Deepest thrust into the heart of enemy
During the 1965 war with Pakistan, 8 Garhwal Rifles was part of 43 Lorried Brigade of 1 Armoured Division. On September 8, the brigade crossed the border and advanced along the Majuna Channi, Gangial, Kaloi and Phagowal axis in the Sialkot sector. On September 10 evening, orders were received to capture Gat by first light next day.
The Battle of Gat
Securing Gat was of paramount tactical importance to facilitate the main armour thrust towards Phillora and Chawinda. As the battalion moved on the Kaloi, Ghaon and Gat axis, the enemy opened medium machine gun and mortar fire to cripple the advance. Pakistan jets subjected our air defence measures to a severe test. By midday, the check armoured brigade advance towards Pagowal commenced drawing heavy enemy tank and artillery fire on the battalion position. It was at this time that 8 Garhwal Rifles suffered its first casualty when Rifleman Asar Singh Rana of RCL platoon was mortally hit by a direct tank shot.
On September 16, the battalion along with two squadrons of 17 Horse was poised to attack Chawinda. However, at the last minute, the plan of a direct assault on Chawinda was shelved because recce reports indicated that the terrain as well as the layout of the town afforded a natural anti-tank defence. Also, the town was well fortified with cleverly camouflaged anti-tank guns.
Capture of Buttur Dograndi
Higher commanders decided to first capture Buttur Dograndi to disrupt the enemy line of communication ie., the Chawinda to Pasrur road, to facilitate the capture of Chawinda. 8 Garhwal Rifles, which was poised for an attack on Chawinda, along with a squadron of 17 Horse, was given the task and the attack was to be carried out in broad daylight.
According to the original plan, the entire ‘F’ Echelon of the battalion, including 3-inch mortars, RCLs and MMGs, was shed at the tank harbour at Wachoke. But when later it was decided to capture Buttur Dograndi, there was no time to move up the ‘F’ Echelon. As a result, the battalion went into attack with the unit weapons only.
Battalion Commanding Officer Lt Col JE Jhirad issued orders to attack the objective from the west. Accordingly, the battalion moved to Jassoran where the enemy started intense shelling with medium and heavy guns. Due to heavy and accurate enemy fire, our tanks could not move further. Lt Col Jhirad decided to deploy tanks to give close support from Jassoran itself while the troops assaulted from the west.
Exposed in open area
The H-Hour was fixed at 2 pm. As the battalion moved for the attack, it got pinned down in an open terrain due to heavy enemy shelling in broad daylight. By 12.30 pm, the leading companies could advance only 600 metres beyond Jassoran. Lt Col Jhirad moved up to take stock of the situation but was severely wounded by a direct hit of an enemy artillery shell. He died while being evacuated. Major AR Khan, the Second-in-Command, immediately assumed control and ordered the battalion to continue advancing.
Fierce hand-to-hand fight
By 2 pm, the battalion reached the forming up place but due to intense enemy shelling, it was dispersed widely in small groups. Suddenly, there was a lull in the shelling. Major Khan sensed it was a heaven sent opportunity to seize the objective. But the battalion was widely dispersed and all signal communication had broken down. He could not communicate with his company commanders, and hence he himself mustered the nearest platoon and charged at the objective. Seeing this, the other sub-units also followed suit and a fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. The leading companies managed to get a foothold on the objective and held onto it for over two hours. The enemy launched a fierce counterattack and managed to evict our troops.
Major Khan again assaulted the objective with ferocity and determination and forced the enemy to abandoned the position. The battalion captured the objective and immediately reorganised itself. The enemy was not to sit quiet for long. It immediately brought in tanks to encircle the battalion and subjected us to intensive air strikes, followed by heavy artillery shelling. Major Khan then moved his tanks between Jassoran and Buttur Dograndi but the squadron of 17 Horse could not link up on the objective.
Troops go without food
The Officiating Commanding Officer ordered the battalion to occupy a defensive position towards north of Buttur Dograndi. The battalion by this time had gone on for the second day in succession without food as even the ‘Shakkar Paras’ had finished. Local sugarcane, however, kept all ranks going. The exhaustion and strain were having visible effects on the troops. The enemy commenced relentless shelling as a prelude to the massive counterattack to regain the lost position. By 7.45 am on September 17, the stage had been set for the second phase of the battle.
Rfn Balwant Bisht martyred
Pakistan stepped up already intense artillery shelling. Enemy tanks took up positions on the forward limits of Chawinda and the Chawinda to Pasrur road. Then came the enemy infantry advance towards the battalion position from two directions. We successfully repulsed with small arms fire the first enemy infantry contact with our battalion position. The enemy even attempted deceitful tricks to penetrate from the ‘C’Company flank by pretending to be own troops. Major BS Mall, Officiating Commander of ‘C’ Company, however, outwitted it and retaliated with small arms fire, inflicting heavy casualties. Now, the enemy started probing along the entire front of the battalion defended areas. At this stage, all commanders imposed strict fire discipline. It was a day for ‘One Enemy, One Bullet’.
The enemy managed to probe within 50 yards of the defended areas. As the last resort, it also brought in all available tanks that inflicted heavy casualties. The battalion was in a predicament with no tank support and no RCL guns. However, gallant riflemen and grenadiers were not deterred. Rifleman Balwant Singh Bisht of ‘D’ Company jumped out of his trench and knocked one of the enemy tanks out of action. The other tanks hastily retreated. Rifleman Bisht was shot by a retreating tank and blown to pieces. His bold action saved his entire platoon. At this juncture, the enemy LMG and MMG fire was coming from a very close range, causing heavy casualties. There was no time or opportunity to evacuate the wounded. Capt JS Bhullar, Officer Commanding of ‘B’ Company, was wounded by a full burst of LMG. However, he remained calm and continued to move from trench to trench encouraging his men. Affiliated battery commander Major AK Kochhar of 101 Field Regiment (SP) played an important role in breaking the counterattack by timely destruction of enemy tanks.
The battalion had suffered a number of casualties and the wounded were lying under the scorching sun without water. Medical Officer Capt M Sonkar despite incessant enemy shelling, kept tending to the wounded.
The enemy counterattack was successfully repulsed by the battalion consisting at that time of thirsty, hungry and exhausted men, without food, adequate ammunition and support arms. But all these handicaps were overcome by the indomitable Garhwali courage, perseverance and sterling leadership at all levels.
Some of our tanks managed to move up to Buttur Dograndi. One of the troop leaders of 17 Horse conveyed the orders of the battalion Commander to withdraw as tanks were finding the position untenable. Major Khan most reluctantly ordered abandoning of the position. He along with a handful of men, the Regimental Medical Officer and the Intelligence Officer stayed back to evacuate casualties. Unfortunately, he was fatally wounded by an enemy gunshot while personally loading the casualties into a tank. After his death, Major SC Gupta took charge to extricate the battalion.
The battalion lost two officers and 40 men. It earned the distinction of making the deepest thrust into the enemy territory in the Sialkot sector. For this gallant action, it was awarded the Battle Honour ‘Butter Dograndi’.
Guns, valour and sacrifice
Between September 8 and 14, the battalion cleared the enemy from Charwa, Parashyan, Gat and Kaloi for the advancing brigade. At Kaloi and Gat, pitched battles were fought between infantry supported by tanks on both sides. The enemy resorted to air strafing everyday to stop the advancing columns. The battalion suffered a number of casualties in these initial days but this blooded it and hardened the resolve of our troops. The unit B Echelone was unable to reach the unit and as such the first dose of ‘Shakar paras’ was consumed. Lieutenant RCD Joshi, the unit Quarter Master, had quite a story to tell regarding various reactions to the first enemy airstrike on the administrative vehicle column. He had to literally search every bush to re-muster his complete command comprising mostly of cooks and “crooks”. Lt Col BM Singh, Commanding Officer, 62 CAV, envisaged a major enemy build up of anti-tank weapons and medium machine guns in the grove around Parashayan village and accordingly ‘A’ company supported by two squadrons of armour and a battery of 101 Field Regiment put in a full-fledged attack at 8 am. This battle was indeed a true replica of the historic battle of Mahabharat with the chariots (tanks), the deathly ‘Vanas’ in the shape of the heartrending shelling and ‘Pandus’ ie. Garhwali ‘Bhullas’ lined up in phalanx in broad daylight for the ultimate destruction of the enemy. After clearing this village, the advance continued with ‘C’ company under Major BS Mall.
Martyrs of 8 Garhwal Rifles
Major Abdul Rafey Khan -- Vir Chakra
Rfn Balwant Singh Bisht -- Sena Medal -- Sera (Khansor), Chamoli
Lt Col JE Jhirad -- Mentioned-in Despatches-
Sub Bhupal Singh Gusain ---do---
Hav Gabar Singh Negi ---do--- Akhori (Gyare Gaon), Tehri
L/Nk Trilok Singh Rawat ---do--- Kandari Khor (Khansar), Chamoli
L/Hav Keshar Singh Bisht ---do--- Mangaon (Chauthan), Pauri
Nk Kundan Singh Negi ---do---
L/Hav Shyam Singh Panwar -- Bareth (Daijuli), Pauri
L/Nk Pratap Singh Negi -- Sunvi (Karakot), Chamoli
Rfn Asar Singh Rana -- Gwar (Dhanpur), Pauri
Rfn Abtar Singh Kandari -- Pinakot (Kandarsyun), Pauri
Rfn Mahendra Singh Negi -- Deo (Khansar), Chamoli
Rfn Chatar Singh Chauhan -- Gwar (Bamund), Tehri
Rfn Bhura Singh Rana -- Koti (Phaigul), Tehri
Rfn Girdhari Prasad Naithani -- Tamlag (Gagwarsyun), Pauri
L/Nk Chait Singh Gusain -- Bariun (Kapolsyun), Pauri
L/Nk Keshar Singh Pundir -- Gogana (Khansar), Chamoli
Nk Lakshman Singh Chaudhari -- Kharsain (Ranigarh), Chamoli
Hav Gabar Singh Negi -- Akhori (Gyare Gaon), Tehri
L/Hav Shib Singh Panwar -- Jaintoli Talla (Jaintolsyun), Pauri
Nk Bhawan Singh Bisht -- Gadsera (Sirgur), Chamoli
L/Nk Trilok Singh Rawat -- Kandari Khor (Khansar), Chamoli
L/Hav Keshar Singh Bisht -- Mangaon (Chauthan), Pauri
Nk Abbal Singh Gusain -- Kunjasu (Bichla Nagpur), Chamoli
L/Nk Bahadur Singh Rawat-- Dhungalwali (Talla Dasoli), Chamoli
Rfn Balwant Singh Mahar -- Thala (Pindarwar Walla), Chamoli
Rfn Lal Singh Jhinkwan -- Palla (Talla Painkhanda), Chamoli
L/Nk Brijmohan Singh Negi-- Talwari (Pindarwar Walla), Chamoli
Rfn Balwant Singh Bisht --Sera (Khansar), Chamoli
Rfn Lachhman Singh Negi -- Saplori (Ghurdor Syun), Pauri
Rfn Dhiraj Singh Aswal -- Nagar (Aswalsyun), Pauri
Rfn Jagdish Prasad Baunthiyal -- Rohani (Sila), Pauri
Rfn Dilbar Singh Rawat -- Rannchula (Walla Udaypur), Pauri
Rfn Jagat Singh Rana -- Retasi (Dagar), Tehri
Rfn Birendar Singh Negi -- Ira (Mundarsyun), Pauri
Rfn Chandar Singh Negi -- Kalsan (Bangarsyun), Pauri
Rfn Ghana Singh Bhandari-- Ranon (Dasjula), Chamoli
Rfn Sabar Singh Bisht -- Kotsara (Sitonsyun), Pauri
Rfn Ranjit Singh Rawat -- Jaibari (Balikandarsyun), Pauri
Rfn Khushal Singh Chauhan -- Olana (Maniyarsyun), Pauri
Rfn Govind Singh Amola -- Dibnu (Sasrjula), Tehri
Rfn Soban Singh Bisht -- Syuta (Maniyar), Tehri
Rfn Diwan Singh Bagri -- Panchur (Pauri Khal), Tehri
Rfn Mahabir Singh Bisht (SM) -- Tir (Aswalsyun), Pauri
Rfn Trilok Singh Chauhan -- Gaikhal (Talla Udyapur), Pauri
Rfn Gaina Singh Rawat -- Dharsu (Mawalsyun), Pauri
Rfn Balbir Singh Gusain -- Malla Dumalla (Khatli), Pauri
Rfn Chhotiya Singh Gusain-- Tallakeroda (Barma), Tehri