THE BATTLE FOR QAISER-I-HIND TOWER: BATTLE OF HUSSAINIWALA (1971 INDO PAK WAR)

Qaiser-i-Hind Tower is a fort like structure built by the British as the Northern Gate of a British era railway bridge which connected Kasur to Ferozepur. The Tower took its name from the hero of freedom struggle, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, whose Samadhi lies near the tower along with those of his colleagues Sukhdev and Rajguru and later BK Dutt. In February 1971, 15 Punjab (Patiala), had occupied def in the Hussaniwala enclave and its ‘C’ Company was assigned to take up defences in the Samadhi. With guile and eye for ground, Nk Surjit Singh, the MMG (Medium Machine Gun) detachment commander, sighted his MMG atop the Qaiser-i-Hind Tower which enabled domination of the approach leading to the Samadhi from the direction of Rail Bandh, both by fire and observation. Besides camouflaging and fortifying his machine gun position atop the tower, Surjit also prepared numerous alternate and secondary positions. In October 71, intelligence inputs suggested that Pakistan was preparing for an offensive and an attack on the Samadhi had to be guarded against. Nk Surjit Singh’s main concern was the approach leading to his company along the road from Joint Check Post (JCP) which was not mined and was open to civil traffic! This had now been covered by Surjit with his MMG.

On the fateful evening of 03 Dec 71 at about 1800 h, just when the civil traffic had cleared, the enemy commenced sudden and heavy artillery shelling on our defences. This was followed by an infantry attack supported by a squadron of armour. Surjit’s appreciation was proven right fro the enemy had launched a frontal attack along the JCP road. Bitter fighting ensued, with Surjit’s MMG causing havoc on the attacking enemy. However, the sheer volume of the attack and the element of surprise which had been achieved, enabled the enemy, later identified as 41 Baluch, to capture the western half of the Samadhi Company defences. The enemy’s progress eastwards was however held up due to heavy fire from Surjit’s MMG, which was in mutual support with other automatic weapons on his flank.

The Company Commander, Maj SPS Waraich and later the CO, Lt Col GBVL Sastry, VSM visited Surjit’s position and complimented the troops for their fine performance. The enemy was just 100 meters away, having established a firm base behind the railway bundh. Once again, the enemy opened fire, this time with a rcl gun aimed at the tower. Surjit received splinter injuries on his left arm, but was fearless as ever. The enemy attacked, but was repulsed after close hand to hand combat. Two more attacks of the enemy were beaten back by the staunch defenders, but the enemy was determined to take out the MMG position. Nk Surjit, showing great presence of mind, now organised his detachment and blocked the tower staircase with ammunition boxes and barrels which were stocked inside. When the enemy launched his fourth attack, Surjit tied his quilt to a pick-axe, doused it with kerosene, lit it with fire and threw it down the stairs. The kerosene and ammunition caught fire and kept the enemy at bay throughout the night, with the MMG continuing to spit fire at the attackers.

At the crack of dawn on 04 December, the IAF fighters appeared in the skies and bombed enemy tanks, vehicles and positions, forcing the enemy to retreat to safer positions. The enemy now mobilised his tanks to bring down the tower. Anticipating the worst, Surjit was ordered to fall back to the Guide bandh, a task he successfully executed, but was wounded once again by enemy fire, this time receiving splinter injuries on his right hand. The move back was accomplished just in the nick of time, for the enemy using tanks, finally brought down the top of the Qaiser-i-Hind Tower. Despite his injuries, Surjit Singh refused to be evacuated, but his company commander forced him to leave. The NCO retired as a Havildar in 1973 and lives a happy and a contented life at Rajpura near Patiala, Punjab. The battalion earned the ‘Theatre Honour— PUNJAB’ for the 1971 Indo Pak War, based on the outstanding fight given by these great unsung heroes which include Maj Kanwaljeet Singh, SC and his entire ‘D’ Coy (Perimeter Company) which fought till last man, last round and killed nearly the entire enemy 3 Punjab. In their books on the war, ‘Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership’ by Maj Gen Fazal Mukeem Khan and ‘The Battle of Hussainiwala and Qaiser-i-Hind’ by Lt Col (Retd) Habib Ahmed, the CO of 41 Baluch in the battle in 1971, the defenders have received fulsome praise for their stoic defence. Last but not the least, 41 Baluch was awarded the title ‘Fateh-i-Qaiser-i-Hind’

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