Lieutenant General Apparanda Chengappa Aiyappa MBE (also known as A.C. Iyappa) was a World War II hero and the first Indian Signal officer in chief (Head of the Indian Army Corps of Signals). He was also the first chief of the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).

Early years

Iyappa was born on 2 September 1913 during the British Raj, into the wealthy and influential Apparanda family which belonged to the Kodava community of Kodagu. He studied in Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore and later in Stamford School, Lincolnshire in England. After college he went on to join the Indian Military Academy and from there got a commission into the British Indian Army.

Brief history of Signals in India

At the turn of the 20th century there was no organised signal service in existence in India. As far back as 1857, there is a record of a Signals service in India, though it was not until 1911, as a result of the recommendations of Headlam Committee in 1910, that Signals in India came into being on a separate establishment under the auspices of the Corps of Sappers and Miners. The Corps was raised with a signal company for each Division and a nucleus of a wireless company for the line of communication.

Based on the recommendation of various committees, 2 Divisional Signals Companies (31 & 32) under Northern Army, were raised on 15 February 1911 at Fatehgarh, with Lieutenant Colonel S H Powell being conferred Commandant Designate. Two more Signal Coy (33 & 34) under Southern Army at Ahmednagar and One Wireless Company (40) at Roorkee, were raised on 1 March 1911. Composition of each Divisional Signal Company:

British Officer: 5
Indian Officer: 2
Soldier Rank (British): 44
Soldier Rank (Indian): 78

When the post World War I re-organization of the Indian Army was carried out, the Indian Signals Corps was formed as a separate corps on 17 April 1920.

On India attaining independence in 1947, the Corps was completely Indianised and on 26 January 1950, on India attaining full sovereignty, the Indian Signal Corps was redesignated as the Corps of Signals. It is presently stationed at Jabalpur.

Military career

On 7 July 1935 he was commissioned from Indian Military Academy on to the Indian Land Forces, Special List and on 12 August 1935 he was attached to the 1st battalion 7th Rajput Regiment and the Indian Signal Corps. He was promoted Lieutenant, Indian Land Forces, Special List on 2 December 1936. He was appointed to the Indian Army 23 November 1937. In early 1939 he was permanatly appointed to the Indian Signal Corps.

As a Captain he saw action in the Malayan Campaign in 1941 against the Japanese in World War II as Commander of a Signals Company under the 6th Indian Infantry Brigade. He was held as a Prisoner of War and mistreated. He was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1946. After independence, he was promoted to Colonel and became Commander of the Signals Regiment under the 4th Infantry Division stationed in the forward areas of Punjab. Iyappa later became the Director of Signals and Signal Officer-in-Chief in 1954 as a Major General. He was the first Indian Signal officer in chief; he became the Master General of Ordnance in the rank of Lt General, and was also the first Indian to be Colonel Commandant of the Corps of Signals. Afterwards he was deputed to Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) where he became chairman and held the post until 1972.

Bharat Electronics Limited

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) was set up at Bangalore, India, by the Government of India under the Ministry of Defence in 1954 to meet the specialised electronic needs of the Indian Defence Services. Over the years, it has grown into a multi-product, multi-technology, multi-unit company serving the needs of customers in diverse fields in India and abroad. BEL is among an elite group of public sector undertakings which have been conferred the Navratna status by the Government of India. When it was first set up, the Government of India made Iyappa its first chairman; he remained in this position for 18 years.