A Soldier Remembers….

@SatishBahri

#OperationVijay 1961

#OralHistory

We were all packed and ready to leave Agra for my new posting to Srinagar when at my farewell dinner I was told that the orders had come for 50 Para Brigade to leave for Goa Operation Vijay – within 48 hours.

I straight away requested my Commanding Officer that my posting for Srinagar, a much prized one in those days, be held in abeyance as I didn’t want to miss out a once in a lifetime opportunity -not knowing of course that during the next 10 years I would also be taking part in two full-fledged wars with Pakistan.

By 7pm, 2 Dec 1961, as a member of the Brigade Advance Party to Goa we left by the Punjab Mail, the fastest in those days.

Limited to one kit bag for spare clothes, including a blanket, we shivered through 2 nights before we reached Belgaum via Pune on evening 4 December 1961.

My wife who had been ready to leave for Srinagar with me just a few hours earlier now made a harrowing 9 hour journey from Agra to her parents in Delhi with our 10-month-old daughter as all passenger trains had to make way for Military Specials having Red Hot Priority rushing to Goa.

Even our Brigade reached before us, the Advance Party.

On reaching Belgaum, where we spent many sleepless nights with one blanket in the open, we were informed that Portugal had sought NATO support so the Para Brigade may have to be para dropped to speed up the operations of 17 Infantry Division coming from south side Goa.

There however, was a hitch.

IAF had recently bought C119 Packet Transport planes for para ops but matching parachutes had still not been acquired. We were still on the slower WW II vintage DC3 Dakota equipment.

Senior medical officers who had jumped in the Korean War a few years earlier opined that at least 15% casualties may take place due to the older chutes.

So, a voice vote was taken by Brig Commander, Brig (later Lt Gen) Sagat Singh in affected units for the willingness of the troops & all answered with a resounding “Yes”!

For two weeks we went on long route marches to keep fit & assembled and reassembled our guns over and over again.

In those days’ guns were not para dropped as a whole but as separate components, in containers before we ourselves jumped. Then we went about collecting the strewn containers to assemble the gun.

Fortunately, this option was not exercised as not one country came in support of Portugal.

On 17th Dec 1961, a day before D-Day one company of 2Para Battalion was tasked to infiltrate across the border of Goa, head for Bicholim and secure the bridge over the Cudnem for our tanks to roll in.

We had a member of the Goa Resistance Movement to guide us from the Sawantwadi border.

But before we reached the Portuguese themselves blew up the bridge hoping to thwart our advance. The Brigade then scattered to other parts of Goa with different objectives while our tanks crossed the river without a problem.

At Ponda, our objective, we found abandoned barracks of their signal school and armoured car squadron. The Portuguese officers we heard from Ponda residents whom we met in the evening had all headed for Panjim as were we, while the Goan soldiers had been ordered to disperse to their villages.

Anyway, for a change, my course mate Capt. KS Pannu of 2 Para Battalion (later Maj Gen & MVC) & I spent that cold night of 18 Dec 1961 comfortably wrapped in the Portuguese Squadron Commander’s office carpet!

Although the 50th Para Brigade was charged with assisting the main thrust conducted by the 17th Infantry, its units moved rapidly across minefields, roadblocks and four riverine obstacles to be the first to reach Panjim, now known as Panaji.

Goa was now ours for the taking.

On 19 Dec 1961 The Governor of Goa, Gen Vassalo de Silva signed the Instrument of Surrender & Maj Gen KP Candeth, GOC 17 Infantry Division was appointed as Military Governor of Goa bringing to an end 451 years of Portuguese rule.

In all, 4668 personnel were taken prisoner by us —a figure which included military & civilian personnel, Portuguese & Goan.

The war had lasted two days and had cost 22 Indian & 30 Portuguese lives.

—————–x————–x—————x————–

A Soldier Remembers……

@SatishBahri

#Chinese Operations1962

#OralHistory

By late 1949 after the Kashmir debacle General Nathu Singh recommended the Army begin recruitment in full swing.

From the usual 800-1000 recruits during my time in 1952, a serious recruitment drive pushed by General Thimayya saw the Artillery Training Centre, Nasik Road flooded with 4-5000 to be trained.

However, with insufficient barracks, training equipment, beds, camp cots, mosquito nets & clothing.…Depots sent us shorts leftover from the WW2 campaign of North African deserts where it was extremely hot in the day and cold at night.

So instead of issuing a pair of trousers these shorts could be brought down below knee level at sunset & folded up & buttoned in the morning!

We had to alter 1000’s to cater to our requirements.

In 1958, at Para Field Regiment, Agra, the only one of its kind in our army there was an acute shortage of boots, belts, canvas shoes, shirts, trousers & warm clothing we purchased them from the market at our own expense.

Ordnance Factories (OFB) had been put to work churning out espresso machines thanks to the wisdom of our political leaders.

From 1945 onwards not, a single new vehicle had been inducted & we were still dragging along what had been left in our depots by the British & Americans.

When the Regiment used to move by road for its annual field firing camp to Babina Ranges near Jhansi, a mere 250 kms away, it used to take us 3 days to get the last vehicle in due to breakdowns enroute.

We had an effete PM who had an irrational dream of world peace which according to him could be only achieved by downsizing the Armed Forces.

He appointed Krishna Menon, a dyed in wool communist, as his Defence Minister. A man who couldn’t get along with his COAS as the latter was of the view that China posed a major threat to India.

General Thimayya’s warnings were dismissed by both the PM & DM as a warmongering.

PM Nehru after all had coined the slogan ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’.

Upon General Thimayya’s retirement a few months later Krishna Menon was able to appoint his favourites to lead the Army who were willing to do his bidding without complaint.

The rest is a lesson which will go down Military History Annals forever, as a humiliating defeat faced by the proud, once invincible Indian soldier on whose shoulder & back the British had fought not only both the World Wars but had built their Empire too.

——————–x—————-x——————x——————

A Soldier Remembers…

@SatishBahri

#IndoPakOperations1965

#Oral History

In July 1965 I was posted as Brigade Major to an under-raising 116 Infantry Brigade at Trivandrum, now Thiruvananthapuram. We had barely been there for ten months when on the evening of 28 April 1965 while celebrating at our Officers Mess with others the promotion of a fellow officer that my Brigade Commander, Brigadier (later Maj Gen) SY Munshi announced that due to Pakistani action in Kutch we had 48 hours to leave via Military Specials for Punjab.

On returning I informed my wife and recommended that she along with our 3-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son stay on as we would be back in a few weeks’ time after sorting out what we were given to believe was a skirmish.

The next morning, I went to office to prepare the Brigade for our move to the Front and found on my return that my wife had the house packed and was all set to travel with us in the Military Special till Delhi.

It was a hot, dusty, four nights long journey to Delhi. The Mess was in the Dining Car & our orderly came by at every stop to take the baba for a walk on the platform.

I handed over my family with the baby suffering from diarrhea to my father in law who came to Old Delhi Railway Station to receive them.

Our Brigade reached Harike on 3-4 May 1965 and took up defences in Khemkaran-Patti area.

This was the area where a fierce tank battle was destined to take place a few month later, forever busting the Pakistani myth that one Pakistani soldier equaled ten Indian ones!

Pakistan had recently joined CENTO, an alliance of US, UK, Turkey & Iran against the USSR. Thanks to US largesse, under a military aid program it received Patton tanks, 155mm guns, F86 Sabre fighters.

Due to political chaos in Pakistan in the late ‘50s its President Iskandar Mirza appointed in 1958 the Pakistani C-in-C, General Ayub Khan as the Martial Law Administrator after dismissing the civil government.

The self-appointed Field Marshal Ayub Khan, under the impression that India was a pushover after the licking we got from the Chinese in 1962 was itching to try his new arsenal.

Also, since PM Nehru had passed away in 1964 he assumed that there might be political turmoil in India, during which, he could make a grab for J&K.

To see our reaction, he first attacked Kanjarkot & Sardar posts held by CRPF in Kutch but without much success as India quickly moved its troops to thwart further ingress.

India then went on to mobilize its troops on the Rajasthan & Punjab border. That caused much alarm in Pakistan. The Western powers soon negotiated a ceasefire on 30 Jun 1965 and directed both countries to revert to their original positions.

Our  Brigade in Military Specials soon headed for Babina, Madhya Pradesh, where my family joined me a few days later.

By early August 1965, FM Ayub Khan launched Operation Gibraltar in J&K, by infiltrating civilians, sprinkled with soldiers as in 1947, hoping the local population would rise in Pakistani support.

That didn’t happen.

Instead the Kashmiris informed the Army about the infiltration and we captured some key features by 30 August 1965- Haji Pir Pass & Kargil heights. However, at tremendous cost to lives.

Our new PM Shastri, diminutive in size but a giant in decision making gave Pakistan a surprise by ordering attacks on the Lahore Sialkot Axis on 6 September 1965 where we captured considerable territory.

Our Brigade was allotted the task of protecting the Eastern flank of 1 Armoured Division’s thrust in Sialkot sector keeping Basantar Nadi on the East. On 6 Sep 65 we advanced without any resistance up to Kangre village about 10 km inside Pakistan.

 On the West our Armoured Division had destroyed 15-20 brand new Patton tanks some having clocked only 40 kms in the battle at Sabzkot & Phillora. However, our attack on Chawinda from 14-19 Sep 65 was stalled by dogged Pakistani resistance  It was in this battle that Lt Col Tarapore, Commanding Officer Poona Horse won his PVC.

As in any War, some battles bring us victory & others disheartening defeat. In both, however, the soldier gives his everything.

We fought against the latest M48 Patton tanks with night fighting capability with 15-year-old Centurion tanks, WW II vintage US Sherman tanks & recently bought AMX13 light tanks.

Some of our hapless Sherman tankmen had to drive with the gun clamped at the rear & release it just before coming close to the enemy. Thanks to an incomplete exercise by DRDO to install heavier guns on them.

In the well-known tank battle of Asal Uttar we found that the 75mm shells bounced off the Patton unless we got within 7-800m of them while Pattons could pick us off from a distance of 1500m.

It is in this battle CHM Abdul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers fought like a lion from an open jeep and was awarded the PVC for destroying 7 Pakistani tanks single handedly.

The Artillery was still using WW II guns & to cater for new regiments it had to revise the authorization from 24 to 18 guns per regiment. Ammunition was also in short supply and there were restrictions on the amount one could fire on a target.

Infantry was no better as most battalions were armed with Enfield .303 rifles except some which had 7.62mm SLR rifles gifted by Western nations after the ‘62 Operations.

The Indian Army once again proved the old dictum ~The Man Behind The Gun Is More Important Than The Gun~

——x——

Some Stories Not Forgotten ….

*On declaration of Ceasefire on 23 Sep 1965 UN peace keepers were posted on both sides.

India charged Pakistan with 585 violations in 34 days, while Pakistan countered with accusations of 450 incidents by India.

A Sector Commanders meeting was planned on the Cease Fire Line to resolve any issues that cropped up.

In the first meeting we exchanged information on the location of graves where we had buried each other’s Braves.

We were surprised when the Pakistani Brigade Commander asked if we had Muslims in the Indian Army.

They had found the body of a Major Shaikh (of Mangrol, Gujarat) as embossed on his identity disc & found his full name from his Lloyds Bank statement in his pocket.

The Pakistani Brigade Commander was astounded to learn that his counterpart, my Brigade Commander, was a Syed Yakub Munshi, a great officer, commander of troops & a thorough gentleman.

——x—–

*Pakistan was still smarting at the thrashing they had got & the territory they had lost in Rajasthan, Punjab & J&K. So, they were looking for a fight even after the ceasefire.

One afternoon in Oct/Nov 65, a Commanding Officer of a Grenadier Battalion, East of Basantar informed us that Pakistanis were trying to cut crops in front of their defences. When the battalion had objected a Pakistani Havaldar came across to explain that the villagers and their cattle were starving & needed the crops to survive.

The JCO from our side was suddenly asked by the Pakistani Havaldar if he was from Hoshiarpur.

When the JCO confirmed it, the Havaldar took his name & hugged him saying that the JCOs father had saved his family and some others during the 1947 riots.

The Pakistanis stopped cutting the crops but we kept the contact alive with the Havaldar, even presenting him an HMT watch.

One morning the Havaldar called our JCO to tell him that Pakistan had planned an attack on his position the previous night but had postponed it due to a shower which would have hindered the movement of tanks.

Thanks to that information we pumped in an additional infantry battalion, a squadron of tanks and artillery. The Pakistanis heard the roll of our tanks & didn’t venture further.

——-x——-

*Once again Pakistanis began crop cutting using their soldiers dressed as villagers. Since this would have exposed our positions we protested and repeatedl asked them over a megaphone to desist from the activity.

By now we had learnt that Pakistanis did not respond to anything but a show of strength so I ordered three snipers with telescopic rifles on a flank. Their Company Commander came running with a promise that it won’t happen again when on the count of three we shot & brought down two Pakistanis.

—–x——

*In Dec 1965 while our troops were still facing each other across the Basantar Nadi one afternoon our Madras battalion reported that a lone Pakistani woman was walking across the 400m sandy riverbed towards their positions & not stopping despite warnings.

She would sit down for a few mins & again start towards our defences. Eventually, she crossed over & the battalion put her in a vehicle and sent her to our Brigade HQ.

Looking and smelling like a wild animal, completely disheveled I asked her as why she had endangered her life.

She responded that it was better for her to die than live in the hell she was living in her village.

It turned out that she was an army Havaldar’s wife left behind with the elderly to look after the crops and animals.

Due to the war an army platoon of about 30 men was positioned close to the village and they would come across anytime of the day or night whether at home or in the fields and rape the women. Out of fear no one could object to their behaviour, so she preferred to escape even if it had cost her life.

After a hot bath and meal she was evacuated to the internment camp in Jammu.

——-x——

With declining stockpiles of ammunition, Pakistani leaders feared the war tilting in India’s favour. Therefore, they quickly accepted the ceasefire in Tashkent.

India had shocked Ayub’s belief that ~Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place~

He didn’t and couldn’t understand that the entire Nation had fought as One.

Despite strong opposition from Indian military leaders, India bowed to growing international diplomatic pressure and accepted the ceasefire.

Unfortunately, all gains of the 1965 Operations were squandered away at Tashkent. A terrible betrayal to those who gave up their lives.

How many of PM Shastri’s advisors were again advising PM Gandhi in Shimla in 1972 when she agreed to hand over 93,000 Pak POWs in return for zilch?

~I Have Never Advocated War Except As A Means Of Peace~

A Soldier Remembers…

@SatishBahri

#OperationCactusLily 1971

#OralHistory

I assumed command of 193 Mountain Regiment in December ‘69 in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh).

By January ’71 we had moved to Bakloh, Himachal Pradesh where we inherited from the unit we replaced WWI vintage 3.7in Howitzers all greased up & ready to be returned to the depot.

Instead we were to receive newly developed 75/25 mm Howitzers.

By February ‘71 our NCO teams left for Artillery School for instructor training and the collection of guns but the delivery was unfortunately delayed.

By March ’71 we were put on six hours alert to be prepared for operations due to the massive influx of refugees into India from East Pakistan

However, operations didn’t take place as Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was able to convince Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that he needed more time to take proper action. 

As our new guns hadn’t arrived yet we hurriedly degreased the old obsolete guns, began training on them at the Jammu ranges

Finally, the new guns arrived in June.

So, the regiment began training again in earnest and happily had a successful firing practice in July 71 at Jammu.

In the meantime, we were collecting equipment and vehicles to make up our deficiencies. Our shortage of officers was made up from those under training in institutions and HQ in peace stations.

During the rest of the time I was travelling by road frequently to Jammu from Bakloh for briefings about our tasks at Division and Brigade HQ and wargaming operational situations.

My Regiment was to provide artillery support to 19 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brig Mohinder Singh for the capture of Chickens Neck, earlier called The Dagger, a salient into our territory of about a 180 sq. km area West of Jammu, bounded by River Chenab, West & River Tawi, South. 

By end October ‘71 our Regiment moved near Jammu to be close to our objective and we kept busy stocking ammunition, selecting/preparing half a dozen gun positions and fine tuning our plans.

In November ‘71 General Manekshaw & Army Commander Western Command Lt General Candeth visited all units deployed against East and West Pakistan as earlier in the month Mukti Bahini, stiffened by our army, had started operations in the East.

On 30 November ‘71 I sought permission of Brig Mohinder Singh to see off my wife and children at Pathankot railway station.

I was to drive down from Jammu to Pathankot and they were coming from Bakloh to take the train to Delhi.

The Brigadier advised instead that I should get them to his Brigade Officers Mess at Damana as he believed that the anticipated war was not going to happen and it made sense to bring them closer to our deployment area.

So, at Pathankot Station instead of seeing them off I brought them to a barrack in Damana right next to the Brigade Commander’s house.

‪In three days the operations commenced & my family was only six kms from the front !

For details you should hear the story from my daughter, who was then still not 10.

https://nandinibahri-dhanda.blog/2019/04/21/sand-in-my-teeth-a-matter-of-honour/

On 3 Dec 71 morning Commander 19 Brigade and I visited our neighbouring Division across Chenab R, which was poised for an offensive, to tie up plans as to how we should come to aid each other in case Pak attacked 1st.

But that same evening while I was briefing my Battery Commanders about our visit and our tasks in our dugout officers mess, I felt through my feet that shelling was going on towards the Division we had visited a few hours earlier.

‪As nothing could be heard my officers couldn’t confirm it.

‪Neither could the Brigade confirm that shelling was happening anywhere.

A few minutes later Division HQ confirmed that Pakistani Airforce had raided some of our airfields in Punjab and launched an artillery bombardment in our neighbouring Division.

‪The reason for no one else sensing the bombardment was that none of the officers had taken part in ‘65 war, except me!

‪On 4th December ‘71 we were given the go ahead to begin the offensive to capture Chickens Neck at 1600hrs 5 December’71.

‪One of our posts at the border reported that movement of some tank noise was being heard on the Pak side. An ‪IAF officer attached to the Regiment was hesitant to ask Pathankot airfield for a recce to check as it was soon going to be dark.

‪On my insistence and using my NDA links with the air field I managed to get a plane airborne and within thirty minutes the pilot confirmed that there weren’t any tanks.

‪The mystery was solved when we later learnt that Pakistan was using a recording of tank movement noise to deceive us.

‪At sunset we moved our guns into our pre-prepared gun positions & at 9pm that night our three battalions headed towards the 3 ferry crossings across the Tawi river to block the escape of Pakistani troops out of the Chickens Neck – the wringing of the Chicken’s Neck

‪With the range of my guns I could easily provide support from our side of the border.

‪The General commanding our Division and Brigadier Mohinder Singh watched the progress of the Brigade complete their tasks from my Command Post till 2 am. It was quite a fireworks display as all the guns in our support bombarded Pakistani positions.

‪As battalions secured village after village, they torched them- a lesson I learnt in ‘65 where Pakistani Army would leave behind villagers who would then alert them on our movement & subject us to artillery fire.

‪By 1200 hrs 6 December ‘71 the entire area was captured.

‪Due to terrain difficulties one ferry site was secured much later and due to this a large number of Pakistanis escaped.

‪Nevertheless, we brought down 34, including 1 officer & took 28 prisoners.

‪Casualties on our side were 4 soldiers including two of my Regiment.

I, myself escaped an air attack when I was being driven to one of my battery positions. 

‪A soldier warned, “Saab, hawaai jahaz! Hawaai jahaz!”

‪My driver and I abandoned the jeep & dived into nearby trenches and underwent repeated machine gun runs by Pakistani Sabres.

‪After they had their fill we returned to our jeep and appreciated their marksmanship.

‪They had shot a bullet right through the backrest of my seat, which fortunately was vacated by me seconds earlier!

‪As our guns were causing considerable damage on their ground troops and installations, Pakistani Airforce was very active always on the lookout for our guns. 

‪A cat & mouse game followed with us changing positions often and they trying to locate us anew. Our guns had scored direct hits on the Pakistani HQ at Phuklean Rest House and a picture of it is a prized possession of the Regiment. My regiment since that victorious day, uses the suffix “Ph! Ph! (Phulean Phuckers)”

‪On 6 December’71 just before sunset Brigadier Mohinder Singh and I visited my furthest guns at Marala Headworks,  the junction of Rivers Chenab and Tawi and were surprised to see people on the bridge, silhouetted against the sun.

Two major canals took off from Marala towards the East.

‪I suggested that we should destroy the barrage by a direct shoot with two 130mm guns so that we could flood the area downstream.

‪A few days later upon receiving orders to take on the shoot, an escort and I set off to find a suitable location for the guns.

‪We tried to get near the barrage but had to return as through the Sarkanda Grass (Elephant Grass) along the banks of the River Tawi, progress was slow & tedious

‪On the way back along the river we noticed a low flying Pakistani light plane on patrol which we tried to shoot down with a machine gun but it seemed eager to get away.

‪A few hours later a Pakistani Army Naik surrendered to our forward post. He revealed that Pakistan had infiltrated a SSG Commando Company with the aim of destroying our guns & was now in hiding in the very same Sarkanda Grass that I had just returned from.

‪Brigadier Mohinder Singh immediately tasked our armoured fighting vehicle battalion to scour out the enemy in the Sarkanda which was done ably & successfully before dawn next morning!

Eight Pakistanis were killed during this short operation.

‪12 December ‘71 as things were relatively quiet and the Artillery Brigade ordered my Regiment to move to the Jammu-Sialkot axis.

‪In our new location we spent our days showering Sialkot city with the only gifts we had, 75mm shells, till cease fire was declared on 16 December 1971!

Indian casualties – 3843

Wounded – 12000

Pakistani casualties – 9000

Wounded – 25000

Captured – 93000

Pakistani territory captured by India – approximately 11000 Sq Kms

Creation of Bangladesh.

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