The Southern Command, India’s oldest field army has a history spanning over two centuries. Its origin, however, can be traced even earlier to the era of the East India Company in India in the 17th century and the evolution of the Presidency Armies. Pune was established as a military station in the early 1800s and has been synonymous with the Command since then. This Chronicle retraces its steps from its inception to its present form as also its linkages to this Queen of the Deccan. Historically, the Southern Command came into existence in 1895.
Establishment of Pune & Kirkee CantonmentsIts HQ has remained unchanged at Pune. By now the military importance of Poona had been established as the permanent home of HQ Southern Command. Along with this other establishments and institutions came up. With a formalized, distinct command structure in place, regular formations and units became part of the order of battle of the Southern Army. In 1905, the Southern Army comprised following formations, testimony to its wide and far-flung role.
In 1908, there was once again a period of reorganization. The four Commands were done away with and replaced by two Armies. The Northern Army with five Divisions was located at Rawalpindi, while the Southern Army, with its constituent divisions remaining unchanged. The original system of four commands was once again reverted to in 1922 as follows:-
Northern Command - Rawalpindi
Eastern Command - Nainital
Western Independent District - Quetta (with the status of a Command)
Southern Command - Poona
Command HeadquartersPost World War I in due acknowledgement of the contribution of the Indian Army towards the British war effort cantonments were further developed and improved upon with residential accommodation, amenities and institutions. The Command Headquarters came up at 10 Queen s Garden in 1922, an ornate wood, stone and brick building that retains its imposing, statuesque grace even today. The adjoining bungalow at 11 Queens Garden was also acquired as the HQ gradually expanded to cater for the increase in staff. The Army Commanders residence was acquired alongside at 12 Queen s Garden and called Polo Vista as it overlooked the polo field behind it. Beyond the polo field was a cricket ground, beyond which stood the Poona District HQ (now Pune Sub Area) with a magazine and Empress Gardens in the same line. Around these were the married officers bungalows (Bachelors found lodgings in Napier, Royal and Ritz hotels on East Street and Moledina Road nearby), the Gymkhana Club (now Poona Club), the Club of Western India (now Southern Command Officers Mess) and the Race Course on the various Arterial roads in close proximity. The burgeoning Cantonment along with its increasing requirements of water came to rely on the Kharakwasla dam, built in 1867. These then formed the vibrant nucleus to support the functional and social needs for Poona Cantonment. At Vanawadi, a sanatorium was developed as a medical retreat to support the garrison. This medical retreat now accommodates the Command Hospital.
The years between the wars were spent in construction, training and the building of infrastructure. The first major operational challenge arose during the Second World War when it was apprehended that Japan or Germany could mount a seaward assault on India. In April 1942, Southern Command was designated as the Southern Army and its HQ shifted to Bangalore to accommodate the GHQ from Delhi at Poona if the need arose but that did not happen. During the War the primary role was to defend the ports and connected airfields of Madras, Vishakapatnam, Cochin and Bombay. It was also assigned the operational role of defending Southern India from invasions and sea borne raids even as it was tasked with preparing certain bases, ports and communications, which could be used for launching an offensive when required.
In the years following independence, Southern Command along with the Nation under went tumultuous changes. The partition transformed India and, with it, brought about strife and a hostile border as it necessitated changes in roles, doctrines, and the very philosophy of the Indian Army. Southern Command, like the rest of the army, was also part of this period of nation building.Post-Independence, the army was divided into regional commands. The charter of Southern Command became the defence of the national territory in the Southern theatre, as also providing aid to civil authority, whenever requested. At Independence, Southern Command had primarily a training, administrative and support role. Geographically, it was the largest Command (covering most of peninsular India) and the senior-most. It was thus apt that the first Indian GOC-in-C to be appointed was Lt Gen Rajendrasinhji, who was the senior-most officer after Gen (later Field Marshal) K M Cariappa, the Chief of the Army Staff, and later succeeded him as the second Chief. There were new problems and issues to contend with and these were tackled in a systematic and orderly manner. Assets were consolidated and Pune was identified as a hub for military training and support facilities and institutions like the National Defence Academy and College of Military Engineering came up. The city was also chosen as a focal point for Research and Development.Baptism by FireIn the pre-independence era, Indian units and formations were organized for operations against both irregular levies inland as well as actions overseas. The International Border was with Afghanistan and Southern Command thus had no operational role or border to defend. Events that unfurled in the aftermath of the partition changed all that. Southern Command was now actively engaged in safeguarding national territory and bringing recalcitrant areas to heel. It was largely responsible in getting Junagadh and Hyderabad to sign the instrument of accession to India. This nation building process carried on till 1961, when operations for the liberation of Goa were conducted by 17 Infantry Division and 50 Parachute Brigade, under the operational control of Southern Command. The first serious blooding along the Western border came about in the 1965 war with Pakistan in the Kutch Sector. In January 1965, fighting broke out in the Rann of Kutch, a sparsely inhabited region, when the Pakistani forces began using tracks a mile and a half inside Indian Territory. On 24 April 1965, Pakistani troops at tacked Indian positions in the Rann of Kutch. A hastily constituted force, named Kilo Force under Maj. Gen PO Dunn was formed to contain this attack. It was in the wake of these operations that the necessity of field formations under Southern Command gained impetus. In September 1965, the operational responsibility for the Barmer sector was given to Southern Command and entrusted to the Division. Delhi and Rajasthan Area, with its Advance Headquarters at Jodhpur, participated in the 1965 war under Western Command. On 03 November 1966, this formation was designated as 12 Infantry Division, under Maj Gen JFR Jacob and also placed under Southern Command. Thus almost the whole of Rajasthan came to be under the jurisdiction of Southern Command.The Strike CorpsIn keeping with the reorganization of the Indian Army, a Strike Corps had to be raised in the southern theatre. HQ IPKF was re-designated as HQ 21 Corps in April 1990. This became the offensive corps of Southern Command and established itself at Bhopal in July 1990.The Area HQsIn this period of reorganization, two Area HQs were constituted. One is at Mumbai, which is now in charge of military facilities in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa. The other is at Chennai with responsibility for the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.Sub AreasTwo districts of Uttar Pradesh and 19 districts of Madhya Pradesh in which units and formations of 21 Corps were located came under the jurisdiction of Southern Command. With the raising of South Western Command in April 2005, the boundaries of Southern Command were again re-defined.
Southern Command Today
Today, the Southern Command comprises of its two Corps, 12 and 21 located at Jodhpur and Bhopal. The Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa Area, with its HQ at Mumbai and the Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala Area with its HQ at Chennai also come within its ambit. Southern Command encompasses nine States and four Union Territories covering nearly 40 percent of the Country. This includes an area of about 2,407,315 square kilometers.Traditionally, Pune and other large cities in southern India have been centres of learning and home to a vast number of prestigious universities. The Army too found that stations in Southern Command were ideally suited to site its own premier training establishments and a very large number of its regimental training centres as they afforded an ideal climatic and academic ambience to promote knowledge and shared learning. Southern Command houses the maximum number of tactical, technical, medical, managerial and sports training establishments in India along with the largest conglomeration of Defence Research & Development establishments and several ordnance factories. Almost all the space missile-launching sites in India and a large number of Air and Naval installations are also located within its vast confines.The Tri- Service Nature of Southern CommandSouthern Command is also the only tri-service theatre. It has within its geographical area the Western, Southern and Eastern Naval Commands as also four Air Force Commands, namely the South Western, Southern, Maintenance and Training Commands located within its area of responsibility.HQ Southern Command also controlled Op Cactus in the Maldives in 1988 to restore President Gayoom after a coup bid in that country. It was also heavily committed during Operation Vijay in 1999. After the infamous attack on the Indian Parliament in 2002, the Command mobilised as part of the general mobilisation for Operation Parakram, which continued for over ten months.Aid to Civil AuthoritiesThe role of Southern Command has not been restricted to the military sphere alone. In addition to training, administration and support of the very large number of military formations, units and establishments, the Command has been in the forefront when called to aid civil authorities in internal security situations, civil disturbances and natural or man-made disasters. These include those ranging from floods and earthquakes to the tsunami, which find detailed mention later.OrganisationTo fulfill its myriad roles the org of the Command HQ has also undergone changes, the only constant being the GOC-in-C still remains a Lt Gen. With the expanding span of its charter, appointments have been increased and upgraded.Integrated Financial Adviser HQ Southern CommandConsequent to the recommendations of the Committee on Defence Expenditure, in 1991, the Ministry of Defence decided that increased financial powers should be delegated to the Army and exercised through local financial advisers. The purpose was to enhance defence preparedness through the process of empowerment. In April 2002, financial powers began to be exercised in consultation with Integrated Financial Advisers (IFA). In July 2006, financial powers were further enhanced to remove any anomalies and inadequacies and to make the system more effective. The system has acquitted itself very well and has gone a long way in reducing delays and cutting the red tape. Finance is now an integral part of the decision making process and results in organisational synergy by working in tandem. The system symbolizes a paradigm shift in the realm of Defence Financial Management. The office of IFA HQ Southern Command became functional from 12 May 2005. The new office building of the IFA, inaugurated on 28 July 2006 epitomizes functionality and aesthetics.
Command Auditorium-cum-Conference HallThe present Command Auditorium-cum-Conference Hall came up at 9 Queens Garden in 1891. One of the oldest buildings in Pune, this originally housed the British Signal Regiment Officers Mess located in the garrison. This Mess was converted into a cinema hall in 1934 and remained so till 1999. The dawn of the millennium saw the complex receiving a face-lift as a state-of-the-art Cinema-cum- Conference Hall. Today, this 130-seater auditorium forms the venue for conferences, presentations, screening of training films and AW WA meets.
In the post Independence era, Southern Command carved its own identity and redefined its roles and aspirations. It is the only Command to have been engaged in overseas operations, it has participated extensively with other armies in exercises while also performing yeoman service in disaster relief, both within its confines and beyond the nation s borders. With its strong foundation of two centuries of growth, it has consolidated and built itself into a formidable field army - one of the finest in the world. Having proved itself repeatedly in battle, Southern Command stands poised in the new millennia, geared up to undertake even more diverse roles - both operational and humanitarian.