The 47th anniversary of the first battle for the Kargil heights fell on May 16-17. Not a battle involving large forces on either side or decisively changing the course of history, but significant nevertheless as it changed Indian attitude in a most positive way, ultimately leading to the strategic victory of 1971.
In the summer of 1965, Pakistan occupied a few posts overlooking the National Highway 1-A, from where they were interfering with the flow of traffic to and from Leh by firing on vehicles carrying supplies to troops in Ladakh. After the Indian army's defeat in the 1962 war with China, the morale sagged dangerously. What didn't help things was a less-than-spectacular showing against Pakistan's 8 Division in Kutch (April 1965). Then army chief JN Chaudhary and western army commander Harbaksh Singh put their heads together to come up with an offensive, morale-boosting exercise.
The 121 (Independent) Infantry Brigade Group holding the Ceasefire Line (superseded by the LoC in 1972) in the area was instructed to capture the posts known as 13620 (as per the military practice of naming positions in the mountains after the heights they were at) and Black Rocks. Accordingly, 4 Rajput, the only infantry unit available, was tasked to capture the posts, with Bravo Company (Gujjars) going for 13620 and Alfa Company (Rajputs) set to attack Black Rocks.
Capt Ranbir Kang, hailing from a military family of Patiala, who had been posted out of Bravo Company, insisted on going into action with his old company a request which was agreed to by the commanding officer (CO), Lt Col Sudarshan Singh, after some persuasion. After the usual recce and preparation on May 15-16, 1965, the troops started the arduous climb up to the staging points for the assaults at 1900 hours (7pm) on May 16.
Reaching the FUP (Forming Up Place where troops organise into assault formations for an attack) around 2am on May 17, the Bravo Company immediately launched the assault, Capt Kang leading with his platoon. The enemy (a platoon plus of the Karakoram Scouts, now regularised as the Northern Light Infantry) fired from their positions 300 metres away on top of a steep slope.
A combination of the heavy enemy fire, fatigue from the gruelling climb and the cold (the FUP was covered in snow, making the Rajputs in their OG (olive green) uniforms easy to pick out) made the attack falter a bit. Here the leadership and courage of the company commander, Major Baljit Singh Randhawa from Isapur (Amritsar), came into play.
Snatching a light machine gun, he leapt forward, exhorting his troops to capture the enemy post. With a sudden rush, the Bravo Company surged forward capturing the objective. Major Randhawa was tragically killed, taking a full burst of a Pakistani JCO's carbine while clearing a bunker.
He was awarded a richly deserved MVC. Capt Ranbir Kang was wounded and was awarded a Vir Chakra. Alfa Company was shot into Black Rocks by fire support from the 4.2 inch mortars of my father, Maj Gen KS Bajwa's unit, 85 Light Regiment.
This small battle's significance lies in the fact that for the first time India shed it's attitude of passivity in the face of an aggressive enemy and resorted to a belligerence of it's own a refreshing change of attitude which paid rich dividends when faced with the test of reacting to Pakistani moves in East Pakistan in 1971. The morale of the Indian Army soared considerably after this victorious episode which again helped curb Pakistan's aggressive designs a few months down the line. For 4 Rajput it was another chapter in their continuing saga of glory.
The Punjab Govt was good enough to name a road in Amritsar in the memory of the hero, Major Baljit Randhawa. Colonel Ranbir Kang (as he is now) lives in Mohali where he's currently working on a history of his family's martial glories. His father, the late Brigadier Sukhdev Singh won the Military Cross in Burma and the Vir Chakra in the First Kashmir War (1947-48) while serving with and later commanding 1st Patiala Rajindra Sikhs. The spirit of the handsome, gallant Major Randhawa continues to guide Bravo Company, 4 Rajput in all their endeavours.
Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra has taken over as the new GOC-in-C, Western Command. Commissioned in June 1974 via the NDA/IMA route he is a second generation Rajput Regiment officer, his father who retired as a Major having served with 17 and 20 Rajput (the old Jodhpur Sardar Infantry now 24 Mech). Commissioned in 17 Rajput he commanded the Regiment's 16th Battalion in counter-insurgency operations in the North-East and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) for his work.
As a Lieutenant General he commanded X Corps which defends the semi-desert area in Southern Punjab and North-West Rajasthan and was later Military Secretary at Army HQ dealing with postings, promotions and careers of officers. On Sunday, the 24th he was welcomed to the Tri-City by the Rajput Regiment of which he is Colonel through their local Association in their usual classy style as befits a senior regiment of the infantry with a long and splendid history .
A gala dinner was organised at the Hotel Crowne Plaza attended by a host of serving and retired officers of the Regiment and its associated units like 4 Guards (formerly 1st Rajput) and 13 Mech (formerly 18 Rajput). One wishes him a meaningful tenure as Army Commander.
2nd Field Regiment
2nd Field Regiment is less a unit than an emotion. Raised on 15th May 1940 it boasts of two honour titles namely those of Point 171 and Letse (honour titles are the artillery's equivalent of the infantry, cavalry and engineers' battle honours).
Raised with South Indian, Maratha and Sikh Batteries it became a 100% Sikh unit in line with the post-World War 2 decision of the Indian Artillery to have only one-class units. Becoming an SP Regiment in 1946 it has seen a wealth of new equipment over the years.
Unlike most Indian entities the Regiment has been well served by a first class, detailed history of the unit written by it's former CO, Lt Gen Anjan Mukherjee currently the professional head of the Artillery as it's Director General. Later General Mukherjee wrote, 'The God of War - History of the Regiment of Artillery 1966-1999' a mammoth well-written book on the arm which has the maximum number of people in the Army sporting it's cap-badge. The Regiment can boast of having produced a large number of senior officers. Truly have all ranks lived up to their Regimental motto, 'Har Maidan Fateh'.