THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

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Episode – 12

[This is the twelfth 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.]

WHO BE YOU PEOPLE?

The new intruders were still far away and rather indistinguishable. There was some oddity about their appearance that had struck me, a tiny doubt fluttering like a mosquito in my head. Those men walked towards us and dipped into the low folds of the ground. If they were enemy, it would be plain dumb on my part not to open fire and give them the benefit of getting the better of us. Such indecisiveness could prove fatal. Was my dilly-dallying proving stupid? I looked at my men in the trenches. They probably thought I was a callow second lieutenant still wet behind the ears. “Khud bhi mareyga-hummey bhi marwayeyga – The fool will get himself killed and get us all also killed.” Their eyes seemed to speak.

The intruders appeared again, walking towards us in a single file. They were closer now and I thought that they wore a dull green and not the khakhis the enemy wore. Or was it a disguise by the enemy? I alerted the machine gunners, “Okay be ready to fire on my orders.”

Forefingers on our triggers, we watched the intruders come nearer and nearer. I had a good look at them through my binoculars. In the lead was a short man, who carried a sten gun as well as a rifle slung on his shoulder. The soldiers following him also carried two rifles each, which I found puzzling. They were now thirty yards away from us and I had to act lest it proved too late. My men sat frozen. The air was still and there was an eerie silence, as the sun shone brittle on the frayed scrub littering our bombed foreground.

“Dhummb – Halt!” I shouted loudly and the startled intruders froze. I jumped out of my trench and walked to the leader who was carrying the sten gun. He looked up at me with his implacable Gorkha eyes devoid of any facial expression. He stood with the black perforated carbine in his right hand, appraising me coolly.

“Who are you people and where are you going?” I asked him. The Gorkha answered. “5/8 GR.”

“Why have you left your unit and what are you all doing here?” The hapless Gorkha asked me bewildered. “Who are you people and where are we?”

“Don’t worry, we are friends; 5 Sikh. But what are you doing here? I have been tracking you for the last half an hour. Thank your stars that we didn’t shoot you down when you first appeared on Alfa Company side.”

The Gorkha said. “Saabji kya bataun. We came to counter attack Point 303. Two of our section commanders got badly wounded in the fighting. An evacuation party of eight men set out carrying those two on stretchers back to the medical aid post. We are their protection and relief party. We are carrying the weapons of the stretcher bearers along with our own weapons. We started walking back with the stretcher bearers, but got separated from them. We thought that they must have gone this way. Now we are lost in this sarkanda grass. Rasta bhool gaya Saab – We have lost our way.”

I shouted to one of my sepoys. “Kartar inna noo chadd ke aa picchey – Take them to the rear.” The Gorkhas filed behind the Sikh and I watched their retreating forms, their long wooden hilted khukhris bobbing from their waists.

The midday sun was at its apogee. So, there had been a counter attack to retake Point 303, but, out of visual contact, I had no inkling of it. It had been a real close call, I sighed. The Gorkhas were almost out of sight now; their lives had stood quivering on the needle of fate, minutes ago. They had seemed oblivious of how lucky they were to be alive, just a tired, scruffy lot of sepoys like mine, bumbling about in the butcher shop of war.

[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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