Army’s cocktail tradition: Sappers raise a toast with Bangalore Torpedo

Three Madras Sappers pose with the first three
Bangalore Torpedoes fabricated in 1916 (file photo)

They have built bridges, cleared landmines and booby traps for years. Now, the Madras Sappers - earliest members of the Indian Army's elite combat engineering arm - also known as Madras Engineering Group (MEG), have now engineered a cocktail, a concoction that is a far cry from the many explosive devices they make. The cocktail has been named after the famed 'Bangalore Torpedo', an explosive device that was invented in the city a century ago.

Far from being a drink that the 'Thambis' in the mess experimented in an attempt to impress the officers, the cocktail is the result of a meticulously planned process. The drink has now become a part of a unique Army tradition, which involves every Madras Sapper sipping the cocktail as a farewell drink, on the last day of his service.

Bangalore had entered the common parlance of armies the world over, almost 80 years before the city emerged as the country's IT capital. Bangalore was the colloquial name pinned on what the British called 'Bangalore Torpedo' - an explosive-filled pipe that could clear barbed wires, landmines and booby traps - invented by the Madras Sappers in 1916.

The device came to be used extensively in both the World Wars by armies across the world, the famed US Army included. The storied device is now in its twilight, and is soon to be phased out of service. However, in choosing to name the drink after the device, the Sappers have ensured that its legacy endures through a new tradition.

"It's a Scotch-based drink," said one officer, adding that the Sappers had been assisted by a professional mixologist in their endeavour to get the drink right.

"The Bangalore Torpedo was invented by Major RL McClintock, a Scotland officer, who devised it using materials and resources, which were available locally. So, when we decided to make a cocktail to celebrate the device, we thought it must have the ingredients that represent India, Bangalore and Scotland in it," Brigadier RK Sachdeva, MEG commandant, told TOI.

While 45ml of single malt Scotch, in memory of McClintock, serves as the base ingredient of the drink, it is blended with other substances - cardamom jaggery (one spoon), Star anise (1),spiced apple juice (90ml), tea (30ml), orange slice (three pieces) - that are sourced locally from Bengaluru.

With two retiring officers, including a Lt General, having been served the drink in the last week of October, the new tradition bearing a name that harks back to the past, has taken root.

"We have an older tradition. All the men who join us are served a big glass of what we call the Sapper's punch, which contains all kinds of drinks (beer, rum, whiskey, brandy and wine) on their first day. Now, we will serve the Torpedo on their last day," Sachdeva said

Officers said that the drink passed through as many as five testing rounds, before the final version was recorded to ensure that the Quartermaster reproduced it correctly every time a soldier retired. Almost every month, outgoing soldiers are accorded ceremonious farewells. The next one is scheduled on November 24.

"We wanted to get everything right. After all, this tradition will last as long as the Sappers are there. In fact, during one of the testing rounds, we had 80 people, including jawans and JCOs, all sipping the drink to see if it was perfect," Sachdeva added.

Bangalore Torpedo:

       * 1912: Major RL McClintock of Madras Sappers tasked to devise an anti obstacle device

       * 4 years: Time taken to develop the device later christened Bangalore Torpedo

       * 1916: The Bangalore Torpedo enters service | 26 hrs: Time taken to fabricate 1st 3 torpedoes

       * Rs 9.10: Cost of the first three torpedoes

       * 1918: Used in US army's first World War-I action (Battle of Saint-Michiel)

       * 1944: Used during the famous Normandy Landings in WW-II

       * 2016: Centenary year of Bangalore Torpedo; birth of the Cocktail