A Soldier Remembers…


By late 1949 after the Kashmir debacle General Nathu Singh recommended the Army begin recruitment in full swing.

From the usual 800-1000 recruits during my time in 1952,
a serious recruitment drive pushed by General Thimayya saw the Artillery Training Centre, Nasik Road flooded with 4-5000 to be trained.
However, with insufficient barracks, training equipment, beds, camp cots, mosquito nets & clothing.…
Depots sent us shorts leftover from the WW2 campaign of North African deserts where it was extremely hot in the day & cold at night.
So instead of issuing a pair of trousers these shorts could be brought down below knee level at sunset & folded up & buttoned in the morning !
We had to alter 1000’s to cater to our requirements.

In 1958, at Para Field Regiment, Agra, the only one of its kind in our army there was an acute shortage of boots, belts, canvas shoes, shirts, trousers & warm clothing we purchased them from the market at our own expense.
Ordnance Factories (OFB) had been put to work churning out espresso machines thanks to the wisdom of our political leaders.

From 1945 onwards not a single new vehicle had been inducted & we were still dragging along what had been left in our depots by the British & Americans.
When the Regiment used to move by road for its annual field firing camp to Babina Ranges near Jhansi, a mere 250 kms away, it used to take us 3 days to get the last vehicle in due to breakdowns enroute.
We had an effete PM who had an irrational dream of world peace which according to him could be only achieved by downsizing the Armed Forces.

He appointed Krishna Menon, a dyed in wool communist, as his Defence Minister. A man who couldn’t get along with his COAS
as the latter was of the view that China posed a major threat to India.
General Thimayya’s warnings were dismissed by both the PM & DM as a warmongering.
PM Nehru after all had coined the slogan ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’.

Upon General Thimayya’s retirement a few months later Krishna Menon was able to appoint his favourites to lead the Army who were willing to do his bidding without complaint.
The rest is a lesson which will go down Military History Annals forever, as a humiliating defeat faced by the proud, once invincible Indian soldier on whose shoulder & back the British had fought WW2.

A Soldier Remembers…

#OperationVijay 1961

We were all packed & ready to leave Agra for my new posting to Srinagar when at my farewell dinner I was told that the orders had come for 50 Para Brigade to leave for Goa Operation Vijay - within 48hrs
I straight away requested my Commanding Officer that my posting for Srinagar, a much prized one in those days, be held in abeyance as I didn’t want to miss out a once in a lifetime opportunity -
not knowing of course that during the next 10yrs I would also be taking part in two
full fledged wars with Pakistan.

By 7pm , 2 Dec 1961, as a member of the Brigade Advance Party to Goa we left by the Punjab Mail, the fastest in those days.
Limited to 1 kit bag for spare clothes, including a blanket, we shivered through 2 nights before we reached
Belgaum via Pune on evening 4 Dec.

My wife who had been ready to leave for Srinagar with me just a few hours earlier now made a harrowing 9hr journey from Agra to her parents in Delhi with our 10 mth old daughter as all passenger trains had to make way for Military Specials
having Red Hot Priority rushing to Goa.

Even our Brigade reached before us, the Advance Party.

On reaching Belgaum, where we spent many sleepless nights with 1 blanket in the open, we were informed that Portugal had sought NATO support so the Para Brigade may have to be para
dropped to speed up the operations of 17 Infantry Division coming from south side Goa.

There however, was a hitch.

IAF had recently bought C119 Packet Transport planes for para ops but matching parachutes had still not been acquired.
We were still on the slower WW II vintage DC3 Dakota equipment.
Senior medical officers who had jumped in the Korean War a few years earlier opined that at least 15% casualties may take place due to the older chutes.
So a voice vote was taken by Brig Comdr, Brig (later Lt Gen) Sagat Singh in affected units for the willingness of the troops & all answered with a resounding “Yes”!

For 2 weeks we went on long route marches to keep fit & assembled & reassembled our guns over & over again.
In those days guns were not para dropped as a whole but as separate components, in containers before we ourselves jumped. Then we went about collecting the strewn containers  to assemble the gun.

Fortunately, this option was not exercised as not one country came in support of

On 17th Dec 1961, a day before D-Day one company of 2Para Battalion was tasked to infiltrate across the border of Goa, head for Bicholim & secure the bridge over the Cudnem for our tanks to roll in.
We had a member of the Goa Resistance Movement to guide us from the Sawantwadi border.

But before we reached the Portuguese themselves blew up the bridge hoping to thwart our advance. The Brigade then scattered to other parts of Goa with different objectives while our tanks
crossed the river without a problem.

At Ponda, our objective,  we found abandoned barracks of their signal school & armoured car squadron. The Portuguese officers we heard from Ponda residents whom we met in the evening had all headed for Panjim as were we, while the Goan
soldiers had been ordered to disperse to their villages.

Anyway, for a change, my course mate Capt KS Pannu of 2 Para Bn (later Maj Gen & MVC) & I spent that cold night of 18 Dec 1961 comfortably wrapped in the Portuguese Squadron Commander’s office carpet !
Although the 50th Para Brigade was charged with assisting the main thrust conducted by the 17th Infantry, its units moved rapidly across minefields, roadblocks and four riverine obstacles to be the first to reach Panjim, now known as Panaji.
Goa was now ours for the taking.

On 19 Dec 1961 The Governor of Goa , Gen Vassalo de Silva signed the Instrument of Surrender & Maj Gen KP Candeth, GOC 17 Infantry Division was appointed as Military Governor of Goa bringing to an end 451 years of Portuguese rule.
In all, 4668 personnel were taken prisoner by us —a figure which included military & civilian personnel, Portuguese & Goan.

The war had lasted two days & had cost 22 Indian & 30 Portuguese lives.

The war that busted two myths....
- One Pakistani soldier equalled ten Indian soldiers.
- Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time & place.
The Pakistani Brigade Commander was astounded to learn that his counterpart, my Brigade Commander, was Brigadier Syed Yakub Munshi, a great officer, commander of troops & a thorough gentleman.
The JCO from our side was suddenly asked by the Pakistani Havaldar if he was from Hoshiarpur.

When the JCO confirmed it, the Havaldar took his name & hugged him saying that the JCOs father had saved his family and others during the 1947 riots.
A Soldier Remembers


#OperationCactusLily 1971

Part 1 of 2

I assumed command of 193 Mountain Regiment in Dec ‘69 in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh).
By Jan 71 we had moved to Bakloh (HP) where we inherited from the unit we replaced
WW I vintage 3.7in Howitzers all greased up & ready to be returned to the depot.

We were to instead receive newly developed 75/25 mm Hows.

Feb ‘71 NCO teams left for Artillery School for instructor training & the collection of guns but the delivery unfortunately was delayed.
Mar ‘71 we were put on 6hrs alert to be prepared for operations due to the massive influx of refugees into India from East Pakistan.

However operations didn’t take place as FM Sam Manekshaw was able to convince PM Indira Gandhi that he needed more time to take proper action.
As our new guns hadn’t arrived yet we hurriedly degreased the old obsolete guns, began training on them & went to Jammu ranges for firing.

Finally the new guns arrived in June ‘71.
Jul’71 Regiment began training again in earnest & happily had a successful firing practice in Jul 71 at Jammu again.

In the meantime we were collecting equipment & vehicles to make up our deficiencies. Our shortage of officers was made up from those under training in
institutions & HQ in peace stations.

During the rest of the time I was travelling by road frequently to Jammu from Bakloh for briefings about our tasks at Division & Brigade HQ & wargaming operational situations.
My Regiment was to provide artillery support to 19 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brig Mohinder Singh for the capture of Chickens Neck, earlier called The Dagger, a salient into our territory of about a 180 sq km area West of Jammu, bounded by Rivers Chenab, West & Tawi, South.
End Oct ‘71 our Regt. moved to Jammu to be close to our objective & kept busy stocking ammunition, selecting/preparing half a dozen gun positions & fine tuning our plans.

In Nov ‘71 Gen Manekshaw & Army Commander Western Command Lt Gen Candeth visited all units deployed against
East & West Pakistan as earlier in the month Mukti Bahini, stiffened by our army, had started operations in the East.

On 30 Nov ‘71 I sought permission of Brig Mohinder Singh to see off my wife & children at Pathankot railway station.
I was to drive down from Jammu to Pathankot & they were coming from Bakloh to take the train to Delhi.

The Brigadier instead advised that my family should be brought to his Brigade Officers Mess at Damana as he believed that the anticipated war was not going to happen & it made
sense to bring them closer to our deployment area.

So at Pathankot Station instead of seeing them off I brought them to a barrack in Damana right next to the Brigade Commander’s house.
3 Dec’71 #OpCactusLily commenced & my family found itself only 6kms from the Front !
For details you should hear the story from @NAN_DINI_ who was then, still not 10.

8am Cdr 19 Bde & I visited our neighbouring Division across River Chenab, poised for an offensive…
Part 2 of 2

I, myself escaped an air attack when being driven to one of my battery positions. 
A soldier shouted out, “Saab, hawaai jahaz”! Hawaai jahaz !”

My driver & I abandoned the jeep & dived into nearby trenches and underwent repeated machine gun runs by Pak Sabres.
After they had their fill we returned to our jeep & appreciated their marksmanship.
They had shot a bullet right through the backrest of my seat, which fortunately was vacated by me seconds earlier!
As our guns were causing considerable damage on their ground troops
& installations, Pakistani airforce was very active always on the lookout for our guns. 

A cat & mouse game followed with us changing positions often & they trying to locate us anew. Our guns had scored direct hits on the Pak HQ at Phuklean Rest House
& a picture of it is a prized possession of the Regiment. My regiment since that victorious day uses the suffix "Ph! Ph! (Phulean Phuckers)"
On 6 Dec’71 Brig Mohinder Singh & I visited my furthest guns. It was just before sunset & we were surprised to see Marala Headworks at the junction of Rivers Chenab & Tawi, with some people on the bridge, silhouetted against the sun.
Two major canals took off from Marala
towards the East.

I suggested that we should destroy the barrage by a direct shoot with two 130mm guns so that we would flood the area down stream.

A few days later upon receiving orders to take on the shoot, an escort & I set off to find a suitable location for the guns.
We tried to get near the barrage but had to return as progress was slow & tedious through the Sarkanda Grass (Elephant Grass) on the banks of Tawi.
On the way back along the river we noticed a low flying Pak light plane on patrol which we tried to shoot down with a machine gun,
but it seemed eager to get away.

A few hours later a Pak Naik surrendered to our forward post. He revealed that Pakistan had infiltrated a SSG Commando company with the aim of destroying our guns & was now in hiding in the very same Sarkanda Grass that I had just returned from.
Brig Mohinder Singh immediately tasked our armoured fighting vehicle battalion to scour out the enemy in the Sarkhanda grass which was done ably & successfully before dawn next morning!
8 Pakistanis were killed during this short operation.
12 Dec 71 as things were relatively quiet the Brigade ordered my Regt to move to the Jammu-Sialkot axis.
In our new location we spent our days showering Sialkot city with the only gifts we had, 75mm shells, till cease fire was declared on 16 Dec 1971 !
Indian casualties - 3843
Wounded - 12000

Pakistani casualties - 9000
Wounded - 25000
Captured - 93000

Pakistani territory captured by India - approximately 11000 Sq Kms
Creation of Bangladesh.

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