Kodandera Subayya Thimayya

This article is about the Indian Army general. For the 16th century Hindu privateer, see Timoji.
Kodendera Subayya Thimayya
ಕೊದಂಡೇರ ಸುಬ್ಬಯ್ಯ ತಿಮ್ಮಯ್ಯ

General KS Thimayya
Chief of the Army Staff (India)
In office
8 May 1957  7 May 1961
Preceded by General SM Shrinagesh
Succeeded by General PN Thapar
Personal details
Born (1906-03-30)30 March 1906
Madikeri, Coorg, Mysore, India
Died 17 December 1965 (1965-12-18) (aged 59)
Awards Padma Bhushan
Distinguished Service Order
Military service
Allegiance British Indian Empire
Service/branch British Indian Army
 Indian Army
Years of service 1926 – 1961
Rank General
Unit 19th Hyderabad Regiment (Now Kumaon Regiment)
Commands Chief of Army Staff
Southern Army
19th Infantry Division
268th Indian Infantry Brigade
8th battalion The 19th Hyderabad Regiment

General Kodendera Subayya Thimayya, DSO was a distinguished soldier of the Indian Army who served as Chief of Army Staff from 1957 to 1961 in the crucial years leading up to the conflict with China in 1962. Gen. Thimayya was the only Indian to command an Infantry brigade in battle during the Second World War and is regarded as the most distinguished combat officer the Indian Army has produced.[1] After the Korean War, Thimayya headed a United Nations unit dealing with the repatriation of prisoners of war. After his retirement from the Army, he was appointed Commander of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus from July 1964 to December 1965 and died in Cyprus while on active duty on 18th Dec 1965.

Early life and education

Kodandera Subayya Thimayya was born in Madikeri, the district town of Kodagu (formerly known as Coorg), Karnataka, on 30 March 1906, to Thimayya and Sitamma. His family was one the leading coffee planters in the area. His mother, Sitamma, was highly educated and a social worker. She was the recipient of Kaisar-e-Hind Medal. Thimayya was the second child of six children in his family. The eldest was Ponappa, then Thimayya, followed by Somayya, and three younger sisters. All the three boys of the family rose to become officers in the Indian Army.[2]

On his father's side, he belonged to the Kodendera clan to which India's first commander-in-chief Cariappa also belonged. His mother Cheppudi Chittauwa was from the Cheppudira family. His wife Mrs Nina Thimayya was a recipient of the Kesar-e-hind for her philanthropic contribution during the Quetta Earthquake of 1935. His maternal uncle C B Ponnappa was in first batch of commissioned Indian officers from the Indore defence school and a batchmate of Cariappa. Desiring that he receive a good education, he was sent at the age of eight years to St Joseph's College in Coonoor a convent run by Irish brothers. Later, Thimayya was sent to Bishop Cotton Boys' School in Bangalore. After completing school, Thimayya was sent to the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College, a necessary stepping stone for a commission in the Indian Army.His elder brother Ponappa (later joined INA )as well as younger brother Somayya (died in a mine accident in 1947-48 Kashmir operations) joined Indian army. Following his graduation from RIMC, "Timmy", as he was affectionately known, was one of only six Indian cadets selected for further training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1926.

Early career

After completing his training, he was commissioned into the Army in 1926 as a Second Lieutenant[3] and was attached to the Highland Light Infantry as was the norm then, prior to a permanent posting with a regiment of the British Indian Army. He was soon posted to the 4th Battalion of the 19th Hyderabad Regiment (now Kumaon Regiment) and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1928[4] Appointed the regimental adjutant in September 1930, Thimayya honed his soldiering skills on that famous training ground in the Northwest Frontier (present-day Pakistan), battling recalcitrant Pathan tribals.

In January 1935, Thimayya married Nina Cariappa (no relation to K M Cariappa), and was promoted to Captain the following month.[5] On 20 March 1936, they had a daughter, Mireille. The same April, Thimayya was posted as an Adjutant at the University Training Corps in Madras, as a fitting example for young Indian undergraduates interested in joining the Indian Army, of what a good soldier should be.

Second World War

After this tenure, Thimayya was posted to his battalion in Singapore. In October 1941, he was transferred at his request to India. Thimayya was posted as the Second-in-Command of a new raising at the Hyderabad Regimental Centre in Agra. He was then detailed to attend the Staff College at Quetta where he and his wife had earlier made a name for themselves by selfless service during the 1935 Quetta earthquake. Thimayya was promoted to Major in February 1943,[6] and served as GSO2 (Ops) (a Grade II Staff Officer) of 25th Indian Division, the first Indian officer to get this coveted staff appointment.

His infantry division was conducting jungle warfare training and was preparing to go into Burma to face the Japanese Army during the Second World War, serving in the Second Arakan campaign. Thimayya was promoted to temporary Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1944. In Burma, he was posted to his old regiment as Commanding Officer of 8/19th Hyderabad, which he led with outstanding success in battle. For a short while the battalion was under the command of the 3rd Commando Brigade, with Brigadier C. R. Hardy at the helm, who during the height of a battle presented a trophy to the battalion. It was a green beret — the command's head dress — with a little typed message on a card, "We cannot buy anything here but we would like you to accept this as a token of our great admiration for the bravery and achievement of your battalion." He was also promoted to the rank of Brigadier in the field on 25 March 1945. For his outstanding service in battle, he was awarded the much coveted Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O) and also a Mention-in-Dispatches.

His innate talents of professional soldiering and leadership were soon recognized by Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. He was specially selected to lead the 268th Indian Infantry Brigade as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan after World War II. He got this assignment due to his outstanding battle experience as a Brigadier and being the only Indian to command a battle formation in the field. British, as a matter of policy avoided giving operational command to Indians. Thimmayya was the only exception. As an independent brigade, the 268th had done excellent work in the Burma Campaign and was detailed as part of BRINDIV led by Maj Gen D. T. "Punch" Cowan.

Gen. Thimayya proved to be an outstanding commander and his diplomatic skills emerged as he had to deal with General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theatre, the other Allies and the vanquished Japanese. Thimayya's personality, charm of manners and unassailable reputation, impressed the Japanese of the calibre of Indian commanders. Thimayya was called on to defuse the sit-down strike by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles at the palace of the Mikado in Tokyo when the battalion refused to obey its British officers.

Thimayya represented the country during the surrender of the Japanese in Singapore, followed by the surrender of the Japanese in the Philippines. At the ceremony of Japanese surrender in Singapore, he signed on behalf of India. He was awarded the 'Keys to Manila' when he was sent to the Philippines. As Indian Independence approached, he was recalled to India by then Commander-in-chief of British India, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck.

Role in independent India

He returned to India in 1947, during the Partition, as member of the committee to agree to the allotment of weapons, equipment and regiments that were to remain in India, or to be allotted to Pakistan. Soon after the commission was completed, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General in September 1947 and was then assigned the command of the 4th Infantry Division and also to take over the Punjab Boundary Force, dealing with the exodus and intake of refugees fleeing to their respective countries. In 1948 he was one of the active officers in the actions against the forces of Pakistan in the conflict over Kashmir. His next appointment was command of the 19th Infantry Division in Jammu & Kashmir where he succeeded in driving the raiders and the Pakistan Army out of the Kashmir Valley. Personally leading the attack in the forward-most tank, the surprise attack on Zoji La on 1 November 1948 by a brigade with Stuart Light Tanks of the 7th Light Cavalry,[7] succeeded in driving out the entrenched raiders and Pakistan Army regulars and the eventual capture of Dras, Kargil and Leh. He established the best of relations with Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and even Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but his pleas to give him three more months to drive the raiders back to Muzaffarabad fell on deaf ears and instead, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to the United Nations.

Thereafter, Thimayya served as the Commandant of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. The experience gained by him in Japan stood him in good stead when he was specially selected by the United Nations to head the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea. It was a very sensitive and delicate task dealing with unruly Chinese and Korean prisoners. Here again, through sheer charisma, impartiality, firmness and diplomacy, he completed this task to the satisfaction of the world body. He returned to India and was promoted to General Officer Commanding, Southern Command, with the rank of Lieutenant-General, in January 1953. In 1954, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan for Civil Service. He took over the reins of the Indian Army on 7 May 1957.

Chief of Army Staff

General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya assumed charge of the Indian Army, as the 6th Chief of the Army Staff, on 7 May 1957. He briefly resigned his post in 1959 over a dispute with V. K. Krishna Menon, the then Minister of Defence (India). Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru refused to accept his resignation and persuaded him into withdrawing it. However, little action was taken on Thimayya's recommendations and he continued as the Army Chief till his retirement on 7 May 1961, completing 35 years of distinguished military service. Hence retired from the army in 1961, almost 15 months before the Chinese invasion of India in November 1962.

After retirement

After retirement from the Indian Army, the United Nations sought his services yet once again when he was appointed as the Commander of UN Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in July 1964. He died during his tenure at UNFICYP in December 1965 and his mortal remains were flown to Bangalore for the last rites. The street perpendicular to East Street (a road parallel to MG road in Pune), Richmond Road in Bangalore, and the main road through Larnaca/Cyprus (East to West) were renamed as Gen Thimmayya Road in his memory. The Republic of Cyprus, also honored him by issuing a commemorative stamp in his memory in 1966.[8] The Old Boys of Cottons, the alumni association of Bishop Cotton Boys' School, annually hold the General K S Thimayya Memorial Lecture Series in his memory.[9]

Awards and Decorations

Padma Bhushan
General Service Medal 1947
Indian Independence Medal
Distinguished Service Order
1939–1945 Star
Burma Star
War Medal 1939–1945


    1. Jacob, J.F.R. An Odyssey in War and Peace. Roli Books Pvt. Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 978-81-7436-840-9.
    2. Singh 2007, p. 87.
    3. Khanduri, Chandra B. (1969). Thimmayya:An Amazing Life. New Delhi: Centre for Armed Historical Research, United Service Institution of India, New Delhi through Knowledge World. p. 137. ISBN 81-87966-36-X. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
    4. "Cyprus Stamp Issue: General Thimmayya". Retrieved 29 December 2009.
    5. "General K S Thimayya Memorial Lecture Series". Old Boys of Cottons. Retrieved 9 September 2014.


    Military offices
    Preceded by
    S. M. Shrinagesh
    Chief of Army Staff
    1962 – 1966
    Succeeded by
    Pran Nath Thapar
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