Capture of Tigher Hill Kargil War 1999

Col J P Singh
There were two turning points during the Kargil War; the first was the capture of Tololing on 27 June 1999 that started the ‘turn in the tide’, and second was the capture of Tiger Hill on 4th July, which was a physical and psychological blow to Pakistan and ‘end in sight’ for her. What follows is the story of the capture of twin features, the Tololing and the Tiger Hill in June- July 1999.
The battle of Tololing was a pivotal battle in the Kargil War. Towering over Dras town, Tololing was the highest feature in the Kargil sector overlooking the NH 1A. If not cleared, the enemy could cut the only supply route to Leh. The battle of Tololing began on 20 May 1999 when the task of capturing it was given to 18 Grenadier. The enemy was entrenched at height and was able to observe movement of 18 Grenadiers making its progress excruciatingly slow. Regardless the brave Grenadiers carried on. Major Rajesh Adhikari laid down his life in a daring attack which saw him reach within 15 meters of the ridge beyond the Hump feature for which he was awarded MVC. Realising the gravity of the situation, the 2IC of the Bn, Lt. Col. Vishwanathan himself led the next attack, knowing very well it would be suicidal and made the supreme sacrifice. Thereafter 2 Raj Rif was brought in for a fresh assault. A team of 90 volunteers of 2 Raj Rif, under Maj Vivek Gupta, were assembled to recapture the important feature. From 6 PM on 21 June, the artillery opened up a barrage on Tololing top. Enemy bunkers were targeted first by the Bofor guns and later by field guns. Maj Vivek Gupta made the supreme sacrifice, but not before capturing two difficult posts, on the icy slopes of Tololing. Hav Yashvir Singh Tomar charged the last bunker and was later found dead with rifle in one hand and a grenade in the other. Lt. Vijayant Thapar, whose proud father Col Thapar is often seen on TV debates, along with his men was instrumental in capturing the Barbad Bunker. He would later lay down his life few days later while capturing the Knol and Three Pimple complex and earning the coveted Vr C. Gen V P Malik, the Army Chief was in Dras on 27 June 1999. That evening, 2 Raj Rif was preparing to attack Three Pimples, another very difficult feature West of Tololing. To encourage the unit and to wish it good luck, he spoke on the telephone to Col Ravindranath, CO 2 Raj Rif. CO with his small party was then located near the objective. Col Ravindranath was taken aback when he learnt about the telephone call from the Army Chief. He spoke to him in whispers due to close proximity of the enemy. Chief wished him and his men good luck in their mission. Next morning the Army Chief received the good news of capture of Tololing from Gen Mohinder Puri.
Tiger Hill was the next objective which had to be cleared soon. It was picturesque, dominating and difficult, and became a war symbol in India. It stands majestically among the mountaintops a few kms North of Dras. One cannot miss it, or help admire it, as one drives along NH 1A from Zojila to Kargil. During the Kargil war, it was a delight for photojournalists as it provided some of the best pictures of that war.
From Tiger Hill, the enemy had a clear view of NH 1A from the Dras Transit Camp to Bhimbat, and the road leading to Marpola on the Line of Control (LoC). They could effectively interdict vehicular movement on these roads. It was clear from the beginning that unless Tiger Hill and Point 4875, which is located 2 km to its South-West, were secured, movement along NH 1A will never be safe. In the second week of May 1999; 8 Sikh moving from Udhampur to the Kashmir valley was diverted to Dras. Immediately on arrival, the unit was launched into the battle to clear Tiger Hill without acclimatisation and snow clothing. The unit suffered heavy casualties in its attempt to get close to the objective. It was then ordered to occupy dominating heights Southeast of Tiger Hill, and ‘Parion ka Talab’ to its North. No further attempts were made to capture Tiger Hill for the next six weeks till the army was fully ready for it.
Tiger Hill was an extensive feature which extends about 2200 mtrs from West to East and about 1000 mtrs North to South. One company of Pakistan 12 Northern Light Infantry held the whole feature. 18 Grenadiers along with 8 Sikh, which were already in the area, were tasked to capture Tiger Hill on the night of 3/4 July 1999. They were provided a team of the High Altitude Warfare School, adequate artillery, Engineer and other support. The Air Force too engaged Tiger Hill on 2/3 July 1999.
The assault began at 1900 hours on 3 July 1999 with direct and indirect firing by artillery. It was a multi-directional infantry assault. 8 Sikhs provided the firm base and engaged the enemy from obvious approaches as part of a deception plan. 18 Grenadiers moved towards the objective from the South and North East. The weather assisted the battalions in achieving surprise. Lt. Balwan Singh, now Col, led the Ghatak Platoon of 18 Grenadiers on the most difficult, North-Eastern approach. His Platoon made use of the rope to reach the top of the Tiger Hill at 4.30 AM and totally surprised the enemy that had already suffered due to heavy artillery and air attacks. In the ensuring hand-to-hand fight, the enemy lost 10-12 men. 18 Grenadiers suffered six fatalities. Grenadier Yogendar Singh Yadav, who was in the lead on the rope, and wounded badly, earned India’s highest gallantry award of Param Vir Chakra. The Ghatak Platoon with some reinforcements firmed in on the Tiger Hill top, but throughout the day came under enemy fire from the Western Spur. On 4th July GOC 15 Corps rang up Chief at 6 AM to inform him that 18 Grenadiers had reached the Tiger Hill top and heavy fighting was going on. At 7.30 AM, Gen Mohinder Puri confirmed to the Chief that 18 Grenadiers was in full control and the enemy would not be able to dislodge it from the Tiger Hill top. By then the Defence Minister was on his way to Amritsar. When he landed at Amritsar Airport, Chief gave him this exciting news. Army Chief also informed Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was going to address a public meeting in Haryana at 10 AM.
July 4, 1999, was an important date because Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, was to meet President Clinton later in the day. Army Chief made sure that the whole world came to know about the capture of Tiger Hill and thus the likely outcome of the Kargil war. It was a hard psychological blow to Pakistan who, on 4th July also denied even the existence of such a feature and labeled the entire operations as a figment of the imagination. Victory in the Battle of Tiger Hill on 4th July was the last straw that broke the camel’s back in Kargil War. In India, a wave of jubilation and relief overtook the mood of the people. This was the greatest victory of the Kargil war. Capture of Tiger Hill was reported across the globe.
A war is the ultimate test for the armies and their soldiers. Victory is achieved because battles are won. At the cutting edge of every battle, it is the military skills of the troops, camaraderie, regimental spirit, and above all the will power and resolve which determine victory which the Indian Army displayed yet again in Kargil War. Long live the victors of Tololing and Tiger Hill.