Marathas in the 1965 indo pak war – After Independence in 1947 and the merger of the former princely states in 1949, two new battalions joined the regiment. These were the 19th Battalion from the former Kolhapur state forces and the 20th from the former Baroda state forces. After the Hyderabad police action, one more battalion joined the regiment from the Hyderabad State Forces and was designated as 22nd Battalion. In addition, the regiment had three Territorial Army units, viz. 101, 109 and 115 Infantry Battalions (TA).
During the rapid expansion of the Indian Army in early sixties, the Maratha Regiment re-raised five new battalions in succession. These were the 6th in February 1962; 17th in November 1962; 7th in January 1963; 8th in October 1963; and 9th in October 1964. Participation of Maratha Battalions in the ’65 war
When the war with Pakistan started in 1965, the Regiment fielded a total of 11 infantry and three TA battalions, besides the Regimental Centre at Belgaum, which played a stellar role in provision of trained manpower to the battalions. All the battalions participated directly in the war with Pakistan in different theatres, except one, viz. the 17th, which was defending the forward posts in Nathu La and Yak La in Sikkim against the Chinese army. The battalions of Maratha Light Infantry participated in the 1965 War in the following sectors as under: Kashmir Sector: 1, 7 and 20 Maratha LI. Jammu Sector: 22 Maratha LI. Punjab: 2, 6 and 19 Maratha LI. Rajasthan: 4, and 5 Maratha LI. Sikkim: 17 Maratha LI.
Three battalions, 7, 20 and 22 Maratha LI were already deployed on the ceasefire line (CFL) in J&K and 17 Maratha LI was deployed at Nathu La in Sikkim.
The rest were moved to their operational areas as the situation developed.
The Kashmir Sector
The curtain raiser of the regiment was the short-notice move of 1 Maratha LI (Jangi Paltan) to counter the Pakistani infiltrators. The battalion was on its field tenure in Ladakh since mid 1964, as part of 163 Infantry Brigade. The entire brigade was moved to the Srinagar Valley in J&K on 08 August 1965 to deal with the Pakistani infiltration. The battalion, under the command of Col SA (Mini) Mohite, first took up a defensive position at Badgam and then moved to the Srinagar airfield for its defence. It then operated throughout the Valley, conducting sub-unit level operations in hunting for and destroying infiltrators.
Company level operations were launched in area Yusmarg on 15 August; in area Khunmuh on 20 August; in Dachigam forest on 22 August; and in area Watrad-Dalbal on 28 August. During the sweep in the Dachigam forest, the column was ambushed. In the ensuing fire-fight, two officers – Maj. Vijay Oberoi (the author of this essay) and 2/Lt AG Raut were severely wounded. While brave Raut succumbed to his wounds, Oberoi survived, though his right leg was amputated. He eventually retired as the Vice Chief of the Army after over 40 years of service. During the operations, the battalion lost one officer, one JCO and 11 Other Ranks (OR’s) killed and one officer and four OR wounded.
When Operation Gibraltar commenced, 7 and 20 Maratha LI were deployed in the crucial Uri sector of the CFL, with 7 Maratha LI on the south of river Jhelum and 20 Maratha LI on the north. The entire defence of this important sector was thus in the capable hands of these two Maratha battalions. Once the Pakistani infiltration commenced in the Srinagar Valley, Uri became the hub of counterinfiltration operations by the Indian Army.
7 Maratha LI, then under the command of Lt Col HW Kulkarni, defended its area with dogged determination and thwarted all attempts by the Pakistani troops to gain important ground in their area. In addition, it launched a number of offensive operations which included the capture of Point 9108 and a major operation across the CFL by a company-plus strong patrol. During the entire operation, the battalion lost four OR killed and nine wounded and earned one ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’. 20 Maratha LI, was guarding the northern shoulder of the Uri bowl in rugged terrain and was then under the command of Lt Col KC Aiayanna. It was also responsible for protecting the vital Mahura Power House. The battalion distinguished itself in the capture of the enemy picquet Jhandimali after hand to hand fighting, as well as two subsidiary posts-Babar and Burji. The battalion suffered three killed and 23 wounded, which included Maj. RCS Mann, Sub. Waryam Singh and Hav. Niwruti Saste. For his bravery and leadership, Maj. Mann was awarded the Sena Medal and L/Nk Shrirang Pol was ‘Mentioned- in- Despatches’ for gallantry.
The Jammu Sector 22 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col GR (George) Shinde, was deployed over an extended sector in area Gambhir, with all four rifle companies fully committed on the CFL. It was also responsible for protecting the line of communications between Rajauri and Bhimber Gali and had provided one section for the protection of the brigade headquarters. It was this section under the command of Nk Keshav Rao Salunke that first made contact with the enemy, while forming part of a large fighting patrol under Capt. CN Singh from the brigade HQ and Capt. VJ Chauhan from the battalion. In the fierce encounter that followed, Nk. Salunke and Capt. CN Singh were killed. Capt. CN Singh was later awarded the Mahavir Chakra posthumously and Capt Chauhan was awarded the Sena Medal.
For keeping the road axis open and free from enemy activity, patrols operated successfully against great odds. Two important bridges on the axis – Dubey and Yadunath, were also stoically defended. On 19th September, a rifle company successfully inflicted heavy casualties on an enemy infiltrating force and on 26 Sep, three enemy attacks were thrown back with determination and élan. During these operations, the unit suffered four OR killed and seven wounded. The battalion earned three Sena Medals, including one posthumously, while the Commanding Officer was awarded a Commendation Card.
The Punjab Sector
Three battalions, 2 Maratha LI (Kali Panchwin), 6 and 19 Maratha LI, took part in operations in the Punjab Sector. The ferocity of operations in this sector can be gauged by the number of casualties collectively suffered by these battalions, which numbered 39 killed, 163 wounded and 110 missing. Two battalion commanders, out of a total of seven officers were killed.
2 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col TTA Nolan, moved to Ferozepur on 4 September to defend the important Hussainiwala headworks on the Sutlej River. A high enemy observation tower and the Kujianwali post were captured and extensive patrolling kept the enemy on the defensive. On 19 September, a major enemy attack was repulsed, although the company commander was wounded. Throughout the operations, the commando platoons successfully harassed the enemy. On 21 September, Col Nolan was killed by a shell splinter and command of the battalion devolved on Lt Col Ranjit Singh. During the entire operations, the casualties of the battalion were two officers (including the CO) and 11 other ranks killed. One officer, four JCO’s and 22 OR were wounded.
6 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col AM (Mathew) Manohar, moved to its operational area on 7 September and went into action the same night. The battalion was a part of the offensive in the Sialkot Sector and was tasked to take part in the important attack on Chawinda. The brigade attack commenced on the night of 18 September and met with strong resistance. The battalion fought its way against heavy odds and captured its assigned objective, but it was isolated as it was the only battalion to reach the objective. Enemy armour and infantry launched a number of counter attacks, in which the battalion suffered heavy casualties. Two officers, including the CO, two JCO’s and 36 OR were killed; two officers and 30 OR were wounded; and two officers; four JCO’s; and 110 OR were taken prisoners of war. In the overall context, the Chawinda attack was a failure, but all ranks of the battalion wrote one more chapter in the unending saga of Maratha chivalry.
19 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col SD Parab, operated on road Hudiara-Barki in Pakistani territory. In preliminary operations, the battalion secured areas Manihala, Jahman and Chatanwala. In the last attack, a company commander was seriously wounded and a JCO and two OR were killed and 29 were wounded. On 20 September, the battalion contacted the strong enemy position at Thatti Jaimal Singh and secured it after heavy fighting. The enemy launched a number of counter attacks insuccession over the next two days but all were repulsed. Although the cease fire had become effective, the enemy launched one more counter attack, which was also driven back. Despite the heavy attacks, the Marathas stood their ground doggedly, beating back each attack, with the officers leading their men courageously, but the battalion casualties were heavy. In this fierce battle, all rifle company commanders were either killed or wounded. Three officers, one JCO and 20 OR were killed and 105 all ranks, including three officers and six JCO’s were wounded.For this epic battle, the battalion earned four Vir Chakras, five Sena Medals and five ‘Mentioned- in- Despatches’.
The Rajasthan Sector
4 and 5 Maratha LI were in action from September 1965 to January 1966 in the desert, as the Pakistani troops did not adhere to the cease fire in this sector. They endured tremendous hardships in the desert, where logistics, especially water supplies, were often poorly organised and there was lack of specialist equipment for desert warfare. 4 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col VVK Nambiar, moved to its operational area on 7 September, but remained in reserve initially. It then saw action for the next four months, as Pakistani troops had commenced their old game of infiltration to recover lost territory. The battalion secured Sundra Village after a gruelling march in the desert on 28 September. The enemy mounted a major attack the next day and surrounded our troops.
A withdrawal was ordered. However, as the enemy had blocked all routes, our troops were cut off and the commanding officer, four other officers, two JCO’s and 20 OR were taken prisoners. Despite reverses and losing a large number of officers, the battalion captured Kelnor. The next day, the battalion attacked the important area of Kelnor Ka Tal, at short notice and with grim determination against a superior force, the enemy was drivenincluded the officiating commanding officer.On 10 Nov, Lt Col VG Joag took over command of the battalion, while the plans for attacking the important position of Miajlar were being finalised. The attack was launched on night 17/18 November by a mixed force. It was a highly successful operation in which the entire enemy force was either killed or captured. The battalion suffered a total of one JCO and 20 OR killed and one officer and 113 OR wounded. The battalion was awarded two Vir Chakras, one Sena Medal and three ‘Mentionedin- Despatches’.
5 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col Rattan Singh, was moved to Barmer on 02 September and later to Gadra Road. It secured Gadra City on 08 September and then advanced towards Khokrapara and firmed in at Sakarbu. On 21 September, a mixed force attacked Naupatia and captured it against heavy opposition. However, the position was later lost, along with the nearby position at Dali just prior to the ceasefire coming in to force. Despite the cease fire, the enemy tried to grab as much territory as possible. Skirmishes and jockeying for positions continued till January 1966. During these operations, the battalion had also provided a firm base to 4 Maratha LI for its attacks on Kelnor and Subhala. It also provided a commando platoon for the attack on Miajlar, which successfully cut off enemy reinforcements. During the operations, the battalion suffered one officer and six OR killed and two officers and 27 OR wounded.
The Sikkim Sector
17 Maratha LI, under the command of Lt Col MA Shaikh, was deployed on the Sikkim-Tibet border during the War. Its brigade commander, Brig E D’souza, had earlier raised and commanded the battalion. The Chinese troops had massed a major force opposite the Natu La Pass. Although heavily outnumbered, the Marathas held the position with determination, while the Chinese troops brought down heavy machine gun fire. After a face-off of two days, the Chinese troops withdrew, realising that the Marathas were neither subdued nor backing out from a fight. Another similar incident occurred at the remote Yak La, where the position was again held with tenacity. The battalion suffered two casualties; one OR was killed and one wounded. The battalion was awarded one Sena Medal and two Commendation Cards.
During this war, all battalions had upheld the proud Maratha tradition of loyalty, efficiency, discipline, toughness and fearless courage that have always been the hallmarks of the regiment. What stands out in these operations was the frontline leadership of the officers, who fought gallantly with the troops. Three commanding officers killed and one taken as prisoner and over a dozen company commanders killed and wounded testify to their motivation, courage and leadership. Other junior commanders also set fine examples, not only for their jawans but also for the entire army. This ethos of leaders always leading their troops gallantly and with élan is the hallmark of the Maratha Light Infantry. The sacrifices of the Marathas will long be remembered and hopefully emulated. Even when the Maratha troops were launched at short notice and at times with limited reconnaissance, they rose to the occasion and gave a tough fight to the Pakistanis. The army and the nation needs to be proud of the exploits of the Marathas during this war, something that the Regiment had done since its inception and what they have continued to do till this day. The war cry of the Regiment – “Bol Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai”- will continue to resonate in many a battlefield in future too.
Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi was commissioned in the 1 Maratha LI and later commanded 18 Maratha LI. He retired as Vice Chief of Army Staff and was also the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ for over eight years.