Capturing Tiger Hills – 10th Anniversary

10 years ago i watched Burkha Dutt shiver when ever a shell was fired from the Bofors, Barrel launchers being fired from an amazing 4km distance which used to hit the peak of the Tiger hills with amazing precision. A cold and a tense night that followed on 4th July captured the imagination of the entire nation. It was on this momentous day was the Tiger Hills at Kargil captured from enemies 10 years ago.

10 years ago i watched Burkha Dutt shiver when ever a shell was fired from the Bofors,  Barrel launchers being fired from an amazing 4km distance which  used to hit the peak of the Tiger hills with amazing precision. A cold and a tense night that followed on 4th July captured the imagination of the entire nation.  It was on this momentous day that the Tiger Hills at Kargil was captured from enemies.

Life has changed a lot since then. But when ever one sees the visuals of the Bofors firing right in front of the Tiger hills next to the NH1 or watching the below video, one gets to know the true meaning of fear and value for life. As the Jawan says in the interview,  when he faces the enemy its a flash that appears in front of him. It has all the frames of his childhood, love, happiness. But that stays on for a fraction of a second as he realizes its the call for duty and if not at that moment then the very existence of the jawans is of no use. These words give an insight into the thought process of Indian soldiers and every time i see that i get goosebumps.

It was a classic War Journalism with lots of emotions and fearless reporting. It gave some of the most memorable shots of the war. The following video is an extract from the interview which Barkha took during the night of the assault.

Following is the opinion of By Gen V.P. Malik (retd) from MEA, India

Source : http://meaindia.nic.in/opinion/2002/07/26o05.htm

The capture of Tiger Hill: a first-hand account
By Gen V.P. Malik (retd)

Three years ago, on July 26, 1999, we declared successful completion of Operation Vijay, India’s fourth war with Pakistan. The Pak army’s initiative in the Kargil sector, taking advantage of the terrain, climatic conditions and the ‘militancy’ cover plan , achieved a tactical surprise. But when the Indian military juggernaut got moving, it took little time to expose Pakistan’s lies, operational and strategic weaknesses, and its wrong assumptions about the Indian military. The Pak army could not cope up with the Indian military reaction. It failed at the operational and strategic levels, and thus ended up with adverse politico-military consequences for Pakistan.

Operation Vijay was a military and diplomatic victory made possible by selfless courage, unshakable devotion to duty and high professionalism of Indian soldiers and their leaders under adverse terrain, climatic and tactical conditions.

There were two turning points during the Kargil war: capture of Tololing that started the ‘turn in the tide’, and the capture of Tiger Hill, which was a physical and psychological blow to Pakistan and ‘end in sight’ for us. What follows is the story of the capture of Tiger Hill on July 4-5, 1999.

Tiger Hill is 5062 metre high with sharp conical features, which stands majestically among the mountaintops a few kilometres north of Dras. One cannot miss it, or help admire it, as one drives along National Highway 1A (NH 1A) from Zojila to Kargil. During the Kargil war, it was a delight for photojournalists as it provided some of the best pictures of that war. Tiger Hill was picturesque, dominating and difficult, and soon became a war symbol to every one in India!

From Tiger Hill, the enemy (Pak troops of 12 Northern Light Infantry, supported by Special Services Group, artillery and engineers) had a clear view of NH 1A from the Dras transit camp to Bhimbat, and the road leading to Marpola on the Line of Control (LoC). They could effectively interdict vehicular movement on these roads with observed artillery fire. It was clear to us from the beginning that unless Tiger Hill and Point 4875, which is located 2 km to its South-West, were secured, movement along NH 1A will never be safe. Although Point 4875 was closer and dominated a larger stretch of NH 1A, Tiger Hill occupied by the enemy was a lot more difficult to attack.

In the second week of May, 1999, 8 Sikh moving from Udhampur to the Kashmir valley was diverted to Dras. On arrival, the Brigade Commander launched the unit into battle without acclimatisation and snow clothing to clear Tiger Hill. The unit suffered heavy casualties in its attempt to get close to the objective. It was then ordered to occupy dominating heights on the South-Eastern part of Tiger Hill, and to the North in the area called ‘Parion ka Talab’. We did not make any further attempts to capture Tiger Hill for the next six weeks till we had cleared the approaches and were fully ready for it.

On 27 June 1999, I visited Headquarters 8 Mountain Division and 56 Mountain Brigade at Dras. That evening, 2 Rajputana Rifle was preparing to attack Three Pimples, another very difficult feature west of Tololing. To encourage the unit and to wish it good luck, I asked the Divisional Commander, Major-Gen Mohinder Puri, if I could be connected on the telephone to Col Ravindranath, its Commanding Officer. The Commanding Officer with his small party was then located near the Forming Up Place (FUP) for the assault. Ravindranath was taken aback when he learnt about the telephone call from the Chief. He spoke to me in whispers, probably due to close proximity of the enemy. I enquired about the battalion and wished him and his men good luck in their mission.

After speaking to Ravindranath, I asked Major General Puri what his next objective would be. As expected, he said that 192 Mountain Brigade was preparing to attack Tiger Hill and Point 4875 after a few days.

In India, a COAS does not get involved at the tactical level unless a very serious situation requires his intervention. To do the latter, he has to go through or override the laid down command and control channel of Command, Corps, and Divisional Headquarters. The COAS keeps an eye at the tactical level, assists and advises at the operational level, and works at the military strategic and politico military levels. I deliberately did not ask Major General Puri about the D Day because after committing a date, he and his Corps Commander would feel it necessary to keep me informed about changes, if any. (Next day, to my horror, a TV network journalist announced to the world that the Army planned to attack Tiger Hill over the weekend!). I enquired if he had adequate information, artillery and logistic support. Did he need anything? He said that in order to concentrate artillery fire support, he would tackle these objectives one by one, which I thought was a sound decision.

Tiger Hill extends about 2200 metres from West to East and about 1000 metres North to South. The main extension is towards West on which there are two prominent protrusions. The first, approximately 500 metres West of Tiger Hill, had been named ‘India Gate’, and the second, another 300 metres to the West, was called ‘Helmet’. Approximately one company of Pakistan 12 Northern Light Infantry held the whole feature. 18 Grenadiers along with 8 Sikh, which were already in the area, were tasked to capture Tiger Hill on the night of 3/4 July, 1999. They were provided a team of the High Altitude Warfare School, adequate artillery, engineer and other support. The Air Force too engaged Tiger Hill on 2/3 July 1999 and had several bull’s eyes on its missions.

The assault began at 1900 hours on 3 July 1999 with direct and indirect firing by artillery. It was a multi-directional infantry assault. 8 Sikh provided the firm base and engaged the enemy from ‘obvious’ approaches as part of a deception plan. 18 Grenadiers moved towards the objective from the South and North East. The weather assisted the battalions in achieving surprise. Lt. Balwan Singh led the Ghatak Platoon (Commando) of 18 Grenadiers on the most difficult, North-Eastern Approach. His Platoon make use of the rope to reach the top of the Tiger Hill at 4.30 hours and totally surprised the enemy that had already suffered due to heavy artillery shelling and air attacks. In t he ensuring hand-to-hand fighting, the enemy lost 10-12 personnel. 18 Grenadiers suffered six fatal casualties. Grenadier Yogendar Singh Yadav, who was in the lead on the rope, and wounded badly, earned India’s highest gallantry award of Param Vir Chakra. The Ghatak Platoon with some reinforcements firmed in on the Tiger Hill top, but throughout the day came under enemy fire from the Western Spur. This position (Western Spur) was cleared by a very gallant and highly motivated action by 8 Sikh on the night of 4-5 July, 1999. They beat back a fierce counter-attack led by two Pak officers on the early morning of 15 July 1999 and also captured ‘India Gate’ and ‘Helmet’.

In New Delhi, I remained anxious all night till Lt. Gen Krishan Pal, GOC 15 Corps rang up at 0600 hours on July 4, 1999 to inform me that 18 Grenadiers had reached the Tiger Hill top and heavy fighting was going on. After consulting him and the Director General Military Operations, we decided to wait for confirmation from General Puri. At 0730 hours, General Puri spoke to me and confirmed that the enemy would not be able to dislodge 18 Grenadiers from the Tiger Hill top. By then the Defence Minister was on his way to Amritsar. When he landed at Amritsar airport, I gave him this exciting news. I also informed the Prime Minister, who was going to address a public meeting in Haryana at 10 am.

July 4, 1999, was an important date because the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Nawaz Sharif, was to meet President Clinton later in the day. We made sure that the whole world came to know about the capture of Tiger Hill, and thus the likely outcome of the Kargil war.

It was a hard psychological blow to the enemy who, to start with on July 4, denied even the existence of such a feature and labeled the entire operations as a figment of the imagination. Whereas this victory broke the back of the entire Pak resistance. In India, a wave of jubilation and relief overtook the mood of the people. This was the greatest victory of the Kargil war.

A war is the ultimate test for the armies and their soldiers. Victory in a war is achieved because battles are won. At the cutting edge of every battle, it is the military skills of the troops, camaraderie, regimental spirit, and above all, the will power and resolve which determine victory.

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