Tale of victory: 1971 Indo-Pak war veterans revisit experiences from Battle of Basantar

BENGALURU: From hand-to-hand fighting to getting inside Pakistan and destroying 48 Pakistani tanks – war veterans, who fought a major battle during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 shared anecdotes and stories of valour during a recently organised webinar.

The webinar – ‘The Battle of Basantar – Indian Offensive Thwarts Enemy Plans’ was organised by the School of Military Affairs, Strategy and Logistics (SMASL) at Rashtriya Raksha University, Gujarat to mark the 50th anniversary year of one of the fiercest battles fought on the Western front in 1971. Three war veterans, who fought the battle as young officers, shared their experiences from the battlefield and heroic adventures inside Pakistan. The Battle of Basantar or the Battle of Barapind was one of the most important battles fought as part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

Brig V Mahalingam (Retd), who was a Wartime Adjutant, 16 MADRAS, shared that his battalion sent out patrols to the area of operations to gather valuable information. “They were also tasked to establish a bridgehead across the Basantar river (a river that flows in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh) and hold on to it till December 17. When the enemy attacked us, our Armour had not been inducted. But our 106-mm RCL guns did the job and what a fine job they did!” he said proudly.


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RCL (Recoilless Launcher), is a lightweight, portable, anti-tank weapon similar in form and appearance to a rocket launcher but used to fire artillery shells.

Brig Mahalingam also shared that towards the end of the counterattack, their battalion had to resort to hand-to-hand fighting to drive away from the enemy who was attempting to counterattack our positions.

Brig Brijendra Singh’s adventures on the battlefield were just as engrossing. He told the audience how his battalion (17 Poona Horse) crossed the International Border and got inside Pakistan on the night of December 5 and 6 by about 15-odd km and a total of 48 Pakistani tanks were destroyed in a few hours. “It was a furious tank-vs-tank battle. The Pakistani armour was so badly mauled that no further counter-attacks came,” Brig Singh (Retd) contended.

Col Satvinder Singh Cheema (Retd) shared how his Battalion, the 3 Grenadiers, was tasked to open the battlefront of 54 Infantry Division from Samba (close to Jammu). “We captured a few of the enemies and their tanks. I was then ordered to mount tanks of my squadron and advance until we hit the first minefield in enemy territory. Later we were tasked to establish a bridgehead across river Basantar, around 20 Kilometers inside Pakistan”.

The awe-inspiring narrations were followed by a discussion with the audience.

Col Deepak Joshi (Retd), Director i/c SMASL, told TOI, that the School has been organising webinars to mark the Golden Jubilee Year of India’s victory over Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in December 1971.

On the lines of the webinar, TOI also spoke to army veterans for their view about the battle.

Bangalore-based Lt Col Pavithran Rajan (Retd) told TOI: “This battle was defined by outstanding leadership and heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. The importance of the better-trained man behind the machine triumphing over superior weaponry is the greatest take away of the battle.”

Lt Gen A B Shivane (Retd), Former 1 Corps Commander and Senior Advisor, Defence Research and Studies (DRaS) called the Battle of Basantar an epic battle of courage, valour and sacrifice, epitomising the highest spirit of soldiering on both sides. “While Major Hoshiar Singh and 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal (posthumously) were awarded the highest gallantry award – The ParamVir Chakra; Lt Col Akram Raja of Pakistan Army was also awarded the second-highest gallantry award based on a note of his gallantry written by his Indian counterpart Lt Col VP Airy of 3 Grenadiers”, the General told TOI.

Kanchana Ramanujam, Webinar Moderator, and Assistant Professor, SMASL said: “So far, SMASL has organised five webinars covering various battles of 1971. The school is committed to making the next generation aware of the glorious military legacy they have inherited, through Veterans who fought the War, winning victory for the nation and glory for their regiments.”

Divya Malhotra, Assistant Professor, SMASL, told TOI that even though the battles are well-documented in written literature, gripping first-hand accounts by the war veterans themselves bring a different energy and enthusiasm to the serious subject of Military History.

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