By Sudhir K Arora
Vijay Diwas, marks 22 years of the hard-won victory in Kargil 1999, a conflict which was never a ‘declared’ war. This was a situation which had not been catered for in the Union War Book – a classified document that lays down Government’s response in the event of/in the run up to hostilities. Thus the initial response was sluggish. Yet, once the extent of the aggression became somewhat more clear (by end May-early June 1999), the Indian Army and Air Force responded magnificently. The Army re-grouped, brought in fresh units where the Pakistanis had infiltrated and, fighting under very restrictive rules of engagement despite some grave and barbaric provocations, drove back the enemy from peak to peak, cliff to cliff, displaying super-human courage and tenacity in one of the toughest terrains in the world.
Battalions of The Garhwal Rifles ably played their part in the Kargil victory, as they have done so in every conflict India has fought, displaying gallantry, elan and their ‘never give up’ spirit to the fullest.
The Seventeenth Battalion, commanded by Col S Satpathy, SM, was ordered to move from peace station to their area of responsibility in Batalik Sub-Sector in Kargil. The Pakistani 5 Northern Light Infantry had intruded in this section upto 8-10 km. The area is very rugged, with ridgelines varying in height from 15,000-16,000 feet. On night 29 June 1999, the battalion launched attacks on Bumps I, II and III, and Kalapthar on the Jubar Ridge which were strongly held by the enemy. The climb was arduous to say the least. Most of the troops found themselves ‘daylighted’ on 30 June, coming under heavy machine gun and artillery fire and suffering casualties. Captain Jintu Gogoi’s platoon of ‘A’ Company however managed to climb ahead and a handful of them stormed Kalapathar. Though surrounded and heavily outnumbered, Capt Gogoi fought back, much to the consternation of the enemy, killing three and forcing the rest to scatter. Despite himself being mortally wounded, Capt Gogoi saw to it that his men made it safely out of the enemy’s fire. This brave youngster succumbed to his injuries, but with his supreme gallantry had struck the first blow, which was ably exploited by his battalion. Despite heavy snowfall on 2-3 July, the battalion went on to recapture Kalapather, then proceeded to take the Bumps and by 9 July, successfully assaulted Point 5285, a dominating feature that cleared the way to degrade the Munto Dhalo complex, an enemy supply hub. Though they successfully took all their objectives at forbidding heights under extremes of terrain and temperature, 17 Garhwal Rifles paid a heavy price. One officer (Capt Jintu Gogoi), one JCO and 19 brave Garhwali other ranks of this battalion made the supreme sacrifice for their motherland. Capt Jintu Gogoi was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra. The Battalion was awarded Theatre Honour ‘Kargil’ and Battle Honour “Batalik”.
Another very young battalion, the Eighteenth, carved their gallantry indelibly on the forbidding heights of Dras. Raised in 1985 as a ‘mixed class’ unit (comprising a company each of Garhwalis, Marathas, Jats and Dogras), it was still coming to grips with its ‘class composition’ being converted to a ‘pure Garhwali’ battalion in 1998, and thus was in the midst of receiving it’s Garhwali Companies from other Regiments when orders were received to proceed to Dras in May 1999, under command of the highly decorated Col SK Chakravorty, SC, SM.
By late June 1999, the Indian Army’s successful assaults on Tololing and Point 5140 had forced the Pakistanis to consolidate on Point 4700, fortifying it with multiple bunkers. After initial operations, 18 Garhwal Rifles commenced their assault on Point 4700 (and its associated strongpoint “Tommy”) on 28 June 1999. The terrain was rugged, and the objective was situated on a sharp ridge line. An enemy Observation Post bunker had been identified there and young Captain Sumeet Roy, yet to celebrate his 22nd birthday, was ordered to take it with the riflemen of his ‘D’ Company. He commenced his move a little before midnight, outflanking the enemy through a very treacherous route and at 0200 hours, he and his men were on target, taking the enemy totally by surprise. A bitter hand-to-hand fight followed and the enemy killed or forced to flee – Sumeet Roy himself accounting for two enemy dead. The way to take Point 4700 was clear and the battalion stormed their objective, playing havoc with the enemy. Unfortunately, Capt Sumeet Roy was fatally wounded due to enemy artillery firing three days later. Major Rajesh Sah, commanding ‘C’ Company, led his men from the front in this bitter action. In a rare display of courage, Rifleman Kuldeep Singh charged a bunker, clearing its occupants, before being fatally hit in the retaliatory fire.
Rifleman Anusuya Prasad cleared another bunker by charging it with his bayonet, killing one enemy and then knifing to death two others, before succumbing to a hail of bullets. Naik Kashmir Singh, leading his men, got pinned down by heavy fire from a bunker. Though hit and bleeding profusely, he realised that neutralising the bunker was vital to maintain the momentum of advance. He personally charged the bunker, killing one infiltrator and silenced it, only to fall to withering fire being brought down on him. Lt MV Sooraj, despite being hit, refused to be evacuated and kept on exhorting his men to press home their attack. The battalion thus successfully achieved its objective, taking Point 4700 and “Tommy”. It continued its victorious actions by subsequently taking “Sangar”, “Saddle” and “Rocky”. The cost was steep. The battalion lost one officer (Capt Sumeet Roy) and 18 other ranks were martyred.
Maj Rajesh Sah, Capt Sumeet Roy, Lt MV Sooraj, Nk Kashmir Singh, Rfn Kuldeep Singh and Rfn Anusuya Prasad were each awarded the Vir Chakra. The battalion was awarded Theatre Honour “Kargil” and Battle Honour “Dras”. It also won seven Sena Medals.
At the end of the Kargil Conflict, the then Army Chief General VP Malik decided to institute the “Chief of Army Staff’s Unit Citation” to honour and recognise exceptional collective devotion to duty. The 18 Garhwal Rifles was among the first recipients of this coveted award for outstanding bravery and professionalism in Kargil.
The Tenth Battalion and the Garhwal Scouts also rendered valuable service in the Kargil Conflict.
Today, 26 July – Kargil Vijay Diwas – a grateful Nation is proud of the bravery of all those who fought in the great tradition of the Indian Army in Kargil and pays homage to all those who made the supreme sacrifice in defence of their Motherland. We in Garhwal and Uttarakhand, in particular remember our brave Bhullas who did the nation proud and covered themselves with glory. Badri Vishal Lal Ki Jai!
(The author is a military historian and publisher.)