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CHAPTER VI

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THE REGIMENT IN THE WAR OF 1939-45

 

Service in India

 

WITH the progressive expansion of the Indian Army, during the six years’ emergency of the recent war, battalions of the Regiment were successively milked of officers and other ranks, in particular of N.C.Os., in order to form the cadres of many new war service battalions the raising of which had been made possible by the splendid response throughout Maharashtra to appeals for recruits to the Regiment.

 

From the following list of new war service battalions it will be seen how greatly, as from September 1939 to August 1945, the 5th Mahratta Light Infantry had been expanded.

 

6th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

Raised at Mardan on 20th June 1940, by Lieut.-Colonel E. Ross-Magenty, as the first of the new war service formations, the new Battalion served in the Razmak area of the North-West Frontier during 1941. There it had its introduction to field, service in the operations normal to service on that troubled borderland and, on 14th February 1941, was involved in a sharp action with hostile tribesmen in the area of Mir All, when a company was with difficulty extricated from a precarious situation on Isha Hill. For gallantry in this action Sepoy Maruti Jadhao was awarded the I.D.S.M.

 

During a counter-attack against a concentration of tribesmen this sepoy, as Number One of the light automatic gun and although wounded in hand and knee, continued to serve his weapon against a party of retiring hostiles while enfiladed by heavy fire from another group on his flank. By his gallant conduct Sepoy Maruti Jadhao contributed to the successful withdrawal of his company.

 

In November 1942 the Battalion proceeded on active service against the Japanese in Burma.

 

7th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

This, the second of the new war service battalions, was raised at Fyzabad on 1st August 1940 by Lieut.-Colonel A. L. Collingwood. After a period of initial training the new battalion served on internal security duties in the Midnapore area of Bengal to be transferred, in the autumn of 1941, to Frontier service in Quetta District.

 

On 1st August 1942 the 7th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry ceased to exist as such, having proceeded to Rawalpindi for conversion to the Indian Armoured Corps as the 51st Mahratta Regiment. Its existence as an Armoured formation was of short duration, however, as with effect from 1st October 1942 the new regiment again underwent conver­sion when, at Chakiala, it became the 8th Mahratta Anti-Tank Regiment, Indian Artillery.

 

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8th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

Two additional war service battalions of the Regiment were raised at Belgaum on 1st February 1941. Under command of Lieut.-Colonel L. C. M. Bellamy, the 8th Battalion, after a period of initial training, transferred to Madras for a short term of internal security duty before proceeding to Jhansi where, on 1st January 1942, it was converted to Indian Artillery as the 4th Mahratta Anti-Tank Regiment.

 

In the early summer of the same year the new regiment proceeded overseas for active service in Iraq and Syria, later to take its part in the Italian Campaign of 1943-45.

 

9th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

Raised at Belgaum on 1st February 1941 by Lieut.-Colonel E. R. E. Rerrie, this new war service battalion, after a few months’ training at its place of birth, moved first to Cannanore for a short spell of internal security duty, then proceeded to Jhansi to be converted, on 1st January 1942, to Indian Artillery as the 5th Mahratta Anti-Tank Regiment.

 

On 4th May 1942 the Regiment sailed from India and, ten days later, disembarked at Basra for general service in Iraq and Iran, much of this service being performed in the neighbourhood of Baghdad.

 

In June 1943 the Regiment returned to India and spent more than a year, in the Ranchi area, training in Eastern warfare methods before proceeding to Burma in November 1944. At the conclusion of hostilities with Japan the 5th Mahratta Anti-Tank Regiment was on service in the vicinity of Rangoon.

 

l4th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

This war service battalion was raised at Ambala, on 1st February 1941, by Lieut.­Colonel E. S. Storey-Cooper, O.B.E., M.C., and proceeded to Dacca, in Eastern Bengal, for a term of internal security duty in the autumn of the same year. In February 1942 the 14th Battalion moved across India to undergo a period of training at Campbellpore.

 

In October 1942 the 14th Battalion embarked for service in the Indian Ocean as the defence garrison of the tiny Attu Atoll, where was a base vital to the air patrol of the sea routes and a possible object of Japanese attack.

 

At the end of 1943 the Battalion returned to India for a period of special training, in the Ahmednagar and Bombay areas, in amphibious operations with the role of Beach Group to the 33rd Indian Corps. It was during this period, and following the disastrous explosion of April 1944, that the Battalion performed notable service in clearing away the debris from the wrecked Bombay Docks.

 

In the last weeks of the war in Europe, during February 1945, the 14th Battalion proceeded overseas for service in Iraq.

 

l5th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

As the 11th Mahratta Light Infantry (Indian Territorial Force) this Battalion was embodied for service, at the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939, at Belgaum.

 

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In February 1940 the 11th Battalion moved to Ahmednagar where it was employed in railway security duties until March of the following year, when it proceeded to Karachi for duty in defence of the important airfield at Drigh Road.

 

On 14th September 1940 the 11th Battalion was regularized as a war service unit, all personnel unwilling to accept full general service liability being mustered out, and renumbered the 15th Mahratta Light Infantry as which, in April 1942 and having been brought up to strength, it proceeded to Fort Sandeman in Baluchistan.

 

The Battalion’s term of Frontier service ended, however, in July 1943, when it was selected to be the Mahratta unit in the 14th Training Division newly established at Chindwara, in the Central Provinces, with the special role of affording post-recruit training to drafts prior to despatch to active battalions on the various battle fronts.

 

In this highly specialized role the 15th Battalion, up to the end of the war, performed excellent service in giving essential toughening training, under conditions approximating realistically to field service, to ~he several thousands of young soldiers sent out by the Regimental Centre at Belgaum.

 

l6th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

A second Territorial Battalion of the Regiment was raised at Belgaum in December 1939, as the 12th Mahratta Light Infantry (Indian Territorial Force), and was embodied for service on 1st June 1940.

 

Moving to Baroda the Battalion was regularized, all personnel unwilling to accept full active service liability being mustered out, and renumbered as the 16th Mahratta Light Infantry.

 

There followed a period of training at Allahabad, when the strength was brought up to establishment, and in July 1942 the Battalion moved to Peshawar. Throughout the ensuing three years the 16th Battalion was engaged in the arduous, but little advertised, service of Frontier defence—successively at Mir Ali, Bannu, and Damdil—and at the cessation of hostilities in the summer of 1945, was stationed at Landi Kotal.

 

l7th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

Yet another war service battalion was raised at Belgaum on 15th October 1941, as the 17th Mahratta Light Infantry, by Lieut.-Colonel A. 0. Kersey, M.C., and, following a short period of initial training, proceeded on 10th December to Wah, in the Punjab, to join the 51st Indian Infantry Brigade then in process of forming.

 

Four months later the Battalion moved south to Secunderabad as a unit of the 20th Indian Division and at the end of May 1942 went to Bangalore area for intensive specialized training, having meanwhile come under command of the 25th Indian Division. A further short move followed, to the Kolar Gold Fields area for Brigade exercises and watercraft training, then the Battalion proceeded to the neighbourhood of Trichinopoly for training in jungle warfare.

 

During the ensuing twelve months the 17th Battalion carried out Divisional and Corps training, in different areas of Southern India, until, early in February 1944, it proceeded with the 25th Indian Division on active service on the Burma front.

 

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4

l8th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

Raised at Belgaum on 15th August 1941 as the 25th Mahratta Light Infantry (Garrison Battalion), by Lieut.-Colonel D. H. Tapp, this new battalion completed its initial training in garrison duties in February 1942 when it proceeded to Dehra Dun as Guard Battalion at the Central Internment Camp for enemy civilians. These duties were of short duration, however, as in May of the same year the Battalion moved to Madras in the role of airfield and coastal defence against the imminent possibility of a Japanese landing in Southern India. In August 1942 the Battalion was upgraded to active battalion status, with enhanced defence responsibilities, and renumbered the 18th Mahratta Light Infantry.

 

In November 1943, the threat of enemy invasion having receded, the Battalion proceeded to meet another crisis, of a different sort, which had arisen in Bengal where acute famine conditions prevailed. With headquarters at Chandpur, in Eastern Bengal, the Battalion was employed in detached company areas on famine relief duties which continued for six months.

 

In the early spring of 1944 the 18th Battalion moved up into Assam for forward railway defence duties on the Jaintia Hills section of the Assam railway system so vitally important to the Fourteenth Army at that time battling to repel the Japanese invasion of India’s eastern frontier. In August of the same year Battalion H.Q. moved to Gauhati with responsibility for a major proportion of the Bengal-Assam railway system.

 

In February 1945 the 18th Battalion was transferred across India to the North­West Frontier, where it formed part of the Peshawar Brigade.

 

26th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

Raised at Belgaum on 1st March 1942, by Lieut.-Colonel H. S. I. Pearson, as an additional Garrison Battalion, this new unit, on completion of a period of initial training, moved to Bangalore District early in 1943.  

For almost two years the Battalion remained at Bangalore, being employed in general station duties and in providing guards for Italian prisoners-of-war camps, until, at the end of 1944, it proceeded to Arvadi, near Madras, for general garrison duty.

 

27th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

On 1st December 1942 a further battalion of the Regiment was raised at Kirkee, by Lieut.-Colonel P. Shelley, as the 27th Mahratta Light Infantry (Garrison Battalion). The new unit, which was formed by expansion of the 22nd Garrison Company, completed its period of initial training and proceeded, in October 1943, to Assam where—in the Brahmaputra Valley, in Manipur, and latterly in Burma—it operated in the roles of air­field protection and lines of communication defence.

 

The 27th Battalion had the distinction of being the only Mahratta Garrison Battalion to serve with a field formation and, two platoons having fought with credit in the defence of Kohima in April 1944, to see action against the enemy.

 

28th/5th Mahratta Light Infantry

 

On 15th May 1943 yet another battalion of the regiment was raised, by Lieut.­Colonel A. 0. Rowlinson, as the 28th Mahratta Light Infantry (Garrison Battalion).

 

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The new battalion was raised at Allahabad by the absorption of the 23rd and 28th Garrison Companies and was employed in general garrison duties.

 

In October 1944 the 28th Battalion moved to Bhopal State for guard duties at the large Italian prisoners-of-war camp near Bhairagarh.

 

29th/5th Mahraita Light Infantry

 

On 1st October the latest, and last, of the Regiment’s war service battalions came into being with the formation of the 29th Mahratta Light Infantry (Garrison Battalion). The new battalion, which was formed at Khulna, under command of Lieut.-Colonel C.F. Turpin, by conversion of the 1st Indian Coast Defence Battalion, moved almost immediately to Calcutta to be employed in general Garrison duties.

 

In March 1945 the 29th Battalion was transferred for garrison and station duty at Kamptee.

 

46

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