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A young officer’s first taste of war

Indian troops undertook many operations into east Pakistan in the run-up to the 1971 war to cause attrition and loss of morale, gather information, blood our own troops and dominate the enemy territory. Writes Mandeep Singh Bajwa.

chandigarh Updated: Jul 20, 2014 08:55 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa

Indian troops undertook many operations into east Pakistan in the run-up to the 1971 war to cause attrition and loss of morale, gather information, blood our own troops and dominate the enemy territory.

31 Jat, a newly raised counterinsurgency battalion was deployed opposite the Chittagong Hill Tracts under the 73 Mountain Brigade. Second Lieutenant Baljit Singh Gill from Gurusar Sudhar, Ludhiana district, an area renowned for its soldiers, undertook a special mission. Leading a group of less than 25 men, he was to infiltrate thirty-five kilometres into Pakistani territory and ambush a boat convoy on the Karnaphuli river. Reaching the ambush site after an onerous march, they lay in wait for a day, engaged in information-gathering and preparations.

Next morning, on September 10 at about 5am, the enemy convoy led by a speedboat, a tug boat, a country boat with another speedboat bringing up the rear (approximately 40 Pakistani soldiers) came into view, heading for Nutan Bazaar. All hell was let loose on the enemy with rifles, light machine guns, a 3.5-inch rocket launcher and a 2-inch mortar. A sniper team picked off command elements.

Methodical preparations having been made, the fire was accurate and deadly. Having caused casualties (the number of Pakistani dead was put at 11, including their leader, with 9 wounded) and damage to three boats, the Jats swiftly disengaged. The ambush party then withdrew in good order to our own territory without any losses. An action successfully conducted under a spirited officer laid the foundation for later operations in this sector. It also raised the morale of the young battalion sky-high.

Young Gill was wounded in the war itself on December 13, later being awarded the Vir Chakra for the successful ambush. He commanded his battalion (by then renamed 12 Jat) in the Sri Lanka operations. Rising to the rank of Brigadier, he commanded 112 and 170 Brigades before retiring to Chandigarh. Both his sons have followed him into the army.

TRIBUTES PAID TO BRIG MOHAMMED USMAN, MVC

The martyrdom of Brigadier Mohammed Usman, MVC in 1948, was commemorated at his burial place in the Jamia Milia Islamia University cemetery in New Delhi on July 3. General NS Ghei, Colonel of the Parachute Regiment, laid a wreath and paid tributes to the memory of the gallant soldier. Brigadier Usman who was in the then commanding 50 (independent) Parachute Brigade was responsible for the recapture of Jhangar and Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir during the first Kashmir war. He was commissioned with the last batch of Indian cadets from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1934 and served with 5/10 Baluch Regiment.

NEW CHIEF OF INTEGRATED DEFENCE STAFF

Air Marshal PP Reddy, a fighter pilot has taken over as the new Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, chiefs of Staff Committee on July 1, upon the retirement of General Anil Chait. A Rimcollian (alumnus of Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun, the leading feeder school for the services), he was commissioned in June 1977 via the NDA route. He is a qualified flying instructor and an experimental test pilot. Having commanded a Mig-27 squadron, he later commanded the fighter base at Srinagar. He was earlier in the all-important appointment of director general (inspection and safety).

(Please write in with your narratives of war and soldiering to msbajwa@gmail.com or call on 093161-35343)