He escaped from Axis custody in WW2

This is the story of my grand father’s younger brother as published in Hindustan Times
Chandigarh , July 16, 2012. He is still alive and I always look forward to meet him whenever I visit India.


Ram Swarup of Behrampur in Rupnagar district enlisted as a driver with the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) in 1941 and served with the 4 Indian Division (the famous Red Eagles) in North Africa and Italy.
During the former campaign, he witnessed a field court martial and later the execution of a number of Indian RIASC drivers, a reprehensible act and one of the lesser-known incidents of the war.

Apparently they had refused to unload stores from shipping in the Mersa Matruh (Egypt) harbour on the plea that they were not ‘coolies’. Most of his time was spent driving his commanding officer’s (CO’s) jeep.

During the Italian campaign, he was captured by the Germans, but escaped from the POW (prisoner of war) camp along with some others, one of the few successful escapes from Axis custody by Indian soldiers.

Obviously, their ethnic features made it difficult to evade detection among the white, Caucasian population. Another prominent escapee from a different camp was Tikka Khan, captured with 2 Field Regiment at Bir Hakeim (Libya) in 1942. Khan served as the Pakistan army chief from 1972-76.

Ram Swarup soldiered on after the war, being sent to the reserves in 1953. A lifelong bachelor now nearing 90, he lives with and is well cared for by his nephew JK Sharma and his family in Sector 38, Chandigarh. We met him at his village, where he proudly told us of living alone for a while, cooking his own food as well as looking after the family’s agricultural land.

Truly, the salt of the earth.

His fervent desire now is to interact once more with soldiers from his beloved corps.

Will the army fulfil his wish?

Ram Swarup symbolises the lakhs of young men from rural India who went off to fight during the World Wars.

While the government may have had a point in the past about these not being our wars and focusing on conflicts fought to preserve our hard-won freedom, it’s time for a fresh look at the issue.

With our aspirations to sit at the high table of nations, would it not be fitting to emphasize to the world that India incurred casualties of no less than 176,000 (killed in action) and raised history’s largest all-volunteer force to fight against tyranny, fascism and totalitarianism? Now, as they fade away in increasing numbers, our World War 2 veterans, their tremendous sacrifices and undying achievements deserve our respect, homage and government recognition.

Punjab Regiment
The Punjab Regiment can justifiably lay claim to be the senior most infantry regiment. However, the regiment has been badly hit by various re-organizations, transfers and the vicissitudes of time.

The regimental list starts with the 3rd Battalion, with its famous peacock badge, thence to the 9th Battalion, raised in 1948 from Dogra and Sikh companies of units which went to Pakistan, and then the 13th Battalion, the erstwhile Jind Infantry, a states forces unit.

The regiment, raised in 1922 with five regular battalions numbered sequentially and a 10th (Training) Battalion first lost its 4th Battalion in 1938 after an unfortunate incident. The 5th Battalion, which became an Indianised unit in 1932 and had the honour of producing Lt Gen JS Aurora, was lost at Singapore in 1942, being forced to surrender to the Japanese and was never raised again.

The 1st Battalion, the oldest unit in the Indian army, having been raised in 1761, became a parachute battalion in 1946, joining the Parachute Regiment on its formation in 1952 as its senior unit and now is India’s premier Special Forces entity.

The 2nd Battalion, the old 69th Punjabis, gave to the regiment its famous galley badge, which was awarded to them in recognition of their readiness to serve overseas, after the battalion had fought in eight overseas campaigns by 1824.

They were transferred to the newly-raised Brigade of Guards on its formation in 1949 as its senior battalion. The 7th Battalion, the first unit to be equipped with the BMP-1 infantry combat vehicles, became part of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment as its 8th Battalion on the raising of that regiment in 1981.

The loss of five of its senior most battalions has not disheartened the Punjab Regiment or deterred it from its quest for glory on the battlefield. From Zoji La (15 Punjab) through Burki (16 Punjab) to Kalidhar (9 Punjab), Brachil Pass (18 Punjab), Jessore (14 Punjab) and Longewala (23 Punjab) the voyage of the Golden Galley has been marked by valour and triumph.

Long Range Squadron
The Indian Long Range Squadron (ILRS) was formed on December 25, 1941, out of the volunteers from 3 Indian Motor Brigade comprising 2nd Lancers, 11th PAVO Cavalry and 18th Cavalry. Its task was to act as a Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)-type unit to combat the Germans if their advance ever reached as far as Iraq and Iran.

The unit consisted of four patrols – ‘R’ (Rajput), ‘J’ (Jat), ‘S’ (Sikh) and ‘M’ (Muslim). The LRDG was formed specifically to carry out deep penetration, covert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence missions from behind German lines in North Africa, although they also engaged in combat operations.

Because the LRDG members were experts in desert navigation, they were also assigned to guide other units, including the Special Air Service and intelligence operatives across the desert. Their effectiveness can be judged from the fact that German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel admitted that the LRDG “caused us more damage than any other British unit of comparable size”.

In December 1941, ‘J’ and ‘R’ patrols of the ILRS were attached to the LRDG, the other two patrols (‘M’ and ‘S’) being attached in October 1942. The unit was disbanded after the war. Their successors, in a sense, were 10 Para Commandos, who operated in the Thar Desert in a mobile role opposite Barmer and Kutch during the 1971 India-Pakistan War.

The battalion, led by the dashing Bhawani Singh Jaipur, infiltrated deep inside enemy territory and for four days carried out lightning raids on the strongly held enemy posts at Chachro and Virawah. Two groups infiltrated into Pakistan on December 5 and 6 to raid Chachro and Islamkot. The operations of the battalion helped in large areas being occupied by Indian troops.

Now, 10 Para (Special Forces), the battalion still has mobile commando operations in the desert as its main role, while it also rotates through a counter-insurgency role in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East.

Key dates
July 2: Raising Day: 20 Grenadiers; 21 Bihar; 18 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles
July 4: Raising Day: 224 Squadron, IAF (the Warlords, as they are called, were raised in 1983 at Adampur with MiG23 MF aircraft)
July 19: Raising Day: Madras Regimental Centre, Wellington
July 26 Kargil Vijay Diwas

HT Live Chandigarh, Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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