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17 Mountain Division / Black Cat Division

The 17 Mountain Division that guards Sikkim is known as the Black Cat Division. As of late 2007 Maj. Gen. Vijay Singh Lalotra was General Officer Commanding. The Black Cat Division, guardians of Sikkim frontiers, have a rich and varied heritage. It has participated in all wars since World War II and excelled in its roll of honour of valour and might. With a histroy stretching from the jungles of the East, fighting against the Japanese hordes, to the guardianship of the moonscape terrain of North Sikkim to the Chumbi Valley in the East, it is eternally vigilant against any foe who dares to trespass into our motherland's hallowed soil.

17 Mountain Division was originally raised as 17 Indian Division at Ahmednagar on 01 July 1941 under the command of Maj Gen HW Lewis, CE, CIE, DSO. Though the formation was earmarked for operation in North Africa after raising, it was rushed to Burma as part of the Burma Corps due to the adverse situation prevailing in SE Asia. In March 1942, Maj Gen DT 'Punch' Cowan, CD, CEE, DSO, MC assumed command of the formation. The division as part of 4 Corps and under 14 Army, was launched into Burma in December 1944. Starting with the battle of Meiktila, it continued its advance into Burma till Rangoon fell to the Allied Forces in June 1945. The formation won many laurels including 7 VCs, and 161 MCs, besides other gallantry awards.

On conclusion of World War II, the Division was disembodied in 1946. It was re-raised as 17 Infantry Division at Ambala in 15 November 1960 under Maj Gen KS Katoch, MC. During 1961, the Division was assigned the task of liberating Goa under Maj Gen Candeth. Subsequently on 15 Nov 1963, the Formation moved to Sikkim since then it has been successfully guarding the 245 Km long Sikkim border with Tibet.

Feared foe of the adversary but the friend of the hill people, the Black Cat built bridges of friendship with the people of Sikkim over the years of its existence. Mighty roads have been built where no man has tread before, providing solace to the population in the remote areas in terms of humanitarian aid be it hospitals, care of animals or wayside amenities. The bridges spanning the formidable rivers are yet another symbol of bonds forever. The days of peace see the division stoutly engaged in taking steps forward in the march of the millennium, hand-in-hand with the people of Sikkim. Cat-like, the division maintains its presence silently keeping the ever-vigilant watch over the jewel of the East to preserve ecology, flora, fauna and the biodiversity.

The Watershed Gunners of the Black Cat Division are the 'locks and keys' of last of the green diadems-Sikkim. While in the times of war ever ready to give the foe a fiery answer, in peace the Watershed Gunners seek to discover the heritage and culture of the land they are deployed in, together with a pinch of adventure and an eco-friendly quest.

With 'flora-fauna friendship' as their motto and the thirst to discover the heritage and culture of the land together with a dash of adventure and eco-friendly quest, in 2001 a trekking of 23 days covering a distance of 700 km by an officer and nine jawans of the Watershed Gunners (61 Regiment) belonging to Black Cat Division of the Indian Army was to be carried out in the face of innumerable odds. The expedition was to circumnavigate the state and to discover the real Sikkim.

Adventure is second nature to the Gunners. The motive force behind the Gunshot to circumnavigate the state-probably for the first time negotiating the cold arctic desert of North Sikkim to the sun-dappled plains of West and South Sikkim in the foot-hills of the Himalayas, has stemmed from the desire to take on the elements, to quench an all-consuming thirst for meeting head-on with the challenge of Mother Nature. The trek aimed to spread the message of friendship, ecological preservation and national integration. It will be a lasting testimony in the vibrant bonds the Gunners have forged with the people of Sikkim.

The 17 Mountain Division Signal Regiment undertook in late 2002 a trekking expedition-cum-special patrol, Jimmy Trek, to explore untouched realms of nature in West Sikkim. The trekking team comprised three officers and 11 ORs including one officer and one OR from 33 Corps Operation Signal Regiment and 2 ORs from 33 Corps Engineering Signal Regiment. The trek was completed in a span of 10 days and the entire route of 282 kms passed through snow-peaked mountains, majestic valleys, unperturbed river beds, deep gorges and mighty waterfalls. The expedition was flagged off by GOC, 17 Mountain Division, Maj Gen KC Vig at the Gangtok helipad.

Major General K. T. Parniak, General Officer Commanding 17 Mountain division flagged in the White Water Rafting leg of the Eastern Command Multidimensional Expedition-II on its successful completion on 24 January 2006. The rafting leg had commenced on 20th January from Dickchue as an integral part of the adventure activities curriculum of the Kolkata based Eastern Command. The expedition was undertaken in two rafts by 22 members who experienced the thrills of white water rafting amidst the twist and turns of the river by braving the dense fog and winter chill through the journey.

Since late July 2007, Indian Army and Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) of China had been involved in border disputes near the Dolam Plateau, the tri-junction of Sikkim (India), Bhutan and China. On July 27, the 17 Mountain Division of Indian Army, headquartered in Gangtok, Sikkim, received a letter from the Chinese troops asking for the immediate removal of two Indian Army bunkers in Batangla, Bhutan. The letter stated that failure to do so would lead to "adverse consequences." Local commanders from both sides met in a series of meetings (August 6, 15 and September 15) to resolve this issue. India asked China to soften its stance in light of the December 15 joint military exercise and argued that the fight over bunkers would go against the spirit of the joint exercise.

In November 2007, the PLA moved into Bhutan's Dolam Plateau and demolished a hut close to the bunkers. The hut was a rest house used by the Indian Army. Indian Army officials have kept the matter quiet as the bunkers are located in Bhutan but manned by Indian Army personnel.

The Indian Army was not enthusiastic about softening border security in order to facilitate trade with China. If the border trade does develop, the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan border police would likely replace the Army in Nathu La and surrounding areas. The Army remained opposed to this prospect. China had completed work on the 300 mile railway line from Lhasa right up to Yatung which is 20 miles from Nathu La. This gave the Chinese greater maneuverability vis-`-vis India in the border region. The Indian Army highlighted the improved Chinese infrastructure to justify its continued presence along the border.

Lt Gen Avadhesh Prakash took over as new Military Secretary. A war veteran of 1971, he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion of the Naga Regiment on December 20, 1970 from Indian Military Academy. Lt Gen Avadhesh Prakash is the Colonel of the Kumaon and Naga Regiments. He has attended several courses. During his distinguished career spanning four decades, the General Officer has held varied important appointments and several important instructional positions. He is the only officer who has held two tenures at IMTRAT, Bhutan. He was awarded Vishisht Seva Medal for his distinguished command of 17 Mountain Division.

In November 2007 Defence Minister, Mr AK Antony assured that the Government would take every step to improve the infrastructure in the North-East border areas. He was speaking to media at the India-China border situated at Nathu La Pass in Sikkim. The Minister was on a two-day visit to the border-State. Mr AK Antony was the first Defence Minister to visit LAC since trade through the Pass resumed in July last year, after a gap of 44 years., Defence Minister also addressed a special sainik sammelan. He assured the troops of the 17 Mountain Division that the Government would ensure the Armed Forces personnel get their due from the 6th Pay Commission.

It was a proud moment for Black Cat Division when the General Officer Commanding of the Division received the prestigious Eastern Command Banner for the year 2007-2008 from Lt Gen VK Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command at Kolkata. The Eastern Command Banner is given to the Division which earns maximum points in various sports and professional competitions. Despite being actively deployed on the border in Sikkim, Black Cat Division has proved its mettle in the field of sports in the Command Championship amidst stiff competition from its rivals. The Command Banner was keenly contested by eleven other teams. It is in keeping with the great sporting tradition of the Black Cat Division which has produced a number of national and international players. The General Officer attributed the Command Banner to each and every sportsman of the Division who contributed towards earning the honor.

To commemorate the soldiers who laid down lives while defending the frontiers of the country over the years, a war memorial was inaugurated in April 2008 at Sherathang, three kms from the Sino-India border. The war memorial has been dedicated to the 267 soldiers who died during border skirmishes with the Chinese counterparts in 1958 and 1967. It was a tribute to those soldiers whose supreme sacrifice for the nation would remain engraved not only on the stones at the memorial, but would be remembered for all times to come, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said after inaugurating the war memorial. Built by the Black Cat division of the armed forces, which guards the national frontier in Sikkim, the memorial has 12 granite stones standing side by side in which the names of 267 martyred soldiers has been engraved and in the centre lies a reverse rifle covered by a canopy. Situated at 13,500 feet altitude and surrounded by the towering snow-capped hills from all sides, the memorial would provide an opportunity to the visitors and tourists from the country to stop their vehicles for a minute and salute the martyrs, said Maj Gen KVS Lalotra, GOC of the 17th Mountain Division.

George MacDonald Fraser had died in January 2008, at the age of 82. Fraser created Sir Harry Flashman, and whose version of history was a subversive, subaltern and hilarious perspective on Empire. Flashman was an anti-hero, a lecherous bully and coward whose charm took him romping, Zelig-like, through the Crimea, Afghanistan , Balaclava, the Mutiny, the American Civil War and a score of other events of historical interest. The autobiographical Quartered Safe Out Here remains one of the best honest accounts of the forgotten war in Burma, where Fraser served in the 17th Black Cat Division.



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