Indian Army officer and a posthumous recipient of the Param Vir Chakra, Arun Khetarpal is the unsung hero who led India to a legendary victory. The 21-year-old Khetarpal fought single-handedly and till his last breath, he had destroyed seven Pakistani tanks leading India to a glorious victory in the ‘Battle of Basantar’.
Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal belonged to the Poona Horse regiment, and his incredible courage can be ascertained from the fact that Pakistan lost a staggering 48 Patton tanks in the epic battle that took place in its own territory, completely wiping out its 8 independent Armoured Brigrade. In fact, by the end of the war, India’s Black Arrow Brigrade had won 79 gallantry awards to become the most highly decorated formation of the Indian Army.
Arun Khetarpal was born on 14th October 1950 in Pune into a military family. He joined the National Defence Academy in June 1967. During Indo-Pak war of 1971, the 17 Poona Horse was assigned to the command of the 47th Infantry Brigade, which was involved in the Battle of Basantar in the Shakargarh sector. The engineers had cleared the mines halfway when the Indian troops noticed alarming activity of the enemy armour asking for air support. At this critical juncture, the 17 Poona Horse decided to push through the minefield.
India-Pakistan War of 1971
On 16 December, Pakistani armour launched the first of their counter-attacks under the cover of a smokescreen at Jarpal, targeting the ‘B’ Squadron. The commander of the squadron urgently called for reinforcements. 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal, who was in ‘A’ Squadron and was stationed close by, responded promptly, along with the rest of his regiment and launched the attack on Pakistani army.
The skirmish, however, took its toll on the Lieutenant as he was hit by enemy fire, but he did not abandon the tank, instead, he fought on. His final words over the radio to a superior officer who had ordered him to abandon his burning tank were, “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My Main 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 and he was seriously injured. This brave officer met a hero’s death, trying to deny the Pakistani Army the intended breakthrough.
His heroism gave the Indian Army a stronger position in the Shakargarh bulge. 2nd Lt. Khetarpal’s body and his tank “Famagusta” were captured and returned to the Indian army. On 17th December 1971, 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal was cremated near Samba district and his ashes were sent to his family.