My Life and Times
Raising and Command of 4th Battalion, 3rd Gorkha Rifles
Part 5 : Recce of Kargil
This continued till the Corps Commander, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, one day sent for me and after some small talk told me that he wanted me to proceed to recce the corps frontage in the Kargil Sector right up to Leh and its surroundings. I had to assess the vulnerable areas where Pakistan could infiltrate and occupy positions which could disrupt our supply routes to Leh. He was sending me on the recce because he had decided that in such an eventuality my battalion would be tasked to occupy such areas and defend them to ensure the safety of the road to Leh. He went on to say that all formations had been informed to accord me full cooperation and assistance and all commanders had been told that no questions would be asked of me. I was told not to discuss this with anyone and to start as soon as possible. I asked him whether there was any time frame for the completion of the task and what and how much I should tell the Brigade Commander. He thought for a moment and said that he would not like to tie me down but obviously the urgency did exist and he would like me to complete the task as soon as possible and would like me to leave immediately. There was no need for me to tell the Brigade Commander as his GSO1 would inform him of all that he would need to know. With that I took my leave, went back to the Battalion, and called a conference of all officers and JCOs. I briefly told them about the Corps Commander's plan for the Battalion and my going for the recce, warning them not to talk about it to anyone. I ordered two jeeps to get ready to leave next morning, one for myself and my personal staff and protection and the other to carry the wireless receiver cum transmitter with its batteries, chargers, operators etc. Three days emergency rations were to be carried as the plan was to stay attached, for all purposes, with the formations en route, who were all informed by the Corps HQ accordingly. So the next morning, carrying pack lunches, we left and reached HQ 121 Brigade well before dark. I was received by the Brigade Major, conducted to my room and after a wash and tea was taken to the Brigade Commander's office. The Commander, after shaking hands, ushered me to a chair and said, “Well Colonel, to what do I owe the honour of your visit?” I told him that I was under direct orders of the Corps Commander who had told me that the staff had issued appropriate instructions to all formations. They would be required to brief me on the current situation, the threat perception, and the steps taken to counter it. So as a first step I requested for a briefing from him after which I would take a walk to see for myself the layout. The Commander said, “All right Colonel, I have a good sand model on which I will brief you and take questions. I will also keep a patrol party on stand by to escort you to places you may like to visit. For now let's adjourn and meet at the Mess for dinner at 2000 hours.” With this we dispersed and I went to my room for a bath and change before going to dinner. I then went to the Mess for some drinks and dinner and returned to my room to sleep. My boys too were issued rum and slept well.
The next morning, after leisurely getting up, I got ready, went to the Mess for breakfast and assembled in the Sand Model Room, where the Brigade Commander carried out a briefing covering all the points mentioned earlier. At the end, when he was fielding questions, I pointed out that right on the LC we had a post, which was held by apparently a section merely to show our presence, as obviously it could not withstand an attack. Right from the Post a fairly good track came down right up to Kargil. We did not have any defensive positions along the track and the heights around Kargil, which dominated this road, were also not held. Surely if Pakistan was to attack, they could easily eliminate our posts on the L of C, roll down along the track and occupy the heights which would disrupt the supply lines to Leh. The Brigade Commander was quite unperturbed and confidently discounted such an eventuality and followed it up by saying that even if such a highly improbable situation occurred, he had adequate reserves to deal with it. I let the matter stand as it was not my job to pick holes but made a note keeping the Corps Commander's orders in view that I would have to hold the heights around Kargil with my Battalion, if sent there. After a three day stay with the Brigade, I thanked them for their hospitality, bade them good bye and started for Leh, which we reached after an uneventful journey.
At Leh I was met by the AQ, who showed me to my room and informed me that the Division Commander would see me the next morning. Next morning I was taken to the GOC's Office, where after introductions, the GOC got up from his chair, walked up to me and in a very belligerent tone said, “Well Colonel, who the hell are you and what are you doing in my Division. How on earth have you entered without my permission?” I pulled myself up and in a clear and fairly loud voice retorted, “General Sir, I am here on the express orders of the Corps Commander and he has personally told me that his staff officers have informed all formations and their commanders about my identity and what they, I repeat they, are to do when I arrive. It is not for me to say what is to be done when I arrive. In spite of this, obviously I am not welcome here. I, therefore, request the General's permission to withdraw and leave immediately”. The General, obviously used to throwing his weight around was taken aback by my retort and in a more conciliatory voice said, “Now don't get on a high horse Colonel, relax. I will take you to the Sand Model Room and brief you”. With that we went to the Sand Model Room where he carried out the routine briefing and, as usual, asked whether I had any questions. I repeated the question which I had asked the Brigade Commander at Kargil about leaving the heights around Kargil unoccupied. The General, who obviously was informed about the question by the Brigade Commander, said, “You had asked the same question at Kargil and the Brigade Commander had replied to you”. His reply on such a grave issue indicated it had the stamp of approval of this HQ also. I had no more questions and thanked him for his briefing and next day left to return back to my Battalion HQ.
After another uneventful journey, on reaching my HQ, I collected all the notes I had made and went off to see the Corps Commander and asked him when he would like to see my report. He asked what I was carrying and when I told him that they were my notes from which I would make my report, he took them from me, tore them to pieces and threw them into the waste paper basket. He turned to me and said he was not interested in any report and did not require one. He was only interested to know whether I had identified the areas which would become vulnerable in case of an attack. I briefly told him that the heights around Kargil were the most vulnerable areas and if my Battalion was to be sent I would occupy those heights. He seemed quite satisfied and told me to plan and prepare accordingly and in due course even carry out recce of the area with my company commanders.
It has occurred to me that the reader may wonder how a Lt Col was able to build such a rapport with senior officers of the rank of Lt Gen, far above his rank and status. Let me clarify that when the British decided to leave India there was no shortage of Indian officers of the rank of Capt and Maj to replace them. However, in the senior rank of Lt Col and above there was an acute shortage. For example, when I was posted as DAAG Bombay Area, the Chomu brothers were both at least 10 years senior to me. Nevertheless Bhagwati was DQ and his elder brother, Umrao Singh, was AQ. It was only later when the British senior officers were being replaced that they jumped one or even two ranks from Maj/ Lt Col to Brigadier and Major General Similarly Bikram Singh was a Major and then Lt. Col , when I knew him and hence the rapport.