Death isn’t the only extreme condition a soldier faces. Another equally grave situation is when he is confronted with the possibility of either losing his battalion or his “izzat”, which lies in upholding his superior’s command. I faced something similar back in 1972.
At the height of the war against Pakistan, I commanded the 5th Battalion of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles in Kargil. Our battalion captured a number of enemy pickets including the famous Hathimatha, which had defied capture for a long time. Our battalion was even awarded in recognition of our performance.
After the war, we had a new brigade commander, who was keen to test our battle readiness. He sent us on an exercise to Taglang La, on the Leh-Manali highway. The road leading up to it passes through some of the most treacherous terrain in the world. Taglang La is situated at a height of nearly 19,000 ft above sea level. Our battalion was given the task of capturing the pass.
It was the end of August and the days were sunny and bright. While preparing for the exercise, we had excellent weather. Therefore, when we launched the ‘attack’ on the night of August 28, 1972, all ranks of the battalion, including myself, were not wearing snow boots. However, when the battalion was in the FUP (Forming Up Place), it started snowing heavily. The blizzard was so severe that the surroundings looked like a white sheet and the landmarks couldn’t be differentiated. The temperature fell below zero degree Celsius. A couple of the boys collapsed and had to be moved to improvised bivouacs and small arctic tents, where we kept the stoves burning to keep them warm. The blizzard worsened and we were in grave danger of perishing. The company commanders insisted we either return to base or at least to the safety of the road down below.
I was in a fix. The reputation of my battalion was at stake. How could I abandon the task allotted to me without clearance from the brigade commander? After all, it was a test exercise conducted under simulated battle conditions. At the same time, I was staring at the possibility of losing lives.
The brigade commander, who I apprised of the grave situation, asked us to stay put. After a while, the blizzard began reducing and gradually, landmarks became visible. Our battalion captured the pass and completed the exercise.
Brigadier DS Jaggi (retd) is a regular Rush reader.