The incidents narrated ahead are based on the experience of 2nd Lieutenant Baljit Singh, 3rd Madras Infantry Battalion, 69th Infantry Brigade, who had participated in the legendary 1965 Indo-Pak war. The contents are a pen picture of the Indian counter offensive in the Pakistani Punjab sector, which includes ‘Attack on Maharjke’, ‘Battle of Phillora’ and ‘Siege on Sialkot’.
It was somewhere in the second week of April 1965 when 69th infantry brigade, in which I was attached, received the news of Pakistani misadventure in the Kutch sector of Gujarat state. The senior officials of the brigade were caught with the trauma of an all out war with Pakistan.
Every chap was excited and was bubbling with energy as well as fuming with some amount of anger, over such treacherous act done by Pakistanis.
In the upcoming days that followed their fear become a reality, when the whole of the mountain division force was put on an alert. I was undergoing the ‘Weapon Course’ at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, when a short notice was received by me to join back with my battalion, which was at Dharchula, Uttaranchal, close to Indo-China border.
After the war with China in 1962 a one lakh force was raised under the banner of ‘Mountain Divisions’, which totaled ten in number. This force mostly consisted of the officers recruited on a large scale from the ‘Officers Training Centers’(OTC), established all over the country after the Chinese invasion, since during those days there happened to be an acute shortage of officers.
Within a few days I reported at my battalion headquarters of 3rd Madras, which along with 9th Kumon and 6th J&K Rifles constituted the 69th infantry brigade. Dharchula is a valley surrounded by peaks ranging from 10000 to 14000 feet. The route towards Dharchula had to be traversed through Bariely, Pilibhit and Pithoragarh. The medium of transportation were mini-buses, since the route was only jeepable at that time. There was rail route available but only till Tanakpur which was the ‘rail head’.
Upon my arrival it was learnt that the brigade was on a notice of 4 hours for its move. Every chap was excited and was bubbling with energy as well as fuming with some amount of anger, over such treacherous act done by Pakistanis. Most of us were consoling ourselves that when we were ready for a fight with China, the Chinese did not show up but now we will surely not leave the Pakistanis without having faced our wrath.
…as it is said no one can predict future, the moment we reached Pathankot and our respective battalion and company commanders had started to work on the strategy for countering Pakistani threat in Punjab sector, the news of ceasefire arrived, which was sponsored by the then superpowers.
In the wake of another Chinese misadventure the mountain divisions used to hold different exercises for getting aware of the topography and acclimatizing with the high altitude conditions, on the Indo-China border. Our brigade used to hold an annual exercise in which we had to march our way through 300 kilometers from Dharchula to Haldwani. Such an exercise used to happen in the ascending hierarchy, that is to say first a section level exercise used to take place, then a platoon size, then a company size and finally the battalion size drill was performed. The amount of struggle faced by us while trekking the area during patrolling or when such exercises were carried out helped in making most of us a true fighting machine.
Mobilization & Deployment
When the final movement order was received the brigade started to move out of Dharchula towards the new brigade headquarters at Pathankot, in Punjab. Since there were not many military transport vehicles available so most of the mobility was made possible by hiring civilian trucks and buses. The path which we took to reach Pathankot in the shortest time possible was through Pithoragarh, Tanakpur, Katgodam, Bariely, Muradabad, Meerut, Saharanpur and Ambala. It took us seven days to reach our destination but everyone was quite happy to see the kind of civilian support that we received on our way. All the people gathered at every stoppage we took, for handing over eatables. Many civilians upon watching us used to start shouting motivational slogans like ‘Victory to Mother India’, ‘Jai Hind’ and what not.
Such an atmosphere made us determined about the task which we had to perform. But as it is said no one can predict future, the moment we reached Pathankot and our respective battalion and company commanders had started to work on the strategy for countering Pakistani threat in Punjab sector, the news of ceasefire arrived, which was sponsored by the then superpowers. Few of us were relieved of the mental tension developed before a fight but still there were many who were disappointed for not being able to see action and take revenge of the breach of faith that Pakistan had done.
In the mean time when ceasefire was officially declared, we were able to make up for the lost time. Not only that but we were also provided training on tanks because in case of emergency one has to go even beyond his call of duty. I along with few other officers was explained in detail many aspects of an armored vehicle and we were given an idea about the fire control system of a tank. The tanks on which we were trained consisted mostly of world war-2 tanks like the ‘Sherman’ and ‘Stuart ‘light tanks.
Staying for about a month at Pathankot the brigade was finally moved back to Dharchula. Few of the officers even went on a short leave straight from Pathankot, when the order to pull back was received.