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Strange Fate of Italian POWs


A number of Indian and British officers were captured by Italians in Middle East theatre in May 1942. All three commanding officers of the regiments of 3rd Indian Motor Brigade; Lt. Colonel Fowler CO of 18th Cavalry, Lt. Colonel De Salis CO of 2nd Lancers and Lt. Colonel P. R. Tathem CO of 11th PAVO Cavalry were bagged by Italians.

In the Aversa POW camp in Italy, a very strange chapter of Indian military history stands recorded. Italian commander of the POW camp, Colonel Errera appointed several Indian officers for management of prisoners.

These officers of different faiths and ethnicities were fighting under the flag of British Indian army and were now prisoners.

(a) Major Kumaramangalam (2nd Field Regiment) being the senior most was appointed commanding officer of the camp.

(b) Captain Yahya Khan (4/10 Baluch Regiment, now 11 Baloch of Pakistan army) was camp Adjutant and his assistant was Lieutenant Shamsher Singh.

(c) Captain Tikka Khan (2nd Field Regiment) was Quarter Master.

(d) Other inmates of the camp were Yaqub Khan (18th Cavalry), Major Ajit Singh (Royal Indian Army Service Corps), Captain Kalyan Singh (2nd Field Regiment), Captain A. S. Naravane (2nd Field Regiment), Lieutenant Abhey Singh (18th Cavalry) and Lieutenant Sardar Hissamuddin Mahmud el-Effendi (11th PAVO Cavalry).

Many officers of this POW camp later played important part in the history of India and Pakistan. The Italian Colonel of the POW camp could not have imagined that he was holding a whole crop of future high power commanders.

Kumaramangalam escaped from Italy but was captured by Germans. He later became Chief of Army Staff of India (1966-69).

Yahya Khan rose to become Pakistan army chief and then President (1966-71).

In 1971, Tikka Khan was Commander of Eastern Command and later became Pakistan army chief (1972-76).

Yaqub Khan became Lieutenant General and served as commander of Eastern Command during the fateful days of 1971. After retirement he served as ambassador at several important posts and Foreign Minister of Pakistan.

Hissam rose to the rank of Brigadier in Pakistan army.

Ajit Singh rose in the ranks to become Lieutenant General.

Kalyan Singh and Naravane became Major Generals and Shamsher Singh Brigadier in Indian Army.

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