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Blooding of the Phor Thud GR

Blooding of Phor Thud Gorkha Rifles May 1965

Read the poems composed for this raid Buzzard Feast, Summer Moonshine and Dicing and Death

This is a true account of the raid carried out by Lt. Nawang’s battalion in May 1965 across the Cease Fire line into enemy territory. The account and the pictures have been provided by Lt. Col. A.K. “Sam” Sharma who participated in the action

The Fourth Battalion, The Third Gorkha Rifles (4/3 GR) was holding a part of the Cease Fire Line (now Line of Control) in the Naoshera Sector of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in May 1965. At night the piquets could see the lights of the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).

From end 1964, the area had become very active; taking pot shots at each other was commonplace and enemy ambushes were frequent. After last light, tracer rounds from heavy automatics criss-crossed the Valley. The area was a veritable a cauldron of daily spats between the Pakistanis and the Indians. Raids were the order of the day and the general policy was that the raiding of an Indian post had to be replied by a counter raid in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

It was only a fortnight earlier that a Road Opening Party of 4/3 GR had been ambushed by the wily Baluchis inside the Indian area. The leading scout had been hit, and he bravely fired back emptying his magazine into the fleeing enemy before falling to his injuries. The Battalion had to redeem its honour in full measure in a counter raid.

Major Jayanta Chanda was chosen to lead the raid on a platoon strength enemy post in proximity of the Cease Fire Line. Professionally sound and popular he had the confidence of superiors and subordinates alike. He was given 24 hours notice and had to get organised quickly. He briefed the attack party on a black board sketch and patiently removed doubts after which, the Battalion second-in- command reminded all concerned that the success of the Raid would depend on the proof produced, either in the form of a weapon or any other evidence, preferably a prisoner. The Commanding Officer, Lt Col SDS Yadava (later Maj Gen), exhorted the troops to uphold the honour of the paltan and gingered them up with a fine speech.

Individual group commanders briefed their men on the ground, of their objectives & routes. Since raising in October 1962, this would be the first blooding of the Battalion in an offensive action.

Troops set out for the Raid immediately after last light and after a long approach march, arrived at the rendezvous point. It so happened that a company Subedar got annoyed by some thing one of the johnnies had done, and in the pre-combat jitters got excited and began nervously chaffing him at the top of his voice, little realizing that the enemy was then within earshot. This was to prove almost disastrous as events began to unfold. As soon as the Support Group confirmed that they were in position, all the attack groups left for the release point at the base of the enemy feature on which the Post was located.

Surprise was lost much before the groups could reach their Release Points, owing to the earlier outburst and the enemy opened very heavy and effective fire with all their weapons, including three Browning medium machine guns firing from the flanks and depth as soon as the gorkhas got within range, in a partly dry nullah bed.

In the teeth of enemy fire Chanda gave the yell to rush the objectives and led the charge followed by the troops. The Feature rose in an elongated razor edge from the Valley floor and had to be addressed simultaneously. The diminutive but pugnacious Lt. AK Sharma (Sam), was to go for the Left Bump while Subedar (later Subedar Major of the Battalion) Rik Bahadur was to assault the Right Bump. The two groups had to swiftly kill all enemy encountered and get some weapons, preferably the much coveted and prized enemy .30 Browning Medium Machine Guns and withdraw quickly before enemy fire and reinforcements from nearby posts could react.

After Chanda reached the Release Point with his buddy (a euphemism describing the close companions all soldiers operated with, so as not to feel isolated), Sam came rushing after him, 10 to 12 metres behind, herding his group close to him. Chanda was exhorting the troops using the choicest of Punjabi expletives (which all those familiar with them know are powerful motivators), little realising that this is a lingua franca on both sides of the divide. In the confusion of the moment with heavy fire and choice gaalis from all sides Sam mistook Chanda for a strapping enemy soldier and emptied his magazine at him and missed! Chanda’s vocabulary became more spectacular thereafter.

Unfazed, Sam continued his charge up the Left Bump firing and throwing hand grenades as he and his men closed in. Rifleman Kharke Bahadur was to his left and Rifleman Dash Bahadur to his right. As he approached an enemy bunker he noticed an enemy soldier charging towards him. As Sam got ready to meet the charge, Kharke, holding his sten gun from its muzzle end, clubbed the enemy on his head, while Sam snatched his rifle. The rest of the enemy fled. After inflicting what damage they could Sam ordered his group back to the rendezvous point.

In the meanwhile, the others went to the Right Bump and inflicted severe damage on the enemy, bayoneting three of them. Rik Bahadur Gurung could not make it to the enemy Browning emplacement due to heavy fire and his group were pinned down. By this time, at just past midnight, Chanda ordered the groups to return.

The Support Group stayed put, while all the three assault groups withdrew to a pre-determined rendezvous point to regroup. It was then discovered that Kharke was missing. On Chanda’s acquiescence Sam led his party back in the chaos to look for Kharke at the rear of Left Bump where he was last seen. They searched for him as meticulously as it was possible under the circumstances, all the time shouting for him. This created further panic in the enemy and they started to wail out cries of, “Bhago, Bhago, kafir phir aa gaye hain” (Withdraw, run, the gorkha devils have returned!). The gorkhas let them have a full blast from their weapons once again but the search was futile and in the face of enemy fire had to be abandoned.

With daylight approaching the raid party had to pull out. This was just as well as the Pakistanis were homing on to their location and mortars had almost managed to pin point them. A mortar duel ensued from both sides, enabling Chanda to withdraw with the men without further incident.

Half way back to the piquet, as per the pre-determined time, the Raid Commander started enquiring whether the support group had started withdrawing. He could not raise Lt ‘Paoche’ Gangte on the wireless for nearly half an hour and was seriously getting worried when he got the news that he was returning. Gangte’s group had been pinned down by enemy fire and they just could not move. So he lit his torch and threw it some distance away. This had the desired effect as the enemy fire shifted on to the lighted torch. All that was excellent and very nice but after he managed to extricate his group, Gangte sheepishly explained that he had gone back to retrieve his torch and thus could not reply to Chanda’s urgent queries!

They sat down for the debriefing at the camp with mixed emotions of a successful mission but saddened by the loss of a soldier. Gallant attempts were made in the next 24 hours by Sam and Lt Gangte (later DIG Police, Manipur) with volunteer soldiers to find Kharke or at least retrieve his body but to no avail. Later it was found that a wounded Kharke had been captured and barbarically bayoneted, while tied, by enemy soldiers, incensed at the damage to the Post and lose of 9 dead and 27 wounded.

Next day the enemy abandoned the Post but the enemy subjected the entire Sector to heavy firing for days as he vented his frustration.

The news of the successful mission cheered the entire Division and the General commented on the sterling performance of the gurkhas on ‘a plucky raid’. The Army Chief also commended the Unit. Sam and Rik Bahadur received his commendation.

This Raid was the “blooding” of the battalion in an exacting crucible of war. The acts of devotion to duty, bravery, heroism, raw courage and valour performed set a standard that has become the Battalion’s legacy and part of its glorious history.