“No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards.” – Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal
Born on 14 October 1950, in Pune, Maharashtra Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal was an officer of the Indian Army.
His schooling was at Lawrence School, Sanawar. It was perhaps here that the motto of the school “Never Give in” was embedded in him which he would follow later on to death. In Sanawar he distinguished himself both in academics and sports. He was an ace swimmer and played Saxophone in school’s band.
Life at National Defence Academy:
Following his dreams Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal to become an officer in Indian Armed Forces after completing his initial education, he joined National Defence Academy in 1967. He belonged to Foxtrot Squadron where he was the Squadron Cadet Captain of the 38th Course. His NDA No was 7498/F/38.
Three years later subsequently went on to Indian Military Academy in 1971 to complete his final phase of military training. He was commissioned in the 17 Poona Horse on 13 June 1971. The unit was termed “Fakhr-e-Hind” by Pakistan after its 1965 battle performance in the Sialkot Sector. Six months later, the war was declared. He was still short of doing his Young Officers Course.
Bravery in His Family:
Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal came from a family with a long military tradition. His great-grandfather had served in the Sikh army and fought against the British at the close run battle of Chillianwala in 1848. His grandfather served in the British army during the First World War and Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal father, Brigadier ML Khetarpal, was a Sapper officer.
Act of Bravery:
Among the tasks set for the 47th Brigade, the 17 Poona Horse under command, was ordered to establish a bridgehead across the Basantar River in Shakargarh sector. The 47th Brigade completed the task by 2100 hours on December 15th. It was now for the engineers to breach the enemy minefields and make a safe lane for the induction of the 17 Poona Horse tanks in support of the bridgehead. While the engineers were half way through their task, the Indian troops at the bridgehead reported alarming activity of the enemy armour.
They requested immediate tank support. But the minefield had been cleared only partially by that time. At this critical juncture, the 17 Poona Horse decided to push through the mine-field come what may. By first light on December 16th, the regiment established a link-up between the armour and the infantry at the bridge-head. At 0800 hours, the enemy made a counter-attack with an armour regiment, under the cover of a smokescreen. The target was the regimental pivot at Jarpal.
As the Indians troops were heavily outnumbered, the Commander of ‘B’ Squadron requested reinforcement. At that time, 2nd Lt. Khetarpal was positioned close to the squadron with his troops in two tanks. He answered the call and moved out to face the enemy attack.
On the way, his troops came under fire from enemy strong points and recoilless gun nests, in the bridgehead zone. During one of these attacks, the commander of his second tank was killed on the spot leaving him alone. But he continued attack on the enemy strongholds single-handed until all the enemy positions were overwhelmed. He then raced to the ‘B’ Squadron position.
By the time he reached there, the enemy tanks were on the retreat. He pursued and destroyed one of these tanks. The ‘B’ Squadron Commander could persuade him to fall back in line after great difficulty. The enemy soon reformed for a second attack. This time, they chose the sector held by 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal and two other Officers, for the main attack. The enemy employed a complete armoured squadron against these three tanks in order to achieve a breakthrough.
A fierce tank battle followed. As many as ten enemy tanks were destroyed and out these 2nd Lieutenant Khetarpal alone destroyed four. In the thick of the battle, two of the three Indian tanks became casualties – one was hit and another suffered mechanical failure. The third tank, which was 2nd Lt. Khetarpal’s tank, also received a shot and burst into flames. The Commander of the tank troops ordered 2nd Lt. Khetarpal to abandon the burning tank.
Realizing the useful role of his tank in preventing a breakthrough he communicated the following message to his Commander, “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards.” Then he set about destroying the remaining enemy tanks. The last enemy tank which he shot was barely 100 metres from his position. At this stage, his tank received a second hit. The brave Officer met his death denying the enemy the intended breakthrough. Not one enemy tank got through.
For his conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy, Khetarpal was honoured with the highest wartime gallantry medal, the “Param Vir Chakra”, but posthumously.
Lt Gen Hanut Singh, PVSM, MVC commanded the 17 Poona Horse armoured regiment in the Battle of Basantar, during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. In this video, he speaks in detail of his own impression of the young officer of his regiment, S. Lt Arun Khetarpal who won a Param Vir Chakra (P) during the epic battle, See the video below:
Facts To Know about Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal:
- Famagusta’s crew was Sowar Prayag Singh, the driver. Sowar Nand Singh, the Radio Operator. Sowar Nathu Singh, the Gunner and Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, the commander.
- Nand Singh was first to die. This was just before the fatal encounter with Major Nasser. Then Arun succumbed to his injuries. Both Prayag Singh and Nathu Singh were badly wounded but survived and retired from the army as Hon. Captains.
- Arun Khetarpal’s mother did not get the news of his death until the 26th of December. She had got his motorcycle serviced and his room decked up after hearing that the war was over on the 17th December.
- He was cremated on the 17th of December near Samba district. All his family got was his ashes in a small handkerchief.
- Mrs. Indira Gandhi met Mrs. Khetarpal, Arun’s mother, after the war and told her quote ‘Aap Dhanya Hai’ with tears in her eyes.
- Arun Khetarpal had gate crashed in the night before his regiment was to leave for the front to meet his mother and say goodbye. His mother’s final words were “Fight like a lion and don’t come back a coward”.
Tributes paid to Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal:
- The IMA has its auditorium named Khetarpal and the all passing out officers take oath in front of this building.
- The IMA also has one of the main entrance gate named Khetarpal.
- The main ground at NDA is named Khetarpal Ground.
- The tank of Arun Khetarpal was called Famagusta Jx 202. It was restored after the war and is kept in the Armoured Corps Centre And School Ahmednagar.