Updated: Aug 17, 2021
There is a movie showcased on Amazon Prime now-a-days, Shershah, based on the story of Captain Vikram Batra, recipient of the highest gallantry award, Param Vir Chakra, for his exemplary bravery in the Kargil war. Based on a true story, he speaks the famous words in the movie: Either I will come back after hosting Tricolour or I will come back wrapped in Tricolour. But I will come back.
These words sum up the spirit of an Indian soldier who values the Tricolour above his life.
I fully endorse these sentiments. A soldier is always a soldier and his country are always dearest to him and comes above everything else.
Ram Prasad Bismillah, a true nationalist, a revolutionary and a patriot echoes feeling of every soldier when he says:
सरफरोशी की तमन्ना अबहमारेदिलमेंहै,
देखना है जोरकितनाबाजुएकातिलमेंहै।
ऐ शहीदे-मुल्को-मिल्लत मैं तेरेऊपरनिसार
अब तेरी हिम्मतकाचर्चाग़ैरकीमहफिलमेंहै।
वक्त आने देबतादेंगेतुझेऐआसमां,
हम अभी सेक्याबतायेंक्याहमारेदिलमेंहै।
A war, for a soldier, is about honour, valour and selfless pursue of their mission - defending their country. I am a soldier first and had the honour and privilege of being the part of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
Let me tell you about this great war on India's 75th Independence Day.
The India-Pakistan war of 1965 is a story of honour, valour and gallantry of Indian soldiers.
On 23 September 2021, we will complete 56th anniversary of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. This was the day when the seventeen-day long clash between both armies, leading to heavy casualties on both sides, ended in a ceasefire.
In the year 1965, Pakistan had a dictator as its President, General Ayub Khan. India had a humble and simple peace loving man as its Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Just a year before, India had lost its most charismatic leader and Prime Minister for seventeen years, Jawahar Lal Nehru. General Ayub Khan saw this as an opportunity and assumed that the political situation in India could be taken advantage of at such a time. Pakistan was certain that Indian defense forces could not be fully prepared for a war after the 1962 debacle against China.
Based on his assessment of India, General Ayub Khan decided to annex Kashmir militarily. It was now or never he decided. How wrong was the general about Indian leadership, and capability of Indian defense forces.
After the Indo-China conflict, the Indian Military was now equipped with latest armaments. Expansion of armed forces had taken place on a large scale. As part of this plan, I had also joined army as an emergency commissioned officer.
Military authorities in Pakistan launched operation Gibraltar under the assumption that Kashmiri population was discontented with the Indian rule. In the first week of August 1965, they pushed about 30,000 army men disguised as mujahedeen, into Kashmir but the local population reported them to the authorities. As a result, Operation Gibraltar failed.
Indian troops in the meanwhile crossed the line of control (LOC) in the second week of August and captured important mountain positions including Hajipur Pass. Kargil town was under Indian control but Pakistani troops had occupied heights around Kargil overlooking Srinagar-Leh highway and Kargil. The Indian troops launched anti-filtration operations and flushed them out of these areas.
In the first week of September 1965, Pakistan again launched operation Grand Slam. Its objective was to capture strategic town of Akhnoor, in Jammu, in a bid to cut off communication and supply lines of Indian troops. India played its master card and ordered Indian troops to open front attack along the International border with Pakistan. Islamabad was taken totally by surprise and had to divert its troops from Kashmir to meet Indian offensive. Operation Grand Slam again fizzled out.
India also summoned troops from other sectors to be deployed in war zone.
I was with 30 Light Regiment at that time. Location of my regiment was Changu Lake, situated at a height of 12400 feet in Sikkim on Gangtok Nathula road. Three of us, Sareen, Savalge and Segon, all second lieutenants, got orders from army headquarters to report to Ambala Army transit camp immediately. From there, we were to be directed to our new unit, 91 mountain regiment, which was in war zone. We left our unit at once and reached Siliguri by road. From there, we caught first possible train to Delhi.
War against Pakistan united the whole nation. People were eager to contribute to the national cause. Our then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, gave the nation the new slogan, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. Men and women of all castes lined up at the major railway stations on our route. They handed over sweet and food packets to troops, women performed Aarti and some even tied Rakhi on the wrist of Jawans and officers wishing them victory in war and long life.
Here I am reminded of sentimental poem. by Makhan Lal Chaturvedi
चाह नहीं मैंसुरबाला के
गहनों में गूँथाजाऊँ,
चाह नहीं, प्रेमी-माला में
बिंध प्यारी कोललचाऊँ,
चाह नहीं, सम्राटों केशव
पर हे हरि, डालाजाऊँ,
चाह नहीं, देवोंकेसिरपर
चढ़ूँ भाग्य परइठलाऊँ।
मुझे तोड़ लेनावनमाली!
उस पथ परदेनातुमफेंक,
मातृभूमि पर शीश चढ़ाने
जिस पथ जावेंवीरअने
We had a night’s break at Delhi to say goodbye to our families. Next day, we reached Ambala transit camp. No one knew the exact location of our regiment. One thing was certain, it was somewhere on the war front. The problem was how to reach there. From Ambala, we were sent to the Jallandhar army transit camp. At last, the location of our regiment was confirmed in Khem Karan sector. Our unit was actively engaged in war.
At last, we reached our regiment and were instructed by the commanding officer colonel Jesus to stay in lines for a week and get acclimatized to war conditions. On 23rd September 1965, a cease fire was declared under UN mandate and pressure from USA and Russia. India gained control over 1920 square kilometer of Pakistan territory while Pakistan had control over 540 square kilometers of Indian territory.
Causalities on Pakistan side were estimated at 5800 and on Indian side 2862. Over 450 Pakistani tanks were destroyed or captured. India lost 97 tanks. India and Pakistan had fought one of the biggest tank battles after the Second World War.
Pakistan achieved an element of surprise in Khem Karan sector by launching offensive with armored division and infantry. Offensive was successful with Pakistan army capturing Khem Karan town 5 kilometers from international border in Kasur sector. Considering the situation, General Officer Commanding 4th mountain division, Major general Gurbaksh Singh, immediately ordered the division to fall back and assume horseshoe shape defensive formation with Assal Uttar village as its focal point.
Assal Uttar also means, Fitting Reply. Let me explain importance of Khem Karan. On the Indian side, Khem Karan - Bhikhiwind road leads to Amritsar. Khem Karan- Patti Road leads to bridges over Beas river. Both these axis pass through a cluster of villages, which include Assal Uttar, 5 km further east of Khem Karan.
The task of defending Assal Uttar was entrusted to four grenadiers with 18 Rajputana Rifles, 1/9 Gorkha Rifles, and part of 9 J and K rifles deployed on its flanks and rear with armoured support of 9th horse, 3rd Cavalry and 8th Cavalry. The anticipated path of Patton’s (latest acquisition of tanks by Pakistan army, from America with great speed and fire power) and Pakistan infantry were sugar cane and paddy fields which were flooded with water from nearby canal and tube wells. All the army units gave exemplary account of themselves not yielding an inch to Pakistan army.
All Patton attacks, with infantry support of Pakistan army were repulsed. In some cases, when tanks over-ran infantry positions, Patton’s were forced to turn back by the Indian armoured units. The decisive battle at Assal Uttar village was fought with valour and bravery by four grenadiers with artillery fire support by 91 mountain regiment (Now 91 medium regiment).
A young brave officer from 91 mountain regiment, Minoo Panthagi, was attached to 4 granieders as fire observation officer. His task was to engage enemy targets to halt their advance and cause maximum damage to advancing Patton’s and other heavy armament.
The company Quarter Master General, Abdul Hameed emerged as the hero of Assal Uttar battle. With his jeep mounted recoil-less gun, he knocked down several Patton tanks before being hit by a high-powered explosive and a barrage of enemy bullets. There are different reports about the number of tanks destroyed by him. Some say three, others seven and one four. For his exceptional bravery, Abdul Hamid was honoured with Param Vir Chakra, the highest military gallantry award. High powered explosive which killed Abdul Hamid, also hit Minoo Panthagi who was in the same area, providing artillery support to fourth grenadiers. He was immediately evacuated to military hospital. For his bold and brave action, Panthagi was awarded mention in dispatches. Commanding officer of 91 regiment Colonel Jesus was decorated with Sena medal
Pakistan lost 97 tanks in the battle of Assal Uttar as compared to 32 by India. 70 captured Patton tanks at Bhikhiwind village were referred to by locals as Patton Nagar. Battle of Assal Uttar can be described as turning the tide in India’s favour in 1965 Indo Pak war.
Dr. Philip Towle, a renowned war historian, regards battle of Assal Uttar as one of key turning points of the war, which tilted the balance in India’s favour. Another war writer, Peter Wilson, describes defeat of Pakistan at Assal Uttar as one of greatest defeats suffered by Pakistan in 1965 war.
My battery commander, Major Bhatia, as one of regimental stories goes, drove a Patton tank from area of action to our regiment. It was later sent to brigade headquarters as war souvenir.
Cease fire had been declared and there was lull in the battlefield with two armies facing each other with no man’s land in between. U N observers had been posted to take note of cease fire violations.
Pakistan army had slightly upper hand as it had occupied about 50 square kilometer area in Khem-Karan Sector. Immediately after cease fire was enforced, I was attached with seven grenadiers as fire observation officer. I had a bunker and an observation post in the forward most line of defense along with infantry. I also had two observation posts atop two trees, well camouflaged to observe enemy movements and mark vital targets. Aim was to keep grid references of these targets ready to direct gun fire on to these positions.
Sporadic firing was common from both sides. My job also included going on patrolling with grenadiers and familiarizing myself with the area. Life was tense and uncertain and even at night; you went to sleep in full battle gear with sten gun on your side. The cease fire came to an end with signing of historic Tashkent declaration signed by Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan President, general Ayub Khan. Both the countries agreed to return ceased territories to each other, and peace returned in the Indian sub-continent. But India suffered a huge loss as Lal Bahadur Shastri breathed his last in Tashkent itself.
My regiment commemorates Assal Uttar day every year. In 2015, we celebrated golden jubilee of Assal Uttar day. My regiment was at Bikaner at that time. I was invited to attend the celebrations but could not make it on account of my ill health. My regiment specially deputed a junior commissioned officer, who came all the way to Delhi and presented me with a memento to commerate 50 th anniversary of Assal Uttar day.
Such respect you get in army only. Though I left army in 1969 only, as captain, officers of the rank of general address me as Sir, when we meet. I would like to narrate one such incident here. We, the officers of 91 medium regiment were invited for a get together at Artillery mess, Delhi Cantonment, where Director General Artillery, Vinod Nair was a chief guest.
I attended the function along with my wife, Uma. I was introduced to him as captain Segon, who was part of 1965 war. He bowed and said, welcome sir. I protested, please do not call me Sir, you are such a senior officer. His reply was, sir, you are veterans of 1965 war, our senior. You deserve all the respect. Tell me, could this happen in any other service?
I am reminded here of a song which brought tears in the eyes of the former Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. It was sung by Lata Mangeshkar at National Stadium Delhi after the 1962 war between India and China in the presence of Pandit Nehru.
ऐ मेरे वतनकेलोगों
तुम ख़ूब लगालोनारा
ये शुभ दिनहैहमसबका
लहरा लो तिरंगाप्यारा
पर मत भूलोसीमापर
वीरों ने हैप्राणगंवाए
कुछ याद उन्हेंभीकरलो
जो लौट केघरनआये
ऐ मेरे वतनकेलोगों
ज़रा आंख मेंभरलोपानी
जो शहीद हुएहैंउनकी
ज़रा याद करोक़ुर्बानी
जब देश मेंथीदीवाली
वो खेल रहेथेहोली
जब हम बैठेथेघरोंमें
वो झेल रहेथेगोली
थे धन्य जवानवोआपने
थी धन्य वोउनकीजवानी
जो शहीद हुएहैंउनकी
ज़रा याद करोक़ुर्बानी
This Independence Day, let us salute our martyrs, who laid down their lives so that we could live.