1st Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry

Discussion in 'British Indian Army' started by Stevin, Oct 10, 2011.

  1. Stevin

    Stevin Member

    Does anybody have some information on this unit? Sepoy Ramchandra Shellar is buried at Nederweert War Cemetery. I assume he died as a PoW, was recovered by the Americans who brought them to Margraten and in the late 40's he was reinterred in Nederweert.

    I think he was taken PoW in North Africa or Italy. Evene got help from the unit in India, although they could not help me further.

    Any information on this unit's time in North Africa and Italy is appreciated.

  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    WO 169/14962 1/5 Mahrattas 1943 Jan.- Apr., June- Dec.

    WO 169/18963 1/5 Mahrattas 1944 Jan.- Dec
  3. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Here is my summary history for the 1st/5th Mahratta Light Infantry 1939-45:

    1st Battalion 5th Mahratta Light Infantry

    Thal Brigade – 3 September 1939 to January 1940
    The battalion concentrated at Thal in June 1939 and served there under the Thal Brigade at the start of the war through January 1940.

    Khojak Brigade – January 1940 to October 1940
    It moved to Chaman, Balcuhistan under the Khojak Brigade in January 1940 and continued training. It left Chaman in October 1940 and moved to Ahmednagar.

    Deccan District – October 1940 to 1 February 1941
    The battalion moved to Ahmednagar in October 1940 and joined the newly formed 25th Indian Infantry Brigade there on February 1st, 1941.

    25th Indian Infantry Brigade – 1 February 1941 to 19 April 1942
    It was mobilized soon after arrival in Ahmednagar and joined the newly formed 25th Indian Infantry Brigade on February 1st, 1941. It then left Ahmednagar in the first week of May 1941 and moved to Bombay, where it embarked with the brigade on May 21st. The brigade arrived at Basra on May 39th and moved into Camp Shaiba with ‘A’ Company at Samawa Bridge. It moved to Baghdad with the brigade during the first week of June and arrived there on June 24th. On June 30th it moved to Habbaniya with one platoon at Haditha. During the last week of June, the 10th Indian Infantry Division was to attack Syria. The 21st Indian Infantry Brigade was to attack Dier ez Zor and to advance to Aleppo, while the 25th Indian Infantry Brigade was to protect the LOC at Baghdad and Habbaniya to Basra. The battalion was placed under the 21st Brigade on July 1st and advanced to Dier ez Zor on July 8th and to Raqqa Fort on July 13th. The brigade then moved to Hasseetche and Ras el Ain. The battalion then moved to Baghdad on August 2nd and reverted to 25th Brigade at Shaiba at a camp at Tanuma on the Tigris. The battalion was then sent to the Persian frontier under the brigade. It attacked Qasr Saikh on August 26th and Tank Hill on August 28th. It then returned to Iraq on September 1st and moved to Baghdad on the 7th. ‘A’ Company was detached to Erbil in December as the Defence Company for the 10th Indian Divisional HQ. The battalion remained in Habbaniya for the entire winter.

    GHQ Middle East Force – 19 April 1942 to 18 May 1942
    It finally left Habbaniya on April 19th, 1942 and reached Suez on April 25th and Qassassin on the 26th enroute to Mersa Matruh. It left for Mersa Matruh on April 28th and reached Mashifa on April 29th. It arrived at the Gazala Line on May 1st and took over positions at Qaret el Hamra in the Kennel Box on May 5th.

    29th Indian Infantry Brigade – 18 May 1942 to 27 July 1942
    It was ordered to join the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade at Halfaya on May 18th. It then left Halfaya with the 29th Brigade on May 23rd and arrived at Bir el Gubi on May 25th. After Rommel struck on May 27th, the brigade moved to El Adem on May 28th. During the first twelve days of June, the brigade operated in two mobile columns to harass enemy LOC between Bir Hakeim and Knightsbridge in an area known as the Cauldron. Each column consisted of two platoons of infantry, a battery of field artillery, one troop of anti-tank gunss and an occasional M-G section. A column, which consisted of two platoons of the battalion, was in action against German tanks on June 2nd. The Germans then attacked El Adem on June 12th and surrounded it during June 13th to 15th. They attacked on June 17th and the brigade had to withdraw in parties. The 1st Battalion along with the 3/2nd Punjab Regiment reached El Hamra on June 19th. During the next week, the battalion passed through Rabia Camp near Baggush and then joined the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade at Sidi Hamza. On May 26th, the 5th Indian Infantry Division came under the X Corps to defend Sidi Hamza. The brigade was overrun there on June 26th and the units broke up and withdrew. The battalion could only muster ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies. It was then withdrawn to Fuka to stand with the division. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies had meanwhile withdrawn to Bir-el-Hafiza and then to Bir Qaim with the New Zealanders. On arrival, these two companies reported to the 5th Indian Divisional HQ at Bir Sarida. The 29th Indian Infantry Brigade was at Fuka with two platoons of the 2nd Highland Light Infantry, two companies of the 3/2nd Punjab Regiment, HQ and two companies of the 1/5th Mahratta Light Infantry and elements of gunners and sappers. It was attacked at Fuka on June 28th. It then withdrew to Khataba to reorganize in July in bits and pieces, since only one officer was left. The brigade was disbanded on July 27th.

    British Troops in Egypt (BTE) – 27 July 1942 to November 1942
    The battalion was located at Khataba when the 29th Brigade was disbanded on July 27th. It moved to Kabrit Camp on August 9th to guard POWs. From August 1942, the battalion concentrated on training cadres, forming an anti-tank platoon, and in specialist training. In November 1942, the battalion joined the 21st Indian Brigade in Egypt.

    21st Indian Infantry Brigade – November 1942 to 31 August 1945
    It proceeded to Iraq during the first week of January 1943 with the brigade and reached Qara Tepe near Baghdad on January 28th, when the brigade joined the 8th Indian Infantry Division. Over the next three months, the battalion trained in mountain warfare. It left Baghdad with the brigade on May 1st and moved to Ras Baalbek, Syria and came under command of the 9th Army. It trained there through September 1943, leaving for Amiriya in Egypt on September 16th. It embarked on September 19th, 1943 and arrived in Italy on September 24th, 1943 under the brigade.
    It served in Italy under the brigade until June 1945. On arrival, the division moved to the V Corps’ front. The battalion left camp near Taranto on October 25th and moved to Castel Mauro. It then saw action in the crossing of the Biferno and Trigno and by November 12th was concentrated with the division at Scerni. The division then fought in the battle of the Sangro River on November 27th and the battalion was in action through December 3rd. The division, with the battalion generally in front, crossed the Moro and then consolidated positions leading to Ortona and the Orsogna. This operation was over by December 21st and on the 22nd the battalion went into a rest camp at Roalti. After a short rest, it was back in action at Ville Grande on December 25th until relieved on January 4th, 1944 for rest at Roalti. It rested until January 23rd and then was back in the line until April 8th, when the brigade was relieved by the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade. The battalion moved to Termoli on April 11th and then the brigade was back in the line on April 27th. It then crossed the Gari River on May 15th and then moved to Pignataro. The brigade then moved to Tavernole on the Volturno to rest. It returned to the line in the Cassino area on May 19th and the division thrust to Piedimonte and then to Altari by May 29th. After two days of rest, it continued its advance past Rome until relieved by the 10th Indian Infantry Division on the night of June29th/30th. The battalion then withdrew for two weeks of rest at Assisi for the first two weeks of July 1944.
    It was back in the line on July 15th and the division began an advance on the Arno on July 23rd. By August 18th, it had reached the Arno and taken Florence. It then rested for twelve days at Donatino. The battalion left the rest area on September 1st and advanced with the division across the Arno to the banks of the Serchio. It was relieved there in the first week of January 1945 and went to rest at Pisa. It remained in Pisa until February 23rd, and then moved with the division to the Adriatic coast. It did patrolling there until March 31st and then rested at Villa Nova. Nine days later the battalion was involved in the final assault. It crossed the Senio from April 9th to 11th and was then relieved until April 21st for the advance on the Po. This was crossed on April 26th and the Germans surrendered on May 2nd.
    The battalion moved to Fieso on May 6th and to Spoleto on May 21st. It entrained for Taranto on June 7th and embarked there on June 24th for India. It arrived in Bombay on July 10th and moved to Belgaum on July 13th. It then went on leave for fifty-six days and joined the 268th Indian Infantry Brigade at Nasik in mid-September. The brigade was later part of the British Occupation Forces for Japan.
    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  4. Stevin

    Stevin Member

    Many thanks for this, gents. Very much appreciated. Gives me an idea were to look for further information. DRyan, good to finally read something on the units history at last.

    Sepoy Ramchandra Shellar

  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  6. Stevin

    Stevin Member

    Excellent resource, Owen. Did not know about that one. Many thanks!
  7. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    Sorry to reopen this thread after such a long while, but I'm visiting Nederweert cemetery tomorrow and was interested to find in my research that Sepoy Ramchandra Shellar is buried there. A google search then led me here.

    Stevin - did you find out anything else about Sepoy Ramchandra Shellar since your last post here? I'd be interested to find out.

    Also, you mention about dead Brit POWs being recovered by Americans, buried in Margraten and then reinterred. Where did you find out this information?

    Thanks for you help,

  8. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Doubt if you'll hear from Stevin , Last Active Oct 28 2011 06:42 PM
  9. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    Okay - thanks Owen. Saw the thread about the Australian and SA in the cemetery also. Looks like they were POWs as well.


  10. IKE26

    IKE26 Member

    Where can I found them?
  11. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    The National Archives, Kew London.
  12. IKE26

    IKE26 Member

    Thank you Owen. I found almost all war diaries of the 8th indian division

    Now I'm lookink for war diaries of these regiments:
    1/5 Essex
    1/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles Frontier Force
    6/13 Royal Frontier Force Rifles

    but it seems that they are not present at the website of national Archives (period 1943- Italy)
    I don't understand why....
  13. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Didn't 1/5th & 2/5th merge to form 5th Essex ?
    Using Lee's war diary search engine I get these results.
    Arcre British Army War Diary Search Engine - Arcre
    5 essex regiment.JPG

    6/13 FFR
    6 13 frontier.JPG

    1/5 Gurkhas
    1 5 gurkha.JPG
    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  14. IKE26

    IKE26 Member

    Thank You Owen!!!
  15. Salil Mahadik

    Salil Mahadik New Member

    Thanks a heap for this information, Dryan! Can you please confirm the authenticity of the same? Also, weren't the 1/5 Mahrattas part of the first action at Larino before crossing the Biferno river? Also, wasn't it involved in the famous battle of El-Alamein in Egypt? Please let me know.

  16. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member


    My main sources on the Mahratta Light Infantry are two regimental histories:

    Abhyankar, Lt. Col M.G. Valour Enshrined: A History of the Maratha Light Infantry 1768-1947.Bombay: Orient Longman, 1971. (MoD)(Cornell)(D.Ryan-Digital)

    Barr, Major J.S. A Brief History of the Mahratta Light Infantry.Bombay: G Claridge & Co., 1945. (NYPL)(MoD)

    Also I have all the volumes of the Indian Official History.

    Here are three pages from Valour Enshrined concerning the 1st/5th Mahrattas entry into Italy. MLI01.png MLI02.png MLI03.png
    IKE26 and sol like this.
  17. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member


    As stated in my summary history, the 1st/5th Mahratta Light Infantry did not participate in the Battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942. The battalion was still reforming after the disaster at Fuka and did Line of Communications duties behind the lines in Egypt under British Troops in Egypt:

    British Troops in Egypt (BTE) – 27 July 1942 to November 1942
    The battalion was located at Khataba when the 29th Brigade was disbanded on July 27th. It moved to Kabrit Camp on August 9th to guard POWs. From August 1942, the battalion concentrated on training cadres, forming an anti-tank platoon, and in specialist training. In November 1942, the battalion joined the 21st Indian Brigade in Egypt.
  18. Salil Mahadik

    Salil Mahadik New Member

    Thank you for providing these references, David! Just one point though - if the battalion moved directly to Castelmauro from Taranto, they wouldn't have been involved in action at the Biferno river crossing since Castelmauro is beyond the Biferno. They were then involved in action at the Trigno river crossing. I am trying to trace the journey of my granduncle Havildar Govind Mahadik who was martyred at Torino di Sangro on 25th November, 1943 before the Sangro river crossing. His name is engraved on the Sangro River Cremation Memorial. The mention of A, B and C companies of the battalion in the Valour Enshrined book doesn't help my cause. Since he was of an officer grade, do you think I would be able to get his exact details in the National Archives at Kew in London? Also, I am trying to find out the immediate officers he was reporting in to. My search led to Lieutenant-Colonel Derek William Herbert Leeming, D.S.O., Commanding Officer of 5th Mahratta Light Infantry & Major Sammy N. Mahant, Commander of 1/5 Mahratta Light Infantry. Brigadier B. S. Mould was commanding the 21st Indian Infantry Brigade of which 1/5 Mahratta LI was a part of. However, there's no mention of Leeming in the reference page that you have provided whereas there's a mention of him as follows at https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/36828/supplement/5609/data.pdf
    Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Derek William Herbert Leeming (AI 687), 5th Mahratta Light Infantry, Indian Army
    Would you be able to throw some light on this?

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