General Prem Hoon and his two principal staff officers, Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) JL Malhotra for operations and Brigadier (later Major General) HN 'Harry' Hoon for logistics, worked out a bold plan, made preparations and put Operation Meghdoot into effect.
The operational plan was to establish a presence through vertical envelopment on the high passes along the Siachen glacier, build up and hold them in strength, preventing enemy ingress.
A brilliant airmobile operation was envisaged to position a platoon each to secure the Bilafond La (18,500 ft) and Sia La (20,000 ft) passes, other troops moving up along the glacier on skis.
This was to be accomplished by the middle of April 1984, pre-empting the expected Pakistani move by a month. These posts were to be initially self-contained and later to be maintained logistically by air. Artillery support was to be provided by a regiment each of field and medium guns located near the snout of the glacier. Infantry reserves for counter-penetration, contingencies and exploitation were to be held in the same area.
Partapur Sector under command 3 Division, already in situ was the formation selected for the task. The 4 Kumaon moved from the Turtok sector was to hold Bilafond La with two companies, the Karakoram Wing of the Ladakh Scouts occupying defences on Sia La with another two companies plus a platoon. The 19 Kumaon less two companies of ex-68 Brigade, the Corps reserve, along with two companies of 1st Vikas from the Special Frontier Force, constituted the reserves. The 246 Medium Regiment equipped with the Indian Field Gun was the first gunners to be deployed. The IAF was fully integrated in the planning.
With the Prime Minister's active backing and her facilitation, a team headed by General Hoon purchased the required winter gear and high-altitude survival equipment from Europe. A strong logistic build-up with extremely detailed planning was necessitated by the challenges of the altitude and the weather. After training at HAWS, Gulmarg, the troops crossed the Zoji La pass in winter and concentrated at Thoise by early April. The stage was now set for a saga of guts and raw courage.
Next week: The launching of the operation
Operational methods of Pakistani Border Action Teams
The aim of establishing BATs was to keep the area up to a depth of 5 km on the Indian side of the LoC tense and destabilised and to dominate no man's land by attacking isolated positions using deniable assets. Operations against Indian targets are selected, planned and carried out using a certain methodology.
Reconnaissances are done well in advance using videography with the help of local guides. These photographs and videos are then analysed with an operational briefing being done by SSG elements embedded with the ISI.
Having selected the objective, the route of approach and the plan the Pakistan Army's forward post in the area is co-opted in planning/operational tasks at the final stage. All through there is great compartmentalisation of information with maximum secrecy being maintained.
The assault groups are then launched against Indian positions like remote bunkers, link posts or observation stations. The first party provides covering fire or demonstrates against Indian posts to create a diversion. An operational group consisting of militants then assaults bunkers or lays ambushes for Indian troops after having successfully lured them into a killing ground. After having caused casualties or damage to our troops and built-up areas, the BAT then withdraws, its retreat being covered by fire from an extrication party.
Its worthwhile recording here that while the ISI, keen to maintain professional standards, professes to dislike the wanton beheading of Indian troops, it has no problems allowing terrorist leaders to confer rewards on their cadres for the same.
Gen Savory and the Thind family
Lieutenant General Sir Reginald Savory was one of the great commanders of Indian troops. Commissioned into 1st Sikh in 1914 he retired as the Adjutant General in 1947. Throughout his life he retained a great affection for Sikh troops. Out of all the commanders of Sikh troops in the old Indian army, he probably came the closest to understanding the Sikh psyche, temperament and the right way to command their loyalty.
He formed a very strong bond with Sepoy Ude Singh from Manakwal, Ludhiana, who saved his life on June 4, 1915, during the Gallipoli Campaign. After Ude Singh's death in 1947, Savory maintained a lifelong relationship with his son, Harbans Singh Thandi in the form of letters, cards, gifts, personal visits and overwhelming affection. Now these have been compiled by Thandi in the form of a book titled 'Down The Memory Lane', a fascinating account of human relations and the unbreakable ties that can only form between men who have been in battle together.
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