ATTACK BY INFILTRATION AND ANNIHILATION OF 32 BALUCH
Lt Gen JBS YADAVA, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM (Retd)
Attack by infiltration is not a new technique in war fighting. There are numerous examples in our history where this technique has resulted in disproportionate gains to the attacker. I led one such infiltration during 1971 war in East Pakistan as a Major, the narration of which is contained in succeeding paras.
By July /Aug 1971, the war clouds between India and Pakistan had been built up significantly. 5/11 GR joined 340 (I) Infantry Brigade at Kishanganj in West Bengal on relief instead of proceeding to its peace station. What followed thereafter was reorientation training which consisted of attack by infiltration, infantry-tank co-operation, waterman ship; and advance and attack operations of war. Cross border firing and violations of IB commenced from 22 Nov while war was declared by Pakistan on 04 Dec 1971.
Pakistan Army held the North West Sector opposite Kishanganj-Siliguri corridor with 16 Infantry Division (Refer to map). It consisted of three sub sectors. The Northern Sub Sector was held by 23 Infantry Brigade to deny axis from Dinajpur/Rangpur to Bogra from the North. The Central Sub Sector consisted of axes Hilli- Gaibanda - Bogra ; and Hilli- Jaipurhat-Khetlal-Bogra. It was also called the waistline and the shortest and direct route to Bogra. It was the most important Sub Sector that held the key to defense of Bogra; an important town and communication centre. 205 Infantry Brigade was deployed in this Sub Sector with their Head Quarters at Bogra. 32 Baluch ex 34 Infantry Brigade was allotted to defend Gaibanda,- Bogra axis. In the event, they prepared defenses at Gaibanda, Gora ghat, Govindganj and Ichamati Nala. The Southern Sub Sector consisted of Nawabganj, Naogaon, Rajshahi, Nator and Pabna. 34 infantry Brigade was located at Rajshahi to defend this Sub Sector. HQ 16 Infantry Division was located at Nator. One Regiment for armor, adequate artillery and supporting arms were available to them. On the Indian side, 33 Corps was responsible for operations against this Sector. 20 Mountain Division with four brigades, two armored regiments an Engineer Brigade and normal complements of supporting arms were detailed to execute the offensive operations. 71 Mountain Brigade and 9 Mountain Brigade were also allotted to the Corps for defense of Siliguri Corridor and for operations against 23 Infantry Brigade (Pak).
On 06 Dec, 304 (I) Infantry Brigade took over from 66 Mountain Brigade and moved rapidly through the Hilli- Dianjpur gap. They successfully fought the enemy at Pirganj, Goraghat and Govindganj between 7 and 12 Dec. The Brigade poised themself behind the enemy and turned his flank. It was now ordered to advance and capture Bogra at the earliest. It was imperative that the enemy was not allowed to reinforce Bogra by withdrawing troops of 205 or 34 Infantry Brigade. After quick regrouping and replenishment, the advance commenced at mid day with Squadron 63 CAV (T-55) as vanguard. “A” and “D” Companies of 5/11 GR mounted on PT- 76 Tanks of 69 Armored Regiment were part of the main guard. Contact with the enemy was established at about 1700 hrs when enemy RRs knocked out one tank of 63 CAV and heavy MMG and automatic fire was encountered from across the Ichamati Nala, a branch of Karotya River. Any move by tanks and infantry to close in with the enemy drew very heavy and accurate fire from the defender. His response was quick, effective and violent. It appeared that we had hit well prepared and coordinated defensive positions. The enemy meant business this time and was determined to give a tough fight. Perhaps this was his last ditch stand before the main battle at Bogra. “A” and “D” Companies 5/11 GR were given the task of securing North bank of the Nala, West and East of the road respectively. In the process my Company suffered a few fatalities. However by 1900 hrs, we were able to fix the extent of defenses and location of the enemy. We had also succeeded in securing a foothold astride the road on North bank of the Nala. Our patrolling and probing indicated that the enemy was holding the South bank of the Nala with two companies covering the road axis at Malahar and Saulakhandi with a gap of about 200 to 300 yards. The inter company gaps and flanks were covered with RR and MMG fire. We had no knowledge of his depth companies but it was appreciated that, he could be holding Nimarpara extending up to Mahasthan Bridge in depth. There was no more information about the enemy with anyone.
After a brief operational discussion between the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Joginder Singh Bakshi and the Commanding Officer, Lt Col FT Dias, it was decided that advance to Bogra must be resumed as early as possible. Since the tanks did not have night fighting capability they could be used only at first light. It was therefore decided to infiltrate at least one company behind the enemy defenses at night to cut him off and opposition blocking the advance removed by attack with infantry and tanks at first light. This would ensure that enemy could not reinforce Ichamati (Mahasthan) defenses and gained time for fight at Bogra. The Commanding Officer called his Order Group at 2100 hrs under a tree on the road side, just out of the range of enemy small arms fire. He briefed us about the situation and his discussions with the Brigade Commander. Just then a shell landed nearby throwing lot of dust and debris but caused no physical harm to anyone. He gave out his orders very succinctly. There were no doubts or questions as everyone understood the tasks allotted their implications and gravity of the situation. We dispersed as quickly and silently as we had assembled. “A” Company under my command was to infiltrate through the gap between the two forward enemy companies as I was best poised and knew the extent of the gap and layout of the ground. I was to establish a road block approximately 3 to 4 Kms in depth of enemy positions on the road axis by 0300 hrs. “D” Company under Major AS Mamik and “B” Company under Major TB Rai were to attack enemy at Saulakhandhi and Malahar at first light or immediately after the road block had been in position. “C” Company, under Capt MS Pathania was reserve for both companies. Orders for subsequent phase would be given later. The Battalion would establish a firm base for a brigade attack if it could not clear enemy opposition.
The Commanding officer gave me a free hand in planning of infiltration, selection of route, RVs, bounds and even the final site of the road block. He asked me to only inform him of the start time and the time when I was in position at the road block. I was allotted all artillery in range and an FOO from 64 Mountain Regiment. By 2300 hrs I was ready and the infiltration commenced silently and stealthily. My plan was very simple but bold. The key to my success was to achieve complete surprise. I had to do something that the enemy least expected under the circumstances. In the middle of the gap there was a wooden bridge on the Nala. The road was the only geographical feature that could be used as a reliable navigational aid in absence of accurate maps. I decided to infiltrate right under the nose of the enemy astride the road, keeping the wooden bridge on my right. It was an audacious and highly risky plan fraught with danger and failure. Good or bad it was my plan and I was convinced that it would succeed (Refer to Sketch). 2/Lt Teja Singh Bedi, an intelligent, brave, innovative and ingenious office who had joined the Battalion recently from IMA led the infiltration with No 1 Platoon. While we waited anxiously some 200 yards from the Nala, Teja Bedi along with a small reconnoiter party consisting of Nk Bal Bahadur Rai, his Section Commander and two Other Ranks found a foot path through tall undergrowth that led to a crossing. This was some distance away, east of the wooden bridge over the Nala. Perhaps the crossing place was not known to the enemy and thus unguarded. It was pitch dark and we crossed the Nala in Section groups, each man holding the other so that there was no noise, fall by slipping or drowning. The water channel was about 30 to 40 yards wide with very soft bed and 3 to 5 feet deep. While we were fording the Nala, the enemy was engaged on the flanks by small arms fire and movement. Artillery and mortar fire was brought down on his defensive positions continuously to keep his head down and divert his attention from infiltration. Crossing the water obstacle was not as simple as we had imagined with full battle loads. Three feet depth of water are enough trouble for a short statured Gorkha. Many of them slipped and fell down in chest deep water. Fortunately no one was washed away or drowned. It took us more than an hour to cross the 40 yards of obstacle. We were drenched and all our clothing and equipment was wet in the severe cold of December. The anxiety and tension was palpable on every face lest we get detected. The enemy would mow us down when we were most vulnerable while fording the water obstacle. Every section after crossing the Nala moved to the RV that was about 200 yards from the bank. After the head count, we regrouped in platoons and headed towards the road whose silhouette was visible in the dim glow of moon light. The roads in East Pakistan were elevated and higher than the ground level. This created a ditch running parallel to the road on both sides which was 5 to 6 feet deep and could easily hide a man walking in it. This ditch had ankle to knee deep water and slush that drained in the Nala. I decided to move inside the ditch in platoon groups with a gap of 30 to 40 yards between each so that we were not visible and our movement was not detected. The enemy would have never imagined that we would walk in the ditch along the main road, a direct route, right through his defenses. We had walked for about two hrs and now it was around 0200 hrs. I was amazed at the silence and stealth in which we moved, halting listening and inching forward. Perhaps the darkness also helped us. As we moved away from the Nala the depth of the ditch reduced and now our heads were at level with the road. So far we had been lucky as our movement had not been detected and we were almost two Kms behind the enemy front line.
In the dim light of the waning moon, the leading Section Commander spotted two jeeps on the road and some men standing with maps spread on the bonnet. They were not clearly visible or audible but appeared to be discussing something in the glow of a torch. Some other people were standing in the rear of the jeeps. Every one froze leaning on the right bank of the ditch while I moved up to assess the situation. I could make out that these men were officers on a visit to the defenses. They were barely 30 to 40 yards from us and an easy target for a LMG. I decided to act before they noticed our presence. I ordered the LMG Commander who was in lying position beside me, to fire at them. Alas! At that crucial juncture the moving parts of the LMG were jammed and it would not fire in spite of repeated attempts. The slush and water had made it non functional. The sound of repeated cocking and misfire alerted the enemy of our presence. They mounted their jeeps and fled towards Bogra. A few bursts by replacement LMG were fired on the fleeing enemy too late for any effect. After the cease fire we learnt from Brig Tajummal Hussain Mallick, Commander 205 Infantry Brigade, that it was he along with Lt Col Tariq Anees , Commanding Officer 80 Field Regiment that we missed killing or capturing on that occasion. They had come to visit 32 Baluch for discussing operational situation and were trying to find their way to the Battalion Headquarters. In hind sight we missed a high value target and great opportunity that would have averted much bloodshed and delay in capture of Bogra later. Brig Tajummal Hussain was a fanatic who hated India to the core of his heart. He had urged his men to fight like Ghazis till the very end. He refused to surrender on 16 Dec even when his brigade had ceased to exist as a cohesive formation due to repeated defeats. He felt it was dishonorable for a Pakistani Commander to do so. He attempted to flee to Pakistan in disguise. He was spotted by the locals at the outskirts of Bogra. A Mukti Bahini patrol captured him. He was thrashed by them and handed over to IA as a POW. Later in 1980, as GOC 23 Infantry Division, he was tried by court martial by Pakistan Army for an attempted coup.
I now realized that the surprise of our infiltration had been blown off. The enemy would react to our presence with speed and vengeance. So I ordered my company to establish the road block in that general area. We dug down and blocked the road from both ends with a clear killing ground in the centre. I asked the FOO to carry out silent registration of targets on approaches to the road block. To my surprise neither the coordinates of our location, the target nor the location of the gun position were known to him. Therefore silent registration was not possible and he asked my permission for active registration of at least one target. He conveyed to the gun position that he was approximately 2 to 3 Kms from the river bank on the road to Bogra to indicate his approximate location and adopted the Bravo Tango- Oscar Tango procedure to direct fire. The target chosen was a bamboo grove about 500 yards from our location. Fortunately, the first round fell in proximity of the target and we could see the flash of the impact on ground. He corrected the fire with two more rounds. We now knew our exact location. I admired the FOO’s ingenuity in directing fire on a target in a totally unknown area at night. He carried out silent registration of remaining targets as we did not want to arouse the enemy before our road block was fully effective. At this juncture, Sub Dil Bahadur Tamang, No 2 Platoon Commander, an unassuming but bold Gorkha, came to me and reported that an enemy party of four men carrying RR ammunition on foot from depth localities to forward companies had been intercepted by his platoon. They were over powered and their necks slit with Khukris to maintain silence and surprise. He took me to his platoon that was a short distance away and showed me four enemy bodies neatly laid in a row. I was very pleased with his presence of mind and achievement. But it dawned on me that I was not behind the enemy position but somewhere in the middle of his defenses. I took a quick round of the road block to ensure that we were ready for enemy reaction. I told the platoon Commanders to send out perimeter patrols and place listening posts and sentries so that we were not surprised. Fully confident and satisfied with our achievement, I sat down in my fox hole wrapped in a rain cape to take rest before the main action started. It was bitterly cold and the sweat and grime all over my body due to exertion, fatigue and anxiety made it very uncomfortable to take any rest. Just then, the perimeter patrol from No 1 Platoon located a telephone line, leading off the road. 2/Lt Teja Bedi along with about section strength proceeded to investigate the line. After walking about 300 yards,Teja Bedi found himself facing a group of bunkers, trenches, antennas and telephone exchange in what looked like a Head Quarters. Men were sleeping on ground and the sentries were facing away from him perhaps also sleeping. There was no life except flickering of dim light in one of the bunkers. He alerted me of the situation in a hushed voice on the radio. I immediately ordered his remaining platoon to reinforce him. I also asked him to demonstrate that he was commanding a large force and assault the position if challenged. I followed him with some more men that I could muster immediately. After deploying his men, he along with Nk Bal Bahadur stealthily entered the closest bunker where light was flickering. Inside, they found a Pakistani Officer who turned around quickly towards them. But before he could react Nk Bal Bahadur pulled out his khukri and placed it at his neck.
Displaying exceptional presence of mind and courage, 2/ Lt Teja Bedi told the officer that his position had been surrounded. To his great surprise, the Pakistani Officer told Teja Bedi, that he was Major Muhammad Ajmal, Officiating Commanding Officer of 32 Baluch.( The Commanding Officer Lt Col Sultan Mahmud was killed during a counter attack on 2/5 GR on night 7/8 Dec at Pirganj). Teja Bedi who was in complete command of the situation, confidently and firmly reiterated to the Major that his position had been surrounded by 5/11 GR and he had no choice but to surrender or everyone will be killed in the ensuing fire fight. Taken aback, completely confused and bewildered, Major Muhammad Ajmal disclosed that this was Battalion Head Quarters of 32 Baluch and offered to surrender if he did not kill him and his men. Teja asked him to come out of the bunker, order his men not to offer any resistance and to surrender peacefully. By now the Head Quarters of 32 Baluch had come alive and there was commotion. Like their Commanding Officer, they were also bewildered, confused and surprised to see the Gorkhas pointing their weapons at them at the ready to fire. Some of them attempted to man their weapons and positions. But Major Muhammad emerging out of the bunker, ordered his men not to offer resistance and remain peaceful, otherwise all of them would be killed as they had been surrounded. Just then, the reinforcements for Teja Bedi arrived. The Pakistanis were now convinced that they had been indeed surrounded. The enemy was lined up, searched and disarmed. A total of 25 personnel surrendered. Teja Bedi quickly collected the Officiating Commanding officer, Adjutant, Capt Muhammad Salim, RMO, Capt Sherzaman, AMC, and the Commanding Officer’s two Radio Operators with their set and marched them towards the Company Headquarters. Since it was not possible to control all the surrendered personnel with about 20 men that he had, and lest our bluff was called off; he turned them around and fired randomly. They fled away helter-skelter in the darkness of night to save their lives.
It was almost 0430 hrs when the POWs were bundled up in the trenches of Company Headquarters with their hands tied. A quick interrogation of the Officiating Commanding Officer revealed that his defenses were based on Ichamati River with two companies holding the river bank and one company in the depth. It was now confirmed that my company was in the guts of enemy battalion. I spoke to Lt Col FT Dias, my Commanding Officer for the first time since the commencement of infiltration and updated him on the events that had taken place so far. I requested him to effect a link-up with me as soon as possible. It would otherwise become untenable to hold on to the POWs and the road block. No sooner I had finished speaking to the Commanding officer, the enemy reacted violently to remove the road block and to rescue their Commanding Officer. Some of the enemy personnel who had escaped from the Battalion Headquarters may have informed their depth company/ brigade of the disaster that had befallen them. The eviction of road block was necessary for their survival and it had to be done quickly at any cost. Anyhow, we had anticipated such a situation. Approximately one enemy company most probably from the depth managed to close in against us, taking advantage of the darkness and thick bamboo groves. We were in a dangerous situation. If the enemy attacked us with determination and made even a small dent in my positions, the balance could tilt in his favor. The hunter would become the hunted. Instead of the enemy, we would be his prisoners. I told my men not to yield even an inch of ground under any circumstances and fight it out till the last. At this stage when we were under grave threat, I had no choice but to call for DF RED, RED, RED as the enemy was barely 200 yards away and closing in. The FOO gave executive fire order to the Gun Position. The artillery reacted immediately and very heavy effective fire rained on the enemy that had formed up for assault and my position as well. The crunch, flash and dust that accompanied were awe inspiring. My company also brought down effective fire on the enemy pinning him down to ground. It was a fight for victory or death. When the salvos landed on us we ducked in our trenches and piled on each other. The Pakistani Commanding Officer was bewildered and ashen faced as if in a shock when the ground around us was shaking. He wondered if he would survive the bombardment and intermittently cursed his luck and prayed with eyes closed. He looked miserable and pathetic. I asked Major Muhhamad Ajmal to speak on his radio and ask his men not to press the attack otherwise he will be first one to be shot by me. He immediately obeyed. Whether it had any affect is doubtful as his authority had ceased to exist. The shelling continued for about 15 minutes and great damage was caused to the enemy who was in the open. We received a few shrapnel and lots of dust and mud flying in our faces. After a feeble attempt to assault, the enemy faltered, broke line and withdrew in disorder, leaving behind a number of dead. He could not withstand the devastating arty and small arms fire. This was perhaps one of the rare occasions when DF RED RED RED had been fired successfully. It was a great experience for all of us and it is a miracle that we survived such a savage and devastating fire. In the mean while 5/11 GR attacked Saulakhandi and Malahar, the two forward companies at first light. The tanks of both 63 CAV and 69 Armored Regiments also provided fire support. The enemy at Saulakhandi put up a stubborn resistance but was eventually defeated by determined fight by “D” Company under Major AS Mamik. Many acts of bravery on part of our men were recorded in this battle. After the battle of Saulakhandi the enemy realized the hopeless situation that he was in. With the capture of their Commanding officer and destruction of their Head Quarters, there was no central authority to command and control the operations. The defenders were demoralized and survival instinct over took them. “B” Company under Major TB Rai made light of the enemy resistance at Malahar. Those who could not escape surrendered in large numbers.” C “Company under Capt MS Pathania mopped up the remaining opposition. As the depth company had been used up in evicting my road block there was token resistance from isolated pockets hiding in groves. He managed to rush the RCC Bridge on Ichamati Nala at Mahasthan before enemy demolition party could fire the charges.
I sent PA- 5511 Major Muhammad Ajmal the Officiating Commanding Officer along with his Adjt PSS-8810 Capt Muhammad Salim, RMO, PSS-100992 Capt Sherzaman ,AMC and Radio Operators to the Headquarters when the link up took place. By 1100 hrs 13 Dec, 32 Baluch had ceased to exist. It was a great humiliation for the Battalion. This was 5/11 Gorkha Rifles finest hour when a Battalion not only routed but completely annihilated an adversary Battalion by a bold infiltration and attack.
(For this operation Lt Col FT Dias, Major AS Mamik, Major JBS Yadava, and Capt Surjit Parmar, Arty, were awarded VrC; 2/Lt TS Bedi and Nk Bir Bahadur Magar, were awarded SM; Nk Nandlal Limbu and Rfn Lal Bahadur Rai were awarded M-in- D).
Valuable and costly lessons were learnt out of the Battle of Hilli and such like battles fought in other sectors from 22 Nov onwards till outbreak of war on 4 Dec 1971. All of us were impressed by the tenacity and ingenuity of Pakistan Army in stalling our set piece attacks on Hilli. No doubt we fought bravely and eventually over came stubborn resistance by the defender; but set piece attacks on fortified defended localities were foolhardy on part of our commanders. We shook our heads in dismay and disappointment when huge casualties started arriving out of these attacks. This was quite demoralizing. When the war commenced on 04 Dec, it was clear that conventional attacks were out and we had to penetrate through the gaps in enemy defenses, isolate and attack him from the flank/ rear. Fortunately for us the Pakistan Army had taken forward posture to defend every inch of ground with no or very little reserves and depth. Their presumption was that the Indian Army will fight conventional battles along developed axes of advance as we had done in 1965 war. By following these tactics we would at best be able to wrest a few pockets of land to rehabilitate the refugees, before, either we were worn out or a cease fire was imposed. The battles of Hilli, Thakurgaon and Pachagarh Bulge from 22 Nov till outbreak of war further reinforced their perception. Whatever reserves were available also got sucked in while fighting these battles.
When the war commenced on 04 Dec, 66 Mountain Brigade of 20 Mountain Division had moved through the gap between Thakur Gaon and Hilli and reached Nawabganj by 6 Dec without encountering serious opposition. They were however very cautious, deliberate and not willing to venture deep inside enemy area, even though patrols had reported no enemy presence. Bad going conditions and lack of logistical build up was their prime excuse, but lack of enterprise was the main reason At this stage 20 Mountain Division decided to launch 340 (I) Infantry Brigade, an additional formation allotted to them, to give momentum to the operations and exploit success gained through the gap . 2/5 GR and a Squadron of 69 Armored Regiment cut off Rangpur – Bogra highway at Pirganj by 1630 hrs 7 Dec. The enemy was surprised and the tide of operations turned in our favor then on. After securing their North flank at Pirganj and East flank at Gaibanda on the Brahmahputra , 20 Mountain Division decided to swing south towards Bogra, its prime objective. 5/11 GR relieved 2/5 GR and took over the advance to Bogra on 9 Dec ( See map) Goraghat on Karotaya River was invested from the East by evening. However before the battle could be developed fully, we were asked to disengage hand over to 2/5 GR.
The advance to Bogra had to be resumed as speedily as possible; before a ceasefire was forced on India by the international Community. On 11 Dec, the Battalion fought the Battle of Govindganj on the South bank of Karotaya River on its way to Bogra. The defenses were held by two companies of 32 Baluch who had fallen back from Gaibanda, one company of 23 Punjab and assorted units. The battle was won by a wide left hook, by passing the enemy main defenses and then attacking him from the rear and flank. PT 76 Tanks of 69 Armored Regiment carried the Battalion on this 56 KM hook across country through marsh and wet lands. The defenses were well prepared and coordinated. The battle commenced at last light. The enemy was completely surprised by the maneuver and lost his nerve and will to fight when he found us in his rear and flank. The defenses crumpled within a few hours of fighting. The withdrawing enemy was annihilated by a block established by my Company and “C” Squadron 69 Armored Regiment under Major SC Mehra, two Kms behind the defenses at Kamar.. 80 enemies were killed, 40 captured as POWs along with two Chaffee tanks, two 105 mm guns, 15 Vehicle load of ammunition and 60 other vehicles. By 2100 hrs that day Govinganj had fallen. We lost one officer and 3 ORs in the battle and one officer one JCO and 7 ORs were wounded. I was also wounded in this battle but joined my Company after treatment at the ADS. It was a big victory for us. But Bogra the main objective of 20 Mountain Division was still out of site and our grasp.