A saga of unparalleled valour and supreme sacrifice: A narration by Sudhir Sharma
2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal
Arun Khetarpal an alumnus of Lawerence School Sanawar and the National Defence Academy, was born on 14 Oct 1950 into a family with an illustriousmilitary tradition. He was commissioned into the famous Poona Horse often eferred to as Fakr-e-Hind. A true embodiment of the “Chetwode Motto”, the dashing young officer had sacrificed his life for the safety and honour of his country.
During the battle of Shakargarh, 17 Poona Horse was under the command of 47 Infantry Brigade. On the night of 14/15 December when engineers were clearing a minefield in a bridgehead across the Basantar, Indian troops had observed alarming Pakistani armour activity and sought armoured support to counter the threat. Despite the minefield being uncleared, 17 Poona Horse got across and linked up with the beleaguered infantry. A fierce Pakistani armour attack under a smoke screen commenced with the formidable Patton Tanks. ‘B’ squadron which came under attack was heavily outnumbered and sought reinforcements. Arun Khetarpal, a troop leader with two tanks immediately responded to the distress call. En route he encountered stiff enemy opposition and heavy fire but undeterred he kept attacking even though he lost his second supporting tank. In the meanwhile the Pakistani’s launched a second and even fiercer attack with a full squadron in the sector held by Arun Khetarpal. An intense engagement followed in which more than eight Pakistani tanks got destroyed with Khetarpal destroying four of these. In the melee of the battle two Indian tanks became casualties and Khetarpal’s tank received a direct hit and burst into flames. On being ordered to withdraw, he refused stating proudly that his gun was still intact and he would keep fighting to defeat the enemy and hit an enemy tank barely 100 meters from his position. His own tank got a second direct hit and the brave young officer died manning his crippled tank, and denied enemy victory. For this unmatched and conspicuous bravery Arun Khetarpal was bestowed with a ParamVir C akra by a grateful nation.
Major Hoshiar Singh
Born in a humble family at Rohtak, Hoshiar Singh had joined the army as a soldier. ue to his hard work and promise he was commissioned into the famed Grenadiers Regiment as an officer and saw active service in NEFA in his formative years. The 1971 war saw the battalion as part of 54 Infantry Division in Shakargarh area. As fighting entered the second week of December, 3rd Grenadiers – who were leading he divisions advance were ordered to establish a bridge-head across Basantar river, n important location in establishing control over the area. The objective was heavily mined and the troops had therefore to proceed with great alacrity.
The regimental pivot at Jarpal was one f the main targets. Hoshiar Singh the commander of the leading left assault was charged with the responsibility to attack across the enemy minefield. Under his command the company succeeded in apturing the objective in spite of intense shelling and fire from enemy strong points. The troops suffered heavy casualties in this daring operation Next day – on December 16th in keeping with their doctrine– Pakistani troops launched a fierce counter-attack to recapture their key positions. Their troops were backed and supported by armour based on US built Patton Tanks. But the men of 3 Grenadiers, led by the indomitable Hoshiar Singh were not in a mood to give up the hard won objective. Unmindful of the heavy shelling and tank fire Hoshiar Singh personally moved from trench to trench encouraging and guiding his men to hold on and thus
keeping their morale high. His company inspired by their fearless commander, repulsed the counter-attack and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. On December 17th, the Pakistani army made yet another fierce attempt to regain their
lost ground backed by heavy artillery and troops.
Though wounded seriously in enemy shelling, Major Hoshiar Singh again ontinued to move from trench to trench, often in the open to encourage his men. On one occasion an enemy shell landed near a medium machine gun post, injuring
the crew and rendering the gun inoperative. The Major, perceiving the importance
of fire support at this juncture, rushed to the machine gun pit and operated the gun himself inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
The enemy attack was repulsed, and they were forced to retreat leaving behind 85 ead, including their Commanding Officer – Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Akram Raja and three other officers. Throughout this operation, Major Singh displayed the most conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy, grim determination and indomitable spirit. His dogged resistance, complete disregard for his personal safety and cool courage so inspired his command that they performed outstanding acts of gallantry and defeated repeated enemy attempts to recapture the locality.
For this act of conspicuous gallantry in the face of enemy Major Hoshiar Singh was awarded the ParamVir Chakra by the President of India.
Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Sekhon
Another saga of outstanding bravery and devotion to duty and the love of themotherland was manifested by a soft spoken second generation humble Sikh
air force pilot in the 71 war while being deployed in the Srinagar sector. Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was born on 17 July 1943 in Ludhiana District, Punjab. He was the son of Warrant Officer (Honorary Flight Lieutenant) Tarlochan Singh Sekhon. Following the family tradition of service to the nation he was commissioned into he Indian Air Force(IAF) on 4 June 1967 as a Flying Officer. During the war, Nirmal Jit was serving with the No. 18 Squadron, ‘The Flying Bullets’ of IAF, flying the Folland Gnat fighter aircraft based at Srinagar. On 14 December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by six Pakistan Air Force F-86 – Sabre jets of No 26 Squadron from the Pakistan Air-force (PAF) base at Peshawar. Sekhon was on the
Operational Readiness Platform (ORP) duty on the runway all geared to launch
at that time. As soon as the first aircraft attacked the runway, Sekhon rolled off
for take-off as No 2 in a two-Gnat formation, with Flt Lt Ghumman in the lead,
just as the first bombs were falling on the runway. He was delayed in the takeoff
due to dust kicked up by the preceding Gnat as also the bomb debris. Once airborne Sekhon lost no time in singling out the first Sabre pair, which was re-forming after the bombing run. The Gnat Leader, Flt Lt Ghuman, lost visual contact with his wingman just after take-off, and remained out of the fight, thus leaving Sekhon to handle the aerial dogfight all by himself.
In the ensuing air battle, Sekhon scored a direct hit on one Sabre and set another ablaze, the latter was seen heading away towards Rajauri, trailing smoke Sekhon, was hit and was advised to return to the base but he continued on his mission. He is said to have flown in straight, wings level for some time, then going inverted, plummeting down, probably due failure of control system. He attempted a last-minute ejection, which did not prove successful, as his canopy was seen to fly off. The wreckage of the Gnat was found in a gorge, near the road coming from Srinagar town to the base, a few miles from the base. Despite many search efforts by Army and Air Force, his body was never found due to the mountainous terrain of where his fighter went down, much to the disappointment of comrades and the nation.
A detailed story of his effort has been narrated in a fairly detailed account by Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail of the Pakistani Air Force(PAF). His bravery and skill was also acknowledged and praised in an article by Salim Baig Mirza, the Pakistani pilot who shot him down. The bravery, flying skill and determination
displayed by Flying Officer Sekhon, against odds of 1:6, earned him India’s highest wartime medal for gallantry, the ParamVir Chakra.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, IN
While the army and the air force were displaying exemplary courage and sterling leadership the Indian Navy battling against superior gifted technology did not wish to be left behind. Its brave officers were equally determined to display their mettle in service of the nation. One of these illustrious sons of India was Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla of the Indian Navy. INS Khukri, an anti-submarine frigate commanded by Captain Mulla was deployed on the western seaboard of India, off the coast of Gujarat during the 1971 war. It was tasked to locate and destroy Pakistani submarines which posed a grave threat to shipping.
Captain Mulla was born in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and was commissioned in the Indian Navy in May 1948. In the 1971 war, he was part of a squadron of frigates of the Indian Navy operating on the western front During enemy opera- tions on the night of 9th December 1971, INS Khukri was hit by torpedoes fired
from a Pakistani submarine and it sank.
INS Khukri was a Type 14 anti-submarine warfare frigate. At the beginning of hostilities on 3 December 1971, Indian Naval Intelligence had identified a submarine lurking in the vicinity of Diu harbour about 35 miles south-west of the
port of Diu. Number 14 Squadron of the Western Fleet, Khukri along with sister
ships, Kirpan and Kuthar, were dispatched on a hunter-killer mission to seek out and destroy the submarine. One reason that prompted the decision to deploy two Blackwood class frigates which lacked modern technology was that the Indian Navy lacked sufficient numbers of airborne anti-submarine planes at that time.
INS Khukri was the slowest warship in the squadron because she was testing an improved version of the 170/174 sonar, which required to operate at slow speed
to enhance detection capabilities. That was to be her undoing. The Pakistani submarine sighted the Squadron on the evening of 8 December. It fired two homing torpedoes on a sonar approach, one of which missed Kirpan at 19:57 hrs. The second torpedo directed at INS Khukri struck its magazine at 20:00 hours. INS
Khukri was struck by three successive torpedoes before going down.
When INS Khukri was hit, Captain Mulla asked the crew to abandon the ship and without regard to his personal safety. He supervised the arrangements for rescue of his ship-mates in a very cool, calm and methodical manner.
One of the survivors from INS Khukri, Commander Manu Sharma recalled the final moments of the ship and its valiant commanding officer: “Captain Mulla pushed Lieutenant Kundan Mall and me off the bridge. We tried to take him along
with us but he refused and ordered us to jump to safety. We both jumped into the
sea from the starboard side”. Commander Sharma was swimming to safety when he caught his last glimpse of the Khukri: “The bow of the ship was pointing upwards at an angle of eight degrees and sinking slowly. I got a glimpse of Captain Mulla sitting on his chair and hanging on to the railing…” Captain, Mahendra Nath Mulla, chose to go down with the sinking ship. He refused to abandon ship, and passed his life-jacket to a junior officer in the true spirit of the “Chetwode Motto” and in doing so set an unparalleled example in leadership. He was awarded the Maha vir Chakra.
The inspiring narration is scripted by Lt Gen Sudhir Sharma, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, SM,(Retd), erstwhile of the Brigade of Guards.