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A quiet General goes to war

chandigarh Updated: Sep 18, 2012 14:28 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
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One can only sympathise with the predicament that Maj Gen Gurbaksh Singh (from Badhni in Moga district and an officer of the 8th Gorkha Rifles) found himself on the morning of 7th September 1965. His attack proved to be a failure with heavy casualties and two-and-a-half infantry battalions virtually written off. Over and above, he commanded an under-strength division trained and equipped for war in the mountains rather than mobile warfare. Confronting him was Pakistan's most well-trained and equipped armoured formation and another infantry division to boot. But unfazed, he coolly set about saving the situation and putting up the best possible defence with the limited resources available to him.

Maj Gen Gurbaksh Singh sat down and did a methodical analysis of the situation, his options and the best course of action. He produced a two-page appreciation (an evaluation of a problem, the issues involved and a viable solution, if available) and fortified mentally, set to work to snatch victory from the jaws of a calamitous defeat looming over the nation.

Directing his artillery commander Brigadier Jhanda Singh Sandhu to unleash a tremendous barrage on the advancing enemy, he successfully slowed them down. Taking the remnants of his formation to a new defensive line he established a new divisional defended sector. His earlier experience as an operational planner in the same sector came in handy when deciding which canals to breach so as to produce the maximum effect and deny approach to the Pakistanis.

That the enemy was unable to breach the Indian defences despite its overwhelming superiority shows the brilliance of the General's tactical decision. He was able to motivate his men to give in their best.

Gurbaksh Singh refrained from falling prey to the minor panic that seemed to have gripped his Corps Commander. His quiet leadership style ensured that everyone kept his cool. His imperturbability in the face of disaster was infectious all the way down the chain of command.

His unflappable demeanour in a tough situation came from having come up through the mill of World War 2 and the Indian Army's conflicts after Independence. He had tremendous faith in God for granting ultimate victory to his formation. Deeply religious, Gurbaksh Singh believed fervently in the righteousness of his cause. One of the best commanders of his time, who never truly got his due despite his outstanding achievements in battle.

Forgotten hero
For many years, one saw tributes to Squadron Leader Raman Kumar Uppal in the papers on 11th September to the effect that 'his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Pakistan and he brought it back, touching the motherland near Khem Karan'. In recent years, this memoriam has been missing. Maybe the person who used to insert it is himself now part of those drilling on the great parade ground in the sky.

On 11th September 1965, No.1 Squadron launched a four-aircraft formation from Adampur airbase led by Squadron Leader DE Satur to destroy a railway bridge at Kasur. Flying low at 100 feet, the strike encountered heavy ground fire. Squadron Leader 'Uppi' Uppal's Mystere IV a, the number four in the formation, was hit and caught fire. His last radio transmission indicated that his aircraft was out of control as the servo pressure had fallen to zero. The No.3 in the formation Flight Lieutenant JP Singh saw the aircraft crash at Mehdipur in the Indian territory. A memorial to Uppal is now maintained by the villagers of Asal Uttar. He was an experienced qualified flying instructor (QFI). Deeply mourned by the fellow pilots of his squadron.

Aggrieved RCOs
Delay by Army HQ in issuing the notification regarding extension of retirement age for Regimental Commissioned Officers has resulted in Major Balkaran Singh Mann of the Artillery and many other RCOs retiring in 2009 at the age of 52 instead of the revised age of 57. He has petitioned for a notional increment in his service of a year and 9 months so as to be eligible for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and the refixing of his pension.

As per the order of the Kolkatta Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal in the case of Major Rabinder Singh (transfer application No. 37/2010 dated 4th April, 2011) such a step is warranted. However, he has been denied his rightful dues because of bureaucratic procrastination. RCOs are JCOs and NCOs promoted to serve as officers and help in making up some of the chronic shortages of officers in units. Their experience and expertise are invaluable.