So often the Sikh soldier has made the impossible possible, their legacy of valour boasts of audacious acts of daring and dauntlessness and it rightfully stands as the most decorated regiment of the Indian Army. Few can compare to their glorious heritage, traditions and ethos of battle, the outstanding Battle of Saragarhi, is true to the adage ‘Last man, Last Round.’
Through the two world wars the Regiment has to its credit, 73 Battle Honours and 8 Theatre Honours, 983 gallantry awards including 10 Victoria Cross and 196 IOM and 89 Military Cross. Post-Independence they have 9 Battle Honours, 8 Theatre Honours, 18 COAS Unit Citations and 29 Unit Appreciations. The tally of awards both gallantry and distinguished service is 3515 which includes Two PVC, Three Ashok Chakra, 14 Maha Vir Chakra, 12 Kirti Chakra and 68 Vir Chakra.
During the Indo-Pak War of 1971, the Battalions of the Regiment once again displayed their renown self. Of the 13 active battalions, four were in defensive roles and low-key areas to the north, nine took active part in the War. Battle Honours were bestowed on 4 Sikh, Siramani (in erstwhile East Pakistan); 6 Sikh, Defence of Punch (J&K) and 10 Sikh, Purbut Ali (Rajasthan). Theatre Honours presented in 1971 were, East Pakistan, J&K, Punjab and Sindh.
2 Sikh and 19 Sikh were in the Amritsar Sector, 2 Sikh fought brilliantly to recapture Pulkanjri and 19 Sikh ensured the integrity of Darya Mansur Enclave held by BSF. 5 Sikh in the Defence of Chhamb and 9 Sikh has to its credit the capture of 42 Square Kms of POK in the Lipa Valley, a feat incomparable by any other battalion on the Western Front.
Victory India has taken upon itself to honour battalions and regiments of the Indian Army by reenacting and remembering all the important battles fought so very valiantly during this War over a year long period. As a contribution to this, the Battle Honours of the Sikh Regiment are covered starting with 4 Sikh, the Saragarhi Sikhs!
“Few can compare to their glorious heritage, traditions and ethos of battle, the outstanding Battle of Saragarhi, is true to the adage ‘Last man, Last Round.”
The 1971 Indo-Pak War was fought on two fronts. On the Eastern Front the Indian Army entered erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) principally along four main axes. II Corps from the West, XXXIII Corps from the North-West, 101 Communication Zone Area from the North East and IV Corps from the East. In consort with the Naval Task Force, a small amphibious landing was planned in the general area of Chittagong and the Air Force was all set to rapidly gain air superiority, provide close air support and take on offensive strategic tasks.
4thBattalion the Sikh Regiment, as a part of 350 Infantry Brigade, 9 Infantry Division was initially located at Dattaphulia and Bayra, to the NE of Kolkata and employed on internal security duties. The brigade comprised 1 JAK RIF and 26 Madras, PT -76 tanks of 45 Cavalry and a squadron of 63 Cavalry with T- 55 tanks.
Capture of Makapur and Chaugacha
“The unparalleled valour, courage and heroic exploits of your unit on the battlefield of Makapur, Chaugacha, Burinda and Siramani are awe inspiring events to any true soldier of the world. Every drop of blood shed on these battlefields in accomplishing such glorious heights of heroism and bravery”
4 Sikh was then commanded by Lt Col DS Sidhu, the War for them started early as they conducted many deep reconnaissance patrols to gain maximum information of the terrain and enemy. The first action was the capture of Makapur Village about 4 Km inside hostile territory, this was secured in quick time by Alpha Company led by Maj BS Chahal.
The Battalion thereafter built up and took up a defensive position in the area and immediately started aggressive patrolling. The enemy too started probing forward and this led to a number of clashes with the enemy but soon the very cautious enemy vacated its posts in the vicinity of the Battalion, and these were also captured.
The Battalion was soon given its next objective, Chaugacha, which lay across the Kabadak River. This position was a major pin prick as it constantly shelled Indian villages and inflicted heavy casualties on the innocent villagers. It was an enemy stronghold with a network of brick-lined pill boxes all connected with five feet deep communication trenches and held by 38 Frontier Force (FF) less two companies.
On 21stNov, two companies, Charlie led by Maj SS Duggal and Delta by Maj (later Brig) Kanwaljit Singh with a squadron of 63 Cavalry advanced and established contact with the enemy defences at Chaugacha. The enemy responded with very effective fire by heavy machine guns (HMG), mortars and artillery, forward movement was difficult so barely 100 yds from the river line the companies dug down.
This situation prevailed through 21st and 22nd Nov; on 22 Nov, three enemy jets strafed the battalion location, the loss was not much. Sepoy Nirmal Singh shot down one of the Sabre jets with a Light Machine Gun (LMG). The pilot Flight Lieutenant Pervez Mehdi (later Air Marshal and Chief of the Pakistan Air Force) who ejected was captured by the Battalion. The other two jets were taken care of by Gnats of the Air Force.
To avoid unwanted casualties by a frontal attack, it was decided to outflank the enemy position. Two companies were launched, they crossed the Kabadak about 1500 meters upstream. The crossing was affected by utilizing a leaky country boat, which could at best take only a section (10 men) worth of troops, thus it took the two companies a long time to cross over.
The risks were obvious both during the crossing and in establishing a bridgehead on the enemy bank, but the Sikhs managed to achieve surprise. By the morning of 23 Nov, the enemy realised that they were being encircled and chose to withdraw rather than face the Sikhs, by 1500 hours on 23 Nov Chaugacha was captured. Major General Dalbir Singh, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) complemented the battalion for the brilliant action and remarked that, ‘4 Sikh was always ahead of everybody else by 24 hours!’
“Through the two world wars the Regiment has to its credit, 73 Battle Honours and 8 Theatre Honours, 983 gallantry awards including 10 Victoria Cross and 196 IOM and 89 Military Cross. Post-Independence they have 9 Battle Honours, 8 Theatre Honours, 18 COAS Unit Citations and 29 Unit Appreciations.”
Capture of Burinda
The Battalion was then pulled back and after readjustments took up defences in the area of Raghunathpur, Pasapol and Daspakhia. Burinda was the next objective, a typical village with high bunds and some concrete houses. Enemy 12 Punjab was well entrenched on the high bunds and houses, with mines and an innovation of cotton slabs with trip wires laid on the likely approaches. Attacking the enemy from the west was suicidal, so to achieve surprise loud Jaikaras were raised from various directions, taking advantage of the likely confusion in the enemy, Delta Company captured Matsyaranga, the northern defences without much casualties.
On night 3/4 Dec, Alpha company was launched from the south, despite the heavy fire it captured Burinda. On 5th Dec, Bravo company pushed ahead and faced some severe fire from the enemy in the concrete houses, several individual acts of bravery were witnessed. Charlie Company with a troop of tanks then carried out an outflanking attack to cut off the enemy’s route of withdrawal. The enemy got unnerved and started withdrawing, by 6th Dec, the dogged determination of 4 Sikh was on display and the position was captured. Casualties were heavy on both sides, this included three officers wounded but none agreed to be evacuated, first aid and they continued.
The fall of Burinda broke the spine of defence of Jessore, the enemy vacated most of the outer defences of Jessore and soon vacated Jessore and pulled back to Khulna. 4 Sikh was soon on their heels and captured Durgpur and Malanchi, the road was heavily mined but the troops mounted on T-55 tanks were comparatively safe. Here the Battalion halted for four days and 32 Infantry Brigade passed through for further operations. The Battalion casualties were; killed two JCOs and 25 other ranks, wounded 3 officers, 6 JCOs and 77 other ranks. Large number of weapons and ammunition was captured, the latter included a civilian truck loaded with ammunition.
The Battle of Shyamganj and Siramani
“The tally of awards both gallantry and distinguished service is 3,515 which includes Two PVC, Three Ashok Chakra, 14 Maha Vir Chakra, 12 Kirti Chakra and 68 Vir Chakra.”
At Khulna the enemy defences were based on the villages of Siramani, Shyamganj and the Road-Rail axis to the rear. It was a very suitable position, to the east ran the Bhairab River with large stretches of marshy land towards the west and to the south lay the sea. The only viable direction to attack was from the north, but this would be too obvious and would lead to heavy casualties. To negate the advantages of the enemy defences it was planned to drive a wedge between his defences, for which 4 Sikh were tasked.
1 JAK Rif had crossed the Bhairab River and established itself on a narrow strip on the Western bank of the River, this was used by 4 Sikh as their firm base. The further plan was to launch the battalion in company echelons in four phases, each company was tasked to capture up to a depth of 500 yds, firm in and provide a firm base for the next company passing through for the next phase. The attack led by Bravo Company went in at 1615 hours from the ferry site supported by the entire divisional artillery. It ran into intense fire, losing one killed and 19 wounded in the first 200 yards, but undeterred they bashed on and captured their objective.
Charlie Company followed at 1800 hours and overran the depth locality. The enemy counter attack supported by M-24 Chaffee tanks failed to deter the Khalsa who held on and forced the enemy to retire. In an act of rare gallantry and utter disregard of personal safety, Havildar Shamsher Singh, knocked down an enemy tank with a 3.5” Rocket Launcher. After seven hours of stiff fighting, by 0100 hours on the 16th morning it was in firm control, with a haul of arms including two recoilless guns (Rcl) and one Rcl Jeep, with a 3-ton lorry loaded with ammunition.
In phase three, Delta company was launched at 0200 hours to establish a roadblock on the Main Jessore-Khulna Highway. The enemy in this area had sited their heavy automatic weapons in concrete buildings but the Sikhs charged without a breather. By 0500 hours the company had formed along the road axis and completed the mopping up by 0700 hours. Captured included Eleven prisoners of war (PsW), six HMGs, Five LMGs, 12 Rifles and four jeeps and 21 enemy dead were buried.
At this stage Lt Col Salim, CO 12 Punjab raised the White Flag. The last phase was still launched by Alpha Company under Captain SB Gawaria and Lt HS Ahluwalia to establish a block astride the railway line. Daylighted they came under intense fire but there was no stopping them, by 0930 hours they had completed their task, they lost four men and both officers were wounded. It was after some 17 hours of continuous and stiff battle that the Battalion had effectively created a wedge in the enemy defences.
Within the next 24 hours Khulna was captured and the battalion was given the honour to enter Khulna and bestowed with Battle Honour ‘Siramani’ to be displayed on their Colours, Nb Sub Gurcharan and L/NK Harbhajan Singh were awarded the Vir Chakra. This added to the many memorable battles fought true to the Regimental spirit and Motto, ‘Nische kar Apni Jeet Karon’ (May I always be sure of Victory)!
The Battalion had two JCOs and 34 Other ranks killed; Six officers, Six JCOs and 155 other ranks were wounded. Post the war the Brigade Commander Brig HS Sandhu spoke of the true grit, cold courage, determination and outstanding leadership of 4 Sikh in these words,
“The unparalleled valour, courage and heroic exploits of your unit on the battlefield of Makapur, Chaugacha, Burinda and Siramani are awe inspiring events to any true soldier of the world. Every drop of blood shed on these battlefields in accomplishing such glorious heights of heroism and bravery, I am sure, would have pleased even the heroes of Saragarhi and other forefathers of the SIKH group.
No admiration or praise is sufficient to acknowledge the bravery of all ranks of your unit. I am sure that all these battles would add another glittering chapter of glory to your Sikh Regiment. My sincere prayers for the continued success of your unit. May Wahe Guru bless you and all!
(Lieutenant General RS Sujlana (Retd) is a former Commandant, Indian Military Academy and Chairman, Punjab Public Service Commission. He has commanded 3rd Battalion the Sikh Regt, a mountain brigade in Assam (Op Rhino) and an Infantry Division in the deserts. He has also been an Instructor at IMA, Dehradun and held various important staff appointments like Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade, Colonel General Staff CIF (J&K), Deputy Director General (Public Information) and is presently serving as Additional Director General of Public Information, at the Army HQ. He has done prestigious Army Courses at the Infantry School, Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Army War College, and the National Defence College. He was decorated with a Vishisht Seva Medal on Republic Day for his role in Op Parakram. Views expressed are the authors own and does not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')