Tag Archives: gallantry awards

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.

Babru Bhan — warrior Who Annihilated Karachi Harbour

Babru Bhan, affectionately known to all simply as Babru, was born into a military family at Bharawas village in Gurgaon district of then undivided Punjab. Bharawas is now in Rewari district. Babru grew up listening to the stories of valour of ‘Veer’ Ahirs from his father Major Bhagwan Singh, a decorated soldier who served with distinction in the British Indian Army and was awarded the Order of British Empire (OBE) during World War I. Young Babru knew he was destined to be a soldier. He did his matriculation from BS Ahir High School, Rewari. He graduated in the science stream from the prestigious St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and was selected as a Direct Entry Graduate. He served onboard HMS Devonshire as Midshipman for two years and was commissioned into the Indian Navy, the multi-dimensional combat force for blue waters tasks, on January 1, 1951.

Babru was quick at uptake and ever exuberant and was soon learning the nuances of the sea warfare. His brilliant aptitude at all matters of marine did not go unnoticed by his superiors. With just four years into service, Babru was nominated to attend the Anti-Submarine Warfare course in the United Kingdom in 1955; a specialised course done mostly on front line ships. As Commander (equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army), Babru Bhan had a one-year challenging tenure on missile boats in the USSR.  Commander Babru Bhan became an anti-submarine warfare specialist and with one year on missile boats, he was considered most suitable to command a frigate.

With war clouds hovering, Commander Babru Bhan, on December 2, 1971, was given the command of 25th ‘K’ (Killer) Squadron composed of three missile boat task force, namely INS Veer, INS Nipat and INS Nirghat. And who knew just two days later, during the 1971 war with Pakistan (Operation Cactus Lily), the Karachi harbour would be witness to the onslaught and fury of this Killer Squadron led by daredevil Babru Bhan. The Killer Squadron led by Babru Bhan annihilated the Karachi Harbour with a fleet of just three missile boat task forces. Commander Babru Bhan was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his conspicuous act of bravery in the face of the enemy against all possible odds during the 1971 war on the western water front. He was the first recipient of Maha Vir Chakra in the Indian Navy.

The summary of gallant action in Naval Archives reads…

.On the night of December 4, 1971, Commander Babru Bhan as Squadron Commander of a three missile boat task force was ordered to carry out an offensive sweep on the enemy coast of Karachi. The Karachi harbour, being strategically important, was heavily guarded by the enemy. With a narrow mouth covered by formidable coastal defence, the harbour seemed impregnable. Notwithstanding the threat of surface and submarine attack by the enemy, Commander Babru Bhan, onboard INS Nipat, led his squadron deep into enemy waters and encountered two groups of large enemy warships. Despite heavy fire from the enemy destroyers and at great risk to his personal safety and of his personnel, Commander Babru Bhan fearlessly led his squadron towards the enemy in a swift and determined attack. In that daring Indian marine assault, two enemy destroyers (ships) and one minesweeper were sunk. After completion of the mission assigned to his task force, and before sailing back to Bombay, Commander Babru Bhan bombarded the Karachi harbour and fearlessly sailed back, leaving the harbour in flames. Babru Bhan was promoted to the rank of Captain and in turn to Commodore (equivalent to Brigadier in the Army) a year later. Before hanging his Navy Whites, Commodore Babru Bhan had an eventful two-year tenure as Deputy Director General, National Cadet Corps (NCC), in Chandigarh looking after the NCC in Punjab, Himachal, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Commodore Babru Bhan never married. Even after retirement, he remained wedded to his first and only love — the Indian Navy. He breathed his last on January 22, 2010. 

The CRPF Braveheart Who Shot Dead 3 Terrorists in Parliament Attack

A son of a CRPF inspector, Santosh Kumar also joined the forces, aspiring to make his father proud. Just six months after his training, he would be right in the middle of the action, shooting down three out of five terrorists who attacked the Parliament House in December 2001. Santosh Kumar, a native of Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, was just 21-years-old when he was posted at Delhi’s Parliament House. A little disappointed that he was not in the middle of action, Kumar was still just as vigilant at his duty. Six months after his training in Neemaj, Rajasthan, he battled terrorists who attacked the political elites of India.

It was close to noon on the fateful day of 13 December 2001. The Parliament house in Delhi had been adjourned for 40 minutes but about a hundred people, including the political elites, were still in the building. L K Advani, the Home Minister at the time, and Jaswant Singh, the then Foreign Minister, were just two of these VVIPs. A white ambassador with a red-batti (light) entered gate number 11 of the premises. As soon as CRPF’s Kamlesh Kumari observed that the passengers in the car were heavily armed, she alerted other CRPF personnel and security guards on her walkie-talkie.

Constable Sukhwinder Singh was at the gate and he perceived the terrorists and shot at one of them who was wearing a suicide bomb. The bomb exploded, killing the terrorist and saving the lives of many others. The five terrorists were dispersing in the premises, posing more and more danger to the politicians inside the building, but for the bravery of then constable D Santosh Kumar, fresh from his training at the CRPF, who was stationed at gate 6.

 “As soon as I heard burst fire, I knew it was an attack,” he told The Times of India, adding, “I took position behind a tree and soon saw three terrorists running towards gate number 9. They wanted to enter [the] parliament, but as they were being fired at from the other side, they were forced to take position near the gate.” From here, Kumar aimed at the three terrorists, shooting them one after the other. Recalling the incident, he tells India Today, “The time when they could barely see me, even I did not have a very good view of them, but I could see their chest and abdomen and knew what had to be done…”

He shot two of them, taking refuge to reload his gun before aiming at the third.  “The third understood my location and fired at me from his AK-47. By then, my bullet had pierced him as well,” he adds. The fifth and the last man was running towards the Parliament building’s gate 5. But constable Shyambir Singh had marked the target and gunned him within three minutes of Kumar killing three terrorists. 

The terrorist attack was countered by these courageous officials, even as the terrorists killed nine people, including the security personnel and a gardener. The troopers also successfully stopped the attack from expanding inside the Parliament building and posing a direct danger to the political elites. The four CRPF constables who shot the terrorists–Sukhwinder Singh, Y B Thapa, Santosh Kumar and Shyambir Singh–were rightfully awarded the Shaurya Chakra and promoted in their services.

After fighting the terrorists in December 2001, Santosh Kumar went on to counter naxals in the forests of Dantewada, in Chhattisgarh. A master marksman, he defuses live bombs too. He was also posted in Jammu and Kashmir, but says that after the terrorist attacks in Delhi, he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to fight militants. Even as his wife and young daughter eagerly wait for his infrequent calls, the CRPF official looks forward to serving his country just one more time.

Col Santosh Mahadik Laid down Life Bravely Fighting Terrorists

Colonel Santosh Mahadik was born on 15th January 1977 in Pogarwadi in the city of Satara in Maharashtra. Son of a dairy farmer, Col Mahadik grew up to be a keen sportsman and was a champion boxer, goalkeeper, and runner. He completed his education in Sainik School, Satara in Maharashtra and later went on to join the Indian Army in December 1998. In the Army, he got trained in various disciplines and became a very adept paratrooper and combat underwater diver too.

Col Mahadik volunteered for the para training and got trained as a para-commando. He then served in the 21 Battalion (Parachute Regiment) as part of special forces known for its daredevil operations. As an officer of the elite 21 Para-Special Forces unit, Col Mahadik led many successful operations against militants in their hideouts in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast for over a decade. He was awarded the Sena Medal in 2003 for his bravery and leadership in counter-terrorist operations, during Operation Rhino in Lolab Valley in Kupwara. In the later part of his service career, Col Mahadik took over as commanding officer of 41 RR unit deployed in J & K for anti-insurgency operations.

During 2015, Col Santosh Mahadik as Commanding Officer of the 41 Rashtriya Rifles was engaged in anti-terrorist operations in the militancy infected Kupwara area of J & K. The 41 RR was deployed in the Kalaroos area and was also the garrison guard for Kupwara town. Under the operational command of the Trehgam-headquartered 68 Mountain Brigade, the battalion provided the security cover against the militants sneaking from across the border. Col Mahadik was a leader par excellence and always led from the front. On 13th November, he led an operation in the forests of Haji Naka in the Kupwara district near the Line of Control. The Kupwara operation was particularly challenging because of the inhospitable terrain, but Col Mahadik chose to personally lead his men in the operation.

It was believed that terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba were active in the region. For a week, the terrorists, who had crossed the border, had been hiding in the Manigah forest. On 17th November, another operation was launched led by Col Mahadik himself to foil the attempt of the terrorists to infiltrate. During the combing operation the suspected infiltrators were spotted and on being challenged they opened fire at the troops. A fierce gun battle ensued with heavy exchange of fire from both sides. During the operation Col Mahadik got shot in the chest was critically injured. Gravely wounded, he was rushed to a military hospital in Durgmulla where he succumbed to his injuries. Col Mahadik was martyred but his bravery, indomitable spirit, and leadership were truly inspirational. He was conferred the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peace time gallantry award for his valour and self-sacrifice.

 Besides being a brave soldier that he was, he was also an intellectual who wished more than anything to revive the natural beauty of Kupwara and revive tourism. He reconstructed old monuments and organized football and cricket matches to build bridges with the local community. He felt revival of tourism was the way, the youth could be given employment and diverted from radicalization. He would personally counsel ex-militants and show them the path to a new life.Colonel Santosh Mahadik is survived by his wife and two children. He had told his wife Swati not to wear any white cloth if he attains martyrdom in the line of duty but to adorn herself with olive green uniform he wore till his last. As a tribute to her hero husband, she set out to join the army herself. She successfully cleared the SSB (Service Selection Board) exam and joined the Officers Training Academy in Chennai, where she trained for 11 months before joining the service as Lieutenant in 2017.

A Militant-Turned Soldier Who Won Ashoka Chakra

In the early 90s, Nazir Ahmad Wani was a young boy who weaved Kashmiri carpets like an expert artisan for a monthly salary of few hundred rupees. Then, armed insurgency broke out in the Kashmir Valley and soon, like most of the villagers of this south Kashmir area, Nazir Ahmad Wani and his friends struggled to find work.

Nazir, instead of becoming a militant like many teenagers those days, joined a pro-government militia led by Javed Ahmad Shah, a notorious, government-backed commander of a private militia, in late 1994 out of his free will. It was the same time when three former militia groups merged and formed Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a dreaded militia that evoked fear among people for their brazen and often deadly ways. The militia was created to break the back of the militancy. But in 2002, when Ikhwan was disbanded by the state government led by late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Nazir was among thousands of Kashmiri’s who struggled to find a livelihood. Two years later, he joined 162 Infantry Battalion of Territorial Army of Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry in 2004, like most of his friends.

The citation of the Medal read, “Since his enrolment in the Army, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, SM, epitomised qualities of a fine soldier. He always volunteered for challenging missions, displaying great courage under adverse conditions, exposing himself to grave danger on numerous occasions in the line of duty. This is evident from the two gallantry awards conferred on him earlier.

Lance Naik Nazir, yet again insisted on being part of the assault team during Operation Batagund launched by 34 Rashtriya Rifles Battalion on 25 Nov 2018 post receipt of credible intelligence regarding presence of six heavily armed terrorists in Shopian district of Jammu and Kashmir. Tasked to block the most likely escape route, Lance Naik Nazir, moved swiftly with his team to the target house and tactically positioned himself within striking distance. Sensing danger, the terrorists attempted breaching the inner cordon firing indiscriminately and lobbing grenades. Undeterred by the situation, the NCO held ground and eliminated one terrorist in a fierce exchange at close range. The terrorist was later identified as a dreaded district commander of Lashker-e-Taiba.

Thereafter, displaying exemplary soldierly skills, Lance Naik Nazir closed in with the target house under heavy fire and lobbed grenades into a room where another terrorist was hiding. Seeing the foreign terrorist escaping from the window, the NCO encountered him in a hand to hand combat situation. Despite being severely wounded, Lance Naik Nazir eliminated the terrorist. Showing utter disregard to his injury, Lance Naik Nazir continued to engage the remaining terrorists with same ferocity and audacity. He injured yet another terrorist at close range, but was hit again and succumbed to his injuries. For displaying unparalleled bravery and supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, SM is awarded “ASHOK CHAKRA (POSTHUMOUS)”. He is Kashmir’s first Ashok Chakra awardee.  It was love at first sight for Mahajabeen, wife of Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, when the two met at a school in South Kashmir around 15 years back. Nearly one-and-half months after Wani’s death, Mahajabeen, a teacher and mother of two, said, “His immense love for her and fearless persona are a source of motivation for her. “I did not cry when I was told he is no more. There was an inner resolve which did not allow me to cry,” she said after the government announced the Ashoka Chakra. “He always wanted to make his 162/TA Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry battalion proud. For him, duty was supreme. He was a source of inspiration for people in our area and community,” said Mahajabeen, who is in her late 30s. An army goodwill school in the Kashmir Valley was renamed “Shaheed Lance Naik AGS Wuzur” in memory of .Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani.