Saluting our Heroes: Concluding the series, with the Heroes of Kargil
** CAUTION: Long Post ***
My series on “Saluting our Heroes” will remain incomplete without the inspiring and extraordinary acts of the “Param Veer”s of Kargil. As I wrote on the occassion of Kargil Vijay Diwas, the conflict in Kargil involved the largest peace-time mobilisation of Indian troops of which 20,000 were believed to have been involved in actual operations in the harsh and inhospitable terrain. More than 500 of our bravest lost their lives on this punishing battlefield, defending every inch of our territory. Two amongst these were Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey and Captain Vikram Batra – who became the face of Kargil to the nation. Here is a little bit more about them…The first extract is from an account by the father of Captain Pandey, PVC:
After Intermediate, Manoj was selected for NDA. I think this was the happiest day in his life as he had always desired to go to the Army. I cannot forget his answer to a question at SSB that he wanted to join the Force to be awarded Param Vir Chakra. This answer subsequently shocked everyone related to him as he achieved what he had said.In his own words : “One should join the Infantry in Army and in Infantry one must prefer the Gorkha Regiment”. I am happy that he got both his desires fulfilled.
Captain Manoj and his men were responsible for the capture of Khalubar. The mission to take Khalubar was one of the most critical missions during Operation Vijay. As Col Lalit Rai, VC mentioned:
Located at 18,000 feet above the sea level, where temperature freezes to minus 32 degree Celsius, Khalubar was one of the toughest for the Army, said Rai.
From medical problems to a rough topography — marked by crevasses, jagged rocks and ice — he and his 600-strong light brigade faced it all. To cap it, the enemy, well-equipped with stinger missiles, had captured a strategic position.
“The Khalubar point had to be conquered at all costs, as it was of utmost strategic importance for India,” Rai said. And he volunteered to take the risk.
Finally, after four days and nights without food, under constant fire, they succeeded in raising the Tricolour atop the 18,000 feet Khalubar point.
Col Rai himself demonstrated exemplary leadership during the operation, personally leading his men and refusing evacuation despite being wounded. This is the setting in early July, in which the men of 11 Gorkha found themselves, led by their young officer:
On the night of 2/3 July 1999 the battalion’s progress on to its final objective, was halted by a determined enemy firmly entrenched on commanding heights. Clearing it was critical as the battalion faced the prospect of being day lighted in a vulnerable area. Lieutenant Pandey stepped forward to take on the mission. Quickly sizing up the situation, the young officer led his platoon along a narrow, treacherous ridge that led to the enemy position. While still short of the objective, the enemy fired upon the Indian soldiers effectively stalling the Indian attack. Displaying great courage, he surged ahead of his troops and charged at the enemy with a full throated battle cry through a hail of bullets.
Although wounded in the shoulder and leg, he pressed on his solitary charge with grim determination, till he closed in on the first bunker. Then in ferocious hand-to-hand combat, he killed two of the enemy and cleared the first bunker. It was the turning point. Inspired by their leader’s spontaneous valour, the troops charged at the enemy and fell upon them. Unmindful of his grievous wounds, he rushed from bunker to bunker urging his men on. Critically bleeding, he collapsed at the final bunker and finally succumbed to his injuries, but not before the last of the enemy had been annihilated. His last words were, “Na Chodnu” (Don’t Leave Them).
Unfortunately, Lt Manoj Kumar Pandey did not live to see the “Tiranga” fly atop Khalubar Point but this extraordinary display of leadership, exemplary courage and bravery earned him a posthumous Param Vir Chakra.
Kargil’s next Param Veer is Grenadier, Yoginder Singh Yadav. The Grenadiers are some of the finest men in the Indian Army. As some of you may know,
The concept of ‘Grenadiers’ evolved from the practice of selecting the bravest and strongest men for the most dangerous tasks in combat.
…The Grenadiers have the unique and distinct honour of having the most number of Param Vir Chakras, India’s highest medal for gallantry, among all the Indian Army’s Infantry Regiments. Company Quarter Master Havildar Abdul Hamid, 4th Grenadiers was the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra (Posthumous) for the Regiment in 1965 and the second recipient to get the Param Vir Chakra was Major Hoshiar Singh, 3rd Grenadiers in 1971. Hoshiar Singh retired as a Colonel from the Army and passed away in 1998. The third recipient of this coveted medal, but certainly not the last, was Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, 18th Grenadiers in 1999. [ link ]
The task that fell on 18 Grenadiers on the night of 3/4th July was one that would test their reputation. It was to capture three strategic bunkers on Tiger Hill at 16,500 feet. Grenadier Yadav and his men were part of the Commando ‘Ghatak’ Platoon entrusted with this task. The approach to the bunkers was anything but easy. Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav volunteered to lead the assault on the snowbound, vertical cliff face , fixing ropes for further assault as he climbed up. This is what happened next:
Halfway up, an enemy bunker opened up machine gun and rocket fire. His Platoon Commander and 2 others fell to the heavy volume of automatic fire. Realising the enormity of the situation, he continued to scale the cliff face alone through a volley of fire. In spite of having been hit by three bullets in his groin and shoulder, displaying superhuman strength and resolve, he climbed the remaining 60 feet, all by himself and reached the top. With rare grit and courage, he crawled up to the bunker critically injured and lobbed a grenade killing four Pakistani soldiers and neutralising enemy fire. This act was directly instrumental in facilitating the rest of the platoon in climbing up the cliff face.
Grievously injured, but with reckless disregard to personal safety, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav now charged on to the second bunker and neutralised it, with two of his colleagues in an extremely fierce hand-to-hand combat, killing three Pakistani soldiers. This extraordinarily gallant act motivated the rest of the platoon which quickly traversed the treacherous terrain and braving hostile fire, charged onto the enemy to capture Tiger Hill, a vital objective.
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav’s extraordinary act of bravery, with complete disregard of personal safety and going well beyond the call of duty earned him a Param Vir Chakra, the third in the history of the Grenadiers.
Saluting our Heroes: The Param Veers of Kargil
The next Param Vir of Kargil is Rifleman Sanjay Kumar. Imagine lifting a machine gun, killing five enemy soldiers, lobbing a grendade and almost single-handedly clearing an enemy post – all the while being under fire – and with a bullet in your thigh…If you can imagine this, you would come close to what Rifleman Sanjay Kumar did on the night of 4th July at Area Flat Top. This is his story:
Rifleman Sanjay Kumar, 13 JAK Rifles, was the leading Scout of a team tasked to capturing Area Flat Top on 04 July 1999 being held by Pakistani-backed militants. Having scaled the cliff, the team was pinned down by machine gun fire from an enemy bunker, 150 meters away. Rifleman Kumar, realizing the magnitude of the problem and the detrimental effect this bunker would have in the capture of Area Flat Top, displayed extraordinary courage. Without concern for personal safety, he crawled alone up the ledge, along a flank, and charged towards the enemy bunker, through a hail of automatic fire. Almost instantly he took two bullets in his chest and forearm.
Bleeding profusely from the bullet wounds, he continued the charge towards the bunker. Unhesitant, he then picked up the enemy machine gun and crept towards the second enemy bunker. Three enemy soldiers, taken completely by surprise were killed by him on the spot. Inspired by his dare devil act the rest of the platoon, emotionally charged, assaulted the feature and captured Area Flat Top.
This “sustained display of the most conspicuous personal bravery and gallantry of the highest order in the face of the enemy fire earned Rifleman Sanjay Kumar a Param Vir Chakra. But the man remains extremely modest about his remarkable act of courage and bravery insisting that: “I am not unique. Anyone else in my situation would have reacted in the same way“. What can I say except to salute this Param Veer.
But let us step back into the early hours of 5th July..The operation in which Rifleman Sanjay Kumar was involved is not over yet. It brings us to one the most heroic acts of Kargil conflict and the story of Captain Vikram Batra. This fateful week of Operation Vijay, that would see the award of four Param Vir Chakras was to end with the death of Captain Vikram Batra…
Here is the remarkable story of Captain Vikram Batra, courtesy Bharat-Rakshak.com:
On 01 June 1999, his unit proceeded to the Kargil Sector on the eruption of a war-like situation in Kargil, Drass and Batalik sub-sectors from where he was sent along with his company on the first strategic and daring operation to recapture the first peak of utmost importance – Point 5140, which was at an altitude of 17,000 feet. Upon reaching Point 5140, leading a company of troops, he encountered the commander of the Pakistani-backed terrorists on radio. The enemy commander challenged him by saying, “Why have you come Shershah (Vikram’s nick name given by his commanding officer), you will not go back.” Captain Batra, being the last person to back away from a fight, replied, “We shall see within one hour, who remains on the top.” In a short while Captain Batra and his company of troops killed eight enemy soldiers and more importantly captured a heavy anti-aircraft machine gun, neutralising the advantageous peak. Mission Point 5140 was a success!
Re-capture of Point 5140 paved the way to the return of the rest of peaks and cleared the Srinagar-Leh highway which sat in motion of successes like capturing Point 5100, 4700 Junction, Three Pimples and the ultimate prize – Tiger Hill. Soon after capturing Point 5140, he radioed his commanding officer and said jubilantly, “Yeh Dil Mange More!” On the successful capture of the vital peak he was congratulated & graced by the Chief of Army Staff, General Ved Prakash Malik on telephone. After taking rest for 4 to 5 days he proceeded towards Point 4750, where he was challenged again by the enemy who said, “Shershah, nobody shall be left to lift your dead bodies,” to which Captain Batra curtly replied, “Don’t worry about us, Pray for your safety.” He captured Point 4750 and hoisted the national flag. He also played a commendable role in the capture of Tiger Hill. He had dedicated himself and was determined for total victory.
Captain Batra was on a victory rampage, his heart asking for more honor and victory. He volunteered himself for a third crucial operation, recapturing Point 4875 which was at an altitude of 17,000 feet and had a gradient of 80 degrees. He attacked the peak along with his company and another led by Captain Anuj Nayyar, MVC. They gave the enemy a tough time, killed a number of enemy troops and re-captured the peak on 05 July 1999. The enemy counter attacked the peak on 07 July 1999, but he retaliated the counter attack with vigour. In the heat of the battle, one of his junior officers (Lieutenant Naveen) was seriously injured and he immediately went to his rescue. While dragging Lieutenant Naveen back under cover, he pleaded to Captain Batra to let him continue the fight despite his injuries to which Captain Batra replied, “Tu baal bachedaar hai! Hatt jaa peeche.” (You have kids and a wife to look after! Get back). Destiny however had something else in store for him and during the rescue, the brave Captain was hit by a bullet in the chest. With the words “Jai Mata Di” on his lips, he fell down and was hit again in the waist by an artillery splinter. Before succumbing to his grievous injuries, this brave son of the motherland and a true lion of Bharat Mata killed another five enemy soldiers.
In recognition of his gallant act, Point 4875 has now been renamed as Captain Vikram Batra Top
For this “most conspicuous act of personal bravery and leadership of the highest order”, Captain Vikram Batra was conferred the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. His death capped one of the most extraordinary weeks during Operation Vijay that ended with a string of battle honours for the heroes of Kargil.
As you go about your day today, please take a moment to remember these bravest of the braves…many of whom gave their lives to preserve and protect our freedom and please share this tribute to the Heroes of Kargil with your friends and family. And please don’t forget Captain Saurabh Kalia and his men – Kargil’s first heroes.
Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!
THE KARGIL PVC CITATIONS
LIEUTENANT MANOJ KUMAR PANDEY, 1/11 GORKHA RIFLES (IC 56959W)
Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey took part in a series of boldly led attacks during ‘operation Vijay ‘, forcing back the intruders with heavy losses in Battlik including the capture of Jaubar Top. On the night of 2/3 July 1999 during the advance to Khalubar as his platoon approached its final objective, it came under heavy and intense enemy fire from the surrounding heights. Lieutenant Pandey was tasked to clear the interfering enemy positions to prevent his battalion from getting day lighted, being in a vulnerable position. He quickly moved his platoon to an advantageous position under intense enemy fire, sent one section to clear the enemy positions from the right and himself proceeded to clear the enemy positions from the left. Fearlessly assaulting the first enemy position, he killed two enemy personnel and destroyed the second position by killing two more. He was injured on the shoulder and legs while clearing the third position. Undaunted and without caring for his grievous injuries, he continued to lead the assault on the fourth position urging his men and destroyed the same with a grenade, even as he got a fatal burst on his forehead. This singular daredevil act of Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey provided the critical firm base for the companies, which finally led to capture of Khalubar. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries.
Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, thus, displayed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.
GRENADIER YOGINDER SINGH YADAV, 18 GRENADIERS (2690-572)
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav was part of the leading team of a Ghatak Platoon tasked to capture Tiger Hill on the night of ¾ July 1999. The approach to the top was steep, snowbound and rocky. Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav, unmindful of the danger involved, volunteered to lead and fix the rope for his team to climb up. On seeing the team, the enemy opened intense automatic, grenade, rocket and artillery fire killing the Commander and two of his colleagues and the platoon was stalled. Realising the gravity of the situation, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav crawled up to the enemy position to silence it and in the process sustained multiple bullet injuries. Unmindful of his injuries and in the hail of enemy bullets, Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav continued climbing towards the enemy positions, lobbed grenades, continued firing from his weapons and killed four enemy soldiers in close combat an silenced the automatic fire. Despite multiple bullet injuries, he refused to be evacuated and continued the charge. Inspired by his gallant act, the platoon charged on the other positions with renewed punch and captured Tiger Hill Top.
Grenadier Yogender Singh Yadav displayed the most conspicuous courage, indomitable gallantry, grit and determination under extreme adverse circumstances.
RIFLEMAN SANJAY KUMAR, 13 JAMMU AND KASHMIR RIFLES (13760533)
Rifleman Sanjay Kumar volunteered to be the leading scout of the attacking column tasked to capture area Flat Top of Point 4875 in the Mushkoh Valley on 4 July 1999. During the attack when enemy automatic fire from one of the sangars posed stiff opposition and stalled the column, Rifleman Sanjay Kumar realizing the gravity of the situation and with utter disregard to his personal safety, charged at the enemy. In the ensuing hand-to- hand combat, he killed three of the intruders and was himself seriously injured. Despite his injuries, he charged onto the second sangar. Taken totally by surprise, the enemy left behind a Universal Machine Gun and started running.
Rifleman Sanjay Kumar picked up the UMG and killed the fleeing enemy. Although bleeding profusely, he refused to be evacuated. The brave action on his part motivated his comrades and they took no notice of the treacherous terrain and charged onto the enemy and wrested the area Flat Top from the hands of the enemy.
Rifleman Sanjay Kumar displayed most conspicuous gallantry, cool courage and devotion to duty of an exceptionally high order in the face of the enemy.
CAPTAIN VIKRAM BATRA, 13 JAMMU AND KASHMIR RIFLES (IC 57556)
During ‘Operation Vijay’, on 20 June 1999, Captain Vikram Batra, Commander Delta Company was tasked to attack Point 5140. Captain Batra with his company skirted around the feature from the East and maintaining surprise reached within assaulting distance of the enemy. Captain Batra reorganized his column and motivated his men to physically assault the enemy positions. Leading from the front, he in a daredevil assault, pounced on the enemy and killed four of them in a hand-to hand fight. On 7 July 1999, in another operation in the area Pt 4875, his company was tasked to clear a narrow feature with sharp cuttings on either side and heavily fortified enemy defences that covered the only approach to it. For speedy operation, Captain Batra assaulted the enemy position along a narrow ridge and engaged the enemy in a fierce hand –to-hand fight and killed five enemy soldiers at point blank range. Despite sustaining grave injuries, he crawled towards the enemy and hurled grenades clearing the position with utter disregard to his personal safety, leading from the front, he rallied his men and pressed on the attack and achieved a near impossible military task in the face of heavy enemy fire. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries. Inspired by his daredevil act, his troops fell upon the enemy with vengeance, annihilated them and captured Point 4875.
Captain Vikram Batra, thus, displayed the most conspicuous personal bravery and leadership of the highest order in the face of the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.
Also read: Antony’s absence at Manekshaw’s funeral fits a pattern and Saluting our Heroes: The “Param Veer”s of Kargil and a tribute to Capt Batra: The Soldier who became a legend
Some interesting facts:
- Both Capt Vikram Batra and Lt Manoj Pandey were the best NCC Cadets during their high school days
- Captain Vikram Batra’s statue in Palampur is across the statue of another great hero: Major Somnath Sharma, India’s first PVC who also hailed from Palampur
- The 13 JAK Rifles is the only unit in the history of independent India to be awarded with two PVCs in a single operation.
P.S. As many of you would remember, the entire Saluting our Heroes series is now being published as a book which will be released shortly – most likely on the occasion of Vijay Diwas, July 26th. Make sure you receive advance notification of launch by entering your email address here. Thanks. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!