Like their comrades of the infantry, the Gunners rose to new heights of courage, determination and professionalism. It was a challenge of a magnitude never faced by the Indian artillery in any of the previous wars. While young FOOs and battery commanders fought shoulder to shoulder with the infantry, sustained and accurate shooting was done by the artillery guns. Shooting was so accurate that the infantry would at times call for artillery fire up to 40m, when normal safety distances were much higher. Such was the value attached to artillery fire to keep the enemy’s head down, as long as possible before closing in with the enemy.
There were limited gun areas available for conventional deployment. Perforce, recourse had to be taken to split the batteries, often in two’s and three’s. At places there was a height differential of almost 40 to 50 feet between the first and sixth gun of a battery. On the other hand, there were occasions when guns had to be deployed wheel-to-wheel.
Dummy gun positions were also prepared, with guns locally fabricated out of packing material etc. One such gun position received one of the heaviest enemy counter-bombardments on June 13! While Pakistani gunners must have reported heavy damage to Indian guns, they had only wasted their costly ammunition.
Where possible, guns were tucked in, hugging the slopes, to avoid sighting by enemy’s observation post officers. Guns so deployed, even when located by the gun locating radars, with which the Pakistan artillery had been equipped, could not be effectively hit. It was only when, perforce deployed in the open, that the enemy’s counter-bombardment had to be faced squarely. Regrettably, the Indian artillery did not possess similar radars to silence the enemy guns. Enemy gun positions were fixed through air photos, which is a primitive method in modern warfare.
Despite the above handicaps, 100-120 guns were, at times fired in concert. Direct shooting, particularly by the Bofors, spelt terror amongst the defenders and had a devastating effect in the destruction of enemy bunkers. It also meant considerable saving of ammunition as compared to indirect firing of guns, since almost every round fired was a hit. Engulfed in political rivalry since the days of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Bofors, today, is a gun resurrected.
The concept of employing guns in direct shooting role was not new. It had been tried to very good effect during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. But its application on such a vast scale as in the Kargil War was an act of remarkable courage and innovation by 8 Mountain Artillery Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh.
Firing over a hundred guns on a restricted target was like “cracking a nut with a sledge hammer.” But it is a good innovation to adopt whenever possible to save valuable lives of one’s troops while making the enemy cry out “Uncle”.
The infantryman often goes through hell and fire. But if he can get on to the objective with “arms slung” is when the gunners have done their best. And this is what the Gunners at Kargil were almost able to achieve, once their battle drills and technical innovations had been perfected.
Higher commanders had also correctly appreciated the power of the gun to minimise casualities and assist in the achievement of victory. A preponderance of firepower had thus been concentrated at Kargil totaling 300 guns, mortars and Grad BM 21 MBRLs. The latter in Russian means ‘hailstorm’. With 40 rockets packed on the back of a single carrier vehicle, the name is certainly appropriate.
The Indian artillery fired over 2,50,000 shells, bombs and rockets during the Kargil conflict. Approximately 5,000 artillery shells, mortar bombs and rockets were fired daily from 300 guns, mortars and MBRLs while 9,000 shells were fired the day Tiger Hill was regained. During the peak period of assaults, on an average, each artillery battery fired over one round per minute for 17 days continuously. Such high rates of fire over long periods had not been witnessed anywhere in the world since the World War II. Even during the World War II, such sustained artillery firing was not common at all. The men at the guns had blisters on their hands from carrying and loading shells and cartridges. Very few of them got more than a couple of hours of sleep in every 24 hours cycle. They had no time for proper meals and were often themselves under enemy artillery fire. Yet, they carried on relentlessly. No soldiers better than these exist anywhere in the world. Last but not the least artillery was, in fact, the prime killer since 80 per cent of the casualties suffered by the enemy were on account of artillery fire.
The artillery fire plan for the assault on Tiger Hill was aptly code named as the ‘Final Blow’. 20 fire units (120 guns and mortars) and a troop of MBRL participated in the battle. As in the capture of Tololing heights, a significant part of the fire plan, was the employment of Bofors guns, and the MBRLs in direct firing role. Direct firing was conducted from a distance of nearly 10,000 m, with the Bofors deployed in three tiers, employing “Shoot and Scoot” tactics, to avoid damage by the enemy’s counter-bombardment.
On July 3 at 2030 hours direct firing on Tiger Hill commenced in the presence of the army brass and media, who were there to witness it, despite sporadic shelling by Pakistani guns. Then followed the firing by the remainder artillery, till the gallant infantrymen of 18 Grenadier said, “stop firing. We have closed in on the enemy at the Top.”
While concluding the story of the Kargil War and the battle winning role played by Gunners as the primary architects of victory, placed below are the compliments paid to them by the top army brass, the divisional commander, a brigade commander and a battalion commander.
“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 Gunners fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the infantry. 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 made fire plans, skilful ammunition management and sustained effort over a period of two months were efficiently conducted.
The Gunners have a glorious tradition of the pursuit of professional excellence and immense dedication. In Kargil they have added further to their traditionally exacting standards. With systematic and methodical planning and superb innovation, the Gunners overcame all hazards and challenges. Their heroic courage, their indomitable resolve to deliver and the supreme sacrifice made by many gallant martyrs in the highest traditions of the Indian Army are indeed laudable. The contribution of the artillery to the victory in Kargil will always be remembered.”
General V. P. Malik, PVSM, AVSM -Chief of Army Staff
“It gives me great pleasure in conveying my congratulations to all the gallant officers and men of the Regiment of Artillery who have been bestowed with honours and awards on August 15, 1999. The Gunners have once again proved themselves to be true professionals in the recent operations. The devastating effect on enemy posts atop the narrow mountains, plus the number and nature of casualties speak aloud for the stunning effect of the artillery fire. I also convey my deepest sympathies to the bereaved families. The supreme sacrifice made by those Gunners will be remembered forever by the entire country.
The next millennium is likely to bring in more challenges and I am confident that the fraternity of Gunners will continue to shine as true professionals that we are. Good Shooting.”
Lieutenant General S. Padmanabhan, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC – Senior Colonel Commandant, GOC-in-C Southern Command and Army Chief Designate
“On the occasion of the 173 Raising Day of the Regiment of Artillery, I extend my felicitations and greetings to all Gunners and their families.
“OPERATION VIJAY” has made this year unique. Gunner units of own formations and other theatres, played decisive role for the success of the operations through telling damage and destruction inflicted on the enemy. Devastation caused by extremely accurate and timely fire assaults in most difficult and inhospitable terrain greatly facilitated the capture of key objectives. Innovative use of guns and MBRLs in direct firing role at long ranges added a new dimension in application of fire.
The performance of the artillery units in their primary and diverse secondary Low Intensity Conflict Operations continues to be laudable. You have lived up to your motto of ‘Sarvatra-Izzat-O-Iqbal’.
I am confident that you will continue to maintain high standards of professionalism and play a key role in future conflicts. May God be with you in your endeavours.”
Lieutenant General H.M. Khanna, PVSM, AVSM, ADC GOC-in-C, Northern Command
“Operation Vijay has once again demonstrated that when the Artillery and Infantry operate in synergy, nothing can withstand their onslaught. Pak misadventure in Kargil has not only been defeated, but crushed militarily, diplomatically and politically; singularly on account of accurate and timely delivery of TNT and lead on his head by the artillery, suitably exploited by the brave Infantrymen.
The Regiment of Artillery was able to amass – large number of fire units in record time over extremely difficult terrain. High altitude and inclement weather, notwithstanding, the Gunners rose to the occasion and provided extremely intimate and accurate fire support, wherever and whenever required by the infantry.
I wish to place on record the gratitude of the entire Infantry fraternity for the contribution made by the Gunners in crushing and decimating the enemy. We look forward to such co-operation in all our ventures. Till then happy hunting and good shooting.”
Lieutenant General Shankar Prasad, PVSM, VSM – Director General Infantry
“On behalf of all ranks of the Corps of Air Defence Artillery, please accept my heartiest congratulations on the magnificent performance displayed by the Gunners in the hard-fought and successful battles in the Kargil sector. The devastating damage and destruction inflicted on the enemy by the superbly accurate fire assaults, which was the principal battle-winning factor, will certainly enter the annals of recent military history. The christening of Point 4875 as ‘Gun Hill’ and the award of the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation to 108 Medium Regiment was not only well deserved, but a case of better late than never! Actually many more Field/ Medium Regiments deserve similar accolades which I am sure will be forthcoming in the near future.”
Lieutenant General A. Mukherjee, PVSM, AVSM -Director General Air Defence Artillery
“I convey my deep appreciation and felicitation on the excellent performance of Gunners in “OPERATION VIJAY”. Artillery was one of the main battle-winning factors. Artillery created such fire supremacy and environment on the battlefield that enemy was physically and psychologically degraded to such an extent that subsequent ground operations were pre-destined to succeed.
The Gunners were ever willing to undertake any task assigned to them and they executed it with valour, sense of responsibility and exemplary courage. The Gunners have once again proved strategic dominance of fire power in the battlefield and have done the nation proud through their gallant acts and professional excellence.”
Lieutenant General Krishan Pal,PVSM, UYSM, VSM & Bar -GOC, 15 Corps
“The Infantry had started taking the Bofors as their section weapon………. It was an Artillery battle. The credit for victory goes to the Artillery.”
Major General Mohinder Puri -GOC, 8 Mountain Division
“The large-scale built up of Artillery and its employment in a concentrated manner completely pulverised the enemy and caused heavy casualties.”
Brigadier Amar Aul – Commander, 56 Mountain Brigade
“The simultaneous fire from the units of the divisional artillery on the registered targets as per the task table was a sight to see. The black and ominous looking Tiger Hill turned grey in colour with the pounding it got. The part played by the Artillery during the battle for Tiger Hill was outstanding. The use of Bofors and field guns in the direct firing role had a devastating effect on the enemy. The performance of BC and OP parties and Anchor OP was commendable.”
Brigadier M.P.S. Bajwa, YSM – Commander ,192 Mountain Brigade
“The sight of over one hundred guns pounding Tiger Hill was awesome. The fireball of the explosions lit up our objective. We closed in up to 40 m of the shelling. The accuracy was so great that not one shell strayed from its target. Since then my men hold the Artillery in very high regard –specially the Bofors Gunners.
And finally, as mark of high appreciation of the role played by the Gunners during the capture of Point 4875, this feature has been named as ‘Gun Hill’.”
Colonel Kushal Thakur – Commanding Officer, 18 Grenadiers