The PIFFERs are a tight knit brotherhood of soldiers, bound by a distinguished military history, a long tradition of soldiering and a strong foundation of regimental traditions. They are disciplined, hard fellows, full of natural military instincts. They are a special breed, purified in the inferno of objective realities, demanding courage, loyalty and steadfastness. During 59 years of Pakistan’s history, not a battle has been fought without PIFFERs. Frontier Force Regiments have invariably contributed to the success of every major undertaking: from Chamb-Jaurian to Hilli, from Dinajpur to Sulemanki, from Siachen to Rann of Kutch; Frontier Force Regiments have always been in the eye of the storm. From the turmoil in the wake of Partition to the floods and earthquakes in the most inhospitable terrain, Frontier Force Regiments have assisted the civil administration in an unflinching manner. In over one hundred and fifty years of its existence, the Frontier Force has kept pace with the changing times. It has developed to meet the requirements of the Army and the Nation, and to absorb various fundamental changes in the battlefield environment, encompassing induction of new weapons and equipment.
The significant conquests of the British in North-Western India, following the conquest of Sindh, were to include the Punjab, after taking on the Sikhs and finally the North-West Frontier of India facing Afghanistan the British part in the Great Game being played against the Russian Empire, that was rapidly expanding southwards through Central Asia. When the British in India set out to conquer Punjab under the Sikhs, and defeated the Khalsa Army at Sobraon in 1846, they faced two problems: firstly, they inherited the responsibility of governing and policing the newly won area and its prickly North-West frontier inhabited by Pathans, whom the British learned to treat with great respect. Secondly, they had to tackle a large number of Sikh and Muslim ex-soldiers, lawlessly roaming the land after the Khalsa Army was disbanded. The British killed two birds with one stone by raising a military force for the purpose, by recruiting those very ex-soldiers. This clever move brought into existence the nucleus of the force that has since then evolved into and thrives even today as the FRONTIER FORCE.
The Earliest Frontier Force Units
The first Frontier Force unit ever was the Scinde (Sindh) Camel Corps raised at Karachi in 1843 by Lieutenant Robert FitzGerald, on the orders of Sir Charles Napier after the British conquest of Sindh. Its purpose was to pacify the lawless tribes in interior Sindh. The next was the Corps of Guides raised by Lieutenant Harry Lumsden at Peshawar in 1846, to meet the requirement of guides and interpreters while operating among the tribes of the North-West Frontier. The birth of these two corps’ actually preceded the raising of the Frontier Force proper, which they subsequently joined.
Raising of the Frontier Force
The Frontier Brigade was raised in 1846 by order of Sir Henry Lawrence, Agent to the Governor-General in the Frontier. The Frontier Brigade, consisted of the newly raised 1st to 4th Sikh Infantry. In 1847 the title “Frontier Brigade” was dropped and the units were re-designated 1st, 2nd (or Hill Corps), 3rd and 4th Regiments of Sikh Local Infantry. The successful employment of this force so encouraged Lawrence that the raising of another Trans Frontier Brigade in addition to the one mentioned above, was authorized on 18 May 1849 the official birthday of the Frontier Force. This force was independent of the regular army, and belonged to the Punjab Government. This irregular background was distinguished by several elements as no parade ground drill, swift tactical movement in small groups, initiative and unconcern toward routine orders, rules and regulations governing regiments of the line. These elements explain the elan and flair for which the Frontier Force is known till this day.
During World War I, 124th became famous as “War Babies”, while fighting in Palestine in 1918. It was renamed as 10th battalion and stationed at Karachi as a training battalion in 1921. The battalions were renamed as 1/10, 2/10,3/10 and 4/10 Baloch etc. The 1st, 3rd and 5th battalions were the Royal Battalions. Their attire, however, was not royal blue but green and cherry, and the Regiment adopted these colours. In 1923, the training Centre shifted to Rajkot, Kathiawar but was again brought to Karachi in 1929. The group expanded during World War II, and its units fought with distinction in many theatres of War, winning awards and contributing to the galaxy of the Battle honours.
Service on the North-West Frontier
In 1851 the Trans-Frontier Brigade was redesignated the Punjab Irregular Force, or PIF. This acronym forms the first three letters of the name by which all members of the Frontier Force are so proudly known the world over “PIFFERs”. (It would be pertinent to mention that the nickname PIFFER is derived from PIF, while “FER” is added as a linguistic requirement, as Dig becomes Digger. The acronym is not derived, as popularly thought, from PIFF or “Punjab Irregular Frontier Force”. The force has never been known by this name). The same year the Corps of Guides (consisting of Cavalry and Infantry) and four Sikh Infantry units of the Frontier Brigade joined the PIF, along with one garrison artillery battery (raised as No 4 Garrison Company in 1851, converted into the Frontier Garrison Artillery and disbanded in 1925), Peshawar Horse Light Field Battery (raised 1849, became 3rd Peshawar Mountain Battery Hazara Mountain Battery (raised 1851, later 4th Hazara Mountain Battery, went to India at Partition in 1947), and the former Scinde Camel Corps, re-designated the 6th Punjab Infantry.
The composition of the Punjab Irregular Force was Punjabi Musalmans, Pathans, Sikhs, Dogras and Gurkhas – the best soldiers, the Subcontinent had to offer.
Interestingly, the class composition was maintained on a company basis. Although the composition changed from time to time and even varied between units, a PIFFER unit would typically consist a company each of Punjabi Musalmans, Pathans, Sikhs and Dogras. This force was deployed all along the North-West Frontier, maintaining constant vigilance on various marches, and enforcing law and order.
In 1852, the 4th Sikh was the first PIFFER unit to go overseas and fight a successful campaign in Burma. Eight PIFFER units participated in the so-called Indian Mutiny in 1857, winning three Victoria Crosses (British gallantry award, equivalent of the Nishan-e-Haider). The Guides wear red piping on the collar, and 9 Frontier Force blue piping on collar and cuffs, distinctions won during 1857. In 1858, Gurkha troops from PIFFER units were formed into the Hazara Gurkha Battalion later re-designated 5th Gurkhas in 1861, transferred to India at Partition in 1947.
The Punjab Frontier Force
In 1865 the force was renamed the Punjab Frontier Force (PFF). It is interesting that Sir Robert Sandeman was escorted into Balochistan by 4th Sikhs and troops of 1st Punjab Cavalry. This escort formed the first ever garrison to be stationed at Quetta. In 1886, the PFF was placed under the Commander-in-Chief,India, having joined the regular army, a major transition for the PIFFERs. The same year 2/5th Gurkha Rifles was raised, but later absorbed into the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles.
Till the period leading up to World War I, several PIFFER units remained busy on the North-West Frontier, while some PIFFER units also went overseas to fight. These included seventeen units in the Second Afghan War 1878-80, the Guides at the defence of the Residency at Kabul, Lord Roberts famous march from Kabul to Kandahar, 1880, the Boxer Rebellion in China, 1900 and Somaliland, 1902-04. The force won twelve VCs in this period. In 1899, the 42nd Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was raised, but disbanded in 1903. In 1903 Lord Kitchener abolished the three Presidency armies (Bengal, Madras and Bombay) and in the bargain PIFFER units were re-numbered. The new numbers, each with Frontier Force in brackets afterwards, were 51st to 54th Sikhs, 55th to 59th Rifles, 5th Gurkhas, the Corps of Guides, 21st to 24th Mountain Batteries, the Garrison Artillery, 21st to 23rd and 25th Punjab Cavalry. It was based on these numbers that the oldest PIFFER units earned affectionate nicknames that live to this day Ekwanja, Tunpur Bawanja, Royal Tirwanja, Churwanja, Chattak Pachwanja, Bhaiband Chhewanja, Susti Satwanja, Dasturi Athwanja and Garbar Unath.
World War – I
Once the British Indian Army was called upon to contribute to the war effort in 1914, PIFFER units fought in most major campaigns, including France and Belgium, Mesopotamia, Palestine and East Africa, winning three VCs. The Kohat Mountain Battery, 59th Scinde Rifles and 5th Gorkhas were awarded the title of “Royal” for services during the war, an honour bestowed upon very few Indian units, distinguished by a red lanyard. Lord Kitchener was so impressed by the fighting qualities of the PIFFERs that he directed that a purely PIFFER brigade be raised. Accordingly, 28 (Frontier Force) Brigade was raised (consisting of 51st and 53rd Sikhs, 56th Rifles and 5th Gurkhas), of which 1/5th Gurkhas (Frontier Force) fought well at Gallipoli. 1st Kohat Mountain Battery (Frontier Force) was the first to land their guns ashore in support of the Australians. A number of battalions were raised during the war including the 2nd Battalion Guides Infantry (raised in 1917, converted into 10/12th Frontier Force Regiment in 1922), 3rd Battalion Guides Infantry (raised in 1917, disbanded in 1921) and 2/56th Rifles (raised in 1917, redesignated 10/13th Frontier Force Rifles in 1922). 10/12th Frontier Force Regiment and 10/13th Frontier Force Rifles were formed into regimental training centres in 1922.
Inter World War Period
After World War I, the Indian Army saw a major re-organisation including regrouping, amalgamation, establishment of training centres for each regiment and units as part of the Indian Territorial Force and posting of native Indians as King’s Commissioned Officers. The PIFFERs remained committed to their traditional calling, manning the North West Frontier of the British Empire, where, in 1935, the 53rd Sikhs were granted the title of “Royal” for services rendered, and permitted to wear a blue lanyard in recognition. One VC was added to the PIFFER list of awards in this period. The first batch of Indian officers commissioned from the Military Academy at Dehra Dun, included the future General Muhammad Musa, Commander-in-Chief Pakistan Army.
World War – II
With the entry of Japan in World War II, the Indian Dominion was called upon to provide troops. As in World War I, the PIFFER units fought in all theatres except North Western Europe, facing all three Axis powers that included Germans, Italians and Japanese. This included a large number of war-raised units. 11 PAVO Cavalry (Frontier Force) have the unique distinction of being the only armoured regiment to have fought against forces of the three Axis powers. 4/12th Frontier Force Regiment was the only unit in the British Indian Army to have served in a formation of another dominion, the 6th South African Division in Italy, who were reluctant to let them go when required by their parent formation. It would take volumes to narrate the exploits of PIFFER units during the War butit would be suffice to say that seven VCs were added to their proud record. The battle honours won by PIFFER units during World War II are read like a history of the war itself. It is interesting to mention here, that the 11/13 Territorial Battalion, later renamed 15th/13th Frontier Force Rifles, volunteered collectively in 1943, to join the Royal Indian Navy (R.I.N), as its landing Craft Wing, the first ever naval PIFFERs.
With the partition of India in 1947, the British Indian Army was also divided. Pakistan received the bulk of PIFFERs, except two mountain batteries (Derajat and Hazara) and the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force). Sikh and Dogra companies were swapped for Punjabi Musalman and Pathan ones from units that went to India. PIFFER units immediately undertook refugee escort duties and protection of civilians, both Muslim and non-Muslim. As part of Operation CURZON, PIFFER units finally pulled out from their permanent stations on the North-West Frontier their home of a hundred years. During 1947, 8/12 Frontier Force Rifles located at Dacca, had the proud honour and rare distinction of being the first Pakistani battalion to salute Pakistan’s flag, when it was first hoisted at the new seat of Government of East Pakistan. 9/12th, 14/12th Frontier Force Regiment, 14/13th and 15/13th Frontier Force Rifles were re-raised in 1948.
After Independence War Performance
Kashmir War 1948
PIFFER officers volunteered to join Pathan lashkars fighting in Kashmir, as they came under pressure from the Indian Army. As the Pakistan Army formally entered the Kashmir War in 1948 to meet the Indian threat, PIFFER units including cavalry and artillery came forward to join the fight. These included 2nd, 3rd Royal and 5th (Guides) Battalions of the 12th Frontier Force Regiment, 1st , 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th (Royal) Battalion of the 13th Frontier Force Rifles, PAVO Cavalry Frontier Force, 2nd Royal Kohat and 3rd Peshawar Mountain Batteries Frontier Force. While two senior PIFFER officers won HJ, other officers and men were awarded nine SJs, seventeen TJs and twenty six Imtiazi Sanads, and units received the coveted battle honour of KASHMIR 1948.
Post Kashmir War
The period from Partition till the 1965 War was characterised by reorganisation and consolidation within the Pakistan Army. 5/13th Frontier Force Rifles were the first unit in the Pakistan Army to become a motorised battalion in 1948. PIFFER units were stationed in East Pakistan to take part in flood relief and anti-smuggling duties.
The Pathan Regiment
In 1949 the Pathan Regiment was formed, with a nucleus regimental centre, with personnel provided by the 12th Frontier Force Regiment and 13th Frontier Force Rifles at Kohat. Its battalions were 1st Pathan formed from re-raised 14/12th Frontier Force Regiment, 2nd Pathan formed from re-raised 14/13th Frontier Force Rifles, and 3rd Pathan formed from re-raised 15/13th Frontier Force Rifles. (The original 14/12th had been disbanded in 1946, the original 14/13th had been reconstituted as 1/13th Frontier Force Rifles and original 15/13th had formed the Landing Craft Wing of the Royal Indian Navy).
Amalgamation (1956) Till 1965 War
Pakistan became a republic in 1956. This year is an important landmark in PIFFER history.
It saw the PIFFERs transforming into the structure that we retain till this day, shedding our colonial symbols and becoming a single entity. Royal titles and badges were dropped and the 12th Frontier Force Regiment, 13th Frontier Force Rifles and the Pathan Regiment were amalgamated into a single Frontier Force Regiment with common dress and insignia.
At this time, the PIFFERs consisted of 1st to 15th Battalions of the Frontier Force Regiment, the Guides Cavalry Frontier Force, 11th (PAVO) Cavalry Frontier Force, 12th Sam Browne’s Cavalry Frontier Force and 1st Mountain Regiment Frontier Force (consisting of Kohat and Peshawar Mountain Batteries,). A year earlier, in 1955, the Pakistan Armoured Corps Centre was delinked from its Sam Browne Cavalry identity and 12 Cavalry was re-raised as a combat unit, receiving a PIFFER squadron each from the Guides Cavalry (Frontier Force) and 11 Cavalry (Frontier Force).
1 and 7 Frontier Force were converted to motorised battalions during the period 1956-1957. Similarly, a PIFFER unit was selected to become the Army’s first support (later reconnaissance and support) unit.
3 Frontier Force and elements of 9 Frontier Force and 15 Frontier Force undertook operations in DIR-BAJAUR in 1960 to establish the writ of the Government and keep out a 25,000 strong Afghan Lashkar. This successful operation was commemorated by a clasp “DIR BAJAUR” to Tamgha-e-Difa. During the period 1961 to 1964 1, 7 and 10 Frontier Force, then motorised battalions, became the first armoured infantry battalions in the Pakistan Army. When the Indian Army “edged forward” in the Rann of Kutch in March 1965, the Pakistan Army reacted with speed, re-capturing Sardar Post and capturing Biar Bet. 12 Cavalry (Frontier Force), Guides Infantry (2 Frontier Force) and 8 Frontier Force distinguished themselves in this successful action, after which the Indian Prime Minister offered a parting remark, “Next time we will attack at a place of our own choosing” a prelude to the 1965 War.
Frontier Force Regiment 1965 War
The Indians formally began the war with an attack at Wagah opposite Lahore on 6 September. PIFFER armoured, artillery and infantry units took part in all sectors – Kashmir (including Chhamb), Sialkot, Lahore, Kasur-Khem Karan and Rajasthan. All three PIFFER armoured regiments gave a good account of themselves in the Sialkot Sector while 11 Cavalry saw action in Chhamb as well. 1 SP Field Regiment (incorporating the two PIFFER batteries) provided fire support aggressively in the Battle of Chawinda, losing their gallant CO in the process. The unit was, subsequently, awarded red piping on the collars to recognise their performance. 6 and 12 Frontier Force took part in the advance on Chhamb-Jaurian-Akhnur Axis. 6 Frontier Force also saw action in the Sialkot Sector. Guides Cavalry Frontier Force, 11 Cavalry Frontier Force, 3, 4, 9, 13 and 14 Frontier Force fought in the Sialkot Sector. 7, 11, 15 and 16 FF saw action while defending Lahore. 1, 2, 5 and 10 FF took part in advance to and capture of Khem Karan in the Kasur Sector. 8 and 18 FF carried out successful attacks and captured a large chunk of territory in the Rajasthan Sector. 23 FF re-captured Sadhewala Post in the Rajasthan Sector from the Indians, two months after the war ended. PIFFERs adorned themselves with HJs for two senior PIFFERs, twenty-eight SJs, thirty-one TJs and thirty-nine Imtiazi Sanads.
Frontier Force Regiment 1971 War
During the 1971 war, both in the eastern and western theatres, PIFFER units played their role in a manner that will continue to feature prominently in the annals of history. 31 FF was raised in November 1971, as Pakistan’s first national service battalion. With a PIFFER commanding officer, some PIFFER officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and Soldiers, it trained 1049 national service-men under the National Service Scheme. The unit remained active/deployed in Lahore and Khem Karan Sectors during the war, and was re-categorised as a regular infantry battalion in May 1972. 39 to 44 FF and 231 (Independent) Company FF were raised during the period November 1971 to March 1972. In East Pakistan, 4 FF defended Hilli gallantly against heavy odds till it was ordered out. Among other awards, Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed was awarded Nishan-e-Haider (NH). Other units that operated in East Pakistan were 12, 13, 15, 22, 24, 25, 26, 30 and 38 FF. Sadly these gallant units had to endure captivity once Dacca fell in December 1971.
In the western theatre too, the PIFFER units stood their ground. 11 Cavalry (FF) saw some heavy fighting in the Chhamb Sector. The Kashmir Sector saw 2 FF (Guides), 3, 5, 17 and 33 FF in various actions. In the Sialkot Sector, 19, 23, 27, 29, 35 and 37 FF took part in the fighting. 35 FF’s immortal attack won their CO, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja a posthumous HJ, with the highest compliment a gallant soldier could receive _ a citation written by the opposing lndian commander, Lieutenant Colonel V P Airy of the 3rd Grenadier Guards. 8 and 18 FF fought on the Lahore Front. In the Sulemanki Sector, 6 FF gained fame during its capture of Gurmukh Khera Bridge on Sabuna Drain. Major Shabbir Sharif Shaheed, already an SJ from the 1965 War, was awarded NH. 36 FF also fought well in the same sector. 20, 21 and 39 FF saw worthwhile action in the Desert Sector.
The Punjab Frontier Force Association (UK)
Partition resulted in a large number of British PIFFERs returning to the UK. The strong PIFFER bonds and nostalgic memories of many years of war and peace spent in PIFFER units, led to the formation of a formal PFF Association in the UK, in 1948. The association had first been mentioned by General Rob Lockhart in 1945. The Association actively maintained contact among the British members and with Pakistani PIFFER officers, the mother Regiment and units in Pakistan (and those in India). Its activities included reunion dinners, visits to Pakistan and India, issue of a journal and a host of other activities. With four issues of the journal a year in the earlier years (made possible by a large membership) dwindling numbers and lengthening obituaries led to issue of a single number annually, in later years. The final issue was published in November 2000. The same year, surviving members led the Association to vote itself into oblivion. A ‘Residual Committee’ remains, to deal with the PIFFER affairs in the UK, and maintain contact with the PIFFER Centre at Abbottabad. For half a century, the association did sterling work to keep the old bonds alive.
Shaheeds After Independence
Honours and Awards After Independence