Extracts From A Commando War Diary
Major General O P Sabharwal, SM, Special Forces
The team spirit, commitment and camaraderie that exist among the officers and men in a commando unit is exemplary. They work as buddies and in smaller groups and teams. They are elite troops for whom nothing is impossible. A special breed of soldiers, who live dangerously and believe In “ who dares wins”. These commandos are fearless and ready to sacrifice their lives willingly in the line of duty. The killer instinct they imbibe, and the indomitable will to succeed along with ruthless execution of the task in hand to achieve their objective is their hallmark. It is, in fact this killer instinct in them which always turns even a hopeless situation into a winning one.
Captain K C Padha
Lt -Col O P Sabharwal,SM the commanding officer visited military hospital Jammu on 3Dec 1971 in the morning to meet Keshav who was admitted there being extremely unwell and was running a temperature of 103 degree F.
Knowing that the war clouds were gathering at an alarming rate, Keshav became oblivious to his discomfort.How could he be missing from his commandos when war was around the corner? He pleaded with his Commanding Officer to get him discharged from the hospital. However his Commanding officer told him to stay put in the hospital till he fully recovered.
The 1971 Indo Pak war began the same evening at 6-30 PM. Keshav made a decision. He took it upon himself to leave the hospital after scribbling a note that he was leaving the hospital on his own WILL to join his unit. He then hitchhiked all night to join his commandos in Chhamb, Soon this Group of 9 PARA SF witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the war. For a crucial period there were no Indian Forces deployed between the Commando Group and the Akhnoor Bridge.
The next morning while going around the trenches around 3am the commanding officer was surprised to find Keshav sitting in one of them with other commandos.
‘ What are you doing here keshav you should have been in the hospital’?
‘ Sir, I could not stay in the hospital, I wanted be with my men in battle’.
Sabharwal touched his forehead, Keshav was still running high fever.
Such is the mettle of which commandos are made off. Keshav indeed is one of the finest.
Capt K I Kumar
Capt Kiran Kumar was a cheerful and a popular young officer. The epitome of physical fitness he was always ahead of others in the grueling physical fitness tests.
The Commando unit was camping in Jhindra four miles from base of Vaishnodevi temple. This officer on every Sunday mornings would run up to Vaishnodevi offer his prayers and run down and only then had his breakfast.
Kiran was posted in Bhutan as part of the IMTRAT training team mission, just three months before the war began. As the political situation deteriorated, he wrote to the commanding officer six letters and made a few telephone calls to get him back to the unit. His heart was with his commandos and his unit.The commanding officer despite his best efforts could not get Kiran back as he was posted in a foreign country.
Kiran was a very determined soldier, a great mountaineer of Everest fame.He took 20 days leave and flew back to New Delhi at his own cost, which was in those days equivalent to his three months salary. He managed to join the unit on 11 Dec 1971 during the battle of Chhamb.
‘Reporting to you for duty Sir, please give me an operational task”.
Captain H S Lidder
Hardy Lidder, a very intelligent, well read and well informed officer was posted as instructor in the commando wing of the The Infantry School at Belgaum.
He too, took 20 days Leave and joined the unit in battle, and performed exceptionally well.
By and large units are always short of a few officers, but here I was with two officers more than my authorized strength. I as the Commanding Officer, just sent a signal to the Military Secretary’s Branch saying that I have taken Capt Lidder and Capt Kiran Kumar on my unit strength. I wanted to make sure that in case of any battle casualty they would be well taken care off.
First battle causality
The First battle casuality during war was 2/Lt Shashi Khanna in the Chicken’s Neck.
The CO ordered that he be evacuated to MH Udhampur. In the Bn rear Sub Major
Balwant Singh Katoch, who was managing the Bn rear informed the ladies about this. All officers wives and a few commandos wives led by Mrs Kamini Sabharwal rushed to the MH Udhampur. They reached the hospital even before Shashi Khanna arrived.
They informed the doctors, “ all our commando casualties we would like to do the nursing part and we also have 20 ladies blood donors with us”.
Major Sudhir Kumar Walia, AC,SM
Sudhir, was ADC to the Army Chief, Gen Ved Malik when the Kargil war started in 3 May 1999.Sudhir walked upto the Army Chief and said “ Sir I may please be relieved of the duties as your ADC. WHY ? “ Sir I wish to be with my commandos during war. Gen Malik was not happy but let him go. Sudhir left the comforts of the office of a Army Chief in South Block, New Delhi and was on his way to join his unit in Kargil at the height of 9500ft. He just got two days time to acclimatised, get his snow clothing fitted and he was tasked to capture Zulu 1 at the height of 19000 ft. The objective was captured during the wee hours of 25 july 1999. The next day,19 FF of the Pakistani army raised a white flag and sought permission to carry their dead away. From Kargil Sudhir was on his way to Kupwara District of J & K for operations against the terrorists.
Around 4 a.m on 29 Aug 1999 Sudhir located a terrorist camp. After positioning his men, Sudhir took it upon himself and his buddy Naik Kheem Singh to crawl forward in the direction that voices seemed to be coming from. Sure enough, a well camouflaged hideout was located with about twenty militants stood a few feet away.
What happened next was a study in daring and determination. Sudhir and his buddy carried out a ferocious charge and killed six terrorists and wounded a few. Sudhir was wounded, bleeding profusely continued giving instructions over the radio to ensure that no terrorist escapes.
Sudhir, was an amazing young man and exceptionally gifted soldier. His
Plans were simple but his execution was determined and bold.His ruthless courage, indomitable will drove him to lead from front.He could sing in dozen Indian languages. Sudhir died as he lived—with courage, honour and pride. Sudhir is no more but the grateful Nation will always remember this hero with gratitude.
Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, VC, PVSM
Gen Bhagat called me in his office and said “In Northern command where ever I go I hear good things about you and your commandos but I was amazed when my counter part from Pakistan Lt-Gen Hameed Khan told me that the Indian Commandos have been very effective, their raid at Mandhol was a success, in which Pakistan lost six guns and 26 Pakistanis were killed/wounded”. I told him, we lost 2 commandos and 11 were wounded on our side.
Gen Bhagat “ When an enemy whom you are ready to kill in battle appreciates your action, that is the highest award for a soldier. My heartiest Congratulations, send me 50 names, I would like to award 50 Army commanders Commendation cards to your commandos”.
In the annals of military history, it must be some kind of a record, for one unit on one day to get 50 Army commendation cards !!
It was Gen Prem Bhagat who had raised the HQ Northern Command in 1972.9 Para commandos was placed directly under his command.
Towards end 1972 there was a war game in HQ 15 Corps in Srinagar in which I was I was present.
Mrs Indira Gandhi arrived at Srinagar and Gen Bhagat received her. The following conversation took place between them. Mrs Gandhi to Gen Bhagat “ Prem, I can make you Governor of any state you want, or I can send you as Ambassador to any country you wish to go to but I cannot make you the next Army Chief”. Gen Bhagat to Prime Minister “ Indira, till yesterday I thought I was going to be next Army Chief What happened ?”. Indira Gandhi did not reply. We learnt later that a few secretary’s of Govt of India had sent a note to Mrs Gandhi that Gen Bhagat was a very strong man, and extremely popular with all ranks of the army and could take over any Govt whenever he wished.
A very unfair remark. The politicians and bureaucrats would do any thing to keep a strong General out of the way. After Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw perhaps it would have been very difficult for bureaucracy to handle equally strong General Prem Bhagat.