By the fall of May in 1999, it was clear that Pakistani Mujahedeen supported by the soldiers of Pakistan’s 5th Northern Light Infantry had infiltrated and occupied Indian posts at commanding heights. This violation of the ‘Shimla Agreement’ of 1972 meant that troops had to be deployed to execute counter-insurgency operations. Kargil War is regarded as one of the toughest battles that any aggressed army has ever fought. Pakistan considered the war to be won the moment its army occupied the posts. No army in the world would climb 5000 meter mountains while being targeted by UMG’s, or would they? Indian army dared to challenge the unchallengeable.
India and Pakistan’s prolonged border disputes has a history in territories above Ladakh. The Siachen Conflict of 1984, which was won by India, had ever since been a stone in the foot of Pakistan’s pride. Revenge was imminent, time was the only uncertainty. Come 1999, revenge sprung to life. Pakistani soldiers infiltrated the national border, but their main intention was to control the National Highway 1 (NH1) which connected Shimla to Leh and subsequently Ladakh. Losing control of this highway meant losing control over Siachen.
By mid May, Pakistani artillery started bombarding NH1. The enemy positioned at the peaks guided the battery fire and targeted all vehicles that passed through the highway. It was very essential to kick the enemy out of those heights, or the NH1 would be in tatters if artillery shelling continued. That’s when a major offensive was declared by India. Maximum troops were mobilized to Drass, Kargil, Matayen, Batalik and Mushkoh valley sectors. Indian soldiers must now scale the heights to recapture their own territory.
The shape of the mountain appears like a tiger when seen from the eastern side, hence the name. Tiger hill had always been a crucial peak because of its positioning in the Drass sector. The majestic peak overlooks 30Km’s of the NH1. The mountain is not the tallest in the area where it is located, but it stood tall and independent. It was not situated in a complex of peaks. Moreover, it had arduous inclinations of upto 80’ which made it impossible to scale.
Tiger Hill was Pakistan’s bragging point. They knew that no force could steal it away from their possession. The natural advantage that the peak gifted the Pakistanis and the enemy’s well charted plan inched them closer to invincibility. The 1.5Km western ridge was close to Pakistan, so all the requisite reinforcements came quick and easy. From the very beginning India’s higher command knew that Tiger Hill had to be won, and only God’s blessings would make that possible.
From mid May to June, many battalions tried their hand at achieving the objective of recapturing Tiger Hill. All failed. Miserably. With every attempt, more dead soldiers were brought down. The invincible height of the objective coupled with horrendous weather, snow and multi-directional firing from adjoining peaks contributed to Indian soldiers initial failures. On the first information of infiltration, company commanders had ordered their ‘boys’ to grab the enemy by the throat and drag them down. By mid-June, reaching the top seemed impossible; such was the task in hand.
Prelude to the master plan-
It was realized that the intensity of enemy fire can be reduced if Tiger Hill is isolated. So, throughout June, offensive operations directed at adjoining peaks were executed with great success. Once Tiger Hill was isolated, Indian artillery was summoned. A plan was chalked out according to the nature of slopes and inclinations at various spots of the Hill. The positioning of the enemy influenced the nature of the attack. It was clear that the artillery and the ground forces had to work according to a strict plan and execute it in harmony with each other.
The sight of dead soldiers coming down the peaks was depressing. It had to stop. The troops were motivated to kick the enemy out. 3 teams belonging to 3 different battalions were deployed on different positions on the hill. The plan seemed complete and all the final assault was about to begin. Determined Indian soldiers knew what they were up against, but being ‘Indian’ was enough for them to look beyond and march forth for victory.