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60 YEARS OF 1962 WAR

Indian troops fought hard atop Gurung Hill

All four bravehearts of the bunker were awarded for supreme valour: Maha Vir Chakra for 2nd Lt Goswami, posthumously Vir Chakra for Naik Gurdip Singh and Sena Medals for Naik Pritam Singh and Lance Naik Sarwan Singh. Goswami’s frostbite was so severe that he lost both legs, as also the thumb and index finger of his right hand. As reconstructive surgery and prosthetic limbs were then nonexistent in India, Goswami was flown to Germany and a year later on return, he was feted by his regiment.

Indian troops fought hard atop Gurung Hill

litmus test: The 1962 war witnessed fierce battles at Rezang La and Gurung Hill. File photo



Lt Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

Military Commentator

WHEN the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched full-blooded, lethal assaults commencing on October 20, 1962, across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Thagla-Bumla sector in the east and conjointly on a string of 16 Army posts in Depsang Plains in Ladakh, the Sino-Indian war became an existential reality. It was at this stage that the repeated advice of the Indian armed forces was hurriedly sought to be put in place.

Confining this article to one strategically important hilltop in the overall architecture of defence of the Ladakh province in general and Leh in particular, the creation of 3 Indian Division at Leh commenced on October 26, i.e., when the PLA was already at the gates of Tawang in the east and Chushul in the west.

The Indian Army and IAF swung into action and the first troops of artillery comprising just four guns (the tried-and-tested war horses of WWII, the 25 pounders) with 200 shells a piece were air-landed in an An-12 aircraft at the makeshift airstrip (advanced landing ground or ALG) in Chushul on October 21.

Brigadier TN Raina and his 114 Brigade-in-the-making were fetched in the Chushul sector, commencing on October 27. Digging a trench or an artillery gun pit to create a bunker was a Herculean task where the ground surface was layered with permafrost, solidified over the years. Even though sufficient material needed for the construction of defensive locations was daily being offloaded at Chushul, carrying it to the site of the bunker at Gurung Hill, 16,952 ft above sea level, was exhausting. But undaunted, the Jats, Kumaonis, Gorkhas and artillery gunners of the Chushul Brigade worked round the clock in shifts.

The IAF shuttle delivered four more artillery guns, four heavy mortars and six AMX tanks at the ALG on October 26, turning the Chushul bowel into a potent fire base.

The defence of Gurung Hill was assigned to one company of 1/8 Gorkha Rifles (GR) supported by two medium machine guns and an artillery observation post in situ; the latter comprised 2nd Lt SD Goswami, one technical assistant and two radio-cum-telephone line operators lodged in their constricted bunker at 16,952 ft. Had the CO, 1/8 GR, Lt Col Hari Singh, MVC (1947-48 J&K war), been given freedom of action, he would have occupied the eastern-most extension of Gurung Hill, a lofty pimple at 18,156 ft above sea level. But he was constrained by the directive — “not to provoke” the Chinese!

Greenhorn Goswami, with barely two years of service, realised that the Pimple was the point where his foe would position himself to bring down fire on Indian defences. So, he carefully calculated the map location of the Pimple, as also several potential artillery targets, and unmindful of “no provocation” tested by firing one confirmatory shot at each target, a few days before the PLA assault!

The test of nerves commenced at 5.15 am on November 18 with an hour-long artillery barrage by the PLA. Fog thickened by smoke of shell bursts had rendered visibility to 150 metres and that is when Goswami brought down a curtain of shell bursts by four of his guns and heavy mortars from Chushul, further thickened by the MMGs in situ. There were just a few PLA survivors.

At 6.20 am, the PLA launched 400 soldiers, who too met the same fate, as the first wave. Stung by the losses, another 400 soldiers were launched at 8.30 am and that is also when one PLA artillery shell demolished Goswami’s bunker. Goswami had a few flesh wounds from splinters as did his technical assistant Naik Gurdip Singh. Meanwhile, the two signal operators (Naik Pritam Singh and Lance Naik Sarwan Singh) slithered downhill, stitching together snapped phone cables to the guns. But on their third similar vital errand, they too perished. Goswami and Gurdip crawled forward in the open from where they could better observe the assaulting PLA infantry and in the process, Goswami received a hit on his skull by a shell splinter, which knocked him unconscious. Gurdip took to directing gunfire till he too fell to a PLA sniper. At 9.30 am, the forward portion of Gurung Hill fell in the hands of the PLA, but their losses were so heavy that they were incapacitated from capturing the depth platoon.

Around sundown, Goswami miraculously regained consciousness and despite blood loss, he started walking towards the surviving depth platoon from where his GR comrades helped his further descent to the Chushul Field Hospital. Brigadier Raina was the first to meet Goswami and he ensured his air evacuation to the Base Hospital in Delhi on November 19.

About 15 survivors of the forward locality had fallen back on their depth platoon, swelling their fighting strength to 45 bayonets for the battle on November 19. The PLA realised its folly of frontal assaults and so at 10.30 am, it launched a simultaneous frontal attack with 400 soldiers on each axis. It also deployed artillery guns, mortars and a few tanks in the Spanggur Gap.

In anticipation, the Artillery Battery Commander moved up on a ridge (Magar Hill), west of the ALG, and had a field day, directing the fire of guns, heavy mortars as also the AMX tanks on the series of PLA attacks on Gurung Hill till the “last man, last round” gallant stand of 1/8 Gorkha.

At Chushul, the 25 pounders blew to smithereens one of the PLA guns in the Spanggur Gap, forcing the PLA to hastily pull back. So high was their morale that when on the intervening night of November 19 and 20, the Brigade chose to redeploy in depth, one 25-gun detachment refused to obey and Brigadier Raina doffed his hat to his Havildar!

Goswami’s frostbite was so severe that he lost both legs as also the thumb and index finger of his right hand. As reconstructive surgery and prosthetic limbs were then nonexistent in India, Goswami was flown to Germany and a year later on return, he was proudly feted by his Regiment, 13 Field.

All four bravehearts of the bunker were awarded for supreme valour; MVC for Goswami and posthumously Vir Chakra for Naik Gurdip Singh and Sena Medals for Naik Pritam Singh and Lance Naik Sarwan Singh.

The conduct of these four in a trench remained so deeply etched on Brig Raina’s memory that on his elevation as the Chief of the Army Staff, on a routine visit to Rajouri, he chose to meet all ranks of 13 Field Regiment; on recognising the Havildar who had refused to withdraw from Chushul, the Chief (an MVC awardee) first singled him out for praise, honoured him with a silver salver and in March 1977 at the School of Artillery, Deolali, presented a silver trophy to 13 Field “for consistent and sharp shooting”.


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