1. The Southern Command came into existence in 1895. However, the saga began on 31 December 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to “The Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies”. They obtained a firman from Emperor Jahangir to establish a factory at Surat in 1613. This Company came to be known as the East India Company. Through trade, the fortunes of the Company grew and their ambitions increased.

2. In 1661, the East India Company acquired the Island of Bombay for the princely annual rental of £10. This Island, ceded by Portugal to England as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry, became the headquarters of the Bombay Presidency. Being firmly ensconced, the East India Company slowly expanded its presence to the hinterland through gradual conquests. The turning point was their victory over Baji Rao II, the last of the Peshwas, in the Battle of Kirkee, on 5 November 1817. This allowed them a foothold in Poona.

Establishment of Poona & Kirkee Cantonments

3. As British influence extended into the Deccan, there arose a need for a greater military presence. The British already had a small encampment west of the Mutha River, in an area called Garpir, in Kirkee (now Khadki) where they had initially established themselves. However this did not cover the approaches to Poona from the north or east. As more troops were required to be billeted, a larger area was occupied east of the Mutha River, leading to the establishment of Poona Cantonment in 1819.

4. In 1835 Poona was declared the monsoon capital of the Bombay government. Over time, it became one of the strongest military stations of the British in the Peninsula. With the establishment of a Cantonment alongside the City of Poona, a dual identity was forged based on the moorings of tradition and modernity. Today, Pune and Khadki Cantonments have imperceptibly merged into the greater metropolis of Pune.

The Military Structure

5. With the British government assuming direct control after 1857, a more formalized structure of the armies was put in place. In 1879, the Presidency Army System was integrated into a Unified Army of four commands under one C-in-C. The Presidency armies were abolished with effect from 1 April 1895 by a notification of the Government of India through Army Department Order Number 981 dated 26 October 1894, unifying the three Presidency armies into a single Indian Army. This Order further divided the Army into four Commands, each under a Lt Gen, as follows:-

(a) Bengal (Assam, Bengal, UP, and parts of Central Provinces).

(b) Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden) headquartered at Poona.

(c) Madras (including Burma).

(d) Punjab (including North West Frontier and Punjab Frontier Force).

1st April 1895 is thus the formal raising of Southern Command. Its HQ has remained unchanged at Pune since then.

6. In 1908, the four Commands were done away with and replaced by two Armies. The Northern Army with five Divs was located at Rawalpindi; the Southern Army, with its five Divs and a Bde located at Poona. The original system of four commands was once again reverted to in 1922 as under:-

(a) Northern Command – Rawalpindi
(b) Eastern Command – Nainital
(c) Western Independent District – Quetta (with the status of a Command)
(d) Southern Command – POONA

7. Period From 1920-1947. The first major operational challenge arose during the Second World War when it was apprehended that Japan or Germany could mount a seaward assault on India. In April 1942, Southern Command was designated as the Southern Army and first time, its HQ shifted to Bangalore to accommodate the GHQ from Delhi at Poona if the need arose. During the War the primary role of Southern Command was to defend the ports and connected airfields of Madras, Vishakhapatnam, Cochin and Bombay. Assigned the operational role of defending Southern India from invasions and
Sea borne raids, it was in addition tasked with preparing certain bases, ports and communications for launching an offensive when required.

8. Southern Command did not actively engage in any operations during the Second World War, it remained a major training and re-equipment theatre for operations in Burma. The only operational force which was formed in Southern Command was for Op BUTTON - the invasion of Malaya (now Malaysia), Indonesia and other countries under Japanese occupation. An Amphibious Operation Force set out for the invasion from Bombay, Madras and Ceylon.

Post Independence

9. Post-Independence, the Army was divided into regional commands. Southern Command was the senior-most and was charged with defence of the national territory in the Southern theatre, as also providing aid to civil authority, whenever requested. As brought out, at the time of Independence, Southern Command had primarily a training, administrative and support role. Geographically, it was the largest Command (covering most of peninsular India). It was thus apt that the first Indian GOC-in-C to be appointed was Lt Gen KS Rajendrasinhji, who was the senior-most officer after Gen (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa, the Chief of the Army Staff and succeeded him as the second Chief.

Baptism by Fire

10. In the pre-independence era, Indian units and formations were organized for operations against both irregular levies inland as well as for actions overseas. The International Border was with Afghanistan thus Southern Command was not actively involved with defence of borders. Events that unfurled in the aftermath of the Partition changed all that. Southern Command was now actively engaged in safeguarding national territory and bringing recalcitrant states to heel in the process of national consolidation. It was largely responsible for Junagadh and Hyderabad signing the Instrument of Accession to India. This ‘Nation Building’ process carried on till 1961, when operations for the liberation of Goa were conducted by Inf Div, under the operational control of Southern Command.

11. The first serious blooding along the Western border came about in the 1965 War with Pakistan in the Kutch Sector. In January 1965, fighting broke out in the Rann of Kutch, a sparsely inhabited region, when the Pakistani forces began using tracks inside Indian Territory. An Inf Bde was moved in and kept in reserve. On 24 April 1965, Pakistani troops attacked Indian positions in the Rann of Kutch. A hastily constituted force, named Kilo Force under Maj Gen PO Dunn comprising two Inf Bdes was formed to contain this attack. It was in the wake of these operations that the necessity of field formations under Southern Command gained impetus.

12. The first formation to be raised was Kilo Force, which was later re-designated as 11 Inf Div. In September 1965, the operational responsibility for the Barmer sector was given to Southern Command and entrusted to 11 Inf Div which is also known as the Golden Katar Div based on its insignia.

13. Delhi and Rajasthan Area, with its Advance HQ at Jodhpur, participated in the 1965 war under Western Command. On 3 November 1966, this Formation was designated as 12 Inf Div, under Maj Gen JFR Jacob and also placed under Southern Command.

14. Indo–Pak War 1971: The Defining Moment. The defining moment came in 1971 when Southern Command was deployed in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Kutch with 12 Inf Div, 11 Inf Div and a Sector respectively. Here, its formations together with the IAF were engaged in a tenacious defence at Laungewala which thwarted the Pakistan offensive in the 12 Div Sector. There was an equally audacious offensive by 11 Inf Div to capture Khokhropar and Gadra City. Southern Command, for the first time, executed large-scale desert operations and captured over 9,000 square kilometres of enemy territory in the Barmer Sector. This was the largest area captured in the Western Theatre.

15. Formation of the Desert Corps. With two combat Divs on the Order of Battle of Southern Command and the increasing operational importance of the Desert Sector, a Corps HQ was sanctioned in January 1987. HQ 12 Corps now known as the Desert Corps was raised at Jodhpur under Lt Gen A K Chatterjee in February 1987, during the volatile days of Op TRIDENT.

16. Operations in the Emerald Island. With the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987, the Command was tasked to ensure implementation of the Accord. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), under Lt Gen A S Kalkat was raised and moved to Sri Lanka, to participate in Op PAWAN. Over the next two years, the IPKF gradually built up, and made tremendous sacrifices in their attempt to enforce the mandate. The IPKF was eventually de-inducted in early 1990, after the successful conduct of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka.

17. The Strike Corps. In keeping with the planned reorganization of the Indian Army, a ‘Strike Corps’ had to be raised in the Southern Theatre. HQ IPKF was re-designated as HQ 21 Corps in April 1990. This became the offensive Corps of Southern Command and established itself at Bhopal in July 1990.

18. HQ Southern Command also controlled Op Cactus in the Maldives in 1988 to restore President Gayoom after a coup bid in that country. It was also heavily committed during Operation Vijay in 1999. After the infamous attack on the Indian Parliament in 2002, the Command mobilised as part of the general mobilisation for Operation Parakram, which continued for over ten months.

Southern Command Today

19. Today, the Southern Command comprises of its two Corps, 12 and 21 located at Jodhpur and Bhopal. The Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa Area, with its HQ at Mumbai and the Andhra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala Area with its HQ at Chennai also come within its ambit. Southern Command encompasses ten States and four Union Territories covering nearly 40 percent of the Country. This includes an area of about 2,407,315 square kilometers. Its formations, establishments and units are spread over 19 cantonments and 35 military stations, which are also home to 41 major training establishments.

20. The Tri- Services Nature of Southern Command. Southern Command is the only tri-service theatre among all Army Commands. It has within its geographical area the HQ of Western, Southern and Eastern Naval Commands as also four Air Force Commands, namely the South Western, Southern, Maintenance and Training Commands.

Aid to Civil Authorities

21. The role of Southern Command has not been restricted to the military sphere alone. In addition to training, administration and support of the very large number of military formations, units and establishments, the Command has been in the forefront when called to aid civil authorities in internal security situations, civil disturbances and natural or man-made disasters. These include those ranging from floods, bomb blast and earthquakes to the tsunami.


22. In the post Independence era, Southern Command carved its own identity and redefined its roles and aspirations. It is the only Command to have been engaged in overseas operations, it has participated extensively with other armies in exercises while also performing yeoman service in disaster relief, both within its confines and beyond the nation’s borders. With its strong foundation of two centuries of growth, it has consolidated and built itself into a formidable field army - one of the finest in the world. Having proved itself repeatedly in battle, Southern Command stands poised in the new millennia, geared up to undertake even more diverse roles - both operational and humanitarian.