Military & Aerospace

Guns of Atari: The 1965 Indo–Pak War
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Issue Book Excerpt: A Journey Spanning Two Wars | Date : 14 Nov , 2020

“India is facing aggression, we are at war. All defence personnel on leave report to their units forthwith.’’

The announcement was coming repeatedly on the radio. I was on my two months, annual leave in Delhi, and my unit was located in Meerut cantonment.

I had my scooter with me at Delhi. I, along with my wife, Tripat Rani Modgil, started for Meerut by road within three hours of hearing the message. She carried our one-and-a-half year old son, Moninder, on her lap. She was also expecting our second child. As soon as we reached our house in Meerut, we discussed our domestic problem under the circumstances. We decided that she should wind up the house as soon possible and go back to Delhi to her father’s house.

I went to my unit location in the cantonment. I already knew that the unit had moved to its battle location after a few days of my coming on leave. I assessed the situation. There were a few vehicles left behind when the unit had moved, which had been repaired by the unit repair team in the rear party. Besides, there were a couple of light machine guns lying in the unit armoury. I found some jawans had also reported by now. In consultation with the officer-in charge-of the rear party, I decided to leave for the border in the morning .

I must appreciate the courage and moral strength displayed by my wife at that time. She assured me that she would be able to handle the situation and that I should go to the front without any worry and come back victorious.

Next morning, with two vehicles, three light-machine guns and ten jawans with our personal weapons, I started for the unit’s battle location. En-route I found our civilians cheering us with the famous slogan of our Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, “Jai jawan, jai kisan!” We were repeatedly halted en-route for refreshments at a few places by crowds. We finally stopped for the night at a small town called, Mandi Govindgarh. I and my jawans had our evening meals at a wayside dhaba. The owner of the dhaba refused to accept any payment saying — “You are jawans of our motherland, going to defend her. I cannot commit the sin of charging you for food.” We found the local PWD resthouse, where we camped for the night.

After arranging for the night duty sentries and ensuring security of the party, I retired to my room in the rest house, after giving the order that we will move at seven in the morning.

We resumed our movement in the morning as per our plan. There was no civilian traffic on the road. However, like the previous day, we were cheered and given refreshments by villagers on the roadside. They appeared cheerful and full of enthusiasm, without any trace of fear or worry. I thought it as a good sign of the morale of our country. We made good progress and went past the city of Ludhiana and further still towards Amritsar.

Amritsar — the City of the Golden Temple

The city’s name always brings to my memory Guru Arjun Dev, who built the world famous Golden Temple and my ancestor, Bhai Baba Ganga Ram, who earned the Guru’s blessings by his humble service during the construction of the temple.

In fact, the Holy city had been the part of our activity as part of an earlier occupation of the battle drill a few months back, and we had been withdrawn to Meerut from the very outskirts of Amritsar. That time we had stayed for about three months. Then I was deployed as an observation post officer with a squadron of tanks with the covering troops on the border.

I could see a lot of activity short of Amritsar, like deployed anti-aircraft guns and troops manning bridges, etc. I had known our earlier gun positions and thought the Regiment to be at the earlier position. But I was wrong. It was the third day of the war.

I realised that it would be correct to go to the Artillery Brigade Headquarters to know our Regiment’s location. That was where I got the present location of my unit.

The Guns of Rangarh

One is well-acquainted with the custom of foreign heads of state being received with gun salute.

As we reached our gun area. I heard aircraft-like sounds and found enemy artillery shells landing about one hundred yards to our right side. As per battle drill everyone jumped out of the vehicles, moved and took cover by lying on the ground. Only a soldier knows why we call it mother earth because, it provides shelter in its womb. There were a few other salvos. When we were sure that it was over, I moved on foot towards the command post bunker. I realised that my uniform was soiled with mud. I thanked God for saving us. Capt Manjit Duggal was performing duties as the Adjutant of the unit. He latter retired as a Major General with Vir Chakra decoration. Before going on annual leave I was performing the same duties. I told him that he should ask the Commanding Officer as to what duty I should do now. He spoke to the Commanding Officer on phone, who said that I should take over the duties of Battery Commander of R (Romeo) Battery, whose post had fallen vacant due to posting out of Maj Sowani. After receiving the update from Capt Manjeet regarding the raging battle, I came to know that our gun positions were being counter-bombarded regularly every day. Manjeet also informed me about the location of R Battery gun position, north of his command post. I then moved in one of the vehicles I had traveled into R Battery gun position. The vehicle also belonged to that battery.

On arrival in the battery gun area close to village Rangarh, where I had my Observation Post during my previous deployment, I met the gun position officer 2nd Lt Bhatia. He informed me that the other officer present with the battery was 2nd Lt Rattan, who at that time was with the observation officer of the Dogra battalion. I then met the Battery junior commissioned officers and the gun commanders. I had earlier served the battery as second-in-command, hence I knew everyone and the men also knew me well. There was a hand pump in the house, which was our source of water. I got my personal baggage put in the room and noticed that the room had three charpoyees, one chair and a small table. I sent message to the non-commissioned officer to provide a telephone line to me in the room, to enable me to get in touch with everyone. The phone was soon set up. I then spoke to my Commanding Officer, who was very happy with having joined so fast with the unit already short of officers. I also spoke to the Second-in-Command, Maj Xavier, who was a Second World War veteran. I tried to get in touch with 2nd Lt Rattan, but his telephone line was out, probably cut due to the effect of the shelling. By this time it was dark and my batman brought my dinner, which I relished, and then went to sleep. The Heavy guns of my battery were booming, but for me that was not disturbing — nay, it was sweet music which put me to sleep.

Early morning I was woken up by my batman with a hot mug full of tea. Since I had slept in my uniform, I just had to slip on my boots and belt with my pistol, and I walked to my battery for the customary, “Stand To Drill,” which meant all personnel had to be at their battle positions. This drill was performed 15 minutes before sunrise and sunset for half an hour, or as required by the battle situation. I could see the rosy pink colours of dawn in the direction of the city of the Gurus. I felt a sense of peace in my mind — peace on the battle field, although our guns were still booming. First, I went to the battery command post to know the latest battle situation. At that time I saw 2nd Lt Bhatia, our gun position officer, getting out of a trench near the command post. Apparently he had slept in the trench with his raincoat as the ground sheet. As he picked up the rain coat he noticed there was a snake over which he had been sleeping the whole night. The officer wanted to kill it, but I asked him to leave it as the snake had not harmed him. Later, our jawans took the snake out and left it in the nearby field.

I visited each gun and the Light machine gun posts on the defense perimeter.

I was happy to see the jawans in good morale, inspite of the guns firing almost at regular intervals at night. There was a call from 2nd LT Rattan
in the command post. I spoke personally to him to find out his and his staff’s condition. He said he was fine and the men in his team were also fine. He was one of the first batch of young officers of the Emergency Commissioned Officers who had joined in unit during 1964 at our location at Kapurthala in Punjab. Before joining the Army he had been working in a bank, with his father also a manager in a bank. I knew him as a courageous officer. He spoke to me for a few minutes. I asked him to speak to me at least once during the day about the battle on the front.

After the stand-to-drill I came to the room to have a bath and then the breakfast of alu-puri with some tea. Thereafter, I returned to the command post to relieve Bhatia, so that he could have some rest and relax. He had been on duty without proper relief since the start of the battle. In the beginning of my life as a gunner officer, I had my first two years as the Gun Position Officer, which I always enjoyed. I told Bhatia to go and get some sleep, have a bath and come back when he felt fresh. He left with a thankful look on his face. There was a call from the adjutant for the gun position officer on the phone, I took the call. On hearing my voice, he said, “Sir, I wanted to speak to the GPO.” I replied, “I am the GPO.” “Sir, you are my senior, how can I give orders to you?” He asked. I replied, “We are fighting a war for the motherland, I am giving rest to my officer… you are welcome to give orders to me.” Thereafter, the arrangement continued without any objections from anyone. There were a number of calls for fire by our observation officers in the front, which were attended to by the battery the whole day. It was the evening stand-to time, when Bhatia returned to the command post looking fresh and rested. I told him that henceforth, till such time I was present in the gun position, we will have a tenure of six hours duty during the day and night. He tried to argue that this was not correct since I was the Battery Commander. But I told him about my talk with the Adjutant, that we were all fighting the war for the motherland jointly and that I had no ego problems. So, he too should not have any objection to the arrangement. After the stand-to-drill, I told Bhatia that I would be back to relieve him after six hours, so that we could both have regular breaks of rest and duty. Then I left for our restroom. I had my dinner and told the sentry near by to wake me at 1 AM, so that I could go and relieve Bhatia at the required time. I was back in the command post and relieved him. There were a few calls for fire during the night. But it was time for stand-to when it occurred.

The Enemy Air Raid

The shelling took place on our gun areas regularly. Since we were continuing our firing from the same position right from the start of war, the enemy appeared to have got our location accurately. The gun position of my battery was well camouflaged. Enemy aircraft strafed the area, but no damage was caused to any equipment or our guns or our men. I learnt the other batterys were also safe.

As a young officer, I had done one exercise with a Locating Unit, and one of the senior captains had told me the process of locating the guns and that it could be done very accurately. I spoke to our Second-in-Command to think of shifting the gun position. He said he wouldspeak to the commanding Officer. Consequently, we shifted to an alternate position. The guns had a number of alternative positions to avoid counter bombardment and enemy air attacks.

My battery and the others shifted forward near the historic border town of Atari. Hence, the title — The Guns of Atari.

I requested my Commanding Officer that I would like to relieve 2nd Lieut Rattan as Forward Observation Officer. He advised me to wait and that he would send me forward shortly. A few days later I got orders to go to the Dogra Battalion and relieve Rattan. Accordingly, I got my staff and went to the Dogras location right on the frontline.

In the Front Line

This was my life’s first real battle experience. As I got off my jeep, I could hear our own and enemy’s small arms and machine gun fire. It was around 2 PM. One of the jawans accompanying me had been to the location of our observation post. Hence, there was no difficulty in reaching there. Perhaps our movement was noticed by the enemy artillery observation officer. As soon as we were in the trenches, the enemy artillery opened up on our location and continued for a few minutes. I remembered having a similar welcome the day I had arrived, and I took it as a good omen.

2nd Lt Rattan was happy to see me. He gave me a detailed briefing about the enemy locations, including of the enemy’s and our tanks. We decided that since we were under enemy observation, it would be wise for him to leave when it was completely dark. As soon as it was fully dark, both of us got out of the trench and he took me to the Company Commander. Maj Jitender Kumar, the Commander was a brave officer. He had shot down an enemy low-flying aircraft with a machine gun. Later, he was awarded a Vir Chakra for that action. We came back to our trench, which was about 20 yards away from the Company Commander’s post. A little later I told Rattan to leave for our gun position.

2nd Lt Rattan had captured some arms, ammunition and equipment, which I advised him to take back to the gun position. Later on, after the ceasefire, he asked me to pose with him along with the captured equipment, which were deposited with Ordnance by him.

The enemy front troops were about 400 yards away. My own post was on the ground too. So, my observation was limited. There was no suitable tree or building to give me height. However, as mentioned before the enemy could observe us. So, I concluded that the enemy observer was located on a height — either a building or a tree.

I was the authorised Observation Post Officer of the Artillery brigade, which meant I had the authority to call for fire of approximately one hundred guns of the artillery — which included my regiment’s 16 Heavy guns boasting the 200-pounder shells.

The enemy position was based on the outskirts of a village named Dograi. It had been appreciated that there was one company of infantry with a troop of tanks. The enemy tanks had an edge over our tanks, being the latest imported US Patton tanks — named after the famous General Patton, of World War II fame. There was an anti-tank obstacle in the shape of a big brick lined canal, the Icchogil Canal. The canal had a bridge on the Grand Trunk road, connecting Lahore with us. In fact, this village could as well as have been counted as the outskirts of Lahore. I would call it the ‘Gates of Lahore’.

There was firing from both sides almost the whole night. I might have even taken a short nap standing in my trench for a while.

There was no room to manoeuvre around with the troops of both sides in eyeball to eyeball position. I wondered how long this stalemate would go on. I had only five years service. And while this was my first war experience, the basics of soldiering were known to me. In my mind I knew that our side had to find a flank to attack the enemy to go ahead. I was wondering whether the boss man responsible on our side was also thinking the same. For the first time since I left my wife, I actually remembered my wife and son.

And I wondered how the brave lady would have managed to shift from Meerut to Delhi.

The Dawn

The sky in the East started turning pink, signalling the approach of dawn. On the battlefield there were no birds to chirp. Only the firing of various types of weapons could be heard. As soon as it was light, the troop of enemy tanks became active. I could easily locate them from the flash and smoke. I called for our heavy guns to fire on the tanks, which caused them to fall back. My assistant staff told me that the enemy was literally scared by the heavy guns, as they had no heavy guns of their own. During the above mentioned shoot I had observed one of the enemy jeep being thrown up in the air due to the blast of a heavy shell. I felt a sense of confidence seeing the effect of our heavy guns.

After some time, one heavy machine gun became active. There were bullets flying overhead. Luckily, this target had already been engaged by Rattan and recorded. I called for my guns and asked for concentrated fire. The fire was accurate and silenced the enemy machine gun. The infantry soldiers around us literally cheered us on seeing the effect of our guns on the enemy. There was a survey tree (marked on the map) in the enemy locality. A neighbouring field gun observation post officer brought fire near that tree. One of my assistant staff saw an enemy soldier climbing down and indicated the same to me. Now I knew who had fired the welcome salvo fire on me when I had arrived yesterday afternoon. I focused my binoculars on that tree and waited. After about ten minutes I noticed the soldier going up the tree slowly. I gave the fire orders and concentrated the guns on the target. The first salvo came accurately. I followed it with a salvo of five rounds per gun. The fire was so effective that the survey tree was reduced to a skeleton. There was no doubt that the enemy observer was neutralised, and till I left that position in the afternoon, no artillery fire came down on our location. The enemy tanks again became active from a different location, but they were again made to retreat because  of our heavy guns.

Fort of Fire — Agni Chakra

At one stage, the enemy tanks were leading an assault towards our position and I started bringing down heavy gun fire on those tanks. Suddenly, my staff noticed that the infantry troops had withdrawn and that we were left alone. I was reminded of an incident told to me by my first Battery Commander and Guru, that during the Second World War one Observation Post Officer was left alone by his infantry which withdrew without telling him. This officer, then, brought his own artillery fire on his own position — to escape capture by the enemy. Here, I was in the same position. I decided to adopt the same method and called for fire about 200 yards in my front from my own battery. The Heavy Regiment had four batteries. I adjusted one battery each on my right and left and one battery behind my position. Thus creating a circle of fire around me. It was risky as any shell could have landed on my own position; but at least it was better than being run over by enemy tanks. My plan of the ‘fort of fire’ — or as you may call it, the “Agni Chakra”, worked very effectively as the enemy tank assault was not only stopped, it made them withdraw with some damages to the tanks. When I noticed them withdrawing, I stopped the battery behind me from firing. I, along with my staff, withdrew under the covering fire of the other three battery fire. I don’t remember how long I continued the fire. I only stopped when I was again at the  new position taken by the infantry.

The Battle of Dograi (New Assignment with 3 Jat Balwan)

Around 1500 hours I received a call from my Commanding Officer, to report to Maj Pasricha of the sister field regiment along with my staff for a new mission. I spoke to the Company Commander and the Adjutant of the Dogras. Along with my staff, I withdrew to the new location.

I was asked to report to Maj Pasricha with the 3 Jats. I reached the location and easily succeeded in contacting the said officer. He briefed me about going into attack that night with 3 Jat. He said that the bridge on the canal was being engaged to be make it unusable by the enemy — for withdrawal or re-enforcements. That task had been given to the air observation post flight. From my new location I could see the air OP aircraft already taking the shoot with the heavy guns. Later, I learnt that the bridge was fully destroyed with precision shooting of the heavy guns. The fire plan for the attack had been prepared and all possible targets already registered. I briefed my own staff, instructing them to check the stores required and personal weapons. The communication in-charge non-commissioned officer in my party wanted fully-charged batteries for the radio set, which he wanted to bring from the gun position. I allowed him to go and fetch the batterys. I thought of catching up with some sleep and to be ready for the coming big show. I slowly dozed off. I don’t remember how long I slept till one of my staff woke me up and told me that Maj Pasricha wanted to speak to me. I went and met him, he gave me a copy of the fire plan and asked me to study it carefully. After studying the fire plan, I asked him with whom I was to go in for the assault. He said that since I was the authorised Observation Post (OP) officer, I was to move along with him only. The H-hour (the assault time) was around 0300 hrs. The entire artillery was to fire for at least an hour before H-hour to punish the targets before the attack. There was still some time for the movement to start. Hence, I decided to relax a while. Around 2200 hours we started moving towards the assembly area in the north-west direction. We spent a little while  there, till we got the signal to move forward towards the assault position — known as the start line. Our guns had already started firing on the targets as per the fire plan.

The Battle of Dograi  in the 1965 War — Knocking at the Gates of Lahore

The Battle of Dograi during the 1965 War is considered to be a classic example, and has been taught in the college of combat for a number of great lessons. I shall discuss that later. Now, to continue the narrative.

Dograi is a suburb town of Lahore, located to the east of Ichhogil Canal, astride the Grand Trunk Road, about 8–9 kms from the Wagah border. The town and its eastern side was occupied by enemy troops, supported by a troop of tanks. Our commanders had appreciated it to be held by an infantry company plus. However, later we discovered that it was held by a battalion supported by a troop, plus tanks and additional medium machine guns in pill boxes.

Our attack was to go in from the right flank at night, with the Jat battalion supported by artillery. The Artillery Battery commander Maj Pasricha was from a field regiment.

I was the authorised Observation Post Officer of the Artillery Brigade and of my own Heavy Regiment. My party was part of Maj Pasricha’s group, who was the Battery Commander with the infantry battalion. From the start line I could see the fire of our artillery on the enemy targets, as well as the tracer fire of the enemy machine guns. Suddenly, a sense of fear came up in my mind. I quietly prayed to God for help. The prayer continued for almost ten minutes. Then it happened. This was my first spiritual experience on the battlefield. Suddenly, I felt a sense of peace and was filled with confidence. I felt as if some voice was telling me that nothing untoward would happen to me during the battle and I should not worry at all, treat it as a drama and just do my duty as my part in this war — as taught by Lord Krishna to Arjun at the battlefield of Kurukshetra during the Mahabharta war. This was my personal Kurukshetra. The fear disappeared and a sense of calm took its place in my mind. I thanked God for his blessings.

We were to move forward after seeing the success signal, which was in a sequence as light green, then red and then again green. But we saw only two greens and no red. Later on I learnt that the cartridges of the red light misfired. The radio communication was not through. It was going to be dawn soon. We collectively decided to move forward, instead of waiting to be caught in the open. So, we moved towards the village Dograi. We had to travel about 500 yards. I could see some dead bodies of men killed during the assault of enemy fire. It was almost daylight when we entered the village and contacted our own troops. The battle was raging and house to house cleaning had to be done as the enemy troops had taken shelter in the built-up area. It was hand-to-hand fighting in the literal sense. The village had about seventy percent mud houses and thirty percent brick houses. I could see that our artillery fire had damaged almost ninety percent of the houses.

I heard someone shouting — “Where is the Heavy Regiment OP officer? One enemy tank is causing lot of casualties!” I yelled back to give my location. I found one Subedar of the Jats coming running towards me. When he was close I recognised him. He had been my drill instructor at the IMA. But he took some time to recognise me. I went with him and engaged the enemy tank with our heavy guns and neutralised it to the satisfaction of the Subedar. The attack on the tank had taken me away from Maj Pasricha, who by now had joined the Battalion Commander. I found them inside one big building courtyard. The Colonel was a tall, handsome, well-built, Anglo-Indian officer. He shook hands with me, and said that I should set up my post so that I could have a commanding view over the canal and the GT road. He suggested the minar of the nearby mosque. I told him that I’d select a suitable place for my post and inform him and Maj Pasricha about it.

I saw the mosque building. It was reasonably big. The minars were too obvious a structure for making my post. Call it a chance, but the house of God had not been hit even by one artillery shell. I made a short prayer in the mosque and left to look for some other suitable place. The reader may recall in the earlier of part of the narrative, that my first teacher was a Moulvi Sahib. I thought a mud house with two storeys would serve my purpose. I noticed one such house and went in. It had a small courtyard with a wooden stair to go up. Suddenly, the door of the room in front opened and an enemy Subedar who had been hiding there came out with his hands raised and said, “Salaam, Sahib!” My reaction was fast, my pistol was already pointed at his heart. He was tall and good-looking, but there was fear in his eyes. He had no personal weapon on him. The custom of warriors since time immemorial — to spare an opponent surrendering — is well-known. I asked my jawans to go inside the now open room and search it for any other persons or weapons. They found the Subedar’s personal weapon, a carbine. I enquired from him about his unit, and he said he belonged to the Baluch unit, which was holding the village before our attack. I took him in as a prisoner-of-war and handed him over to the battalion headquarters. I returned to the same house and climbed the wooden stairs. There was a small room and it had a window towards the canal. The broken bridge and the GT Road going to Lahore were clearly visible from the window. I decided to set up my post there and told my assistant to go and inform our location at Battalion HQ. I got busy identifying my location on the map. It was easy, as the bridge on the canal was clearly marked. I passed my location to our Adjutant, and started picking up the important features in the front.

The infantry was still busy with the mopping-up operation. There was a lot of machine gun and small arms fire. The canal was full of water and the bridge was destroyed. I was sure there was hardly any chance of enemy survivors falling back. I wondered about the fate of the enemy tanks. Till now there was no artillery fire on us from the enemy side. Perhaps the enemy was not aware that they had lost the position. I noticed an enemy tank behind the canal bund. If the tank was there it meant at least a troop must be there. Also, some elements of infantry to protect the bank on the other side of the canal would also be there. So, I decided to neutralise the opposite canal bank and the areas on both sides of the road. I remembered the teachings of my first Battery commander, who had fought as a gunner during the Second World War — “Any shell landing in the enemy location will certainly cause some damage.”

I asked my own Heavy Regiment to fire on the area where I had noticed the enemy tank. Since the target was close by, and I wanted some shock action from our fire, I opened up with regimental salvo. The fire came very accurately over the desired area. I followed it with three more salvos, then shifted the fire to the right side, then left side and then to the depth area. Whether it was my firing or the enemy artillery officer opposite, the enemy guns opened up on us. However, I continued punishing the enemy opposite with our fire, till our regiment Adjutant asked me to stop as the Regiment fire was required to counter bombard the enemy guns. I said, “Welcome.”

I then asked our Artillery Brigade major if any other guns were available to me. He allotted a field regiment. I then restarted the same sweep and search on the GT Road and the areas to the right and left. At that time our own Air Force aircraft flew over towards Lahore, possibly to punish the enemy guns from the air.

Having satisfied myself about punishing the enemy, I thought of going to the Battalion HQ to find out the latest situation and to report the action taken by me. I met the Commanding Officer who was in one of the rooms in that building. He gave me a smile and said that he had been hearing the fire of heavy guns, which had more or less reduced enemy activity. I thanked him. I informed him that the enemy had some tanks and other weapons behind the opposite bank of the canal, which had been neutralised.

As we were talking, we heard the sound of an enemy artillery shell bursting in the courtyard and another shell landed in the room where we were; but fortunately it did not burst. I examined the blind shell and noticed it to be a 25-pounder with the year of manufacture marked as 1944. It gave the indication that the enemy was running out of ammunition and firing outdated ammo. The Colonel gave me a smile and said that one of us was lucky. I smiled and said that we both were lucky and that God was protecting us. I remembered my spiritual experience a few hours back, which had assured me that nothing untoward would happen to me. The Colonel showed me his water bottle through which a bullet had gone through during the assault last night. Then he told me that the enemy battalion commander and battery commander had been captured. I then excused myself to return to my post, to carry on my job of engaging targets.

The enemy fire of various weapons was still coming towards us. I decided to engage the whole area in front, with the whole artillery at my command — 100 guns, including my 16 heavy guns. The Idea was to punish the enemy targets and to convey our artillery supremacy, thereby not allowing them to hit our troops. The whole process was done methodically. Starting with the targets on the other side of the canal, I switched to the flanks and then in the depth and then further in the depth. In the deeper targets, there appeared to be a factory which caught fire due to our shelling, and a huge ball of black smoke started coming up and that continued for a very long time. This punishment silenced the enemy weapons and this allowed our own troops to occupy our side of the canal bank. I gave a pause to our fire to see if there was any activity of enemy fire and waited. I asked my staff if I could have some tea. I was told “yes”, but without any milk, which was fine by me. I started sipping my mug of black tea and scanned the front with my powerful binoculars. It was all quiet.

Our troop’s activity on our side of the bank increased a lot, which invited machine gun fire from the enemy. I could locate it firing from a concrete pill box. I took it on with my own guns, concentrated and neutralised it. I continued as a precision shoot and got direct hits, thereby permanently silencing it. Later on I realised that the enemy had systematically constructed such a series of machine gun pill boxes on either side of the GT Road, till the gates of Lahore. But the enemy was not going to keep silent for long. With the machine gun destroyed, the enemy brought forward some tanks. The tanks were also scared away by the heavy gun fire and forced to withdraw. But the game of hide and seek with me and the tanks went on till darkness set in. I felt tired and decided to go down and rest a while. I told my assistant to hold the post and climbed down the stairs. I laid down on the ground. I said a silent prayer to thank God for saving my life by making the enemy shell turn into a blind when it landed hardly 5 feet from me during the day.

So far, this had been the ‘Longest Day’ of my life (taking inspiration from the Second World War movie, The Longest Day which depicted Allied troops landing in Normandy, France). Since leaving for the assembly area till now, this whole duration of time was a continuous period of extreme action. I do not remember when I dozed off. I was woken up by my batman, who was saying, “Sahib, have some food. I have got it from the langar of the Jats.” It was more than 24 hours since we had had anything to eat. The daal-roti was most welcome and I relished the food. Then I climbed up to my observation post. My assistant told me that there had been no activity on the enemy side and our own troops were digging in on our side of the canal. Around 2200 hours I got a direct message from the Artillery Brigade Major that ceasefire will come into force at midnight. After a few minutes, Capt Manjeet Dugal, our Regiment Adjutant also informed me of the same. To me it appeared the enemy had exhausted his ammunition and thought it wiser to cease fire, rather than lose more territory to us. Anyway, it was the enemy who started the war and it was he who had asked for the ceasefire.

It was another one and a half hours to ceasefire. I thought the enemy would keep silent, but I was wrong. After a few minutes enemy artillery started shelling on us — probably from alternate positions. I was sure our locating unit would locate it soon. I decided to retaliate. I started with my procedure of engaging all known targets, but this time starting with the targets in the depth and then coming forward. And then going back in reverse order. After some time the heavy and medium guns were made available for counter bombardment and I carried on with the other guns till it was 0000 hours — the time for ceasefire. I stayed on in my post to ensure that the enemy did not violate the ceasefire. It was all silent for some time, but then I heard movement of enemy tanks inching forward towards their side of the canal bank. There had to be enemy infantry with other elements. Well, it was their land and they did not want to lose more of it. Our own infantry was also busy in preparing and digging on our side of the canal bank and positioning machine guns and other weapons. Then dawn came. Suddenly, I noticed a cat sitting in the room. Cats, unlike dogs, are attached to the house and not humans. It started looking into my eyes, giving me the feeling that it was hungry. At that time I had nothing to offer. I patted it to give it comfort. It reminded me of a cat which used to be in my home when I was a small boy.

The spiritual experience I had during this battle — including the artillery shell which landed a few feet away from me, but failed to brust — convinced me that there was a Supreme Power or a guardian angel guiding me and my destiny.

As daylight increased it showed a different scene on the enemy side. Firstly, there was presence of enemy infantry on the other side of the canal. Secondly, I could see some tanks — at least a troop. Thirdly, they had raised a curtain-like structure to screen their side of the GT Road.

I decided to go and meet Maj Pasricha at Battalion HQ to know our future plans. There was a lot of activity. I went to the room where the enemy Commanding Officer and his Battery Commander were kept as prisoners-of-war. The Commanding Officer was a Parsi, with the last name Golewala. The Battery Commander, Maj Usman Khan, was a stout looking person. He had a large marked secret map with him which he gave me, since it was of no use to him. I later presented that map to the Officers’ mess, duly mounted and framed as a memento before I was posted out. He also informed me that one of his Subedar OPs had been killed by heavy gun fire on the survey tree and that the whole mortar platoon next to the tree was also wiped out at the same time — the result of my engaging that survey tree with my guns. I also learnt that all their other officers had been killed in the battle. Most of their men had also met the same fate.

Later, I learnt that the casualties on our side were also very heavy, with a large number of officers killed, along with about one hundred other ranks. A lot of personnel were wounded. I went around the village and the sight of death was ghastly.

The captured equipment included a troop of tanks, six infantry mortars, four heavy machine guns, and a large number of small arms. These numbers are from a distant memory and may be different from the official figures.

The example of one battalion attacking an enemy battalion, supported by a troop of tanks at night in a built-up village and still succeeding is unique. It speaks of the courage, leadership and sheer will power of our troops. That our guns also contributed its share in the victory cannot be disputed.

This is why this Battle is taught as a classic battle at the College of Combat.

Later, the 3 Jat was showered with a lot of gallantry awards for the martyrs and the living. The Commanding Officer Lt Col Desmond Hayde was awarded the Mahavir Chakra. He went on to  become a Brigadier. There were more than one hundred prisoners-of-war who were sent to HQ.

As the day advanced, visitors from the rear started coming in. The first VIP was the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadvinder Singh, flying his Patiala state flag and wearing his honourary rank uniform. He was a tall and handsome man. I had been seeing him since my childhood because I belonged to the erstwhile Patiala state and had studied in Mahendra College, next to the Maharaja’s Moti Bagh Palace.

After a day or two, a group of MPs from Delhi visited Dograi. The officers were introduced to them. One of them was Inder Kumar Gujral — who later on became the Prime Minister of the country. He gave me a big smile when I told him that my wife was also from the Gujral clan.

I was in the same uniform since arriving at the front and needed a bath very badly. I spoke to my commanding officer to permit my relief by 2nd Lt Bhatia of my battery — to which he agreed. Bhatia reported to me in the evening and I briefed him in detail. I left the front for our gun position, which had been changed after the ceasefire. Now it was further away to the north.

The Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri also visited Dograi and addressed the Jats with the famous slogan: “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.”

Back in Gun Position

There was an empty school building which had been taken over by us for administrative purpose — including battery office and as officers’ quarters.

Lt Rattan was the GPO at this time. We started getting lots of letters requesting information on various matters.

In the words of Rattan, the war of babus and typewriters had started. Anyway, this just had to be done. Orders came after some time that those who had not availed leave and those who rejoined while on leave may be sent back on leave. I also received the good news of being promoted as acting Major, and also the news of the birth of a baby girl to Rani. Sometime in December I was finally given leave and I went to Delhi where my family was staying. My baby girl was by far the sweetest thing I had ever held in my hand. She was named Gorinder and her pet name was Sippi. However, her pet name slowly changed to Gori — the first four letters of her name. It was good to be with the family. I went to meet my parents at Sunam. There I was told that my younger maternal uncle, Lachman mama had passed away. I went to Lout to express my condolences. Lachman mama left four sons between the ages of ten years and one year. However, my elder Mama took the responsibility of the family and the upbringing of  his nephews.

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Now I understood the hand of destiny, as to why Chanan mama did not get married. He was destined to be responsible for this family. Strange are the ways of God. Only He knows what is in store for a person in the future. I returned back to Delhi, and then to my unit.

On return I was assigned the duty of Battery Commander with the Dogra Battalion. I had three officers, as Observation Post Officers of different units, under me. We were covering three miles frontage. The Battalion HQ was on the outskirts of a small village. There was a small pucca mosque in the village. Every day I used to visit one of the OPs to remain in touch with the front and to interact with the Company Commanders. At times I would go walking to these officers’ locations for exercise purposes.

Old Man Comes to Claim Buried Treasure

One day, two civilian Sikhs came to battalion HQ. They requested permission to visit their old house, where the elder man used to live before Partition. The younger man was his son. The CO asked him the reason for the visit. The old man said that he had buried some silver and gold coins in the house and wanted to recover them, if they were still there. The CO permitted them and sent along a JCO and a few men with digging tools. They all returned with a rusted iron pot. The old man had recovered his hidden treasure after about eighteen years. The old man kept the iron pot in front of the CO and said, “Please take as much of this as you wish…it is because of your kindness that I have recovered this.” The CO looked at me and asked my opinion and of the others present there. It was unanimously agreed that the old man should take whole of it. It was his treasure and God wanted him to enjoy it in his old age. A JCO and some jawans were sent with the civilians to safely put them up in the bus at Amritsar. If the war had not happened and we had not captured the village and the old man had not come to claim his treasure, who knows how long it would have remained buried!

Soon the Tashkent Declaration was signed between India and Pakistan. PM Lal Bahadur Shastri sadly passed away in Tashkent later due to a heart attack — as per the official announcement, at least. A little later orders were received to withdraw.

Before we withdrew from the village, we white-washed the mosque there as a sign that we believed in peace and brotherhood.

Our unit was asked to stay back at Amritsar cantonment.

We were permitted to call our families. I rented a house in the civilian area and my family joined me there eventually.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Col Rajinder Singh Modgil (Retd)

was commissioned into Regiment of Artillery in June 1960. He served in field, heavy, mountain (Pack) and medium Regiments. 

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