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The war would come, we all knew.It was only a matter of days,maybe a few weeks at most.We were at Chamb which is today occupied by Pakistan.It seems so absurd that we should have lost this piece of India to Pakistan.This is my story to tell and I must tell it to some one.In a way it is also a story of two friends who found themselves in the same battle field in those few fateful days.

We were sitting in his company defended locality at Point 303 when Major Pannu the infantry company commander looked at the black scarf I was wearing around my neck in my uniform and he said to me,

"Iesh you give me your black armoured corps scarf.Its looking smart and I want to wear it."

He was fond of scarves and he used to dress up smartly at all times.

"What will I wear then."I said to him.

He was not the one to lack a solution for anything.
He was a Sikh and he took off the olive green turban that he was wearing on his head.

"Here is my infantry green turban,you can make a scarf for yourself from it."

I took off my black scarf and gave it to Major Pannu.We were coursemates from NDA and here we were once again thrown together in Chamb where his battalion was deployed and I was the armoured squadron commander in the area.

A few months ago we were doing the Junior Command course together at Infantry School in Mhow.Pannu had a Bullet motorcycle.One day Pannu's is motorcycle caught fire and there was one officer from armoured corps whose name was Balbir Sandhu.He was a very good mechanic and his hobby was repairing automobile engines.He was always offering himself for work,going wherever there was an automobile that was in trouble.He had burnt his hands reparing some instructors car recently.His hands were swaddled in white bandages.He had freed his fingers to work and he had shaped his fingernails like a screwdriver.Balbir repaired Pannu's Bullet motorcycle despite burnt hands and bandages.Pannu used to keep his Bullet motorcycle with him wherever he went.

My regiment, Deccan Horse had come to Pauwwan Da Chak village just short of Chamb .We were armoured regiment supporting the infantry division deployed there.

For about two months short of the war,I saw him every second or third day.Whenever I had time I would go over to his company.He was fond of shikar and we used to have lunch together of whatever he had bagged.

He was the Alfa Company commander of 5 Sikh at point 303 on the Koel -Moel track which came to Chamb from Pakistan.That track disappeared into Pakistan across the line of control.We spent some very carefree and enjoyable days there before the war.

I had been in his company many a times and spent  a lot of time there.I knew the spread of his trenches and emplacements like back of my hand.I still remember that his protective patrol was located about 600 metres ahead on the Koel-Moel track in a derelict village named Dahingawali or some such name.

There were five or six trees there and a dried up pond towards the left of point 303.I knew that in case of war,this very ground would be crucial. I used to take my squadron's tank crews at night over this terrain.In the day time I would blindfold them and make them walk the folds of the earth to find their bearings.I was just trying to make them absorb the details of topography so thoroughly,that they would be able to out fox the enemy when the time came to fight on this very ground.

The men of my squadron,all Sikhs felt the stress of my training methods.They started belly aching that that the squadron commander is treating us like,"bhed-bakri"(sheep and goat).Throwing us here and there at all odd hours.The griping of the men reached the ears of my Commanding Officer Lt Col JS Bal.He was himself a very thorough professional and a no nonsense man.He came to my squadron and told everybody,

"There is going tobe a war and your squadron commander is doing the right thing.You have tobe trained hard for it.Tou will thank him for what he is doing when the time comes.Stop your cribbing,he is training you well,just follow your squadron commander."

I used to train them in almost everything and that too at night.Escape hatch drill,gunnery emergencies and all that.As a result every man of my squadron knew the area between Munnawar to Gurha ridge like the streets of his own village.

Mine was the first squadron tobe inducted into Chamb before the war in November 1971.When the war started ,troops of my squadron were in Munnawar , Jhanda,Ghuggi,Bania,Barsala  areas.

When B squadron was inducted alongwith Regimental Headquarters,I think Major Ginger Bal went onto Phagla area.I don't know where all he went but I think some of our elements must be on Mandiala South.

I was at Jhanda. There was little flow of information coming to us. Lot of troop movements were taking place.Lots of actions taking place.On 4 th december  I was in 4/1 GR defended  area at Jhanda.We were assisting them,firing at enemy.Using our tank machine guns,that sort of thing.Enemy's probing attacks were coming in,which were not like some huge massed tank attacks coming in.We were busy trying to ward off these small enemy actions.

The enemy's early attacks came in on Munnawar village which the enemy captured.One of my squadron officers,Lieutenant SS Gill was commanding the troop at Munnawar,he had to pull back to Chak Pandit alongwith the company(or maybe a company less a platoon) located there.So they pulled back and counter attacked with my tank troop on fourth morning.They regained Munnawar.In the retaking of Munnawar,this brave officer, SS Gill died.Did I tell you ,he also used to have a red bullet.

At Jhanda where I was there,there were no enemy tank attacks.We could see their tanks at a distance.They were supporting their infantry.We were firing on their tanks and their infantry.

One of my troops was in 5 Assam with a officer  called Varinder.They shot up a few tanks,I think two or three and Varinder got a wound in the eye.

My squadron's second in command ,Mahender Singh,he had a troop with him.When this attack on Munnawar was to take place,I sent him there.Because I knew that if our men captured Munnawar,they would require additional tanks to strengthen our position.This was now the southern belly of our defences and could easily be turned around us by the enemy,but by that time Gill had already captured Munnawar.

In the meantime,Regimental Head Quarters had acted on the Dewa axis.The adjutant and his troop had shot up some enemy tanks there.The the Regimental Headquarter Troop pulled back and Captain Mahender Singh went to Gurha with his troop.In the fog of war somehow this information did not reach me.

By now the enemy was attacking Mandiala North and South.Captain Mahender Singh got injured.He said it was an air strike that got him and a bullet pierced his nose.He had tobe evacuated.Risaldar Bahadur Singh also got something on his back but the troop remained at Gurha.Enemy got hold of Mandiala North, the highest ridge.It was held by 5 Sikh and despite counter attacks Mandiala North couldn't be regained.In the retaking of Mandiala South,Captain Mahender's troop assisted.There were some other actions at Sukhtao Nalla in which my squadron never came into play but our regiment knocked out many enemy tanks which were attempting to outflank our positions by infiltrating through the Sukhtao Nalla.

The other action in which I played a part was in this counter attack to recapture Point 303.This was my friend  Major Devinder Pannu's company.On 6 th December morning, at about 5 am I got an order from my commanding officer,

"You will have to link up with Point 303."

I asked him,

"Sir why link up with Point 303."

He said,

"Point 303 has fallen to the enemy,and two companies of a x battalion have counter attacked and they have recaptured Point 303.All they now want is tanks to  support them against enemy's next move.The enemy is likely to counter attack to recapture Point 303.You go to Point 303 with your tanks and link up with x battalion there."

 I started with my squadron on the morning of 6 th december.I came in via Jhanda and I came to a place,I forget it's name but it's about a kilometer short of Point 303 on the Koel Moel track.By now it was daylight and enemy aircraft swooped down upon us and started strafing us.We spread out and threw a smoke screen and  extricated ourself from the air attack.The commanding officer sent an additional tank troop to join us.Captain Kaushik with this troop also joined us.I had two other troops of my own squadron and my own tank.Luckily we had lost no tank to the enemy air action.I now had  ten T 54 tanks.I also had 39 Medium Regiment's Forward Observation Officer with me.So I said to him,

" I cannot ask for artillery fire on Point 303 and nor can I fire my own guns on Point 303 as our own infantry could still be there."

Presupposing this possibility,I thought let me try to see and confirm,what is happening around me.So I stood with my squadron about one kilometer short of the objective and tried to catch some sounds.I told my tank driver to shut off the engine.If there was a fire fight going on,there would be some sound of bullets being fired and explosions.If our side had already captured Point 303 then the enemy artillery would be shelling Point 303.Nothing of that sort was happening.There was a total inexplainable silence.I didn't like the situation.I got on the radio to my commanding officer and asked him again,

"Are you sure sir that there is our infantry at Point 303."

He said,

"Yes,yes you better hurry up and link up with them.They are having a tough time facing the enemy.There is hand to hand fighting going on there."

I was puzzled.Who was feeding all this dramatic commentary to my Regimental Headquarter and my Commanding Officer.It was about half past six.I told the commanding officer,

"I don't hear any small arms fire nor do I hear any artillery shelling noise in the direction of Point 303."

He said,

"Are you sure you are heading for the right objective?"

I said,

"I know Point 303  very well.It is  my friend,Major Pannu's company and all my men also know every inch of the ground here.I have spent days walking all over this area with my complete squadron.Its clear daylight now,not even dark.I can see this Koel Moel class 5 track going,I can count the trees on Point 303 ,I recognise the contours of the ridgeline,so I know I am facing the right objective."

The commanding officer tried to dismiss me,

"It can't be.You are facing some other objective."

I was taken aback.Here was my commanding officer ,doubting me.I said,

"Sir please do not doubt me.I know this area like the back of my hand and I know I am facing Point 303."

So I called all the tanks on the radio who were spread out and hidden and gave my orders,

"That's the objective.You are left of the road incul to you,you are right of the road excul to you.We will not do conventional attack.Either go line ahead or go extended line.We will go fire and move.First bound five hundred metres.

I told Captain Kaushik,

"Kaushik you will take the first bound.And the other two troops(Babu Singh and Lal Singh's troops)who are with me,once they are in position,then we advance.

I was in a quandary.I told them not to fire on the objective.Only if you attract tank fire or any other kind of fire,fire back.

Kaushik's troop took the first bound.They attracted no enemy fire.Then I started advancing.As soon as we advanced,the air cracked and we got fired upon.It was broad daylight.Enemy tanks in hull down position could easily knock out our tanks advancing in the open towards them.Our only way to get out was to speed up and charge at them,so I gave the order,

"Okay full speed ahead,enemy tank fire will be met.No stopping." and I sent a report back to the commanding officer on my radio set.

"Sir contact with enemy established,enemy tank fire coming on us from the direction of Point  303."

Risaldar Babu Singh's troop was on my left.He was a dare devil officer.He was a Vir Chakra awardee of 1965 war.His tank was on the extreme left.He saw the hidden  enemy tanks firing and their gun flash.If you strictly speak,you don't break formation in an assault.Risaldar Babu Singh move off with his tank.I asked him,

"Where are you moving?"I asked him on the radio set.

He said,"Wait sir,I will go and get that enemy tanks that firing at us.I will join up after getting him."

He went to the flank and from an enfiladed position,he knocked out that enemy tank that he had seen.

That's the time we observed,more enemy tanks on Point 303.There were a couple of enemy tanks,maybe two or three or more.I couldn't say.We didn't open up our guns.We just went full speed ahead.Kaushik's radio cracked and he said to me,

"Sir khakhi men in the sarkanda all around.Point 303 is full of enemy troops."

I gave out the order,

"All tanks,use your machine guns,don't fire the main guns."

I feared that while our tanks were charging at full speed ahead,we could end up hitting our own tanks,due to undulations in the ground.

So on the Regimental radio net,the commanding officer who was listening to my radio transmission,came on the radio frequency and said,

"What is this order of yours?"

I told him,

"Sir we have already drawn fire.Now you let me deal with the situation myself and you stay out of it."

Short of the ridge crest we slowed down.The khakhi infantry had disappeared and melted away.I got out of my tank and went crawling to the  crest line of the ridge.I saw two Pakistani tanks reversing on the other side of the ridge.I ran back to my tank and we quickly fired at the enemy tanks.It was their lucky day.They escaped.
It  was now around half past seven or maybe eight am on the morning of 6 December.

I send a message to my Regimental Headquarters on the radio set,

"Point 303 taken."

The commanding officer  said on the radio set,

"Sorry,I believe you are on the wrong objective."

I said,

"Sir we have had this discussion before.You and me.Let me describe the objective as I stand here.This is Major Pannu's company's locality.Seven trees here,there is the dried up pond here,Koel Moel track is running here.There is a "safed butti."(a small memorial,grave etc.)here on the left side.The Phagla ridge is running to the right.Now if this place we are at is not Point 303,then I don't know which one is Point 303."

So the commanding officer responded,

"Okay we will just check."

By now about half an hour had passed.I sent my tank's radio operator out to scout around and check for our own infantry of the x battalion.If they were anywhere close by.He came back after some time and reported,

"Sir nobody's around here.No sign of our own infantry.The place is deserted."

 I passed this information to my commanding officer. he again said,"let me check."

At around ten o clock,on the reverse slope of Phagla ridge,I watched two companies of the X battalion coming along with their officer.They were being led by a Captain or maybe a JCO from 5 Sikh.They had gone and sat on a wrong objective and were cooking up stories and reporting on radio set, of hand to hand combat and recapture of Point 303."

This Sikh leading the column came to my tank and said,

"Sir they were sitting on the wrong objective.We found them."

I said to their officer,

"Do you know what you have done.Anyway this is not the time for recriminations.Go and occupy those trenches,you can expect a counter attack from the enemy."

I reported this back to my commanding officer.

The story does not end here.

At about 12 o clock a squadron of another newly inducting  Armoured Regiment led by a major came to Point 303.They were sent to relieve me.I was further earmarked to counter attack and recapture Ghogi,Bania,Barsala complex,my next task.Enemy had broken through 5 Assam front and I had to go there to plug the gaps.

X Armoured Regiment was just reaching Chamb from the rear areas and had just been raised a few months ago in Ahmednagar.They were stepping on the ground in Chamb for the first time.So I explained the dispositions and the lie of the land to the Major of the X Armoured Regiment.

Then we pulled out of Point 303 and got onto the Koel Moel track.My commanding officer told me to wait there.Major Ginger Bal,B squadron commander of my regiment would also be joining me for the planned attack on  Ghogi,Bania,Barsala villages to recapture them.

I met Major Ginger for the first time there since the balloon went up and I said to him,

"Hello Ginger.Hows it going?"

He said ,

"Great sir,I am told we are required to go in for an attack."

"So it seems,let's wait for the orders to move into attack.You know the area?"

He said,

"Yes sir ,I know the area all right."

Our two squadrons of Deccan Horse were ready to go in for attack,all set.

But at about 2 o clock that night  we received orders.l from the commanding officer.

"Stand down.No attack to go in."

Thereafter our regimental headquarters gave us new orders that we had to extricate that night  ie night of 6 Dec 71 to east bank of Munnawar Tawi river and hold the line there.We were to abandon the west bank without fighting."

My friend Major Devinder Pannu had died a soldier's death when the enemy had attacked Point 303.I learnt of the circumstances of the attack on his  company in bits and pieces after the war.

On 5 th December ,the enemy had incessantly shelled his company and tried to over run his position.His company had dug in well and his company second in command was Captain Kamal Bakshi.Another officer cast fro a steel mould.He too made the the supreme sacrifice in the defence of Point 303,fighting to the last round.

The enemy had infiltrated their artillery forward observation officers  in disguise into Indian territory just before they attacked and these enemy  artillery observers with radio sets and maps hiding behind our own positions were able to direct accurate artillery fire on Point 303 company's defences.

Major Pannu was directing our own artillery fire on the attacking enemy ,when a large shell splinter tore into his chest.This  exploding shell also killed Caesar,Pannu's dog,an English Pointer that was also with him when he died.He had remained faithfully at his master's feet all throughout the fall of shell and shrapnel.When the stretcher bearers came for Major Pannu,he said,

"Leave me here only,I can still be of some use to my battalion.I will take an artillery shoot  stall the enemy attack.Get me a working radio set and a map.Mine have been destroyed."

His troops despaired.The wound was fatal and had nearly cut half his chest.They lifted their officer up and put him on a stretcher.Pannu took out his wallet with slow movement of his hands and gave it to his batman."

"See to it that my fiancee's photograph is returned to her ."He had been recently engaged tobe married.

The stretcher blanket had rubbed against his face and there was sand sticking on his face.Pannu said to his batman,

"Wipe clean my face and brush my moustaches upwards.I would not like to leave this world with my moustaches drooping down."The soldier wiped clean his officer's face and brushed his fine moustaches up.

And then after sometime,Major Pannu passed away with his moustaches up.He was a true leader and a die hard infantry soldier to his last breath.He deserved the highest decoration.

A new general  came in after the war replacing the previous general.He wanted to know how things had happened?A very elaborate sand model exercise was organized so that each and everybody could describe his actions.I think this was about two months after the war.I was not there for this sand model.My mother had rheumatoid arthiritis and had fallen sick. I had to go on leave to attend to her.

My commanding officer and other officers of my regiment were there attending the Division sand model after the battle.In this recapitulation and discussion,

Major N of the x armoured regiment and this infantry officer of x infantry battalion connived amongst themselves and claimed that they had carried out the counter attack that recaptured Point 303 from the enemy.

Fortunately, the commanding officer of 5 Sikh who was also present in the sand model got up and said,

"But wasn't it an officer or junior commisioned officer of 5 Sikh who had led these two companies of yours which were wrongly sitting on Phagla ridge to the correct location of  Point 303.So how could you have recaptured Point 303."

 That is when the false claims were caught.Had the Commanding Officer not intervened,my commanding officer would have thought that I had been making up stories and another armoured regiment did the counter attack on Point 303.Such is the great confusion in actual battle.

My squadron had one officer  dead,two officers wounded,2 JCOs dead,one wounded and ten other ranks dead.It was a  dear sacrifice.The commanding officer told me that I had been recommended for an MVC.But the citation couldn't go beyond Division HQ.Sam Manekshaw,the army chief had said,"This division has withdrawn,so no more awards for them."

I have no regrets,chakra or no chakra.The point is people should not lie and sugar coat their achievements and factual things must be stated factually.

In 1975 I did the Staff College course.My instructor was Col PK Khanna,MVC,the erstwhile CO of 5 Sikh during 5he battle of Chamb.He said to me,

"Iesh ,you have been chosen as syndicate leader.You were with me in Chamb during the battle there.Would you care to organize a sand model for the entire staff College as to what happened at Chamb and lessons learnt.

My first question to him was,

"Sir I didn't know about the higher planning of the battle.I was just a tank squadron commander.Do you want me to tell you and all the people about my squadron actions.Where all we counter attacked,what all we did."

He seemed to  receive a jolt and said quickly,

"No,no,you go with the official version only.What has been reported in the situation reports by various battalions during the battle.There are too many senior officers here who will become even more powerful in future and I don't want them to get to know,what had really happened in Chamb.Let us go with the official track only.What has happened has happened.No point in raking the fallen leaves now." 

I still have that green scarf of Pannu's turban and he is still alive in my heart and in my memory.

Xxx The End xxx

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