Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal (14 October 1950 – 16 December 1971), was an Indian Army officer awarded with the Param Vir Chakra.
Early Life and Career
Arun Khetarpal was born on 14 October 1950, in Pune, India. He comes from a family of military servicemen – his father was a Corps of Engineers officer in the Indian Army. When he was a student at Rashtriya Military School, he was a great athlete.
In June 1967, Khetarpal joined the National Defence Academy. His squadron was Foxtrot Squadron, and he was the 38th Course Cadet Captain. His NDA number was 7498/F/38. A few years later, he joined the Indian Military Academy. He was commissioned into the 17 Poona Horse in June 1971.
Battle of Basantar
In 1971, the 17 Poona Horse was assigned to the 47th Infantry Brigade of the Indian Army during the Indo-Pakistan War. The 47th Brigade was involved in the Battle of Basantar throughout the conflict.
One of the 47th Brigade’s tasks was to build a bridgehead across the river Basantar. On 15 December, the brigade had captured its targets. A lot of mines were there, so the Poona Horse couldn’t deploy their tanks. When Indian troops at the bridgehead heard alarming enemy armor activity, they asked for armor support immediately. At this critical moment, the 17 Poona Horse decided to push through the minefield. By the first light of the next morning, the regiment was connected to the infantry at the bridgehead.
Taking cover behind a smokescreen, Pakistani armor launched the first counterattack at Jarpal against the ‘B’ Squadron on 16 December. A call for reinforcements was urgently made by the squadron’s commander. With the rest of his regiment, 2nd Lt. Arun Khetarpal responded promptly, along with his squadron. When Lieutenant Khetarpal saw the Pakistani armor, he launched a vicious counterattack. He was able to subdue the enemy’s advance with his tanks. Lt Ahlawat, the commander of the second tank, got hurt during the battle. Khetarpal continued to attack the enemy alone. Despite heavy casualties, the enemy didn’t retreat. He destroyed an enemy tank as he attacked the incoming Pakistani troops. Pakistani forces, however, regrouped and counterattacked. Arun Khetarpal and two remaining tanks took down 10 enemy tanks in the ensuing battle.
Arun Khetarpal’s tank was hit by enemy fire during the fierce tank fight, but he didn’t abandon it, instead, he fought on. In response to an order to abandon it, he responded, “No sir, I won’t abandon my tank. My main gun is still working, and I’ll kill these bastards.” Then he set about destroying the remaining enemy tanks. It was just 100 meters from his position that he shot the last enemy tank. During this stage, his tank was hit twice, and the shell passed through the cupola and ripped his stomach out. As he tried to stop the Pakistani Army from making their breakthrough, Arun Khetarpal died a hero’s death. The body of 2nd Lt Khetarpal and his tank “Famagusta” were captured and returned to the Indian army.
He was awarded India’s most prestigious military medal, the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously.
He died on 16 December 1971, in Barapind, Shakargarh Sector.
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