Brigadier Cheppudira B Ponnappa was an Indian army officer during the British Raj who, in 1919, was in the first batch of King's Commissioned Indian Officers and who later served during the Second World War.
He was born in Coorg and was a maternal uncle of General Kodendera Subayya Thimayya. Ponnappa and his brother were educated at St. Aloysius College (Mangalore), graduating in 1915.
After World War I concluded in 1918, Indian leaders at that time raised a demand to grant Indians the King's Commission in the British Indian Army. That year Ponnappa, along with K M Cariappa (future Commander-in-chief of India), was selected for the first batch of Indian commissioned officers that underwent rigorous pre-commission training. In 1919, Ponnappa joined the first batch, consisting of 29 KCIOs (King's Commissioned Indian Officers), at The Daly College (renamed as the Training school for Indian cadets) in Indore. They were granted temporary King's commissions on 1 December 1919.
During the Raj
He then joined the 116 Marathas regiment and was posted in Tekrit in Iraq. He appeared to have taken part in some minor actions against Arab forces as he was mentioned in despatches. On 21 May 1921 he and his unit were sent to Lahore to assist local authorities in trying to suppress an agitation among Sikh Akali factions. At that time Ponnappa applied for leave to go home to get married. His battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Marsh refused him permission. So he approached Major General Black, the commandant of the Daly College cadet wing and secured leave. When he returned in the summer of 1922, he realised that Col. Marsh had been displeased and had given him an adverse annual report recommending that Ponnappa should not be retained in the Indian army. Despite this Ponnappa passed his captain's exam in 1926. The battalion was transferred to Quetta where Ponnappa was made battalion quarter master and later had to face problems with Colonel Franks as well.
On 1 April 1933 Ponnappa was posted at Madras University Training Corps as its adjuctant. He rejoined his battalion on 1 April 1936. Ponnappa had been hired as battalion commander in the state forces of Travancore where he fell out of favour with Lieutenant Colonel Watkins who was his superior officer as the commander of the state forces. Ponnappa himself claimed that he was of the assertive type and that the British didn't like his attitude. He accused his officers of anti-Indian attitudes and he received no confidence votes constantly until in 1937, on 1 April, his name was placed on the Special Unemployed List which was possibly the final and conclusive no confidence vote on his record.
World War II
When the War broke out, he was recalled to duty at the Maratha Regimental Centre in Belgaum. He became commander of the 11th Maratha Territorial Battalion which served as a railway protection force in India during the war. This Battalion was drawn from the 11th and 12th Battalions of the 5th MLI (Indian Territorial Force) and the composition were all Mahars except for the officers. Initially this battalion was raised from the "E" Training Company of the 1st Mahar Battalion which had a strength of 500 and had been formed on 1 January 1942 under Ponnappa, who was then a Major and the Company Commander of the "E" Company. Another battalion of the "E" Company of 1st Mahar was raised on 1 June the same year by Lt. Col. J W K Kirwan. Ponnappa was, at first, appointed the second-in-command of the battalion. All the officers other than Ponnappa were British.
Around the year of Indian Independence, many Indian officers eagerly chalked out the force structure for the newly independent nation. One such officer was Lieutenant-Colonel C. B. Ponnappa. In 1947, Ponnappa wrote that India must possess a balanced three dimensional force comprising navy, army and air force capable of conducting industrial warfare. But then the military programme had to operate according to Jawaharlal Nehru. Ponnappa assumed the rank of Brigadier in 1947.
Meanwhile, in 1946 he had been made a full colonel and had joined the Officers Selection Board. His job was to select officers for permanent commission in the Indian Army from among those who were granted temporary commission during the War. At that time the Director of the Officers Selection Board, Brigadier N A M Raza placed accusations upon him. But no charges were pursued as Brigadier Raza himself opted to join Pakistan at the time of Partition (1947) and Ponnappa was made the President of the Board itself.
In 1948, Ponnappa was brigade commander in charge of the HQ Allahabad subarea, in the HQ UP Area under Major General Hira Lal Atal who was at Lucknow. Five years later after a number of similar postings he retired in 1952, still with the rank of Brigadier.
After retirement, Ponnappa lived on his farm, Anthithope Estate in Siddapura in Coorg. In 1971 his book Soldier and citizen and other writings was published.