Zorawar Chand Bakshi was born on 21 October 1921 in Gulyano village in Rawalpindi District of Punjab. His father, Sardar Bahadur Bakshi was a decorated soldier of the British Indian Army. Zorawar graduated from Gordon College, Rawalpindi and joined the Indian Military Academy in 1942. He was commissioned on 27 June 1943. After a brief attachment with a British battalion, he was posted to 6/10 Baluch battalion, then located in Arakan in Burma. The second-in-command of the unit was Major Usman who later rose to the rank of Brigadier, was awarded MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) and was martyred in the Indo-Pak War of 1947-48.
Bakshi’s handling of patrols was impressive and Usman detailed him to attack a hill feature which was captured after a bloody fight. Cook Bhandari Ram had displayed great gallantry and was severely wounded. Usman recommended him for VC but the commanding officer changed it to Indian Order of Merit (IOM). Usman then made a request to the Brigade Commander who accepted his recommendation and Bhandari Ram was awarded VC. In the battle of Kangaw in January 1945, Bakshi was awarded Mention-in Dispatch.
After Partition, the Baluch Regiment left for Pakistan and Bakshi was posted to 5 Gorkha Rifles. He was appointed Brigade Major (BM) of 163 Infantry Brigade located in the Kashmir Valley. In May 1948, the Brigade captured Tithwal, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Bakshi was staff officer and not commanding troops. Yet, he displayed exemplary gallantry and was awarded VC. A gallantry award for a staff officer is a rare feat.
He was next assigned the task of reconnaissance in Tibet which he did as a monk. He went into Chumbi Valley, Goyantse and Lhasa. He covered a distance of 400 kms and was awarded Mavgregor Medal.
He took over command of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles (GR) and moved to Congo in July 1962. The Indo-China war broke out in October 1962. That was the only war that Bakshi missed due to his tenure in Congo. He was promoted Brigadier in July 1965 and took over the command of 68 Infantry Brigade located in Srinagar Valley. The conflict between India and Pakistan in Kutch had been settled through the good offices of the Prime Minister of UK. Pakistan next launched Operation Gibraltar to annex Kashmir. Pakistan Army soldiers dressed in civil dress infiltrated into Kashmir to carry out large scale sabotage and destruction of military installations. They were wrongly expecting support from the local population.
Haji Pir Pass at a height of 8652 feet on the formidable Pir Panjal range provided a direct link between Poonch and Uri. It was being used by the Pakistanis for infiltration into India, and it was decided to capture it.
Bakshi issued the orders to the units on 23 August at Uri. In addition to the details of the plan, he also explained his philosophy for the conduct of the attack, stressing the need for surprise, speed and offensive action. The Pass was captured on the morning of 28 August by Major (later Lt Gen) Ranjit Dayal. A counter-attack by Pakistan was repulsed and by 30 August, complete control over the area had been established. He and Dayal were awarded MVC for gallant action and leadership.
Bakshi went through various staff and command appointments and attended course at the Imperial Defence College, UK. He was GOC 26 Infantry Division during the 1971 war. The role of the Division was defensive. One brigade of his division was rushed to Poonch, limiting his offensive capability. Yet, to ensure the security of Akhnor, he carried out limited offensive and captured Chicken’s Neck, a strip south of Akhnor. He was awarded PVSM (Param Vishisht Seva Medal) and was promoted Lt Gen and took over command of 1 Corps. He retired on 31 January 1979.
Zorawar Bakshi was one of the most distinguished soldiers of the Indian Army. He won laurels both in peace and war time and took part in every war fought by the Indian Army after Independence, except the Indo-China War of 1962. He also had the unique distinction of being the most highly decorated officer in the Indian Army, having won awards for gallantry at every level, from company to division. A rare combination of a fighting and thinking soldier, he was as well known for his achievements.
He passed away on 24 May 2018.