Bravest of the Brave: Old Soldiers never die they just fade away

By Dr. Mohan Bhandari  Published on  9 May 2021 8:45 AM GMT
Bravest of the Brave: Old Soldiers never die they just fade away

"Every special calling in life, if it is to be followed with success, requires peculiar qualifications of understanding and soul. Where these are of a high order, and manifest themselves by extraordinary achievements, the mind to which they belong is termed genius"-Carl von Clausewitz

"Old Soldiers never die they just fade away"-General Douglas MacArthur in his April 19, 1951 Farewell Address to the US Congress said.

"Kaman - the Genius frontally led and inspired his Men into attacks and Raids so daring that they were bound to succeed."

Born 23 April 1917 to a Family of illustrious Pathania clan of Dogra Rajputs at Ladori Village of Nurpur town in Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, young Kaman Singh, in true and long military tradition took up to the noble profession of Arms by joining HODSON'S HORSE on 23 April 1935 as a Sowar. His father Dafadar Vijay Singh Pathania had earlier served with 23 Cavalry during Mesopotamia Campaign in World War I.

Here begins the true story of conspicuous courage and bravery of this young soldier, whose life was cut short because of his 'passion to sacrifice for Mother India ' thwarting the evil and sinister designs of Pakistan during 1947-48 J and K Operations in Uri Sector. He became a legend in his lifetime, carving out a niche for himself in the hearts and minds of Indian Army and the Nation - as a model Infantry Combat Leader. True to the family traditions, two of his sons fought the Indo-Pak War in 1971.

Colonel Pratap Singh Gill, a former Lt Governor of Goa who shared a room with General Tikka Khan for two years in 1937-38 during their military training at Kitchener College, Nowgong, near Jhansi avers that in those days this was a system to join Indian Army as Sepoy and then work hard to seek entry for a two years Course at Nowgong where out of 60 such cadets, 13 were sent to the Indian Military Academy. To select these 13 cadets, a Selection Board from Delhi used to come and select them. He recalls that the Selection Board spent three days with them. Every evening, there were boxing bouts where all cadets had to take part.

Tikka Khan - a tall man, was fighting Kaman Singh - a Dogra who was short and slightly built. Both fought well in the first round. In the second round, to the surprise of all, Kaman Sigh knocked down Tikka but the latter got up in time. Both of them were fighting like bulls and were bleeding badly. Tikka now made Kaman go down on the floor but he too got up before the Referee counted 9. The Board was highly impressed by both of them and Captain WA Asher described the fight as the best fight he had ever seen.

The next morning, it was an open secret that Tikka Khan and Kaman both had been included in the selection list. Later in life, Lt Colonel Kaman got the highest award in Kashmir Operations 1947-48. Colonel Pratap Singh who narrated the above incident was serving in the Sialkot Sector during 1965 Indo-Pakistan War and Tikka Khan was on the opposite side. The two friends never met!

Uri, in Kashmir, came to the limelight in view of the opening of Road Uri-Muzaffarabad. The last significant Indian Post that dominates this road on our side of Line of Control is called KAMAN Post named after Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC, M-in-D. The Bridge at the Post which connects both sides of Kashmir is now known as KAMAN AMAN SETU named after the erstwhile Commanding Officer of 3 Garhwal Rifles, Late IC-397 Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC, M-in-D.

On selection for Commission, he joined Kitchner College at Nowgong, Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh (Old ACC Ghorpadi and now Siachen Battalion Indian Military Academy, Dehradun) in July 1937. He was commissioned into 5 DOGRA in December 1940. He later served as a Major with 17 DOGRA (Machine Gun Battalion) and was awarded Mentioned-in-Dispatches (M-in-D) in Burma Campaign during WW-II.

Details of Service of this brilliant soldier are enumerated below.

In the Ranks ( HODSON'S HORSE) 23 April 1935 to June 1937

Kitchner's College July 1937 to March 1939

Indian Military Academy July 1939 to December 1940

As an Officer

5Th Battalion The DOGRA Regiment 22 December 1940 to April 1941

17 DOGRA ( Machine Gun) Battalion May 1941 to June 1947

Served in intense Operations in Burma WW II and under South East Asia Command (SEAC)

4Th Battalion The DOGRA Regiment July 1947-December 1948- North West

3rd Battalion Royal Garhwal Rifles January 1948-August 1949- JandK Operations

Instructor Class A, (OC Weapons Wing, Infantry School Mhow) August 1949-Aug 1950

6 KUMAON (Commanding Officer) August 1950-May 1953

6 ASSAM Rifles (Commandant) June 1953-June 1956

3 KUMAON Rifles (Commanding Officer) 30 June 1956- 15 Jul 1956

On 16 February 1948, Lt Col Kaman Singh took over the command of 3 Royal Garhwal Rifles from Lt Col LS Negi and commanded the Battalion in Uri Sector. He was instrumental in the capture of Trehgam Ridge in the historic Battle of TITHWAL in 1948 and was awarded MAHAVIR CHAKRA. During these operations, the Third Battalion of Royal Garhwal Rifles less than one company was given the task of capturing Trahgam Ridge. Lt Col Kaman Singh leading from the front conducted this attack against heavy resistance. Again on 17 June, his Battalion less two companies was given the task of carrying out a Raid on a strongly held position on the Buni Ridge beyond Tithwal.

In spite of the heavy and deadly enemy fire, the attack, although uphill, was carried out with such dash and speed that the enemy fled in utter consternation leaving behind scores of dead and wounded. Soon, the enemy having rallied put in three successive counter-attacks with large numbers. All these attacks were repulsed by the brave Garhwalis with heavy losses to the enemy, including one Lt Col killed. Throughout the operation, Lt Col Kaman Singh's handling of his Battalion was highly professional and his leadership and personal example of leadership from the front, bravery, courage, tenacity, and dogged determination were of an exceptional order.

The Bhulas ("Younger Brother" in Garhwali Language- as Riflemen are referred to), had developed tremendous faith in CO's leadership and this had increased their confidence in themselves, their peers, and their unit. Character and discipline are the touchstones that guide leaders and soldiers through the rigors of combat. The cohesion and group dynamics build trust and confidence amongst soldiers, junior leaders, and the Commanding Officer.

Easily the Finest Commanding Officer of his time - at the peak of tactical genius and 'forever in operations' - who proved that ' the Best Soldier has in him a seasoning of devilry professing the belief that no one could harm him', the Garhwalis just followed him from peak to peak conquering them. FORTUNA FAVET FORTIBUS (Fortune Favors The Brave) and the Blessings of our Presiding Deity Lord Badri Vishal-The Sustainer was always thereupon the gallant Garhwalis.

The 3rd Battalion participated with distinction in the J&K Operations, winning Battle Honor "Tithwal" and gaining the distinction of becoming one of the most decorated battalions of the Indian Army in any one operation after independence – it won one MVC, 18 VrCs, 01 SC (then referred to as the Ashoka Chakra Class III) and 19 Mentions-in-Dispatches. The name of Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC lives on -in the form of the 'KAMAN AMAN SETU', the crossing point opened up between J&K and POK.

In the Fifties when insurgency erupted in Nagaland, Lt Col Kaman Singh was handpicked to command 6 KUMAON and took part in operations to bring insurgency under control in Nagaland from August 1950 to May 1953. He then took over the command of 6 Assam Rifles in Agartala, where also he continued to take part in operations against the insurgents.

Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC later took over command of 3 KUMAON Rifles and was posted in Uri Sector in Jammu and Kashmir. On 15 July 1956, while commanding the battalion, during a visit to a High Altitude Piquet, he sacrificed his life for the honor of the country at the young age of 39 years. This stunned the entire Indian Army that had lost a dynamic and upcoming Commanding Officer. Entire Nation mourned his sad and untimely death. Even today Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC, M in D is looked up as the Indian Army's icon since his achievements as a Commanding Officer are beyond compare. For the GARHWALIS, he shall continue to remain our cherished and revered role model-a Guiding Beacon.

Kaman Bridge was damaged by the October 8, 2005 earthquake when a mountainside on the POK side had caved in destroying the bridge's piers and abutments. Engineers of the Indian Army in a record time rebuilt the bridge- inclement weather notwithstanding. It was inaugurated with much fanfare by the then Chief Minister of J&K Ghulam Nabi Azad on 20 February 2006. The Civil Administration had renamed it as 'AMAN SETU'.

Family Members of Late Lt Col Kaman Singh Pathania, while appreciating that the Bridge may help in bringing together divided Kashmiri families by running Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus Service, lamented about the renaming of Bridge stating that this had amounted to 'forgetting the heroic deeds of the Great Soldier'. Shri Kamaljit Singh, son of Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC, and the entire Family had written letters to the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh expressing their deep anguish and pain over the omission of the name of 'KAMAN' and substituting it with 'AMAN'. "It was sad indeed that neither the Hero of J and K nor his Family Members were remembered on the occasion. We were not even informed about the change in name of the Bridge and we came to know about it from the media," Shri Kamaljit said.

In mid-March 2006, my PA handed over a Registered Letter addressed to me by name as Colonel of the Garhwal Rifles signed by Shrimati Daya Wanti, wife of Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC stating the above facts. " It is now my bounden duty to restore 'izzat' of our Regiment by ensuring status quo by ensuring that KAMAN finds his rightful place in the name of the Bridge ', I replied within minutes to our Grand Old Regimental Lady. I was overwhelmed by emotions.

The next few days saw me contacting 'powers that be' in Lutyen's City and military hierarchy. They all appreciated the 'REGIMENTAL SPIRIT COMPLIMENTARY TO INDIAN ARMY 'S CODE OF HONOUR BASED UPON NAAM- NAMAK and NISHAN". Corrective Orders were passed down the line promptly and the name of AMAN SETU was restored to its original name KAMAN AMAN SETU. I sent the photos of the Bridge to our Regimental Lady at Nurpur, Kanga and she soon blessed me by replying in her own hand!

Words fall short in describing the persona and attributes of this Great Soldier. He has left an indelible, unparalleled, and everlasting Legacy. He is India's Pride and GARHWALI's 'Treasured Possession'. Such Great Soldiers are seldom born. They always remain IMMORTAL MORTALS. 'Warfare has been portrayed as man's second popular hunt: it has, without doubt, played a defining role in the history of the world'.

(Credits: I would like to thank my friend Col NN Bhatia, Retired, KUMAON Regiment-a prolific writer and a diehard KUMAONI – a dear Friend for providing many inputs including his talk with Maj Gen SR Bahuguna (Retd), who nostalgically recollected serving under Lt Col Kaman Singh, MVC as a 2 Lieutenant and providing valuable inputs from Brig AK Sharma Commander 21 Sector in the Assam Rifles and Mr. John S Shilsi, Manipur Police –a highly decorated Naga Officer. Ex Intelligence Bureau Who often officially visited the Kaman Post in his official capacity)

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