The Indian Army in Italy



 THE INDIAN CONTRIBUTION IN ITALY

  The Indian Soldier since times immemorial has been in the forefront of all wars to fight against the forces of evil.  During the First World War, 1.3 million Indian soldiers played a major role during the fighting in Europe, Africa and Asia; some of the famous battles being Ypres in Belgium, Somme in France,  Gallipoli in the Middle East, and Kilimanjaro in East Africa. They won 11 Victoria Crosses, while 54,000 soldiers died and 66,000 were wounded.

  During the Second World War, the Indian Army became the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men. It fought gallantly in North Africa, Middle East and Italy, though a major force was committed to fighting the Japanese Army in Malaya, North East India and Burma. Their valour and grit was recognized with the award of 31 VCs. These campaigns cost over 36,000 lives, whilst 34,354 were wounded and 67,340 became prisoners of war.

  The story of the Indian Army in Italy during the Second World War brings out the courage, mettle, the human face and the sacrifices made by the officers and men. In the Italian Campaign, nearly 50,000 Indian soldiers mostly in their 20’s, drawn from some of the finest regiments of the Indian Army and Indian State Forces fought for the freedom of Italy. The Indians contributed the third largest force after the Americans and Britishers.

  The Order of Battle of the Indian Army included the 4th, 8th and 10th Indian Infantry Division. Most of these formations were part of the legendary Eight British Army which had earned laurels earlier during the Desert Campaign in North Africa. In Italy they fought along with British, New Zealand, Polish, American, Canadian and French Divisions. Together these men, soldiers from distant lands, men with little or no cultural similarities, lived together and many of them even died together.

  The Indian Divisions fought in a terrain that was ideally suited for defence and the offensive proceeded against the grain of the country. Yet they fought with unparalleled courage and relentless tenacity. They were in the thick of action on many fronts, including Monte Cassino, the battle for Sangro river and Liri Valley, the advance along the East coast to Bologna, the crossing of Senio river and in breaching the formidable Gothic lines. The Battle Honours and decorations awarded to units of the Indian Army indicates succinctly that its formations participated in every major battle with distinction. They met and defeated German troops from Parachute and Panzer Regiments, and helped liberate the cities of Perugia, Luca, Florence, San Marino, Cesena, Forli, Ferrara and Bologna.

  During all these battles, the Indian troops covered themselves with glory. Out of the 20 Victoria Crosses awarded in Italy, as many as six were won by Indians. But this glory came at a cost. Indian casualties in this Campaign were 23,722 injured, while 5782 soldiers made the supreme sacrifice of their lives. They are commemorated in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries spread all over Italy; Arezzo, Sangro, Cassino, Forli Indian Army War Cemetery and Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery being the main ones.

 

  The Forli Indian War Cemetery contains 496 burials, 493 of these are Indians.  The beautiful Forli Cremation Memorial at one side of the Cemetery commemorates 769 officers and men of the Indian Army.

  While the Hindu and Sikh martyrs are commemorated with their names prominently displayed on the War Memorials, the graves of the Christian and Muslim (and some Hindu) martyrs are beautifully laid out; the epitaphs engraved with the regimental insignia inscribed with a ‘shloka’ or prayer in Sanskrit or Urdu, followed by particulars of the individual, date of casualty and age.

  One is reminded of the famous words engraved on the main tomb-stone at Kohima War Cemetery & Memorial, India  where Indian and British troops though outnumbered 10 to 1, fought with glory in finally halting the invasion of India by the Japanese forces in April-May 1944. The Battles of Kohima & Imphal have been voted as Britain’s Greatest Battle by a contest organized by their National Army Museum in April 2013, beating other important ones like Normandy landing and Battle of Waterloo.

Many of the 5782 young Indian men who died on Italian soil were in their late teens. These men fought and died for a cause – the cause of Liberty, apart from upholding the glorious traditions of the Indian Army. The story of their bravery and sacrifice is still talked about in the Italian cities and quaint villages that they helped to liberate.

  It is our bonded duty to remember these brave sons of India who sacrificed their lives, and thank them for making our tomorrow possible. The least we can do is to pause for a minute and remember them. They shall never be forgotten.

  Col (Retd) Vijay Yeshvant Gidh, VSM



 

WAR CEMETERIES COMMEMORATING INDIAN  MARTYRS

  A TRIBUTE TO THE YOUNG INDIAN SOLDIERS   WHO FOUGHT WITH BRAVERY   AWAY FROM HOME 

  5782 INDIAN SOLDIERS GAVE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE OF THEIR LIVES, THEY ARE COMMEMORATED IN 36 WAR CEMETERIES & 4 WAR MEMORIALS IN ITALY; CASSINO, SANGRO, FORLI INDIAN ARMY WAR CEMETERY & RIMINI GURKHA WAR CEMETERY BEING MAIN ONES.

  CASSINO CONTAINS 431 GRAVES & 1438 COMMEMORATIONS, INCLUDES MAJORITY OF THOSE KILLED DURING THE BATTLES OF MONTE CASSINO. THE CEMETERY’s TWO MAJOR STRUCTURES -MEMORIALS & ORIGINAL REGISTER BOX ARE IN INDIAN STYLE.

  FORLI INDIAN WAR CEMETERY COMMEMORATES TROOPS KILLED DURING BREACHING OF GOTHIC LINE. IT CONTAINS 493 BURIALS, WHILE THE CREMATION MEMORIAL COMMEMORATES 769 PERSONS.



THE 8TH INDIAN INFANTRY DIVISION WAR SONG

  O bury me at Cassino 

  My duty to England is done

  And when you get back to Blighty

  And you are drinking your Whisky and Rum

  Remember the old Indian soldier

  When the war he fought has been won!

-  Indian 8th Infantry Division War Song from the WW II Italian Campaign