In memory of the forgotten braveheart
In August-September 1965, the Indian Army conducted several operations across the Cease-Fire Line in J&K to block routes of infiltration. Major Sat Parkash Verma, a handsome scion of a noted family of educationists and soldiers from Jatheri in Sonepat district, was commanding the leading company of 3/8 Gorkha Rifles (Raised on 1st January 1963) in the assault on the Sanjoi complex (north-west Kashmir) on the night of 1st September.
Opposing them were elements of No 1 Sector, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Regular Forces (POKRF) commanded by 'Tiger' Niazi (later Pakistani commander in Bangladesh, 1971).
When his attack was halted by a high stone wall erected by the enemy, Verma directed his men to fire from rocket launchers and effected a breach in it, destroying bunkers covering the obstacle. Subsequently, he overran the enemy's position, silencing enemy positions one by one despite heavy fire.
Attacked by two Pakistani soldiers at close range, he despatched them with his Khukri. Wounded by machine-gun fire, he continued to exhort his men onwards. Ultimately the brave young officer succumbed to his wounds. The nation was pleased to award him the Vir Chakra that his gallantry, selfless sacrifice and leadership so richly deserved.
To honour Sat Parkash Verma, a memorial was erected by the Haryana government at Rai Chowk on the GT Road near Sonepat, the road leading to his village from there being named in his honour. However one can see from pictures taken recently the extremely poor condition of the memorial and its very poor upkeep.
It's as if there's no one to care for a decorated martyr's commemorative plaque at all! Such a state of affairs in a state that sends so many men to the Armed Forces is intolerable. One questions the feasibility of giving responsibility for the upkeep of such memorials to disinterested bureaucrats and apathetic government departments. Maybe a public-private partnership in the form of a trust comprising people interested in keeping alive the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the country at its helm could be a way out.
Glory at Haji Pir 1965
1 Para is the Indian Army's oldest unit. Raised in 1761 as the 8th Battalion of Coast Sepoys, it formed part of the Madras Army. Consequent to the shifting of the Army's recruitment base to the North, it became the 67th Punjabis in 1903.
In the great army reorganisation of 1922, it became the senior battalion of the newly formed 2nd Punjab Regiment. 1/2 Punjab, as it now known, performed magnificently during the Second World War, serving in Africa and Italy, adding great laurels to its name. Becoming a parachute unit in 1946, it became the senior battalion of the Parachute Regiment in 1952. In 1965, it was doing a tenure in J&K on rotation from its usual airborne-role based at Agra.
In August of that year, Pakistan sent a number of infiltration forces into J&K to foment a rebellion. These were soon discovered and active measures taken to apprehend them. In its post-1962 avatar, the Indian Army seized the initiative and undertook a series of offensive operations across the Ceasefire Line to block routes of ingress. The Haji Pir bulge opposite Gulmarg contained some of the main routes for infiltration dominated as it was by high mountains.
General Harbaksh Singh, Western Army Commander planned to take it out with a pincer movement, involving 19 Division advancing from the North and 25 Division providing the Southern thrust. 1 Para in conjunction with the rest of 68 Brigade and supported by artillery was to capture important features on both sides of the Haji Pir Pass and make the enemy position untenable and capture the pass itself making possible the Uri-Poonchh link-up.
On August 25, a two-company group under Major Ranjit Singh Dayal, (later Army Commander) the second-in-command unsuccessfully attacked the 9,591-foot high feature of Sank. Their second attempt was more successful with the capture of Sar and Ledwali Galli by noon on the 26th. 1 Para's CO, Lt Col Prabhjinder Singh, now asked for permission to go for the Pass.
The brigade commander, Brigadier ZC Bakshi, one of the Indian Army's most highly decorated officers, after due consideration took the bold decision to go for Haji Pir. Braving inclement weather and rough terrain, a company minus of 1 Para, under the dauntless Major Dayal, ultimately took the 8,652-foot high pass on the morning of the 27th, exploiting to capture a higher feature, the ring contour strongly held by the enemy's 20th Punjab on the 30th. A number of counter-attacks by the enemy were beaten off by the intrepid Paras.
The nation was electrified at the news! Hosannas were showered on the political leadership as well as the Armed Forces for their bold, resolute action laying to rest the ghosts of 1962. 1 Para were awarded the theatre honour of 'Jammu and Kashmir 1965' and the battle honour 'Haji Pir 1965'.
Gallantry awards to 1 Para included a Maha Vir Chakra to Major Dayal, Capt 'Maddi' Dhillon, 2IC of 'C' Company (now living in retirement at Ludhiana) the Sena Medal and an NCO and JCO getting a Vir Chakra and Sena Medal. Captain MD Naidu, the Forward Observer Officer from 1642 Field Battery was very deservedly given a Vir Chakra.
Lessons of the Haji Pir operation
The audacious capture of the Haji Pir Pass and the Bulge by 68 Brigade and 1 Para was an outstanding operation. The Battalion not only captured the objectives allotted to it in Phase 1 of the Brigade attack but also the task originally allotted to other units in Phase 2. It is pertinent to examine how this was made possible particularly when viewed in the context of earlier operations.
A silent attack in challenging terrain in most unfavourable weather conditions caught the enemy defending Sank by surprise. They did not expect a major attack and were literally caught napping. Even the enemy troops defending Haji Pir were surprised by the speed of movement of the Indian troops and assault from the heights above them and fled without offering any resistance.
The Paras were able to exploit success to an unexpected degree and gave the enemy no time to sort himself out after the loss of Sank. Relentless offensive action, without the classical reorganisation after a battle, kept the enemy off-balance. The enemy could not mount a coordinated counter attack till September 29. By then the Indian troops had been able to consolidate their position and were able to beat them back.
The most important reason for the success of the operation was unwavering and daring leadership. The command qualities shown by Brigadier Bakshi and Major Dayal were truly outstanding. Their personal example inspired their men to perform great feats of endurance and achieve truly impossible feats. The leadership shown by other officers, JCOs and NCOs was of a very high order, too. It was as if 68 Brigade and the Indian Army had something to prove after the humiliation of 1962.
Why the Pakistanis did not hold the Haji Pir Pass or the features dominating it in strength will always be a mystery. Their assumption that India would not react to their campaign of infiltration was a grave misassumption and a very poor reading of the Indian political and military leadership of the time. Sadly for them such a misreading of Indian character has been a constant feature of their strategic thinking. The assumptions that led to the Kargil misadventure of 1999 were another manifestation of the same poor assessment.
MIAF Arjan Singh - Daring evacuation during Partition
Marshal of the IAF, Arjan Singh, was a young Group Captain of 28 at Partition. Fresh from his achievements during the Burma campaign he was commander of the airbase at Ambala. Perturbed over a message from his family in a village in Lyallpur in what had by then become Pakistan, he decided to take a hand at evacuating them himself.
Taking off in an Airspeed A.10 Oxford twin-engine aircraft (used for training aircrews) he landed on a grassy piece of village common land, managed to squeeze in the ladies of his family into the tiny, three -seater plane and took off. Clearing two tall trees and a minor canal at the end of his makeshift runway with inches to spare the future Air Chief just about made it into the air.
As he now confesses his heart was in his mouth all the while but the skill gained from operating from short airstrips during the Burma campaign carried him through. Further sorties to the village were precluded by what servicemen are pleased to call 'exigencies of service'. Such were the men who built up the IAF - gallant, risk-takers ever ready to do anything in the national interest.