By Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces
These are exploits of Major Megh Singh in Chamb Sector in 1965
Now they were three officers, Major Megh Singh, Lt Mohinder and 2/Lt S S Sohal, and the fourth one, 2/Lt N K Dubey would be joining them with a platoon at 3 KUMAON Battalion HQ. Thus with 4 Officers, 12 Meghdoots, 50 Badals and 27 Kumaonis, the entire Force comprised just 93 men. In fact later only 25 Badals out of 50 would actually be part of the infiltrating column.
Pakistanis had commenced their well planned offensive in the Chamb Sector on 01 Sep 65 with nearly 6 to 1 superiority over the Indian Forces deployed in the Sector. Major General Akhtar Malik’s Patton tanks initially just smashed through the overstretched thin line of Indian defences but later had to slow down due to fierce opposition. Malik had failed to concentrate his armour for a solid punch towards Akhnoor. Instead he had distributed them over his entire Front. Somehow the Indians held on in areas where they could and in the rest undertook proper retrograde operation. Situation was really precarious for the Indian Army.Finally towards late evening, the IAF too was permitted by the Indian Cabinet to join the war and were able to surprise and severely maul the Paki tanks. Then next day on 02 Sep, Field Marshal Ayub Khan and C-in C General Musa surprisingly decided to replace AKHTAR MALIK with YAHA KHAN. Yaha then promptly and arrogantly extended an invitation to Ayub Khan asking him to come for a breakfast on AKHNOOR BRIDGE on 03 Sep morning. However Brigadier Manmohan Singh, erstwhile BGS of HQ 15 Corps, who had just taken over the Chamb Brigade 72 h back on untimely demise of the previous commander during an artillery shelling, managed to withdraw his Forces in a proper manner and finally stabilized his defences around Akhnoor. By 6th Sep the Indian Army opened the Lahore Front and thus eased further pressure in Akhnoor Sector. By 10 Sep, situation in the Sector had begun to stabilize and by now the newly raised HQ 10 Infantry Division had also moved in to take control of the situation. The 15 Corps Commander,General K S Katoch had even started thinking of offensive action too.Against this background now Megh Singh with just 68 all ranks was prepared to go behind the Paki Lines and give a TIGHT SLAP to Yaha Khan for his temerity to dream of having breakfast on Akhnoor Bridge.
Here I must narrate a story heard from a Veteran of 1965 War, who had been there as a witness to the following event in Chamb Sector. The Pakis commenced OP GRAND SLAM with a massive artillery bombardment around 0330h on 01 Sep. Thereafter the famous Patton Tanks charged into India at exactly 0500h. Initially these latest American supplied M48 or thePattons smashed through the Indian defences. India had just a Squadron of World War II vintage AMX 13 tanks spread over to check these mighty and vastly superior Pattons. Knowing the paki superiority in armour, Indians had organised and coordinated, layered anti tank defences with anti tank mines, RCL Guns and AMX Tanks. Then probably fate also intervened in favour of India. At one of these anti tank obstacles a Patton tank virtually exploded. Most probably either an AMX shell or a RCL gun shot went right into the barrel of a Patton, just when a shell from its own gun had been fired and was about to commence its journey from the breach outwards. There can be no other explanation for the tank to explode like this. Any way whatever the reason, this put a real fear of god into the pakis and a halt to their advancing tanks. They lost precious hours in trying to analyse the cause and the mystery weapon being used by the Indians. When finally the armour advance began once again, it was bit too late. Indian Army had time to withdraw in a proper manner.IAF too had now entered the war and the first mission of vintage Vampires from 45 Squadron at Pathankot, arrived at precisely 1719h. Though we lost 04 of them that day to vastly superior, again American supplied, F 86 Sabre Jets, the Pakistani tide had been already reversed by last light. By end of next day the vastly superior Sabres were also tamed by our tiny Gnats which became world famous as Sabre Slayers.
During the wee hours of 18 Sep, Megh Singh and party left the Brigade HQ and walked 6 km along Akhnoor -Poonch Road and then on a track for another 3.5 km to reach the base location of 3 KUMAON by first light. While resting there and having morning tea, some one switched on a transistor for the morning news broadcast on ALL INDIA RADIO. The news bulletin covered the war details for the previous day and then it mentioned that Major Megh Singh of Meghdoot Force had been awarded a VIR CHAKRA for gallantry in the POONCH SECTOR. (Since soldiers are revered like GOD during war and calamities, news of gallantry awards those days were broadcasted on National News. Unlike nowadays when so called self styled Nation Dailies do not even print the List of Gallantry Award Winners, released on 26 Jan and 15 Aug ). This news was a real morale booster for the entire Force. Though the award is made to an individual, it actually acknowledges the collective contribution of the entire group involved.
After a two hours march from the base, they reached the Battalion HQ of 3 KUMAON, in time for morning breakfast. Lt Col Sinha, CO 3 KUMAON, welcomed the entire lot. Soon Megh Singh set out collecting all available intelligence on the enemy and the terrain opposite 3 KUMAON. Thil was around 14 km from the present location and around 8 km from the forward most Post of 3 KUMAON. The terrain was hilly, intersected with numerous nullahs and had ample cover.Thus infiltration would not be difficult. As per Kumaonis, enemy was quite weak in patrolling the area. However a local civilian informer from the area confirmed that Thil was permanently occupied with a sizeable Force. Col Sinha and Major Megh Singh also discussed the Kumaoni’s plan to attack KERI in detail. The plan was to attack Keri at 0430h in the morning of 19 Sep with three Companies. To synchronise with this assault, it was imperative that THIL must also be hit by 0430h. Accordingly Megh Singh made his plan as under :–
* Leave 3 KUMAON battalion HQ at 1500h and reach JAZARA by last light.
*Force to be organised in three Columns and a Force HQ.
Columns to be under Mohinder, Sohal and Dubey respectively. All BADALS to form part of Force HQ.
*Leave Jazra at midnight, on rising of the moon and head for Thil.
*Establish a Firm Base in area POND arou d 400m NE of
likely enemy base at Thil.
*Carry out detailed reconnaissance of enemy disposition
and carry out raid before 0430 h 19 Sep.
*Force to be self contained for 03 days.
After Lunch, Megh Singh collected his entire Force and gave a pep talk. As there had been no time to carry out any kind of training, he quickly ran through the mistakes that the MEGHDOOTS had committed from time to time while operating in Poonch Sector and the remedial measures taken thereof. Finally at 1500h the Columns started moving out of the HQ location. Apart from improvised explosive charges each member of BADAL Force was also carrying a molotov cocktail. These had been prepared by the Engineers and given to the Force for destruction of enemy tanks, guns and dumps. While on the move Megh Singh made some use of the daylight by practising and rehearsing few drills for Halt, All Round Defence, Silence, Move and Recognition Signs. The men seemed to respond quite well and finally they reached Jazira well before last light.
Making use of the remaining daylight and the relative height of Jazira, Megh Singh and his Force had a good look at the area in which they were going to infiltrate and operate. The Jazira Company Commander did not have the exact location of the Enemy Base at Thil. He could only confirm that his Post came under intermittent Heavy Mortar fire from area Thil. Now if enemy had Heavy Mortars sighted in area Thil in addition to his administrative base then most probably he had a company or more strength to protect the area. Where as the Brigade HQ had assumed a maximum strength of a platoon only. Baffled by this information, Megh Singh had a relook at the area in front of him and also studied the map. KERI was a hill feature devoid of any road whereas THIL had a road right upto the likely base area. Thil in-fact provided depth to Keri and once Thil fell then it would pose a threat to area KALIT and JAURIYAN. All these facts pointed out that enemy was likely holding area Keri with two Companies and area Thil with the remaining two Companies along with the Battalion HQ and a battery of Heavy Mortars. It seemed Meghdoots were going in to hit something far beyond their capabilities. However now there was no going back and no time to worry also.
Every one had an early dinner and then some fitful rest….it the waiting which is the worst. Megh Singh could not rest also, thinking all the time. He then kept himself busy talking to to a civilian informer, available at the Post. He soon realised that incase he waited for the moon to rise, he may not be able to reach Thil in time. Therefore the Force left the Post at 2230h only instead of earlier planned 2359h. It was a dark cloudy night with threat of rain….perfect for infiltration. The going through the broken ground was in pitch dark was extremely difficult. Here the age of BADALS caught up. Being heavily burdened and having no practice of moving cross country in pitch darkness, they started lagging behind. Finally Megh Singh made a quick decision. 25 of them had to be left behind in a suitable place with instructions to join the main column at Thil in the morning, once it was captured. The rest 68 moved forward steadily and reached area Pond by 0400h 19 Sep without encountering any single enemy.
Just when the Patrol base was established, the enemy Heavy Mortars came to life to give fire support to their Keri Post. Their position could be easily ascertained from the flash ….they were around 1100 m SW of Pond. As there was no sign of any enemy activity in area Pond, Megh Singh thought that probably enemy defences were located further on. Therefore instead of sending out recce Patrols, he took a big risk of moving forward with his entire Force. Dubeys Column was in the lead along with Megh Singh. They were moving very cautiously. For the next 20 minutes nothing happened, except that the battle of Keri had started with the Paki Mortars firing steadily and the Indian Artillery replying in kind. The battle noise in-fact was a big help to the infiltrators. Then suddenly a CHALLENGE to HALT came from an Enemy Sentry in the front. Unknowingly Megh and his Doots had actually walked into a Trap…..the enemy was holding the high ground astride the track which the Indians had been following !!! Megh Singh at once gave the signal to withdraw, and the forward section just sprinted back may be 30 yards and took position. Those behind too went to ground as per drill. Every one waited with thumping hearts.
On the other hand the enemy too was equally surprised, knew something was amiss but could see nothing and hear nothing. Nevertheless after a while, recovering from the shock, the enemy opened up with all his weapons…Medium Machine Guns, Light Machine Guns and rifles……covering all the possible approaches to his defended positions. They kept spoofing off their ammunition without knowing the location of the infiltrators. Not a single round was fired by Megh Singh and party. The firing by the enemy enabled Megh Singh and party to determine the exact location of the defences, its extent and the type and location if the machine guns. As assessed Pakis had a company plus or possibly two companies with a Section of MMG in each defended locality. In addition there were the Heavy Mortars. Numerically and firepower wise Enemy was far too superior. In addition he was holding defences on higher ground. Only way out from this valley of death was not to be foolish and charge like the Light Brigade but to pull some fast one on the enemy. A battalion was already attacking Keri. Now the trick was to make the enemy somehow think that as a part of a Brigade attack, a second battalion had infiltrated inside for attack on Thil.
Mohinder, Dubey,Sohal and Havildar Ibrahim were quickly called and briefed by Megh Singh. Thereafter a few of the NCOs blew long blast of their whistles. Suddenly all firing stopped and there was a sort of pin drop silence. Taking advantage of this Megh Singh started shouting out orders on top of voice as under:
* Charlie Company to Advance along Nullah towards SOUTH and take position behind enemy defences. Dubey responded on top of his voice…..VERY WELL SIR
* Delta Company to Advance along Nullah towards NORTH and take position behind enemy defences. Seal the escape routes by linking up with Charlie. Sohal shouted back….UNDERSTOOD SIR.
* Alpha and Bravo Companies to stay in firm base and attack on my orders. Mohinder and Ibrahim answered….. WILCO SIR.
* Mortars to be located in area POND and fire on my orders. Again Mohinder shouted …OK SIR.
For 15 minutes after the orders were given, nothing happened. Meghdoots waited with their hearts at maximum palpitation. Then suddenly enemy opened up again with every thing, but not on the Meghdoots. This high volume of defensive fire was being brought down on all those directions of move / areas which an actual attacking force would have taken as per the Orders given. Even the imaginary Mortar Position in area Pond was shelled very heavily by the enemy Heavy Mortars…..he had fallen for the ruse …Line Hook and Sinker. However time was still running out for the Indians. It was already 0500h and within next 15 minutes or so there would be sufficient light for the enemy to make out that there was no battalion opposing him except just a handful of men that too badly sandwiched inside a narrow killing area. Then another miracle happened. Naik Bijairaj Singh, the hero of Kahuta Raid, the legendary sniper, again came to rescue. By pure luck, he spotted the enemy Commanding Officer through his telescopic sight and put a bullet through his chest. This fateful bullet decided the Course of the battle. The enemy just abandoned their defensive positions and ran towards their Heavy Mortar position. Sohal and Dubey quickly occupied the enemy positions with a Section each. Mohinder took a section a bit back to secure approach from area Pond and Badal Force secured the Northern Shoulder. Thus an all round defence was established in the erstwhile enemy position. At least for now the Indians would remain alive.
After First Light, the enemy could be clearly seen at a distance of approximately 800 m away towards South West. Six Heavy Mortars with around 20 mules could also be counted. It seemed that Enemy was trying to withdraw the Mortars to a safer place from where he would bring down devastating fire. Now Megh Singh had no effective weapons to Suppress the area. So once again Naik BijaiRaj was asked to do the Job. He at once took a suitable position and began sniping at the Mortar Position and ensured that for next one and half hours they were unable to fire from any suitable position. Around 12 of his mules were killed and over 30 personnel were either wounded or killed.
Now if Meghdoots could see the enemy then so could the enemy see the Meghdoots. He was soon able to gauge the actual strength of the Indians, which was just 68 not around 600 to 800 which they had posed in the dark of the night. At 0700h Dubey, Sohal and BADALS all three reported heavy concentration of enemy opposite their positions. Nearly a Company each was there against Dubey and Sohal and about a Platoon against BADALS. The enemy began advancing. Megh Singh had no artillery support except fire support of own 2″ mortar. As the Mortar chap was about to fire his weapon from Dubey’s location, he was hit in the chest and collapsed. Lt Sohal too got hit by a bullet in his right shoulder but he continued to stay with his men. Every one just waited for orders from Megh Singh to open fire and kept maintaining a very good fire discipline, even as the enemy kept advancing. When he finally came less than 250 m, then Megh Singh gave the orders to fire. In a matter of minutes the assault was broke,halted and beaten back. The enemy ran back in utter disorder leaving his dead and wounded behind. The first massive Counter Attack was thus repulsed.
Then the enemy again regrouped for a second attack and then again for a third one, which too was beaten back. Though once again situation was getting tense. Repeated request for reinforcement to 3 KUMAON went unheeded because of unfavourable tactical situation at Keri. The battalion could not spare even a replenishment party with ammunition to Megh Singh what to talk of reinforcement. Without making a correct assessment of the tactical importance of Thil, the Brigade gave an order to Megh Singh to withdraw at once. It was 0935 h and enemy was less than 200m away, for his fourth counter attack.
Indians had just 2 to 3 rounds left per person. It was now impossible to beat back the enemy. Therefore Megh Singh had no choice but to withdraw but there were three casualties including Sohal, all serious ones. Seeing this Lt Sohal urged Megh Singh to leave all three behind and withdraw. Megh Singh simply refused to do this. He would rather stay back and die fighting. Then somehow they organised to carry the wounded, the three even walked for a distance of about 1km with bleeding wounds. Finally after several rear guard battles a clean break was made with the enemy and soon they were able to contact the left behind party of BADALS, who had a good supply of ammunition. Thereafter withdrawal was uneventful and the Force returned safely to Zazra.
With just a handful of men the Force was able to dislodge a regular battalion of the enemy well entrenched and that too around 11 km behind the front line. On top of it there was no artillery nor any chance of reinforcement. Had there been just one more platoon available or reinforcement received in time
Meghdoots would have been able to capture 1/ 3 of entire Chamb Sector…..areas still with Pakis till date. But this was not to be.
Lt S S Sohal, was awarded a SENA MEDAL as part of Meghdoot Force. Now which unit accounts for this gallantry medal …6 SIKH or 9 PARA SF ?? And what about Megh Singh’s VIR CHAKRA ?
These were the exploits of MEGHDOOT FORCE and BADAL FORCE both raised and led by Major Megh Singh during the 1965 Indo Pak War. Megh Singh creator of Indian Special Forces, first Commanding officer of 9 PARACHUTE COMMANDO now renamed 9 PARACHUTE SPECIAL FORCES. In case you have missed the earlier stories then go to archives and look for 50 Years of Indian Special Forces, First Mission into Pakistan, Capture of Nejapir, Meghdoots do it again and Megh Singh in Chamb Sector.