Col Satish Singh Lalotra
“A good soldier obeys without question, a good officer commands without doubt”-The imperial Guards.
Half a century has passed since the epic war of ‘Liberation of Bangladesh” of 1971 when India had to redeem its pledge to safeguard the core tenets of humanity via its armed intervention in East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Lots of water has flown down the rivers from Indus to Irrawaddy & Brahmaputra to Tapti since then. PM Modi and his government as an ode to the armed forces of the country from a grateful nation last year kick started the ‘Swarnim vijay Mashaal”( Golden victory torch) at the national war memorial (NWM) ,New Delhi .Four victory torches( vijay mashaals) had been lit up from the eternal flame of NWM at New Delhi and carried to all the nook and corners in a victory parade to the towns and villages of PVC and MVC winners . This short write up too is an attempt to take the narrative ahead in this year of “Golden jubilee of 1971 war’ to make the general public aware of the trials and tribulations IA takes to secure the hard won independence and sovereignty of India.
The remembered glory of a sub unit of “12 Guards” an elite and the oldest infantry outfit of IA was written on the terra firma of “Chamb Jourian” in J&K with its unmistakable stamp of valour, and unstinted faith in its ability to turn the tables on its adversaries . The sub-unit (Charlie company) of 12 Guards was commanded by Major (later Brig) Ramesh Bhatia and was one of the first few units to be equipped with ENTAC(French wire guided anti-tank missile system) which India in anticipation of imminent hostilities had purchased a big way from France. High on a potion of camaraderie, nationalism and an undying will to give the enemy a taste of its own medicine Major Bhatia was sounded the marching orders with his sub-unit to head for J&K in October 1971 to general area Chamb Jourian to be precise .Still in the throes of pre staff course, he post haste organized his move of Charlie company and sounded his family staying at Ambala to brace up for the upcoming tumultuous times unfolding ahead at a rapid pace. Around mid-October 1971 he moved lock stock and barrel with his company to the intended area of operations where after meeting senior officers of the divisional headquarters his sub unit was allotted an entirely different area of operations .As often happens in a fluid situation in prewar conditions this different area of operation entailed quick movement with his fleet of vehicles and communication with top most secrecy as one of the terms of reference. With both of his war assets under duress due to attrition caused by lack of spares and short notice it fell to the lot of his GOC to resurrect the sub unit from a moribund state to that of operational excellence after tasking the EME unit under his command to do the needful which they did so in flat three days. The egging on was provided to the GOC by a staff officer who had witnessed the subunit push in everything under its reckoning to make it to the new area in record time brushing aside all physical obstacles in an unfamiliar terrain . None the less operations provide an enabling atmosphere wherein junior officers can freely express their concerns to a senior which precisely happened here since Major Bhatia directly addressed the issue to his General in addition to the staff officer’s account.
With new ENTAC weapon system under its wings, Charlie Company started its task earnestly by first putting the divisional staff in the loop by various presentations on the technical and tactical employment of the same as also went on ground to assess the enemy tank threats, their various probable tank routes by carrying out reconnaissance ,area familiarization etc. The terrain conditions obtaining in the area of operations necessitated an out of the box engagement tactics of enemy armour thereby forcing Major Bhatia to suggest his seniors taking on the task by splitting his company in small hit squads or teams armed with the latest missile systems employing the ‘Shoot and scoot’ principle. Accordingly he deployed his war assets dovetailing the terrain configuration as an enabling factor rather than as a hindrance. Having deployed his company in general area of Burjeall ,Pt 405,Pt 303 etc under his able platoon commanders like Capt KK Puri ,2/Lt Ravi Batra, Lt Biker singh etc the endless game of waiting for the balloon to go up started in the right earnest. The moment of reckoning for Major Bhatia and his team of officers didn’t keep them waiting long enough since on 03rd December 1971 at about 1100 H information was received of enemy tanks from Burjeall ten in numbers under camouflage nets . Major Bhatia was ordered to take them on and destroy them before they were brought to bear upon them with their full fury.
Events moved fast thereafter when after lying in wait, the Pak offensive started after few hours at last light under intense artillery and air bombardment. On the intervening night of 3-4 December 1971, enemy attacked on all fronts dominating the entire sector with no quarter asked or given. In the ensuing fight between the enemy tanks/ infantry and our forward elements at Pt 303 & Pt 405 Major Bhatia’s sub-unit officers to include 2/Lt Ravi Batra was wounded in action and evacuated,but not before Havildar Khazan singh of the officer’s detachment drew first blood and knocked off one enemy tank scoring a direct hit to the cheers of on looking 5 Sikh troops who came out of their trenches throwing caution to the winds . In a similar vein L/Nk Nar Bhadur Chetri destroyed two enemy tanks in a different tank vs missile engagement with the same gusto another detachment of L/Nk A Khajoor and Nk Dan singh too took on enemy armour with their newly acquired ENTAC weapons at Burjeall . With four enemy tanks destroyed with in a span of few hours the Pak artillery went hammer and tongs on to the company of Major Bhatia and straddled his location with countless exploding shells resulting in quite a few casualties to his men under his command.
Charlie Company though in thick of action was no less short of humour in uniform, when the company commander’s sahayak Dandu Ram went missing for a few hours only to raise lots of eyebrows some even casting aspersions on his integrity and having lost nerve in the battle field. All were proved wrong when late in the evening Dandu Ram returned with his pack 08 haversack full of cigarette packets for his company commander having brought the booty from a neighbouring village of chamb which was being ransacked by the locals in the continuing melee as a result of the war. The war in fact threw strange acts of valour and even conflicts of mind too in the same sector when Major Bhatia was witness to a young officer of different unit getting shell shocked by the fury and gory as obtained in the battlefield numbing his sense of discretion and reasoning. Similarly he was witness to a foolhardy defence by the company commander of a neighbouring company when under orders to withdraw under enemy pressure he ignored the orders and started off with the MMG firing inviting enemy retribution getting killed in the bargain.
Keeping the fact that Pakistan threw everything it had in the Chamb sector as was the case in 1965 war, withdrawal of IA was undertaken in a very graded manner from some areas to be able to go in for an effective riposte to the enemy on own ground of choosing . The sub-unit of Major Bhatia too was ordered to withdraw to a safe flank which it did in an organized manner to recoil back in action at different time and place. Overall the company was able to knock off 06 enemy tanks with in a space of 96 hours from 03/04 December 1971 to 07 December 1971 with 02 officers and 04 Jawans injured in the engagements as brought out earlier. The company was able to vindicate its technical and tactical prowess to master the newly inducted ENTAC weapon system to its fullest. It has to be understood by a grateful nation that upon it devolves the onerous duty of equipping its national army with the best of arms and equipment to make the battlefield resonate with an aura of victory. Otherwise also in the absence of the above the armed forces will go to war and vindicate themselves with whatever they have in their kitty.
(The writer is a retired army officer)