Author Archives: kuldeepjha

The Hero from Ladakh who Notched India’s First Win in Kargil

In 1999, Sonam Wangchuk was a Major in Indian Army’s infantry regiment, the Ladakh Scouts. Nicknamed the “Snow Warriors” or “Snow Tigers”, this regiment specializes in mountain warfare. Knowing the mountains like the back of their hand, Ladakh Scouts carry out reconnaissance missions and set up observation posts for army regiments operating at high altitudes.

On May 26, 1999, Major Wangchuk was on an annual vacation at his home in Khakshal in Leh. During that time, the Dalai Lama was visiting Leh and Major Wangchuk, a deeply religious Buddhist, was one of the first people to seek the spiritual leader’s blessings before heading to the front. Two days later, Major Wangchuk reported at Handen Brok, a Border Security Force base camp in the Chorbat La sub sector of Batalik. The last stop before the Line of Control, this was the post from where recon patrols were sent out into the mountains. With his natural acclimatization to the region, local knowledge and experience in Siachen, Wangchuk was often given the task of establishing an observation post on the Line of Control high in the mountains.

At that time, the Indian army was still in the dark about the extent of Pakistani infiltration. Unaware of the heavy Pakistani presence just above, Wangchuk and his band of 30-odd soldiers of the Ladakh Scouts left on their next mission to establish their post on an 18000 feet high ridge just inside the Indian side of LoC. Glacial, slippery and rocky, the steep mountain had a gradient of 80 degrees, and climbing it in the freezing sub-zero temperatures of Ladakh was a tough test for even skilled mountaineers.

During their ascent towards the LoC, Major Wangchuk and his team were ambushed by the enemy firing from a vantage position. In the heavy shelling, a NCO of the Ladakh Scouts was killed. Leaving behind one of his jawans to take back the body of the slain soldier and the information the base about the ambush, Major Wangchuk held his column together to continue the climb to LoC. He knew it was essential to prevent the infiltrators from occupying the strategically superior position.

Under heavy Pakistani fire from the flanks, the incredibly nimble Major led his team by deftly dodging bullets and ducking behind boulders. When bullets fell short, the team climbed to higher positions and rolled boulders on to the enemies. Halting and charging ahead with dexterity, Wangchuk and his team finally made it to the ridge in three hours. Spotting a group of intruders trying to scale the ridge from the Pakistan side, Major Wangchuk then planned a daring counter ambush of his own. He told his men to hold on till the enemy came within range. When they did, he attacked them from the flank. In the gun battle that ensued, four infiltrators were killed, and their machine guns, ammunition and controlled stores were recovered.

Next day, Wangchuk and his band of scouts set out to clear the Chorbat La axis of all enemy intrusions. With the minimum time to plan their approach, the team, unlike other units, never got artillery support in their mission. At 18000 feet, where the thin air makes breathing ragged, they kept going till they had accomplished their very dangerous mission. With the LoC once again under Indian control, the mountains echoed with the war cry of the Ladakh Scouts, Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo (The Gods will Triumph). Cut off from the world except for their wireless and living off survival rations, Wangchuk and his men remained on one of the world’s most brutal battlefield for over a week to snap shut the crucial infiltration point. Not only had they prevented any subsequent infiltration, their daring act had returned India to a commanding position on the vital ridge that the intruders desperately wanted to occupy. For his exemplary service, Major Wangchuk was honoured with the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest military decoration. “Even as the Army and the country was raving about his wins in Kargil, he treated it with little excitement and kept smiling through it all,” said an Army officer, who knows him well.

Ireland Born officer Who Led India in Its Greatest Infantry Battle

Lieutenant Colonel Desmond E Hayde, the man who led his troops from the 3 Jat battalion into one of the greatest, yet bloodiest infantry battle ever fought in Post-Independent India during the 1965 war against Pakistan, was born in Ireland to Anglo-Indian parents on November 26, 1928. Despite his origins, it was the tricolour that coursed through his veins. Leading 550 men into battle against an enemy force twice that number and allied with support from a tank squadron, Lt Col Hayde masterminded the capture of Dograi, a township on the outskirts of Lahore, in a battle that raged from September 21-23.

This was a show of remarkable courage, smarts and pure conviction, battling the enemy with everything they had—guns, grenades and bayonets—besides engaging in some brutal hand-to-hand combat. In the process, they managed to clear out an entire township, not missing a street, gulley, house or enemy bunker. Interestingly enough, he didn’t win the Mahavir Chakra for this heroic battle, but for another, that should have easily secured Dograi two weeks earlier.

As part of Operation Riddle, the 3 Jat battalion was ordered to breach the Ichhogil Canal, which was built by the then Punjab (Pakistan) chief minister to ostensibly protect Lahore from Indian aggression eight kms inside Pakistani territory. Although Colonel Hayde and his men managed to take the Dograi township on the intervening night of September 6-7 (for which he won the Mahavir Chakra), no supporting units of the Indian armed forces were forthcoming because of a glaring communication gap. They held their ground until receiving orders from the brigade headquarters to retreat.

As a consequence of that communication gap, Colonel Hayde and his men had to fall back and wait for two weeks in Santpura village – deep inside Pakistani territory, before receiving orders to launch another offensive on Dograi. Unfortunately, in the intervening two weeks, Pakistani forces had substantially strengthened their presence in Dograi, bringing another  battalion to support the one already present and enlisting a tank squadron to help them. The odds were heavily against Colonel Hayde and his men, but in a stirring address to his troops on the night of September 21, 1965, he made just two simple demands:

1)‘Not a single man will turn back!’ and 2) ‘Dead or alive, we have to meet in Dograi!’

In approximately two days, Colonel Hayde and his brave men from the 3 Jat battalion re-captured Dograi, losing in the process 86 troops while taking out nearly 300 Pakistani soldiers.

A leader who was worshiped by his regiment, the daring hero of Dograi was awarded the Mahavir Chakra for his incredible courage and exemplary leadership.

“Brigadier Hayde never spoke about the Maha Vir Chakra or the Battle of Dograi. He thought of it as a job he had to do, and he did it,” says Colonel Singh, who runs the Hayde Heritage school in Kotdwar, Uttarakhand, in a conversation with Rediff. “He never even travelled on a free ticket that the government grants (for winners of gallantry medals). He was a rough, rugged, tough, guy for whom every day of life was the Indian Army.” Following retirement, Brigadier Hayde constantly fought in defence of better conditions for the Indian soldier and assisting former members of the Jat regiment in their day-to-day affairs, before unfortunately succumbing to skin cancer on September 25, 2013. Today, he rests alongside his wife at a cemetery in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.

Idris Hasan Latif – IAF Chief Who Chose India over Pakistan

Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif, who spurned the offer to join Pakistan Air Force after partition and rose to be the service chief, breathed his last at the ripe old age of 94, on 30th of April 2018 in Hyderabad. Air Chief Marshal Latif was appointed as the Chief of Air Staff on 31 August 1978 and he remained in saddle till 1981 when he retired. He subsequently served as the Indian Ambassador to France and the Governor of Maharashta.

The official website of IAF states that when partition brought about the division of the Indian armed forces, Latif as a Muslim officer was faced with the choice of joining both India or Pakistan. “Even though both Asghar as well as Noor Khan called him up to persuade Latif to join them in the fledgling Pakistan Air Force, Latif made it clear that for him, religion and country were not interlinked. It was no surprise that Latif made his way to become the first Muslim Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force,” the IAF website states. Air Marshal Asghar Khan later rose to become the Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force.

Idris Hasan Latif was born in Hyderabad on 9th June 1923 to a well-known Suleimani Bohra family. He attended the prestigious Nizam College and applied to join the Indian Air Force as soon as he turned 17.5 years old–the earliest age permitted. Selected in 1941, he went through initial flying training at Begumpet and was commissioned in Royal Indian Air Force on 26th January 1942.On completion of his training at Ambala, he was posted to the No.2 Coastal Defence Flight in Karachi, where he flew vintage biplane aircrafts like the Wapiti, Audaxes and Harts, on Anti-Submarine flights over the Arabian Sea.

During 1943-44, he was one of the few Indian pilots to be seconded to the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. There he underwent training on more contemporary aircraft like the Hurricane and Spitfire, with the Operational squadrons of the RAF. He returned to India in 1944 and took part in the Burma campaign, flying the Hawker Hurricane for No.3 Squadron. This involved flying interdiction sorties against ground targets. After the campaign, Latif was posted to Madras, but soon he joined No.9 Squadron in Burma, again flying the Hawker Hurricane.

In June 1946, Latif was part of an Indian contingent, which participated in a huge Victory Parade in London. After the war, Latif on, promotion to the Squadron Leader, became the Commanding Officer of No.4 Oorials, flying the Hawker Tempest. He led the first fly past over New Delhi, after India turned a republic in 1950. In 1951, the decorated Air Force Chief married Bilkees, the daughter of Nawab Ali Yavar Jung. She stood by his side for 66 years till she passed away in 2017.

India fought a war in 1965 against Pakistan. Latif, who had by then been promoted to Air Commodore, was the first Air Defence Commander for the Eastern Theatre. His combat experience saw him appointed to the new post of Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Plans), during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, during which he carried out the onerous tasks of making first line assessment of frontline combat squadrons and the modernisation plans of the air force. His role as Air Chief Marshal PC Lal’s emissary during the IAF’s operations in the Eastern Theater, saw him decorated with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 1974.

The IAF website also mentions that as the Chief of Air Staff, Latif was involved fully in the re-equipment and modernisation plans of the air force. He was instrumental in seeking government approval for the procurement of the Jaguar strike aircraft, a proposal which was lying dormant for over 8 years. He also held negotiations with the Russians and saw the induction of the MiG-23 and later, the MiG-25 aircraft into the IAF. One of the last acts before retirement was to fly in the trisonic MiG-25, which was then just assembled from a semi-knocked down condition by the Air Force personnel. Only in 1988, did the former Air Chief Marshal retire, and returned to Hyderabad with his wife, where they worked for social causes. The legendary Idris Hasan Latif is remembered by all as a great strategic genius, a planning maverick and an IAF hero.

Zorawar Chand Bakshi – The Greatest Wartime Hero & The Most Decorated General

He had been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra, Vir Chakra, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal and the little known but highly prized MacGregor Memorial Medal! Is it any surprise that he is India’s most decorated officer?

Fondly called “Zoru” by his friends and colleagues, Lt General Bakshi, was born in 1921 in Gulyana town, Rawalpindi district, Pakistan. His father, Bahadur Bakshi Lal Chand Lau, was a decorated soldier with the British Indian Army. Like his father, Lt General Bakshi enlisted in the British Indian Army, fighting the Japanese with the Baloch Regiment in Burma during World War II. His name was mentioned in dispatches by the British government, for conducting successful ambushes against the Japanese, says this tribute by Major General Ashok Mehta published in The Indian Express.

Following the Partition of India, while his family moved out of Pakistan and into India, he served on the Punjab Boundary Force—an ad hoc military force set up to restore law and order during the bloody communal clashes that took place along the Punjab border. After the partition, he was commissioned into the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) as a Brigade Major, and for his efforts in the war for Kashmir in 1947-48, he was awarded the Vir Chakra.

Two years later in 1949, Major Bakshi undertook a military reconnaissance mission into Tibet reportedly on the orders of Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister. He trekked a distance of 400 km over 80 days disguised as a Buddhist monk; traversing along some of the highest mountain passes in the world on foot. It is imperative to remember that this was a time when no foreigners were allowed inside Tibet. Entering Tibet via the famous Nathu-La pass, he brought back with him critical strategic intelligence. For his successful mission, Major Bakshi was awarded the MacGregor Memorial Medal.

In the early 1960s, he led the battalion on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in civil war-ravaged Congo. Finally, in December 1962, the Indian forces sent on behalf of the United Nations ran through Tshombe’s army in a major offensive called the Operation Grand Slam. The following year, he was awarded the distinguished Vishisht Seva Medal.

However, Lt General Bakshi’s most notable achievement was the capture of the Haji Pir Pass, a critical access point connecting Poonch to Uri in the Kashmir Valley during the 1965 war against Pakistan. It was Operation Bakshi—codenamed after him—which led to the capture of the Haji Par Pass and proved to be a significant turning point for the Indian forces. For his efforts, he was awarded the prestigious Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award, along with the heroic Major Ranjit Singh Dayal.

Next on the list of achievements was his role as Divisional Commander during the 1971 War against Pakistan, where he led his forces to capture the narrow strip of Pakistani territory (approximately 170 miles) that extended into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir south of Akhnoor, which Lt General Bakshi called it the ‘Chicken’s neck’ and sought to snap it into two and push the Pakistani forces back. As predicted, he was successful in making it happen, and once again led a moment that would turn the tide of the war in India’s favour. He was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal for his efforts. After leading counter-insurgency operations in Nagaland, he retired in 1979. Lieutenant General Bakshi passed away on 24th May 2018 at the ripe old age of 97. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy, fighting and serving across different theatres of battle both at home and abroad.

The Master Destroyer of PAK’s Deadly War Submarine Ghazi

Vice Admiral Nilakanta Krishnan (1919 – 1982) was the most decorated officer in the Indian Navy with over 40 years of distinguished service career and 17 medals to his credit. Vice Admiral Krishnan has been a part of many pre and post independence operations his role in the war of 1971, has etched his name in the pages of history in golden letters.

Vice Admiral Krishnan was born the youngest son of Rao Bahadur Mahadeva Nilakanta Ayyar, who worked as an executive engineer. His eldest brother had gone into the line of Indian Civil Services while Vice Admiral Krishnan had a different passion. He joined the Royal Indian Navy at the age of 16. On the 1st of September. 1940, he was appointed the Sub-Lieutenant of the Royal Indian Navy. Through the length of his military career, he engaged in pre and post-independence battles, in Europe and Asia. In 1961, he led the naval push that brought down the Portuguese flag and liberated Goa, Diu, and Daman.

INDO-PAK WAR OF 1971:

During the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Vice Admiral Krishnan was serving as the Chief of Eastern Naval Command. It was during this war that he carried out what many consider “of the great sea-faring victories in Indian naval history.”

Before the onset of the war, Pakistani troops had the intentions to surprise Indian Forces. On the 14th of November, 1971, Pakistan dispatched one of its deadliest weapons, the assault submarine Ghazi. With the aim of annihilating the INS Vikrant, they sent it to Chittagong in East Pakistan. By 23rd November, Ghazi had gone more than 2,200 nautical miles from Karachi to reach to watch range code-named Zone Mike in Madras. The Indian Forces received intelligence about this advancement and immediately informed the Eastern Naval Command. The Vice-naval commander had been requested that INS Vikrant was to prevent the troops in East Pakistan from getting any maritime help from the Pakistan Navy. However, due to some technical problems, the INS Vikrant’s pace had reduced to a mere 16 ties and making it impossible for it to thwart any imminent attacks.

Vice Admiral Krishnan was aware of this difficulty and had to make a strategy to shield their otherwise defenceless vessel. The subsequent plan he came up with was ingenious and would set a staggering record in naval history for years to come. He summoned the captain of the maturing INS Rajput, Lt-Commander Inder Singh. His ship was at the time being sent to Vizag to be decommissioned. That is until Vice Admiral Krishnan gave him a monumental task. He instructed Singh to cruise 160 miles out of Vizag harbour and create substantial remote movement, which would give foe submarine a feeling that INS Vikrant, its prime goal, was in the close region. To confuse the enemy further, he requested an enormous amount of meat and vegetables. He then ordered INS Vikrant and her escorts to cruise into ‘X-Ray’, a mystery palm-fronded safe haven in the Andaman Islands, almost 1,000 miles away.

Pakistani fell for the trap and prepared to dispatch Ghazi against INS Vikrant. In the late hours of 3rd December, reports indicated an inward blast occurred in the forward area of the Ghazi where torpedoes and mines were kept. Subsequently, Ghazi, one of Pakistan’s greatest weapons sank, inflicting no damage on the Indian vessel.For his remarkable strategy, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. Admiral Krishnan retired from the Indian Navy in 1976. He was one of the only two Indians who were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He received the award in 1942 for “courage, enterprise and devotion to duty in operations in the Persian Gulf”. He also received the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) which is awarded in recognition of peace-time service of the most exceptional order. He met his natural death in January 1982.