Category Archives: History

The Brigadier Who Defied Enemy Tanks in 1971 War

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

The famous battle of Longewala (1971) was one of the first major engagements in the western sector during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, fought between assaulting Pakistani forces and Indian defenders at the Indian border post of Longewala in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. A company of the Indian Army’s 23rd battalion, Punjab Regiment, commanded by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri with just 120 men against a full-fledged attack by advancing Pakistani Patton tanks and over 2,000 soldiers, was left with the choice of either attempting to hold out until reinforced, or fleeing on foot from Pakistani force. Choosing the former, Chandpuri ensured that all his assets were correctly deployed, and made the most use of his strong defensive position, and weaknesses created by errors in enemy tactics. When the operation ended, 22 Pakistani tanks had been destroyed.

He was decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) for the heroic stand-off that forced the enemy to retreat.

The MVC citation read: “Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was commanding a company of the Punjab Regiment occupying a defended locality in the Rajasthan Sector. On the 5th December 1971, in the early hours of the morning the enemy launched a massive attack on this locality with infantry and tanks. Major Chandpuri exhibited dynamic leadership in holding his command intact and steadfast.”

“Showing exceptional courage and determination, he inspired his men moving from bunker to bunker, encouraging them in beating back the enemy till reinforcements arrived. In this heroic defence, he inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and forced them to retreat leaving behind twelve tanks.

“In this action, Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri displayed conspicuous gallantry, inspiring leadership and exceptional devotion to duty in keeping with the highest traditions of the Indian Army.” 

The feat of Brig. Chandpuri and his men later became celluloid history through the J.P. Dutta-directed Bollywood blockbuster “Border” which was released in 1997. His action-packed role was played by actor Sunny Deol.

Brig. Chandpuri was a third generation officer in the Indian army. Born in 1940 at Montgomery, Punjab in undivided India, his family settled into their native village, Chandpur Rurki in Balachaur. He graduated from the Government College in Hoshiarpur in 1962. Thereafter, he joined the Indian Army. He passed out of the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, in 1963 and was commissioned into the 23rd Battalion of the Punjab Regiment. Apart from displaying his grit in the 1971 Battle of Longewala, he had also fought the 1965 war in the western sector. In addition he also served in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) at Gaza in Egypt for a year. He was also honoured on the board of The War Decorated India, an association of gallantry awardees and nominated as a councillor in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. His heroic life came to end on 17th November 2018.

Col. Narendra Kumar Secured Siachen For India

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

Col. Narendra Kumar (born on 8th December 1933), the  mountaineering legend (who lost four of his toes to frostbite in 1961) is one of the most highly decorated officers in India. He is the only colonel awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) distinction in all three services (normally accorded only to generals). He has also been honoured with the Padma Shri, the Kirti Chakra, the Ati Vishist Seva Medal, the Arjuna Award and the IMF Gold Medal by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Yet, few people in Indian know about Col. Kumar’s pioneering contributions to both mountaineering and national security. Its time we give him the respect and recognition he truly deserves.

It all started with a German mountaineer and an American map. In the late 1970s, Col.Kumar was in charge of the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg (which was also the mountain warfare school of the Indian Army). A German explorer — with whom Kumar had earlier traversed the upper reaches of the Indus river in Ladakh — showed him an American map of northern Kashmir that marked the Line of Control (LoC) much further to the east than he expected. Realising that the US appeared to have cartographically ceded a large chunk of eastern Karakoram (including the Siachen glacier) to Pakistan, a furious Col. Kumar bought the map and sent it straight to the Director General of Military Operations. Alarm bells ringing loudly in his head, he also volunteered to organise an expedition to the area to “correct the map”. Realising the need to cut through red tape and get to work, the recon mission was thus termed a ‘practical training session’ for students.

Soon after, Col. Kumar headed into uncharted territory with a team of students from the High Altitude Warfare School. It was the first Indian expedition into the heart of Siachen — the largest alpine glacier on earth that has nearly two trillion cubic feet of ice. Beginning at the snout of the glacier, Col. Kumar and his team slowly but steadily made their way up the massive bulk of unforgiving ice. On the way, they had to navigate tricky crevasses and stay ahead of avalanches while braving temperatures that dipped to a numbing -50 degrees Celsius. However, news of this expedition soon leaked across the border. By the time Col. Kumar’s unarmed team reached the icy source of Siachen, Pakistani fighter jets had started flying over them, firing coloured smoke!

This and the trash that the team had found along the way — Pakistani cigarette packs, food cans and climbing gear — convinced him that the Pakistanis had been stealthily trying to entrench their claim on Siachen. Taking this trash and photos of the hovering jets as proof of Pakistani incursions, the team returned to base. Despite this recon report, it took Col. Kumar a while to convince his seniors about the seriousness of situation. It was not until early 1981 that he finally got the go-ahead to map the entire glacier, all the way from the snout to the Chinese border.

And so Col. Kumar returned to Siachen, this time becoming the first Indian to climb the Sia Kangri  —at 24,350 feet, this peak offers stunning views of the sprawling glacier. He came back with a detailed ‘sit-rep’ (situational report) that was immediately dispatched to Indian Army’s headquarters. Realising that the Indian Army was now clearly involved, Pakistan ramped up its stealthy bid to secure Siachen for itself. Recognizing the strategic threat, India immediately dispatched troops of Kumaon Regiment to the Siachen for control of the glacier and the neighbouring peaks in the Saltoro range. Under Operation Meghdoot, IAF choppers pushed themselves to their maximum capabilities to air-drop soldiers at Bilafond-La (that translates to “Pass of the Butterflies” in Balti language).And this is how India established a crucial military foothold in what would go on to become the world’s highest battlefield, beating Pakistan by a week. Their most important weapon? The detailed maps, photographs and videos made by Col. Kumar and his team. In the years that followed, a key army post on the glacier was named Kumar Base, making Col. Kumar perhaps the only living Indian army officer to enjoy this extremely rare honour.

M Kamal Naidu – 1st Civilian to Get Shaurya Chakra!

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

M Kamal Naidu, a graduate of Hyderabad’s agriculture university cleared the UPSC examination and joined Indian Forest Service in 1962. A decade later, in 1972, he was posted as district forest officer in Karimnagar (a thickly forested district of undivided Andhra Pradesh), a hotbed of Naxal activity. The left-wing extremists were involved in illicit cultivation on 4,200 acres of forest land and warned Naidu about obstructing them. Undeterred by the threats and taunts, the dedicated IFS officer stood his ground and continued to protect government property.

On August 10, 1972, Naidu was on duty when he was ambushed by the Naxals near Paloncha.

“The first bullet hit me in the mouth. I was alone; my associates ran away. I lost all of my right jaw teeth. They smashed my face with a rifle butt. The second bullet went through my arm and exited from my shoulder. I got a blow on my head which required 18 stitches,” the courageous officer later recalled to the Deccan Chronicle.

As a result of the grievous injuries he suffered, Naidu remained confined in the hospital for three and a half months. Even after he was discharged, the painful effects of those wounds lingered. In fact, nearly 40 years after the incident, he underwent another operation (his last one) in 2013 to remove minute bullet pellets that had remained embedded in his mouth. However, Naidu’s exemplary dedication to duty and courage in the face of danger remain unacknowledged and unappreciated by the government.

Naidu was the principal chief conservator of forests in Andhra Pradesh from 1995 to 96 and was well-known in wildlife and forest conservation circles for his efforts to protect forests and wildlife. He had also worked as the director of the National Zoo in New Delhi. The IFS officer survived another close encounter with death. This time, the attack came from a cobra when he was director of the Delhi Zoo. On being informed that a six-and-a-half-foot black cobra had entered the lions’ enclosure, Naidu rushed to the rescue of the two cubs who were in danger. He aimed at the cobra’s spine with his gun but missed. Realising that any further delay could lead to the death of the cubs, he picked up the deadly serpent by its tail. Naidu was trying to get hold of its neck when the cobra twisted and sank its fangs into his hand. He flung it away but the enraged snake attacked him again. But this time, he was successful in killing it. Hiring an autorickshaw, the bleeding officer immediately went in search of life-saving anti-venom, going from hospital to hospital till he found it! It was only after a three-day struggle that the doctors managed to save the IFS officer’s life. Soon afterwards, the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got to hear of Naidu’s two death-defying escapades and sent him a get-well letter. The PM was also the one who initiated the process to honour Naidu with India’s third highest peacetime gallantry award, the Shaurya Chakra, in 1988. Even after his retirement, Naidu continued to work with the civil society. He was also appointed to the Supreme Court Commission tasked with the inspection of the disputed boundary areas between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. He passed away on April 18, 2018 in Hyderabad at the age of 79.

Brigadier Rajinder Singh –The First Recipient of the ‘Maha Vir Chakra’

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

The date, 26 October, does not stir anything significant in the minds and hearts of the majority of this country. It is not a special birthday or a religious holiday that is etched in the conscience of India. One has to do a Google search to realise that on this day in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession to India as the region was under siege from Pakistani forces.

The story that many won’t find through a Google search, however, is that of Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his band of warriors who died defending the Kashmir valley. He was martyred the same day Maharaja Hari Singh signed that historic document uniting Jammu and Kashmir with India, a sacrifice that honoured the simple words of that contract. On 30 December 1949, he became independent India’s first recipient of the Maha Vir Chakra, when he was awarded the honour posthumously by the then Army Chief Field Marshall K.M. Cariappa. The Maha Vir Chakra (literally great warrior medal) is the second highest military decoration in India, after the Param Vir Chakra, and is awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea or in the air. Yet this warrior is barely known to the nation he served, let alone outside the Jammu region.

Born on June 14, 1899, Rajinder Singh hailed from the Duggar or the Dogra people of Jammu, a community deeply entrenched in the armed forces of India for several generations. Rajinder Singh graduated from the Prince of Wales College, now the GGM Science College, Jammu.  He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the J&K State Forces on Jun 14, 1921. A remarkable officer of indomitable spirit, he was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff of the J&K State Forces on September 25, 1947, replacing Major General H.L. Scott.  

On 21 October 1947, Pakistani forces besieged Jammu and Kashmir after Maharaja Hari Singh declared independence. They tried to take control of the region by force, hoping that the dominant Muslim community would support them. They entered Kashmir via Baramulla and targeted the Sikh and Kashmiri pandits, committing rape, murder and arson in a bid to ‘purge’ the land.

Under siege, on 22 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh ordered Brigadier Singh, who served as the chief of army staff of Jammu and Kashmir, to defend the state “till the last man and the last bullet”. The Brigadier just saluted and walked away. He gathered 110 soldiers and moved to Muzaffarabad to counter the invading force of over 6,000 militiamen. He used guerrilla tactics to delay their advance, blowing up the Uri bridge and stalling them in Mahura and Rampur, inflicting heavy casualties. For four days, Brigadier Singh and his brave jawans hindered the progress of the Pakistani invaders. This may have been the first time in contemporary military history where an army chief personally led soldiers in combat.

As Brigadier Singh and his men fought, on 26 October, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession joining the Union of India. The Indian military rushed in to back Brigadier Singh; however, just hours away from his position, he was ambushed at Buniyar and fatally wounded and died. He had held fort and repelled the invaders long enough for the Indian Army to push them back, saving thousands from a brutal onslaught. He carried out his orders to the letter, setting an unparalleled example of courage and patriotism. “If Brig Rajinder Singh had not stopped the Pakistani invaders, if he didn’t sacrifice his life, Kashmir may not have been a part of India,” says Dr Karan Singh.

Bachittar Singh – First to Receive the “Ashoka Chakra Award”

Compiled By: Shri Ramakrishna Prasad

Havildar Bachittar Singh was born on 10th January 1917 in Lopo village of Punjab and was the only child of Sardar Rur Singh. He had his education only up to 8th class, however he excelled in swimming and wrestling in his childhood.  Right from his young age Hav Bachittar Singh was a nationalist and always wanted to join the army to serve the nation. 

At the age of 17 years Hav Bachittar Singh, joined the army and was enrolled in the Sikh Regiment on 10th January 1937. After completion of his basic military training he served with his battalion in various places like Africa and Greece. He participated in the second world war also and faced the enemies in South Africa. However it was after India’s independence in 1947, that Hav Bachittar Singh proved his mettle as a soldier par excellence.

Operation Polo : 13 Sep 1948

After Independence on 15 Aug 1947, when Nizam of Hyderabad refused to join the Indian republic against the wishes of the people, India launched a police operation named “Operation Polo”, on 13 Sep 1948. 2 Sikh, the kill force of Sikh Regiment’s second battalion was given the most important task in Naldurg area, which was on the Sholapur – Secunderabad road about 19 km from the state border. Havaldar Bachittar Singh was leading the platoon.

At around 4 am in the morning, the B company of the platoon set up blockades on the road. When two vehicles were seen approaching his position Hav Bachittar Singh ordered his soldiers to fire on the approaching vehicles. There was a heavy exchange of fire but Hav Bachittar Singh in a show of bravery and leadership finally captured both the vehicles and their escorts.

On the same day enemy soldiers took secure positions and attacked his platoon. Hav Bachittar Singh with great skill and determination led the counter attack on the enemy forces. Hav Bachittar Singh was moving ahead in the face of the enemy and when he was about 30 yards away from the target, he got hit by a LMG burst in his thigh and fell. Despite in critical condition Hav Bachittar Singh, crawled forward and threw two grenades on the LMG post, and silenced it. Even though Hav Bachittar Singh was severely injured, he refused to leave the battle field and kept on motivating his men to press on the attack.

Inspired by his courage and leadership his platoon finally achieved the objective, however, Hav Bachittar Singh succumbed to his injuries and was martyred. His personal example of unsurpassed valour, grim determination devotion to duty and leadership was an inspiration to all who saw it. Hav Bachittar Singh was given nation’s first highest gallantry award during peace time, “Ashok Chakra” for his conspicuous bravery, indomitable spirit and supreme sacrifice. A college in Punjab has been named after Hav Bachittar Singh as Mahant Bachittar Singh College Of Engineering And Technology. An area in Ludhiana has been named as Bachittar Singh Nagar on Gill Road, Ludhiana to honour the first recipient of Ashok Chakra.