THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

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Episode – 11

[This is the eleventh episode of a blog series we are featuring on the famous battle of Chambb of the 1971 War, as narrated by veterans of the 5th Battalion, the Sikh Regiment, one of the participant units in the battle. Continuing with the narrative of 2/Lieutenant Y S Rana.]

The Two-Faced Coin of Fire

The day is the 5th of December, the third day since the battle burst upon our battalion on the evening of the 3rd. The enemy is pummelling Point 303 with a bombardment. They started early in the morning. I am in the left most section of my company on the fringe of the intercompany gap. The shelling stops after sometime and a body of enemy troops appears in the area of Alfa Company. They are about two to three hundred yards to our left. I observe them through my binoculars and try to judge what they are up to. I study their deliberate movements as scattered men are being shouted at and a man is waving hands and rallying his men.

The men come with slow and heavy movements and kneel down. One of them opens a map case and takes out a compass. I watch fascinated as if a training exercise is going on. A bell goes off in my head and I jump and stagger into my MMG bunker. The MMG loop holes are facing our frontage to the west. This body of enemy troops is to my left and the bunker is so sited that the weapon can only fire over the area in front and does not cover our flanks.

I shout to Lance Naik Tara Singh and Sepoy Sadhu Singh,

“Get the MMG over to the roof of the bunker.”

I could see the enemy getting set to advance upon my position. They began probing and shuffling towards us. Tara and Sadhu let loose a long burst on them and they disappear in the Sarkanda clumps that grow plentifully in the intercompany gap.

“Saabji eh teh gayab ho gayey – Sir they have all disappeared.”

The enemy troops were in strength. I went back to other trenches to pull out men to face the threat developing on our left flank. I could visualize that the Sarkanda would offer all the concealment the enemy needed, if they wanted to make a determined push. I wished there was nothing to block my field of fire. The tall grass extended right until thirty or forty yards from our position. If the enemy made it that far under cover, he could charge and overrun our position. I had to prepare for that eventuality. While I was doing what I could, the shelling started again. You don’t wait to see where the shells fall; but just duck into a trench. When the cannonade ceased and I came out of my trench to eye our foreground a strange sight awaited me. The dense Sarkanda in the intercompany gap had caught fire and was burning furiously. The enemy soldiers were running out of the burning grass back to where they had come from. We started firing on them and they soon disappeared over the crest of the low ridge. The fire went out; but the enemy wasn’t likely to attempt another approach from that direction, as far as I could see.

Pakistanis had stopped paying attention to us for the time being. There seemed to be something brewing in A Company location at Point 303, but I could not make out much. A battle is a diffusion of a thousand small things when caught by one pair of eyes and a single brain to register. It would have been presumptuous of me to imagine that it was crystal clear to me what the situation was. Far from being clear, it was all happening on the fringe of chaos and uncertainty in the dust-clogged trenches. The air was thick with dust all around that had clogged my view of everything. After an hour or so, I rubbed my eyes a number of times with a handkerchief that had turned mud brown. Men were walking towards us from the same direction again. I counted; there were six of them. Sadhu and Tara had their fingers ready on the MMG.

“Saabji dushman ferr harkat karr raha hai – Sir the enemy is approaching again.”

It would be best to kill them now before they dived again behind the Sarkanda and came at us as they did earlier. I was sure there would be no fire to save us this time. I had to make sure that the first burst got them. Firing, often can be a double-edged act. You address the enemy but you also give away your own address inadvertently. And soldiers in defence cannot afford to reveal their positions. I raised my binoculars for a final confirmatory look.

“Okay ready to fire…”I said.

And just in the nick of time I was able to blurt out.

“Thehro, stop. Don’t fire! Let them get closer.”

[To be continued]

Lt Col Ashok Ahlawat
Lt Col Ashok Ahlawat is a serving officer of the Indian Army, who has extensively researched the role of 5 Sikh in the Battle of Chambb, interviewing many of the veterans, and created a minute-to-minute account of the action, as narrated by the veterans themselves in first person. He can be reached at ashahlawat@gmail.com
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