This is how Poonch got saved in 1971
How Indian Parachute Commandos Destroyed Complete Pakistan Artillery Battery at Mandhol And Saved Poonch
By Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces Veteran
(the story was published for the first time in 2017 in Jagruk Bharat and had over 50000 hits)
Recently there was a SURGICAL STRIKE first towards the East inside Myanmar and few months later towards the West also, inside Pakistan. Daredevils from 21 PARA SPECIAL FORCES made us proud in the East and 4 PARA SPECIAL FORCES and 9 PARA SPECIAL FORCES avenged us in the West.
In 1971 we just had just two newly raised Parachute Commando Battalions….9 PARA COMMANDO and 10 PARA COMMANDO, not yet tested in battle. Both the units, under Lt Col (later Major General) O P Sabharwal and Lt Col (later Brigadier) His Highness Maharaja of Jaipur Bhawani Singh, respectively, proved to be worth 24 carat gold. Every Indian must be made aware of the exploits of these units during 1971 War. This is one such story of one of the GROUPS (now called TEAMS) who went inside Pakistan and destroyed a complete battery of Pakistani Artillery. This is till date unparalleled in the annals of War. Not even during the WWII either the Germans or the Allied had been able to achieve such a feat of destroying all guns in a raid. Even the famous movie GUNS OF NAVARONE had just two guns.
THE SURGICAL STRIKER
Subedar Keshav Chandra (L/Nk in 1971)
Havildar Keshav was the first NCO to greet the newly minted 2/Lt (me) at the unit gate in 1978 as the Regimental Police Havildar of the unit.. During the Mandhol Gun raid he was a L/ Naik and the radio operator for the Group Commander. At the Junior Leaders wing of the Infantry School, Belgaum, when he attended their Commando Course he was already 39 years old. Yet he beat all the youngsters in everything to top the Course. During the intensive battle in the Alampil jungles of Sri Lanka’s Vavunniya District, Keshav stepped on a mine and lost a leg. Thus writes his then Team Commander Major J D Britto “ clearing an enemy jungle camp, steps on a mine……a foot or so ahead of me. No screaming, no whinning, no shock……just hobbles to a tree and sits down. A quick cleaning up and morphine by the Nursing Assistant and then this guy is lifted up on a stretcher and the column moves up single file……with the Commanding Officer Lt Col H S Lidder (later Lt General) leading.
Keshav who never swore at any body…..from the stretcher gives a clear unhurried order……get the f……g scouts ahead of the CO.
Do they come any better any where in the World ? This story of Mandhol Gun Raid is dedicated to such SURGICAL STRIKERS.
These were the Gun Raiders
These are the actions of Charlie Group 9 PARA COMMANDO during the 1971 Indo Pak war. This is the story of Major C M Malhotra, Captain KD Pathak, Captain M L Bhagat, 2/Lt Roshan Lal, 2/Lt A V Taskar, Subedar Gian Singh, Naib/Subedar Zile Singh, Havildar Bichhittar Singh, Havildar Balak Ram, Havildar Gulab Singh, Havildar Fateh Singh, Naik Yashwant Singh,, Lance Naik Dharam Singh, Lance Naik Keshav Chandra, Paratrooper Balwan Singh, Paratrooper Raj Mal, Paratrooper Raja Ram and 120 other brave hearts of 9 including Captain D Tyagi,the Artillery Officer who accompanied them on this daring mission.
Ţ Bichhitar Singh (later Subedar) who lit the fuze on of the Paki Guns
Some of the readers of this story may not have even heard of the Mandhol Gun Raid carried out by the Indian Parachute Commandos or Parachute Special Forces, during the 1971 Indo Pak war. However to a majority of the readers (at least all those born in 1950’s–60s or before) NAVARONE must be a very familiar name. Many must have even read the book written by Alistair MacLean published in 1957. Nearly all must have seen the 1961 Epic block buster movie THE GUNS OF NAVARONE.
Sub Zile Singh who led No2 Gun Assault Party at the raid site
The story in that book is based around the Battle of LEROS during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II fought in the Aegean Sea and on its islands. The epic movie followed the plot as given in the book and the star cast as under made the movie a block buster of its time:
Colonel Andrea Stavros——–Anthony Quinn
Major Roy Franklin————Anthony Quayle
Captain Keith Mallory————GREGORY PECK
Corporal Miller ————David Niven
Private Butcher Brown————Stanley Baker
As per the movie plot, in 1943 Axis Powers plan an assault on the Island of Leros where 2000 British Soldiers were trapped, with an aim to capture it and also strategically coerce Turkey in joining the German side. Rescue by Royal Navy of British troops is prevented by massive radar controlled Super Guns on nearby island of Navarone. When aerial bombing by USAAF and RAF failed then Allied gathered a team of Commandos to infiltrate and destroy the Guns with help of local Greek Resistance force operating against the Germans.
After the release of the Hollywood Epic movie, the name Navarone became world famous. The best part is that the Island of NAVARONE does not exist and the entire plot of the book/film is fictitious.
Though it is a fact that the overall story revolves around the actual BATTLE OF LEROS and the LEROS ISLAND Coastal Guns, during the Campaign in the Aegean Sea in 1943. These Coastal Guns one of the largest used in the WWII and had been built and initially used by the Italians and later on by the Germans. After the Allied Success in Italy, the Italian Garrison in Leros switched side and was strengthened by the British on 15 Sep 1943. The battle began on 26 Sep with German air attacks and finally landings on 12 Nov. It ended with capitulation of allied forces on 16 Nov, one of the last German Victories. Italian losses were 254 killed, 5350 captured and British losses were 600 killed, 100 wounded and 3200 captured. Allied also lost 115 aircrafts and more than 15 Ships. On the other hand German losses were 512 killed and 900 wounded.
Now another surprise is that Allister Maclean was actually inspired to write his book based on a real gun raid carried out in Jun 1944 just 11 days after the NORMANDY Landings. These guns were not on any of the Greek Islands but on the Italian Island of Elba. The attackers were French with a hand full of British Commandos from the Royal Navy.This was OPERATION BRASSARD, wherein on 17 Jun 1944 Free French forces comprisijzng Continental French, Senegalese, Moroccans etc. landed and captured the Island of Elba with total loss of 400 killed and 600 wounded. 500 Germans were killed and 1800 became prisoners.
During this landing men of French Commando unit COMMANDOS DE CHOC and COMMANDOS D’ AFRIQUE along with 48 men of a unit called ROYAL NAVY BEACH COMMANDO spear headed the landing and the gun raid. These men carried out the actual raid to destroy the guns so located on ENFOLA Peninsula as to totally prevent any landing on Elba. The daring Commandos reached near the Coast of Enfola, aboard Torpedo Boats from Corsica at 0400h, transferred to inflatable boats and then rowing landed on the shore in total silence. They did suffer losses but managed to destroy the guns.
“KD, how is it possible for this youngster to eat even more than his own body weight on daily basis? I find him doing nothing but eating and eating all the time “. Captain KD Pathak just smiled and instructed a Runner to go to the Company Langar (Cook house) look for and fetch 2/Lt Ashok Vasudev Tasker on the double, as the Group Commander wanted to see him at once.
2Lt Ashok Tasker, SM
AVT or Tasker or Tusky had joined the Unit from Indian Military Academy just six months back in end June71. In spite of his frail looking body and height of 5ft…. (few) inches had successfully completed the tough probation. After all he was a wiry lad of a community whom Shivaji himself had designated in his “Mala Ek Swapna Ahe” speech as …..GREAT HELPERS of Maharashtra. Interestingly his forefathers had migrated from Kashmir, from the banks of Chenab or Chandrabhaga, starting in 7th century AD to parts of Central India and Maharashtra. This Community whose ancestory is derived from Vedic King Sahastrararjun are considered at par with Brahmins with rights to perform Vedic rituals, granted by none other than Lord Parsuram himself. As he had killed king Chandrasen, Parsuram later blessed the King’s widow that her Child and his decendents will always rule with both Sword and the Pen.
It seems that Lt A V Tasker truly achieved both, as this Parachute Commando or Special Forces Officer finally retired as the Judge Advocate General of the Indian Army in the rank of a Major General. In 1986 and 87 he had also walked along the banks of CHANDRA BHAGA right up to the point (and beyond towards Zanskar) where CHADRA and BHAGA Streams join to form the river Chandrabhaga or Chenab, without probably even knowing that this was his ancestral land. Presently he was the brand new Commander of No 7 TEAM, CHARLIE GROUP, 9 PARA COMMANDO.
The would be Judge Advocate General of Indian Army as a Captain
Tasker was wiry, tough, extremely witty, fond of eating and also had a great sense of humour. When I joined the unit on 30 Jun 1978, he was still a bachelor boy, a hero of Mandhol, saviour of Poonch but most non assuming, and extremely polite to even the most junior.
During that period, One day the Second – in Command while carrying out an inspection of the Officer’ Mess, passed an order that till the Daily Mess Accounts Books were brought up-to-date and inspected by him, expenditure on daily messing would be minimum. It was a Friday and after some tough training during the day, all the officers had gathered in the Mess in the evening. Drinks and music was on, when someone casually enquired about the menu. Paratrooper / Waiter Balbir Singh replied “Sahib it is KHICHDDI” and that too with his characteristic smile. There was complete pandemonium for a few minutes. Then 2IC thundered “who passed this order and who is the Food Member and where is he? With another smile Balbir Singh replied “Tasker Sahib is the food member, he has given the menu with a strict order that nothing else will be made, expenses have to be kept to the minimum. He himself will not be having dinner in the Mess, since as the Duty Officer, tonight he will be checking the food especially the cooking of chicken in all the Cook houses of the Unit “. Next day, Officers Mess menu was back to NORMAL. Quite frequently Tasker’s humour and wit use to be on display in similar manner. It will fill pages if one starts narrating them but this is the story of Mandhol Gun Raid. After Unit moved to Udhampur in Jan79, with accommodation in plenty, AVT had no excuses but to get married a few months later. A month later, I landed in his home town for a course and had enjoyed the hospitality at his mother’s place quite frequently. When Mrs Suhasini Tasker reached Udhampur, then all types of Maharashtrian food became available to the youngsters of 9.
Finally Tusky was located and was now standing before the Group Commander the fiery Major Chander Malhotra. Before the Major could even open his mouth the Lt uttered with a straight face “Sir, I had gone to inspect the Cook house”. Though it was quite a cold winter morning of end November 1971, in Poonch area of J& K, the Group Commander considered this as a cheeky answer and that too out of turn. Ok, young man, do you see that hill top at 11 Clock, I have a task for you. In next five minutes I want you to take your No7 TEAM along the track which is going behind the hill and follow it to the AREA FLAT. Once there, make a sketch of a Company deployment for defence on that FLAT. Then come and give me the report along with the sketch at 1330h sharp. Time now is 0930h. Also I want you to practice various tactical drills while on the move, as now we have to be fully prepared for all contingencies. After Tasker left the area in front of the Group Commander’s tent, Chander said smiling “this is going to keep the youngster busy for some time and also sharpen his drills”. KD replied “Sir, you have only ensured doubling the quantity of his Lunch, which he will have on return.” Ashok Tasker was quite used to such training moves on short notice.
Major Chander and his Group had left Jindra right after the Dushhera Celebrations and had moved initially to Jhangar in Nowshera Sector. There they had camped near a temple of Mangla Mata. While perfecting various drills on daily basis, the men of Charlie Group also visited this temple every evening. One day out of the blue, a 11 year old devotee, a girl who did all the sweeping and cleaning on daily basis, just blessed them loudly “do not worry, you all will come back safely except two who will have to quench the thirst of Goddess of war”.
Then after 20 November they were moved to Poonch Sector, dressed in khaki overalls, designated for cover as 9 Pioneer Company and plonked near the Gurudwara of picturesque Village NAGALI SAHIB, on the banks of the DURUNGLI NALLAH, around four km from Poonch town. This Gurudwara was built in 1803 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh had himself visited this Gurudwara in 1814 and had presented it with a jagir of few villages. Across the Nallah was located the Wagon lines of an Artillery Regiment. The Pioneer Company cover seemed to have succeeded because one of the Battery Second in Command requested his Course mate K D Pathak to construct a proper Track from the Road Head to the Wagon Line.
2/Lt Roshan Lal
2/Lt Roshan Lal had joined the Unit in 1970 from IMA. This Dogra lad was from the mountains of Chamba and bore the surname of Chambyal. Though only slightly taller than Tasker, he was equally or even more wiry and tough like a steel rope. On reporting to the unit on 30 Jun 1978, my probation had begun two days later, as 01 Jul was the Unit’s Raising Day, with Captain Roshan as my Probation Officer. He was No Nonsense type when “On Parade” and always went into the minutest of the details of a given task but otherwise very friendly. In the Mess, he could indulge in leg-pulling of others with a very stern and straight face. A few years later when I got married and my Wife came to Udhampur, during her welcome party in the Officers Mess, he totally convinced her that in order to stay in Udhampur, she too was required to undergo all the Probation Tests, though with much reduced parameters. It so happened that due to a few Posting In and out around the same time, there were a series of parties at various Officers houses and the Mess wherein Captain Roshan kept reminding her about the forthcoming probation ….” it is going to commence as soon as these parties are over. You will also have to pass a singing test where you will be given a particular song to sing.” My wife literally remained terrified for a few days till Mrs. Roshan stepped in.
By the way, Mrs Roshan or Swaran Chambyal was an excellent cook and many an evening we bachelors of 9, of that time, Mathew Kurikose, Bhupesh Jain, Anil Nayer, Balbir Sambyal, Manoj Unni and self-use to barge in at their place uninvited for super dinners. Thankfully she also ensured that my wife learnt cooking under her tutelage within no time and the menu at my newly established house changed from standard fare of just “rice and dal” to other things.. Another thing about Captain Chambyal was that he was always very meticulously dressed whether in uniform or in civvies. Presently he was Commander 9 TEAM, CHARLIE GROUP.
Captain Mohinder Lal Bhagat
Captain Mohinder Lal Bhagat was the 8 TEAM Commander. A Rimcollian who had been commissioned into the unit in Jun 1969 along with Captain Anil Kumar Verma. When I had joined the unit MLB was posted on Staff and came back on posting to the Unit only in 1980. However being a Cross Country Blazer of National Defence Academy and a Legend Record Holder at NDA for nearly 10 years, his name was well known to all ex NDAs. MLB had a passion for pistols, shot guns, rifles, Shikar, Golf, cricket, expensive perfumes, Silk Scarfs, colourful expensive shirts, leather shoes, carpets and also getting into heated discussions with seniors especially senior Rimcollians. He would never hesitate to reprimand any of the junior officers even for a small mistake but at the same time was very large hearted and ever ready to extend all kind of help when asked for. He would rather go out of his way to give help. He had managed the QM chair of the Unit very efficiently in mid-70’s and had been my coach when in end 1980 I was suddenly made to sit in the Q chair. I was quite clueless regarding this new task, in spite of having done the QM Course at College of Material Management, Jabalpur a few months back. He would minutely explain all the practical aspects of being an efficient Equipment Officer of a Special Forces Unit. Mrs Sheela Bhagat was also in the army as a Doctor in the Medical Corps. Sadly she left for the heavens quite young.
Captain Krishen Dutt Pathak
DADA, not the Mafia variety but the Elder Brother, was what Captain Krishen Dutt Pathak or KD as he was fondly called in the unit. He had been commissioned in 5 PARA and had suddenly found himself in 9 against his wishes to help another Pandit ….Lt Col G P Tripathi to pull out the Unit from near oblivion. For the future of 9 it was a blessing and to 5 PARA a real loss. Most probably Trips had asked for just one Pathak, 1 PARA variety …Tej Pathak, but Military Secretary took no chances and sent in the second Pathak in the Regiment, too.
Having served as General Staff Officer 3 to one of the legendary Commanders of 50 Parachute Brigade, Brigadier Inder Singh Gill, KD was always calm, cool and collected. During my probation I was attached to Bravo Group and on completion of probation was posted to it. Major K D Pathak was my first Group Commander albeit for a brief period only. Being field area, all Officers stayed at one place. Morning, evening, any time of the day, in the billet area, I always found Major KDP with a glass of tea and a cigarette. During my probation, after morning and evening grueling physicals, on entering the billet area, even before I finished wishing him, I was invariably welcomed with a glass of hot tea. This is how he treated even the most junior. By the time KDP took over the Unit as the 8th Commanding Officer in Feb1982, he was like Goggle with respect to anything and everything regarding 9 PARA. So was Mrs KD and in Udhampur her house too was always filled with ever hungry bachelors during many of the evenings.
The caliber and quality of Dada may be estimated from the fact that one evening in early 1983 when Lt Colonel KDP had just entered his office after evening games, in walked General M L Chibber, the Northern Army Commander unannounced and all alone. For the next two hours they kept discussing matters operational. However from next day itself 9 started working on the most important of the Special Forces Capabilities building…..Covert Surveillance Operations and within months, tasking began. There are numerous examples of his moral courage which will fill several pages but this happens to be the story of Mandhol Gun Raid ….the story of raw physical courage.
During his tenure as CO, sufficient to say that he turned 9 from raw Fire Water to mature Whisky. No wonder at one time in Nov 87, he was made to wear several hats…. CO 9 PARA, CO Special Group of Special Frontier Force, Chief Security Officer Prime Minister Security and SSP Special Police District around Race Course Road, New Delhi. The present Special Protection Group must rightly consider him as their founding father. Presently in Nov1971, he was the Second in Command of CHARLIE GROUP, 9 PARA COMMANDO.
Major Chander Mohan Malhotra
Major Chander Mohan Malhotra was the Group Commander, CHARLIE GROUP. CMM was commissioned in December 1962 from IMA, Dehradun into 3 GUARDS. At that time Major Megh Singh was in 3 GUARDS as a Company Commander and later as the 2 IC. After a massive ambush by the Nagas,of a company column just a km or two from their Start Point, Major General K P Candeth, then GOC of newly raised 8 Mountain Division, gave clearance to a plan put up by Major Megh Singh. This was basically to operate in small teams inside the jungle and beat the insurgents in their own game. Thus Chander had participated in many operations against the Naga Insurgents in the early sixties, displaying not only exemplary valour, tactical acumen but also marksmanship. He had been recommended several times for both Ashok Chakra Class 2 (present day Kirti Chakra) and Ashok Chakra class 3 (present day Shaurya Chakra). Malhotra had made a great impression on the legendary Megh Singh. In fact his was the first name in the list of Officers, Megh Singh wanted to be posted to the new Commando Force during the 1965 War when GOI approved the war establishment. The GOC 15 Corps, Lt General KS Katoch had then sent a Flash Signal to Military Secretary to make the said officer available for the New Force.
Captain Malhotra now Adjutant of newly raised 10 GUARDS had rushed all the way from Sikkim and was the first officer to report to HQ 15 Corps. His Commanding Officer Lt Colonel Ashok Handoo (later Army Commander Northern Command) though did not want to lose such an officer, had dispatched him with his full blessings.However by time Chander reached J&K, Megh Singh was already a casualty and recuperating in military hospital Jammu. Chander remained attached to HQ 15 Corps, working on refining the War Establishment of the new Force. Soon erstwhile MEGHDOOTS started reporting to Udhampur and for a brief period Captain CM Malhotra moved to a camp in Suran Gali with his men and commenced training in earnest. The FORCE even did a Cross Pirpanjal move SURANKOTE -SHOPIAN. Eventually everyone was asked to move to Gwalior where raising finally commenced on 01 July 1966.
Sometime in 1967, CMM after getting vetted by several underlings was interviewed by the First Citizen himself. Thus was appointed Captain C M Malhotra an ADC to the Third President of India, Dr Zakir Hussein in October 1967. While still in school I remember having read a book WITH TWO PRESIDENTS written by C L Dutta who had been ADC to both Dr Rajendra Prasad and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. However due to untimely demise of Dr Zakir Hussein, Captain Malohtra had to remain ADC right up to mid October 1970. He therefore Served not only two Presidents Dr Zakir Hussein and Shri V V Giri but also two acting Presidents VV Giri and Mohammed Hidyatullah.
Some senior Paratrooper of 1 PARA must have been watching Chander closely and pulled strings accordingly. Military Secretary issued posting orders for the ADC to report to 1 PARA. Chander would have none of it and was even ready to go back to The GUARDS. His Highness Bhawani Singh, erstwhile 2 IC of 9 and now Commanding 10 PARA COMMANDO invited him to his own unit. However Chander prevailed and ensured that finally he received a fresh posting orders to report to Jindrah, the then home of 9.
So one fine afternoon, Major Chander Mohan Malhotra and Mrs Sheila Malhotra found themselves travelling in the rear of a Nissan 1Ton Vehicle from Pathankot (rail head in those days) to Jindrah via Jammu. For Sheila Malhotra, a recent bride this was first introduction to real Army Life. Till now in Lutyens Delhi, whenever she stepped out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan Compound her husband used to requisition a Cadillac or a Limo, with colours matching her saree!!! However now this was HOME and she was determined to make even a Tent look like one.
The ADC tenure had further boosted the self-confidence of Chander, already in abundance. He was the ALPHA MALE variety…always the Leader. He brooked no interference in his turf from any one, ran a very tight ship, kept his command always Ship Shape and at the same time fiercely protected it like a mother hen. Many a times in a given situation he in true Western Style, fired straight from his hip and blazed his way through. This quality of his did not endear him to his superiors, seniors and some of his course mates. Though his juniors and his men revered him and were ever ready to follow him TO HELL AND BACK.
Another quality…once he gave his word for anything, he always kept it. Chander who had earlier missed the exploits of MEGHDOOT FORCES had now been preparing his Group for the D Day and waiting for the right Orders.
Nagali Gurudwara at Nagali Vilage
Whereas life in Jhangar area had been more of a routine, here in Nagali Sahib Things were more hectic and looked more serious. Though exactly not knowing when the D Day would come, numerous visits to various forward defended localities of the Poonch Brigade, different battalion HQ, route reconnaissance up to crossing places on the Poonch River etc in small groups, was slowly building up the momentum. Now it was just a matter of time. In fact by last week of November, daily exchange of fire by most of the Forward Defended Localities had become a norm. Soon the battalion mortars had joined the fray which initially got upgraded to sporadic artillery fire and then serious exchanges.
By 02 Dec, 33 infantry brigade ex 39 Infantry Division commanded by a paratrooper Brigadier M S Panwar started moving into the Poonch Sector. Parts of a battalion started arriving at Nagali and a camp came up across the Durungli Nullah. On night 03 Dec — 04 Dec the balloon went up or The War Commenced, with a massive artillery barrage on the Line of Control and even on Poonch town itself. The whole sky line towards West simply lit up. The Diwali could be seen by the people of Nagali Sahib and the camping parachute commandos. Then suddenly a few freak shells, overshooting the intermediate Ridges landed near Nagali itself. Everyone forgot about Diwali and instead rushed to their trenches. Luckily Chander had insisted for such preparations against air raids and for local defence.
Presently Chander himself was out of Nagali, on visit to one of the many Posts. Two hours later DQ of the Brigade arrived at Nagali with a few 1 Ton Vehicles and after a long argument forced Captain KD Pathak to hand over Lt Roshan and his 9 TEAM to him. They then moved away quickly to reinforce one of the Forward Posts. This move was being carried out on the Express Orders of Brigadier A V Natu.
Next that is on the morning of 04 December, just after first light came noise of some firing. It sounded somewhat far off but not very far, though the exact direction could not be ascertained, even by those who were a bit more curious than most. An hour later a general message was received from the Poonch Brigade HQ regarding the Paki attack and another message that a morning convoy of 9 BSF crossing the Kalai Bridge near the town had been fired upon by some automatic weapons. Around 0700h commotion could be observed across DURUNGLI Nullah. It was soon learnt that a jawan, probably a sentry, had been found dead with his throat slashed and body disfigured. Who had done it? and when?
Dada, with his sixth sense on the receiving mode, at once alerted all the Team Commanders. Looking around from the terrace of the Gurudwara Sarai he observed some activity on the Ridge Line going up from Nagali towards North called Area Nangi Top or just Area Top…being devoid of any trees. Looking through the binocular, a few chaps could be seen, now and then, in khaki and probably digging defences.
Major Chander was still out on one of the posts for recce, KD tried to contact him on radio but to no avail. This was because of the fact that Major Chander had been at once summoned back by the Brigade Commander and while driving towards Poonch town had been at the receiving end of a copy book Artillery Shoot by one of the Paki Artillery Observer. Chander finally had to abandon his vehicle and move on foot.
Thinking that those chaps in area TOP must be the BSF boys, as a company of theirs was to arrive somewhere here, KD decided to send Tusky on a Patrol. By now Tusky already had tucked in at least a half dozen eggs and double the number of poories. He was asked to take his Troop up to Area Flat (midway between Nagali and Area TOP). He was to move as if advancing for Contact with the enemy. Start time 1130h. He was to give report every 15 minutes. “Must get a detailed report from the BSF Company Commander” and Dada added with a smile ….that he should be back before last light for his well-earned dinner.
7 TEAM led by 2/ Lt Tasker left Nagali Sahib at 1130h on the much familiar route by now. He decided that he would be climbing somewhat higher than the AREA FLAT and then come down on it from above. Dada, kept watching the move of 7 TEAM as long they were in view. He was feeling uneasy, something was not adding up. He tried to keep himself busy with a visit to the “office tent”. Chander had already left the Brigade HQ for Nagali. Finally Dada asked the Senior JCO to send a Runner to fetch Captain Bhagat. KD then discussed the matter with MLB and explained his unease with the whole thing. He then added ” Mohinder, I want you to take a few chaps, at least one LMG and climb up the ridge from this side only and check up with these chaps who seem to be in khaki dress. Why is BSF taking position at Area Flat? For Convoy protection, they should be at a much lower height over looking the road. However be careful, you never know! ”
Soon after MLB had left, CMM reached Nagali, from the brigade HQ. He was already in a foul mood due to heated discussions with the Brigadier, wherein he had refused point blank to undertake any infantry type Defensive Tasks, instead wanted immediate clearance to go for a raid into Pak Occupied Poonch. On reaching Nagali when KDP briefed him of the latest, he just blew his top on hearing about the move out of 9 TEAM. He was so angry that he even threatened KDP with a Summary General Court Martial. He then got hold of a few commandos ex 8 TEAM into his jeep and drove up on the road climbing up and going towards Thanpir. A few kms further up on the road they found some men of JAK Militia, who said that they had been fired upon from Area TOP. So CMM got down and started climbing up towards area TOP with his men just four in number. As per orders of Chander, one of them was carrying a LMG. As luck would have it, their route was taking them towards Area FLAT at about 270° from the route being taken by MLB but from a higher elevation.
MLB, Naik Yashwant, L/ Nk Dharam Singh and Paratrooper Balwan Singh started climbing straight up the ridge from Nagali. A force comprising four was big enough for MLB, though Dharam Singh was carrying a LMG as advised. Time now was around 1300h. Climbing the Nagali Ridge along the ridge line was not funny. However to Ghoda Bhagat as MLB was called since NDA days due to his physical stamina, it was a mere stroll. The three commandos were equally tough and matching in stamina. So around 1415 h, when Tusky’s 7 TEAM had deployed itself for a ‘water break ‘ about 300m from AREA FLAT on the Northern Side (towards Nangi Tekri end), MLB and his force was less than 50 m from AREA FLAT on the Southern Side (Nagali Sahib end).
The climb now was nearly over onto AREA FLAT which incidentally was not exactly a flat piece of ground. It was around 500m by 100m of relatively flattish area with some amount of undulating ground with a few dips and a few mounds. Tree cover was there but sparse with relatively few bushes. Naik Yashwant spotted a chap who was sitting on the sky line on a small rock with a pick axe in hand. It was a False Crest Line with a dip in the terrain thereafter. The individual was looking into the dip. Then suddenly another chap appeared, handed over a mug and disappeared downwards. The first one started sipping his tea. Captain Mohinder and party started moving forward by first spreading out. The chap having tea was so lost in his thought that he was totally startled when suddenly MLB asked him in Hindi, from about 20 m distance, “whats your name and which unit”.
L/Nk Dharam Singh a Veteran of 1965 war having fought in Ichhogil Canal Area with his earlier infantry unit was not taking any chances. He had moved up with his LMG onto the Crest Line and was deployed.
Out came the reply “Sepoy Mohammed Shabir, 9 Azad Kashmir ” and leaning on his pick axe he stood up, eyeing the two khaki clad, armed men who had suddenly startled him …..He had missed out L/ Nk Dharam Singh completely whose LMG in fact was now pointing into the dip where another 7 or 8 men were having their tea or relaxing. Their weapons, equipment and digging tools scattered around.
Captain Bhagat was equally startled with the reply received in thick Kashmiri accent. He at once brought up his Carbine and shouted …Hands Up. Then looking down, he was horrified to see that the carbine magazine was not fully pressed in. Seeing no reaction from MLB, Dharam singh cocked his LMG and fired…..there was just a loud click, the first round was a misfire. Then various things though happened simultaneously, still recollect able ‘happening in slow motion’ by MLB and Dharam Singh (when individually each had narrated the story to me):
Sepoy Mohammed Shabir dropped his mug and the pick axe, turned towards the dip poised to run down. Naik Yashwant charging upwards, shouting DHA…AA……WAA……A and firing from his rifle. Balwan Singh too rushing forward and firing from his rifle towards Shabir. On reaching the crest line both taking position and firing into the hollow below. MLB hitting hard on the magazine end, spraying bullets towards Shabir. The men in the hollow getting up and making a dash for their weapons. Dharam Singh simultaneously doing the misfire drill, shouting on top of his voice ….Number 2, 3 and Number 4 LMG F….I….R….E and then firing a full magazine into the hollow dip.
Thereafter for an eon there was stillness. Dead body of Shabir and two others were left in the dip along with mugs, some weapons and most of the equipment. Others had vanished. The three Commandos and Captain Bhagat were now deployed and breathing hard. Instantly heavy fire came on them from rest of Area Flat. MLB instantly realised that they could be in big trouble soon as their LMG had just 5 magazines and rest had only two magazines each. Therefore they answered back with just a few rounds intermittently and started planning their withdrawal. The volume of enemy fire increased and shouts could be heard, as if a patrol was moving towards them. By now five minutes must have elapsed when another very heavy volume of fire was heard coming from the Norther Side of Area Flat and simultaneously from the Western side.
On signal from MLB, the radio hand set was handed over by Balwan. Within seconds Tusky confirmed his position and 7 TEAM increased its volume of fire. Then Paratrooper Prahlad, Group Commander’s Signal Operator came on Radio and then CMM himself spoke to both MLB and Tusky. In another five minutes, the opposition just pittered out and then simply stopped. MLB was quite thankful to God for the timely arrival of both the Group Commander and Tasker on the Scene.
Malhotra himself had taken a big risk and like MLB had nearly bumped into two of the Pakis. The two Pakis had run away but those located higher up had opened up with automatic weapons. Major Malhotra and his party were badly pinned down. when Chander tried to get up, Havildar Virender virtually scolded him for his careless maneuver by saying “till the time I am alive, I shall remain in front of you, to reach you, enemy bullet has to first go through me”. Incidentally Virender of 9 TEAM had been left behind by Lt Roshan for ensuring proper administration of the Team on coming back from the forward post. For this Virender was quite upset as he wanted to be with the Team in action. So when CMM was moving up, Virender simply moved along. Finally all of them managed to crawl and get into better position but firing uphill was difficult. Then CMM himself manned the available LMG and firing single shots displayed his awesome marksmanship, taking down around 11 men of 9 POK on Area Flat in a very short span. Then quickly Chander and party had rapidly moved further up and emptied a few magazines of LMG into Area Flat, thereby completely eliminating all resistance.
However before sweeping down to Area Flat for search operation, Lt Tasker first spoke to both CMM and MLB on radio. Once their exact position was ascertained then 7 TEAM started fanning out Sub Team wise. After a while they had one wounded prisoner in the bag and counted 41 dead bodies, many weapons, two radio sets and lots of equipment. The wounded prisoner was given some medical aid; rather CMM himself wrapped boot putty over the stomach wound. A quick interrogation revealed that a Company of 9 POK Battalion had infiltrated the previous night and taken up position on Area Nagali Top. One platoon out of it had moved towards Area Flat to take defences on it. The overall task was to harass the Indian forces in the rear as much as possible.
While this interrogation was on, an inspection of prisoners ruck suck revealed that the PW could not be from 9 POK Battalion but some other unit. His accent and looks were also not of Pak Occupied Kashmir variety. Initially he was very stubborn. However a stern version of “Mutt and Jeff” tactics broke him down. Some of the paratroopers, furious due to the mutilated body of the dogra boy found in the morning, were not play acting but actually wanted to eliminate him. Realizing the situation, he revealed his true identity that he was a Special Service Group trooper. This fact was more of his Saviour than the Geneva Convention because now he was suddenly a very valuable Prisoner.
It turned out that Liyaquat Company of SSG too had infiltrated alongwith entire 9 POK battalion and taken position on ThanPir heights. A Company of 9 POK with a platoon of SSG then had come along the Nagali Ridge to AREA FLAT. Another Company had similarly come down a parallel Ridge and taken position to dominate Kalai Bridge, the life line of Poonch with rest of Jammu Division.
As per Paki plan, the rest of 2 POK Brigade with other supporting elements was to infiltrate in the early parts of night 4—5 December and link up on Thanpir heights. Then in conjunction with attack on Forward Defended Localities, 16 POK battalion would have moved down the Chandak Ridge and cut off Kalai Bridge. This would have made the defences of Poonch Infantry Brigade totally untenable and would have led to capture of Poonch by Pakistan. What the Pakis could not achieve in 1948 even after a siege from Nov47 right up to 20 Nov 1948 and in a similar siege in 1965 would have become a fact in 1971.
In 1948, paratroopers of 50 (I) Parachute Brigade had helped Brigadier Pritam Singh in saving Poonch. In 1965 Major Megh Singh with his Meghdoot Force had been a big help to Brigadier Zora Singh in saving Poonch. Now in 1971 it was the blue eyed boy of Megh Singh, Major Chander Malhotra with his Charlie Group, 9 Parachute Commando that upset all the calculations of Yaha Khan’s GHQ. Brigadier A V Natu, the Poonch Brigade Commander in 1971 may have been totally unaware that how his fellow Maharashtrian LT A V Tasker had helped saving the day not only for him but for his entire brigade and the J & K State itself. As a result India continued to have a large District called Poonch.
After gathering all the details, MLB passed a very brief precise report quickly on radio to KDP for passing on to Brigade HQ. Immediately orders came that brigade wanted 7 TEAM to commence advance to Nagali Ridge TOP at last light and attack it ……what an Order. A force smaller in size than an infantry platoon was being asked to attack a Company or may be even bigger and that too uphill. When CMM intervened, after half an hour orders changed …they were to take defences on AREA FLAT itself and move towards TOP only next morning.
CMM then asked Tusky to make a Commando base for the night. He himself moved down to the road head with his party along with the prisoner. The prisoner more than 6ft tall and solidly built had simply been given a choice ….walk down to the road for further evacuation or be shot. The SSG chap began talking about his 1year old son, it was then CMM had realised that he too had a 3 months old son.
It seems finally Malhotra prevailed and next morning it was a battalion ex 33 Infantry Brigade whose elements reached AREA FLAT, took briefing from Ashok Tasker before moving towards Nangi Top and onwards to Thanpir Top.
7 TEAM was soon on its way down to Nagali Sahib. On reaching there a beaming Chander himself handed over a fully piled up plate of poorie,sabzi and halwa to Tusky.For a change this time debriefing could wait till the Lt and his Team finished their breakfast.
Around this time 9 TEAM was also back to Nagali. Major Chander on debriefing Lt Roshan did not know whether to get mad, have a laugh or just cry. As per Lt Roshan, 9 TEAM had been rushed to one of the Posts where they were tasked to be ready to go for a Spoiling Attack in case Pakis again started concentrating into a FUP for a fresh battalion level attack……..what a task for the only mountain COMMANDO UNIT of the Indian Army existing in those days. Anyway, at least the Company Commander at the location ensured that the Commandos were given hot tea and something to eat even though time was nearly 0130h. However the attack never took place and Lt Roshan was asked to go back to Nagali on 5th morning. On their way back, while they were negotiating a road bend, their two vehicles came under quite heavy and accurate artillery fire. The Commandos jumped out and took cover. Shells kept landing as if the Artillery OP was having a clear view. Then one by one Roshan made his men crawl out from there and finally all reached a location 200m away. The road thereafter was not under observation and thus safe. At Nagali, in the evening Roshan got the news that the Company Commander who had ensured tea for them was KIA from direct artillery hit on the bunker.
Soon after breakfast and a quick de briefing Lt Tasker was sent to the Brigade HQ to brief the Brigade Major in detail and also to hand over the SSG Prisoner, meanwhile Chander got busy in writing a few citations. The BM was not ready to believe that a full battalion plus had infiltrated so deep inside. The SSG Trooper now knowing that no harm would come to him as he was fully protected by Geneva Convention would give out nothing except his Name and Number. Also the unit ex 33 Infantry Brigade reported that there was nothing on Nagali Ridge TOP except some evidence of recent camping by a small party.
The B M was not even ready to believe that 40 Pakis had been killed. Hence he asked Lt AVT for proof. This demand turned Tasker into a very angry man as he had not slept the previous night. So Tasker just saluted, drove back to Nagali, took a sub team and climbed up to AREA FLAT at a trot. Less than four hours later he was back at the Brigade Majors table. He saluted and placed a big bundle on the table. “Sir, here is the proof, please open it”. The BM opened the bundle …there were 40 blood soaked Paki boots, all right foot, thickly covered in human blood…..the B M could not control himself, he just puked. Though by the time I had Passed out of IMA in 1978, URBAN LEGEND at the Military Academy had turned these 40 blood soaked boots into 40 PIECES OF LEFT EARS. This legend had turned into folklore even in the Parachute Units though facts were further obfuscated by addition of Major Malhotra’s name as the actual EAR SLICER and Tusky as the BOOT LEGGER.
The effect of this puking by the Brigade Major, if any, on the Citations forwarded by CMM to the brigade HQ is not known, though by evening of 5th or 6th December a Vir Chakra had been awarded to Havildar Yashwant Singh and a Sena Medal to Lt Ashok Tasker. However no one thought of forwarding any Citations for Major Malhotra himself!
Poonch terrain in winters
Poonch has been called mini Kashmir since ages and thus its importance with respect to the whole of J& K State becomes obvious. In 6 th Century AD, the Chinese traveler Huien Tsang had travelled towards interior of India through Poonch. In 850 AD Poonch had become an independent Country for a brief period. Later it came under the Mughals in 1586 and in 1589 Akbar passed through Poonch for the first time in his way to Kashmir. In 1596 one Siraj-u-din from Kahuta was appointed as Raja of Poonch by Jehangir. In 1798 a Gujjar leader became the ruler. From 1819 to 1850, Poonch came under the Khalsa Darbar, Lahore. Then in 1850 Raja Moti Singh laid the foundation of Dogra Raj. In 1940 on death of Raja Jagat Dev Singh, on orders of Ruler at Srinagar, Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan became the Administrator of Poonch.
The main road communication to Poonch was via Jhelum town which went to Pakistan in1947. The road from Jammu, Akhnoor, Rajouri to Poonch was not in good shape. In 1947 due to priority given to Kashmir Valley Poonch District was easily run over by the tribals and Poonch town and its Garrison came under a Siege lasting up to 20 Nov 1948. However due to political importance of the Area, finally troops were diverted from more important task of capturing Domel, Muzzafarabad, Mirpur and Bhimber. Thus out of 4 Tehsils of Poonch, 2 and 1/2 Tehsils came under illegal occupation of Pakistan and remainder became part of a new district Rajouri Poonch.
During the 1965 War, Major Megh Singh had liberated nearly half of this Pak Occupied Poonch and even Hajipir Pass had come back to us. Alas all the effort came to naught after Tashkent. In 1967 Poonch was separated from Rajouri again became a separate district.
The famous Mughal Road passes through Poonch and this route was used by Akbar for his visits to Kashmir Valley. In 1627 Jehangir had died somewhere on this route while going back to DILLI and in order to keep this a secret his entrails were buried in Chingus near Rajouri by Noorjahan. The Poonch- Srinagar distance via Jammu is 588 kms. It gets reduced to126 km via the ‘New Mughal Road’ 84 km long from Bafliaz- Behramgala- Chandimarh- -Poshana-Chattapani-Peer Ki Gali –Aliabad -Zaznar —Dubjan- –Heeepora —Shopian –Srinagar. The original historical route was Bhimber–Saidbad–Nowshera –Chingus –Rajouri —Thanamandi–Ratanpeer —Bafliaz onwards. The Peer Ki Gali Pass on Pir Panjal is at 11500, higher than Sinthan Pass or even Banihal Pass. No wonder Pakistan was so eager to capture Poonch in 1947 as it would provide them with easy infiltration routes into the Kashmir Valley. However they could not do so even after a prolonged siege. They failed in 1965 too and now were getting ready to try it once more in 1971. They were unaware that it was an impossible task as Chander Malhotra and his boys had moved to Poonch and were located at village Nagali Sahib.
Failure to capture Poonch in 1947 and 1965 had made it a prestige issue for Pakistan GHQ in 1971. However apart from prestige, capture of Poonch would not only enlarge the Hajipir Bulge but would also provide numerous infiltration routes through gullies over the Pir Panjal Range. It was also likely to compel 15 Corps to re inforce the Sector with additional Forces and thus weakening other areas. This would further increase the chances of complete victory of 23 Infantry Division in the Chamb Sector right up to Akhnoor. OPERATION GRANDSLAM would smash the Indians into a pulp. A large tract of fertile agricultural land with a huge Muslim population would get added into Pakistan. The area is hilly and quite thickly forested, thus ideal for infiltration. Due to existing Cease Fire Line, Pakistan also had the advantage of higher terrain from where they could easily target all the Forward Defended Localities of India, parts of Poonch town and even the air strip.
Major General Akbar Khan GOC 12 Infantry Division of Pakistan was in charge of Operations in this Sector. Apart from his holding brigades he was given 26 Infantry Brigade and 2 POK Brigade for the offensive in to Poonch. A Company of SSG was also allotted to help General Akbar in achieving GHQs Aim. A few months back he had his Formations even practice attack by infiltration. Apart from his holding Fire Units, he had been allotted additional 16 Artillery Fire units. These had been moved and deployed quite near to the CFL for the planned offensive. GHQ wanted that General Akbar Khan should capture Poonch and secure area right up to Pir Panjal. For this 12 Division was to attack the forward Indian Posts at Shahpur, Danna and Guterian which were located 6 to 9 kms north and North West of Poonch Town. As per overall Plan, while the main attack would be going on, 2 POK Brigade under Brigadier Tony Mohammed would infiltrate and take positions to dominate Mandi Ridge, Thanpir Ridge and Chandak Ridge overlooking the Kalai Bridge.
Prior to this on Night 03 Dec–04 Dec 71 with the declaration of War, 9 POK along with a Platoon of SSG was to infiltrate and secure ThanPir Ridge Top, Nagali Ridge TOP and AREA FLAT. Then next night that is 04 Dec–05Dec, in the early parts,rest of 2 POK Brigade would infiltrate along the same route, while the main attack was being launched.
However, the simultaneous action by Captain MLB and party and 2/ Lt AVT and his 7 TEAM on the afternoon of 04 Dec 71 simply put paid to the entire plan of General Akbhar Khan. A few hours later same night, in a similar manner, Major Cariappa with his Alpha Group would halt the onslaught of General Iftikhar’s Chamb Offensive at a bridge on the junction of Munnawar Tawi and Sukh Tao Nullah thus saving Akhnoor. 24 hours later Narender Rathore and his Bravo Group would move into Chicken Neck area and just wring it thus eliminating a major threat to Jammu.
No wonder later on the Supreme Commander was pleased to at least award a theatre Honours to 9 for defence of J & K.
The above in nutshell was what could be made out from the interrogation of the SSG trooper on Area Flat. With the benefit of hind sight, it seems to have been a very plausible and a very bold plan. A brigade level force infiltrating and occupying heights behind the main defences would have unnerved any Commander. Brigadier A V Natu did not panic or displayed any nervousness because either he was very brave (he was indeed awarded with a M V C as at that time YSM, UYSM and SYSM medals had not been constituted) or because by the time he actually became fully aware of the fact of battalion level infiltration, part of it had been wiped out and rest had just vanished.
However the planning of this Operation by General Akbar did help in saving Pakistan. Indian Army had not failed in noticing all the forward movements of artillery and our intelligence too gave enough information. Based on all this, 33 Infantry Brigade ex 39 Infantry Division had moved into Poonch Sector. This helped in strengthening Poonch Defences. However the pulling out of 33 Brigade did weaken our offensive thrust of 1 Corps in Shakargarh Bulge and they could not advance as much as planned
Poonch river …….right India, left Paki Occupied Poonch
“Chander, I want you to send a Team at once to hit the Paki post located on the Spur going down towards Madarpur. They are using it for infiltration into our areas. “ Chander tried to protest saying he would like to go for some worthwhile targets behind the enemy lines. However Brigadier Natu insisted because after the Nagali Ridge action, his HQ had been swamped with information regarding presence of enemy infiltration over a vast area in the rear, of course there was hardly any confirmed reports. A few contacts which had taken place were behind Shahpur area. Chander was certain that these must be the elements of 9 POK now running back to their own area. However seeing the desperation of both the Brigade Major and the Brigade Commander, Chander for once agreed to send a Team.
He first passed the orders for MLB and his No8 TEAM to reach the brigade HQ at the earliest, take whatever briefing available from the Brigade Major and thereafter move for a raid on Post near Madarpur. He then got hold of the Commanding Officer of the Artillery Regiment who had come to the brigade HQ and started discussing the likely locations of enemy Medium batteries.
8 TEAM reached The MOTI MAHAL Palace in the evening of 5th itself. MLB received whatever sketchy information was available from the Brigade Major and thereafter he was asked to spend the night there only. Next day after breakfast the Team left for our Forward Defended Post overlooking the target located on the spur going down towards the river. Madarpur Village was rather located on the Spur coming up from across the river. Whole day the Team kept the enemy post under surveillance, familiarised every one with the route and the raid plan and rested.
After last light, the Team started for the mission. Coming down a Nullah from the side of the main Spur on which own FDL was located, they silently crossed into Pak Occupied Poonch and thereafter they were near the objective by 2000h. After observing for around 20 minutes they swiftly moved forward and within seconds well aimed shots from silencer carbines dispatched the three occupants of the post. A quick inspection of the so called post revealed that it was actually a Traffic Control Point for all the military movement on the road passing through and not a defended Post as such. Posters and other papers thrown around indicated that prior to 03 December it had been a Check Point manned by UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan). Though it may have been a infiltration point too because there was food under preparation for about 15 people …..the menu was chicken and pulao, all to be cooked in Ghee available in abundance.
While the Team took position and MLB passed the code word for success to our own Company Post and to KD at the base. Yashwant Singh or Mammu as he was known immediately took action as a self-styled cook. Within minutes instead of dry poories, the commandos began enjoying a meal of Pakistani basmati rice pulao and chicken, though peering along the length of the barrel of their weapons every few seconds. Half way through the meal, the 21 Punjab Company Commander was on the Radio, saying that the Team was required to fall back at once. Hurriedly finishing the chicken, it was time once again to start climbing up hill in the freezing cold and cross back the existing CFL. By 2300h they were back to own FDL. No sooner had they reported reaching back, MLB was asked by the Brigade Major to explain vacation of Madarpur Post without Orders. It seems there was total confusion. Major Chander then intervened and had the matters sorted out. Then he himself spoke to MLB…… I am moving with rest of the Group to Nangi Tekri in the morning. You too will move and join me there by last light 07 December.
Twelve pairs of eyes were peering into the darkness in front, virtually holding their breath, adrenal pumping presently at a slow rate but building up for the big moment. Twelve pairs of ears too were straining themselves to catch any incoming sound, pinpoint the location of the sound and analyze it as to what had produced it.They could now discern the gun pit less than 150m in front of their position. Suddenly the gun came alive and in quick succession, one by one three rounds were thundering and whistling on their way towards Dhuruchian.
These were the Commandos of Gun Assault Party No 1 ex 7 TEAM under 2/Lt Ashok Tasker the Team Commander. About 50m to the right of Tusky’s party, in a similar manner, 12 Commandos were lying prone on the ground and peering westward into the gun pit in their front. This was Gun Assault Party No 2 ex 7 TEAM under the Team Second in Command Naib Subedar Zile Singh. The next two guns of the enemy were being intensively watched, again in similar manner by Gun Assault Party No3 and No 4, ex 8 TEAM under Subedar Gian Chand and Captain M L Bhagat respectively. Finally fifth and the sixth gun pits were being watched by Gun Assault Party No 5 and No 6, ex 9 TEAM under Naib Subedar ….and 2/ Lt Roshan Lal.
The six Assault Parties had started moving for their respective position at 0001h. After 45 minutes of slow walking and then noiseless crawling, by 0045h all were waiting nervously, nevertheless fully poised for assault. The overall Assault Party Commander was Major Chander Malhotra, the Group Commander. He with his party of six commandos had placed himself between No 3 and No 4 Gun Assault Party. The intense cold did not matter but the wait for action was the KILLER. Here both the extensive and intensive rigorous training undergone since raising had kicked in and taken over. Therefore the gunners of Pakistan Army remained totally oblivious of 72 heavily armed men crawling and now lying within 150 m of the guns. Next to Chander was the Radio Set Operator Lance Naik Keshav Chandra with his hand set on the SQUELCH mode and ears glued to it. Chander was now patiently waiting for the Code Word from KDP, the Support party Commander. The Code would indicate that they had reached and were fully deployed at the intended location from where fire Support could be and would be given to the Assault Party.
On reaching the Commando Base, Major Chander had at once moved out for a confirmatory reconnaissance with his party. By the time the Commander returned 30 minutes later, Captain KD had ensured that CHARLIE GROUP was now organised into Assault Party, Support Party and a Cut Off Party. Further, six equal sized force, numbered as Gun Assault Party No 1 to No 6 comprised the Assault Party. Each Gun Assault Party was led either by an Officer or a Junior Commissioned Officer and apart from their weapons was carrying four pre prepared Demolition Charges to ensure full destruction of any type of gun encountered. After a quick updating of all the Commanders, on a given signal the Gun Assault Party required to traverse the maximum distance, silently started moving out if the Base. Time now was 0001 h 14 December 1971.
One by one the other parties too slipped out at regular intervals. Five minutes after No 6 Gun Assault Party had left the location that is at 0030h Captain KD Pathak silently led the Support Party comprising the “heavy fire power “weapons and the Cut Off Party to their position. By 0050 h KDP had his party deployed, all his weapons now pointed into the Gun Area and ready for action. He was just waiting for a report from the Cut Off Party, which had moved further west to ensure their given task. As soon as Havildar Balak Ram and Naik Fateh Singh and party got deployed at the Cut of location, the code was received by KD. In his turn at precisely0100h KD whispered into the radio hand set …80 for all stations …..DHAMAKA …80 for all stations…I say again DHAMAKA. With this Code Word the fury, rage and the controlled fear of CHARLIE GROUP had been unshackled and was about to be unleashed upon the Pakistani Gunners whose guns was now belching out deadly shells at very short intervals to land on our boys of 14 GRENADIERS assaulting the Pakistani Post at Dhuruchian.
A few nights before Commandos had crossed the icy Poonch River for a gun raid in area Satwal. Crossing itself had taken sometime and thereafter due to very tough terrain the going was quite slow. Instead of exact location several squares had been indicated as likely Gun Position. Since the guns were silent, in pitch darkness it was a task akin to looking for a pin in a haystack. Around 0100h Chander decided to CALL OF the mission as any further lingering around was likely to lead to being day lighted on the return journey, a sure recipe for disaster. Also throughout the move after crossing the river, there had been an all pervasive foul smell along the column route. Every trooper had become aware of it. It transpired that a certain Commando had sudden onset of dysentery and behind the enemy lines there was no alternative to CARRY ON WHILE WALKING!!!. The decision to turn back had been taken at the right time and therefore around first light they were safely back across the CFL….Cease Fire Line.
This time CHARLIES DEVILS were a determined lot. A total of 78 Indian Parachute Commandos with Major Chander Malhotra in the Centre started crawling westward towards the six Pakistani Artillery Guns, four of which had been accounted for as they were firing intermittently. By 0110h the Commandos were just about 20 m or less from the Gun Pits. He having gone to the ground Major Chander was still not sure about the position of two of the guns. Then suddenly ….hell broke loose ….it is extremely difficult to piece together the exact sequence of events in spite of having spoken to four of the Officers participants and many of the JCOs, NCOs and the men over a period of 12 years. Recently some of rhe selected were again grilled in detail and this includes the Group Commander himself. So the readers themselves have to delve into the FOG OF WAR and come to own conclusions. Here it is …….
…..to the left of his own position or the Southern side Chander had counted two guns 50 to75 m apart. Similarly two guns on his right. The Gun which should have been right in the front had not yet fired, one more gun on extreme right or northern end also had not fired till now.
…….one enemy gunner came out of his pit or bunker on the side, moved 10 odd m towards East and scanning the skyline, unbuttoned his trousers and started pissing. As the Paki Gunner started buttoning and turned his back, both Paratrooper Balwan Singh and Rajmal lunged at him and Balwan’s commando knife found the target. Unfortunately another Paki had emerged out of the pit right at that moment and seeing this he not only emptied his carbine into Rajmal but also shouted Kaaaafir —kaaafir.
………simultaneously a similar kind of scuffle seemed to have taken place towards North Western end behind the Guns where the Support Group had taken position.
………the firing sound jolted the COMMANDOS into action. Every one simply went through the drill automatically.
………..grenades were lobbed and a magazine each emptied towards the front into whatever looked like an enemy or a hiding place of the enemy, though it was pitch dark. The Support Group too fired into the Gun Area for a brief period.
………..Then Major Chander voice could be heard shouting STOP FIRE …..STOP FIRE and joined in a chorus by the JCOs and NCOs.Suddenly there was pin drop silence.
……….next Chander was shouting —-aaage baadho Dhhaawaaaa and more than three scores voices joined in and black shadows sprinted towards the pit.
……..firing commenced once more and muzzle flashes were seen here and there, as if answering back, as remembered by some of the veterans.
……..some more shouting by Zile Singh,Tusky, Major Chander, MLB, Yashwant, Roshan Lal to stop firing –taken up by dozens of NCOs.
……..someone shouting Balwan Singh has been hit
………then muted shouts of TAKE POSITION….Charge lagao, JAALDI KARO etc etc etc etc
……. About 20 minutes later suddenly there was massive blast and a super Flash towards Southern end.
……..As recalled by Colonel Roshan Lal—I had been looking towards South at the moment of the flash and thereafter for next 10 minutes I was blind and could see nothing but bright flashes only. Though I must have been more than 200 m from the flash site. This happened to all those who by chance had been facing the direction of the Flash.
…… Subedar Zile then reported to Chander that one gun had been destroyed. It seemed to have a round loaded into its breach and that was the likely reason for the blinding flash. Four of his boys and he himself had received splinter wounds.
……..sir, this seems to be a Chinese 122mm gun, markings are Chinese –yes croaked Chander, try and remove the Sights-, his throat was unable to utter a sound—- sir, Sight is welded cannot be removed said MLB
……..Sahib, bhago, fuze mein aag laga dia hai said Havildar Gulab or someone. —–nahi walk karo said Tusky. Then there was a blast.
………then General Tasker recalls— I was walking towards East away from the gun pit. Suddenly it seemed someone lifted me completely off the ground and then threw me down with a force. I was stunned. Then I got up totally dazed. Looked around. Someone was lying on ground near me moaning. I rushed to him and saw he was wounded. Shouted for help. As he was being bandaged, I felt something warm on my left thigh—-I too was bleeding.
…….Colonel Mohinder Bhagat recalls—– I ordered Havildar Bichhitar to light the fuze and then everyone walked out of the pit. Then I rushed back to get my helmet and was out of the pit in a second or so I thought. A few minutes later I was up in the air and then thrown to the ground. I got up dazed, gingerly tried move my limbs and laughed loudly on discovering that everything was fine.
……..there are only shells in this pit shouted someone. Just blow it up shouted someone else in a reply.
……..there were 8 dead pakis in the gun pit mentioned a NCO and another four next to the bunker.
……..I counted 11 of them in our gun pit and area behind.
……..I counted 7 of them in our gun pit
………around 10 to 15 had been mowed down when those fleeing from the gun area had run into Cut Off Group.
Return From Mandhol
Time now was 0200h. Withdrawal signal was given. RV was about 800 m away at the outskirts of the abandoned Mandhol Village. On their ROUTE IN to the gun position, the Commandos had found the village of more than a score of huts to be completely empty except for an 80 year old man. He had indicated the direction of the Gun Area and had led them for about 100m when one of the guns had fired, thus giving their position to the Commandos. At the RV everyone was quickly accounted for. There was one dead body that of Rajmal and five seriously wounded including Balwan Singh. Also there were 15 walking wounded which included Lt Ashok Tasker and Naib Subedar Zile Singh. Orders were given to look for charpoys in the huts.
While charpoys were being taken out and bandages of wounded adjusted wherever required, message was passed to the Brigade Major. Brigadier A V Natu himself came on the Radio and wanted to speak to the Group Commander. Chander just about managed to croak the Code Word for complete success. Natu at once congratulated Chander and also said “you deserve a Param vir Chakra for this mission”. Chander just requested that on reaching back, a doctor and evacuation facilities should be available for the casualties right on the Post itself and some hot food for the men. Finally at 0300h, Charlie Group started moving out of the RV, fully alert for any ambush along the route.
For Move back, after leaving Mandhol Village, the Commandos took a different route. Having fired about 30 % of their ammunition, each person was a bit lighter nevertheless now movement was downhill which is quite tough on the knees. Casualties were an added burden, since for each casualties four persons had to be employed as Stretcher Bearers. Then suddenly the Scouts gave a signal and the leading Team under Lt Roshan went to ground. Lt Roshan moved forward for assessing the ground situation. By the time Major Chander moved up and caught up with the Team Commander, he found Lt Roshan having a good laugh. This was no ambush site but a mule transhipment point for supply and ammunition. There were around 14 mules still standing there, with lots of ammunition and ration dumped around. The Paki muleteers and sentries if any had just vanished. Since no prisoners of war had been captured, the 14 mules were promptly declared as Prisoners. Then someone had a bright idea …..Why not place the casualties on these mules. The walking wounded too could have a ride. However next five minutes was pure chaos, the Pakistani mules proved to be tougher and more stubborn than the Indian Commandos. Lt Tasker and all the other walking wounded simply refused the Ride Offer. Seeing this Major Chander, under the powers vested in him as the highest Indian military Commander present inside Pakistan Occupied Poonch, at once granted freedom to the 14 members of Pakistan Army. The ammunition dumped around were quickly wired and activated. Within minutes the Group had moved further down, munching upon dry fruits requisitioned from the dump. By the time the Commandos had covered a km there was a loud bang, signaling the destruction of the ammunition dump.
As they neared the river, the pace picked up but crossing back was again a dangerous business. Meanwhile the Group Commander had frequently walked beside the moaning Balwan Singh, telling him all the time that, he will survive and nothing will happen to him. The Group halted when they neared the river and then a Sub Team crossed over and took position on the other bank. They were followed through by the rest of 9 TEAM. Then the others entered the icy cold water. Time now was 0530 h and the Commandos were back on own side of Poonch River. Soon they were nearing Dhip post, a full 12 hours mission. They had left Dhip Post in the evening of 13 December at 0530h after last light. By 1830h they were negotiating the icy cold, waist deep, fast flowing Poonch River in pitch darkness. The pickets on the Ridge Line on both sides along with their artillery had already started celebrating Diwali with full gusto. Commandos had to cover around another 08 kms after reaching the far bank of the river. Thereafter look for the guns. The radio crackled and Passwords exchanged. A dozen men came forward and started hugging the Commandos. Burly Sardars were eager to carry the Commandos on their back uphill all the way to the Post.
By the time Commandos reached the main defences it was daylight around 0630h. News had spread all over the Poonch Brigade. Seven prominent flash and blasts had been seen and heard towards Mandhol, the visible proof of the gun raid. History had been created, NAVORONE was fiction but MANDHOL was now a fact. After all not even during the Second World, any raid had been able to destroy a complete battery of guns and kill over 35 enemy gunners (as estimated by Major Chander) with many more certainly wounded. Even Navarone, a fiction had only two guns!! However a mystery remains regarding the total number of guns destroyed. Some say 06 guns and 01 ammunition stack/ dump, some say 04 guns and 03 ammunition stacks/dumps, men on the piquet’s say 07 blasts. A book written by a Pakistani Corps of Artillery General a few years later mentioned the destruction of a full battery without specifying the number of guns. At one of the flag meetings just a month after the war a Pakistani Officer mentioned a casualty figure of 84 dead and wounded.
The immediate effect of the raid was pulling out of all Pakistani Gun Batteries from forward deployment to gun areas further back. All this resulted in reduction of effective artillery fire on Poonch Defences. Pakistan Artillery Batteries also had to deploy manpower for the perimeter security from their internal resources and this further brought down their effectiveness for the next few days up to the declaration of Cease Fire. Later on after the War when Pakistan Artillery had a re look in to their Organizational Structure and other drills, this raid was taken into account.
As soon as the first Commandos reached the main defences, shout went out for the doctor. To every ones horror there was no doctor available on the post. Balwan Singh too must have heard the word NO DOCTOR. He moaned to the nearest buddy …..Call the Major Saheb at once, I wish to meet Malhotra Saheb before my death. Reluctantly Chander walked up to the dying soldier and held his hand. Balwan Singh thus became a Martyr for his Country, holding the hands of his Group Commander. 9 even a doctor would not have been able to save him there on the Post. However what was required to be demonstrated by the Army and the Country at that point of time (and always and every time when a casualty occurs) was only one thing that THE NATION CARES. HQ 93 Brigade, HQ 25 Division, HQ 15 Corps should have ensured that a doctor or at least a Nursing Assistant was there even if just with a stethoscope …..Balwan Singh would have died peacefully …….9 ensured that his young widow and the Child had no problems ever. They were there in the Unit 0n 01 Jul 16 for the 50th Raising Day. 9 has also ensured that nowadays every Squad has one person fully trained as Battle Field Medico.
Chander, shaking with anger dashed down to the road head and was off to the Brigade HQ. The Brigade Major and Others at the HQ would have not minded even if the enemy had reached there instead. However, before things turned from Worse to Ugly, a message came from Rajouri that Chander must report to Divisional HQ at once. So the Group Commander quickly sat down somewhere and wrote nearly a score of Citations ranging from PVC to Sena Medals. Then in the evening he left for Rajouri. The rest of the Group carried out cremation of Balwan and Rajmal. The wounded got evacuated though Lt Ashok Tasker refused evacuation and ensured that after proper dressing of his wounds, he was discharged to his Group. By evening, Charlie Group was at Moti Mahal, where initially Brigadier Natu himself wanted to congratulate them but later due to ongoing battle on some Posts only the DQ came over. This led to some more scenes and by next morning the whole Group was asked to move to Rajouri. Meanwhile at the Divisional HQ, Chander had reported to Col Sabharwal the CO and was congratulated for the daring mission. A quick briefing was followed by a meeting with General Kundan Singh the Divisional Commander. After the debriefing, the GOC told him regarding the forthcoming task, again a Gun Raid but this time in Naushera Sector.
By afternoon of 15 December the entire Group was concentrated at Rajouri. Then at night they moved towards Naushera. Major Malhotra got delayed due to last minute briefing at the Divisional HQ. So around mid-night he along with Ashok Tasker left for Naushera. Tusky was extremely tired and on top of it the medication for his wounds must have made him drowsy. At one of the bends, he nearly fell out of the Jeep. So Chander with Tusky’s consent had him tied up nice and proper and then commenced driving the Jeep like a Maniac at the wheel. Tusky got dozing again, while the driver sitting in the rear seat began reciting the Hanuman Chalisa quite loudly. At Naushera TCP, the Military Police seeing the trussed up Tusky, asked Major Chander as to the place where the Paki Prisoner had been caught. When told that he was a not PW but a 2/ LT of the Indian Army, they burst out laughing.
In spite of two dead, morale was again high. The Group was back in the location of MANGALA MATA and the prophesy had come true. She became the Group deity and to this day since last 45 years after the evening roll call it is MANGLA MATA KI JAI by each Officer, JCO and Jawan, a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christain, Parsi, Jain or Budhhist. A room in the Company Line is the adobe of Mangla Mata.
On 17 December evening the Group was again at a Forward Post. Captain Hardev Singh Lidder too had joined the Group at Nowshera. He had been posted as an Instructor at Belgaum, had just taken some leave and then promptly reported to the Unit. A Gun Battery somewhere in Chauki Area was to be located and destroyed. After last light when the Commandos had hardly crossed over into Pakistan Occupied Jammu, a call came on the radio. The message from 80 Brigade was a recall message. The raid was off and four hours later at midnight 0001h 18 December 1971 Ceasefire became effective. War was over.
In Jun 1972 when LOC marking commenced at Suchetgarh, General P S Bhagat, VICTORIA CROSS was asked by his Counterpart Pakistani General Abdul Hamid Khan “You must have awarded the Mandhol Raid Commander with a P V C for the most daring and successful mission”. Prem Bhagat had no reply. On coming to Udhampur as the first Army Commander of the newly created Norther Command; he immediately made an Inspection visit to the unit. The Commanding Officer received the Army Commander at the Unit helipad along with his Subedar Major and the Stick Orderly. After shaking hands with the CO and the SM, the General turned to the Stick Orderly, a smartly turned out Lance Naik and shook hands with him. Then the General started quizzing him regarding the war and as the answers came, the General came up with more questions.
CO was getting a bit worried but the chat continued. The Lance Naik answered all queries on the tasking of his Sub Team, Team, Group and even the overall aim and mission of the Unit, a brigade and even a Division. Army Commander was mighty pleased. Then came the bombshell. The Lance Naik said ….sir with your permission, may I recommend something. On receiving the nod, he said, in case there is a fresh war then Northern Command must go for an offensive at the junction of 25 Infantry Division and 10 Infantry Division, it is the most suitable gap for an offensive.
Prem Bhagat at once told his Staff Officer accompanying him that the Stick Orderly’s picture must adorn the cover page of the next issue of Sainik Samachar. Then he turned to the CO and told him “I don’t think there is any need to inspect an Unit having men of such caliber”. The inspection was over at the helipad itself, the General then entered the Unit as a Guest only and paid his personal Compliments. The Army Commander ensured that 9 was always provided with the best of training and logistics support available.
The Guns of Mandhol who is Captain Keith Mallory in this……Gregory Peck…..Guns Of Navarone
When I reported to the Unit on 30 June 1978, Major K D Pathak, Captain Roshan Lal and Captain Ashok Tasker were there in the unit and so were most of the Mandhol Raiders of CHARLIE GROUP. Havildar Gulab Singh was the Mess Havildar of Officers Mess. During my probation he always ensured that on daily basis I was fed with at least half a dozen eggs if not more but failed in his effort to add anything extra to my 55 Kg body weight.
Havildar Fateh Singh later on became my Team Havildar and then my Second in Command in BRAVO GROUP. In 82_ 84 Subedar Balak Ram served as my Senior JQM when I was made the Equipment Officer. In Jun 1992 when the first SF Team to be deployed in the Kashmir Valley for OP RAKSHAK crossed Banihal into Jammu Province after completing its tour of duty, Subedar Major Balak Ram was there to welcome us. Being in charge of a Transit Camp, he had laid down an actual 5 star spread for our lunch along with beer, Whisky and what not.
In 1987 when we moved to SriLanka, L/ Nk Dharam Singh, now a Subedar, was 6 TEAM Second in Command of which I was the Commander. He was always as alert as on NAGALI Ridge on 04 Dec1971. During a major Operation for Link up with 10 PARA SF and capture of LTTE HQ at Sandillipai, Subedar Dharam got wounded. Two hours later at around 0100h we were in the process of establishing and securing an area for helicopters to land the rest of the unit after first light. 6 Team found a house at the outer perimeter with doors closed. As I was getting ready for an ENTRY with two more Commandos, in spite of being wounded Subedar Dharam realizing the danger, just dashed forward, kicked the door open and made an entry. Out came six members of a terrified family. Being a Veteran of 1965 and 1971, he had full fire control, so no harm came to the civilians. As long as Dharam Singh was there, he would not permit his Commander to come in Harm’s Way.
I must mention about Havildar Yashwant Singh. By June 1978 he had taken premature retirement and gone back to his Village somewhere in the Chambal Ravines and hopefully not following in the footsteps of PAN SINGH TOMAR, some reported that he did. In the Unit he was a legend and known as MAMU. After the war even Colonel O P Sabharwal who had earlier prohibited any reference to the word MAMU with respect to the particular NCO ended up calling him MAMU. In the words of Major Chander himself
“Yashwant was a pure ROUGE as far as discipline goes but a pure asset for any type of mission for the Group be it in peace or war “. In 1975 there was a Test Exercise for the Unit. The GOC, 25 Infantry Division General TS Oberoi, a paratrooper himself was the Chief Umpire. He was himself walking with the troops and so the Subedar Major had specifically tasked MAMU to look after the General. While walking, the General noticed that Havildar Yashwant Singh, Vir Chakra, Sena Medal was not carrying anything nearing even half of 40 kg, which each Commando was to carry as per specific orders of the General himself. So the General angrily asked for an explanation then and there. With equal aplomb MAMU retorted “don’t be naïve like you even I am not participating in the exercise. My task is to ensure your comfort, if I carry 40 kg then how will I look after you”. The General K new his Parachute Regiment quite well …..He just changed the topic.
Finally I must mention my Compatriots who served in CHARLIE GROUP during my first spell of 10 years with the Unit. Captain Ashok Kumar Singh Sengar or TIGER as he was called by all. From 45 NDA Course, he had been commissioned into the unit in December 1974. He had super stamina and could carry more than his own weight. Most of the physical tests during my probation were supervised by him. For a brief period we were together in BRAVO GROUP as Team Commanders. A true epitome of MAN APART EVERY MAN AN EMPEROR he lived by his own sets of rules. At Udhampur when KDP was CO, Sengar was the Adjutant. He would reach the PT ground at exactly 0530h to take the report not one second before or one second after. Every day the entire battalion waited with bated breath and probably even wagered to witness the Adjutant’s late arrival. To this day he is always there for 9. You just have to give him a call and he will be there for you. His house is open for you 24 hours. When he was ADC to General G P Tripathi then there were certain days in the week reserved for the ADC to enjoy his drinks in a party and GOC would not bother him with any duties. After contributing to the Marriage Silver Salver of most of the officers of the Unit, he was presented with one as a BACHELORS Silver Salver. He tied the knot only after leaving the Army with 20 years’ service and is happily married to Deepa Sengar.
Captain B S Yadav was the MTO in June 1978 and then became the Equipment Officer. In Sri Lanka he was the CHARLIE TEAM Commander when 9 had moved in and did the initial bedding in of the Team. He was a superb boxer and a boxing instructor and also a Marksman. He was a Man For All Season. He also was a born mechanic or so he thought and had to take apart anything mechanical on which he could lay his hands, though after re assembly few nuts and bolts were always left out!! Many a times this extremely spirited man from Kosli uttered sentences which can be best described as “humour in Uniform”. He like Senger had the latest electronic music system with a superb collection of western music. He took premature retirement after 20 years of service. Alas Major Biru yadav is no more. The children are well settled and Lata Yadav keeps in touch with the Unit.
Captain Anil Narainan Nayer in Vavunniya (Sonti in the background)
2/ LT Anil Narainen Nayer had reported at Tale Camp in Sep78 and after the probation joined CHARLIE GROUP. He was a ‘Delhite rather than a Keralite’. Tall, dark and handsome, he was muscular too, being part of the Delhi University Wrestling Team. Later he got a Karate Black Belt or was it Brown 1 from a Chennai School after six months training. While there he and his men taught their Instructors in return the difference between Civilian Karate and Special Forces Karate. He also tried to attain the same expertise in the Art of Bullshitting as that of the MASTER SENSEI but the standard achieved though of very high caliber still remained many notches below. He is one of the few officers to have spent more than a decade in the unit without going out on staff and then came back for more. He was wounded and decorated with a Sena Medal in SriLanka. He commanded the actual Black Cats of NSG and left the Army thereafter, even though he was nominated for Higher Defence management Course. He is running his own set up and travels a lot all over India and abroad along with Radhika Nayer. Though whenever he gets a chance he attends a reunion for doing a freefall jump.
2/ LT S V Jagdish joined the unit and CHARLIE GROUP in 1983. Soft spoken, bespectacled, lean and thin Sonty topped his YO Course and the Commando Course at Belgaum. He had the brains of a Computer.
Major Jagdish V Sonti
In Sri Lanka he had joined us the BATS Team and on arrival of the entire unit was back to CHARLIE. After a decade of service, he left the Army. whatever he did, he did it with perfection. He was there on 01Jul 16 at Udhampur for the Golden Jubilee, all the way from USA though Padma could not come with him.
Col Sudhir Kumar Varni
Another officer, Captain SK Varni, a year senior to me at NDA, joined CHARLIE in 1985 from 9 JAK Rifles. He had been an instructor at Commando School Belgaum and had volunteered from there. He went back to JAK Rifles after a very eventful 5 years which included OP TRIDENT, OP PAWAN, Venture Series and what not. He commanded 6 JAK RIFLES. After leaving the Army, he was GM in a 5 Star Hotel and then CEO of a company and after crossing 60 years decided to Live Life King Size. Nowadays he is into cycling both in the plains and high altitude and looking at life through the lens of his Camera. In a short span of time a few of his pictures when posted on Jagruk Bharat was viewed by over 2000 people. He does not have to look around for a Model for photo shoots. She is always there by his side Mrs Anita Varni. Even at this age whenever he gets a chance, Sudhir does his Free fall and also static line parachute jumps during Reunions.
I will fail in my duty if I do not mention Mathew Jacob. He was commissioned into 9 in 1968 and well-known being Academy Blazer in both Boxing and PANGA Taking. In 1979 end he was back from staff posting and left again by 1981. He was a super shot with pistol and any other weapon. Had he concentrated on his pistol shooting as he did on THE BOTTLE, India would have won her first Olympic Shooting Medal at Munich itself. While posted at Agra in mid-seventies, one night several young Officers accosted him to show his Pistol expertise and that too after a good bar session. So Jakes asked the most vocal one to stand against the wall ……that officer was also too drunk to back out. Jakes fired 12 rounds around his head (youngster survived to retire as a Lt General) and then handed over the pistol with one round left in it. Jakes said “you trusted me with 12 shots, now I shall trust you with one. “
Jakes stood at the wall, shot was fired and hit the wall just grazing his neck!!! In mid-eighties, a hastily assembled local Army team made to participate in a Shooting Competition organized by the Home Ministry for the Central Police Organizations …..BSF, CRPF, ITBP etc. Army team came third or something and the PM cum RM made some comment. Thereafter on the express orders of General Sunderji, within days the ARMY MARKSMAN UNIT came up at Mhow under Mathew Jacob. So finally Jakes did contribute something towards the 2004 Silver Medal won by Col Rajyavardhan singh Rathore. Many years later Jakes younger son joined 9. Jakes is no more. Mrs Jacob was there at Udhampur on 01 Jul 2016 for the Unit Golden Jubilee.
Brig Jude Laurence Cruz
Brig JLC around five years my senior and Brig Sanjay Thakur around o7 years my junior were there in CHARLIE TEAM as Troop Commanders during my time in the unit. However as later on they commanded 9, write up on them is reserved for future. Then there was Colonel K A Mohan, who had been motivated to join 9 during his NSG tenure. So this SIKH REGIMENT officer volunteered and joined the unit in Sri Lanka where he went ahead to win a Vir Chakra, getting wounded in the process. Having reached Vavunniya the previous day from leave, I had the privilege of meeting him for the first time while helping him down from the Chopper, on his evacuation to the Field Ambulance. Three years later on coming back to the Unit from DSSC, I took over command of Alpha Team, while a month later he took over Charlie Team. He finally took over the Command of 9 from JD Britto. So a detailed story on him too is reserved for future. Just before he took premature retirement, though he had already punched the proper slots for Generalship, we again served together at Army HQ in the Training Directorate. I still remember the super VVIP treatment given to me when I had visited the Unit during his Command. Thereafter when already in the Civil street, he still took time out of his very busy schedule to dine and wine me when I had gone visiting South.
What to talk of a PVC, the Mandhol Gun Raiders were awarded just one Vir Chakra and one Sena Medal..…. Havildar Yashwant and 2/Lt Taskar and that to for Nagali Ridge action. What happened? Did someone ask for a proof of the gun raid? Certainly no one in HQ 93 Brigade ask Lt A V Tasker for a proof, otherwise no one knows what he would have done this time. Some Citations were certainly initiated from somewhere otherwise how did Yashwant and Taskar get their Medals?
Why did Major General Kundan Singh not insist for citations either from Brigadier A V Natu or Lt Colonel O P Sabharwal? The Corps Commander was himself a Gunner and must have appreciated this unparalleled daring raid. Even during both the World Wars no raid on either side had managed to destroy a complete Gun Battery….all guns. He should have asked the CO of 9 to initiate Citations directly to the Corps HQ, after all 9 was directly under him. Alternatively CO should have himself done this. There was confusion between 4 or 6 guns. Chinese gun batteries at times used to have just four guns, due to this did Lt General Sartaj Singh think that it was a fake raid ? Well facts have been brought out in detail and biggest CITATION and MEDAL has been the Acknowledgment by the Adversary himself.
President Of India did bestow upon the Unit, the Battle Honours for Defence Of Poonch and Theatre Honours for Defence of J& K some time later. However things can still be rectified with respect to Mandhol.
The President of United States of America bestowed The CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOUR (equivalent if PVC) to Lt Col Matt Urban 35 years after his World War 2 Heroic Action. On 19 Jul 1980 Jimmy Carter rectified the mistake and hugged him as the “greatest soldier in American history “. The citation initiated by Urban’s CO had not reached the Divisional HQ in time because the CO himself got killed right after writing the Citations. In fact with the Medal of Honour and the earlier Silver Star, 5xBronze Star, 7x Purple Hearts and 15 other medals, he beat the record of legendry Audie Murphy ….To Hell and Back …fame, the highest decorated American Soldier till then.
Recently Lt Col Charles Kettles, Retd was called to the Oval Office on 18 July 2016, nearly 50 years after the Action in Vietnam on 25 May 1967. Major Charles had been awarded with DISHTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS, the Second highest medal, for his valour. However a few years later there were some who thought that Mike deserved the highest and they fought for it relentlessly for years. The Nation finally rectified the mistake. Lt Colonel Charles Kettles said that all the fuss was for nothing. The medal belonged to all the officers and men who had fought with him that day. In a similar manner nearly 13 years after his action on 02 May 1968 the Distinguished Service Cross of Army Master Sargent Roy P BenaVidez had been upgraded to MEDAL OF HONOUR by President Ronald Regan on 24 Feb1981.There are few more such episodes of presenting the Medal many years later.
At home we have the precedence of bestowing the award of Bharat Ratna, after so many years on to Shri B R Ambedkar, Sardar V B Patel, Shri JaiPrakash Narain, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Shri Gopinath Bardoloi. Then we have the famous case of Squadron Leader Ajjamada Boppayya Devayya. The Squadron Leader was shot down and killed over Sargodha airbase during 1965 War by the PAF Ace, Squadron Leader M M Alam, Sitare Zurat. However prior to that, while flying an obsolete Mystere Aircraft, Devayya had shot down a PAF F104 Starfighter, pride of USAAF, flown by Flt Lt Amjad Hussain. Nearly 19 years later this story came out when a British writer was commissioned to write the Official history of PAF 1965 War. Then in 1983 nearly 23 years late, Squadron Leader A B Devayya was awarded the Mahavir Chakra, Posthumous.
Well we Indians have yet another duty left, that is to Confer the award of PARAM VIR CHAKRA to Major Chander Mohan Malhotra for combined action of Mandhol and Nagali and also bestow suitable awards un to all those deserving of the MANDHOL GUN RAID.