Lest We Forget Our Heroes...

Who is in post-independence, the highest decorated Soldier of the Indian Armed Forces? How many of us know answer to the above question? I don’t think, more than handful would know, at least none so far, I have asked for!

Lest We Forget Our Heroes...
‘Old soldiers never die, Never die, never die, Old soldiers never die, They simply fade away.’

The song is a British Army’s Parody!

There are countless stories of valour and sacrifices in the annals of the Indian Army against heavy odds. Who can forget Saragarhi, Badgam, Rezang La, Walong, Tiger Hill and endless such like battles? Sadly, humans are made such, that they forget the past glory and history faster than the new one is created.

A few years back, one of our Battalions was located in NCR on way to UN assignment and had sent ceremonial guard for the newly constructed Rezang La War Memorial on 18 Nov, the Rezang La Day, where I, as the former officer of the Battalion (13 Kumaon) was invited too.

There were two young Captains in ceremonial dress, and I asked them what the function was about and both replied, ‘some battle was fought about which they do not know much’ was being celebrated! Needless to say, I introduced them self and gave them bit of my mind telling them they must know all the battles and awards our Regiment has won to project amongst the international UN Peace keeping mission. For that, we all must have working knowledge of our regimental history and heritage!

Incidentally, till now 1,358 Victoria Crosses (VCs) created in 1838 have been awarded so far and only three people have received the Victoria Cross twice, and of these, two were surgeons – Arthur Martin-Leake FRCS and Noel Chavasse MRCS.

29 Indians were awarded VCs and numbers would have been much more as Indian troops were not originally eligible for the VC being under the British East India Company and not under the Crown until 1860. In an unprecedented gesture, at a time when gallantry awards were not given posthumously, the 21 martyrs of Saragarhi were awarded the Indian Order of Merit class III, on a par with the Victoria Cross.

After independence, for the exceptional bravery and sacrifice, Param Vir Chakra (PVC) that replaced VC after independence, has been awarded 21 times, of which 14 were awarded posthumously and 16 alone from actions in Indo-Pakistani conflicts. Of the 21 awardees 20 have been from the Indian Army (IA), and one has been from the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Pictures of 21 PVC awardees

Likewise, the peace time equivalent of the PVC is the Ashok Chakra (AC) so far awarded to 92 personnel (67 posthumous), including the only woman awardee late Neerja Bhanot, the youngest awardee, away from the battlefield, as the head purser of Pan Am Flight 73, sacrificed her life saving passengers on board hijacked by Muslim terrorists at Karachi airport on 5 Sep 1986, just two days before her 23rd birthday.

The Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) is the second highest gallantry award that replaced Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and 224 brave hearts have been awarded this medal so far. Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath, was an officer in the Indian Air Force was the first of the six officers to have been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra, twice called bar to the award.

Lately, MVC was awarded to Col Bikumalla Santosh Babu, 16 Bihar, posthumously in Galwan episode. There are 496 Kirti Chakra (KC) awards including 198 posthumous so far that is peacetime equivalent of the MVC. No Bar has been awarded for PVC, AC & KC so far. There have been over 1334 Vir Chakra (VrC) awards and 2152 Shaurya Chakra (SC) awardees and lists keep increasing regularly.

My own, ‘The Kumaon Regiment’ is one of the highest decorated Regiments of the Indian Army having won 2 PVCs, 4 ACs, 10 MVCs, 6 KCs, 2 UYSMs 78, VrCs, 1 VrC & Bar, 23 SCs 1 YSM, 127 SMs, 2 SMs & Bar and many distinguished service medals and two Battalions 13 and 15 Kumaon awarded ‘Bravest of the Brave’ citation and trophy which is awarded to units winning 2 PVC or 2 ACs or a PVC and an AC.

Nation SALUTES MVC & Bar

Left to right- Colonel Chewang Rinchen, Wg Cdr Jagmohan Nath, Maj Gen Rajinder Singh Sparrow, Gen AS Vaidya, (former COAS), Wg Cdr Padmanabha Gautam & Brig Sant Singh.

The Britishers, as our predecessors, meticulously jotted their war histories in the regimental war diaries but we Indians, who copied and modelled our armed forces on their model, have not learnt this essential trait in documenting our military ethos. Sadly, while I celebrated 239th Raising Day of my Battalion 2 Kumaon (Berar) while commanding it in Gandhinagar on 27 Oct 1984; I was invited as the former CO for the 239th Raising Day again in Fort Williams during 19-20 Feb 2018. So much so for our recording of Battalion’s history.

Who is in post-independence, the highest decorated Soldier of the Indian Armed Forces?

Col. NJ Nair, AC, KC (Posthomous)

How many of us know answer to the above question? I don’t think, more than handful would know, at least none so far, I have asked for! Col NJ Nair, born on 17 Feb 1951, in Ernakulam, Kerala, (popularly called ’NJ’), an alumnus of the Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala/ NDA /IMA was commissioned into 16 Maratha Light Infantry (16 MLI) in Jun 1971.

He was instructor in the Intelligence School, Pune and graduated from the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington and had a tenure in Bhutan. While his unit was deployed in Mizoram in anti-insurgency operations, on 13 Feb 1983, NJ led the operation and flushed out insurgents in close quarter combat successfully and was awarded the Nation’s second highest peacetime gallantry award, ‘Kirti Chakra’ for displaying exceptional gallantry and leadership in the face of the anti-national elements (ANEs).

During 1993, Col Nair’s while CO 16 MLI was deployed in insurgents infested area in Nagaland. On 20 Dec 20, 1993, while leading an advance party of the convoy in Nagaland they were was ambushed by about one hundred insurgents in a pre-planned attack using automatic weapons and managed to kill 1 JCO and13 jawans on the spot.

Col Nair too got injured in the attack but did not lose courage and took charge of the situation and motivating his command, while carrying an injured soldier, charged through the ambush, forcing the insurgents to retreat. He later succumbed to his injuries and was awarded the nation’s highest peacetime gallantry award, ‘Ashok Chakra’ for his outstanding courage and supreme sacrifice; thus proudly making him the highest decorated soldier of the Indian armed forces!

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Another Old Soldier Fades Away…!!!

Another soldier almost forgotten is Lt Col Kaman Singh Pathania, MVC. Born on 23 Apr 1917 in Village Surajpur in Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh, he was married to Mrs Daya Wanti and blessed with 3 sons (two retired as Colonels) and very few know him beyond his command of 3 Garhwal Rifles (GARHRIF).

Not many Dogra, Garhwali, Kumaoni or Assam Rifles personnel know that besides 3 GARHRIF, he commanded 6 Kumaon, 6 Assam Rifles and 3 Kumaon (Rifles). He commanded four infantry battalions with distinction in his illustrious but short military career, earned mentioned in dispatches and MVC and died in harness with his boots on while commanding 3 Kumaon (Rifles). Many don’t know that he was commissioned in 5 Dogra in Dec 1940 and took over command of 3 GARH RIF on 15 Feb 1947.

On 18 May 1948, during the Kashmir operations, 3 GARH RIF less one company was given the task of securing the Trahgam ridge. Lt Col Kaman Singh himself conducted this attack against very heavy resistance. He went up to his forward platoons and led the attack personally, encouraging and cheering his men.

Again, on 17 June, his battalion less two companies were given the task of carrying out a raid on a strongly held position on the Buni ridge beyond Tithwal. In spite of heavy enemy fire, the attack, although uphill, was carried out with such dash and speed that the enemy fled in utter consternation leaving behind many dead and wounded. But the enemy having rallied put in three successive counterattacks with large numbers. All these attacks were repulsed by the company with heavy losses to the enemy, including one Lt Col killed.

Throughout the operation Lt Col Kaman Singh's handling of his battalion was tactically very sound and his leadership and personal example of courage and determination were of a very high order.

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History of the Kaman Bridge Post

The bridge was constructed in 1906 on Khaliane Da khas KDK) Nala along the cart road alignment Muzaffarabad-Srinagar, which converted to motor-able road. In 1947 the marauding Kabailis invaded valley through this axis and when chased back by the Indian Army, the fleeing Kabailis destroyed the bridge.

After ceasefire in 1948, the LOC was delineated along the KDK Nala, and Kaman Post was established adjacent to bridge by Lt Col Kaman Singh Pathania awarded much deserved MVC for his bold action in 1956.

Once the decision to commence the bus service and barter trade was taken, the bridge was repaired and named Aman Setu and rightly renamed as Kaman Aman Setu (Kaman Peace Bridge) on 4 Jan 2006to honour the Garhwali brave heart. Ironically, though there is hardly any aman or peace in this highly volatile sector due to sporadic enemy firing from across the LOC and Pak sponsored terrorists’ infiltration.

After the command of 3 GARHRIF, Lt Col Kaman Singh Pathania, MVC was posted to 6 Assam Rifles (6 AR) and commanded the Battalion with distinction from 3 Jun 1953 to 12 Jun 1956. In those days, long command tenures from one unit to another and inter regimental postings were not uncommon and according to the ‘Valour Triumphs’, page 224, Para 3 the official Regimental history of the Kumaon Regiment: -

‘During March 1955 the unit (3 Kumaon (Rifles) had moved to Upper Khorpara with picquets at Nagina I and II. On 3 Jul 1956, Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC, returned from extra-regimental employment with Assam Rifles and took over the battalion. A day later, the battalion moved to Mahura to relieve 3 Guards.

Three of the rifle companies occupied Unfortunately, the strain was too much for him and on the evening of July 15, Lt Col Kaman Singh died of a heart attack while on a visit to one of the picquets, the Regiment losing a very fine officer’ the picquets, and the battalion commander began to pay them visits to things for himself.

While talking to Maj Gen SR Bahuguna (Retd), he nostalgically recollected serving under him as a 2 Lieut. In the end, I would like to thank my friends Lt Gen (Dr) MC Bhandari, PVSM, AVSM**former COR of the Garhwal Rifles for many inputs, my regimental officer

Brig AK Sharma Commander 21 Sector in the Assam Rifles and Mr John S Shilsi, Manipur Police daredevil highly decorated Naga Officer. John was my colleague in the Intelligence Bureau and a dear friend, who volunteered for a tenure in J&K as the Passport Officer in those turbulent times nearly 2 decades back and often officially visited the Kaman Post and asked me its significance!

And yes, I plan to carry out many more such stories of chivalry to motivate our posterity!

About the Author

Col NN Bhatia was commissioned into the 13 Kumaon in 1963. He commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), which is one of the oldest Indian Army Battalions. After retiring from the Army, he served in the Intelligence Bureau for nearly a decade, specializing in industrial security and conducted security audits of a number of vital installations.

He is a freelance Industrial Security Consultant and a prolific writer on military and industrial security matters. He is deeply involved in the release of 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails since the 1971 War. He can be contacted at Email: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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