Kargil Vijay Diwas 2023: 24 Years On War Veteran Recalls Tiger Hill And Tololing’s Capture

Kargil Vijay Diwas 2023: 24 Years On War Veteran Recalls Tiger Hill And Tololing’s Capture

On the 24th anniversary of the Kargil War, Brigadier Kushal Thakur (retd), the then commanding officer (CO) of the 18 Grenadiers, which captured Tiger Hill, recounts the heroic action of Indian Army soldiers; shares a video online

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Tuesday, July 25, 2023, 12:55 PM IST
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24 years and the memories of the Kargil War are still fresh for the then Commanding Officer (CO) Brig Kushal Thakur (retd) of the 18 Grenadiers battalion that captured Tiger Hill and Tololing during the war. “I am filled with nostalgia and pride to think of all courageous men who fought with the utmost sincerity and patriotism to bring glory not only to themselves but also to their platoons.”

Now retired, the officer recounts the exceptional grit and courage of 18 Grenadiers that pushed back the enemy from the highest peak in the Dras sector and unfurled the Tricolour on the mountaintop of July 4, 1999.

“During the war, 18 Grenadiers were assigned the task of recapturing two prominent peaks of Tololing and Tiger Hill in the Dras sector. We had already captured Tololing on June 13-14, but the latter was a tough task,” recalls the officer, who was awarded the Yudh Seva Medal. 

An extraordinary operation 

Tiger Hill was a majestic mountainous feature at a height of 17,500 feet dominating observation that during the war interfered with the movement of troops and logistics taking place on the Srinagar-Leh Highway.

The unit employed a strategy that was the most difficult and unsuspected approach to gain the element of surprise. It was a three-pronged attack with a hook to snap the enemy supply lines and use battalion commandos, Ghataks. The heavy shelling of Indian artillery shook the enemy's defensive position and Ghataks led by Lieutenant Balwan and Havildar Yogender Singh Yadav attacked from the rear, as positioned.

“This was the most difficult strategy ever employed on an open battlefield. There was no information about the number and weapons of the enemy. We were only told about five to six Mujahideens. We captured Tiger Hill on the early morning of July 4,” says the officer. India was in a full-fledged war after over two decades. And other than the fact that the battalion was transported in a few days of preparation, there were logistic challenges. Lack of equipment, high-altitude warfare preparations, acclimatisation and of course, artillery support. 

“As my platoon of 18 Grenadiers advanced to attack Tololing, enemy sniper fire, machine gun and rocket fire and artillery fire became more and more intense. Seeing the seriousness of the situation, I asked for the help of helicopter fire from Brigade Commander Brigadier A.N Aul. As we moved forward, we came to know that a company of Pakistan's North Light Infantry was barricaded with heavy weapons above Tololing," he says.

Tololing and Point 5140 were attacked with the help of Cheetah helicopters on 24 May, and MI 17 gunship helicopters from 26 to 28 May. Major Rajesh Adhikari guided the pilots of the helicopters over the target and also fired with the machine gun himself, but due to the high altitude and the enemy moving in a reverse slope, the fire of the helicopter and the machine gun did not prove to be effective,” he recalled and shared a video clip of '50 days of Kargil War'.

He recalls that the enemy had put up such a heavy barrage that on May 27, 1999, an MI 17 helicopter was shot down by a stinger missile and all its crew were martyred. “Soon after that, the Air Force stopped all low-level ground helicopter attacks in the Kargil war. Despite all these challenges, the brave soldiers of the platoon stood firm and kept moving forward,” says Brigadier Thakur.

Setting an example of courage

No war is complete without taking a blow. While Indian soldiers inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, Nine Indian soldiers were martyred in the battle and 20 were injured. “I lost two of my brave officers besides two JCOs and 21 other ranks. The unit was supported by brave soldiers of 8 Sikh,” recalls the officer.

It is this courage and sacrifice that the Tricolour flew atop Tiger Hill on July 4, 1999. For their tenacity and unparalleled valour on the battlefield, 18 Grenadiers were honoured with a total of 52 gallantry awards, including Param Vir Chakra, two Maha Vir Chakra, six Vir Chakra and 16 Sena Medal (Gallantry), besides many other honours.

The unit was also awarded Theatre Honour Kargil, Battle Honour (Tiger Hill and Tololing) by the then President and Unit Citation by the then Army Chief General Ved Malik. In addition, every year July 26 is observed as Vijay Divas to commemorate the Kargil victory in Dras.

“As the CO of 18 Grenadiers, I had seen the professionalism of my men in counter-insurgency operations from where we were ordered to move to the heights of Kargil almost overnight. Though, every unit trains its men for conventional operations and yet when one encounters it, one can never be too prepared,” he added.

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