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Goodbye Gurudev: Lieutenant General Hanut Singh

Army Officials laying wreath during the funeral rites of Lt Gen Hanut Army Officials laying wreath during the funeral rites of Lt Gen Hanut

Lieutenant General Hanut Singh of Indian army passed away on 11 April, 2015.  A devout and proud Rajput, Hanut was a dedicated solider.  Hanut was a Rathore Rajput born in Jasol Rajasthan.  Almost every Rajput has some connection with the art of war and Hanut was no exception.

His father Lieutenant Colonel Arjun Singh served with Jodhpur Lancers and commanded Kachawa Horse.  After completing early education at Colonel Brown School at Dehra Dun, he joined the first course of Joint Services Wing (JSW) of Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehra Dun in 1949.  The first batch of JSW produced service chief’s of all three services; General S. F. Rodrigues, Air Chief Marshal N. C. Suri and Admiral Ram Das. Hanut was commissioned in 1952 (IC-6126) in legendry 17 Poona Horse.  Hanut had family connection with Poona Horse as his father and uncle who served with Jodhpur Lancers had done an attachment with the regiment.

Lieutenant General Hanut Singh

At the time of partition in 1947, there were very few Indian officers serving with Poona Horse and a number of officers were transferred from other regiments.  Most of these officers were from feudal background.  It was a lot of jolly fellows but not much interested in art of warfare.  Regiment’s reputation dampened and it earned the nick name of ‘Kunwar Sahib’s Regiment’.  Hanut and other officers commissioned in 1950s worked hard to change the perception and regiment regained its old legendry reputation of a first class regiment.   Hanut was a great admirer of German General Staff and introduced high level of professionalism in Poona Horse.  Other young officers of the regiment followed Hanut and he was nick named ‘Gurudev’ (teacher or master).  In addition to Hanut, regiment produced a long list of general officers including Surrindar Singh, Amrik Virk, Ajai Singh, Moti Dar and Neville Foley.

Hanut missed the 1965 war with his regiment (he was Brigade Major of 66 Brigade) when Poona Horse clashed with Pakistan’s 25 Cavalry commanded by an equally worthy foe Lieutenant Colonel ‘Kaka’ Nisar and Commandant Lieutenant Colonel ‘Addi’ Tarapore was posthumously awarded highest gallantry award Param Vir Chakra (PVC).  Hanut’s finest moment was when he was Commandant of 17 Poona Horse in 1971 war.  He took command of the regiment in September 1971 and by the time shooting war started he was in control of a tight knitted well oiled fighting formation.

In Shakargarh area, 17 Poona Horse came face to face with an equally proud cavalry regiment of Pakistan army; 13 Lancers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Masud.  Both regiments had a shared history.  In 1947, when armored regiments of Indian army were divided between India and Pakistan, several squadrons were exchanged.  Sikh squadron of 13 Lancers joined Poona Horse while Kaim Khani squadron of 17 Poona Horse joined 13 Lancers.  Due to slow advance of the formation, Hanut’s commander asked him to move quickly into the bridgehead and C Squadron of Poona Horse was pushed through the minefield without waiting to clear it.  13 Lancers of Pakistan army was assigned to deal with this threat.  A Squadron of 13 Lancers faced C Squadron of Poona Horse while B Squadron of Poona Horse and half of A Squadron faced B and C Squadrons of 13 Lancers.  Soldiers of both sides fought bravely.  13 Lancers lost twenty four brave soldiers including three officers killed and two wounded (Captain Ejaz Alam Khan, Lieutenant Zafar Ali Akbar, Lieutenant Pervez Aslam, Second Lieutenant Khalid Masud Malik and Second Lieutenant Qaiser Nazir Qureshi,).  Later, when 31 Cavalry of Pakistan army commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Khwaja Nasim Iqbal joined the fray, Poona Horse gave a good performance and 31 Cavalry lost twelve brave soldiers including two officers; Major Alley Ahmad and Lieutenant Zahid Rashid Mirza.   In this battle, wounded Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal died when he refused to abandon his tank that had been hit by a shell.  Arun’s radio operator sowar Nand Singh also died while driver Prayag Singh and gunner Nathu Singh were severely wounded.  Arun was awarded highest gallantry award Param Vir Chakra (PVC).  In 2001, Arun’s father Brigadier Madan Lal Khetrapal visited Pakistan.  In Pakistan, he stayed with Brigadier Khwaja Muhammad Nasir.  Nasir went out of his way to make Khetrapal comfortable and arranged for visit to his ancestral home in Sargodha.  On the last night of the stay, Nasir confided to his guest that he was the commander of the squadron opposing Arun’s squadron in 1971.  A shell fired by then A Squadron commander 13 Lancers Major Muhammad Nasir hit Arun’s tank.  Nasir said that ‘we were soldiers unknown to each other, fighting for the safety and honour of our respective countries.  I regret to have to tell you that your son died at my hands’.  Nasir praised Arun’s bravery. The highest tribute to Arun was also paid by Nasir when he send the photographs of Khetrapal’s visit with a note that said ‘With warmest regards and utmost sincerity, To: Brigadier M.L. Khetrapal, father of Shaheed Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, PVC, who stood like an insurmountable rock, between the victory and failure, of the counter attack by the ‘SPEARHEADS’ 13 Lancers on 16 December 1971 in the battle of “Bara Pind” as we call it and battle of “Basantar” as 17 Poona Horse remembers’. 

Hanut During 1971

Hanut During 1971


With Swamiji

With Swamiji

Throughout his career Hanut strived to improve armor tactics.  In 1958, he went for gunnery course in UK and involved in induction of Centurion tanks in Indian army.  He updated gunnery instruction manual of armored corps. Hanut commanded 14 Independent Armored Brigade, 17 Mountain Division, 1 Armored Division and II Strike Corps.  He served in Military Operations Directorate and Commandant of School of Armor.  Hanut’s life revolved around army and he remained a lifelong bachelor.  He was also a deeply religious man and throughout his life he performed regular meditation.

Hanut was not hesitant to speak his mind on professional matters.  This sometimes created friction with some superiors who were accustomed to ‘yes sir’ culture of the army.  Such men usually don’t go far in Indian and Pakistani armies but some like Hanut cannot be denied higher rank as their professionalism cannot be easily set aside (I put recently retired Lieutenant General Tariq Khan of Pakistan army in this category).  Hanut gave similar privilege to his juniors.  In 1984 Brass tack exercise; Hanut was commanding II Strike Corps.  After the exercise, Major (later Major General) Raj Mehta then a squadron commander wrote a handwritten paper pointing to some deficiencies.  This paper through a staff officer reached Hanut.  Mehta was invited by Hanut to his house for tea and Corp Commander discussed the paper of a young major over three long hours.

Rest in peace ‘Gurudev’ Hanut Singh.  The best tribute that a younger generation of officers can pay to such officers and gentlemen of Indian and Pakistan armies is to strive towards professional excellence.  This learning of art of war should be accompanied with a silent prayer that a time may never come that they have to practice this art so that young lads like Second Lieutenant Arun Khetrapal, Second Lieutenant Khalid Masud Malik and Second Lieutenant Qaiser Nazir Qureshi barely out of teenage years don’t have to die.

Acknowledgements : Author thanks Major ® Agha H. Amin of Pakistan army and Major General V. K. Singh of Indian army and profile of Lieutenant General Hanut Singh in mainly from his book.

Bibliography :

  1. Major General V. K. Singh.  Leadership in the Indian Army: Biographies of Twelve Soldiers (New Delhi: Sage Publishers, 2005).
  2. Major General Raj Mehta.  A Visionary Cavalier – Lt. Gen. Hanut Singh.tp://www.defstrat.com/exec/frmArticleDetails.aspx?DID=381
  3. Ashok Malik. An Officer and a Gentleman.  Hindustan Times, August 14, 2011.
  4. Regimental History of Poona Horse, a copy is available on online at Poona Horse Regimental Association, http://web.archive.org/web/20040722123932/http://poonahorse.com/history.htm
  5. Hamid Hussain.  Poona Horse. Defence Journal, February 2013