85 For Ever: Forging the spirit
Raising a new unit is an onerous task. Not only does a commander have to weld together a disparate set of soldiers training them to fight as a team, but in essence create strength of mind that carries the unit through vicissitudes. Mandeep Singh Bajwa writeschandigarh Updated: Sep 14, 2013 23:58 IST
Raising a new unit is an onerous task. Not only does a commander have to weld together a disparate set of soldiers training them to fight as a team, but in essence create strength of mind that carries the unit through vicissitudes. In May 1964, my father was promoted to raise 85 Light Regiment, equipped with 4.2 inch (107mm) mortars at Jammu. He motivated his small core team of experienced officers, JCOs and NCOs to impart to the rest of the unit a military aim within the larger national purpose.
Building a strong command chain was the first task. The aspirations of jawans to become NCOs were furthered. Their careers were promoted past records being held in abeyance.
The all-important promotion cadres resulted in a new string of junior leaders with an innate desire to prove themselves. No less than 36 young officers straight from the academy were taken in hand with thorough training in all aspects of military life being imparted to them. They were given pride and a sense of achievement. A tradition of success was established. A new war cry of '85 For Ever' fostered esprit de corps.
Establishment of a command chain went hand in hand with painstaking training of technical hands like gunnery assistants, gun layers and drivers. The next task was rigorous collective training with frequent practice camps becoming the order of the day. The hard work put in by now thoroughly motivated troops resulted in the regiment being judged as 'fit for war' some nine months in advance of the target date.
All these onerous efforts produced results. The regiment was moved at short notice to Kargil in May 1965 to take part in an operation across the ceasefire line. The baby unit was in action the same day it landed, providing fire support to 4 Rajput in their successful attack on the Kargil Heights. Later, the regiment converted to the 120mm Brandt while still in battle without the benefit of technical manuals or range tables.
The genius of my father and his dedicated leadership team worked wonders making veterans out of raw recruits and a fine achievement-oriented regiment from small beginnings.
Battle of Asal Uttar
The definitive battle of the 1965 war was the defeat of the Pakistani armour thrust at Asal Uttar between September 7 and 10. The 4 Division and 2 Armoured Brigade held off a superior enemy force and destroyed its armoured might in an impressive defence. There are small, badly-maintained memorials erected by units to honour their martyrs. The grave and memorial for CQMH Abdul Hamid, PVC, has become a place of pilgrimage for the locals.
However, there is no central commemoration of this battle or martyrs' memorial either on the battlefield or at some central place. The question is, why not? This was a famous victory won against odds and prevented the occupation of large parts of Punjab by Pakistan.
In the run-up to the golden jubilee of the battle in 2015, it would be in the fitness of things if a citizens' initiative could result in the meaningful commemoration of this triumph. This could take the shape of a victory column honouring the contribution of the soldiers and units that took part in the battle.
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