Sam Manekshaw whose full name is Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw was India’s first ever field marshal and was the chief of Army staff from 1969-73. He was one of the most gallant army officers of our country and was a recipient of Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Military Cross.
His distinguished military career spanned 4 decades and five wars which includes World War II, the Indo- Pak war of partition, the Sino- Indian war (1962), and the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, which eventually earned him the nickname “Sam Bahadur”.
This perhaps explains why there was no military general in the history of Independent India that captured national imagination as he did.
The most memorable moment of Sam Manekshaw’s military career came during the ongoing Indo- Pakistani war of 1971 where he famously replied to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that the Indian Army wasn’t ready for war.
He was born in Amritsar, Punjab, on 3 April 1914 to Parsi parents Hormusji Manekshaw (1871–1964), who was a doctor, and his wife Hilla Mehta (1885–1973)—who had moved there from the town of Valsad in the Gujarat coastal region.
Manekshaw was mischievous and highly enthusiastic as a kid. His early ambition was to study medicine and become a doctor like his father. He finished his primary education in Punjab and then moved to Nainital’s Sherwood College.
During this time, the Indian Military College Committee was set up in 1931 and it was chaired by Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode. Since his father did not send him to London to study medicine, Sam applied for a place and sat the entrance exams in Delhi in an act of defiance.
Sam was selected as part of the first batch of cadets called “The Pioneers”, his class also produced Muhammad Musa and Smith Dan, future commanders-in-chief of Pakistan and Burma, respectively.
On 22 December 1934, Manekshaw was commissioned into 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment. Initially to serve an attachment period of 1 year with the British unit Manekshaw was sent to Lahore. Then, in February 1936, he rejoined his parent unit.
He was given the Military Cross for gallantry during World War II as he fought for the British Indian army. He was then transferred to the 8th Gorkha Rifles after India’s partition in 1947 because his unit, the 4th Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment, became part of the Pakistan Army. During the Indo-Pakistani War and the Hyderabad crisis of 1947, Manekshaw was seconded to a planning role, and as a result, he never commanded an infantry battalion.
In the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh in December 1971, Manekshaw was commissioned as the eighth chief of the army staff in 1969. It is in this war where Sam Manekshaw delivered India one of its swiftest and most remarkable military victories.
When Indira Gandhi asked Manekshaw to open the Bangladesh liberation campaign in March 1971 during the cabinet meeting, he famously refused. His reason being that most of his armored and infantry divisions were deployed elsewhere and only 12 of his tanks were combat ready and they would also have to compete for rail carriages with the grain harvest. He also pointed out that the Himalayan passes would quickly open with the forthcoming monsoon, resulting in severe flooding and their movement would be confined to roads and the Air Force would also not be able to provide support because of climatic conditions.
When she further insisted after the cabinet had left the room, Manekshaw offered to resign, which she declined and instead sought his advice. He said that if she allowed him to manage the conflict on his own terms, he could ensure victory and set a deadline for it;Gandhi agreed. True to his word, when the war finally broke out Pakistan’s resistance crumbled. India seized most of the advantageous positions, isolating Pakistani forces that began surrendering or withdrawing.
First ever Field Marshal
Sam Manekshaw created history in his position as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) not only by leading India to victory in the Bangladesh Liberation War but also by resisting the political pressure to intervene at an inappropriate moment, even to the extent of offering to resign.
After the war, Gandhi decided to promote Manekshaw to the rank of Field Marshal and even though Manekshaw was to retire in June 1972, his term was extended by six months and, “in recognition of excellent services to the Armed Forces and the country,” he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal on 1 January 1973.
He was the first Indian to be awarded this rank and now shares this laurel with General KM Cariappa who received it later in 1986.
For his service to the nation, he was awarded Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan in 1968 and 1972 respectively. Popular with Gurkha troops, in 1972, Nepal feted Manekshaw as the Royal Nepal Army’s honorary general.
“Vijay Diwas” is celebrated annually on 16 December in remembrance of the victory attained under the management and leadership of Manekshaw in 1971.
There are abundant anecdotes of the ingenuity, courage and wit of Manekshaw which sure makes for an interesting read and viewing, as a Bollywood movie, tentatively titled “Sam” starring Vicky Kaushal (who will be essaying the role of Sam Manekshaw) is in the works and would be released by the end of 2020. This project is being helmed by the critically acclaimed director Meghna Gulzar.