Col SP Singh was initially made responsible to surround and siege Tiger Hill by taking up position in penny packets all around it to cut off its supply line, but it posed problems of command and control and therefore, the plan was amended.
By Col SC Tyagi, Kargil Veteran
Close to the Line of Control, Tiger Hill, almost 16,000 feet high, is an imposing peak. It presents a beautiful view when seen from Dras – the second coldest inhabited place in the world with temperature coming down to minus sixty degree Celsius during winters. Srinagar-Leh National Highway is five to six Km away from it. The only way to climb it is to go across the LoC and come from behind. In the month of May 1999, as soon as the red alert for Pakistani intrusion was sounded, Tiger Hill’s importance stood out but being a little distance away from the National Highway, it was felt it could be tackled later after the Peaks overlooking the Highway, such as Tololing are cleared.
8 SIKH was one of the first few battalions that had arrived at Dras; a cluster of huts on the highway 6-7 Kms short of Kargil. Col SP Singh was initially made responsible to surround and siege Tiger Hill by taking up position in penny packets all around it to cut off its supply line, but it posed problems of command and control and therefore, the plan was amended. Lest the enemy comes down closer, one of the Companies was immediately detached and dispatched to the slope coming towards the National Highway and occupy a height known as Point 4460. The next day the rest of the battalion moved to Sando Post east of Tiger Hill at a height of 13,000 feet and planned to link up with the Company at Point 4460. Movement beyond Sando Post was interrupted by the enemy suddenly springing up from concealed positions and furiously firing upon them killing two of the leading men and injuring more than a dozen. The battalion fought back and dug in there itself. They evacuated the injured back.
The next day one of the companies was ordered to move to west of Tiger Hill via a place known as Parion-ka-Talab. The area was glaciated with massive snow all around. It was mid-day and movement was slow, Pakistanis were once again waiting for them and suddenly opened up with automatic fire. Heavy firing resulted in a melee and scramble that lasted till late evening. Ultimately, the team had to extricate itself but in the bargain Lt Kannad Bhattacharya and few other soldiers went missing or dead. The Company was beefed up the next day and the fighting continued for the next ten days but the bodies of dead soldiers were not recovered until almost a month later. Since the priority was given to Tololing and other Peaks such as Point 5140, the SIKHs were asked to remain invested with Tiger Hill and strengthen their cordon by linking up with Point 4460. The Tiger Hill remained surrounded for rest of the period.
After the capture of almost all the dominating heights in this sector including Tololing, Point 5140 and all other features on the Ridgeline right up to the LoC, at last the turn of the Tiger Hill came in the early days of the month of July. This time multidirectional attack was planned and 120 artillery guns were pooled in to pulverize the top before the assault. Two battalions were tasked, one of them was 8 SIKH itself and the other was 18 Grenadiers under Col Khushal Thakur. By now it was clear that the enemy had deployed heavy weapons to cover the southern and western approach to Tiger Hill and the enemy was using the western approach for their logistics and supply. The approach had important areas where enemy was expected, these were named by own troops as Top, Collar, India Gate, Helmet and Rocky Knob.
8 SIKH was to go from the western approach while 18 Grenadiers was to use the eastern side with Major Sachin Nimbalkar’s company leading the assault. Another company was given the task of confusing the enemy by firing from the south as if the assault was building up from that side. Lt Balwan led his Ghatak team and using his mountaineering skills he climbed up from the east and reached the Top. The ruse had worked as planned, the enemy had gone to southern side expecting the assault coming up from that direction. Lt Balwan was joined by Major Nimbalkar shortly. Tiger Hill Top was back with India but the enemy was present in full strength in other bunkers spread all over in Collar India Gate, Helmet and Rocky Knob. Soon the enemy counter attack was expected and it did come with a ferocity shortly thereafter, but it was beaten back.
The next night Collar was addressed by the Ghatak Team but the enemy was alert and had gathered more men, they caused heavy casualties. Seven men of Ghatak Team were killed. Grenadier Yoginder Singh Yadav lay injured with them but pretended dead when the enemy came and fired on the dead once again. Badly injured, he later crawled back to safety. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his most daring act in the face of the enemy.
It was the turn of 8 SIKH to advance the attack and link up clearing the enemy from the western approach. By 5th July India Gate and Helmet were captured by Major Ravindra’s Company in which the leading troops under Lt Sehrawat suffered heavy losses. These men were sandwiched between two enemy localities – Collar and Rocky Knob and heavy enemy counterattack could come anytime. Remembering the famous battle at Saragarhi, these men vowed to repeat it; even if they were all butchered and they would not vacate the Post – an assurance was given to the Commanding Officer on the Radio sets. It was one of the fiercest and desperate bid by Pakistan Army. The counter attack was led by Capt Kamal Sher Khan (later awarded Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest gallantry award). Both the sides suffered very heavy casualties but India Gate held on and finally the victory was achieved by the Indian side.
It was the turn of Collar and Rocky Knob to be addressed and the enemy was expected to take up the last stand there. The attacks were launched but the enemy had already suffered heavy losses including that of the Company Commander, the resistance therefore was weak and the final mopping up was carried out. Complete Tiger Hill complex was back in our hands. Pakistanis had fled leaving behind their dead and large amount of rations, weapons and ammunition to last out for long. Tri-color fluttered freely on all the Posts in Kargil and ceasefire was declared.
(Col SC Tyagi has authored several books and the book “The Kargil Victory: Battles from Peak to Peak” is based on his personal experiences during the Kargil War. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)