While we know a great deal regarding the great Maratha warriors of the Shivaji Maharaj and Bajirao Peshwa era, most of us know little about Maharashtrian soldiers of contemporary times. I would like to share with you the exploits of one such daredevil soldier – Major Rama Raghoba Rane. Major Rane’s distinguished himself in two respects: (1) He is the only Maharashtrian who has won the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), India’s highest award for gallantry and (2) He is the only PVC winner who did not belong to either the Infantry or the Armored (Tank) Corps. Major Rane belonged to the Indian Army’s Corp of Engineers.
The year was 1948. After the horror of partition, independent India faced its first major crisis as Pakistani soldiers disguised as Tribesmen poured into Kashmir to annex it for Pakistan. At Pandit Nehru’s urging, the King of Kashmir signed the instrument of accession to join with India. Having secured the King’s signature, India was now legally free to intervene and repel the invaders. With Pakistani raiders mere hours away from Srinagar airport, Indian Airforce Dakota aircraft began transporting troops of the 4th Kumaon regiment to Srinagar. It was a close call (“Slender was the Thread”), but 4th Kumaon along with the 1st Sikh regiment that arrived soon after secured Srinagar and halted the advance of the raiders. Thereafter began the arduous and dangerous task of evicting the raiders from the rest of Kashmir. This took nearly 14 months of vicious fighting (independent India’s longest war) costing thousands of Indian soldiers their lives. It was during this phase of the fighting that Rama Rane won his Param Vir Chakra.
After Srinagar was secure, the India Army began to push westward towards the strategic town of Rajauri. The task of capturing Rajauri was assigned to the 4th Dogra regiment. This was a tough task since the road that connects Srinagar with Rajauri had been heavily mined and several formidable road-blocks had been set up by the Pakistanis. To help clear these obstacles, a platoon of combat engineers (under the command of Rama Rane) and a squadron of Sherman Tanks was assigned to 4th Dogra. At the crack of dawn on the 8th of April 1948, 4th Dogra began its advance towards Rajauri. Almost immediately the advance ran into serious trouble as they hit a minefield. Just as Rane and his men began work on clearing the mines, they were struck by enemy mortar fire. Rane was injured by a mortar blast, but he refused to be evacuated and immediately took charge of the situation. He began work to create a diversion for the tanks to proceed forward and circumvent the minefield. He worked continuously till 2200 hours that night in full view of the enemy and under heavy machine-gun fire. On 9 April, he again started work at 0600 hours and worked on till 1500 hours when the diversion was ready for the tanks to proceed. As the tank column advanced, he got into the leading tank and proceeded ahead. After proceeding about half a mile, he came across a roadblock made of pine trees. He at once dismounted and blasted the trees away and the advance continued. The next roadblock was a demolished culvert.
Rane again dismounted from the lead tank, but before he could start work, the enemy rained furious machine gun fire onto Rane and his men. With great risk to his life, he worked under continuous enemy fire and made a diversion and the column proceeded ahead. The roadblocks were becoming numerous, but he blasted his way through each and every one of them. In all of these actions, he lead from the front, inspiring his combat engineers to superhuman acts of heroism and courage.
It was now 1815 hours, and the light was fading fast. The column came across a formidable roadblock of five big pine trees surrounded by mines and covered by machine-gun fire and the advance once again ground to a halt. The next day (April 10) at 0445 hours, Rane started work on the roadblock in spite of intense machine-gun fire. With sheer will power, he cleared this roadblock by 0630 hours. The next thousand yards was a mass of roadblocks and blasted embankments. That was not all. The enemy had the whole area covered with withering machine-gun fire, but with superhuman efforts, in spite of having been wounded, with cool courage and exemplary leadership and complete disregard for personal life, he managed to clear the road by 1030 hours.
Rane then decided to leave the tank column and return to clear the road for the supply trucks that were following the tanks. Rane understood that if supplies of food and ammunition did not reach the advancing troops, then the advance would inevitably stall. He, therefore, worked without rest or food till 2100 hours that night until the road became fully passable to trucks. On 11 April, he learned that the advancing tanks were once again held up near the town on Chingas. Unmindful of his own injuries and in spite of having worked continuously for nearly 96 hours without rest, he again rejoined the tanks at Chingas. He worked relentlessly for another seventeen hours to open the road to Chingas and beyond. The indomitable spirit, drive, and energy of this intrepid officer was instrumental in enabling the 4th Dogra regiment to finally capture Rajauri on April 12, 1948. His achievement is all the more staggering considering that this was not one single hot-blooded act, performed on the spur of the moment, and in the heat of battle. Rather, this was calm, calculated, deliberate and extreme valor that was sustained and repeated again and again over a one week period. His efforts not only cost the Pakistani forces about 500 dead and many more wounded but also saved many civilians in the area from Chingas and Rajauri. For his efforts, Rama Raghoba Rane was deservedly awarded the Param Veer Chakra by a grateful nation.
He retired with the rank of Major on 25 June 1968. He was subsequently employed as a member of the civilian staff of the Indian Army. He remained in the employment of the army until 7 April, 1971 at which time he retired. He died in 1994 at the Command Hospital in Pune, survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter. Let us applaud the courage, devotion to duty and spirit of self-sacrifice of this great son of Maharashtra!
For comments, Nikhil Koratkar could be reached at email@example.com