During the 1971 war, the Marathas saw action on both fronts. In the Western theatre, eight regular battalions and three Territorial Army battalions of the Maratha Light Infantry were involved. Six regular battalions of the Regiment took part in the Eastern theatre for the liberation of Bangladesh. Some were employed in the battle areas without actual combat; others were engaged in fierce fighting, inflicting and suffering heavy casualties.
Personnel of the Regiment covered themselves with glory in the finest traditions of the regiment and the service, which was recognised with the award of the Mahavir Chakra to Sepoy Pandurang Salunke of 15 Maratha Light Infantry, and 15 Vir Chakras, two Vishist Seva Medals, 20 Sena Medals and 12 ‘Mentioned-in- Despatches’ to other personnel from the Regiment.
Three battalions of the Regiment were awarded Battle Honours in recognition of the actions they were engaged in during the war: “Jamalpur” to the 1st Battalion ( Jangi Paltan); “Suadih” to the 5th Battalion (Royal); and “Burj” to the newly raised 15th Battalion. The 15th Battalion also received the Theatre Honour “Punjab”. And the 22nd Battalion received the Theatre Honour “Hilli”.
The Western Theatre
On the outbreak of hostilities, 2 Maratha Light Infantry (Kali Panchwin), under the command of Lt Col MA Zaki, then deployed in the Eastern theatre, was airlifted as part of 123 Mountain Brigade to the Western theatre, and successively deployed at various places in the Punjab. But other than being subjected to air attacks, it did not have the good fortune of being launched into battle. Consequent to the cease-fire coming into effect, the battalion was moved back to the Eastern theatre to be deployed in Barrackpore for aid to civil power during the West Bengal elections of March 1972.
4 Maratha Light Infantry
Stationed at Jodhpur, under the command of Lt Col BS Sahore, was moved to the border in preparation for the impending war. Launch of offensive operations across the IB were pre-empted by the Pakistani attack on Longewala, and together with others, the battalion was deployed to secure the lines of communication, and in reacting to unsubstantiated reports of the dropping of enemy paratroopers.
The Pakistani forces that attempted to take Longewala were decimated by the Indian Air Force Hunters operating out of Jamnagar. Efforts at exploiting the reverses suffered by the Pakistani forces, by prosecuting offensive operations were tempered somewhat by a decision to divert forces to the Barmer sector to exploit the success achieved there. The battalion soon found itself in Munabao and engaged in actions in the areas they had fought in during the 1965 War. Soon thereafter the cease fire became effective and the battalion was relocated to Gadra Road as Command reserve.
6 Maratha Light Infantry
Under the command of Lt Col Harphul Singh, moved to Dinanagar in the Punjab in mid- October and operated in that area on the outbreak of war. After a few skirmishes and actions across the border, the Battalion crossed the Ravi river after last light on 8 December 1971. It engaged in a number of actions against Pakistani positions while spearheading the divisional advance to Nainakot, which was captured by 1130 hours on 10 December.
Poised for the attack on Shakargarh, aggressive patrolling and reconnaissance was carried out from 14 to 16 December and in the process, some casualties were suffered due to enemy shelling. In the event, the cease-fire intervened and the attack did not take place. For acts of bravery and courage, Maj. SB Salunke was awarded the Vir Chakra and Sena Medals were conferred on Havildar Vithal Sawant and Lance Naik Mahadeo Shinde. Lance Naik Sakharam More was ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
8 Maratha Light Infantry
At that time briefly designated 3 Maratha Light Infantry, the battalion under the command of LT Col J.S. Lahe was part of 19 Infantry Division (then commanded by Maj. Gen. Eustace D’Souza). It was tasked with operational missions in the Gulmarg sector that involved intensive patrolling and the capture of posts on the then ceasefire line (CFL). In the process, while inflicting heavy casualties on the Pakistanis, the battalion suffered three killed and two wounded. Maj. V.A. Misal, commanding A Company was awarded the Sena Medal, and Maj. B.A. Patil commanding D Company was ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
9 Maratha Light Infantry
Under the command of Lt Col K.L. Awasthi, which was located in Samba at the commencement of the war, was allotted the task of holding the “vital ground” of the division. Despite being deployed subsequently at various stages for being launched into action and being subjected to artillery shelling and air attacks, it did not have the good fortune engaging in battle.
14 Maratha Light Infantry
Raised on 1 June 1971 at Belgaum by Lt Col R.K. Dutt, the battalion moved into Punjab at the end of August and was deployed for the protection of the airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Amritsar, as also (together with others) for the security of the Pathankot-Samba line of communication, including the Madhopur bridge. For their daring and effective use of automatic fire against attacking enemy aircraft, Havildar Dattatraya Ghadge and Lance Naik Wasudeo Jagtap were ‘Mentioned-in- Despatches’.
15 Maratha Light Infantry,
was deployed in defensive positions in area North East of Amritsar over a broad frontage, the BSF outposts and the battalion’s platoon screen positions were attacked by the Pakistanis on the night of 3 December 1971, and again the following night. Despite the withdrawal of the BSF posts, the battalion screen positions held firm and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Bold actions by the forward positions and aggressive patrolling, including by the commando platoon, kept the enemy at bay.
One of the patrols led by Captain Dilip Kute caught 43 Baluch mortar platoon by surprise leading to the capture of the sub-unit together with its equipment. Attacks by the enemy, on the main defences of the unit, were beaten back with heavy casualties. Exploiting an opportunity that presented itself, Maj. Ranbir Singh, the second-in-command launched a coordinated attack for the capture of Burj, despite being wounded. Sepoy Pandurang Salunke displayed bravery of the highest order in the fierce hand-to-hand fighting that ensued; at one stage he grabbed a rocket launcher from the hands of a Pakistani soldier, but became a victim of enemy fire.
He was posthumously awarded the Mahavir Chakra. Enemy attempts to retake the positions were beaten back with heavy casualties to the enemy. This also included an action that was led by the CO, Lt Col H.C. Sachdev. Besides the Mahavir Chakra, posthumously awarded to Sepoy Pandurang Salunke, Maj. Ranbir Singh, Maj. Sher Singh and Sepoy Hanumant More were awarded the Vir Chakra. Sena Medals were awarded to LT Col H.C. Sachdev, Naib Subedar Shivaji Yadav and posthumously to Sepoy Tatoba Deshmukh, and Capt. K. Bhaskaran AMC. Subedar Bhagwan Shinde and Lance Naik Ramchandra Mane were ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
16 Maratha Light Infantry
In its role as divisional reserve, was deployed at various critical locations in the Punjab during the hostilities, moving into eight different brigade sectors at various times, including in support of attacks and for counter penetration tasks. The battalion was subjected to artillery and air attacks, but did not get the opportunity to engage in battle.
The Territorial Army Battalions
Were deployed too, with 101 Infantry Battalion, tasked to protect the Jodhpur airfield, the Field Maintenance Area and lines of communication in Barmer and Gadra Road. It was commended for the excellent work it did during the War. 109 Infantry Battalion was deployed for ground defence at Jamnagar airfield, with one company at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station. And the 115 Infantry Battalion was initially deployed for the protection of Sirsa airfield, where it was subjected to Pakistani air strikes. Part of the battalion was subsequently moved to the Fazilka sector, to secure approaches to the town and provide support to the regular forces engaged in operations.
The Eastern Theatre
1 Maratha Light Infantry
For operations in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), 1 Maratha Light Infantry, moved as part of 95 Mountain Brigade from Nagaland and was deployed on the border in the Tura sector in October 1971. During the latter half of October and in November, together with the local freedom fighters, the battalion carried out patrolling (including a long-range patrol to Jamalpur), conducted raids on Pakistani positions in the area, and ambushes (including a major ambush that decimated a Pakistani heavy mortar battery), to great effect. The successful prosecution of these preliminary operations set the stage for the battalion’s outstanding performance during the war
Soon after last light on 3 December 1971, the battalion set out from its base at the border on a wide outflanking move across country on man-pack basis, to make contact with the defences at Bakshiganj. Having made contact, Bakshiganj was captured without much of a fight after the Pakistani forces made an abortive attempt to break a cordon set up by the battalion. The battalion set out from Bakshiganj at last light on 5 December, again across country, avoiding the main axis. Crossing the Brahmaputra tributary well to the West of Jamalpur, and using country boats rounded up by the freedom fighters from the locals, the battalion set up a block on Jamalpur- Tangail road by first light 9 December.
A couple of skirmishes ensued and later in the day, the Commander, Brig. H.S. Kler landed in the battalion location by helicopter. Confabulations between him and the CO, Lt Col K.S. Brar, led to the despatch of a note through a “freedom fighter” (Zohal Haq Munshi, who was later to be conferred the ‘Bir Purush’ award by the Government of Bangladesh), to the Jamalpur garrison commander asking him to surrender.
Colonel Sultan Ahmed, the CO of 31 Baluch and garrison commander arrogantly rejected the offer. Immediately after last light 9 December, the battalion commenced its move forward and soon after midnight, had taken up block positions astride road Jamalpur-Tangail approximately 1000 metres south of the Jamalpur defences. Y Company deployed to the west of the road and C Company deployed to the East. A and D companies were deployed in depth.
Aggressive patrolling followed, as consequence of which a platoon of Y Company under Captain RSV Dafle was positioned on a bund about 500 metres from the Jamalpur defences. Instructions from higher headquarters to hasten operations because of the impending para-drop at Tangail, and increasing international pressure to call off operations, led to the issue of orders for an attack to be launched soon after last light 10 December, despite the fact that adequate information about enemy dispositions at Jamalpur had not yet been ascertained.
While preparations were afoot for the attack, good sense prevailed and it was decided to put off the attack to the following night after ascertaining details of enemy positions by patrolling during the night 10/11 December 1971. This turned out to be a wise decision. Because, after some intense artillery shelling of the Jangi Paltan’s road-block positions during the daylight hours of 10th December, with increased intensity late evening, at about midnight, the Pakistani forces at Jamalpur tried to break through the road block positions towards Tangail.
One of the most intense battles of the campaign in the Eastern theatre ensued, in which 31 Baluch together with the Rangers grouped with it and other irregulars, were subjected to wrath of the Jangi Paltan. As dawn approached, the battered remnants of the Pakistanis came forward to surrender; approximately 60 of them. But even more significant was the sight of 234 killed Pakistanis and about 20 wounded lying in front of the Jangi Paltan block positions.
Y Company was tasked to move in and secure Jamalpur. As the leading elements approached, a white flag greeted them. Major Satish Nambiar took the surrender of three officers, ten junior commissioned officers and 372 rank and file of the Pakistani garrison. The next morning, the Jangi Paltan was again on the move, but after many days on foot, this time in vehicles commandeered from the Jamalpur garrison, that included fire tenders and a couple of buses.
By the afternoon of 12 December, the historic link up at Tangail had been effected between Maratha Light Infantry (Jangi Paltan) and 2 Para (earlier 3 Maratha Light Infantry). After some minor skirmishes, and following the surrender by Niazi, the Jangi Paltan’s battalion headquarters, together with Y Company moved into Dhaka at about 1500 hours 16 December 1971. The rest of the battalion followed the next morning.
During the course of operations, 13 other ranks of the battalion lost their lives, and eight were wounded. Lt Col K.S Brar, Maj. Satish Nambiar, Capt. R.S.V Dafle, Havildar Krishna Gurav and Lance Havildar Laxman Rane (posthumous) were awarded Vir Chakras; the Sena Medal was awarded to Naib Subedar Bhiku Shirke and Lance Naik Govind Lanjekar. Company Havildar Major Ananda Gaikwad was ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
5 Maratha Light Infantry
Prior to the outbreak of open hostilities, 5 Maratha Light Infantry had been engaged in a number of encounters during aggressive patrolling that had been undertaken. At the onset of war, the battalion under the command of Lt Col J.P. Torpy, went into action spearheading the advance along the railway line from Andalbaria towards Safdarpur. A strong Pakistani position at Suadih that was contacted at first light on 4 December 1971, was overcome by 1900 hours with determined attacks in phases during the day, led by the initial attack launched by B Company under Maj. P.K. Chatterjee who led the assault with the stirring war cry of the Marathas.
The ‘hand-to-hand’ fighting that ensued left 28 enemy dead in the trenches and four in the open, with B Company suffering six killed in action and 16 wounded. The remaining positions at Suadih were overcome without much resistance. Soon thereafter, the battalion was ordered to move for assistance in the capture of the Safdarpur railway bridge. Attacks that were launched under cover of artillery fire revealed that the enemy had abandoned the positions and fled. By 0100 hours 5 December, Safdarpur had been taken.
established with an enemy position at Elangi across a water body where the bridge had been demolished. In a patrol encounter that followed, 2 Lt Ghanekar and Sepoy Vilas Salunke lost their lives, though inflicting casualties on the Pakistanis also. With indications that the enemy was pulling out from their positions, an attack was launched to capture Elangi, but it had been abandoned. Soon thereafter, tragedy struck when the Pakistanis subjected the position to heavy artillery fire including airbursts. Ten Ganpats were killed and 28 wounded, including Lt Col Jack Torpy who had to be evacuated.
With Maj. C.K. Karumbaya in command, the battalion, together with two troops PT 76 tanks and a mechanised infantry company, advanced towards Magura. This was reached by 1600 hours on 7 December, but by then it had been abandoned by the enemy. On 9 December, contact was made with enemy positions in the Phulbari area, with exchange of shelling and patrol skirmishes. On 10 December, Lt Col Torpy resumed command despite shell splinters still lodged in his body. On 14 December, following an unsuccessful attempt at making the enemy surrender, preparations began for an attack on the enemy positions.
This included aggressive patrolling and the marshalling of country boats for crossing the river to get behind the enemy positions. As preparations were afoot to launch further operations, on the morning of 16 December came indications of the Pakistani forces desire to surrender. This was finally effected when, at 1530 hours 16 December 1971, Major General MA Ansari, General Officer Commanding 9 Infantry Division of Pakistan, accompanied by his aide-de-camp drove into the battalion headquarters, and was then taken to HQ, 4 Mountain Division.
In these operations, the battalion lost 20 of its gallant Ganpats and 46 were wounded. Major PK Chatterjee, Naik Eknath Kardila and Sepoy Kisan Jagdale were awarded the Vir Chakra. Lt Col J.P. Torpy was awarded the Vishist Seva Medal and Maj. C.K. Karumbaya and Sepoy Bajirao Jadhav were awarded the Sena Medal. Sepoy Vithal Walkunj was ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
7 Maratha Light Infantry
Under the command of Lt. Col. S.R. Bidkikar, was engaged in a number of major actions before the outbreak of war, during which period it suffered nine killed and 50 wounded, including three officers. On 4 December 1971, the unit was tasked to lead the brigade advance on the Pachagarh- Thakurganj-Birpur axis. That night, surprising the Pakistanis with an approach from the rear, a company of the battalion secured a bridge that had been prepared for demolition. Resuming the advance on 5 December, the battalion cleared delaying positions enroute, closed in, and through outflanking manoeuvres, forced the enemy to abandon the Birganj positions.
The next objective Kantanagar bridge was well defended and was contacted by the leading elements of the battalion in the morning of 6 December. Simultaneously, efforts were made for securing crossings of the river on the flanks of the enemy positions. Despite not having had opportunities for reconnaissance, the battalion was ordered to attack and capture the position by 0800 hours, 7 December 1971.
Notwithstanding the gallant efforts of the battalion that included some outstanding instances of neutralisation and capture of a number of bunkers, the battalion suffered a large number of casualties, and were subjected to counter attacks. Even so, another attack was launched in the afternoon and despite some more gallant efforts by individuals charging at bunkers with guns blazing and lobbing grenades through the slits of the bunkers, the enemy managed to hold firm. The attacks were stalled and the battalion ordered to regroup and contain the enemy.
Effective containment of the enemy by the battalion enabled other forces to undertake operations on another axis, and in due course secure the surrender of the garrison of Saidpur in the rear. The battalion suffered 31 killed and 125 wounded during the operations, an indication of the intensity of the battles fought. Sena Medals were awarded to Capt. R.R. Tambe (Regimental Medical Officer), Subedar Daulatrao Fadtare(Posthumous), Havildar Manohar Rane (Posthumous), Sepoys Dyanu Chawan and Narayan Malusare.
19 Maratha Light Infantry
Under the command of Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh was engaged in a number of border skirmishes prior to the outbreak of war, including one in which Naik Maruti Nakil displayed bravery of the highest order in manning a medium machine gun to neutralise a Pakistani raid at the cost of his life.On the outbreak of war, the battalion was tasked to lead the advance of the brigade on the Caugacha-Jessore axis and soon contacted strongly fortified defences at Arpara.
A series of actions followed in which, while inflicting significant casualties on the enemy, the battalion also suffered 13 killed (including a JCO) and 69 wounded (including two officers and six JCOs). On 6 December, the battalion was retasked to advance to Churamanakati, a rail and road junction on the way to Jessore, together with a squadron of PT 76 tanks in support. That position was taken without opposition and exploiting the situation, the CO pressed forward to Jessore. The Pakistanis had however withdrawn from here and the Ganpats were given a warm welcome by the joyous locals.
On 11 December, the battalion was ordered to move towards Khulna and secure the Syamganj Ferry on the Bhairab River to enable the crossing of the rest of the brigade. On making contact, a firm base was established and aggressive patrolling carried out. Despite a number of ferocious actions to dislodge the enemy, resulting in significant casualties, a stalemate ensued. Even so, using the battalion’s positions as a firm base, attacks were launched by the other battalions of the brigade on night 15 December. The cease-fire and surrender followed soon thereafter.
During these operations, the battalion suffered two officers, two JCOs and 22 other ranks killed in action. Three officers, seven JCOs and 105 other ranks were wounded – A heavy price indeed. The Vir Chakra was awarded to Naik Maruti Nakil (posthumously) and to Naik Ankush Chavan. Lance Naik Janu Ajgekar was awarded the Sena Medal and Havildar Krishna Hiroji and Naik Tukaram Sakpal were ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
20 Maratha Light Infantry
Had been selected from the Regiment for mechanisation and was being equipped with SKOT armoured personnel carriers, when hostilities broke out. On 3rd December, with only a few pieces of the newly inducted equipment (the remaining having been distributed to other units), it was tasked for the capture of Bejai position, with a squadron of PT 76 tanks in support.
The well dug-in positions of the enemy were taken by surprise and overcome after a short but bitter battle, at a heavy cost of 15 dead and 23 wounded. In a classic case of exploiting success, the battalion advanced swiftly to capture Phulbari the same evening in a two-company raid. The next morning (4 December), together with some T-55 and PT 76 tanks, the battalion headed for Charkai. Enemy positions east of Charkai were outflanked by the leading elements and vacated by the enemy. In due course, with the arrival of the rest of the battalion, Charkai was secured by first light 5 December.
The battalion continued with its advance without much opposition. In the process, there was a brief and pleasant interlude when it caught up with 22 Maratha Light Infantry that was advancing from the South under another formation. On 10 December, the battalion assisted 17 Kumaon in the capture of Bhadauria. It then moved on to secure a number of other positions at Durgadighi, Ghoraghat, Palasbari, Baibanda and Gobindganj, in preparation for the advance to Rangpur on 12 December.
Contact was established with the enemy positions at Rangpur after a few minor actions enroute. As preparations for the attack on Rangpur were under way on 16December, information was received about a cease-fire and surrender by the Pakistani forces.
The Battalion suffered 17 killed and 50 wounded, most of which were incurred at the battle of Bejai. The CO, Lt Col GM Rao was awarded the Vishist Sewa Medal. Maj R.M. Shinde, Capt. Shahabuddin (RMO) and 2 Lt Yeshwant Naidu were all awarded Sena Medals.
22 Maratha Light Infantry
Was involved in a number of actions- like many of the other battalions- prior to the outbreak of open hostilities. In one particular instance, during a counter to a raid by the Pakistanis, Maj R.K. Dadkar, commanding A Company was killed while gallantly rescuing Naib Subedar Mohammed Ismail, who had been injured in a minefield.
On outbreak of hostilities, the battalion under the command of Lt Col V. R. Swaminathan, was launched into operations as part of 202 Mountain Brigade, which encountered the strongly fortified defences of Hilli in the Rangpur sector. Attacks launched by other units having failed, 22 Maratha Light Infantry was tasked to launch a ‘silent attack’ after last light on 9 December 1971. In Phase 1 of a two phased attack, making their way through gaps in the positions of Pakistan’s 4 Frontier Force Rifles, one of the companies of the battalion took the enemy at Durra South by surprise and captured it after some resistance.
Surprise having been lost, Phase 2 attack on Bara Chhangram led by Maj SDK Patil was intense and bloody, with the wiry Marathas slogging in out against the sturdy Pathans from bunker to bunker. The position was captured with heavy casualties on both sides.
Determined counter attacks by the Pakistanis were beaten back and by 0800 hours 10 December, the battalion had consolidated at the captured positions that had driven a wedge into the enemy defences. This enabled other units to launch attacks on further positions, and by first light 12 December, the ostensibly impregnable Hilli complex had been captured; though at a high price in terms of casualties.
The advance towards Rangpur was resumed with the battalion in the lead. A wide outflanking move was undertaken to contact the Rangpur defences. As preparations were under way for the initial attack to capture the bridge over the Ghaghat Nallah, the ceasefire came into effect and the surrender of the Pakistani forces ensued.
Casualties suffered by the Battalion numbered one officer, two JCOs and and 23 other ranks killed; two officers, four JCOs and 53 other ranks were wounded. Maj R.K. Dadkar was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra, and Sena Medals were awarded to Subedar Vishnu Jadhav and Naib Subedar Jameel Ahmed. 2 Lt T. Khuplai was ‘Mentioned-in-Despatches’.
The Maratha Light Infantry had once again, in the finest traditions of the Regiment, had displayed on the battlefields of the Western and Eastern theatres in the 1971 war , the qualities embedded in the Regimental Motto: “Duty, Honour and Courage”. Every individual of the Regiment had dutifully upheld the spirit behind the concluding lines of the Regimental Song:
“O Country, you are our God in every vision, For each Maratha you are the only religion, To keep our glorious traditions ever alive, We sacrifice our blood to keep our holy land pure and white. For this holy land, what if we sacrifice our lives during hostilities, The saga of our courage will forever live on till eternity.”
I was an 11 years old refugee in India from East Pakistan. Son of a gallant freedom fighter of Bangladesh Forces ( Mulkti Bahini ) sector 4, and younger brother of a 17-year martyr freedom fighter.
We owe tremendous gratitude and homage to you and your regiment for our liberation. Had you not helped us, I don’t think we would have survived to see this today.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, The Marathas and The Indian Army.