Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fighting for the nation’s pride

Prime Minister Nehru and Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Rajinder Singh Sparrow take a salute on 7th Nov 1947, during the Kashmir War.

PUNE: Ninety-year-old war hero Lt Col TG Chandwalker (retd) spoke to TOI about how he and his team managed to grab victory for India in some extremely unfavourable conditions during the 1947 war against Pakistan.

Infantry Day itself is celebrated to commemorate the beginning of this war, when Indian troops were hurriedly air dropped into the valley to defend its pride against Pakistani aggression. He led the Bravo Company during a very crucial point.

Explaining the odds against which the Indian Army was fighting, Chandwalker said, “It was right after the partition and the army HQ was still busy dividing equipment between the two nations. The war broke out very suddenly. Just after the agreement of accession was signed on 26 October, 1947, troops were air dropped into the valley. The only aircrafts available were the Dakotas with a capacity to carry 22 men, but due to the looming threat an entire company, ie. about 100 men, had to be accommodated. The officers then were mainly British and had chosen not to enter the war zone. So we were running short of officers, as well as equipment and ammunitions. Most of the troops were in their October clothing and were carrying minimal arms and ammunition. There were no alpine shoes available.”

“Our strategy was simple, but very tough to act upon. We had defined it as ‘one bullet-one kill’, because we could not afford to waste ammunition,” he said. “The Indian armed forces were busy in dealing with internal disputes in India, when the Pakistan army and Tribals in a joint attack tried to capture J&K. I was asked to go and command a very crucial point, Richmar Gali, near Baramulla in the valley.”

Chandwalker, then a major, shouldered the responsibility of commanding the Bravo Company of the 1st Sikh Regiment. Along with his team, he had to play the dual role of attacking the enemy and supporting other companies — specially Alfa — which was placed parallel to Bravo. Managing the two tasks was very difficult for officers and soldiers in Chandwalker’s company, as they themselves had meagre resources to fall back on.

In fact, on a single day in October, 1948, his troops had repelled seven waves of aggression. “We had only one mountain gun allocated for the entire brigade which stopped working due to oil leakage. The Pakis on the other hand had a big gun well camouflaged on the next hill, at a distance of 100-metre. Silencing this gun was very crucial to hold our heights and contain the enemy advance. The air attack by the Indian Air Force turned out to be futile, as the smokecharge fired to locate the enemy gun’s position tumbled down the hill slopes and the air attack could not be directed to the exact location.”

In these circumstances, Chandwalker told havildar Karam Singh and three men to physically inch towards the gun and destroy it. “The brave men crawled towards the gun under heavy crossfire and managed to silence it by hurling grenades from close quarters. One of the grenades was dropped inside the gun barrel and the gun exploded along with the ammunition stored. This wrecked the Pakis’ psyche. This gave us an upper hand. We stopped the enemy’s advance and captured the hill,” he said.

Havildar Karam Singh was recommended by him for the Param Vir Chakra. Chandwalker wrote the citation for this PVC, which, according to him, is first citation of PVC in independent India.

One interesting fact, as narrated by him, was that during the very same battle Chandwalker was pitted against his mother regiment —Baluch Regiment — in which he had been commissioned in the pre-independence era. This news came out of the forward observation/ patrolling party.

“The fact that more than 300 dead bodies were cleared from the scene at the end of the first day, after our troop consolidated their position, is enough to explain how ferociously the battle was fought,” said Chandwalker. The war ended with the cease fire coming into effect on 1st January 1949.
1947 Real Combat: Fighting for the nation’s pride
2008 Fighting the cold: Troops in Siachen issued torn clothing: CAG

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