TO THOSE WHO WRUNG IT BUT NEVER SUNG IT
BY Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces
This is the story of a Band of Brothers who quietly went behind the enemy lines during a cold wintry night of December 1971 and by first light next morning completely shattered the Pakistani grand plan of totally cutting off entire POONCH – RAJAURI Sector from rest of India and then eventually capturing it and making it part of Pakistan.
This is the story of men of BRAVO GROUP, 9TH BATTALION COMMANDO, The Parachute
Regiment or in short B GP, 9 PARA CDO. Based on the lessons learnt from the exploits of the MEGHDOOT FORCE during the1965 operations, this specialized unit was raised on 1st July 1966 with Lt Colonel Megh Singh, VrC as the first Commanding Officer and MEGHDOOTS forming the nucleus. It was made a part of the existing Parachute Regiment then comprising eight standard parachute infantry battalions. In June 1967, the 9 was divided into two smaller sized units and thus was born 10 PARA COMMANDO under Lt Col N S Uthaya. The Suffix COMMANDO was granted by the order of the Supreme Commander, The President of India, only in Jan 1969,after the two units had successfully cleared a series of test exercises. So on the eve of 1971 war we had two young, highly motivated commando units, though still not baptized by fire…. One for the mountains of J&K and the other for the deserts of Rajasthan. Nowadays the correct nomenclature happens to be 9 PARA SPECIAL FORCES and 10 PARA SPECIAL FORCES and they continue to belong to the Parachute Regiment. Also the three erstwhile Groups in each unit are now called the Alpha Team, Bravo Team and Charlie Team. Each Team has several TROOP and each Troop has a few SQUADS (Groups comprised Teams and under the Teams were Sub Teams). So no wonder, in 1978 after clearing the probation, I was appointed Team Commander of 6 TEAM. Thirteen years later after re joining the Unit from Staff College Course, I was appointed once again a Team Commander, this time of ALPHA TEAM. Two years later while moving out of the Unit to HQ SPECIAL FORCES on posting was still a Team Commander only.
Major- General Abid Ali Zaidi, General Officer Commanding, 15 infantry Division of Pakistan holding the Sialkot Sector was supremely confident of thrusting his forces deep into India thru THE DAGGER. The sharpness of his Dagger had been further increased by allotment of 8 Armored Brigade, whose tanks would lead the assault. The dream of Pakistan GHQ to organize a lavish breakfast on the Akhnoor Bridge, narrowly missed in September ’65 by Maj Gen Akhtar Hussain during OPERATION GRAND SLAM was certainly going to come true this time. His only worry was that, the task of going for Akhnoor may be given to General Eftikhar, commanding 23Infantry Division opposite Charnmb.
The DAGGER is actually a narrow piece of Pak territory jutting into India, south of Akhnoor. It is basically a small island between Chenab River and her subsidiary Chandra Bhaga covering about 170 Sq Kms. The base of the island rests on the bank of Wadi Tawi River and goes on narrowing towards the North, with the narrowest point or the neck near the Kachhi Mand Nalla. Then it opens up a little forming the shape of a head and then again narrows down like a beak. The major crossing places on the Chenab when coming from Sialkot to this Enclave were at Saidpur Ferry and Gondal Ferry. Other two crossinq places were at Majwal and at Gangwal. The DAGGER points straight towards the Akhnoor Bridge over the fast flowing Chenab, a Vital Point for the defence of Jammu Sector. Any successful Pakistani offensive from this area would provide the shortcut route to the Akhnoor Bridge. Once the bridge was captured, the route to Jammu would be wide open and just about one hour drive. The entire Poonch – Rajauri Sector would be cut off and the flank of Chamb-Jaurian Sector too would be totally exposed to the Pakis. In one sweep, things so painstakingly consolidated in 1948 by the Indian Army would vanish. The martyrdom of Brigadier Mohhammed Usman, MVC, Commander 50(INDEPENDENT) Parachute Brigade, along with other paratroopers and men of Indian Army in the sectors covering Nowshera to Poonch would have been in vain.
It was still dark but there was a very faint hint of red on the sky line towards India, Though no headlights could be seen, purr of engines of a few light vehicles could be made out. Just about 20 minutes back, 2/LT Shashi Bhushan Khanna had suddenly jerked out of a fitful sleep and come to full alertness within seconds. Reacting to his gut feeling, he quickly moved along with two of his Sub Teams (nowadays called Squads) to the track bend about 200 m towards India. Balance of his 4 Team remained deployed in the original position dominating the Crossing place on the Gondal Ferry, located about 12kms from the International Border(IB) inside Pakistan. He quickly got into an opportunity ambush position with around 12 commandos. They waited perfectly still, though chilled to the bones; the surging adrenal ensured that no cold was felt by the body.
2/Lt SBK, Team Commander 4 TEAM, B GP, 9 PARA CDO, had reached Gondal Ferry site with his Team around 1430h, 06 December, from Saidpur Ferry 6 Kms away, where the rest of B GP held the position. 33 commandos including SBK lay well hidden in the ‘sarkandas’, observing the enemy activity from close range. Finally on a signal from the Team Commander, the first round was fired from a sniper rifle at about 1550h. 10 Pakistani Rangers guarding the ferry area were completely taken by surprise. By 1605h six of them were already on their way for a meeting with the Maker. The rest fled and crossed the river towards Sialkot, 16 Kms away, Ieaving behind their weapons and equipment and the most important thing… several packets of TAPAL tea, a well known Pakistani brand.The commandos, as per their drill, organized themselves around the nearby dominating piece of ground, completely merging with the surrounding. Once deployed, the Team Havildar, Havildar Baldev Singh organized proper tea for every one. This was most welcome after nearly 24 hours without any food or even tea. Whatever pre cooked rations they had carried had become too soggy while crossing the chest deep river on the I B on the night of 5 Dec with rest of the B GP.
While waiting in the ambush, Shashi Khanna had mentally drifted to the Royal Enfield Show Room in Chandigarh, his home town. Having been commissioned directly into 9 from IMA in December 1969, in a few days he would be becoming a Captain. Then he would be able to buy his dream mobike. After the visit to the Show Room, he moved to his favorite dhaba, eating a mouth watering tandoori chicken. He was suddenly jerked back to reality by a tap from the commando manning the Rocket Launcher. Next moment, three WILLY Jeeps, with no lights came around the bend. SBK whispered to The RL chap and a second later the first jeep was blown up sky high. For the next few minutes the other two jeeps faced such heavy fire that they too burst into flames. There was complete pin drop silence for next few minutes. In a slow motion SBK tried to get up, to go and inspect the vehicles, but he could not. He started feeling very cold, there was dampness all around and he could feel something trickling down his left shoulder. Things started to blur and as he was blacking out he heard a voice, as if coming from far off “Sahib ko Goli lag gai”.
When he woke up, it was already noon. He was fully bandaged. Luckily the bullet had gone thru and thru without causing any major damage. As he came to his senses, he found his Team second in Command congratulating him for dispatching 12 Pak Army personnel including an officer again to the Maker, along with 3 vehicles. Seeing his Sahib getting wounded, Subedar Duni Chand had taken immediate control of the situation. After applying the field dressing, the ambush party had quickly moved back to the Team position. Within about 30 minutes there was heavy shelling on the ferry site by Pak artillery. Group Commander Major Narender Singh Rathore was then informed on the radio set regarding the situation. 4 TEAM held on to the position though intermittent arty shelling continued for some more time. Things remained tense till evening as there was no sign of the tanks of the 8 CAVALRY, the Link up Force. Finally the Commanding officer of 3/5 Gurkha Rifles Lt Col Jagmohan Rawat, himself reached the location with a company of the Gurkhas. As the Gurkhas started deploying, heavy shelling started once again. The CO had to go back to his other companies. After speaking to Maj Rathore, during a break in the” Shelling”, Col Rawat dashed back along with the wounded SBK in his jeep, followed by arty shells in classic filmy style. By last light the tanks of 8 CAVALRY too fetched up. Finally the Para commandos had something to eat thanks to the Gurkhas and in spite of intermittent shelling could also catch up on some much needed sleep. By mid night SBK too was on an ambulance train speeding towards Jalandhar.
At 1000h on 8 Dec, 4TEAM under Subedar Duni Chand left the Gondal Ferry site for Saidpur Ferry location and linked up with the Group by 1400h.
In spite of the high morale of our men and Officers, Pakistan had the advantage of choosing the time and the place of attack. Very high stakes were involved in this area. The thrust from the “Dagger” had to be blunted at any cost. This was well understood by the Indian General, commanding 26 Infantry Division, responsible for the Jammu Sector. However merely neutralizing the threat to Akhnoor, which as it is was the responsibility of 10 Infantry Division, would gain nothing. Though deployed in a defensive role to protect Jammu at all cost, with one brigade group each in Damana, Jammu, Miransahib and Samba, the General was itching that his troops advance towards Sialkot. This advance would surely draw away a part of the
Pakistani Strike Force from Chammb…Jaurian, thus reducing their overwhelming superiority and advantage of the terrain.
Major General Z C Bakshi,MVC, VrC, VSM (for 1971 he was awarded the PVSM and retired as LT General) was one of the most highly decorated Officer of the Indian Army. Zoru as he was affectionately called by his colleagues was aware of the enormous responsibility entrusted upon him by the 15 Corps Commander, Lt General Sartaj Singh, The Gunner, but felt shackled by this defensive role. He had remonstrated with his boss, cajoled him and even begged him for an offensive role. He had taken on even the Chief when Sam Bahadur had come to him on 01 Nov 1971 but to no avail. Sam had bluntly told him “the political cost of losing even an inch of land around Jammu area is simply not acceptable and so I am reposing my full faith in you and you will not let me down”. Zoru also got a hint that ” when the balloon went up“ the westward dash will be done by his neighbor General Jaswant Singh at Akhnoor.
However Zoru, never quit on his plans. Whenever he got a chance to be in his office, he would most of the time keep looking at the map. Around 15th of November, while he was gazing at the big map in his office, the telephone rang. It was a call from the Corps Commander. “Zoru, to make you happy I am allotting you some of those trouble makers from Jindra. Narender and his boys are already camping at Jammu airfield. Get hold of them and use your imagination.” Suddenly Zoru was srniling, he knew the trouble makers from Jindra… located about 30 Kms from Jammu towards Udhampur… quite well. A plan already in his mind for some time began taking a concrete shape. The DAGGER now seemed to have morphed into a NECK of a chicken! He called for his General Staff Officer 1, and told him to get cracking on the plan to WRING THE CHIKENS NECK. Next he told his ADC to Locate one Major Rathore, 9 PARA, who was somewhere inside the Jammu Airbase, and ask him to come to Divisional HQ pronto.
Major Narender Singh Rathore or Jimmy, was a Rajput Warrior from Jaipur, Rajasthan. He was always cool, calm and collected. Commissioned in 1964 in the SIKH REGIMENT, a veteran of 65 war, he had volunteered for 9 CDO, right after its raising. He was now the BRAVO GROUP Commander. He went about his task in a methodical manner. After initial tasking of his subordinates, he would keep an eye on all the ongoing things, give a helping hand wherever and whenever required but was generally non interfering. His Team Commanders had full freedom within the TERMS of REFERENCE. A father figure to his men, he was a True Rajput Chieftain.
The Group had moved from Jindra to Jammu airfield in the first week of November. The Commanding Officer Lt Colonel O P Sabharwal, SM, had told Jimmy to be fully prepared for a heli borne mission somewhere behind the enemy lines. By now thanks to the helicopter units located at Jammu, B GP had perfected all the required air and ground drills and was ready for any eventuality.
Major Rathore standing in the GOC’ S office was warmly welcomed. General Zoru had high regards for the paratroopers. He was the Brigade Commander under whom Major Ranjit Singh Dayal, MVC, 1 PARA, had captured the Hajipir Pass during the 65 War. The General had earlier visited Dhansal [location of 9 prior to move to Jindra, a village about 6kms further down the road] a few times when Lt Col G P Tripathi, formerly 1 PARA, had been the Commanding Officer of 9. On taking over the Division, he had again spent an evening with Sabharwal and his Officers at Jindra. However nearly every fortnight his Military Police in Jammu City had some gripe or the other about those annoying” visitors” from Jindra. So he was surprised that B GP had been camping in Jammu Airfield since last 20 days and he was unaware of the fact. He broke into a grin when Rathore replied” Sir, now we are deployed for business, so no peacetime escapades”.
Placing the-pointer stick on the map in the middle of the Salient, the GOC looked at The Major. Jimmy’s response was” Sir, the Phuklian Salient”. I am happy, you have not called it CHICKEN NECK as THE DAGGER, said the GOC. In case I get a chance, I am looking at Siallla and the Marala Head Works which may become a major task for you Group. However, first I would like to eliminate this salient and you will help me in wringing this neck. In conjunction with the advance of 19Infantry Brigade, you will go and secure SAIDPUR FERRY which is about 10 Kms inside. Major Reinforcements including tanks will come to the salient through Saidpur Ferry. They will have to be stopped at all cost. Keep all this to yourself while carrying out aerial and ground reconnaissance. In case we go for it, the Brigade will get in touch with you.
2/Lt V K Bali, had not been able to sleep the previous two nights. Though outwardly calm, he was a worried man. The onus of leading BRAVO to Saidpur Ferry Area, in pitch darkness, without getting lost in the treacherous terrain, had been placed on him by the Group Commander
Virendra Bali had just been commissioned from OTA, MADRAS, in sep71 and had reported to 9 on 30 Sep for the month long Commando Probation (nowadays its six months long). This probation is ‘carried out by Airborne Forces world over for period ranging from a month to three, generally to test the physical and mental robustness of the volunteer. Special Operation Forces like GSG9, NSG and IAF GARUD too carry out such probation to select their personnel. However Special Forces, i.e. British SAS, US Delta, SEALS, Rangers, SAYERET MATKAL of Israel carry out up to six months probation with a twofold aim. First, to find out the physical, mental, psychological and emotional suitability including the limits to which these qualities can be stretched. Second, to ensure that by end of the probation period, the ones likely to get selected are at least trained in the basics of SF. So that on joining his Squad, he does not become a liability in case there are immediate operational deployments.
Without even waiting for the next morning, the Probation began immediately after a cup of tea. Next one month was complete H E L L L. Then on 31 Oct around Noon, in the Adjutant’s Office, he was given a big lecture wherein all his sins and weaknesses noticed throughout the month were listed. He was a most unfit officer ever seen during probation. An unfortunate Infantry Unit was now going to suffer him for next five years. He was to go to his room, pack his bags, next report to the officers Mess, pay his Mess Bills and then collect his movement order from the Mess Havildar.
On reaching his room, he found that his bags had already been packed by his Sahayak who also consoled him. Knowing that Sahib’s pay had still not started coming to the bank, he also offered him money for clearing the Mess Bill and for traveling to his new unit. Bali quite irritated, just muttered something and started for the Officers Mess. On entering the Mess lounge, he surprised to see all the officers gathered inside. On seeing him, Major Rathore said” you are still here? anyway come in and say good bye to the CO.” The CO was standing at the bar and Bali wished him. Paratrooper/ Mess Waiter Balbir Singh appeared from nowhere. He too had just joined the unit from Parachute Regimental Centre and would be looking after the officers of 9 for the next 25 years before retiring as Honararv Naib Subedar and dined out of the Mess by then serving Officers. Balbir Singh was carrying a tray with a glass, having a Patiala Peg of neat Rum and a Maroon Beret. VKB was now a part of 9 and appointed Commander 6 Team, BRAVO GROUP, 9 PARA COMMANDO.
After the meeting with the GOC, things had moved at frenetic pace. The IAF helicopter units rose up to the occasion. For every one official aerial sortie there use to be several others as “ testing” sorties for the Glass Eaters of 9. All the officers, JCOs and most of the Havildars (sub team commanders now termed Squad commanders). 2/LT VKB was the one who actually was enjoying these helicopter rides. ‘ZALIM SINGH’ the Intelligence NCO of the Group invariably accompanied him. ZALIM’s actual name was Naik Mukhtiar Singh. He had been so nicknamed because of his “Shikar” skills especially with wild boars. This nicknaming was the sole prerogative of the Group’s DISCIPLINARIAN! Captain Tej Swarup Pathak, the Second In Command (2 I C). VKB who enjoyed the aerial and ground reconnaissance’s with frequent violations of the IB / LC, use to be very scared of the after reccee debriefing done by the Group 2IC. Very soon the Officers, JCOs and NCOs had memorized all the major landmarks inside the CHICKEN NECK. It was then the turn of the men to do the same thru the SAND MODEL which Zalim Singh came up with the help of L/Naik Bhagwan Singh, the Champion Cross Country Runner of the Group. Further on advice of the Group Commander, the Navigation Party had memorized the entire route from Village Machhial on the Indian side of IB to Saidpur Ferry site on Tawi River inside Chicken Neck.
VKB had even spent two days at a BSF Border Out Post Opposite Saidpur. Most of his time was spent perched on a “Machan” on a tree about 40 feet above the ground, observing the area in front deep into the salient. He was unaware that he too was under observation. The viewing ended when a smartly turned out Pakistani Officer came opposite, waved to him and invited him for some Murre beer.
On the night of 05-06 December 71, at about 2130 h BRAVO GROUP started crossing the International Boundary, one by one in a single file, into Pakistan. Anyone encountered ahead was now an enemy unless he quickly gave the correct Pass Word. 6 TEAM was leading the infiltration, with the Navigation Party right behind the leading Sub Team. BILLA (Naik Om Prakash) was the Points man.
BRAVO GROUP officers had been present when 19 Infantry Brigade Commander, Brigadier Mohinder Singh gave his final briefing on the morning of 5 Dec. As per intelligence available, appreciation of the situation, there were up to six companies of Rangers deployed on BOPs at the border. A regular infantry Battalion most probably 36 PUNJAB was holding well prepared defensive positions in the following areas along with Recce and Support Elements, one or two troops of armour, and a battery of mortars:
(a) Kohairi Area …………to cover the NECK area
(b) Bajuan-Phukiian Area …………The major communication hub leading to the ferries
(c) Diwara-Bajawat Area ………… to block any ingress from Pargowal side
(d) Tiba Area …………to defend base of the Neck.
Our attacking force comprised 11GUARDS, 3/5 GURKHA RIFLES, 7/11GURKHA RIFLES and a Squadron of 8 CAVALRY along with nearly a regiment of Engineers. Around 10 Artillery Batteries were going to support the attack.
As per Brigade’s plan one battalion was to capture area Tiba, while another battalion to make its way thru Ghag Nala and eventually reach Gondal Ferry and then link up with the, Commandos at Saidpur Ferry. The third battalion was to be launched thereafter to clear the WAIST of the salient that is area Phuklian.
On 4 Dec morning, Major Rathore left for 19 Infantry Brigade HQ, the Group started its move to concentration area under Captain T S Pathak only in the evening and reached Machhial Village near the IB around 2300h. Resting in the day time the Commandos would be crossing the minefield on own side of the IB only after 2030h.These minefields had been laid and relaid many a times since 1965. Coupled with the shifting sands of the terrain, numerous rivelutes during the yearly monsoon and the high sarkanda grass, own minefield Maps of the Area were just not trustworthy. However the gallant Gurkhas of 3/5 GR had actually marked a path for the Commandos to cross this very dangerous minefield.
After walking for a km inside Pakistan, came the River. It took a few minutes to ascertain the correct crossing place from the memorized land marks. Thereafter as per drill, very silently, 6 TEAM started crossing the chest deep, fast flowing river whose water was only a few degrees above the freezing point. As heard later on during ‘barakhanas’ and around camp fires during training: the water was extremely cold but everyone just tuned it out mentally. Also though it was nearly pitch dark at the ground level, on the sky line it was Diwali Celebrations all around to keep the Commandos occupied. Flashes emanating from gun muzzles, rolling thunder of gun fire, whistling of the shells on their way to India or Pakistan and then the terrifying sound of shell burst… all could be heard and seen by the heavily loaded Commandos as they progressed deeper and deeper into Pakistan every minute.
Crossing the river, the leading elements turned left and after walking another 2kms started on a bearing straight for Saidpur. Captain Tej Pathak along with his party was walking just ahead of 5 TEAM. Subedar Teja Singh Dadhwal, the TEAM 2/IC and presently the officiating Team Commander was walking just behind him. TSP had been commissioned in 1966 in 1PARA and therefore had missed the ’65 War. He was a true Special Forces soldier. About seven years in future our entire Course (62 Regular) at IMA, Dehradun, would have the first encounter with this COMMANDO. Now after so many years, I can take some liberty and on behalf of everyone can say it was PURE TERROR!! This was even authenticated by American Special Forces team when they had, come to India for the first time in mid Nineties for Joint Training.
As Tej Pathak negotiated a longish dip in the ground which was also full of sarkanda grass, he stepped into a sort of a clearing. About 15 yards to the right stepped out a group of 5 men talking in low voice. Tej Pathak hissed at them to be quiet and then suddenly it hit upon him that words he had heard were of the URDU language! Simultaneously few other men of 2 IC party too realized the same. Commandos had a faster reaction than the Ranger Patrol. Pathak, along with two others fired from their Silencer Carbine and that was the end of the Ranger Patrol. Only one of them was able to fire back but that too in the air only. However the entire Group went to ground. It took about 5 minutes for the Group Commander to first regain command & control thru the radio and then some hectic running around by The COMPANY HAVILDAR MAJOR Ratti Ram, cursing everyone and everything from India to Pakistan under, his breath, to physically verify things for the Group Senior JCO Subedar Baldev Singh, the 2/1 C and finally the Group Commander.
By 0100h on 6 December, the Commando Base was established about a km from Saidpur Ferry on a dominating peace of ground, well covered by the tall sarkandas. Immediately 6 TEAM moved ahead for capture of the ferry. Crawling the last about 200m, VKB and his boys halted at the grenade throwing distance from the well dug in defences at the ferry site. After observing the enemy for close to 10 minutes, the commandos pumped in everything into the enemy defences for exactly 3 minutes. The enemy was stunned. There were some sporadic reply from their side but once their positions ascertained,were quickly silenced. By 0300h, in the wee hours of 06 Dec, Saidpur ferry was under physical control of India. One Ranger Inspector with seven of his men had laid down life in defence of Pakistan; rest had vanished in the darkness.
About two hours later another Ranger Patrol coming from Kachhi Mand side was seen just in time by the MMG Section covering the rear. Naik Malkiat Singh and Lance Naik Anant Ram waited for the 4 Rangers to close in. The Patrol too saw them and mistaking them as Rangers from Ferry site warned them of the Indian Army movement in the area. All four were killed with a few well placed bursts.
The capture of the ferry had been followed hy heavy volume of small Arms fire from across the River. There was also very heavy arty shelling by the Pakis. Major Sandhu, the artillery officer from 216 Medium Regiment, rose to the occasion. He brought down very accurate and heavy fire on the paki positions across the river. By 0445h both the firing and the shelling had stopped completely. Then started a trickle, soon followed by a mass exodus of men, women and children moving to the ferry site. Jimmy took a quick decision and the civilians were allowed to cross. Now there was no chance of firing by any side.
VKB wrapped himself in a blanket and reclining against a boulder tried to catch on some sleep. Within seconds he was in New Delhi among his college friends. All the boys and the girls were having a party in the college Caffe. Then suddenly he was back at the ferry site. Right in front of him was a middle aged man along with a well attired young woman, both escorted by BILLA. It was already first light. These two were on a motor cycle and were seen to be carrying bags with Pak Army markings and therefore stopped. When VKB questioned them, it turned out that the girl,” a permanent guest” in the bunker of the Ranger Company Commander was going back to Sialkot. She started begging for her life and told the young Lt that she was ready to do anything for him. The blush on the face of the fair looking VKB became more crimson than the rising sun, the commandos around tried to hide their titter to no avail. Billa though may have had some other plan, was promptly asked to ensure that in next few minutes both the girl and her escort were out of the most recent acquired part of the Indian land mass.
The Link Up with advancing 19 Brigade Forces was to take place at first light 06 December. By 0700h Jimmy with his BRAVO GROUP were waiting quite anxiously. Only comfort was that by this time, they were in contact with D company of 3/5 Gurkha Rifles. The Company under command of Major Malik had in the later part of the night followed the same path as the infiltrating commandos and after crossing the river had turned right towards the BEAK area. They had then established themselves on a dominating peace of ground. After first light a patrol had established contact with the B GP.
At around 0730h, the scouts of 6 TEAM, located near the L Bend on the road reported movement of a jeep from the East (Indian side). Once within range, Paki markings were clearly visible. A long burst from the nearest Light Machine Gun brought the vehicle to a stop. The Ranger Major driving the vehicle was wounded badly, while the jawan sitting next to him had died instantly. The wounded Officer was taken out of the vehicle. He asked for some water which was given to him. A shell dressing was applied to his side but his bleeding could not be stopped. He died a few minutes later.
Around 1000h, Jimmy was contacted first by the Divisional HQ and then by the Staff of the 19 Brigade. He was asked to immediately dispatch one of his TEAM for securing The GONDAL Ferry about 6 Kms away. That’s how 2/LT SBK got involved in action at Gondal Ferry described earlier.
A company of 3/5 GR finally reached the site around 1000h and linked up with the Commandos. An hour later tanks of 8 CAVALRY Squadron could be seen moving towards the Ferry site. A section of Gurkhas moved towards them. It seems that the leading tank crew was unaware of Commandos clad in khaki dungarees. They opened fire on the Gurkhas and for a few minutes it was BLUE ON BLUE before things were brought under control. Only the timely arrival of The Gurkha CO could calm down the furious company Commander and his men.
There was no further action at Saidpur Ferry site till next morning. An hour after sunrise on 07 December, in came a L 5, a small fixed wing aircraft of Pak Army Aviation. It flew over the ferry site, banked sharply and went back. After 30 minutes, sound of an incoming jet could be heard clearly. A MIG 19 of PAF came over the Ferry site, banked sharply to the left and a few minutes later came again, this time quite low and at a near stalling speed. The Pilots face could be clearly seen and he too must have seen the khaki clad men on the ground. He again started banking to his left but by now was somewhere overhead the D Company of 3/5 GR. The Gurkhas had LMG in anti air role (this was SOP of Indian Army and PAF thinking that Gurkha will disregard it was unfathomable) which promptly opened up and a there was a hit. The MIG crashed somewhere in Pakistan but Flying Officer Azmal who had bailed out landed in between the positions held by D Company and B Group. By the time he could release his parachute and come out of the knee deep waters, a party was there to welcome him as a Prisoner of War. A few days after the cease fire, Sam Bahadur visited 3/ 5 GR and shook hands with SABRE BAHADUR the Gurkha who had brought down the MIG.
By evening of 07 December Phuklian salient had been completely cleared of the enemy. Though at night the enemy once again made an attempt to cross the river at Saidpur Ferry site. Heavy Medium Machine Gun fire by the Commandos persuaded them to abandon the attempt.
On 08 December, 4 TEAM was back at Saidpur Ferry. On 09 December morning B GROUP started their track to the nearest point on the Akhnoor – Damana highway with 6 TEAM leading. They must have barely moved half a Km, when Zalim and Billa had secured a fresh batch of Paki Prisoners of War…. This time 5 donkeys loaded with sacks of Gur (jaggery). Some of the gur was eaten up in minutes. The prisoners were then moved along and in direct violation of Geneva Convention were seen to be carrying the rucksacks of the Officers and JCOs of B GROUP
Finally around Noon they reached the highway somewhere near Damana. As they were waiting for transport, the locals came in with halwa, eggs and tea for the entire GROUP. The Food faced an attack by the famished commanded which was more intense than what was faced by the Pakis. The records indicate that 55 Kg VKB had eaten 10 eggs alone. By evening 9 December, the Group was concentrated at the Jammu airfield once again.
By 1100h of 12 December B GROUP was concentrated at NATHU TIBBA, West of Munnawar Tawi in Chamb Area, about 6 Kms north of Mandiala. A company of 8 J & K Militia (after the war this militia became the JAK LIGHT REGIMENT) was holding the feature. Enroute to this place from Jammu, the Group probably by now having total disregard for the Pakis had halted for brewing some tea right next to the Akhnoor Bridge… :.quite unprofessional for the Commandos. A pair of Sabres made a low strafing pass. Luckily nothing happened. After reaching Tlbba, rest of the time was spent by 4, 5 and 6 TEAMS carrying out observation and reconnaissance in Keri, Ghopar and Chakla area respectively.
Each team was given a search and destroy mission in their respective area for the night 13 December. Capt Anil Kumar Verma who had missed action at Chicken Neck was itching for some fire fight. He had been directly commissioned into 9 from IMA in June 1969. Sometime in mid November he had to be sent for a Course and could reach Damana only on the morning of 06 December. Tagging along a Gurkha Party he was able to reach Saidpur Ferry site on 07 December and took over Command of 5 TEAM.
Having moved for barely an hour behind the enemy lines with his 5 TEAM, AKV heard noise resembling those made by tanks. After 30 minutes, on reaching the general area, and after a close inspection they found two parked Road Rollers and two small trucks. It was probably a road repair party comprising civilians who on seeing the commandos just ran away in the darkness. As petrol was being poured on the vehicles and explosive tied to the Roller engine, further 4 vehicles reached the location. They were carrying ammunition including mortar rounds. The four Pakistani Army Drivers along with their NCO were swiftly eliminated. Only one of them managed to fire a few rounds from his weapon. Charges were quickly placed on these vehicles too and the TEAM made a quick retreat. Ten minutes later, one by one, up went the 8 vehicles along with a few rounds of mortar in sym pathetic detonation.
The other two teams were back by mid night, without any luck. Capt AKV and his team finally reached the Company location of 8 J&K Militia around 0200h. The Company Commander welcomed him in his bunker. He enquired about the route taken by the commandos to reach the company location. On hearing the details he had an incredulous look on his face. Two burly sardars were asked to fetch a box from the store bunker. It was full of choicest Scotch. We just finished placing more than five thousands mines over that route yesterday and 33 of you have walked in without a scratch. This calls for a toast” said the Company Commander.
On December 2015, a raid on the enemy gun position near Jilla was abandoned after a series of encounters just after infiltration behind the enemy lines. Someone had tripped a flare and started the Diwali. Cease fire was declared on 17 December bringing the war to an end.
So this is how the CHICKEN’S NECK was wrung but General Zorus dream of move towards Sialkot could not take place due to various reasons beyond his control. The BRAVO GROUP, except 2/LT Shashi Khanna came out totally unscathed from the war. As an American marine once said “you require no jokers citation or recommendations to win a PURPLE HEART Medal” Therefore Army HQ had no choice but to give a WOUND MEDAL to SBK. Of Course Defence Ministry also had to mint around 120 PASCHAMI STARS and Operation CACTUS LILY medals for BRAVO GROUP.
The name given to the story is not mine. In 1980 somewhere during a formation exercise or was it Udhampur, 3/5GR Bravo Company contacted Major S K Mehta, Bravo Group Commander, Capt Shashi Bhushan Khanna m the 2 IC and us the Team Commanders….2/ Lt Bhupesh Jain and self. They presented a small but most cherished memento for the association of the two sub units for the CHICKEN NECK Operations. On the memento was inscribed “TO THOSE WHO RUNG IT BUT NEVER SUNG IT” Those who have liked this Ode to the Indian Parachute Comamndos may wait for the story of our own GUNS of NAVARONE that is GUNS OF MANDHOL.