Let me recount this incident. We were posted at P****, a district in J&K; as part of our field tenure. I was a Captain then and we were to relieve a battalion of brave hearts. I was to interact with a young dashing Captain who was to give me the ropes of the new location. Well, this is the story of Captain D (henceforth called CD) – true facts as the judicial fraternity would like to call it and not a figment of any fertile imagination!
The area is mountainous and broken country with large number of rivers and rivulets flowing down from the mountain ranges. These ranges are part of the lower Himalayas and are treacherous. It suffers from extremes of weather conditions and experiences snowfall during the months of winter. The International Border is not demarcated and the armies are deployed across the LC (Line of Control).
So at this post CD was in charge of a Company (approximately 120 men). CD had put in around 5 years of service and had a good understanding of his men and earned the respect in their eyes. He had led by example and set very high standards for himself and his men. He had always been impeccable in his personal conduct and been an inspiration; no mean task considering that his men represented the martial race.
The post was separated by two mountain ridges. The Southern ridge was occupied by one of our companies. The Battalion headquarters were located around 4 kilometers behind the Southern ridge line. The two ridges were separated by one major nullah, which could be crossed only at certain points and it flooded during the monsoons. The Northern ridge was occupied by the adversaries and on the lower slopes of this Northern Ridge, across the nullah was CDs Company. The Company complex included five locations deployed on the down slopes. Each of these five locations was deployed along a ridge jutting out from the Northern Ridgeline tapering towards the nullah. Thus boxed between the nullah to the South and the adversary on the North, all the posts of this company was dominated by observation and fire by the adversaries. At some places the enemy was at a distance of barely 75 meters. The gap between these positions had been heavily mined since ’71 operations and has been regularly mined since. The kind of domination precluded any day movement by troops and all the movements happened at night. Reinforcement, leave arrivals & departures, letters if any, stocking of the post; each and every tactical or administrative move had to be carried out by night. Full moon nights were a nightmare since the enemy too had night vision binoculars to detect movements at night!
This would give you a fair idea of the position. To overcome this physical domination, CD and his men resorted to every other kind of domination to negate the physical advantage accrued to the enemy. Exchange of fire was a daily affair and each one took it upon oneself to destroy the bunker (defensive positions) of the other. Firing into the loophole of a weapon emplacement was a special incentive as it assured the killing/ injury to the personnel manning the weapon inside; a sure sign of moral domination over the psyche of the enemy. This psychological warfare was an ongoing process.
One of the was a post with ten men located between two adjacent posts. Its location was more of a deterrent to prevent the enemy from resorting to moving behind two posts to resort to inflicting casualties in depth. All these posts were connected by eight feet high communication trenches, developed over the years – under the eyes of the enemy, and all at night. The trenches gave you protection from splinter bursts from air and helped movement at night. It also channelized you lest you stray onto a minefield. Every individual spends some nights at this Post to give him the real deal – of live fire and living under the nose of the adversary. So, you get a fair idea right? Well, you live by the barrel of your gun. And your powder better be dry for you never know when the adversary decides to launch his operations.
One afternoon, during the exchange of fire at one of the posts, a ricochet bullet hit one of the men in the thigh and had to be evacuated. CD was obviously infuriated and wanted to settle scores. He engaged one of the enemy posts for the next ten days and reliable intelligence reports mentioned that our retaliatory fire had killed three enemy soldiers, the third one probably a junior officer who was highly popular with their soldiers.
The enemy decided to settle scores and on the 11th day. It started, as if on cue, 0800 hours all the guns and rifles from each of these posts opened fire on this Post. Such heavy fire completely disrupting their daily routine and negating any kind of movement; these kinds of fire are also a precursor to any offensive actions that enemy undertakes. The idea being to keep the enemy’s head down and under the cover of fire, infiltrate your teams.
CD moved from post to post to motivate his men to maintain vigil, raise their morale and continue their surveillance of enemy actions. Soon morning turned to noon and noon to night. The men continued their posture and got their first back up of ammunition sent up at night. The firing went on non-stop for three consecutive days. CD was at his nerves end to find a solution to stop this continuous barrage. They continued to hold on. And hold they did.
Here I introduce Lance Naik Goonda Singh (GS)! He had put in some years in the company and in peace time represented the battalion in firing team and was an ace marksman. In a peace location he was an enigma to the Company Commander as he would invariably be a point of discussion for his delinquent behaviour. GS would have been a couple of ranks higher but for his transgressions during his peace locations. He was a soldier better left alone.
But then all those who have donned the uniform know that it is these very soldiers who transform into something larger than life in war like situations. They don a different role and perform acts of outrageous courage and valour. It’s a military quote, “No Combat ready Unit has ever passed an Inspection!”. You could say that of GS. He would never meet your normal laid down standards of a soldier. But then … these were different times, this was a different situation and it required different mindset.
GS was at The Post and the third night CD gets a call from the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in charge of The Post that GS would like to speak to CD. Now, that is an unusual request for a L/Nk to directly speak to the Company Commander. GS tells him “saab, ghar pe sirf kehna usse chhaati pe goli lagi thi” (Sir, when you speak to my folks at home, just tell them that the bullets hit me on my chest). CD screamed at GS, what are you planning to do GS, just wait, I am coming and you better not do anything rash.
CD rushed to the location, a twenty five minute walk at night, and not to mention the fire that continued unabated. Now, CD reaches the post and he encounters the JCO there. The JCO respectfully welcomes CD and leads him to another bunker and there is GS standing and speaks to CD, “Good, sir you came, we just made aloo paratha and we wanted you to taste it”.
“Sir, you think we don’t know that you’ve not eaten for the last three days? Please eat” he said, thrusting a plate with steaming hot parathas. This was the last thing that CD could think of after the phone call.
CD (controlling the tears flooding his vision) sat down to munch the cuisine, matching any five star hotel could dish out. While he was munching, the JCO was eliciting a plan to get the adversaries to stop the menace. GS felt the tensions rising in the bunker and told CD, look sir, you are just a youngster among us, joined recently (five years, hello!!!); but we all go a long way back. All of us are also some way or the other related and the villages we all come from will speak of our courage or lack of it. Our village has a number of decorated soldiers who had participated in the ’71 operations and we don’t want to be seen as a bunch of cowards sitting in our foxhole and doing nothing for our comrades. It is a matter of pride and honour that we would die willingly for the good name of the battalion, the pride of our company and our own selves. So, we are just informing you. With alacrity GS moved out of the bunker and in a trice locked the bunker. CD found himself sitting with the JCO. Yes, something unheard of, but there he was stranded with steaming hot parathas and JCO for company.
GS in the meantime, walks out and moves to another bunker, picks up a light machine gun and under the cover of darkness moves out of the communication trench in the open and exposing himself to enemy fire – effective and accurate under moonlight conditions and at 75 metres!! He stealthily crawls some thirty yards to a side in front of the enemy bunker and takes position besides a small tree, aims and squeezes the trigger. In copybook style taught in the firing ranges during training. He lets go a precise small burst into the enemy loophole that was firing. A painful scream confirms his hit.
He dismantles his gun and crawls another twenty yards and deploys behind a boulder this time. Same routine and similar result confirms his second hit. The other posts of the enemy by now start retaliating and his old position, the tree, draws a huge amount of enemy fire and wrath. GS by now has started crawling to the third location. Moves down along a nullah and places him behind another boulder. He takes a ten minutes break to get his breath back and for the enemy fire to recede. He takes another pot shot at another enemy bunker with same results. Three small bursts and three bunkers silenced. A bunker with an injured soldier among them is a very demoralizing factor. The injured soldier bleeds and cries out all inanity and generally draws the attention of the troops around. Your efforts are hence directed towards attending to the injured soldier and not as much towards the firing enemy.
That night, CD recollects, GS took out four enemy bunkers single handedly and with a composure of a connoisseur. GS had decided for himself that what could happen at the most, he would lose his life, right? Well, he was ready to be a martyr. He would give his life not sitting tight in his foxhole but fighting; fighting as a true soldier was taught, fighting and making each round count, no heroics, and no flashy show of dare devilry but just plain calculated risks. He knew his enemy, he knew his terrain well, he knew his capabilities and he had faith in his comrades. He was confident of his success. GS returned that night at around 1 p.m. and entered the foxhole where CD and the JCO, by now, were sipping tea. With a smile he pronounces, “at least got those B******* to keep shut” and with a single motion touches the feet of the JCO first and CD seeking their blessings.
CD was stunned to silence. Here he was locked up for nearly three hours, not knowing what was happening, a soldier under his command taking things in his own hands, doing things unheard of and now seeking his blessings. All CD could do was get up and hug GS. The enemy stopped firing that night and it did not resort to any firing during their entire duration of their stay at the location.
I was fortunate to shake hands with GS when we relieved them at that company location and I assure you my readers, they don’t make this kind any more. As for CD, he rose to Command this excellent battalion and earn laurels from his men and is a cult figure in their eyes.