CONQUEST OF THE ULTIMATE PINNACLE

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Story of an incredible fight atop a peak over 21,000 feet high

During March-April 1987 the Pakistani Special Services Group, in a spectacular feat of mountaineering, scaled a vertical cliff 21,153 feet high and established a post on top of it which they named ‘Quaid’ after the founding father of their nation. In the long-drawn-out war that has been going on in the wasteland of Siachen Glacier for three years by then the Pakistanis had drawn a definite advantage for the first time. The Indian post of Bilafond La at an altitude of 18,000 feet that had dominated the scene till then, along with its twin Sia La at 20,000 feet, lay exposed. Artillery fire directed from Quaid could disrupt India’s heli-borne operations that sustained the post.

On 19 April the Pakistanis opened fire, revealing their post’s presence and hitting a helicopter evacuating casualties from Bilafond La killing two soldiers and injuring one. Immediate reconnaissance found ropes slung by the enemy for the climb, but more information was needed on what was atop the peak before something could be done about it. Helicopters dropped a patrol made up of an officer, a JCO and seven men on a nearby post where they were to get acclimatized, before taking up reconnaissance of Quaid. After the nightfall on 24 May, they climbed the ice wall on the northern face of the cliff and fixed ropes for an assault group to climb later. The feat, as outstanding as what the Pakistanis had accomplished, was all that was expected of the patrol – explore and prepare the route to Quaid. But the daredevilry of the patrol leader wouldn’t let him leave it at that. Having reached the ridge, the patrol crawled forward with fire support from a nearby post, which didn’t amount to much for too long a range and poor visibility. The Pakistanis, alerted by the firing, opened machinegun fire on the patrol as it closed in, killing the patrol leader and four others. The four remaining members of the patrol made it back to own post by a super human effort, one of them only to die of his wounds. Few reconnaissance patrols had ever paid so heavily in lives, and achieved so much. The information it brought was priceless; and the ropes it fixed would now be used for an attack proper of the post.

The attack, by an all-volunteer force of 60 men under two officers, could be put in only after almost a month while the men got acclimatized and stores were stockpiled. Even as it got going on the evening of 23 June, it took the force five hours to cover a kilometre in the waist-deep snow, and then they found that the ropes the earlier patrol had fixed could no longer be located, with layers of snow all over. Left with not enough time before daylight, they made a tactical retreat, aided by a diversionary attack at another point to distract the enemy. Eventually however they had to risk exposure in the daylight before the ropes could be traced. They were there, and intact.

Come night they launched the attack again. But as soon as the climb started the enemy opened up. The element of surprise had been lost. To compound matters the men found that the freezing temperature had rendered their weapons faulty. The attack had again had to be called off; the men spent another day in the open reorganizing.

During the following night (25-26 June), they made it to the top. Inching forward atop the cliff, six men under a JCO opened the fight with small arms and grenades. But the enemy reaction was swift and brutal with the defender’s patent advantage. Some of the attackers were mowed down – one even rolled down the enemy’s side of the mountain – and the others could make no headway. The assault had been blunted. Nevertheless the force commander pressed forward another attack from a different direction, and this one in broad daylight (The attack went in around midday 26 June). Barely six men could form up as an assault group. The minuscule group closed in throwing grenades on what appeared to be the enemy command post. The Pakistanis rushed out to take them on. In the bloody hand-to-hand fight that ensued the Indians prevailed. Some of the Pakistanis were bayoneted; the others jumped down the mountain to perish. The ropes to the Pakistani side were promptly cut. ‘Quaid’ had been taken; ‘the thorn in the flesh’, as India’s Northern Army Commander had described it, removed.

If the Pakistanis had done the unbelievable, the Indians had done the impossible. It was an unparalleled feat in the annals of military history the world over, of troops having stormed and taken an enemy strongpoint at an altitude of over 21,000 feet. Out of the 60-strong force assembled for the mission, not more than a dozen or so could be put in to stage the actual assault. The final assault was led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh, who was later awarded Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest gallantry award. And the captured post was renamed after him. ‘Quaid’, the post on which the Pakistanis had staked their nation’s very honour by naming it so, would thenceforth be known as ‘Bana’ Post, named after one of India’s bravest sons. And the legend of its capture would, for ever, remain a source of inspiration for all ranks of the Indian armed forces; a legend that often gets blurred in the gruelling saga of the Siachen Conflict – where men struggle to merely keep alive – that goes on to this day with no parallels in military history, or in any ongoing contest anywhere in the globe.

Capt. D P Ramachandran
Capt D P Ramachandran is a war veteran & military history enthusiast who writes about Indian Army’s battles of the past. He can be reached at captdpr@gmail.com
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