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Gallant commander who led by example

chandigarh Updated: Sep 03, 2012 20:32 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Gallant commander who led by example

Nothing illustrates better what makes a great unit stand out than the performance of the 2nd Battalion of the Sikh Regiment at the Battle of Raja Hill on September 6, 1965. Raja (known as Chand picket to the Pakistanis) was a formidable position located just across the ceasefire line with steep slopes ringed with minefields covered by a number of medium machine-guns emplaced in strong bunkers.


It was defended by a company of the Zhob militia and another company minus a platoon of the PoK Rangers, both well-trained and led by paramilitary forces considered as good as regular troops.

Operation Faulad was the southern prong of the Uri-Poonch link-up, part of the plan to take out the Haji Pir bulge. The 93 Brigade of 25 Division was to capture important Pakistani positions dominating the area and advance to meet the thrust from Uri.

The need to maintain a defensive posture on the ceasefire line made it necessary for additional troops to be inducted from outside rather than using any of the brigade's existing infantry battalions. 2 Sikh were brought in from 19 Brigade of 26 Division at Jammu for the task. Earlier, they had fought for a period of 10 days in Chhamb, capturing the tactically vital ridge line west of Dewa from the enemy.

The twin pickets of Raja and Rani (Ghulam to the Pakistanis) located adjacent to each other were to be taken by 3 Dogra and 2 Sikh, respectively, on September 3. However, the Dogras' attack was met with such intense fire from Raja that they had no option but to withdraw, making 2 Sikh's bid for Rani also untenable.

Lt Col NN Khanna, 2 Sikh's brave CO, then volunteered to take Raja. His plan was to attack both of Raja picket's defended localities simultaneously from two directions with Bravo and Delta companies tackling the right height and Alfa company the left one. 3 Dogra was to capture Rani in a synchronised assault.

After a brief lull for reconnaissance and preparations, the attack was launched early on the morning of September 6. The wire defences were found to be more formidable than anticipated with effective crossfire from the enemy's Browning .

30-calibre MMGs causing many casualties, including senior company commander Maj KC Kalley. Col Khanna went forward to take personal command of the attack and motivated his men to keep moving forward and upwards. He was however hit by a full burst of an enemy MMG and had to be evacuated, dying on the way to the advanced dressing station. His last conscious act was to forbid any report of his being wounded from being put on the radio or sent to higher headquarters.

Their gallant CO's example was not lost on the men of 2 Sikh. They surged, forward raising the famous Sikh war cry that has demoralised enemies over the centuries, destroying bunker after bunker.

There were many acts of personal courage, not the least being that of unit's javelin throw champion Naik Chand Singh from Ludhiana district, who made a series of grenade assaults on enemy positions, silencing an MMG and bayoneting all the occupants of the bunker it was in. Leading his section heroically, he cleared five more bunkers, reaching the upper defences.

He was awarded a well deserved Vir Chakra. Maj Jagdish Singh, commanding the affiliated Patiala Mountain Battery, was wounded but remained on the battlefield directing fire. He was also awarded a Vir Chakra.

By 7 am, a breakthrough had been achieved and the enemy was on the run. The brave battalion and its junior leadership had carried the day. After all, they were the Ludhiana Sikhs known for their achievements on the battlefield for more than a century.

Forty brave men of 2 Sikh were killed and 104 wounded. Meanwhile, moving silently, 3 Dogra had taken Rani picket's defenders (a company of PoK Rangers) by surprise and captured the post after a short, stiff fight.

The 2 Sikh, nowadays serving with the UN in Sudan, celebrate Raja Day every year on September 6 as their battle honour and remember the undying spirit of Col Narinder Nath Khanna, who gave them victory through his inspiring example.

He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his leadership and courage. Truly did 2 Sikh say after the Battle of Raja: "Raja litta, Raja ditta" (We captured Raja but gave up our own Raja).

Pak raids on Indian airfields
On the intervening night of September 6 and 7, 1965, three PAF, Hercules C-130 aircraft dropped off some 180 Pakistani SSG (Special Services Group) commandos near the Indian airfields of Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara in Punjab. The aim was to destroy aircraft and put these airbases out of action. The commandos were then to follow rivers, streams and canals leading into Pakistan to make their way back. However the badly-planned operation, with very little will on the part of the SSG's commanders or staff to achieve anything made little impact on the war.

The party which was dropped at Pathankot, commanded by Major Khalid Gulrez Butt, landed on the Amritsar-Pathankot road at a considerable distance from the Pathankot airbase. Butt was not able to assemble his troops and he and most of them surrendered when contacted by Indian troops and in some cases villagers. Two men made their way back to Pakistan.

At Adampur, Capt Durrani, the commander, was able to assemble his force and move towards the airbase but found himself at the wrong end of the base. Very soon it was daylight and they came up against the armoured cars patrolling the area. During the day, Indian troops searched the area and captured some commandos. That evening, Captain Durrani, disillusioned and demoralised, ordered his force to ex-filtrate back in small groups. He, travelling with a small party, was captured near Harike.

Near Halwara, the paratroopers landed in a village and most were rounded up within no time by the courageous villagers. The force commander, Maj Hazur Hasnain, later Brigadier, made his way to the air base with two men. Finding that he was unable to achieve anything, he decided to make his way back to Pakistan, hiding during the day and moving at night. On the second night, they captured an IAF jeep in which they drove to the border and crossed over.

While the SSG commandos achieved nothing, they did create some excitement. Paratrooper hunting became a favourite sport of Punjabis and one had to be wary of trigger-happy vigilantes out to do their bit for the war effort and questioning any stranger they could find!

Officer-jawan relationship
How did officers sustain their relationship with jawans in the days gone by? By playing games with them, keeping a close eye on their welfare, pay, entitlements, allowances, leave, problems at home, etc. They regularly tasted the food served to them in langars and took corrective measures if there were complaints.

In short: by being close to them in every way, leading by example and assuring them in every way that the jawans' honour, safety, comfort and interests were uppermost in their mind. So what has changed to bring about aberrations in the officer-jawan relationship? Nothing, I would say. Officers still strive their utmost for their jawans' welfare.

The problem is that there are very few officers at the cutting edge of the army, in units, to be able to interact meaningfully with the men serving under them. Most units have 9-10 officers posted to them whereas 21 are sanctioned in infantry units. An officer is doing a minimum of two-three demanding jobs other than his own to keep units running and shipshape as regards operational preparedness, training for war and welfare.

The problem has now reached critical levels. It's time for both the government and the army to act. What is the solution to the chronic shortage of officers resulting from a decline in the number of suitable candidates?

A significant upward revision of pay scales, perks and privileges offered to officers as well as an improvement in service conditions and facilities are essential. Introduction of a dynamic short-service scheme with provisions for lateral inductions after completion of the mandatory service, into the civil services, police, paramilitary forces and public sector as well as sponsorship for professional education and an alternative golden handshake plan would be a good start.

Bravest of the brave
Naib Subedar Chuni Lal from the famous 8th Battalion of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry of Siachen fame was one of the highest decorated soldiers of the Indian Army in recent years, winning the Ashok Chakra, Vir Chakra and Sena Medal (Gallantry). Born in Bhaderwah in 1968, he was recruited into the JAK LI in 1984.

As part of the team which captured the supposedly impregnable Qaid Post (subsequently renamed after Subedar Bana Singh, PVC) in Siachen Glacier in Operation Rajiv, he was awarded a Sena Medal for his act of gallantry during the action.

In August 2000, while serving with his unit in Poonch sector, Chuni Lal displayed exemplary bravery in defeating an attack on his post by killing two attackers in hand-to-hand combat, for which he was awarded a Vir Chakra.

On June 24, 2007, Naib Subedar Chuni Lal, while commanding an ambush party near the LoC in Kupwara sector, was engaged in fierce fighting with militants. Though grievously injured, he charged towards the terrorists and killed all three of them before succumbing to his injuries. For displaying exceptional courage, he was awarded the nation's highest peacetime gallantry medal, the Ashok Chakra.

As a fitting tribute to the memory of the gallant soldier, his statue was unveiled on July 7 this year at Gatha Park, Bhaderwah by Maj Gen JP Alex, Colonel of the J&K LI Regiment and the local MLA.

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