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Leading From The Front

Officers drove their men by setting examples to follow

Leading From The Front

When it was a victory, the Cavalier claimed it outright, the Gunner boasted of his prowess, the Signalman publicised his worth but the Infantryman remained silent with victory at his feet.

This old infantry saying was never more aptly demonstrated than in the just-concluded Kargil conflict. Heavy-duty Bofors guns and state-of-the-art aircraft with their laser-guided bombs were brought in to pound the enemy, but ultimately it was left to the largely unsung foot soldier, the Infantryman, to evict the Pakistani troops from the commanding heights that they had occupied in the mountains in Kargil.

And leading the brave men right from the front were the officers. It was the captains and majors considered to be the cutting edge of the Indian army who once again proved their mettle. As army spokesman Col Bikram Singh says: 'The ratio of number of officers to number of jawans killed in this conflict is the highest in any war that India has fought. In '65, for every officer killed there were 18 soldiers who died. In '71, the ratio of officer to jawans killed was 1:20 while in the current conflict it is something like 1:17.' Normally, the juniormost officer leads a platoon with a strength of 30 jawans so logically, the ratio should be around 1:30. But as the figures clearly show, officers have taken the lead in carrying out almost impossible, sometimes suicidal, missions.

Each battle that different infantry units fought, be it for the strategic Tiger Hills, Tololing, Points 5140 and 4875, Jubar or Three Pimples, the officers had to lead by example, motivate, cajole and sometimes even coerce the troops into charging well-fortified bunkers. As Col S.V.E. David, deputy commander of the Dras-based 56 Brigade, says: 'Nowhere in the world has any army fought a battle at such a daunting altitude for such a prolonged period. In these circumstances, officers had to make extra efforts to motivate their men.' Says a battalion commander, 'The company commanders (captains and majors) had to not only apply the normal leadership qualities and man-management skills but also motivate the men to go into what were mostly suicidal missions. The terrain was such that only the officer's raw courage would have motivated the jawan to go straight into the hail of bullets. And he needed to show exceptional physical prowess to climb the mountains and sustain the company through adverse conditions.'

The sheer courage, resourcefulness and leadership qualities shown by the company commanders helped wrest the initiative decisively. But this tradition may not last long as the army is currently faced with a shortage of 14,000 officers at the level of captains and majors. This shortfall, rising steadily over the last decade for several reasons, could be felt more acutely in the near future if corrective steps are not taken now. Over the years, the bedrock of the infantry has been the young lieutenant, the courageous captain and the experienced major. But with few young men opting for an army career these days, defence planners are faced with a piquant situation. Shortage of officers leads to additional burden on the existing officers and in view of the increasing tendency to use the army in internal security duties, the pressure has increased manifold. Several officers in the junior command are feeling the heat of sustained deployment in various assignments. 'There is no peace station any more, so there is no rest,' says a company commander. Junior commanders hope that the Kargil episode will force a rethink in the higher echelons. Till that time, however, these young, highly-motivated officers will continue to lead from the front and score decisive victories in face of great odds.

Capt Anuj Nayyar
17 Jat

The 23-year-old was killed during the recapture of Point 4875. Taking over the reins of the company after his superior was injured, Nayyar was at the head of the leading platoon that struck at enemy positions, destroying three bunkers in the process. It was while attacking the fourth bunker that he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Despite being grievously injured, Nayyar kept ordering his troops to fire at the enemy. He succumbed to his injuries on the peak but not before killing nine enemy soldiers and clearing three bunkers. Nayyar has been recommended for the nation's highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra, for the courage he displayed during the battle for 4875.

Lt Col R. Vishwanathan
18 Grenadiers

The highest ranking officer killed in the Kargil conflict, he was 34 years old. As the second-in-command of the battalion, Vishwanathan need not have gone to the higher altitudes where the actual fighting was taking place. However, when reports came into base camp of a company having been trapped by the enemy, he volunteered to lead a rescue team. Climbing the sheer cliff at night, he and his men attacked the enemy under the cover of darkness. Vishwanathan killed five of the intruders before being shot himself.

Lt Haneefuddin
11 Rajputana Rifles

The country's first martyr in the Turtuk sub-sector, the 22-year-old lieutenant was instrumental in foiling a determined attempt by the Pakistanis to cut off the approach to the Siachen glacier. Haneefuddin had led his section into the Turtuk sector in the early days of the war, when the information available to him was scanty and the strength of the enemy unknown. The only thing known, in fact, was that intrusions had taken place in the region. However, Haneefuddin was determined to take his mission to its logical conclusion. The Turtuk sub-sector has since been renamed after him.

Lt Clifford Nongrum
12 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry

The boy from Meghalaya always wanted to fight in a war. And the young lieutenant's big chance came when his battalion was ordered to recapture a strategic peak in the Batalik sector. Part of an advance party that went to reconnoitre the peak, Nongrum's force walked into an ambush set by the intruders. The 26-year-old's party took heavy losses, but he rallied the troops, fought a rearguard battle and paved the way for the subsequent successful assault on the enemy position. Despite being seriously wounded, Nongrum fought till the end. However, he later succumbed to his injuries.

Capt Jintu Gogoi
17 Garhwal Rifles

The first Assamese officer to lay down his life in the Kargil conflict, Gogoi emulated the feat of so many of his counterparts. The young captain led his platoon in the campaign to recapture a strategic peak in the Batalik sector. His force came under constant and heavy enemy fire. With little regard for his own safety, Gogoi charged at an enemy position and carried on even after he took a bullet in the stomach. He and his platoon finally paved the way for the rest of the company to recapture the key position and later take the peak itself. But the 24-year-old's bullet wounds proved fatal.

Capt. Vikram Batra
13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles

The kid of the battalion had already earned a name for himself in retaking Point 5140 and become well-known as the one who had radioed the message 'Yeh dil mange more.' On July 7, Vicky, as friends knew him, was asked to recce the western ledge of Point 4875 and help two companies trapped on the hill. At first light, Batra whose codename was Sher Shah charged the enemy post, shouting 'Durga Mata ki jai.' The ferocity of his charge inspired the rest who destroyed the enemy post but just as victory was in sight, Batra was hit in the neck. He died on the peak, now renamed Sher Shah Vikram Batra peak. Recommended for Maha Vir Chakra.

Capt Sanjeev Jamwal
13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles

A dare-devil officer, 'Jimmy' Jamwal proved his mettle twice during Operation Vijay, once during the capture of Point 5140 and then again during the attack to retake Point 4875. In the second attack, the force he led had to climb a sheer, 500-metre cliff in darkness. Once on top, he found that he ran the risk of being hit by 'friendly fire', or shelling from Indian artillery positions. He radioed the artillery posts, calling for a cessation in the barrage. The message was intercepted by the enemy. Despite knowing the intruders were forewarned, he charged on, securing the peak.

Maj Deepak Rampal
17 Jat

Rampal is sometimes referred to as the hero of 4150 in the Dras sub-sector. His Delta Company was assigned the task of leading the attack to recapture the Whale Back feature on the western spur of Point 4150. In the initial stages of the attack, his company suffered heavy casualties. However, he quickly regrouped his men and resumed the advance towards the summit. After a close-quarters fire-fight that extended for more than four hours, he destroyed three bunkers and killed five of the enemy. But the 34-year-old's task was far from over: after a couple of hours, he had to repulse a counter-attack.

Capt Mohit Saxena
2 Rajputana Rifles

The 34-year-old's finest hour was at Lone Hill. Having already proved himself at Tololing, Saxena was asked to capture Lone Hill, which lies along the Three Pimples feature, in order to secure the area. Going round Knoll, which was being attacked at the same time by Maj Padmapani Acharya, Saxena led the charge on the Hill in the dead of the night. Although pinned down by enemy fire, he persevered, and finally captured three enemy bunkers. He then held on to the post for the next five hours before reinforcements arrived, motivating his men all through.

Capt p. Tomar
2 Rajputana Rifles

Along with officers like Maj Vivek Gupta and Lt Vijayan Thapar, the 24-year-old earned his spurs in the battle for Tololing. His feats got him the name hero of Tololing. Tomar also participated in the successful attack on Three Pimples. Like his brother officers, he led his men from the front and showed exceptional courage in the face of sustained enemy fire. Tomar and his men secured one side of Three Pimples, thus helping to ease pressure on other companies and facilitating the eventual recapture of the strategic height.

Capt RAJESH Adhau
13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles

The battalion medical officer of 13 jak Rifles, Adhau need not have been up there in the theatre of action. However, when his commanding officer, Lt Col Y.K. Joshi, asked for medical help for those injured during the battle to recapture Point 5140, he rushed to the higher reaches with his medical orderly and supplies, all the while under persistent enemy fire. The 30-year-old medical officer's disdain for his own life saved the lives of several others; by being on the spot, he was able to administer speedy medical assistance to the wounded, and minimise losses.

Maj R.K. Singh
17 Jat

The oldest officer to have fought the battle at Dras, the 38-year-old led Alpha Company on the attack at Point 4875, which lies at an altitude of 16,250 ft. Despite being initially repulsed, Singh pressed on with the attack with his medium machine gun and suppressed the enemy small-arms fire, leading to the recapture of the position. In a subsequent operation, Singh motivated the leading section to charge the enemy bunker and retake the Pimple I feature.

Maj S. Vijay Bhaskar
17 Garhwal Rifles

Like Vikram Batra, the 34-year-old Bhaskar took part in two daring operations, earning himself the sobriquet of the hero of 5140 and 4875. As part of the battle to recapture Point 5140, he had established a base for Batra and Jimmy Jamwal of the 13 jak Rifles to launch the final assault on the peak. On July 4, Bhaskar was once again in the thick of the battle for Point 4875, leading his Alpha Company from the eastern side. During that campaign, Bhaskar undertook two daylight operations, always a difficult and extremely hazardous task, considering that the enemy can easily spot any advance given the lack of cover.

Medal of Honour

The Badge of Sacrifice has the words 'For our tomorrow, they gave their today' embossed on it. Never has this been truer in the case of our gallant soldiers. And yet, the nation generally tends to forget the ordinary soldier in times of peace. To overcome this, the Indian Army has instituted the badge, which would be worn by the next of kin of the soldiers who lost their lives. The authorities are hoping that the country's citizens would recognise this badge and give due respect to their relatives.

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