Much of the Indian Army’s grass roots war waging tactics had their genesis in the Raj Era from experiences over five decades in vanquishing the irregular, armed guerrilla bands of Afghan and Pathan tribes, on India’s North West Frontier. The tribals were superb marksmen and gutsy fighters who held regular soldiers beneath contempt! However, once Mountain Artillery became integral to Infantry deployments, the tribes felt disadvantaged but not for long. Unmindful of the enhanced lethality, the tribal hordes took to storming the guns, wielding swords from astride fleet footed horses from both flanks simultaneously, and often emerged victorious.
Just as the Infantry had evolved the tactic of “Rushing an Ambush” (albeit with few survivors to recount the nightmare), the survival of the beleaguered Artillery lay in half the guns firing at the charging horde, while the other half hitched guns to horses, quickly redeployed some distance away to fire at the frenzied foe, thus affording the other half to extricate from the chaotic entanglement. This “Fire & Move” tactic was kept up till the ammunition lasted or the enemy was worsted. It might sound implausible but we have a success story from WW II where Havildar Umrao Singh won a VC in a somewhat similar situation.
Now with this back-drop and as a qualified “Instructor in Gunnery,” I had used the two months preceding the 1971 Indo-Pak War to refresh our Regiment in the essentials of battlefield tactics including in the “Fire & Move” technique. Lo and behold, it saved the day when eighteen hours into a lethal battle, in the dead of dark night, the enemy attempted storming our guns, but fortunately for us, from up front rather than flanks. What ensued was akin to a pack of hyenas converging on an encircled prey, putting it to flight and biting at its heels to bring it down (a sight not uncommon on Discovery TV’s Animal Planet)!
sWe were shaken no doubt. The Adjutant, Captain Santosh Singh kept his nerve, informed the Brigade Headquarter, ordered “Limber Up, Fire & Move to Bravo gun-area” and summoned the gun-towing trucks from the “wagon-line” about five hundred meters away. Subedar Major Sant Ram moved from one gun to the next, motivating and making light of the tense situation while the two young Gun Position Officers (Lieutenants Raminder Khajuria and Praveen Kharbanda) rose to the challenge, courageously. Praveen switched his six, WW II vintage 25 Pounder Guns to engage and slow down the fired up enemy while Raminder got his guns hitched to trucks, redeployed about five hundred meters away and reengaged the enemy as Praveen broke contact and went past Raminder. Both Subalterns kept up this process till the entire 12 Field Regiment (less the Battery detached to Nowshera Sector) crossed over the only bridge across Manawar Tawi, in the Chhamb battle zone.
There were anxious moments, particularly when the guns were being hooked to the trucks and very few could wield their rifles to keep at bay the desperately yelling and abuse hurling attackers. There were bullet injuries aplenty but fortunately all manageable with first-aid, in situ. The attackers now shifted focus on the tyres of guns and had success with four of our twelve guns. But no matter, as the men were sworn on oath “never to desert their guns,” each one jumped off the trucks and put their shoulders to the guns with deflated wheels, the truck drivers revved engines to the limit, all guns trundled out of the harm’s way and an hour later, the Regiment resumed the fight in earnest from Bravo gun-area! Napoleon had fondly endorsed Artillery as God of War and we certainly had angels hovering over us!
The GOC-in-C Western Command, Lieutenant General K.P. Candeth lauded this action in his book, as to them it had looked an utterly hopeless situation to extricate from. Today, with the induction of the indigenous “Dhanush” gun which can fire more shells per minute and self-propel itself short distances sans trucks, the “Fire & Move” terminology of the Indo-Afghan Wars has a fancy avatar in “Shoot & Scoot”!
Commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in July 1956,Lt Gen. Baljit Singh, AVSM, VSM, retired on 31 July 1992 after 36 years of distinguished service. A keen sportsman, accomplished writer and noted environmentalist, he is an active promoter of Conservation of Nature, more so within and by the Armed Forces.