Valiant soldier (1911-1994)

Major General Rajinder Singh, nicknamed ‘Sparrow’, was born on 3 October 1911. He joined the Indian army as a soldier on 3 October 1932, and was selected for a commission. He underwent training at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, where he earned blues in hockey and cricket. He was commissioned into the unattached list on 1 February 1938, and posted to 7 Light Cavalry on 24 February 1939. He saw service in World War II and took over the command of the Regiment in September 1947.

The unit moved to Jammu in the 1947-48 war and one squadron was sent to Srinagar on 4 November 1947. It took part in the battle at Shalateng, where the enemy was routed. The situation in Jammu sector was critical with the loss of Jhangar on 24 December. A mobile column called Cheetah Force, under Rajinder Singh, destroyed the enemy base in Asar-Kandala area. In subsequent operations, Jhangar was retaken on 18 March 1948. He was awarded MVC for outstanding leadership.

In the northern sector, Gilgit had fallen into the hands of the enemy through treachery by some troops of the State Army and the British Resident. Kargil, Dras and Zoji La Pass were also in their hands. The capture of Zoji La Pass before winter was vital for India to ensure relief for Leh. A frontal attack on Zoji La by the infantry failed, and the Indian army suffered heavy casualties. Major General (later General) Thimayya decided to use tanks, and one squadron of 7 Light Cavalry was ordered to move from Akhnur to Srinagar, a distance of 445 kms. To ensure secrecy, Lt. Col. Rajinder Singh, the commanding officer, moved the tanks in a dismantled condition. All movement was at night, and during the day the tanks were covered by sheets. The squadron was concentrated in Baltal by 15 October, and it was decided to launch the operation on 20 October. Two field companies of Madras Sappers had worked day and night to improve the mule track from Baltal to Zoji La and on to Gumri, for movement of tanks. The operation had to be postponed to 1 November due to heavy snow. Tanks followed by infantry commenced the advance to Gumri and attack from the rear, while the infantry was to put in frontal attack. It was snowing that day too, and the Air Force could not be employed. The operation commenced as planned with heavy bombardment by the two regiments of 25 pounder guns and one regiment of 3.7 inch mortars. Major General Thimayya rode in the leading tank. Low visibility due to snow was an advantage as there was no interference from the enemy. The column reached Gumri by 1400 hours. The appearance of tanks was a complete surprise to the enemy, and they fled in panic. The battle had taken place under severe conditions of difficult terrain and low temperature. It was the first time that tanks had been employed at such heights.

In 1965, infiltration by a large number of militants and attack by Pakistan in Akhnur sector led to a general war between the two countries. The 1 Armoured Division under command of Major General Rajinder Singh Sparrow was assigned the task of capture of Phillora and Pagiwal in the Sialkot sector. The enemy had two regiments of armour in the area. The attack on 11 September resulted in the biggest tank battle since the Second World War. Lt. Col. Tarapore, commanding officer, 17 Horse, displayed outstanding leadership and was awarded PVC. Sixty nine Pakistani tanks were destroyed against nine of our own. Phillora was cleared by 16 September. Major General Sparrow had led his formation to win against a better equipped and numerically superior enemy. He was awarded MVC again.

He retired in September 1966 and joined politics. He was a minister in the short-lived ministry of Gurnam Singh in 1967. Later, he was twice elected to Lok Sabha in 1980 and 1985 on a Congress ticket. He passed away in May 1994.

– Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd)