“Shell Shocked” in Kargil

The Regiment of Artillery has covered itself with glory in numerous battlefields, the latest being Kargil. While during World War-I it earned fame at Mesopotamia and France, during World War-II its performance at Bir Hachiem, Gazala, Meiktila and Cassino has been legendary. During the post-Independence wars it also showed its mettle in the operations of 1948, 1962, 1965 and 1971. The battlefields of Chushul, Basantar, Khaki Tekri and Picquet 707, among many others, stand in mute testimony to the fury, zeal and the unflinching devotion to duty of the Gunners. With uncanny ability to rapidly switch from one target to another and, thus, neutralising large areas of the battlefield with heavy concentrations of fire in quick succession, the Artillery has truly lived up to its motto: sarvatra izzat-o-iqbal (everywhere with honour and glory).

The performance of the Artillery units which fought heroically at Kargil in 1999 during operation Vijay was splendid. The Indian Artillery fired over 250,000 shells, bombs and rockets during the Kargil conflict. Approximately, 5,000 ordnance were fired daily from more then 300 guns, mortars and multi-barreled rocket launchers (MBRLs). During the peak period of assaults, on an average, each Artillery battery fired over one round per minute for 17 days continuously. Such high rate of fire over long periods had not been witnessed anywhere in the world since World War-II. The Gunners soon developed blisters on their hands from carrying and loading heavy shells and cartridges incessantly. Very few of them got more than a couple of hours’ sleep in 24 hour-cycle.

After the pockets of enemy intrusion were discerned, it emerged that massive and sustained firepower would destroy the intruders’ sangars (temporary fortifications made of rocks and boulders) and systematically break their will to fight through a process of attrition. Thus began a unique saga in the history of the employment of Artillery firepower in battle. Artillery fire reduced the enemy’s defences to rubble and gradually wore down the enemy’s resistance and ultimately broke his will to fight. Additional Artillery regiments were inducted into the Kargil sector to achieve a preponderance of firepower supremacy over the enemy. The Artillery units soon made and coordinated plans for high-intensity fire assaults with infantry battalion and brigade commanders. Counter bombardment (CB) and counter mortar (CM) plans were made and fine-tuned to silence the enemy’s guns. Maximum use was made of air photographs to accurately locate enemy gun positions and other key targets deep inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). These were then fired upon relentlessly and damage assessment was carried out through aerial reconnaissance. Meanwhile, the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) troops holding defences on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) were allowed no rest and were kept constantly on edge through continuous harassing fire.

With one hundred guns in concert, Tololing was the first major ridgeline to fall on June 13, 1999 in the Dras sub-sector. Thereafter, Points 4590 and 5140 were captured after several weeks of bitter fighting and simultaneous multi-directional attacks. The 105 mm Indian field guns (IFGs) and 155 mm Bofors medium guns fired in the direct firing role, destroying all visible enemy sangars. The capture of the Tololing complex paved the way for successive assaults to be launched on the Tiger Hill complex from several directions. Within the space of a few days, Point 4700, Knoll and Three Pimples were captured. After a series of multi-directional assaults preceded by accurate and sustained preparatory bombardment by the Artillery, Tiger Hill was captured on July 5. Point 4875 another dominating feature to the west of Tiger Hill, jutting into the Mashko Valley, was captured on July 7. Once again, over one hundred guns delivered murderous fire assaults and over 1,200 rounds of high explosive shell rained down on Tiger Hill in five minutes, causing large-scale death and devastation.

Here again, the Indian Gunners fired their guns audaciously in direct firing role, under the very nose of Pakistani Artillery observation posts (OPs), without regard for personal safety. Even the 122 mm Grad MBRLs were employed in direct firing role. In India’s first televised battle, hundreds of shells and rocket warheads impacted on the pinnacle of Tiger Hill in full view of TV cameras and the nation watched in rapt attention. In recognition of the significant contribution made by the Artillery regiments that participated in this battle, Point 4875 was re-named as Gun Hill – a unique honour bestowed on the Artillery. Due to the massive employment of all available firepower resources to decimate the enemy’s defences, 18 Grenadiers, the heroes of Tiger Hill, suffered only a handful of casualties during the final assault.

While the nation’s attention was riveted on the fighting in the Dras sector, steady progress was being made in the Batalik sector. In this sector the terrain was much tougher and the enemy was far more strongly entrenched. The containment battle itself took almost a month. Moves to interdict the lines of communications of the intruders were extremely successful in this sector. Artillery OPs were established on dominating heights on the flanks of the intrusions and sustained Artillery fire was brought down on the enemy continuously.

Khalubar was occupied on July 6 after a daring assault led personally by the Colmmanding Officer of 1/11 Gorkha, Col Lalit Rai, and closely supervised by Brig Devinder Singh, a Gunner officer who was at that time Commander, 70 Infantry Brigade. Large quantities of arms and ammunition were captured. These again were significant as the enemy had built defences well and the upper reaches were still snow-bound. Once again Artillery firepower played an important part in softening enemy defences and destroying enemy’s battalion headquarters and logistics infrastructure.

Throughout the offensive phase of the Kargil conflict, the Indian Artillery was called upon to respond to emerging situations. The infantry battalions involved in the fighting were the first to acknowledge the immense debt of gratitude that they owe to their Artillery comrades. The then Army Chief, Gen VP Malik said: “An early military victory in the conflict thrust upon us by Pakistan in the Kargil Sector would not have been possible but for the overwhelming destruction caused by our Artillery and the heavy casualties that our Artillery firepower inflicted on the enemy. The entire artillery campaign, from planning at the inception stage, rapid induction and deployment, evolution of the 100-gun concept in the application of fire, meticulously coordinated fire plans, skilful ammunition management and sustained effort over a period of two months, was efficiently conducted.”

-Col Anil Shorey