GENERAL K.S. THIMAYYA, DSO
Kodandera Subayya Thimayya is perhaps the most well known of India's military leaders. Though he was not the first Chief, or the most successful, he was definitely the most talked about, and admired. The first Indian to command a brigade in battle during World War II, Timmy, as he was popularly known, had become a legend in his life time. After his assignment in Korea, he became a known figure not only in India but around the World. He is the only Indian Army Chief, who had a biography written by a foreign journalist, an honour not given, as yet, even to Cariappa or Manekshaw, who became Field Marshals. Stories of his ready wit, fun loving ways, quick temper, and fearless nature began making the rounds soon after he donned the uniform, and thus was born the 'Thimayya Legend'. A charismatic leader, he was very popular with both officers and men, who called him 'General Timmy', or sometimes just 'Timmy Sahib'.
Timmy was born on 31 March 1906 in Mercara, in Coorg, in a family of coffee planters. Like Cariappa, he also belonged to the Kodandera clan. His father was Thimayya, and when he was born, he was named Subayya. According to the custom, his full name should have been written as Kodandera Thimayya Subayya, but this was changed, when he joined school. His mother was Sitamma, the daughter of Cheppudira Somayya, a leading coffee planter of the district. Sitamma was an educated and accomplished lady, who was also a social worker. In recognition of her public service, the British Government had awarded her the 'Kaiser-e-Hind' medal. The couple had three sons and three daughters. The eldest son was Ponappa, followed by Subayya (Timmy), and the third was Somayya. All three became officers in the Indian Army. The family lived in a large house called 'Sunnyside', which belonged to Timmy's maternal grandfather, Cheppudira Somayya.
Timmy was six, and his elder brother Ponappa was eight when they were sent to St. Joseph's College in Coonoor, a school run by Irish brothers. They were the first Indians to be admitted to the school, which had only British or Anglo Indian children. Perhaps for this reason, instead of his surname being recorded as Subayya, it was written as Thimayya, which was actually his father's name. The Irish brothers were strict disciplinarians, and believed in using the rod freely. The regimen in the school was tough, the food bad, and the living conditions uncomfortable. Thimayya spent six years at the school, and his ordeal ended only when it was discovered that a common form of punishment was making the boys kneel on broken glass in the chapel, as a punishment. Though Thimayya never complained, the cuts on his knee were noticed when he went home during the holidays. His shocked parents immediately decided to take the boys out of the school, and send them to Bishop Cotton School, in Bangalore.
Bishop Cotton was a refreshing change from St Joseph's. The living conditions were better, and the food good and plentiful. Discipline was strict, but punishments rare, and inflicted in a humane manner, with a few swipes of the cane being the most severe form. The teachers were serious, but kind and pleasant. Thimayya was not very good at his studies, but more than made up for this by his proficiency in games, and other activities. He played hockey, football and tennis, and was a keen boy scout. He also joined the Auxiliary Force, and from this was born the attraction for the Army, which later turned into a passion. He often saw khaki clad columns of British soldiers, marching smartly, and he would follow them for miles on his bicycle. By the time he left school, at the age of 15, he had developed into a tall and well built lad, who had made up his mind to be a soldier.
In 1921, Thimayya finished school, and left for the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (PWRIMC), which had just opened at Dehradun, to train Indian cadets for Sandhurst. The first batch of five Indians had joined Sandhurst in January 1919, but only two had passed out. Though the quota for each batch, starting every six months, was ten, the number who qualified was always smaller, and not all who joined passed out. In the first two years, only 15 cadets joined, in four batches, and of these, only eight could graduate. It was noticed that the general standard of Indian applicants was poor, primarily due to lack of education. Considering the difference in education and background between British and Indian cadets, it was also decided to open a school in India, where prospective candidates for Sandhurst could be prepared and groomed. The PWRIMC was established in February 1922, at Dehradun, for this purpose. The first batch was carefully selected, and had only 32 cadets. Only one vacancy was allotted to the Madras Area, including Coorg. However, Thimayya had no difficulty in being selected. He spoke English fluently, had an excellent physique, was a good sportsman, and possessed the necessary social graces to move in British society.
The PWRIMC had been built in sylvan surroundings, and the cadets were housed comfortably, in dormitories, as in a British public school. The house masters and teachers were British, while the Commandant was Colonel J.L. Stoughton, from the Sikh Regiment. The cadets came from a diverse background, including several from royal or military families. Ability at sports and games was more highly regarded than scholastic achievement, and Thimayya had no problem in staying near the top of his class. During a visit to the College by General Claude Jacob, the Chief of General Staff, a cricket match was organised. Thimayya batted exceptionally well, and hit a sixer, which landed almost on the General's head. Fortunately, General Claude was an avid cricketer, and he not only congratulated Thimayya, but remembered him many years later.
Though the PWRIMC was opened as a feeder institution, admission to the school did not guarantee selection for Sandhurst. Though it was called a 'College', it did not give even a school certificate, when boys passed out after spending 6-7 years there. Many Indians considered it a 'sop', which was unlikely to accelerate the pace of Indianisation. During a debate in the Assembly on 19 February 1925, one of the members compared it to the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire. For some reason, the British believed that only boys from an aristocratic background, or the land owning class would be suitable for commissions, and were very careful in selecting candidates. As result, most of those who were admitted in the first few years possessed impeccable pedigrees, but lacked education, as well as mental and physical robustness. After spending a year and a half at the PWRIMC, there were only five cadets left in Thimayya's batch, the others having failed to pass the tests, or given up in between.
The next hurdle was the admission test, for Sandhurst. Thimayya's academic record was not brilliant, and he knew that he would have to work very hard if he wanted to pass. Also, his parents had already spent a lot of money, in sending him to the PWRIMC - the fee was 5,000 rupees for sons of military officers and 10,000 rupees for others - and it would all be wasted if he failed to qualify. Incidentally, unlike today, when pre-commission training is free, in those days parents had to pay for the training at Sandhurst also - 7,000 rupees for sons of military officers, and 11,000 rupees for others. There was a stiff written examination, at Simla, for which they prepared for several weeks, followed by an oral test. Thimayya had some difficulty with Urdu, which he had not been able to master, but managed to pass, because of his good marks in the other papers. He was then called for an interview with the Chief of General Staff. General Jacob remembered Thimayya as the young lad who had hit the sixer two years back, and the interview was over in a few minutes. There was now only one barrier to cross, the interview with the Viceroy himself.
There were sixty candidates, who passed the written examination, and the interview with the Chief of General Staff. They were mostly from the nobility and the land owning class, who were preferred for their loyalty to the British. Finally, only six were selected for Sandhurst. Thimayya and his cousin, Bopayya, were both interviewed by the Viceroy on the same day, and were selected. They were overjoyed, and on their return to Coorg, there was a big celebration. Thimayya's elder brother, Ponappa, as well as Cariappa, who was related to him, being a Kodandera, were present. They were both subalterns, and advised the two successful candidates about life in Sandhurst, and the pitfalls they must guard against. The six boys sailed for England in June 1924. One of them was P.N. Thapar, who later became a General, and succeeded Thimayya as Army Chief, in 1961.
At Sandhurst, Thimayya faced British prejudice and snobbery, for the first time, and had many brushes with authority. His guardian, a British Colonel, had forbidden Indian cadets to dance with local girls. Thimayya met an English girl at a dance, and became friendly with her. One of her letters to him was intercepted by the Colonel, who berated him for dancing with an English girl, against his orders. Thimayya, realizing that the Colonel had opened his letter, lost his temper, and paid him back in the same coin. The night before passing out from Sandhurst, a ball was held which Indians customarily did not attend. Thimayya not only decided to attend, but invited two British girls, whose father had served in India, and knew his father. Thimayya, danced with his partner throughout the evening, and next morning, as expected, he and his guardian had a fearful row. Timmy told the Colonel that he was not accustomed to allowing anyone but his family to arbitrate his behaviour. When the Colonel threatened to report the matter to India Office, as well as his parents, Timmy told him to go to hell.
Another incident at Sandhurst, which Thimayya remembered often, concerns a soldier's luck. While going to the gymnasium, for PT, he did not perform the right turn properly. He was spotted by the Adjutant, who reported him for being slack. Thimayya was marched up to his Company Commander, but was let off with a warning, this being is first misdemeanor. A few months later, while on parade, the Commandant pointed out a dirty button on his chest. Thimayya was once again marched up to the Company Commander, expecting the worst. Miraculously, the Company Commander seemed to have forgotten the earlier incident, and once again let him off, with a warning. When they came out of the Company Commander's office, the Sergeant Major told Thimayya, "You are lucky, Sir. And being lucky in the most important quality a soldier can have".
Thimayya passed out from Sandhurst on 4 February, 1926, along with three other Indians, Sushil Kumar Ghose, Tara Singh Bal, and Pran Nath Thapar. He decided to spend a week in Paris, before returning to India. He was present in the Moulin Rouge, the day Maurice Chevalier made his debut in the famous night club, where he was introduced to the audience by the incomparable Mistinguette. Maurice Chevalier sang a song, which advertised six different flower scents of a particular perfume. After the song, six girls, wearing virtually nothing except one of the scents on intimate parts of their body, went around the audience, and invited the gentlemen to recognise what they were wearing. To do so, one was required to use his nose, and when one of the girls presented her inner thigh to Thimayya, he felt very embarrassed and tried to ward her off. His discomfiture was noticed by Chevalier, and the rest of the audience, and there were many sniggers and guffaws. Finally, Thimayya managed to blurt out the name of a flower, and was surprised when he was presented with a bottle of perfume, for making a correct guess.
Thimayya also visited Pigalle, where the girls wore even less than at the Moulin Rouge. The pace was full of prostitutes and gigolos, and seemed to represent the decadence in European society at its worst. Fortunately, he met an American family, and was able to join them for the evening. Next day, he was to leave for Southampton to sail for India. However, it was discovered that he had caught measles, and this delayed his voyage by ten days. He sailed for Bombay in the beginning of March 1926, on a ship that had many of his Sandhurst colleagues, going to India, Australia and New Zealand. After disembarking at Bombay, he tried to find out where he had been posted. To his surprise, he found that his name was missing from the list. He made telephone call to Army HQ in Delhi, where a clerk regretted the clerical error, and asked him if he had any preference regarding the British battalion with which he would be attached for a year. Thimayya said that he would not mind Bangalore, since that was close to his home. The clerk told him he was in luck - the 2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry (HLI), had just moved to Bangalore, and he was posted to them, for his attachment. Next morning, Thimayya caught a train for Bangalore.
Thimayya arrived at Bangalore on 26 March 1926. He was received at the railway station by two officers of the Highland Light Infantry, Second Lieutenants Gray and Black. They greeted him politely and took him to the mess, where he met a number of other officers, having their pre lunch drinks. Thimayya was introduced to them, and after lunch, retired to his room for a well earned nap. However, he was woken up several times by one or other of the officers opening the door, and asking him if he was all right. Finally, he asked them what was the matter, and they told him that this was the first time an Indian had joined the battalion, and they wanted to make sure that he was comfortable.
Thimayya soon became acquainted with the Scots, and they with him. He found that officers had little to do, and spent their time either playing games, or socialising. The CO, Lieut Colonel Sir Robert Seagraves, was stoic, but just, and ran a happy team. Thimayya was put in the company commanded by Major Sir Telfer-Smolett, who soon became his mentor and guide. He was a popular figure, who exempflied the perfect type of officer and gentleman. His wife was equally affable and charming, and Thimayya soon became a regular visitor to their house. He soon got to know the men well, and his proficiency at football and hockey added to his popularity and standing in the battalion. He also knew several Indian and Anglo Indian families in Bangalore, from his school days, and also because his parents were well known in Bangalore, where they spent a lot of time each year. Gray and Black became close friends of Thimayya, and they took part in several escapades.
Soon after Thimayya joined the battalion, the Adjutant, Captain Ross-Skinner, asked him to apply for membership of the United Services Club. Thimayya told the Adjutant that he could not become a member, being an Indian. The Adjutant was surprised, and spoke to the CO, who agreed to speak to the Club Committee, when Thimayya's name was put up. However, this did not help, and Thimayya was not accepted. The Scots were furious, and all the officers offered to resign, in protest. But Thimayya prevailed on them to desist, since he felt it would be unfair to deny others the facilities for entertainment, just because of him. In any case, Thimayya was also a member of the Bowring Institute, which was a club for Anglo Indians, as well the Century Club, for Indians, and thus had greater opportunities for entertainment than the Scots, who could only use the United Services Club.
The British prejudice against Indians, regarding club membership was one of the sore points, which galled Indians who had been granted King's Commissions, and were equated with British officers in all matters. Nathu Singh had to face a similar prejudice, and he made an issue of it, when he was Captain in Peshawar, in 1933. This prejudice continued, inspite of instructions to the contrary, issued by the C-in-C himself, in 1919, when the decision to grant King's Commission to Indians had first been promulgated. In a letter addressed to all Commandants, the C-in-C had written:
"The Commander-in-Chief feels confident that he can rely on the British officers' sense of duty, honour and fair play to secure the success of this new departure. Commanders of all grades must, while upholding the standards and ideals expected from officers..... by advice, precept and example to assist the Indian officers in their new career and it must be remembered that these officers bear the King's commissions and the honour of that commission must be zealously safeguarded; any slight to it because it is borne by an Indian, such for instance as black-balling from a club on this ground, should be resented as a slight to the Army."
Thimayya spent a wonderful year with the Scots, and danced with the wives and daughters of the officers to his heart's content. Surprisingly, the Scots had none of the prejudice against Indians, that the English had. In a way, there were many similarities between them and the Coorgs, such as the system of clans, their love of dancing, and martial traditions. The Scots took to Thimayya's family when they visited Bangalore, and some of them visited his home in Mercara, as guests at social occasions and shooting parties. By the time he left the battalion on 26 March 1927, Thimayya had become a favourite, not only of the officers, but even the men, who gave him the rare honour of 'chairing' him round the parade ground, on their shoulders.
After a year of indolence at Bangalore, Thimayya was looking for some active soldiering. He asked for, and was posted to, 4th Battalion, The 19th Hyderabad Regiment, then stationed in Baghdad. Being one of the eight units in the Indian Army, which had been 'Indianised', it already had several Indian officers. The senior among them was Captain Kunwar Daulat Singh, from Kota. The two other Indians were Lieut Harbishen Singh Brar, who had passed out from Sandhurst in August 1923, and Lieut Isfaqul Majid, who had graduated in August 1924. Relations between them and their British colleagues were not very cordial, and led to frequent quarrels. This was primarily due to Daulet Singh, who hated the British, and found fault with everything they did. The CO was Lieut Colonel Hamilton-Britton, who was heavy drinker, and suffered from gout. He kept to himself, and did not inspire confidence, among the men or the officers. Thimayya's company commander, Captain Geoffrey Bull was even worse. The atmosphere was in marked contrast to the easy bonhomie and camaraderie of the Highland Light Infantry, and Thimayya was saddened at the prospect of having to spend the rest of his service in the 4/19 Hyderabads.
The battalion had a mixed composition, and each of the four companies had men from different regions. One had Kumaonis, the second had Rajputs, the third Jats, and the fourth, in which Thimayya was posted, had Ahirs, who were Muslim Jats from the region to the South of Delhi. They were simple village folk, who had none of the vices which Thimayya had seen in British troops during his stay with the Scots. They were extremely honest, abjured alcohol, and saved every penny they earned, to be spent on their families back in their villages. Cases of indiscipline were almost non existent, and their only entertainment was to sit in group and sing songs or tell jokes. Thimayya soon came to love them, for the absolute faith and loyalty they gave him, and he began to feel proud of his association with them.
Thimayya spent a year in Baghdad, where his most notable achievement was a minor brush with death. One of the duties assigned to his company was to protect King Faisel I, and this involved providing a guard at the gate, and patrolling the perimeter of the palace. One day, while riding around the perimeter, Thimayya heard a woman's shriek, from the palace, and without a second thought, rode into the grounds. He was immediately attacked by two Arabs, with drawn swords, and escaped only because of the agility of his horse. Later he came to know that he had almost entered the King's harem, and was lucky to be still alive.
The CO, Lieut Colonel Hamilton-Britton, was originally from the Carnatic Regiment, and had married a Coorg girl, who later left him. According to him, the happiest days of his life had been spent in Coorg, and when he came to know that Thimayya was from that region, he became an instant favourite. Thimayya became very close to the Hamilton-Brittons and was often a guest in their house. As in Bangalore, Indians were not allowed in the Basra Club, and the Colonel decided to take it up with the Club Committee. Due to his efforts, and the fact that the Club was located in the cantonment, Indians were granted full membership, and began to enjoy the facilities that the club offered. This also served the useful purpose of keeping the officers away from the notorious flesh pots of Baghdad. Sometime later, Colonel Hamilton-Britton recommended Thimayya for the appointment of Assistant Provost Marshal, who was responsible for enforcing discipline among the troops, especially when they visited the city. It was a very responsible position, and Thimayya was warned that he would have to withstand temptations, as well as pressure, to look the other way at various types of wrong doing. Thimayya performed his task diligently, and the officers of the battalion gave him a lot of support. This also brought the British and Indian officers closer to each other. When the battalion left Baghdad, the CO told Thimayya: "I am proud of you, my boy."
In 1928, Thimayya's battalion moved to Allahabad, where he was to spend the next four years. Thimayya spent a few days in Bombay, enroute, and here he met Sarojini Naidu, who introduced him to Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This was Thimayya's first contact with nationalist leaders, and he found the experience confusing. As an Indian, he sympathised with their cause. But as a soldier, he had sworn an oath of allegiance to the British sovereign. He was not sure if he could reconcile his position, with respect to his country, and his profession. At Allahabad, he came into close contact with the Nehrus, and was a frequent guest at Anand Bhawan, where he came to know Nehru's sisters, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and Krishna (Betty) Hutheesingh. He also met Dr. Kailash Nath Katju and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, as well several other prominent citizens of Allahabad. He had his first glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi when he came to Allahabad to address a public meeting. The Civil Disobedience movement had started, and there was a general upsurge of nationalist feeling among the people. Thimayya's battalion was often given duties, involving maintenance of law and order, and doing flag marches. On one occasion, he almost got into trouble, for throwing his peak cap in a bonfire of British goods, at the behest of Krishna Hutheesingh.
Thimayya was deeply impressed by the nationalist fervour then sweeping the country, and the sacrifices being made by the people. At one stage, he and some of the other Indian officers, wanted to resign their commissions, and join them. Moti Lal Nehru advised them not to do so. He felt that the Indianisation of the Army had been achieved after lot of effort and should not be stopped. After India achieved Independence, it would require trained officers for its Army, and Thimayya and his colleagues would then form the hardcore of the officer cadre. "There are enough of us in the Congress, and we need more people in the Army", said Moti Lal, and advised him to stick it out. After some introspection, Thimayya was convinced that the elder Nehru was right. A few years earlier, Moti Lal had given the same advice to Nathu Singh, when he was contemplating quitting the Army. It is interesting to note that all prominent leaders, in those days, held similar views. In 1926, Lala Lajpat Rai had given the same advice to S.P.P. Thorat, newly commissioned from Sandhurst, on board the ship which was taking them to India. In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned at Poona, P.S. Bhagat had met him. When asked how he could contribute to the Nationalist cause, Gandhiji had replied in a similar vein.
For Thimayya personally, the tenure at Allahabad was rewarding. Lieut Colonel Hamilton-Britton had given him excellent reports, and when the new CO, Lieut Colonel Nicholls arrived, he relied heavily on Thimayya, due to his lack of knowledge about Indians. In September 1930, Thimayya was appointed Adjutant, a post normally given to a senior captain or a major, while he was still a subaltern, and still to pass his promotion examination, from subaltern to captain. Three more Indians had joined the battalion - Naranjan Singh Gill, who had graduated before Thimayya, in September 1925; Ganpat Ram Nagar, who passed out in February 1928; and Kunwar Yadunath Singh, who was commissioned in September 1928. The problem of Indians joining the club remained unsolved. The Allahabad Club refused to accept them as full members, in spite of the efforts of Colonel Hamilton-Britton. Indians had been in the Army for almost ten years, and were members of officers messes of their regiments, but the clubs, at all stations in India, continued to remain the preserve of Europeans, right upto 1947, when the country became independent, and in some cases for several years afterwards. To many Englishmen, the club was the last bastion of the Empire, and they were reluctant to surrender it, till forced to do so by events of history.
In 1931, the battalion moved to Fort Sandeman, on the North West Frontier. En route, while changing trains at Quetta, Thimayya joined some friends for a party, and missed the train. As a result, he reported late at Fort Sandeman, where the new CO, Lieut Colonel Lewis, was impatiently waiting for him. Since he was to take over as the permanent Adjutant - till now he was only officiating- his delayed arrival resulted in the postponement of a patrol, on which the battalion was to leave the same day. Thimayya got a severe tongue lashing for his lapse, and if he had not been the Adjutant, would probably have faced disciplinary action. After this inauspicious start in his new job, Thimayya realised that he would have to be careful in future, if he wanted to avoid trouble. Also, he did not want to give the British officers the chance to deride the abilities and trustworthiness of Indians, when given responsible assignments.
The other two battalions in the brigade were of the Sikhs, and Gurkhas. There was considerable rivalry between the three units, especially on the sports ground. The Hyderabads were always bested by the Sikhs in hockey, and the Gurkhas in football. Being the only battalion with Indian officers, they were also treated with derision and scorn. Thimayya decided to change all this, and undertook to train the battalion hockey team himself. The Sikhs, who normally beat the Hyderabads with several dozen goals, were surprised when they had to suffer a defeat, thanks to the fighting spirit enthused by Thimayya. He also trained the battalion band, till it was almost as good as the Gurkhas, who were reputed to have the best brass band on the Frontier.
Lieut Colonel Lewis was one of the best officers Thimayya had seen, and he soon became a role model for him, as well as other officers. He found that the CO was scrupulously fair, in dealing with British and Indian officers. He was a thorough professional, who set very high standards for himself, as well as the battalion. As the Adjutant, Thimayya was the closest to him, and learned a lot during this tenure. Very soon, the battalion began to do well in every sphere, and earned the grudging respect of the whole brigade. During this time, several other Indians, Mohinder Singh Wadalia, Mohammed Azam Khan and Kanwar Bahadur Singh joined the battalion, after passing out from Sandhurst. Captain (later General) S.M. Shrinagesh, who was senior to Thimayya, also joined the battalion, from the Madras Pioneers, which had been disbanded. The presence of a large number of KCIOs resulted in enhancement in the reputation of Indian officers in the eyes of the men, who found that they were as good, if not better, than British officers.
In 1934, a new CO took over the battalion. He was the exact opposite of Colonel Lewis, and had very little interest in what went on in the battalion. He left everything to Thimayya, and spent very little time in the office. The battalion soon moved to Quetta, where the hectic social life of the city, and his attractive wife, kept the CO occupied, and it was left to Thimayya to run things. Quetta was then one of the largest cantonments in India, with more than a thousand officers stationed there. There was always some sort of activity going on, and Thimayya was kept quite busy. He was almost twenty eight years old, and was due to be promoted to Captain soon. He thought it was time to get married, and settle down.
In January 1935, while on leave in Bangalore, Thimayya met Nina Cariappa (no relation of K.M. Cariappa), who was a distant relative. He had heard about her, but never met her before, because she had spent most of her childhood in Paris. It was love at first sight, and they were soon engaged. The marriage took place a month later, at Bangalore. After spending a few days at Thimayya's house in Mercara, followed by a few days at Bangalore, the couple left for Bombay, from where they sailed for Karachi. After a short voyage, which also became their honeymoon, Thimayya brought his bride to Quetta. They settled down to a life of domestic bliss, which was cut short by the terrible earthquake which devastated Quetta on 31 May 1935, killing 60,000 people. Fortunately, none of the troops were affected, and were able to assist in the relief work, which lasted several weeks.
Soon afterwards, Thimayya asked for a posting to Madras as Adjutant of the 5 Madras University Battalion, of the University Training Corps Battalion, where his uncle, Captain Ponappa would soon be completing his tenure. Leaving Nina at Mercara for her confinement, he left on a duty which was known as the "British Officers Winter Tour". He spent a month visiting villages around Delhi from where the men of his company, were recruited. Wherever he went, he was welcomed with rallies and fetes, and the tour brought him much closer to the men than he had been till then. He then went on leave, to be with his wife when their child was born. On 20 March 1936, Nina delivered a baby girl, who was named Mireille. A month after the birth of his daughter, Thimayya took up his new assignment at Madras, on 1 April 1936.
Though Thimayya was married, and almost thirty years old, he had not lost his zest for life. At Madras, one of his duties was to act as the Master Gunner of Fort St George, which involved control of the battery of six artillery guns, used for firing ceremonial salutes. One evening, during a party at his house, a young college girl was gushing about a glimpse she had of the Governor that morning. Thimayya told her that she was more important than the Governor. She was more intelligent, would make a greater contribution to society, and was even better looking. In fact, she deserved a 31 gun salute, as much as he did. Thimayya promised that next morning, when she left for college, she would get the salute,. Every one thought that Thimayya was joking, but the next day, the whole city heard 31 guns booming in salute. Thimayya was able to get away with it as he was authorised a certain number of rounds for practice, and was thus not violating any order. However, the locals did not know this, and thought that Thimayya has defied his British superiors.
After spending four years in Madras, Thimayya was ordered to rejoin his battalion. The 4/19 Hyderabads were moved to Singapore, as World War II had begun. Having left his wife and daughter at Bangalore, Thimayya spent two years alone in Singapore. Due to a series of incompetent COs, morale in the battalion was low, and the Indian and British officers hardly spoke to each other. There was a mutiny, by a company of Ahirs, who were joined next day by the Jat company. Thimayya was now commanding a mixed company, and was able to keep them out of it. He was instrumental in pacifying the men, and the mutiny finally broke. But by now, Thimayya was fed up, and asked for a transfer. In August 1941, he was transferred to Agra, to 8/19 Hyderabad Regiment, which was under raising. Two months later, he was transferred to 10/19 Hyderabad Regiment, which was also being raised, at the same station.
In July 1942, Thimayya was appointed the second-in-command of the battalion. While he was at Agra, there were violent demonstrations, triggered off by the Quit India resolution, adopted at Bombay by the Congress Party. On six occasions, Thimayya's battalion was called out, to control violent mobs. Each time, Thimayya talked to the demonstrators, who were mostly students, and avoided opening fire. After some time, posters appeared in the town, saying "Don't be afraid of the Hyderabads - they never shoot." Thimayya's CO, Lieut Colonel Charles Attfield was annoyed, and asked why he was not opening fire. Thimayya replied that whenever he gave a warning, the mob dispersed, so where was the need to open fire.
After a short stint at Agra, Thimayya left for Quetta, for the Staff College course, in February 1943. He was one of six Indians, out of a total of 140 students who attended the course. When he graduated, after six months, he stood second. After the course, he was given the prestigious appointment of GSO 2 (Ops), in HQ 25 Indian Division. He was the first Indian to be given the coveted 'ops' assignment, and got it only after he refused a 'staff duties' job, preferring to go back to his battalion, rather than "grow corns, sitting around Army Headquarters with the rest of these bloody overpaid, over ranked office boys."
Thimayya joined the 25th Indian Division at Madras, but it was soon to move to Burma. The GOC, Major General Davies, had tried to get his GSO 3, a British captain, promoted as GSO 2, but this was not permitted by Army HQ, and Thimayya was posted. As a result, the General was not very favourably inclined towards Thimayya, when he arrived. He was also in the habit of losing his temper, which the others on his staff attributed to a bad liver, and tolerated. But when this happened with Thimayya for the second time, he blew up, and asked for a transfer. General Davies called him over for a drink, and had a long chat. He told Thimayya that he was 'too damned sensitive'. He advised him not carry a chip on his shoulder, and told him that if he wanted to go, he would let him do so. However, he also told Thimayya that he was a good officer, and would be happy if he stayed on. At this, Thimayya's rage subsided, and he withdrew his request for a transfer.
25 Indian Division soon moved to Burma, to replace 5 Indian Division, which had fought in Kohima and Imphal. Entraining at Madras, they moved to Chittagong by rail, and from there to Maungdaw by road. In May 1944, he was promoted to the rank of Lieut Colonel and given command of 8/19 Hyderabad, in which he had served during its raising in Agra. The battalion was in defence, and there were casualties almost daily, from fire from a Japanese position on a hill, which overlooked the Indian defences. Thimayya wanted to attack but the Divisional Commander nominated a British battalion, which suffered heavy casualties. Thimayya was blamed for an incorrect assessment of the enemy position. To vindicate his stand, Thimayya launched an attack, without orders, and captured the hill, killing over a hundred Japanese, without a single casualty among his own troops. He was complimented by the Corps Commander. The Divisional Commander, Major General Davies, had forbidden the attack, but chose to overlook it. However, he said, "You took a big chance, Thimayya. You had a close call. You are one of the lucky ones." Thimayya recalled what the Sergeant Major at Sandhurst had told him about luck being the most important quality a soldier can have.
Thimayya's battalion, 8/19 Hyderabad, was part of the 'All Indian' 51st Brigade, known thus because it not only comprised all Indian battalions, but all three COs were Indians. 16/10th Baluch was commanded by L.P. Sen, and 2/2 Punjab by S.P.P. Thorat. From Maungdaw, the brigade was ordered to advance Buthidaung in December 1944. In January 1945, it took part in the famous battle of Kangaw, where the Brigade Commander and three COs were all awarded DSOs. On 25 March 1945, Thimayya was given command of 36 Infantry Brigade, which was part of 26 Indian Division. He became the first Indian to command a brigade in the field.
Thimayya's brigade was the first to enter Rangoon, which the Japanese had evacuated ten days earlier, leaving the city in the hands of the Indian National Army (INA). Among the captured INA officers was Thimayya's elder brother. Due to an attack of acute hepatitis, Thimayya missed the action, and was hospitalised in Calcutta. After he recovered, he was posted to a staff appointment, but he refused, threatening to resign, if he was not given back the command of his brigade, which he eventually got. When the Japanese finally surrendered at Singapore, Thimayya attended the ceremony. He later visited a prison camp, where the Japanese had held the soldiers of 4/19 Hyderabad, his old battalion, which he had left just two weeks before they were captured. Thimayya was shocked at the condition of his erstwhile comrades. They were emaciated, and many had lost their reason. For Thimayya, this was the saddest moment of the war, and he wept unashamedly.
After World War II ended, Thimayya was given command of 268 Brigade, which was sent to Japan, as part of the British Commonwealth Force. Arriving in Japan, Thimayya was shocked at the devastation, especially in Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb and virtually flattened the city. His brigade was located in Matsue, a small town, surrounded by many little islands, in an inland sea. There was little to do, and one of his major headaches was to keep the men occupied. The Japanese women were beautiful, and due to the shortage of men, after the war, quite agreeable to liaisons with the allied occupation forces. As a result, venereal disease was rampant, and strict measures were enforced to control it. Thimayya's brigade, comprising Indian troops, had not a single case of venereal disease, and when he sent reports to this effect, nobody believed him. The Americans sent their own teams, to carry out tests on Thimayya's men. When they also could not find a single case, they asked the Indians if they were using some mystic potion, to control the disease! Thimayya spent a pleasant year at Matsue, before being sent back to India in December 1946, to serve on the Indian Armed Forces Nationalisation Committee, which had been set up on 13 November 1946.
The Armed Forces Nationalisation Committee was asked to recommend measures to accelerate the process of Indianisation of the three Armed Services. The Chairman was Sir Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, and the other members were Hriday Nath Kunzru, Muhammad Ismail Khan, Sampuran Singh, Major General D.A.L. Wade, Brigadier K.S. Thimayya, Wing Commander Mehar Singh, and Commander H.M.S. Choudri, with Lieut Colonel B.M. Kaul as Secretary. By now, it had been decided that the British Government would hand over power to Indians by June 1948. The Committee had to consider whether the Armed Forces could be completely nationalised by that time. Some Indians, such as Brigadier Nathu Singh, felt that Indians were capable of holding all appointments, and there was no need for British officers to stay on after June 1948. Several other Indians felt that it would take upto five years. Senior British officers insisted that it could take anything upto fifteen years for complete Indianisation of the Armed Forces. The question became a political issue, as several British generals advised the Indian leaders against handing over power to Indian officers, and warned them of the dangers of a coup, as had been attempted in Burma. Ultimately, Indian officers were able to convince the political leaders that they had no political ambitions, and it was decided to keep the British officers as advisers, for a year or two only. In the event, the transfer of power took place earlier than expected, and the recommendations of the Committee became redundant.
Once the decision to partition the country was taken, it was visualised that there would be large scale movement of people, in the Punjab. To supervise their move, and prevent violence, a Boundary Force, based on a division, was created, under the command of Major General T.W. Rees, with its headquarters at Lahore. Thimayya was appointed commander of 5 Brigade, located at Amritsar, which was part of this force. He was called to Delhi for a short stint on the Armed Forces Partition Sub Committee, before returning to his brigade. He was also made an advisor to the Boundary Force Commander, Major General Rees. Thimayya's first meeting with Rees was not very cordial. Rees said that he had thirty years service to Thimayya's twenty, and did not need his advice. Thimayya left, and did not meet Rees again. In fact, he found that the British officers were indifferent, and not very keen to prevent disturbances. When Jawahar Lal Nehru, the Prime Minister, came to Lahore, accompanied by Sardar Baldev Singh, the Defence Minister, Thimayya took up the matter with them, and recommended that British officers in the Boundary Force should be replaced by Indian officers. Nehru accepted the suggestion, and brought it up in the Supreme Council meeting next day. The Pakistanis felt that they did not have enough experienced officers to replace British officers. However, the Indians decided to go ahead, and British officers began to resign from the Boundary Force. General Lockhart, the C-in-C, was furious with Thimayya, for having given the suggestion to Nehru without consulting him, or his superior, General Rees. Thimayya told Lockhart about his first and only conversation with Rees, in the presence of the latter, and felt that he had acted correctly. When Lockhart did not agree, Thimayya offered to resign. Lockhart immediately cooled down, and asked Thimayya to forget about the affair.
After a few months Thimayya was transferred to 11 Brigade, located at Jullunder, which was also part of the Boundary Force. A little later, Rees was recalled to Delhi, and Thimayya was given command of the Force, with the rank of Major General. He was a shocked witness to the atrocities and violence that occurred during Partition. His troops were responsible for restoring law and order, as well as relief measures, which included disposal of the dead. The senseless killings traumatised him, and left a deep scar on his memory. Soon after Independence, he was in Lahore, as a guest of his counter part in Pakistan, Major General Iftikhar. He heard some Pakistani officers talking about locating their regiments at Gulmarg and Pahalgam. He was surprised, as Kashmir had still not acceded, to Pakistan or India.
In October 1947, Pakistani raiders entered the Kashmir Valley. After the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, Indian troops were sent in. Srinagar was saved in the nick of time and the raiders thrown back. Gradually, the momentum of the raids increased, leading to a build up of Indian troops. Jammu and Kashmir Force, comprising two brigades was created, under the command of Major General Kalwant Singh. This was under the Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command, located at Delhi. In January 1948, Cariappa took over as C-in-C, DEP Command, and moved it to Jammu. In April 1948, Thimayya took over from Kalwant, as GOC, Jammu and Kashmir Force. A few days later, the Force was split, and two divisions were created. Sri Div was to be located at Srinagar, to look after the defence of the Kashmir Valley, while another division, based at Jammu, was to look after the Jammu region. Thimayya was given command of Sri Div, and moved to Srinagar, on 4 May 1948.
Thimayya had two brigades under his command. 161 Infantry Brigade, under the command of Brigadier .L.P 'Bogey' Sen, was looking after the Uri Sector, while 163 Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier Harbaksh Singh, was in the Handwara-Kupwara area. On 13 May 1948, Thimayya held a conference, and gave out his plans for the summer offensive. The main thrust, by 161 Infantry Brigade, was to advance to Domel, on 20 May 1948, after being relieved by 77 Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Nair, which had already arrived in the Valley. A diversionary thrust, by 163 Infantry Brigade, was to commence on 18 May, and advance to Tithwal. By the end of June 1948, Nastachun Pass had been captured, and the area upto the Kishenganga River cleared by 163 Infantry Brigade. In the Uri Sector, 161 Infantry Brigade had captured Pirkanthi and Ledi Galli. Razdhangan Pass, in Northern Kashmir, was also captured. At this juncture, the Government decided to cease offensive operations, as the case had been referred to the United Nations. Domel had still not been captured, but over 350 square miles of territory had been liberated from enemy occupation.
The decision to suspend offensive operations came as a shock, and Cariappa protested strongly to the Government, especially because Pakistan had not accepted the UN resolution, and continued with their operations. Finally, the Government approved that operations could be undertaken for the link up with Leh, and Punch, which had to be held at all costs. These would be in the nature of defensive operations. However, the road to Leh could be opened only after capture of Dras, Zojila and Kargil, which were held by the enemy. The operation for achieving this objective was code named DUCK. Before they could be undertaken, some reorganisation was carried out. A new Corps HQ was created, to look after all operations in the theatre. Major General S.M. Shrinagesh, who was Adjutant General at Army HQ, was promoted Lieut General, and appointed GOC V Corps, in September 1948. By this time, Skardu had fallen to the enemy, after a long siege lasting ten months, and the failure of several attempts to relieve the beleaguered garrison, under the command of Colonel Sher Jung Thapa of the Kashmir State Forces.
At this time, Leh was held only by a weak battalion. This too had been made possible by an audacious venture, for which the credit must go to Thimayya, at least for suggesting it. On 22 May 1948, the enemy had attacked the bridge at Khalatse, and the State Forces detachment guarding it had pulled back to Leh. Next day, Major Prithi Chand, who was in Leh, sent an urgent message that the situation was critical, and if reinforcements did not reach next day, Leh would have to be evacuated. No aircraft had ever landed at Leh before, but if the town was to be saved, this was the only answer. Thimayya went to Air Commodore Mehar Singh, who was commanding No 1 (Operations) Group of the Air Force, and asked if he was willing to take the risk. 'Baba' Mehar, as the fiery Sikh was known, agreed to take a Dakota, for a trial landing. Thimayya decided to accompany him, and on 24 May 1948, they landed at Leh, writing their names into the history books of aviation. The local population, who had never seen an aeroplane before, thought it was a 'celestial horse', and brought grass to feed the animal! Needless to say, Leh was saved, and troops were flown in regularly during the next few days. It also did wonders for the morale of the civilian population at Leh, who were spared the fate of towns like Baramulla, Mirpur and Skardu.
The capture of Zojila was another exploit which made Thimayya famous. He assigned the task of capturing the 16,000 foot high pass to 77 Parachute Brigade, being commanded by Brigadier K.L. Atal. Operation DUCK commenced on 3 September 1948, but failed, due to the heavy snow, and strong defences built by the enemy, who held the heights overlooking the pass. A second attempt, accompanied by heavier artillery support was made on 14 September 1948, but this too failed, with heavy casualties. There was considerable disappointment, and the troops were disheartened. Winter was fast approaching, and soon the pass would be closed, making vehicular movement impossible. Time was at a premium, and it was necessary to try different methods, to achieve success.
On 23 September 1948, a conference was held at Srinagar. Apart from Cariappa, who presided, it was attended by Thimayya, Shrinagesh and Atal. The reasons for failure were analysed, and it was decided that a flat trajectory weapon was required to neutralise enemy defences, while the infantry was assaulting up the slopes. Due to heavy overhead cover, air and artillery had little effect, and the defenders could bring down withering fire on the attackers. It was at this time that the decision to use tanks was taken. It is not clear who got the idea, though Thimayya is credited with the suggestion, which Cariappa approved. Lieut Colonel Rajinder Singh 'Sparrow', who was commanding 7 Cavalry, was called in, and consulted, before the decision was finalised. Cariappa also decided to change the name of the operation, from DUCK to BISON.
A squadron of Stewart tanks of 7 Cavalry was moved from Jammu to Srinagar, and then to Baltal. Many of the bridges had to be reinforced, or rebuilt by the Engineers. To maintain secrecy, the turrets of the tanks were removed, and carried separately. A curfew was imposed in Srinagar, when the column was passing through the city. As a result, the move of the tanks was not detected, and they reached Baltal, covering a distance of 260 miles, in a fortnight. D day for the operation was fixed as 20 October 1948. But it started snowing on 18 October, leading to a postponement, to 25 October, and yet again to 1 November, the last possible day for the operation to commence, considering the time required for stocking the forward localities before the pass was blocked by snow, and closed for the winter.
When the attack was launched, the presence of tanks completely surprised and unnerved the enemy. Thimayya was himself in the first tank, leading the assault. It was a most unusual place for a divisional commander to be in, but Thimayya was not the run of the mill commander, and could literally get away with anything. The operation was a complete success, and Zojila was captured by nightfall. Shortly afterwards, Dras and Kargil were secured, and a link up established with a column pushed out from Leh, on 24 November 1948. With this, the threat to Leh, and the entire Ladakh region, had been removed. It was at this stage that winter set in, and a cease fire was ordered on 1 January 1949 after Pakistan agreed to accept the UN Resolution, which she had earlier rejected. The war in Kashmir was officially over, after almost fifteen months of hard fighting.
By this time, Thimayya's name had become a household word, in India. He was considered a hero, and the saviour of Kashmir as well as Ladakh. In the Army, he was already well known, and his success at Zojila added to his popularity. His nick name, Timmy, was used not only by his superiors and colleagues, but even his subordinates. Strangely enough, even the men used it, referring to him as 'Timmy Sahib', indicating the affection and adulation they had for him. A visit by Thimayya was regarded as the surest way to raise flagging spirits, and came to be known as 'Timmy tonic'. It became the prescribed remedy for units which were low on morale, after a failure, or heavy casualties.
To establish and supervise the cease fire line, a United Nations Force was stationed in Kashmir, with troops from Argentina, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and USA. Soon afterwards, a meeting took place, between the Indian and Pakistani commanders, under the aegis of the UN, to decide on the cease fire line, and the placement of troops on both sides. It was held at the 53rd milestone, on the road from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. The Pakistanis provided the food and beer, while the Indians brought fresh apples. When they met, the UN officials were surprised at the warmth, and absence of ill feeling between the officers of India and Pakistan, who had been fighting each other just a few days ago. Thimayya knew most of the Pakistani officers, and there was a lot of back slapping and good natured banter. Within half an hour, they had finished their official business, and sat down to share a sumptuous lunch.
Thimayya remained at Srinagar till November 1949. He had moved his HQ from Baramulla to Srinagar, and his wife had joined him. There was considerable socialising, thanks to the presence of the UN officials, and the Thimayyas rarely had to spend an evening alone. They also made full use of the chance to visit the famous resorts of Kashmir, and enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape, for which the region is justly famous. In November 1949, he received orders transferring him as Commandant of the National Defence Academy, then located at Dehradun. Before reporting to his new assignment, he accompanied General Cariappa, who was the C-in-C, to England, to attend the Commonwealth Conference of Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff. During the trip, Thimayya visited Sandhurst, from where he had passed out twenty three years earlier. He also attended a reunion of the Kumaon Regiment, where he was touched to see that the British officers still had a strong attachment with the regiment. However, he was surprised at the ignorance of some others, who wondered if the officers mess still existed, or if the dress had been changed to dhoti and kurta?
After short stint at the National Defence Academy, he moved to Delhi, in September 1951, as Quarter Master General (QMG). One of his first acts was to abolish the contractor system, which had existed in the Army for centuries. The contractors, some of whom were rich and influential, tried their best to thwart him, but Thimayya stuck to his guns, and succeeded in getting rid of them. He thus got rid of the ubiquitous contractor, who had fleeced the soldiers for years, and the units could employ their own tailors, barbers etc.
One of Thimayya's most endearing qualities was his sense of humour. In February 1952, a tactical exercise was held at Lucknow. After the exercise, Thimayya, accompanied by Lieut General Shrinagesh and Major Generals S..P.P Thorat, Sardanand Singh and M.S. Chopra, left for Delhi in a twin engined Devon aircraft, of the Indian Air Force. One engine caught fire, and the aircraft crash landed, a few miles from Lucknow. Miraculously, no one was injured. The party walked to the road head about seven miles away. By now, the authorities at Lucknow had come to know, and when they reached the road, a neat row of ambulances was parked ready to receive casualties. Waving his hand at them, Thimayya said, "Sorry chaps, no luck today. Sorry to disappoint you".
In January 1953, Thimayya was promoted Lieutenant General and posted as GOC-in-C Western Command. At his suggestion, the headquarters was shifted from Delhi to Simla. But he had hardly settled down, before he received orders, in May 1953, appointing him Chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission, (NNRC), in Korea. After the departure of American troops from South Korea, North American troops crossed the 38th parallel, which had been agreed as the border between the two countries, after the Korean War. The United Nations sent a large force, drawn from 16 countries, which drove back the North Koreans, and crossed the border, into North Korea. At this stage, Communist China intervened, and cut off the supply lines of UN Forces in South Korea. Finally, a cease fire was declared, and negotiations began for an armistice. The UN Forces had captured 170,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners, while the North Koreans held about 100,000 prisoners from the UN Forces. A large number of the communist prisoners held by UN Forces refused to be repatriated, while the Communists insisted on their return. To resolve the issue, the five member NNRC was created. India, being a neutral country was asked to provide the chairman. The communist members were to come from Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the non communist members from Sweden and Switzerland.
Before he left for Korea, Thimayya was briefed by Prime Minister Nehru, and told that he must be strictly neutral, in all his official as well as personal dealings. Thimayya soon found that it was sound advice, as every decision of his was branded either communist or non communist, by the side which stood to lose. It was a very difficult assignment, due to the hostility between the North Koreans and the UN Forces, and differences in perception regarding the rights of the prisoners. The UN officials felt that the wishes of individuals who did not want to go back should be respected, and they should not be forcibly repatriated. The Communists argued that every soldier had certain obligations to his motherland, and his family, and these took precedence over his personal inclinations. They also accused the UN side of brain washing communist prisoners held by them, and not allowing them to exercise their choice freely. Ultimately, about four percent of the communist prisoners held by UN Forces chose repatriation, while the remainder, totalling about 22,000, declined. On the other hand, 359 UN prisoners held by the Communists refused to be repatriated. Thimayya completed his assignment in April 1954, and returned to India. Both sides agreed that he had been neutral and fair, and this added not only to his prestige, but that of India. Prime Minister Nehru personally commended Thimayya, and he was awarded the Padma Bhushan.
In May 1955, Thimayya was appointed GOC-in-C Southern Command. His tenure was uneventful, except for an attempt by Pakistan to infiltrate in the Chad Bet region of the Rajasthan desert, which was effectively dealt with by a motorised battalion. In September 1956 he moved to Eastern Command, thus becoming the first officer to command all three field armies, in India. In Eastern Command he had to deal with insurgency by the Naga tribes, in North East India. At that time, General S.M. Shrinagesh was the Chief of Army Staff. He was due to retire in May 1957, and there were several contenders for the post. Lieut Generals Sant Singh and Kalwant Singh were from the same Sandhurst batch, having passed out on 29 January 1925. The other two were Thimayya and PN Thapar, who had also passed out from Sandhurst together, on 4 February 1926. Thimayya had been placed 15th in order of merit, while Thapar was 18th. Hence, he was technically senior to Thapar. However, the most important factor was Thimayya's impressive war record - he had won the DSO, and was the only Indian to have commanded a brigade in battle. The others did not have any notable achievement to their credit. As expected, Thimayya was selected for the top job in the Army, and on 8 May 1957, he was promoted to General, and took over as Chief of Army Staff. He superseded Lieut General Sant Singh, who resigned, as well as Lieut General Kalwant Singh, who decided to continue.
When Thimayya became Army Chief, he was only 51 years old. It is interesting to reflect on the turn of events, if the Government had decided to give the job to Kalwant Singh or Sant Singh, both of whom were senior to Thimayya. Perhaps Thimayya would have had to wait for two or three years, before he was promoted to the rank of General. The maximum tenure of the Chief was four years, though Maharaj Rajendra Sinhji was the Chief for just two years and four months, while Shrinagesh had exactly two years. Hence, Thimayya would have risen to the appointment of Chief in May 1961, if not earlier. If this had happened, would the 1962 conflict still have gone the way it did?
Thimayya began his tenure as the Army Chief with immense prestige. He enjoyed a close rapport with the Prime Minister, and was held in high esteem within the Army, as well as outside. His assignment as Chairman of NNRC had made him an international figure. He was looking forward to a satisfying tenure, at the top, when he moved into White Gates (Army House), in Delhi. But this was not to be. Soon a rift developed between him and the Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, who was a close confidant of Nehru. Menon was known for his arrogance and acerbic tongue, and thought that his intellectual brilliance gave him more then adequate knowledge of military matters. He soon realised that Thimayya was not as pliant as he had expected him to be. Things were not improved by the role of Major General B.M. Kaul, the Chief of General Staff (CGS). A brilliant officer, Kaul lacked war experience, but was powered with unbridled ambition. He became a protege of Nehru and Menon, and in order to achieve his ambition of becoming the Chief, began to poison their minds, against Thimayya, as well as Thorat, who was expected to succeed him.
Matters came to head on 31 August 1959, when Thimayya resigned. The Prime Minister called him, and playing on his emotions, persuaded Thimayya to withdraw his resignation. He also promised to put things right, between him and Menon. But this did not happen. News of Thimayya's resignation somehow leaked to the Press, and was given extensive coverage by all newspapers on 1 September 1959. The issue was also raised in Parliament, and several members demanded a statement from the Defence Minister. Since Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan, was arriving that day, the Prime Minister had gone to the airport to receive him, and was not present in the House. However, it was conveyed by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs that the Prime Minister would himself give a statement next day.
On 2 September 1959, Nehru gave a statement in Parliament. He underplayed the importance of the issues raised by Thimayya, calling them "trivial, and of no consequence". He added that the difficulty seemed to be "temperamental", and went on to say that had advised General Thimayya to have a talk with the Defence Minister, which he had done. He defended the actions of the Defence Minister, in the matter of promotions, which appeared to be the real irritant, and clarified that the correct procedures had been followed. In the end, he paid a tribute to Krishna Menon, praising him for his energy and enthusiasm.
Nehru's statement did not satisfy the House. Several prominent members, such as Acharya Kripalani, N.G. Ranga, Frank Anthony and Ashok Mehta, were not happy, and felt that Nehru had belittled Thimayya, and in praising Krishna Menon, had congratulated the wrong man. But Nehru did not budge from his stand, and the Speaker finally closed the discussion, in view of the assurance from the Prime Minister that the issue had been resolved. It was widely felt that Nehru had not been fair. He had humiliated Thimayya, and defended Krishna Menon. The top brass in the Army was aghast and expected Thimayya to insist on being relieved. Surprisingly, he did not do so. As a result, his prestige and authority suffered, and he was never the same man again. On the other hand, Menon became more powerful than ever. Thimayya spent his last days in office a broken man, a shadow of the ebullient 'Timmy', loved and respected by officers and men of the Indian Army.
A year later, there was another controversy in which Thimayya was embroiled. In 1954, soon after his return from Korea, he met Humphrey Evans, an American writer, who was visiting India. Thimayya mentioned to Evans that he was thinking of writing a book, about his experiences in the Army. During their conversation, Evans made notes, and sent a gist of it to his agent, in New York, who promptly cabled back, asking him to write a book about Thimayya's experiences in Korea. Evans and Thimayya worked on the manuscript for the next four months, but when permission was sought from the Government of India, this was refused. Since he was still a serving officer, Thimayya could not publish a book unless he obtained the necessary permission. However, Evans was not subject to any such restriction. He went back to the USA, and published a book, called "Thimayya of India - A Soldier's Life."
The book was published in 1960. Several Indian newspapers published reviews, and the issue was raised in Parliament. Some communist members felt that it was improper for Thimayya to write a book. The Defence Minister clarified that the book had not been written or published by Thimayya, but was based on notes taken by Humphrey Evans, when they were working together on the book which the General intended to write. One member felt that he had revealed Indian 'tactics', while describing the operations in Kashmir, notably the attack on Zojila, where tanks were used. When asked about it, Thimayya confirmed that he had not authorised publication of the book, and came to know about it only after reading the reviews in the newspapers. After this, the issue was closed, though it did creep up again on several occasions.
Thimayya retired on 8 May 1961. Though he recommended Lieut General S.P.P. Thorat as his successor, because of his distinguished service record, the Government ignored his advice, and appointed P.N. Thapar, who was from the same Sandhurst batch as Thimayya, as the Army Chief. It was an unfortunate choice, as Thapar could neither stand upto Krishna Menon, nor control the unbridled ambition of Kaul, who began to run the Army like a fief. After the 1962 Indo Chinese conflict, Thapar was made a scape goat, and resigned. On the eve of his retirement, Thimayya spoke to the men, in words that proved prophetic. He said, "I hope I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese.... God bless you all."
No story about Thimayya can be complete without mention of his orderly, Ram Singh, who became a legend in the Kumaon Regiment, just as Timmy became one in the Army. When Thimayya took over command of 8/19 Hyderabad, in Burma, he asked the Subedar Major to detail the 'biggest bonehead you can find', as his orderly. What he got was Ram Singh, a tall and hefty Jat from Sonepat, in Haryana. Ram Singh stayed with Thimayya for the next twenty years, till he retired, in 1961. Many are the tales told of Ram Singh and his boss, each of whom thought that he was indispensable, for the other. Ram Singh always followed Thimayya like his shadow, and considered himself his protector. During a sudden artillery bombardment, when Thimayya took cover in a trench, Ram Singh jumped in on top of him, almost crushing him in the process. When asked the reason for his behaviour, Ram Singh innocently replied that as the CO, Thimayya's life was more precious than his own.
When Thimayya was awarded the DSO in Burma, the whole battalion was overjoyed. The only person who seemed to be unhappy was Ram Singh. When Thimayya asked him the reason for his long face, Ram Singh told him that he was disappointed, as he felt that he too deserved the medal. "After all, I have been to every place you have," he told Thimayya, in all innocence. After Thimayya became Chief, Ram Singh moved with him to White Gates, the Army House, in Delhi. Once, Lieut Colonel (later Brigadier) Teg Bahadur Kapur, who was then commanding 4 Kumaon, went to call on Thimayya. Ram Singh greeted him warmly, and went in to inform the Chief of his arrival. However, before he ushered him in, he said, "Dekhiye Sahib, Thimayya Sahib to Jernal ban gaya, aur Chief bhi ban gaya, par usne manne Subedar bhi banaya koina." (You see, Sir, Thimayya Sahib has become a General and also the Chief, but he has not made me even a Subedar).
Another anecdote about Ram Singh concerns Thimayya, and his bath. Very often , Ram Singh would run the bath in the tub, but by the time Thimayya could enter it, the water was cold, and the hapless orderly would get a tongue lashing. One day, Ram Singh made sure that the water was almost boiling before telling Thimayya that it was ready. When the General stepped into it, he was almost scalded. He yelled for Ram Singh, who entered, with a grin. After Thimayya had finished with his tirade, Ram Singh said innocently "Look, Sahib, sometimes you say the water is cold, and today when I made sure it was hot, you say it is too hot. Why can't you test the water with your hand, before jumping in ?"
Thimayya also had a great attachment with the Kumaon Regiment, of which he was the Colonel. In fact, he chose to spend his last day in uniform with his beloved 'Kumaonis' at the regimental centre, in Ranikhet. He initiated a number of welfare measures, for the ex servicemen and war widows, of the regiment. He persuaded Govind Ballabh Pant, who was also from Kumaon, and then the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, to give 550 acres of land at Kamola, near Nainital, for the regimental farm. (Jim Corbett lived close by, at Kala Dhungi). The farm was later named Thimayya Bagh, and the income was used to start the Kumaon Regiment School and War Memorial Hostel. It also provides assistance to war widows and children of Kumaonis who die in action. When he was in Delhi, he often brought his friends, which included diplomats, to the farm, for spending a quiet weekend, or some shooting. Lieut Colonel Ram Singh, who was then the Commandant of the Kumaon Regimental Centre, recalls that Timmy always paid for the hospitality extended to him and his guests, as well the Centre Commandant and his family, if they were present.
After retirement, Thimayya moved to his home, Sunny Side, in Mercara, with Nina and Mireille. After the 1962 debacle, the Government decided to form a Defence Council, to take stock of the situation, and advise the Government on matters relating to defence and security. It had thirty one members, and Thimayya was one of the few from the military. At the first meeting, the Council relied on his knowledge and experience, and requested him to brief them. Thimayya did so, using maps and diagrams, and his presentation proved invaluable in helping the members to understand the problems faced by the troops, in extremely harsh terrain, with little or no communications. However, he soon realised that the Government was not serious about implementing the suggestions of the Council, and it soon became a defunct organ, which rarely met.
Soon after his retirement, Thimayya accepted the post of Deputy President of the United Planters Association of South India (UPASI), in Coonoor. In June 1964, the UN Secretary General, U Thant, invited him to become Commander of the UN Forces in Cyprus. Cyprus is a small island, about 60 kilometres from the Turkish coast. It had a mixed population, of Greeks and Turks. It was under Turkish control till 1878, when the British rule began. It became independent in 1960, and soon afterwards, fighting broke out between the two factions. Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus, appealed to the United Nations, which sent a peacekeeping force to the island. Major General P.S. Gyani, from India, was commanding the Force, but he did not want to continue, and asked to be relieved. Thimayya had already served in Korea, and was one of the most experienced commanders available. He was familiar with the United Nations, and was not only well known around the World, but widely respected. He decided to accept the appointment, and left for New York, enroute to Cyprus, on 30 June 1964.
The UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus comprised about six thousand soldiers, drawn from Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Britain and Australia. The political atmosphere was vitiated, and every action was seen as either pro West, or pro Muslim. The composition of the UN Force made Thimayya's task difficult, and he had to tread very carefully. Inspite of his reputation for impartiality, there were allegations from Pakistan that he acted against the interests of the Turks, who were Muslims. Many thought that being an Indian, he would follow the policies of the Indian Government. However, Thimayya was not perturbed by the criticism, having experienced it earlier in Korea, and continued to act boldly, but impartially. His term of office, which was for three months, continued to be extended, whenever it was to expire. He was held in high esteem by Archbishop Makarios, and gradually even the Turks, who initially doubted his bona fides, grudgingly admitted that he was fair.
On 18 December 1965, Thimayya died of a heart attack, in Nicosia. Ironically, the UN mandate in Cyprus, which was to expire on 26 December 1965, had been extended by three months just a few hours before his death. His death came as a shock to everyone, in Cyprus, as well as in India. For a day, his body lay in state at the HQ of the United Nations Force at Nicosia, where wreaths were placed by Archbishop Makarios and his cabinet colleagues, as well as representatives of many nations. His body, alongwith a ten man guard of honour drawn from the UN troops, was flown in a special UN aircraft, from Nicosia to Beirut, where the Indian ambassador received it, and formally took charge of it. From Beirut, the body was flown to Bombay in an Air India plane, where it was received with due ceremony, before being transferred to an Indian Air Force aircraft, for its final journey to Bangalore. It was received at Bangalore by Thimayya's wife and daughter, alongwith a large crowd of mourners, which included General Cariappa. It was buried at the Lal Bagh gardens, with full military honours, accompanied by a seventeen gun salute.
Thimayya was one of the best known of India's military leaders. Over six feet tall, he had a magnetic personality, and as one writer said, 'moved as gracefully as a cheetah, despite his 200 pounds.' Tough and flamboyant, he reminded Americans of the Wild West, and his career could well have been the subject of a Hollywood film. Full of fun and humour, he was always the soul of any party. But he was also strict and straight forward, and never hesitated to take a stand. Above all, he was a soldier, who always did what he thought was right. It was a pity that when he reached the pinnacle of his profession, he had to suffer humiliation, which he did not deserve. There were aspersions cast on Thimayya's loyalty, and some said that he was planning a coup. Soon after the incident of his resignation, when Nehru spoke to Mountbatten about Thimayya, the latter told him that he could count on Thimayya's complete loyalty, and he would never abuse his position, or consider doing anything like an organised coup. In fact, Mountbatten told Nehru that he could not possibly have a better man than Thimayya, not only as Chief of General Staff, but later on as Chief of Defence Staff, a position which he thought Nehru should create.
Timmy is no more, but he has not been forgotten by his countrymen. Along with Cariappa and Manekshaw, he remains one of the most popular military leaders of India. His no nonsense approach, sense of humour, and moral courage had earned him the love and respect of the Indian Jawan. To them, he was always 'Timmy Sahib', whom they loved and respected, like an elder brother. They knew that he was one of their own, who would listen to their problems, and do his best to solve them. With him in charge, they knew that success was ensured, and he would never expose them to risks or hardship which he would not undergo himself. Thimayya's visits to units raised spirits as nothing else could. This was no mean accomplishment and one which few generals have achieved, in India or abroad. A 'soldiers' general', he was a true son of the Motherland, who fought, and died for her honour.