Early Life

Sam Manekshaw was born on 3 April 1914 in Amritsar, Punjab, to Parsi parents Hormusji Manekshaw and Hilla, née Mehta. His father was a doctor, who had moved there from the city of Valsad in the coastal Gujarat region.

Manekshaw’s parents had left Bombay in 1903 and established a thriving clinic and pharmacy in the centre of Amritsar. The couple had six children over the following decade, numbering four sons and two daughters of whom Sam was their fifth child and third son.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw
            Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

His early ambition was to study medicine and become a doctor like his father. He completed his primary schooling in Punjab, and then went to Sherwood College, Nainital.

In 1929, he left the college at the age of 15 with his Junior Cambridge Certificate, an English language curriculum developed by the University of Cambridge International Examination. In 1931, he passed his Senior Cambridge (in the School Certificate of the Cambridge Board) with distinction.

Sam Manekshaw then asked his father to send him to London to study medicine, but his father refused on the grounds that he was not old enough; in addition, he was already supporting the studies of Sam Manekshaw’s two elder brothers, both of whom were studying engineering in London.

Life in Army

In an act of rebellion against his father’s refusal, Manekshaw applied for a place and sat the entrance exams in Delhi. On 1 October 1932, Army selected the fifteen cadets through open competition. His trainer placed him sixth in the order of merit.

Of the 40 cadets inducted, only 22 completed the course. Army commissioned him second lieutenants on 1 February 1935.

Manekshaw married Siloo Bode on 22 April 1939 in Bombay. The couple had two daughters, Sherry and Maya (later Maja), born in 1940 and 1945 respectively.

Role in World War 2

Because of a shortage of qualified officers on the outbreak of war, in the first two years of the conflict Army appointed Manekshaw to the acting or temporary ranks of captain on 4 February 1942.

He saw action in Burma in the 1942 campaign at the Sittang River with the 4th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment.

During the fighting around Pagoda Hill, a key position on the left of the Sittang bridgehead, he led his company in a counter-attack against the invading Imperial Japanese Army; despite suffering 50% casualties the company managed to achieve its objective.

After capturing the hill, enemy hit Manekshaw with a burst of light machine gun fire. Enemy severely wounded him in the stomach. Major General David Cowan witnessed his valour in the face of stiff resistance and pinned his own Military Cross ribbon as dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.

Doctor removed seven bullets from his lungs, liver, and kidneys. Doctor removed much of his intestines.

Having recovered from his wounds, Manekshaw attended the eighth staff course at Command and Staff College in Quetta between 23 August and 22 December 1943. On completion, he was posted as the brigade major to the Razmak Brigade.

Role in Indian Army after Independence

On the Partition of India in 1947, Manekshaw’s unit, the 4th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment, became part of the Pakistan Army, so Indian Army reassigned him to the 16th Punjab Regiment.

Before he moved on to his new appointment on 22 October, Pakistani forces infiltrated Kashmir, capturing Domel and Muzaffarabad.

Manekshaw carried out an aerial survey of the situation in Kashmir. He suggested immediate deployments of troops to Kashmir.

Army HQ cancelled the Manekshaw’s posting order as the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5 Gorkha Rifles. HQ posted him to the MO Directorate. MO Directorate planned Kashmir war and the annexation of Hyderabad—code-named “Operation Polo”. As a result Manekshaw never commanded a battalion.

During his term at the MO Directorate, Army promoted him to colonel, then brigadier. Army appointed him as the first Indian Director of Military Operations. HQ later upgraded the appointment to major general and then to lieutenant general.

Caught up in Controversy

He was caught up in a controversy that almost ended his career. In May 1961, Defence Minister Menon promoted Major General Brij Mohan Kaul to lieutenant general and appointed him the Quartermaster General (QMG).

The Defense minster appointed Major General Brij Mohan Kaul against Army Chief recommendation, who resigned as a result. Kaul cultivated a close relationship with Nehru and Menon and became even more powerful than the COAS.

Senior army officials, including Manekshaw disapproved the appointment. They made derogatory comments about the interference of the political leadership in the administration of the army. This led him to be marked as an anti-national.

Kaul sent informers to spy on Sam Manekshaw. Soon Army charged him with sedition, and subjected him to a court of inquiry.

General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Western Command, Lieutenant General Daulet Singh presided over the the court and exonerated Sam Manekshaw.

Before a formal ‘no case to answer’ could be announced, the Sino-Indian War broke out; Sam Manekshaw was not able to participate because of the court proceedings. The Indian Army suffered a debacle in the war. Indian media held Kaul and Menon primarily responsible, and government sacked both of them.

Rise to Chief of Army

In November 1962, Nehru asked Sam Manekshaw to take over the command of IV Corps. Manekshaw told Nehru that the court action against him was a conspiracy, and that his promotion had been due for almost eighteen months. 

Shortly after, on 2 December 1962, Defense Minister promoted Sam Manekshaw to acting lieutenant-general. Defense Minister appointed him as GOC of IV Corps at Tezpur.

The chief of the army staff (COAS), General P. P. Kumaramangalam, retired in June 1969. Though Manekshaw was the most senior army commander.

Defence Minister Sardar Swaran Singh favoured Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh. He had played a key role as the GOC of Western Command during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. Despite this, Defense Minister appointed Manekshaw as the eighth chief of the army staff on 8 June 1969.

Adviser to Indira Gandhi

A conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the majority East Pakistanis sparked Bangladesh Liberation war. In April 1971, India decided to assist in the formation of the new nation of Bangladesh.

During a cabinet meeting towards the end of April, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked Sam Manekshaw regarding preparation of war with Pakistan. He informed Indira Gandhi regarding the army lack of preparation. He said he could guarantee victory if she would allow him to handle the conflict on his own terms, and set a date for it. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi agreed with him.

Following the strategy planned by Sam Manekshaw, the army launched several preparatory operations in East Pakistan. This includes training and equipping the Mukti Bahini (a local group of Bengali nationalists).

Role in 1971 India Pakistan War

The war started officially on 3 December 1971, when Pakistani aircraft bombed Indian Air Force bases in the western part of the country.

Manekshaw instructed Lieutenant General J. F. R. Jacob, chief of staff Eastern Command, to inform the Indian prime minister about movement of troops from Eastern Command. The following day, the navy and the air force also initiated full-scale operations on both eastern and western fronts.

As the war progressed, Pakistan’s resistance crumbled. Sam Manekshaw addressed the Pakistani troops by radio broadcast on 9, 11 and 15 December. He assured them that they would receive honorable treatment from the Indian troops if they surrendered.

The last two broadcasts were delivered as replies to messages from the Pakistani commanders to their troops, which were to have a devastating effect.

The Pakistan Military convinced the troops of the pointlessness of further resistance. The Instrument of Surrender was formally signed on 16 December 1971.

Concerned about maintaining discipline in the aftermath of the conflict, Manekshaw issued strict instructions forbidding looting and rape and stressed the need to respect and stay away from women. As a result, according to Singh, cases of looting and rape were negligible.

The war lasted less than a fortnight and saw more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers taken prisoner. It ended with the unconditional surrender of Pakistan’s eastern half and resulted in the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation. In addition to the POWs, Pakistan suffered 6,000 casualties against India’s 2,000.

Later Life

On 3 January 1973, Government of India conferred upon him the rank of field marshal in a ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was the first Indian army officer to be promoted to the rank.

The settled with his wife, Silloo, in Coonoor, the civilian town next to Wellington Cantonment. He had served as commandant of the Defence Services Staff College in Coonoor earlier in his career. Popular with Gurkha soldiers, Nepal fêted Sam Manekshaw as an honorary general of the Nepalese Army in 1972.

Following his service in the Indian Army, Manekshaw served as an independent director on the board of several companies and, in a few cases, as the chairman.

Manekshaw died of complications from pneumonia at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu, at 12:30 a.m. on 27 June 2008 at the age of 94. His family buried him in the Parsi cemetery in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, with military honours, adjacent to his wife’s grave.

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