Military & Aerospace

Battle of OP Hill: The biggest Infantry Battle fought in Mountains
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Issue Book Excerpt: Battle of OP Hill | Date : 23 Sep , 2023

 “Though I am not naturally honest, I am so, sometimes by chance” William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale


It is rightfully said that military history cannot justifiably be written by civilians, because military as a profession, though looks very general but is a very specialised one. It has got its own peculiarities. It involves killing and getting killed for a cause and it cannot be understood by those who are out side of it. It is the hardest test of human psychology and endeavours to overcome the situations, where only fighting decides the outcome. One has to understand himself, the situation as well as the enemy in fast changing scenarios. It is thus high tension related issue. Civilians, who are sitting kms away in no tension zone, in their cosy rooms, can not imagine the things happening in a deadly encounter with the terrorists or attacking the very well built enemy defences, in a do or die mission. Even the highly trained army men and commanders behave altogether differently in war and in peace time exercises and manoeuvres, what to talk of a civilian writer, who has not faced an actual battle scene from any angle. Even most of the military vocabulary is foreign to him.

Military Matters

Seeing lot of writings on military operations after WW-I, with flimsy sense of reality, more often than not, that the British government thought of advocating and encouraging the military writers to write on military matters, as they are the people, who being involved, can only, bring out the facts to a great truthful extent. Such writings can be regarded as the articles of some substance. But it is also a fact that wars are fought by nations, with the willful support of its government machinery and the masses. The issue of war history is thus not the prerogative of military alone too, because two major considerations of “will of the government” and “support of the masses for a right cause” have their own say and are the deciding factors. Therefore a consultative approach to the subject will be the right course. Infact, the views of victor based on the accounts of the executioners – ‘the leaders who accomplish the task of defeating the enemy’, analytical reflections of the enemy or the vanquished, opponents and critics and specialists, if somehow obtained, will be able to give a trustworthy account of the conflict. By resorting to the above given way of writing, one can cover all aspects of the conflict. Genuine emotions, actual happenings, difficulties in conducting moves and manoeuvers, causes, and where passions can be easily aroused, only the armed forces are likely to have a worms eye view of the whole ground situation. That is why it is said that “military history is serious a matter to be left to be written by civilians alone, but leaving the writing to the military men alone, also will give different colour to the happenings, as they will write with more emphasis on the sense of involvement, emotions, sense of responsibility and sense of sacrifice etc. Hence a proper mix of all above criteria will give the acceptable version.

Types of Writers

Generally, one finds two types of military writers on military matters. One who is of critical mind and analyses the issue primarily, for bringing out the rightful lessons for the posterity. The others are, who blow their own trumpet, highlighting their own role and try to mould the narrative in an all together different ways and they unfortunately constitute a very large number. To be frank, every writer has a degree of tendency to influence the outcome of writing, about military operations, in his own way and not without the aim. Here are two very glaring and recent examples. We all have seen and know that FM SHFJ Manekshaw convinced the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi about the selection of timings for starting the war in 1971, if forced upon to fight, and Pakistan does not mend her ways for stopping the forced exodus of his own people into India. It was based on his practical knowledge of the profession, life long experience of application of such factors and ground realities.

On the other hand a civilian bureaucrat Sh. Chandrasekhar Das Gupta, with the different aim in mind, gives out totally different version and reasons for postponing the operation to Nov-Dec 1971 and tries to belittle the Field Marshal to assert the supremacy and role of his class, in his book, “India and the Bangladesh Liberation War”. See another example of an afterthought in the same context, in case of writing of Lt Gen JFR Jacob (Retd) who was the chief of staff to Lt Gen JS Aurora the then Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Command. He has tried to prove in his book “Surrender at Dacca” that it was he alone, who planned and got the whole operation executed leading to its splendid success, giving very little credit to FM Manekshaw, Lt Gen JS Arora and other brilliant field commanders like Lt Gen Sagat Singh, who gave Dhaka on the platter by executing the operation with such a finesse-making the whole world to wonder. With due regards I would like to say that everyone in the armed forces knows as to what is the role of the staff officer at headquarters of various levels of command – staffs analyse, commanders synthesise. Such afterthoughts are generally expressed by those who think that it will be now through, as the main actors are no more there to counter them. All such writers in a nutshell, write with the ulterior motives, either to satisfy their own ego or please their new masters. Such misquotes, aberrations and absurdism of details and data albeit, are part of human nature.

Military Fraternity and Writing

Once upon a time, there used to be court historians, on the payroll of kings. Some of them used to write history as directed by their kings. For this reason, the accounts of the common people – the real history used to be left out. None had the courage to dig his own grave by going into, otherwise relevant issues. No clever historian would write a history that is embarrassing for the ruler or shows the ruler in the poor light. It is their job to write whatever portrays the enemies of the ruler as villains – writing of such history is usually rewarded with promotions and monetary and social benefits. In India too there has been a well established symbolic relationship between the historian fraternity and the commanding classes at all levels, based on mutual vested interests. Likewise, the military fraternity too, has not entirely been bereft of such practices. The interests of the seniors and their cohorts take precedence, in most of the military writings. However self glorification and social clout also have been the major causes for private military writings by the insiders. Even the lure for lucre, could also be the reason, often. The problem is that those who fight and are the main subject of writing about, have no time for writing and others who write, indulge in self projecting exercises, resulting in distorting of the actual history. It is, therefore, upto the Services and their senior officers to ensure that official military history is written with absolute pure intentions of serving the posterity, the mother organization and the country.

Contextually, there are certain yardsticks which enforce a military writer to remain within the four walls of confines, besides the two, most important other factors – Will of the government and the Causes for the involvement of the masses. The yardsticks are:–

    • The battles are primarily fought by the young officers and the NCOs and men. There could be some exceptions in the exceptional cases, where some other element contributes decidingly, but exceptions do not prove the rules.
    • The battle are physically fought on the ground only by the ‘Combat Arms’ and duly supported by the ‘Supporting Arms’.
    • The life span for a fighting man, while in service, is about 25 years. Beyond that his contribution in battle will be limited, if not, shall we say, totally administrative.
    • Even a dreaded fighter will be spent off, if he is continuously engaged in continuing rather unbroken fighting operations for more than 10 years.
    • A commanding officer has to be physically, mentally and motivationally as good as his troops are. The old man cannot lead in arduous and difficult cliff clearing and crust cracking operations.
    • There are certain men who are more courageous, dare devils and brave in comparison with others. They are rare but they contribute immensely. It is nature’s gift and it has to be taken as such. Geneticists explain faith in the supernatural, through the existence in human beings of a ‘god gene’. They have also proposed the idea of a ‘leader gene’ which drives some of us to leadership roles. Perhaps there resides a ‘follower gene’ or a ‘killing gene’, too.
    • Most of the JCO’s of Subedar’s or equivalent ranks are past 42-45 years of age. You cannot expect them to do wonders for you, in commando raids, leading fighting patrols or heading the leading platoon in a most aggressive offensive operations and hauling out the enemy of the pill boxes.

The writer of the military matters, therefore should remember that to cut corners and unnecessarily prop up the uninvolved one, on the issue of issues given above, will lead to ambiguity and falsehood. History, as such, has to be rescued from the hands of certain black hat historians, to address the military and nation’s concerns. To murder some one is a crime. To distort history is a bigger crime – because that undermines not only our present, but our future too. Distortion of history, is premeditated and preplanned conspiracy of self seekers and the readers just can see through the narrative.

‘Writing’ and Battle of OP Hill

The Battle of OP Hill was fought on night 2/3 Nov 1965 after the ceasefire which came into force with effect from 23 Sep, 1965. It was necessitated, because Pakistanis had intruded and developed a post, about 1.5 km, across the ceasefire line, towards our side. They were conveyed our concerns but did not vacate the area, even with the efforts of UN observers. They had dug down and prepared the defences with the intention of staying permanently, naturally having some future plans in mind. It is an established fact that Poonch area has been on their radar, since the day one, wherefrom, the revolt had been engineered first time in 1947. As the ceasefire in 1965 Indo-Pak war was declared by the UN Security Council at the behest of two superpowers i.e. USA and USSR, the matter required to be handed carefully, systematically, prudently and intelligently to avoid any diplomatic hiccups and political international assertions. If not handled thoughtfully it could lead to restarting of war, which, could not have been expected of India by the world at large. The reputation of the country and the government on one hand and that of armed forces and Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh, an outstanding Army General on the other, was at stake. Hence no publicity was given about their intrusion as well as this operation. There was never a dearth of hawks, at the international level, who could have taken it as ceasefire violations and raked up the issue at various forums. Efforts were also required for checkmating the adverse propaganda by Pakistan, may be by any means and through any channel.

Reason for not Publicising

Initially, every move had to be taken in a quite mode and the Pakistanis took advantage of that and prepared the defences very well. Air Force could not be used for recce. Detailed recce by fighting patrols could not be carried out, because of obvious reasons. The battle was however finally fought and the enemy evicted in very daring assault by Brigade Group organised for the purpose and area restored to 120 Infantry Brigade, the original responsible formation. But no publicity was given and no battle accounts were written by the army authorities and no one was encouraged to initiate such writings. But it was a very big rather a monumental battle, which is now discussed and placed in the galaxy of battles like Battle of Waterloo, Normandy landings and Battle of Kohima (India). There is nothing much in official records for such an important battle, where a Brigade Group was used, for a multidirectional attack in mountains, for the first time very successfully, with enemy being put to total rout. But every information was purposefully kept as classified and could not be made public. Lately some curious military men started writing about it covering various aspects of the battle. Some posted their articles even on Google but most of them are self serving stray articles. The persons who fought and saw the battle from a very close angle found lot of aberrations, and cooked up material in such footloose writings and irresponsible handling of the subject. Some wrote for self glorification where others tried to cover up their own or their units/subunits failure during the conduct of the battle. There are yet others who started propounding their own theories about the employment of arms and services and in the use of various types of weapons. Some were found to be concocting their own terminology adding to the confusion further. Notable aberrations were:–

    • In one case the word GTI – “Ground of Tactical Importance’ is used very liberally and without any sense of proportion. Such a word was never written or used by any commander at any level, in any conversation and moreover such a word is not at all used at battalion level operations. It is a phrase to be thought of using, not below Corps/Command level, if I am permitted to say so.
    • The units which were unable to do well in a particular aspect of a task because of their own doings, blame the superior headquarters in their write ups for not doing so and so things for them. It is incumbent upon the unit and person commanding the unit to satisfy fully on all accounts, before launching it into the battle. Fighting is a matter of blood, sweat and sacrifices. Everything has to be taken very very seriously before you go into it.
    • MMG battalions, grouping of Mortars, central pooling and organising of Rocket batteries and other such combinations, were the norms of WW-II. The reasons were simple-scarcity of weapon and ammunition. Every war, in a particular age has got its own forms, weapons and dimensions. The old theories of yester years had got outdated and were of no consequences in 1965 Indo-Pak war. It looks ridiculous when someone tries to project such ideas as a research. One has to remember that this battle was fought, when all other fronts with Pakistan were quite and to manage supporting weapons for this operation, was not at all a problem. We had enough of artillery and other support weapons required for the battle.
    • In one of the writings, published in the newspaper, the commanding officer of one unit is shown as seriously wounded. Fortunately no commanding officer was injured in this battle. This battle had been fought by the young officers, and men who as usual played their part very well, with blood and sacrifices and more often than not.
    • In certain cases, the casualties of the previous actions fought by the units have been included and shown as occurred during battle of OP Hill, which is not correct. Such inclusions confuse the reader and wrong lessons are likely to be drawn. Certain issues are generally highlighted, because of the importance attached to them but to change to an unrecognisable form, will be little too much. It is injustice meted out to the unit, its commanders and men.
    • Some writings by odd officers have been shown denigrading the contemporary officers even of their own units. No battle can be won without the role, involvement and sacrifices of officers – simple as that. Where there are weak officers, unit suffer badly. Negativity of approach does not pay. Ultimately it hits back at the initiator with more force, because they (writers) in that case then, by implication, portray JCOs better than the officers, which is totally absurd, incorrect and against the established facts. In our class based regiments, such issues are generally raised by diseased minds.

Buy Now

Such aberrations were noted by me, in various writings by some officers/units. It made me to revisit the place, meet couple of senior and responsible officers of the concerned units and approach the MOD, History Division for recorded facts, besides the concerned units, wherever it was possible to get and venture for writing this book. I had also discussed the relevant issues regarding the preparations and conduct of the battle, with the then commanding officer of 7 SIKH, late Col Bhagat Singh, (then Lt Col) and the then Company Commanders of 7 SIKH, like Maj Gen Trilochan Singh, (then Maj) Maj Santosh Kumar, (then Captain) Late Col Sansar Singh VrC, (then Captain) and Lt Col MS Punia, (then Lieut and Intelligence Officer) who put me wiser on the whole plan and part played by other units also in that Brigade attack adopting multi-directional approaches. I am indebted to them all, for guiding me on issue of Battle of OP Hill as a whole and clearing my mind on certain foggy issues.

I was with 7 SIKH for the entire duration of 1965 war, including the Battle of OP Hill. I had taken part in all operations of war fought by the battalion and have fairly good ideas about all the engagements. The views expressed herein are my own. I take full responsibility for the same. The aim is not to hurt anybody’s feeling but to bring out facts and record the outcome for the benefit of the posterity of our beloved organisation, but even if there is anything against the grain of anyone, I sincerely apologise for the same.

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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 (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat

Lt Col (Dr) Sube Singh Ahlawat, author of the book An Infantry Battalion in Combat.

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