Thursday, May 21, 2015
Those war heroes of the south who fought and won all over
The most memorable contribution of the southern Indian troops in the Kashmir War was the role played by the Madras Sappers in the victory of Zojila Pass. A task force commanded by Major M.A. Thangaraju achieved what General Thimmayya was later to describe as ‘a record in any operation’, when they converted a five-mile jeep track between Baltal and the Zojila Pass into a tankable road, climbing to 12,000 feet under the enemy’s nose in a month’s time to beat the snowfall that would have closed the pass. Thanks to this road (named Thangaraju Road) Indian tanks made a dramatic appearance, chasing the enemy out of those heights. They also carved out a 12,000-foot high jeep track all the way to Gurais, toiling through snow and ice as deep as 12 feet. Jemadars R Kanickasami and Thangavelu and Sappers Subhash Thevar and Arunachalam of the Madras Sappers were awarded Vir Chakras for exceptional acts of courage in operations during the Kashmir War.
The contribution of South Indian troops in Kashmir was so outstanding during the fighting as well as rebuilding that Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah wrote of the ‘Madrassi foot soldier’ in glowing terms to the Madras Government.
The awards and honours the South Indians earned in the wars fought after Independence are far too many to recount. Maybe because of the distance from the theatre of operations, people in the south are often sparsely informed of front line battles. No wonder few would have heard of 9 Madras in action at Ichhogil Bund in 1965 or of 16 Madras at Basantar in 1971, some of the hottest pieces of warfare that saw the southern fighting spirit at its peak.