Army’s only cavalry unit to replace horses with tanks
One of the world’s last remaining horse-mounted cavalry regiments may be riding into the sunset.
The Indian Army’s only mounted cavalry regiment is set to say goodbye to its horses, with the government approving a proposal to equip the 61st Cavalry with tanks, two senior officers said on condition of anonymity.
The famous 61st Cavalry is being converted into a regular armoured regiment on the basis of a recommendation made by the Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (retd) committee in a report on sharpening the army’s combat edge and trimming its revenue expenditure, said one of the officers cited above.
The Jaipur-based 61st Cavalry is likely to be equipped with T-72 tanks, said the second officer cited above. “Three independent squadrons of other regiments are being amalgamated under the headquarters of the 61st Cavalry to form the new tank unit,” the officer added.
The regiment’s 300-odd horses (200 in Jaipur and around 100 with a squadron of 61st Cavalry in Delhi) will become part of a new equestrian node, he said.
Lieutenant General Shekatkar, who headed the 11-member expert committee named after him, said the recommendation to mechanise the 61st Cavalry was taken after scrutinising the track record of the unit.
“It has not taken part in any operation during the last 25 years. Nowhere in the world is playing polo or taking part in equestrian sports the main occupation of any army unit. It’s in the army’s best interests that it (the unit) operates tanks instead of horses,” Shekatkar said. He said the President’s Bodyguard, also a mounted unit, has the well-defined role of performing ceremonial duties for the country’s President. The decision to mechanise the mounted regiment, steeped in tradition and sporting history, has evoked mixed reactions. While some in the army argue that the regiment’s military heritage should have been preserved, others counter that it makes more sense to assign the 61st Cavalry an operational role rather than limiting it to ceremonial functions and sporting events.
“The 61st Cavalry has a rich and storied history that should have been preserved. There can be no 61st Cavalry without horses. It’s heartbreaking to see the unit being disbanded,” said an armoured corps officer who asked not to be named. Another officer, however, said mechanisation of the regiment was the way forward and mounted units were a thing of the past.
The 61st Cavalry was raised in Jaipur in October 1953 by putting together mounted elements of cavalry regiments of the erstwhile princely states of India.
Rich in sporting history, the regiment accounts for one Padma Shri, 10 Arjuna Awards, 11 Asian Games medals and a raft of representations at the Polo World Cup and international equestrian competitions. It has been a part of the annual Republic Day parade for several decades.
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