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Valor | Courage in Kargil

By Chuck Lyons
July 2018 • Military History Magazine

Yogendra Singh Yadav was a 19-year-old grenadier in 1999 when he earned the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), becoming one of only 21 recipients of India’s highest military honor since its 1950 inception. Two-thirds of those honored have received the award posthumously. The PVC is awarded for conspicuous bravery in the presence of the enemy. “[It] is awarded for the rarest of rare gallantry which is beyond the call of duty and which in normal life is considered impossible to do,” notes retired Maj. Gen. Satbir Singh, a senior fellow with the New Delhi–based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. Retired Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo affirmed the PVC is only given to the “bravest of the brave.”

Yadav, who enlisted in the Indian army at age 16, received the PVC for his actions during the Kargil War, a conflict instigated in February 1999 when Pakistani soldiers crossed a 90-mile swath of the de facto border with India to seize mountaintop positions in Kashmir. The extent of their incursion came to light that May when they ambushed Indian army patrols and called in artillery fire on targets along India’s National Highway 1A.

The next month Yadav’s unit—the 18th Battalion, Grenadiers Regiment—participated in an operation to recapture Tololing, a strategic peak overlooking the town of Dras (see “Turning Point in Kargil,” by Paraag Shukla, July 2017). Days later the battalion took on a new assignment—to recapture a steep-sided 16,500-foot mountain about 8 miles west dubbed “Tiger Hill.” On the night of July 3, as the main force launched a frontal attack against the peak, a handpicked Ghatak (Hindi for “lethal”) special operations platoon, comprising 22 of the battalion’s fittest soldiers, scaled a near-vertical cliff face to assault the snowbound summit. Yadav was the lead climber.

Soon after Yadav and six others reached the top of the cliff, Pakistani troops detected their approach and rained down small-arms fire and grenades on the men. The other 15 climbers had to stop in mid-ascent as Yadav and his section engaged the Pakistanis. After silencing two enemy positions, the seven Indians came under repeated counterattack. One by one Yadav’s comrades were killed in the close-quarters fighting. Twice wounded by grenade shrapnel and shot three times, Yadav crawled from boulder to boulder and kept firing his weapons and lobbing grenades. Perhaps believing the grenadiers had managed to send reinforcements up the cliff, the Pakistani troops fell back to the summit.

Realizing he must warn the main body of grenadiers of the precarious situation, Yadav used his belt to immobilize his broken left arm and then crawled along a natural depression in the mountain face to 18 Grenadiers’ position. There he informed superiors of enemy strength and impending counterattacks. In the hours that followed, 18 Grenadiers firmed up their position before renewing their assault and capturing Tiger Hill. They prevailed on July 4.

Hospitalized after the battle, Yadav was accidentally listed as killed in action and quite surprised to learn he’d been recommended for a posthumous award of the PVC. His wife of three months, who fortunately knew he’d survived, pointed out the error to army officials, who soon determined another man named Yogendra Singh Yadav had been among the Ghatak platoon members killed in the fighting. The clerical error corrected, Yadav later received his PVC in person from President K.R. Narayanan.

Yadav spent 16 months recovering from his severe wounds, having “performed a feat,” as one Indian historian put it, “that millions of men in arms can only dream of.” Yogendra Singh Yadav remains on active duty with the Indian army. MH

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