Tag Archives: gallantry awards

The Kargil Hero Who Closed His Eyes Only After Seeing the Indian Flag Once Again on Tololing Top

June 21, 1999 was his 30TH birthday, and he spoke to his family members over phone. Little did they know that it would be his last telephone call. Seven days later, on June 28, 1999, the family of Major Padmapani Acharya received a phone call from the Army, saying that he had fought bravely in Kargil and was no more. Smt.Charulatha Acharya, his wife, was six months pregnant when her husband passed away. It is impossible to feel the pain what she would have undergone then.

On 28 June 1999, in the battalion attack on the Tololing feature by the 2nd Rajputana Rifles, Major Padmapani Acharya as a Company Commander, was assigned the formidable task of capturing an enemy position which was heavily fortified and strongly held with mine fields and sweeping machine gun and artillery fire. This was a very strategic position as it overlooked the Srinagar Leh highway. It was at an altitude of 5,000 metres, and the enemy was positioned on the hill top, showering bullets. Success of the battalion and brigade operation hinged on the early capture of this position. However the company attack almost faltered at the very beginning, when the enemy’s artillery fire came down squarely on the leading platoon, inflicting large numbers of casualties.

With utter disregard to his personal safety, Major Padmapani Acharya took the reserve platoon and led it through raining artillery shells. The risks were huge and so were the causalities but achieving his mission was his sole purpose. Even as his men were falling to enemy fire, he continued to encourage his men and charged at the enemy with the reserve platoon up the steep rock face. Unmindful of the hail of bullets from the enemy’s bunker, Major Padmapani Acharya crawled up to the bunker and lobbed grenades. Severely injured and unable to move, he ordered his men to leave him and charge at the enemy while he continued to fire. The battle of Tololing Top was fierce and night long but in the end, Major Acharya’s team succeeded in recapturing Tololing Top. The dynamism, raw courage, personal example and supreme sacrifice of Major Acharya enthused the troops and the Knoll was quickly overrun, providing the Battalion its foot hold on ‘Black Rock’.

Many say that this win was pivotal and turned the course of the kargil war. As for the great Indian hero, he closed his eyes only after the Indian flag was flying high once again on Tololing Top.  He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra award.

Padmapani was born in Odisha and had shifted to Hyderabad. He then joined army under the training and inspiration of his father, Jagannath Acharya. His father belonged to the retired wing commander of the Indian Air Force during the years 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. Padmapani was a resident of Hyderabad and then was married to Charulata. And his sole inspiration remained  his father, the way he serves the motherland and his dream of serving and securing the people of the motherland in a similar way.

Padmapani’s mother Vimala Acharya recalls her son as a jovial person and a voracious reader. “As a mother, I am definitely sad and hurt but as a patriot, I am proud of my son. He lives forever, whereas I will not. He made me promise that I would not cry when he left for the front,” she says. Despite the supreme sacrifice made by their elder son, the family’s tradition in serving the Armed forces continues. Padmasambhav Acharya, younger brother of Major Padmapani Acharya, is a colonel with the Rajputana Rifles. He  was a captain in the Indian Army in 1999 and was a part of Operation Vijay in Kargil. A road, called Major Padmapani Acharya Marg was named in his honor which leads to Major Acharya’s house in Hyderabad. The events of Battle of Tololing was adapted as one of the prominent battle scenes in the Hindi war film LOC Kargil in which actor Nagarjuna portrayed the role of Maj Acharya.

The Tiger of Skardu Who Stoutly Defended the Fort for Six Months

Sher Jung Thapa was born on June 18, 1908, at Abbotabad, in present day Pakistan. His parents, simple Gorkhas that they were, relocated to McLeodganj, near Dharamsala, in the present day Himachal Pradesh, long before partition. Following the footsteps of his ancestors, Sher Jung, too, by choice, preferred to be a soldier. His loyalty to the state of Kashmir and the capability to command and lead the men did not go unnoticed. Sher Jung was commissioned into the 6th Battalion of the Jammu & Kashmir Infantry on August 16, 1932. By the time partition happened, Sher Jung, as a Lieutenant Colonel, was commanding the battalion he was commissioned into.

In August 1947 at the time of invasion of Jammu and Kashmir by the Pakistani lashkars, the entire northern frontier of Jammu and Kashmir state from Bunji to Leh, approximately 200 miles (excluding Gilgit Agency) was manned by the 6th Battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Infantry Regiment (6th J&K ). After the fall of Bunji in early November 1947, the Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa’s command, was ordered to move to Skardu with as many troops as possible.

On February 11, 1948, Skardu was attacked and surrounded by approximately 600 strong tribal lashkar. The enemy’s attack was beaten back by the 6th J&K under the determined leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa. Unable to capture the Skardu fort, the enemy laid siege to the fort, which continued for six months. Despite dwindling rations, ammunition, shortage of water, lack of medicines, heavy casualties and overwhelming odds, the enemy’s repeated attempts to capture the fort were thwarted every time inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. It all happened under the dynamic and inspiring leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa.

After going through the siege for long and when no help could be rendered from outside, Lieutenant Colonel Thapa was asked by Major General KS Thimayya, General Officer Commanding 19 Infantry Division to surrender. Lieutenant Colonel Thapa, like a typical Gorkha, stoutly opposed the offer and with total disregard to his personal safety, continued to hold on to the fort steadfastly.

On the fateful day of August 14, 1948, the gallant survivors of 6th J&K, utterly exhausted and on the verge of starvation, out-numbered 5 to 1, without ammunition, ration and any hope of succor from outside, had no alternative but to capitulate. This ended the siege of Skardu fort, which had kept a superior enemy at bay for six months and three days. For his gallant action and inspirational leadership, Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. After formal declaration of the cease fire on the night of January 1, 1949, Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jang Thapa and his men were repatriated to India.

After the war with Pakistan ended in January, 1949, the 6th J&K was re-designated as Jammu & Kashmir Militia and merged with the 14th battalion, which fought the Chinese gallantly in Ladakh sector during the 1962 India-China war. Thereafter, it was demoilised and the troops were absorbed into the Dogra Infantry battalions. Sher Jung Thapa, the Tiger of Skardu, the Maha Vir, whom the sons of the soil affectionately refer to simply as ‘Himachali Thapa’, superannuated on June 30, 1962, after attaining the well-deserved rank of Brigadier. His courageous life came to an end on 25th February 1999.

Captain Neikezhakuo Climbed Kargil’s Icy Slopes Barefoot to Defeat the Enemy

Fondly addressed as Neibu by his family and friends, and Nimbu Sahab by the north Indian soldiers who served under him, Captain Neikezhakuo Kenguruse was born in Nerhema village in the district of Kohima. Neibu’s father, Neiselie Kenguruse, was a grade peon in the government. Deeply religious and anti-war, he initially didn’t want his son to join the army but Neibu convinced him that the honour of serving in the armed forces far outweighed the risks that the job entailed. After graduating from the Kohima Science College, Neibu served as a teacher at a Government High School in Kohima before being commissioned into the Indian Army on December 12, 1998.

In 1999, when the Kargil war started, Capt. Kenguruse was a junior commander in the Rajputana Rifles battalion. For his determination and prowess, he was made the lead commander of the Ghatak Platoon of his battalion. Only the most physically fit and motivated soldiers make it into the dreaded Ghatak platoon that makes up the first wave of Indian Army’s counter forces. On the fateful night of June 28, 1999, Capt. Kenguruse’s platoon was given the responsibility of taking out a strategic machine gun post held by the enemy on a cliff face, the Black Rock. Heavy gun fire from this position had been hindering the battalion’s progress in the sector for days.

As the commando platoon scaled the cliff, they came under intense mortar and automatic fire from above. As a result, the team faced heavy casualties with Capt. Kenguruse being shot in the abdomen. Undeterred by the injury, he urged his men to carry on with the assault. On reaching the final cliff face, the platoon was halted by a sheer vertical rock wall that separated them from the enemy post. To ensure that his platoon was able to climb this sheer cliff, he secured a rope for his men but his boots kept slipping on the icy slopes that hung at an obtuse angle. It would have been easy for him to retreat and get medical help but the profusely bleeding Capt. Kenguruse decided to do something incredibly brave.

At a height of 16,000 feet and in the bitingly cold temperature of -10 degrees Celsius, Capt. Kenguruse kicked off his boots. Using his bare feet to get a grip, he somehow climbed up freezing cliff while carrying a RPG rocket launcher with him. Once on top, Capt. Kenguruse fired the rocket launcher at the seven Pakistani bunkers that stood before him. They replied with a hail of gunfire but he kept firing till he had decimated the bunkers. Two enemy soldiers from a nearby bunker rushed towards him, and he tackled them with his commando knife in hand-to-hand combat. He single-handedly downed two more infiltrators with his rifle before a volley of bullets blew him off the cliff. But his daring act had done enough to ensure that his troops would go on to capture the position.Capt. Neikezhakuo Kenguruse was just 25 when he single-handedly neutralized the crucial enemy position before breathing his last. In his last letter to his father Capt. Kenguruse had written, “Dad, I may not be able to return home to be a part of our family again. Even if I don’t make it, do not grieve for me because I have already decided to give my best for the nation.” For his unmatched courage and supreme sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the only soldier from the Army Services Corps (ASC) to have received it. Captain Kenguruse’s death had as much an impact as his life.When his body arrived in Dimapur, thousands lined the road to his village, where he was buried with full military honours. Three decades of insurgency was forgotten as Nagaland united with rest of the country in grief.

Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla Personified Courage and Selflessness

The year was 1971. As dusk fell on December 3, at 5.45 PM, the Pakistan Air Force attacked six Indian airfields. The same night, IAF Canberra aircrafts struck Pakistani airfields as ground battles immediately commenced in nearly every sector. The Indo-Pak War of 1971 had begun and soon enough, Indian Navy too joined the battle. Two days later, on December 5, the Indian Navy detected the presence of a Pakistani Daphne-class submarine in north Arabian Sea — it was about 16 nautical miles from the coast of Diu. Acting immediately, the Navy directed its anti-submarine frigate squadron to locate and destroy it.

And so, on December 8, INS Khukri (commanded by Captain Mulla) and INS Kirpan sailed out of Bombay towards the location, unknowing of the tragedy that was to befall the former ship. On December 9, INS Khukri (an Indian anti-submarine frigate of the F-14 squadron) was hit by torpedoes from Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor that had detected its approach. What made the Indian vessel an easy target for enemy torpedoes was the presence of an experimental sonar equipment aboard that had been specially deployed for research.

The limitations placed by this equipment had drastically slowed down the movement of the Khukri to the submarine-detectable speed of 12 knots. Also, Khukri‘s sonar set could detect only up to 3,000 yards and it was no match to the Hangor that could fire from distances of nearly six kilometers. As such, the Khukri began taking on water at a rapid pace after it was hit and it started sinking within minutes.

With time running out fast, Captain Mulla decided to abandon his attempts to save the ship and began overseeing rescue operations that would ensure that his crew was safe. Aware that the majority of his men were trapped below deck, he personally began helping as many as he could even though he was injured and bleeding from the head. In those defining moments, Captain Mulla could have saved himself easily. But the incredible leader man chose to give his own life-saving gear to another sailor. Such was his courage and strength of character that he then went back to the bridge to direct as many of his men as possible to leave the ship before going down with his ship.

In fact, throughout the crisis, the man from Uttar Pradesh was calm, composed, and resolute. Several survivors would later recall having seen their Captain Mulla at the bridge, holding on to the guard rail as the ship slipped below the dark waters. And so the Khukri sank to its watery grave in the Arabian Sea, taking with it 176 sailors, 18 officers, and braveheart captain. 67 men survived — they were rescued by INS Katchal next morning. It remains the only (and hopefully the last) naval ship that India has ever lost during a war. Captain Mull also remains the only Indian captain to go down with a vessel. For his conspicuous gallantry and dedication to duty, he was posthumously honoured with the Maha Vir Chakra.

What Captain Mulla did in those last moments did not just lift the morale of Khukri’s surviving crew but of the entire Indian armed forces for years to come. The manner in which he died upholds the highest the traditions of the armed forces and exemplifies the upper limits of cold courage. He believed that the nation comes first, that the men he commands come next, and his safety comes last.” The martyrs of Khukri have also been honoured by the Indian Navy with a memorial at Diu. It constitutes of a scale model of the INS Khukri encased in a glass house and placed atop a hillock facing the sea. Interestingly, Captain Mulla was not the only member of his family with an exemplary sense of responsibility. His wife, Sudha Mulla, spent the year after the sinking of the Khukri single-mindedly taking steps to ensure that the families of all the deceased crew members were rehabilitated.

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.