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Nepal Army - 20th Century History

The army performed aid-to-the-civil-power duties, including riot control and disaster relief. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the army conducted sporadic counterinsurgency operations against Tibetan Khampa guerrillas operating in the remote mountains of northwestern Nepal. The campaign, which was finally suppressed in 1974, employed small army units trained in counterguerrilla tactics.

The Great War 1914-1918 AD

The Nepalese Army participated in World War I with The First Rifle, Kalibox, Sumsher Dal, Jabbar Jung, Pasupati Prasad, Bhairab Nath, Second Rifle, Bhairung and Srinath Battalions. The total number of NA troops deployed to India at the time was 14,000. Troops were armed with the Martin Henry and Enfield rifles. General Babar Shumsher, General Tej Shumsher and General Padam Shumsher, were the main commanders. The discipline, professionalism and adaptability of the Nepalese soldiers was again well respected in the First World War. Additionally, Nepal also sent almost two hundred thousand troops, the cream of its manhood, and proportionately a higher percentage of military aged men than most countries, to fight as part of the British Indian Army itself. This generous assistance was later extended with even more troops in the Second World War.

Waziristhan War 1917 AD

Wazirsthan, in the NW Frontier of British India had revolted against British rule. Their Pathan warriors called "Masuds" were outstanding fighters and they had vowed to fight the British who were at this moment deeply involved in the First World War. The British requested the Nepalese Army to help neutralize the movement. The Mahindra Dal Battalion and First Rifle Battalion were involved in the suppression of the movement from March 1917. This was a joint military operation Nepalese 1st Rifle with British 43rd Brigade and the Mahendra Dal Battalion with 45th Bde. The Nepalese Army had to accept many casualties. NA units, British Gurkha Regiments and British regulars had fought shoulder to shoulder. Many NA soldiers were decorated with British medals.

Afgan War 1919 AD

After the end of the First World War, British India decided to go to war in Afghanistan. Nepal was, as usual, requested to provide military assistance to the British. Revitalized tactical training for the Nepalese Army started in May 1919. Nepalese troops commanded by Gen Baber Shumsher reached India and the British Army received them with a 13 gun salute. The troops were concentrated in Awotabad. Later, the group was deployed in Nausera and the 2nd group in Marden. Meanwhile, the Amir of Afghanistan had sought Russian assistance. But Russia being engaged in its own internal problems was unable to help and Afghanistan was bound to accept a peace treaty. Nepalese troops were stationed there for three months.

The Second World War

There was a bilateral treaty between Nepal and Britain about the mobilization of Nepalese soldiers. The units which took part were Sri Nath, Kalibox, Surya Dal, Naya Gorakh, Barda Bahadur, Kali Bahadur, Mahindra Dal, Second Rifle, Bhairung, Jabbar Jung, Shumsher Dal, Sher, Devi Dutta, Bhairab Nath, Jagannath and Purano Gorakh Battalions. Besides, there were many high ranking Nepalese in the Joint Army HQ. Late Commander-in-Chief Kiran Shumsher Rana and ex-Commander-in-Chief and Field Marshall Nir Shumsher Rana were amongst the officers deployed by the Nepalese Army.

When Japan got involved in this war in December 1940, the British presence was threatened in the Indian subcontinent. Britain deployed its troops in India and on the Burma front. Nepalese battalions Mahindra Dal, Sher, Kali Bahadur and Jagannath- were also deployed. These Nepalese battalions fought under Allied Command. The Jagannath Battalion took part as engineers to construct tracks, bridges, water points etc.

Nepalese troops fought with distinction in the 14th Army under Slim and helped force the eventual Japanese retreat. Finally, following the atomic bomb attacks on Hirosima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. Most Nepalese troops were withdrawn to Kathmandu in Oct 1945. A grand victory parade was held on 28 Oct 1945 where many Nepalese soldiers, officers and associated British officers were honored for their appreciable performances.

Hyderbad Action - 1948 AD

The British left India in 1947. British India was split into India and Pakistan. Religious violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities erupted in many places. Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru requested Nepal to assist in controlling the situation. The Rana rulers took the decision to send Nepalese troops into India after long discussions. The Battalions which took part were Sri Nath, Kalibox, Kali Bahadur, Ganesh Dal, Shamsher Dal, Naya Gorakh, Barda Bahadur, Devi Dutta, Sher, Bhawani Dal, Bhairab Nath, Mahindra Dal, Second Rifle, Surya Dal, Narshima Dal, Purano Gorakh, Gorakh Nath, Bhairung, Jabbar Jung and Kali Prasad.

The Nepalese Army contingent was led by Maj Gen Sharada SJB Rana. These troops were deployed in many parts of India like Hyderbad, Ranchi, Calcutta, Deharadun, Ramgarh etc. Nepalese troops contributed greatly to the stabilization of the situation. At the request of the Indian government, some Nepalese troops also partook in the action in Hyderabad which was reined into the Indian Republic. After successful operations in Hyderbad, Nepalese troops stayed on for eight more months and finally returned back to Nepal in March 1949.

In the post WW II period, the Nepalese Army underwent a major overhaul. This ushered in a new era of professionalisation and institutionalization of training. As ever, the NA continued to provide noteworthy assistance to civil authorities responding to various natural calamities and disasters.

Anti-Rana Revolt - 1950 AD

During the period of Rana rule, which lasted until the end of 1950, Nepal was governed by a landed aristocracy; parliamentary government was in name only. This period provided stability, but also inhibited political and economic development because the Ranas isolated the country and exercised total control over internal affairs. The Nepali Congress Party formally decided to wage an armed struggle against the Rana regime. On November 6, King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, who had long been making anti-Rana statements, escaped from the palace and sought asylum in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu. Armed attacks by 300 members of the Nepali Congress Party's Liberation Army (Mukti Sena) began in the Tarai on November 11, initiating revolution in Nepal. A a cease-fire went into effect on 16 January 1951.

By the time the revolt began in 1950, many soldiers were predisposed to defect to the anti-Rana forces. Most soldiers, however, remained loyal or, at a minimum, did not lend active support to political forces attempting to overthrow the Ranas. The officer corps, however, remained staunchly loyal to the king throughout the crisis. The organization leading the revolt, the Nepali Congress Party, developed a distrust of the army leadership that reportedly still persisted in some quarters in 1991. At the same time, memories of India's moral and limited materiel support for the 1950 uprising led some sections of the military to question the national loyalties of the Nepali Congress Party.

Disarmament of the Khampas - 1974 AD

By the early 70s, some 9000 "Khampas (Tibetan tribesmen resisting Chinese authority) had crossed over to Nepal and established various high altitude camps which they used as launch pads for operations into the Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet. By 1973, these fighters, initially enjoying substantial foreign material and moral support, decided to invest the remote Nepalese District of Mustang as a firm base.

After various diplomatic initiatives, Nepal was finally compelled to carry out military operations to disarm the Khampas. A brigade sized taskforce left Pokhara on 15th June 1974. The main battle group was based on Shree Sri Nath Battalion and the effort included units or elements from:

  1. Shree Sri Nath Battalion
  2. Shree Raj Dal Battalion (Arty)
  3. Shree Bhairab Nath Battalion (Para)
  4. Shree Kali Prashad Battalion (Engineers)
  5. Shree Ganesh Dal Battalion (Signals)
  6. Shree First Rifle Battalion
  7. Shree Indra Dhoj Company
  8. Shree Ahridaman Company
  9. Shree Chandan Nath Company

The Indradhoj Company served as the Vanguard in the long, difficult mountain advance from Pokhara - Naudanda - Hile - Ghodepane - Dana - Ghasa Lete - Marpha - Jomsom (this is now one of the most popular trekking routes in Nepal).The Nepalese Army Air Corps played a crucial role, conducting extremely hazardous resupply and other missions in a largely uncharted, radar less high altitude environment.

With the Army poised to strike, if necessary, the Khampa Commander Wangdi agreed to disarm on 31st July 1974. However, it soon became evident that Wangdi himself intended to escape, resulting in a series of cordon and search operations resulting in the capture of:

  1. Rifles - 543
  2. Bren Guns - 75
  3. Sten Guns -35
  4. Pistols - 16
  5. 60 mm Mortars - 8 (385 bombs)
  6. 57 mm RCL - 7 (320 shells)
  7. Communication sets - 5
  8. All types of ammunition - 2,02,349.

Wangdi initially managed to slip out through a high altitude mountain pass and moved with his selected party of 50 - 60 towards the Western border of Nepal, hundreds of kilometers away. His luck ran out when reports of their attempt to loot a Nepal Police Post in Mugu (Far Western Nepal) focused the search operations.

He eventually succumbed to a Nepalese Army ambush carried out by an element of Shree Ahridaman Company in high altitudes of Tinkerlipu on 15th Sep 1974, bringing this episode to a victorious conclusion for the Nepalese Army. It is to the credit of Nepal that the Khampas who opted to remain in Nepal were provided land and have since settled peacefully.

Movement for the Restoration of Democracy - 1990-1991

The army faced a severe test during the strikes and demonstrations called by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, or prodemocracy movement, in the spring of 1990. The prodemocracy movement, composed of a broad spectrum of political parties led by the Nepali Congress Party and the United Left Front (a group of seven communist parties), staged a civil disobedience campaign in support of its demands for sweeping constitutional reforms. The police responded to the crescendo of protests by arresting movement leaders, closing the university and colleges, and censoring news reports of the disturbances. When these measures failed to check the demonstrations, security forces made mass arrests and resorted to firing on unruly, although usually unarmed, crowds.

By March 1990, army units were heavily involved in putting down the protests and often staged "flag marches," or shows of force, to prevent crowds from gathering or to signal the government's determination to enforce emergency regulations. On April 6, the day after King Birendra reorganized his government and agreed to institute constitutional reforms, a crowd of as many as 200,000 strong gathered in downtown Kathmandu. By all accounts, the army panicked and fired on the crowd as it approached the palace, killing at least twenty-five protesters. All told, security forces reportedly killed at least fifty persons during the height of the protests between February and April.

The national elections held in May 1991 witnessed an unprecedented peacetime mobilization of military force in Nepal. Many observers of the Nepalese political scene predicted widespread violence. To head off any trouble, the entire army was put on alert and deployed throughout the country to ensure a free and fair election. Its missions included protecting polling booths, monitoring campaign rallies, and patrolling streets and highways. In addition, 42,000 retired police and soldiers were pressed into temporary service. By all accounts, the army performed well. A minimum of violence and few electoral irregularities were reported. Once the voting was completed, the army returned to the barracks, police auxiliaries were relieved of their duties, and the regular police force resumed normal duties.

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