THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

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THE BATTLE OF CHAMBB, 1971

Episode – 7

[This is the seventh 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]

In the Silence of the Night

The battle ebbed and flowed throughout the day. Bombs kept raining on us and when the shelling stopped, the Paki aircraft came whistling and strafing our positions. There was no sign of the Indian Air Force. The Paki armoured brigade was jiving on the vast dancefloor of the battlefield. They were making leisurely moves, jockeying around in the minefield. In front of my position, the destroyed enemy tanks stood like wayside markers, like Kos Minars, serving to warn off the enemy tanks of the folly of taking that route.

The long weary day dragged to a close with the dust coated sun ducking into the western sphere. Nonetheless, for the soldier, the lit hours of day are friendly. He can see things and decide what to do. The night is another matter. Nobody had caught a wink of sleep for many hours now. Fatigue that only sleep could remove, was beginning to show on our faces. The strain of the cannonades of the previous day and night, the high-strung plight of infantry waiting for tanks to come upon them en masse and the terror of Pakistani starfighters firing rockets and canons from the sky; the scenario was appalling,

It was the night of 5th December. Drowsy and dust coated men dozed at their posts. I, Lieutenant YS Rana, had not shut my eyes since the morning of 3rd December. Sentries tried to keep themselves awake by slapping themselves. When that failed, they asked their comrades to throw water on their face and give a stinging slap on their cheeks. If all of those failed, they got up and shuffled up and down in the kuraals (communication trenches) until the next lot of sentries relieved them. I got up and went for a look at the men in the trenches, exhorting them to stay alert. This was the third night of the battle and we had kept the enemy at bay. The men had stuck on with great resilience to their positions; but humans have their limits.

The tedium of the night increases after midnight. Soldiers are used to waking up at 4 a.m. as a matter of routine. The hardest hours, when sleep gnaws its teeth, are the post-midnight ones. Blood starts slowing down and a leaden heaviness embeds in your tired limbs. The chill intensified and men hugged their chests with their arms. A young sepoy, rattling in fear, sat listening to the inaudible whispers of the breeze, when nobody heard anything and men were asleep and not asleep. They dreamt of their homes, their wives, their children, their parents and of laughing and playing with their childhood friends, and suddenly found themselves sitting up awake; only to drift off again into oblivion.

Around 2 O’ Clock at night, one of our young sepoys, as if on the edge of paranoia sounded like imagining things. He told the man next to him.

“There is somebody over there.”

“Where?” asked his comrade.

“There” he said poking his hand into the darkness.

“Tu paagal ho gaya hai? – are you out of your mind? The front is that way; you are pointing to the rear.”

“Baabey di kasam, uthey kuchh hai – Swear on Baba Nanak, there is something there.”

“Teri phatti payee hai, koi gaadadd goodadd honaa – It might be a jackal, you are imagining things.”

“No, I swear on my mother, I heard someone speak once. And I heard other noise.”

“Okay you sit here and be alert, I will go and tell the platoon havildar and section commander.”

The Platoon Havildar, Teja Singh, was coming towards my section from the platoon HQ. He too had heard some puzzling noises from the rear of our location. He shouted into the darkness,

“Kaun ho tussi? – Who are you people?”

The alarm travelled in the communication trench and sleepy men shook awake and checked that their weapons held magazines and the safety catch was on fire mode. Men removed the steel scabbards from their rifle bayonets and slipped them into the webbing ammunition pouches.

A slither of foot falls rose in the rear of our positions, and one of our jawans shouted in Punjabi.

“Halt! Kaun ho tussi? – Halt! Who goes there?”

The body of men in our rear shouted back in Punjabi, “Appan hi hai – It’s we only.”

A clever ploy to dupe us?

“Password?”

Then the intruders cried their war cries, shouting loudly,

“Yaa Ali! Allah hu Akbar!” and came charging upon us.

They ran upon us firing from the hip and shouting, “la la la la, maro, maro, Ali, Ali, khuda! khuda!”

Dazed men in the trenches pointed their rifles at the noise and squeezed the reassuring triggers and bullets greeted the oncoming shadows.

“Wadd do phenchoddan noo! – Kill the violators, death to rascals!” Shouted the Sikhs and started shooting the Pakistani Special Services Group Commandos.

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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