Brig. Varinder Singh Minhas, VrC, SM


Courageous officer (1955-2012)

Brig. Varinder Singh, a fifth generation army officer, was born on 24 January 1955, and was educated at Cambrian Hall Public School in Dehradun. He joined the Army and was commissioned into 12 J&K LI. He later served in 8 J & K LI. In June 1987, Major Varinder Singh was commanding a company at 19,600 feet high Sonam Post in Siachin. Siachin is the highest battle ground and the second largest glacier in the world. It had earlier been left unoccupied. Pakistan had started sending expeditions to the mountain and India occupied the area in 1984. Taking advantage of bad weather, Pakistan had established Quaid Post on the peak. Located at a height of 22,153 feet, it gave a clear view of the entire Saltoro range and the glacier. The Pakistani soldiers started firing with machine guns and rocket launchers, preventing maintenance of Indian posts by land or air. It was almost an impregnable fortress with 457 high ice walls on either side. It was decided to clear the Quaid Post. Three attempts had failed. Lt. Rajeev Pande took out a patrol for reconnaissance of the area.They did not realise that they were constantly under watch of the Pakistani soldiers from an overhang. They fired on them when they came under firing range, killing all except two soldiers. Lt. Pande was also a casualty. Pande’s patrol had managed to fix the ropes to guide our troops in the assault.

Major Varinder Singh was detailed to capture the Quaid Post. The troops had been training for the assault for a month. Two soldiers were killed during training. They had slipped into crevasses and their bodies were not found. The soldiers were instructed not to get captured alive and carried cyanide capsules. Two officers, three JCOs and 157 men were selected for the final assault. Major Varinder Singh instructed all ranks to write their last letters to be posted in case of death. It had taken them two days to locate the ropes fixed by Pande’s patrol. It had got buried under snow blizzards. Major Varinder Singh led the assault on the night of 23 June 1987, advancing along the most difficult route to the 700 feet high ice wall on the Saltoro Ridge, and reached within 200 metres from the top. Varinder had led, climbing from the head of the rope to the saddle on the Ridge using crampons (metal plates with spikes to their boots). The men followed suit. For three days, they had little to eat or drink.

Advance was resumed at 9 pm on 25 June and they captured the bunker after lobbying grenades. His team captured the second bunker after firing twenty rounds from a Rocket Launcher. He provided supporting fire to Naib Subedar Bana Singh who cleared the last bunker. Soldiers overran the post and turned the guns from facing south to north towards Pakistan. Bana Singh was awarded PVC. After the post had been overrun by own troops, Pakistan brought heavy artillery fire on what used to be their own post to evict the Indian troops. A shrapnel from a Pakistani shell pierced Varinder’s chest and torso. Disregarding his injury, he continued to lead his team in mopping up operations and complete control was established by 4 pm on 26 June. He displayed conspicuous courage and gallant leadership in the face of enemy and was awarded VrC (Vir Chakra).

He came down the hill holding his wound with his right hand in order to stop the bleeding. His wound coagulated quickly due to the extreme cold and stopped bleeding. He was evacuated to the Military Hospital at Leh and recovered after 17 stitches and 15 days. He resumed his duties and served in various appointments. He was awarded Sena Medal (SM) for distinguished service of a high order. He died on 12 October 2012 doing what he loved most, playing basketball. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

– Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)