Wars are always devastating. There are sides who turn up victorious and those who lose the battle, but there are sufferings on both sides. There are, however, some incredible stories of extreme courage and valor that get associated with brave soldiers and respected by all. The annals of Indian Army are full of such sagas of bravery.
Here is one such spectacular story of Major General Ian Cardozo, a decorated Indian Army officer who not only showed commendable bravery on the battle field but also displayed exemplary dedication off it too.
Ian Cardozo was a solider of the famed Gorkha Rifles
Ian Cardozo was born to Vincent Cardozo and Diana Cardozo on August 7, 1937 in Bombay. He did his initial schooling from St. Xaviers College, Bombay. He then graduated from the prestigious National Defence Academy and then attended the Indian Military Academy, from where he got commissioned into 5 Gorkha Rifles.
He joined the 1971 War after the 2IC of Gorkha was killed in action
When the war between India and Pakistan started, the then Major Ian Cardozo was attending a course in the Defence Services Staff College (D.S.S.C.), Wellington, Tamil Nadu. D.S.S.C. is an inter-service institution of the Ministry of Defence that trains officers of all the three Indian Armed Forces – Army, Air Force and Navy, for command and staff appointments. His battalion, the 4/5 Gorkha Rifles was already deployed at the Eastern front. The second in command of the battalion was killed in action. This is when Major Cardozo received his orders to join his unit at the front.
As the soldiers in his battalion couldn’t pronounce his name the Major earned the nickname ‘Cartoos Sahib’.
How he reached Assam in the Eastern Front
Leaving his wife and three sons back home, Major Cardozo left for New Delhi on December 3. By this time the war had already started and there was a blackout in Delhi. His flight from Palam Airport to Assam was cancelled. He rushed to the railway station in a taxi and just managed to catch the train, which was moving out of the platform. The next night he reached Dharamnagar, where he met four young officers who were badly wounded. Thereafter he took a jeep ride to reach his battalion after a day-and-night journey.
First heli-borne operation in the history of Indian Army
Major Cardozo reached the place at 0300 hrs where Major General KV Krishna Rao (who later became the Chief of Army staff) was waiting along with two other officers. The 5 Gorkhas were part of a Heli-borne operation which was the first ever in the history of the Indian Army wherein they had to go inside East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Normally, when such operations are planned, it takes two to three days for army and air force officers to discuss all the operational details like logistics, routes, arms and ammunition requirements etc. However, Major Cardozo’s battalion was only given a few hours to make the plans.
Cut off his own leg with a Khukri without thinking twice
Major Cardozo was the Second in Command (2IC) of the 5 Gorkha Rifles battalion of 750 soldiers, and was given the responsibility to capture Atgam near Sylhet. During the war, he accidentally stepped on a land mine and his left leg was critically injured in the blast. He was immediately taken to the battalion headquarters.
The makeshift hospital there did not have Morphine or Pathidine (pain killers) and the absence of medics meant his leg could not be amputated surgically. He asked for his Khukri and before anyone could say anything, Major Cardozo himself cut off his leg and ordered his batman “Go bury it now”.
Afterwards a captured Pakistani surgeon, Major Mohamed Bashir operated on him, which he really appreciated but could not thank him in person.
He defeated seven able-bodied men in a physical test
Even after losing his leg, he always kept his spirits high. With a wooden leg he was determined to prove that he could do as well, if not better, than a person with two legs. His dream was to command a battalion, which was almost an impossible task, given his condition. He prepared himself for the job by undertaking rigorous Battle Physical Tests (BPTs), against the advice of the officer in charge of the tests, who at one point said that he will arrest him if he did the test. To this Cardozo replied, “You can put me under arrest only after I commit an offence. So let me do the test. You can arrest me thereafter.” Not only did he complete the grueling test, but also beat seven able-bodied officers. The officer in charge was so much impressed that he put his arm around Cardozo’s shoulder and said, “Well Done Sir, good job.”
The first disabled officer to command a battalion
When Major Cardozo asked the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) as to what else he can do, the VCOAS asked Cardozo to accompany him to J&K. There he was asked to climb up 6000 feet to a helipad, where the VCOAS came by a helicopter. Major Cardozo effortlessly climbed up to the helipad, which immensely impressed the VCOAS, who then recommended his name to then Army Chief General TN Raina. General Raina asked him to accompany him to Ladakh.
With his wooden leg, Major Cardozo climbed mountains and walked in snow without any difficulties. An impressed General Raina returned to Delhi, summoned his file and wrote:
“Yes, give him a battalion and to all other officers who are not taking shelter behind their wounds.”
Ian Cardozo got his promotion and became the first disabled officer in the Indian Army to not only command an infantry battalion, but later an infantry brigade, too. His determination cleared the roadblocks not just for himself, but also for three disabled officers who rose to the rank of Army Commanders, and one even became a Vice Chief, even with both his legs amputated.
Major General Ian Cardozo, who has many achievements to his name, will always be known for his immense courage in the 1971 war with Pakistan. He was decorated with Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM) and Sena Medal (SM) for his distinguished service of an exceptional order. It can be said with pride that ‘We have such great soldiers in the Indian Army, we will always be on the winning side’!