New Delhi,Last December when commemorating Vijay Diwas at HQ Eastern Command, wreaths were laid at theVijay Smarak (War Memorial) in Kolkata by visiting Mukti Jodhas (Bangladeshi freedom fighters), Indian veterans and senior serving officers including the Eastern Army Commander and his counterparts in the region from Navy and Air Force.
During the solemn ceremony, an ensemble pipe band of 12 Garhwal Rifles -- Garrison Battalion at Fort William -- played out sombre musical scores while buglers sounded 'Last Post' and 'Rouse' on the occasion.
But unknown to the gathering paying homage to the martyrs of the 1971 Liberation War, a quiet homage was also being poignantly paid by officers and troops of 12 Garhwal Rifles to their nine valiant comrades who were among those martyred in the same war.
All nine names remain engraved together with the names of all other martyrs on the black granite columns facing the memorial. Ironically, it was for the first time that a battalion that fought the war in December 1971 was hosting a victory ceremony here.
For the 'Towering Twelfth' battalion, as they are also known in the Indian Army, it was to be their déjà vu moment. Just as in the months leading to the war of 1971, the battalion had relocated in Fort William just a few months earlier, and was once again engaged in events associated with the same war, albeit only ceremonially this time.
12th Battalion, the Garhwal Rifles was raised on June 1, 1971 by Lieutenant Colonel JP Kotnala at Kotdwara in present day Uttarakhand. The Towering Twelfth battalion commemorates its 43rd Raising Day on Sunday.
Rarely in the annals of modern military history does one see a newly raised fighting unit get baptised by fire in a full-blown war within months of its raising. The battalion participated in 1971 Indo-Pak War and played a vital role in the success and victory of 20 Mountain Division in their defined role.
During initial days of war, the battalion was tasked to protect the Eastern Air Command airbase at Bagdogra, which it did successfully that helped IAF achieve air supremacy during the 1971 war.
The battalion was later tasked to infiltrate inside enemy territory through the enemy town of Hathibanda. During this operation on December 4, 1971, the battalion fought bravely against 3 BALUCH of Pakistan Army helping the capture of Rangpur and Dinajpur in erstwhile East Pakistan.
A week later, on December 11, 1971, the battalion was tasked to eliminate enemy resistance at Chirirbander and capture the railway bridge located on river Kakra, which was the main lifeline for the enemy. The battalion again stood firm and completed the task and eliminated a platoon of Razakars.
By end of the war, the now barely six-month old 12 Garhwal Rifles battalion had not just held its own in good stead but also stood out to be counted amongst the most formidable brave warriors by the end of it.
It was only natural that the battalion would go on to successfully participate in several other operations including Operation Pawan in Sri lanka, Operation Orchid in Manipur and Operation Rakshak in Jammu & Kashmir on five occasions.
The gallantry of the officers and soldiers of the Towering Twelfth earned them one Vir Chakra and one Shaurya Chakra each, 10 Sena Medals, five Mention-in-Dispatches, 31 Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Commendation Cards and 25 General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Commendation Cards.
The battalion was awarded a GOC-in-C Unit Citation in 1997-1998. Earlier this year on January 15 (Army Day), Commanding Officer, Colonel MK Singh received the COAS Unit Citation for the battalion's successful tenure in a highly active counter terrorist environment in Northern Kashmir, which they achieved without suffering even a single casualty.
It may be known that the first Garhwali Battalion was raised on May 5, 1887. Prior to 1887, there were no separate battalion of the Garhwali soldiers. They were recruited in the Gorkha regiments, Bengal Infantry and Punjab Frontier Force.
Impressed by their simplicity, honesty, courage and dedication, the British government decided to form a separate battalion for the Garhwali soldiers. Thus, Garhwal Rifles was raised in 1887 to give the Garhwali hill men their own regiment and the fierce Garhwali warriors have never looked back since and continue to tower over enemies.