The 1965 India-Pakistan War saw hard fought battles in attrition warfare style like the one at Dograi, in which large number of casualties were taken by the infantry battalions in their operations. Moreover the infantry and armour battles during that war brought out the glaring deficiency of mobility to foot Infantry and lack of synchronization between the different arms in combat. A need was felt to give mobility with armoured protection to infantry so that it could keep pace with armoured formations.
So began the search for a suitable ‘battle taxi’ in the form of armoured personal carriers (APCs), which had matching mobility with tanks, protection and adequate floatation capability. APCs like M113 from USA, referred to as from USA “box on tracks” were ruled out for acquisition as they lacked firepower and had insufficient make shift floating capability. Indian Army got more inclined towards choosing the Polish tracked TOPAS, in particular and the Soviet wheeled BTR – 60 and SKOT (Czech acronym for: Střední Kolový Obrněný Transportér and/or Polish Średni Kołowy Opancerzony Transporter – medium wheeled armoured transporter) in general owing to their mobility, protection and floatation capabilities. These APCs ideally fitted into the “battle taxi” concept envisaged by Indian Army.
Equipping Infantry Battalions with APCs entailed training of core team on the selected equipment at the country of origin. A team of officers were earmarked for an APC course abroad at Czechoslovakia. The officers earmarked were required to undertake six weeks pre course training on the basics of ‘A’ vehicles at Armoured Corps Centre and School (ACC & S), Ahmednagar. Two officers from infantry battalions earmarked for conversion, two officers from Armoured Corps and one officer from Electronics and Mechanical Engineers formed the team to proceed to Czechoslovakia. The specialized training on Topas was conducted at Borno near Prague for three months in early 1970.
The decision to equip few infantry battalions was taken by Gen (later Field Marshal) SHFJ Manekshaw, the then Army Chief and Lt Gen Har Prasad, then Vice-Chief in 1969. The first tentative steps towards mechanisation were taken by converting some of the finest infantry units by equipping them with Eastern bloc APCs, TOPAS, SKOT and BTR. Another reference about the conversion of select battalions is also found in the book ‘Surrender at Dacca’ by Lt Gen JFR Jacob as part of the chapter ‘Preparatory Moves and Training’.
When former Army Chief Gen G.G. Bewoor, PVSM, was the Deputy Chief, he was tasked to select infantry battalions for conversion. Addressing the officers during his visit to the Mechanised Infantry Regimental Centre (MIRC), he interestingly made a mention of the modus of selection of the infantry battalions for mechanization, which was somewhat similar to that adopted by the British when they selected battalions for Indianisation in 1921. They initially selected the first battalions like 2/1 PUNJAB, 1/14 RAJPUT and 1/14 PUNJAB. Subsequently when they decided to Indianise more infantry battalions, they selected fifth battalions and that was how 5 Rajputana Rifles (RAJRIF), 5 BALUCH and 5 SIKH were formed. Post-Independence, two regiments were raised, viz Brigade of Guards and Parachute Regiment. Hence only those Infantry regiments which had not provided battalions for raising of Brigade of Guards and Parachute Regiment, were considered for mechanization.
Eventually, the battalions selected were:
Initially, newly equipped mechanised infantry battalions comprised seven companies each-four rifle companies (A, B, C & D), one support company, one headquarters company and a transport company. APCs were held centrally and maintained by the transport company, given to rifle companies during exercises and returned to transport company. In 1973, D Company was disbanded and its personnel posted to other companies. In later years, the organization was further streamlined by disbanding the transport company and creating a new post of Technical Officer and similar to armoured regiments, have three combat companies and one headquarters company.
Later, when APCs were replaced with infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) BMP 1/2, this organization was considered most suitable, viable and flexible for mobile operations. Such an organization enhanced flexibility for forming combat teams and groups and quick grouping and regrouping, as required. Cross attachments became the order of the day, especially in a combat group configuration, when one mechanised company got grouped with an armoured regiment and vice versa to afford greater operational synergy.
It is worth mentioning that in 1971, then Army Chief Gen SHFJ Manekshaw, visited 1 MADRAS to see for himself the training being carried out on TOPAS APCs, Personally driven by Maj MS Oberoi on the Tankodrome at Babina and shown the astute handling of the TOPAS by the men, at the end he shook hands with Maj Oberoi and commented, “Going by the skills, I have witnessed today, Mechanised Infantry will definitely steal the thunder in this mechanised environment very soon”. Over the next five years these infantry battalions gained understanding of mechanised warfare while being part of armoured formations. The experience assimilated by these infantry battalions suggested that its role and employment is different from regular infantry owing to its equipment profile, organisation and combined arms grouping. This experience and expertise gained became the precursor to the idea of grouping these APC equipped infantry battalions into a new Mechanised Infantry Regiment.
Gen KV Krishna Rao, PVSM (Retd) in his book, ‘Prepare or Perish’ mentioned about the Apex Planning Group under Mr DP Dhar and PN Haksar, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission who examined the effects of the West Asia war with sophisticated weapons and the effects on strategic and tactical doctrine. It was felt that requirements of defence should be examined in greater depth with a view to bringing about further improvements in the fighting capacity of the defence forces as well as to ensure cost effectiveness. In 1975, the Government constituted the Experts Committee, headed by Lt Gen KV Krishna Rao, PVSM, DCOAS (P & S), Maj Gen ML Chibber, AVSM, Maj Gen K Sundarji, and Brig AJM Homji, which for the first time made a long term plan for modernisation of the Army for 25 years.
After initial equipping of infantry battalions with APCs, a Mechanised Infantry Cell was created at Inspectorate of Infantry, Army Headquarters. Subsequently at the Infantry Commander’s conference in 1972, Lt Gen R Norhonna, MC mooted the idea of training of Mechanised Infantry at the Armoured Corps Centre and School, since the infantry regimental centres did not have the infrastructure required for training of Mechanised Infantry pesonnel. It was on 03 June 1980 that intimation was received from Directorate of Armoured Corps that MIRC was placed under them as an interim measure till Directorate of Mechanised Infantry was created.
At the time of raising, the Regiment comprised twelve battalions which were already equipped with APCs. Two battalions, 13 and 14 Mechanised Infantry were raised later. Over the next three decades thirteen new battalions were raised on All India All Class composition basis and with the Brigade of Guards added to the Regiment, its tally became twenty six battalions. With 27 Mechanised Infantry Battalion raised in July 2017, the Mechansied Infantry Regiment has total strength of twenty seven battalions. Mechanised Infantry Battalions. The regular battalions are equipped with BMP II and the Reconnaissance and Support Battalions are configured on BMP II K and wheeled BRDMs.
President R Venkataraman presented colours to 23 x Mechanised Infantry Battalions and MIRC on 24 Feb 1988 at a grand ceremony at Regimental centre. It was a historic moment when old colours were trooped out for the last time. The colour presentation was attended senior civilian and military dignitaries.