The Pakistan army, through their intelligence agencies, noted with satisfaction through the 50s and 60s the seeming preoccupation of the Indian Armoured Corps with intra-unit and inter-regiment sports and a hectic social life. What they missed out (as they usually do) was the emphasis laid on crew training, handling of troops and squadrons and most importantly, gunnery.
There were a host of outstanding armour commanders who laid a lot of stress on gruelling training and professionalism-Muchu Chaudhary, Shiv Verma, Hari Badhwar, Rajinder Singh "Sparrow", SS Padda, the appropriately named Khem Karan Singh, David Sidhu and Gurbachan Singh "Buch", among many others.
The Pakistanis were in for a nasty surprise at Asal Uttar where their 1st Armoured Division, the pride of their army, tried to break through and bottle up Indian XI Corps. Five regiments of Patton tanks were worsted by a regiment each of main battle (3rd Cavalry's Centurions), medium (Deccan Horse's Shermans) and light tanks (8th Cavalry's AMX 13s).
Certainly, Indian armour was handled much better with Brigadier Theograj commanding 2 (Independent) Armoured Brigade and Colonels Salim Caleb and Arun Vaidya (commanding 3rd Cavalry and Deccan Horse, respectively) providing the much-needed gritty leadership.
They selected defensive positions with care, using the natural cover provided by standing crops of sugarcane and maize. Flooding of sections of the battle area provided obstacles and channelised the enemy's tanks into killing zones. The stage was now set for the Indian tank gunners to show their mettle. They did not fail. This was Indian armour's finest hour. All the hard work and time spent on training paid off.
Leadership at Asal Uttar
The excellence of Indian cavalry regiments' middle-level and junior leadership played its part in the victory at Asal Uttar. Narinder Sandhu, from Narli, Tarn Taran district, (close to the battlefield), handsome, dashing, as a demigod to his men, unflappable in a crisis, determined in defence and invincible in attack, addressed the men under his command in Charlie Squadron (Jats), 3rd Cavalry thus, "We are now fighting in our own fields. Retreat is not an option. Either we win or die trying." His men answered with a roaring battle cry. They did not fail. Denying Lakhna, Mehmoodpura and Dholan to the enemy, they took a large toll of his Pattons. Narinder Sandhu was recommended for a Maha Vir Chakra but was mentioned in despatches instead, ultimately winning the award while commanding a Dogra battalion in 1971.
Reet MP Singh from Sattanwali, Ferozepur district, along with his troops from Charlie Squadron (Sikhs), 8th Light Cavalry supported the attack of 1st Dogra on Machhike on September 22. He dismounted, despite enemy shelling, to find a way through a minefield that barred their way. Though wounded in the chest and arm, he completed his scouting mission. A shell burst then wounded him severely in the face, but undeterred he continued to lead his troop. His courage and leadership were acknowledged with a Vir Chakra. He gives the credit for the victory to the superior training of the day, which he places above that of the current times.
Jiti Nakai, serving with Charlie Squadron, Deccan Horse under Major (later General) Dickie Mehta was a good 'shikari' and a keen outdoorsman, attributes that make for dashing tank troop leaders. His aim did not fail him or the nation. Deccan Horse's Shermans, though outgunned and vulnerable to the Pattons' 90mm gun, gave a good account of themselves.
Proxy voting in HP polls
Politicians tend to take ex-servicemen's demands seriously, but not those of serving soldiers because the latter usually don't vote or are even registered to do so. Therefore, it is necessary, in order to protect their interests, that soldiers get registered as voters at their place of posting or their own villages. The imminent Himachal Pradesh elections are a test case.
If the government doesn't take steps to allow proxy voting for serving soldiers and their families, they must register to vote at their place of posting. Maybe the state's dynamic, hardworking director of sainik welfare, Brigadier Rajinder Rana, a Gunner from 75 Medium Regiment, could expedite the issue.
Selections for promotion
The results of the no. 2 selection board for promotion of full Colonels of the Corps of Army Air Defence to the rank of Brigadier held in June have recently been declassified. Those approved for the next rank are:
1983 batch final review: Colonel A Bhargava
1985 batch fresh cases: Colonels S Yadav, UV Talur, A Narayan, J Dahiya, MK Bindal and GS Kalkat.
Congratulations to all the new one-star generals. May they forever keep the sky clear of the enemy. Akashe Shatrun Jahi!