Brigadier MPS Bajwa commanded the 192 Mountain Brigade in the Kargil conflict. In an interview, he tells The Indian Express how he almost missed the war but when inducted, his troops gave Indian Army the biggest victory in the battle for Tiger Hill. Excerpts:
Please tell us the interesting manner of your Brigade HQ moving in from the valley for the Kargil conflict?
The initial thinking was why to induct all the formations together. The first one to be rushed in was Brig Devinder Singh with 70 Infantry Brigade. Subsequently, when the situation started going out of control then 56 Brigade under Brig Amar Aul was inducted by mid-May and by June 1 the 8 Mountain Div HQ moved in. I had shed off my battalions including 13 JAK RIF and 3/3 GR from my brigade which had been inducted. My Brigade HQ was the last one to come. Initially, 56 Brigade was being given battalions. I started getting battalions after battalions who were on the move. Then, the 6 Mountain Division poured in. He said, “Bajwa I want you to be with me because I have been given some task in Tangdhar”. So every day I used to see something new happening. Finally I called up my GOC and just told him that I am moving in with my HQ because the war was being fought somewhere else and I had been left out. So as late as June 25, I moved in.
What task were you given when you arrived in the area?
I was very happy that I had been finally inducted. Maj Gen Mohinder Puri my GOC told me to re-take Tiger Hill and that the task must be done in a couple of days. I said alright. I did not want to pose any question since with great difficulty I had come to the battlefield. As I was going around the area next morning, I came under shelling and almost got buried under the ground. I also got down to making the plan for the battle. Instead of four battalions which we had initially planned the final task, came down to 18 Grenadiers and 8 Sikh.
Tiger Hill was the most iconic objective of the conflict. Can you give out briefly how its re-capture was planned?
We decided to approach the top from the most difficult side. I selected the ghatak platoon of 18 Grenadiers for the task and got the mountaineers from high altitude warfare school to train them. The GOC was sceptical saying it was a very difficult task. I also selected 8 Sikh for a tough task saying that it was upto him to live upto the reputation of the regiment. We selected 52 men with two officers and four JCOs to be held in reserve. These are the men who turned the whole battle. Let me tell you it was 8 Sikh which turned the tide of the battle. Let anyone say otherwise. I also got tremendous support from Artillery firepower of the Bofors as that was the only asset I could play with.
Is it true that Tiger Hill battle was a see-saw one with fierce re-attacks by Pakistani troops?
Full credit must be given to the 18 Grenadiers, particularly Lt Balwan Singh, who led the men of Gatak platoon and climbed to the top. He was later given Mahavir Chakra while Yogender Yadav got Paramvir Chakra. These men reached the top but came under heavy fire from the Pakistanis, who had made well entrenched defences. This was when the 8 Sikh troops were pushed in and they kept hanging on at the top. I gave them a motivating talk on the radio and told them not to given an inch in face of repeated Pakistani counter attacks. They lost 14 men in the Pakistani counter attacks and both their officers were wounded and all four JCOs killed.
This is the battle for which Pakistani officer, Capt Karnal Sher Khan got Pakistan’s highest gallatry award. Please give some details.
When the Pakistani counter attacks were taking place, I was told by one of the 8 Sikh JCOs that a tall well built Pakistani in track suit was motivating his men for repeated assaults and this was causing a problem for them. I immediately said that he was an officer and that he should be neutralised in order to crush the attacks. Let me tell you that our troops were on the verge of being pushed off the top when with one big effort they gave a war cry, charged and killed this Pakistani officer and his companions. 30 Pakistanis were killed in this fight and the rest retreated giving us a famous victory. Capt Karnal Sher Khan fought very well rallying his men. We must appreciate this. I also told my GOC that the boy fought very bravely.