The Rajputana Rifles is the senior most rifle regiment of the Indian Army. The origins of the Regiment date back to early 17thcentury when Rajputs were recruited to protect the operations of the East India Company. In the 18th century the battle for supremacy with the French did not go well for the British. The French units were composed of locals recruits with French officers. The stellar performance of the French local units made the British realize the need to raise local infantry units. Accordingly in January 1775 the East India Company raised its first local infantry units; the 5th and 6th battalions of the Bombay sepoys. The 5th battalion performed superbly and was redesignated the 4th Regiment Native Infantry (Rifle Corps) in 1841. It thus became the first Rifle Regiment of the Indian Army.
In early 19th century the 4th Regiment Native Infantry was renamed as the 104 Wellesley’s Rifles. In 1921 the restructuring of the battalions saw it finally take on its current title, the 1st battalion of the Rajputana Rifles Regiment. As a result of this re-organization other outstanding units the 120th and 122nd Rajputana Infantry, 123 Outram’s Rifles and 125 Napiers Rifles became the 2nd,3rd,4th and 5th battalions of the Rajputana Rifles Regiment. This was a very busy time in the regiment's history, and throughout these times the regiment was involved in battles around the world.
In 1817 the 4th Raj Rif (a diminutive of Rajputana Rifles commonly used in historical accounts) had its baptism by fire in the Battle of Kirkee with the Marathas. The unit was resolute in defence earning itself the battle honor "Kirkee". In 1856 – 57 the 1st,2nd and 4th were together in the Persian theatre of operations. Captain J. C. Wood of 2 Raj Rif got the first Victoria Cross (VC) in the regiment for storming Reshire Fort. In the same battle Subedar Major Mohammed Sharief and Subedar Peer Bhatt were recommended for the Victoria Cross ( VC) but were turned down as at that time the medal category was not open to Indians. In 1878 – 1880, during the 2nd Afghan war, 1 Raj Rif marched 145 miles in 5 days from Quetta to Kandahar and laid siege to the city. In 1900–1902, 3 Raj Rif was part of a force used to quell the Boxer rebellion in China.
The First World War saw the regiment draw blood in battlefields from France to Palestine. 5 Raj Rif was in all theatres of the war and participated in General Allenby’s march to recapture Jerusalem. In this march the units got the better of their German and Turkish opponents and for this loyal service the regiment was honored with the title " Prince of Wales’s own".
The advent of World War II caused the regiment to expand by raising 10 new battalions. In World War II the Rajputana Rifles fought in three different continents.
1 Raj Rif (Wellesley's) fought in Sidi Barrani and Kerena and it was also a part of General Archibald Wavell’s force that advanced into Libya. In Libya, it withstood everything Rommel threw at it and later 1 Raj Rif fought as a part of General Montgomery's 8th Army at Cassino in Italy.
4 Raj Rif (Outram’s) reached Suez in Oct 1939. It was a part of the Battle of Keren in 1941 where Subedar Richpal Ram won a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC). Richpal Ram joined the Regiment on Aug 1920 and was granted a Viceroy’s commission in 1936. In Keren after his company commander was wounded, Richpal took over the attack and captured the position. He then held out against six enemy counter attacks before shortage of ammunition forced him to extricate his company. Five days later yet again he attacked and captured the position. Although in this process a mortar round severed his leg, he continued to exhort his men till the end.
4 Raj Rif moved to Syria before returning to North Africa. In the Battle of Djebel Garcito – Company Havildar Chelu Ram was awarded a posthumous VC. The Germans held Djebel Garcito, a barren hill as a last ditch stand in Tunisia. The 4 Raj Rif attack started on the night of 19/20 April 1943 but medium machinegun fire caused the attack to stall. Armed with a Thompson submachine gun Chelu Ram charged the machinegun post and gunned down all five Germans inside it. After his company commander was wounded, Chelu Ram took over the company. Though he was wounded himself, he continued to lead the unit. Under his command the unit held off many German counter attacks. In the process of rushing from position to position he was wounded repeatedly and died in the field.
In the east five Raj Rif battalions took part in Burma operations. 7 Raj Rif was involved in the Malayan operations. 8 Raj Rif was in the Arakans and won a victory in the Battle of Rathedaung. 5 Raj Rif was moved to Imphal and took part in the offensive along the Imphal–Tiddim road. 3 Raj Rif crossed the Chindwin and spearheaded the advance to Irrawadi. 6 Raj Rif arrived in Sumatra and was responsible for law and order in the war-torn region. After the war ended all battalions except 6 Raj Rif were demobilized. The 6 Raj Rif was retained to carry out law and order maintenance duties in SE Asia.