THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

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Episode – 4

[This is the fourth 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]

A Stiffening for the Trenches

“Rajender, I want these boys in their battalions by mid-November. I hope you have put some steel into them. They will be the stiffening for the trenches.” General Manekshaw kept the phone down. Major General Rajender Prashad, Commandant of the IMA rang the bell and the office orderly took an urgent summons for the Deputy Commandant.

My course, 48th Regular IMA, was commissioned on 14 November 1971, instead of December, one month early, to increase the officer strength of an army at the doorstep of war. I was allotted 5th Battalion, The Sikh Regiment, deployed at Chambb near Akhnur. The steam-hauled train went only up to Pathankot. Further journey was by three-ton trucks. While our convoy was passing through Jammu Tawi, the college boys and girls stood with fruit baskets and marigold garlands. Civilians come to know about the state of affairs far ahead of faujis. Our convoy was halted and feted. Students came to offer me a tokri of fruits and thrust maalas around my head. Even as I complained we can’t eat so much of fruits; our convoy began moving and they upended the fruit baskets on the floors of our trucks. I spent the rest of the journey with apples and oranges rolling like billiards balls on the green baize table. Those enthusiastic citizens had done their duty and sent us onward loaded with maalas and fruits.

I was carrying my black trunk, bedroll and kitbag, the obligatory blue patrols, Sam Browne belt, peak cap, a peepa of eatables from my mother and fifteen hundred rupees that my father gave me for living expenses to stride over until my salary began getting credited. The battalion head clerk gave me a form to fill and my salary account was opened in the State Bank of India, Chambb. I spent the first night in the battalion in Captain Multani’s room. The next day I was allotted to 11 Platoon in Delta Company and found myself in the left most section. There was a two hundred yards gap and beyond the gap was Alpha Company at Point 303. There was an MMG bunker and a track on which an RCL Jeep stood. When I reached my dug out, I found that my black trunk and the bedroll and kitbag had already arrived and was laid in the trench.

I asked my Company Commander, Major Jaivir Singh, “Sir all my luggage, my trunk and belongings are with me; my blue patrols, Sam Browne and other ceremonial paraphernalia not needed in field. I didn’t know where the battalion rear was located. So, all my shining new stuff has come to my trench with me.” He replied blithely, “Don’t worry Rana; we will send your stuff to the rear with one of the trucks going towards Akhnur. Till then keep those here only.” Thus, I was probably the only creature on the entire frontline with a black trunk neatly packed with brand new kit, homemade eatables and fourteen hundred rupees in cash; a princely sum those days, mind you”

Subedar Major Prakash Singh came, carrying instructions to show the ‘Nawaan Lafftan Saab’ around the battalion. We first walked up to Point 303. It was around ten in the morning. Major Pannu was sitting in a camp chair. Next to him stood Captain Kamal Bakshi, his sleeves rolled up right till his shoulders. Both men looked as tough as nails. Pannu had so much sparkle on his face that one couldn’t look into his eyes when talking to him.

His face was so bright. They gave me tea and welcomed me to the battalion. Pannu suggested that I should read up everything about the battalion in my free time, which off course would be very little. Therefore, the only option was to read in lantern light after dinner.

Bakshi was altogether a different man cut from some unique material. He would excuse himself from the Officers Mess and come back to his bunker to play flute by himself. While proceeding on annual leave, he would stuff a backpack and walk all the way to Delhi from the battalion; a most unusual mode of transport, I thought. He was an absolutely blunt and upfront man, who cared for no one and always spoke his mind. They said he had been commissioned into the Guards first, where they found him too independent and nonpliant. So, he was transferred to 5 Sikh and a wise CO put him under the command of possibly the only officer whom Bakshi could respect and look up to.

It took me two hours to walk through all the companies from Point 303 to Mandiala, where the right most company was deployed. All four companies of our battalion were deployed up. From the dominating Mandiala heights, the entire spread of the battalion was visible.

[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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