Indian soldiers during 1965’s and 1971’s military conflicts with Pakistan. Cariappa always held the view that India’s military should be apolitical and should always stay humble to civilian government. In 1986, Indian President Zail Singh promoted him to the rank of Field Marshal.

Kodandera Madappa Cariappa died in 1993. It was a peaceful death after an exemplary service towards nation. His life is a memorable chapter in Indian history and his achievements can be very well understood by the fact that both Colonial British Government and then United States of America recognized his services and awarded him prestigious awards. There is no second thought that he was one of the greatest soldiers India gave birth to.

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