In 1985, Brigadier KN Thadani and Mrs Sneh Thadani moved into the Officers’ Mess of our Regiment, then stationed in Gurgaon. He had retired from the Army a few months earlier. Our Mess was a hired house in DLF Colony in Sector 14, Gurgaon. Many years earlier in 1971, as the Commanding Officer (CO) of our Regiment, he had led the unit into battle. They were getting their house constructed in Gurgaon and it was only natural they moved into our Officers’ Mess. That was the first time I met this wonderful couple.
In the army it is extremely rare that subalterns get an opportunity to closely interact with Brigadiers, retired or serving. I, then a Lieutenant, and the only bachelor, was the sole dining-in member of the Officer’s Mess. So, as mess mates, I therefore had a lot of interaction with Brigadier and Mrs Sneh Thadani. I really cannot fathom how or why I became an object of their benign indulgence. But oh, I was relishing it so much. They were excellent human beings; erudite, lively and animated conversationalists. I learned a lot from them about soldiering, spirituality and myriad other facets of life. I fondly recall those days and reminisce about the couple and their times.
During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani had commanded our Unit – 75 Medium Regiment, which provided Artillery fire support to the legendary 17 HORSE, The POONA HORSE, in the famous Battle of Shakargarh. This battle reminds everyone of the supreme sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal of this Regiment who was honoured by the nation with its highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. During the same battle, Captain Satish Chandra Sehgal of our Regiment, who was the Observation Post (OP) Officer (for direction of artillery fire) with POONA HORSE, also made the ultimate sacrifice. He was honoured with a Vir Chakra.
Captain Madhu Mehububani, now a Veteran Brigadier, was the Observation Post Officer with 4 (HODSON’s) HORSE during the war. He was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his heroic actions and display of valour in the face of enemy. Major MS Brar, his Battery Commander, was awarded Sena Medal for his gallant actions and his professional acumen in providing close artillery fire support for our armoured columns during their advance and the consequent battle with the enemy.
Brigadier Madhu Mehbubani remembers: “Colonel Thadani was our Commanding Officer, a thoroughbred gentleman, a saint at heart and a father to all young officers of the Regiment. During the war I used to be an energetic young Captain with soldierly adrenaline pumping through all my veins, ready to bash on ahead, engaging enemy tanks with artillery fire. I used to be very ‘vociferous’ on the radio net when calling for artillery fire. Colonel Thadani would always come on the net, night or day, take over the net with his ‘cool’ demeanor and ensure that the guns fired as per my orders.”
Major Hoshiyar Singh, Param Vir Chakra
Our Regiment under then Lieutenant Colonel Thadani’s command was also involved in another famous battle, providing Artillery support for the Battle of Jarpal, where Major Hoshiyar Singh of 3 Grenadiers was awarded the Param Vir Chakra. In a gallant action, his C Company of 3 GRENADIERS captured Jarpal along the Basantar River inside Pakistan and then successfully repulsed many counterattacks. It resulted in the enemy retreating, leaving behind 85 dead including their Commanding Officer and three other officers. Though seriously wounded, Major Hoshiyar Singh refused to be evacuated till the ceasefire.
Throughout the operation, C Company led by Major Hoshiyar Singh was provided with effective fire support by our Regiment. The artillery fire was directed by Captain Mohan Krishnan who fought alongside Major Hoshiyar Singh as the Observation Post Officer. Captain Mohan Krishnan was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for displaying conspicuous gallantry during the battle.
Veteran Colonel Mohan Krishnan has this to say about his Commanding Officer. “During my very first meeting with our new Commanding Officer, I realised that here is a leader who would stand by his command come hell or high water. I soon realised that he encouraged his subordinates to take initiative and most importantly he taught us the value of morale.
His innovative thinking during the actual operations and his directions to us as – Forward Observation Officers (FOO) was instrumental in our Regiment being conferred with the Battle Honour ‘BASANTAR RIVER.’
During the war I was attached to 47 Infantry Brigade of 54 Infantry Division as the OP Officer. On 4th Dec 1971, I was instructed to link up with 16 DOGRAS. While I was making preparations along with our soldiers, I decided to carry the wireless set, the heaviest equipment on my back and was trying it on and walking around to adjust to its weight. In those days the radio sets were powered by a super-heavy Lead-Acid battery. That was when Colonel Thadani landed up with a huge smile and handed over two newly introduced, much lighter ANPRC radio sets, batteries, ammunition and a few grenades. We heaved a great sigh of relief because carrying a heavy radio set and moving about during the thick of battle was going to be extremely cumbersome to say the least. He then shook hands with all of us and bid us God speed and watched us go off into the night. His timely action of handing us the lighter radio sets and personal words of encouragement and advice really boosted our morale. It speaks volumes about this leader and his dedication and support for his subordinates.
Col Thadani initiated a novel method of counter bombardment. He instructed OP Officers who were up front, facing the enemy, to take bearings of the gun flashes whenever the enemy artillery opened up and to record the time interval between the detection of the flash and the sound of the guns. With this data, by triangulation, the Gun Batteries of our Regiment were given fire orders which resulted in accurate and rapid engagement of the enemy gun positions. After the cease fire, during one of the flag meetings with the Pakistani officers they acknowledged that our Artillery fire was very effective. I am absolutely certain that this acknowledgement by our adversary was a result of our CO’s initiative, clear, precise instructions and outstanding coordination of our Artillery fire.
Just before the Battle for Jarpal, I was with C Company of 3 Grenadiers as their Forward Observation Officer. Our CO came in person to bid farewell to me and my team as we launched into battle. I was surprised as to how he could manage to locate us in the midst of the hectic activities and frantic troop movement that preceded the launch of such a major offensive.
He again had a wonderful and encouraging smile for all of us and said ‘Son, this battle that you are going into will be written in the annals of coordinated assaults by infantry and artillery and will also be written in our Regimental History. I wish you and your team all the best!’ He then shook our hands and watched us disappear into the night along with our Infantry comrades who were moving into the Assembly Area prior to the launch of the attack. This gesture of his made all of us very proud of him and our Regiment. It also brought a lump in my throat.
There was no need for our CO to come personally to see us off. He could have wished us good luck over the radio net, but he chose to meet us in person negotiating mine fields and braving enemy shelling. HE WAS A TRUE WARRIOR.”
Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani (extreme right) with Brigadier Ujagar Singh (Commander 74 Infantry Brigade), Major General WAG Pinto (General Officer Commanding 54 Infantry Division) and Brigadier AS Vaidya (Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade) during the war.
Then Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was the Artillery Advisor to Brigadier AS Vaidya, Maha Vir Chakra (later General and Chief of the Army Staff), Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade. For his professional acumen in providing artillery fire support, planning of the operations, leadership and courage, Lieutenant Colonel KN Thadani was awarded the Vishishta Seva Medal.
Honorary Captain Mohinder Singh, our then Subedar Major was also Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his dedication to duty and ensuring high morale of the Regiment during the war. Gunner Premachandran, our Despatch Rider also laid down his life fighting for the motherland.
I joined our Regiment in January 1983 just after the Regiment was conferred the Honour Title ‘BASANTAR RIVER’ for the efforts of all officers and soldiers of this great Regiment during the war. It took over a decade of persistent effort by our Regiment and due to seven years of toil of our then Commanding Officer, Lt Col A N Suryanarayanan (now Veteran Brigadier), that it fructified and our Regiment was bestowed the Honour Title it aptly deserved.
Best Wishes to all readers on the occasion of ‘VIJAY DIVAS’ and ‘BASANTAR DAY’.
Brigadier KN Thadani, VSM : An Accomplished Mountaineer follows