Chitti Batti Operation

(As i saw it)

Major Muhammad Afzal, Azad Kashmir Regiment


The Haji Pir Pass has witnessed fighting twice during the Indo-Pakistan Wars. The Indian Army launched an attack in December 1971 to capture this strategic pass but suffered heavy loss both in men and material. This article narrates a first person account of the Chitti Batti battle and analyses the causes of the defeat of the Indian Army and the successful defence by a small Azad Kashmir Force.

During Indo-Pak War 1965, the Indians were able to have an access to the Haji Pir Pass not because they were strong in that sector but the area not held in strength. The Indian Army adopted two routes in capturing the Haji Pir Pass: route Chhapar Gala – Chitti Batti – Bedori – Haji Pir Pass and route Til Patra – Top Bedori – Haji Pir Pass, and had a free run upto the Haji Pir Pass without any opposition. During the Indo-Pak war 1971, the Indians, instead of using both the previous routes, adopted the route Chhapar Gala-Chitti Batti-Bedori to capture the Haji Pir Pass because the route passing over the Bedori Top was more difficult then the route passing over Chitti Batti. The Indians knew that both these approaches were physically held by our forces but most probably they under-estimated our strength this time.

Preparations

One of the Battalions of the Azad Kashmir Regular Force was defending the Haji Pir sector. My company was deployed to defend the Bedori Top in area Chitti Batti Complex. Since my taking over the company, I kept strengthening my defences and motivating my men of the after-effects if at all the enemy succeeded in capturing Chitti Batti. They had full faith in Allah Almighty and the bullets they possessed. Every body was given the area of his responsibility and there was left no doubt in the mind of any individual regarding his duty in case of any war. Instructions were issued that in case of enemy night attack on Chitti Batti the machine gun crews would wait for five minutes after the enemy charge to make sure that our patrols, if any, had cleared the fix lines. I had full confidence in my men and was sure that they would fight till the last man with the last round.

I had only three AN/PRC-10 wireless sets which kept me in communication with Battalion Headquarters and my men defending Chitti Batti. However the line communication was not satisfactory due to over-extended area of responsibility and shortage of telephone line. At times more than one company used to be on the same line and telephone conversation made between the Battalion Headquarters and any of the companies used to be over-heard by the other companies as well.

Other preparations such as fortification of bunkers, laying of mines and recording of defensive fire tasks, etc; were satisfactory. Dumping of ammunition and rations was over-ensured by the unit.

The Battle

Poonch operation had already started on 3 December 1971 and our forces were able to make some progress in that sector. Till then the Haji Pir Sector was quiet. On 4 December a battalion size enemy force came from Chhapar Gala and concentrated in area Pond at a distance of about two miles from Chitti Batti. The Indians had brought with them a large quantity of ammunition, corrugated sheets, barbed wire, sand bags and rations. It appeared from their preparation that they were determined to remain self-sufficient for quite some time after capturing Chitti Batti. I passed the situation report to the Battalion Headquarters. The battery commander, too, told me that I should not worry at this moment and that the enemy would be engaged at an opportune moment.

At about 1400 hours on 4 December 1971, I over-heard the message from the Battalion Commander to the C Company Commander, “This evening at 1900 hours there will be a ‘Qawali’ in A Company area. Listen with care. IT would be really an interesting one”.

For moment I started thinking about the ‘Qawali’ at this time when the Poonch Operation was already on. I told my platoon commanders that from 1800 hours (stand-to timings) nobody would relax but would remain in his fighting bunker/trench to meet any unforeseen threat, and, at least, two second-line lifts of ammunition would be stocked in each weapon pit/bunker. Though there was no dearth of ammunition in my company position yet I made sure that the required quantity of ammunition was available with weapons if need be.

At 1900 hours we heard the first bang of anti-tank fire. It was the recoilless rifle of A company which hit the enemy bunkers at Sili Kot. The enemy bunkers were put on fire and the enemy abandoned the Sili Kot position. Meanwhile the enemy artillery shelled the A company position heavily.

However, it was all in my company front. At 2000 hours I sent a reconnaissance patron in “no-man’s-land”. The patrol went well forward taking full advantage of the darkness. At 2300 hours, the reconnaissance patrol reached quite close to the forward assembly area of the enemy but due to darkness and strict discipline of the enemy, the patrol could not make out the presence of the enemy in the area. Suddenly the enemy opened fire on the patrol. The patrol started retreating and the enemy started advancing. The patrol heard the enemy commander saying, “Oh sons, hurry up now, there is very little distance left”. After this mishap the wireless operator of the patrol did not pass any message to me though the contact was there. He was so much confused that, whenever I asked him to let me know his position, he replied that he was not from my friendly force. This way I lost the contact with the patrol.

At 2330 hours the Indians started heavy shelling on Chitti Batti, making a barrage of artillery fire. Due to this shelling, the line of communication to Chitti Batti was cut off. Shortly, the enemy attack was certain on Chitti Batti. The enemy artillery fire continued upto 0100 hours on 5 December. At 0115 hours, the Indians charged on Chitti Batti. We opened fire on the assaulting enemy. The exchange of fire continued for about 20 minutes and then there was a pause of ten minutes. Meanwhile I asked the battery commander to bring air bursts and our artillery took the enemy on within no time.

Soon after charging Chitti Batti, I intercepted the enemy message, “We have captured Chitti Batti-an important post in Uri sector”. This message was passed by the enemy to his main headquarters. Though I had no communication with that post yet I was confident that Insha Allah the enemy would never be able to make any headway. I again intercepted the enemy message on the wireless set, “Drop artillery fire on Ghazen. Ghazen seems to be company headquarters of the enemy.”

Soon after the transmission of the above message the Indians started shelling my headquarters and the command post. The morale of my men was very high. During the enemy heavy artillery shelling I asked one of my NCOs, standing in a crawl trench near my command post, to get into the command post. But he replied, “Sir, I am not afraid of death. If death comes it will even come in the command post”. He stood like an Iron wall throughout the enemy shelling and carried on passing orders to the machine gun crews. The enemy artillery shelling on my command post cut off my line of communication with the Battalion headquarters. However, I was through with the Battalion Headquarters on the wireless set. I made minimum use of the wireless so that the enemy could not intercept our messages. However, I assured the Battalion Headquarters that my position was very strong and there was nothing to worry.

At 0145 hours the Indians made a second charge and the exchange of fire continued for about twenty minutes. From the direction of fire I would well guess that the enemy was still away from my position. The fire discipline of my men was excellent. They opened fire only when the enemy did so and stopped when the enemy did so. Again there was a pause of ten minutes and at 0215 hours the enemy charged for the third time. This time I could see that the enemy fire was moving forward. Own artillery was doing excellent job. The enemy artillery was also active in neutralizing positions. At 0230 it was all quiet everywhere except the enemy artillery which continued shelling my command post heavily till 0245 hours.

I was not at all worried and had full confidence in my men. At 0250 hours I sent a party to Chitti Batti to find out the existing situation.

At 0400 hours the party returned with the identity disc bearing the name Major Ramesh Baldani 7 Sikh light Infantry. The platoon defending Chitti Batti was fully intact and everybody was safe and sound except three persons who were still missing — the wireless operator, a sepoy and a mujahid who were part of the reconnaissance patrol. The enemy had withdrawn after suffering heavy losses in men and material. Major Ramesh Baldani was killed and his dead body along with other dead bodies was lying close to the position. At 0700 hours the other three missing men, who were separated from the reconnaissance patrol last nigh, also joined the company. On our side, there was not a single casualty, nor even the slightest scratch due to enemy artillery shelling or small arms fire.

The Indians continued intermittent shelling upto 21 December (ceasefire took place 17 December 1971) but they never dared to attack my position for the second time.

Conclusion

The enemy wanted to achieve surprise but he lost it due to timely action of own reconnaissance patrol. More so, it was observed that the enemy artillery did great damage to its own troops. The Indian troops were right on the objective but their artillery continued shelling the position. Our fire discipline was excellent and no unwanted firing was resorted. The morale of our men fighting for the cause of Pakistan and Islam remained very high throughout the fighting inspite of the Indian superiority in men and weapons. Nobody dies until Allah Almighty so desires.

Published in ‘Soldiers Speak, Selected Articles from Pakistan Army Journal 1956-1981′, published by Army Education Press, GHQ, Rawalpindi