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Fierce battles at Shakargarh at Basantar
Lone tank's gallant stand against Pakistani tanks.

Dec 16, Shakargarh Sector A fierce battle broke out between advancing troops of the Indian 47th Brigade of 54 Infantry Division and Pakistani defending troops. The Indian brigade launched an offensive yesterday night in the Basantar river area. 16 Madras and 3 Grenediers were used to establish bridgeheads. The places of Saraj Chak, Jarpal and Lohal.

During yesterday night, retalliatory attacks by the enemy were beat back. In the fighting Lt Col V P Ghai, the CO of 16 Madras was killed in the fighting.

Today morning an armoured counter attack by two Pakistani tank regiments were launched against our positions. The three infantry battalions at our bridgehead, supported by 17 Poona horse regiment under Lt Col Hanut Singh, supported by Artillery fire repulsed the attack. More than 46 tanks of the enemy were destroyed in these battles.

The battle witnessed many acts of valour. The part played by 2 Lt Arun Khetarpal of 17 Horse shows the grit and dedication with which officers and men met the challenge. Khetarpal came from a family of soldiers that belonged originally to the Sargodha district of undivided Punjab. He had been commissioned only a few months earlier but already had the dash of a  cavalier.

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Lt Col Hanut Singh, the CO of 17 Poona Horse with his Centurion tank
and crew members at the Basantar Bridgehead.

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2 Lt Arun Khetarpal

Ten Pakistani tanks were destroyed in quick succession.

Of these, Khetarpal had accounted for four. During the engagement, Ahlawat'S tank was hit. He was wounded and had to be evacuated. Malhotra's own gun jammed. This left Khetarpal facing the oncoming enemy alone. His tank was hit soon after whereupon it burst into flames and he was severely wounded. Seeing this, Malhotra ordered him to abandon his tank. Khetarpal, however, saw that the enemy was still pressing the attack and there was nothing to stop it from breaking through. So he decided to fight on and told Malhotra: "No sir, my gun is still functioning and I'll get these bums." Thereafter he kept engaging the enemy from his burning tank and destroyed a tank that was less than a hundred metres from him. That tank carried the commander of the Pakistan squadron, in turn, scored a hit on Khetarpal's tank. This resulted in this brave and fearless officer's death.  

The Indian position at Jarpal was held by two troops from B Squadron of his regiment and 3 Grenadiers. When it came under severe pressure from enemy armour, Khetarpal's troop and another under .Lieutenant Ahlawat were ordered forward from Saraj Chak.

While the two troops were advancing under Captain V. Malhotra, the second-in-comnand of their squadron, they came, under attack from recoilless guns concealed in bunkers and groves that lay to a flank.

To silence them, Malhotra and Khetarpal made a headlong charge, overran the guns and captured. their crew at pistol-point.

Then putting them on their tanks, they again moved forward. In the Course of this action, the commander of the only other tank ,left in Khetarpal's troops was also killed.

Nearing the position occupied by B Squadron, Malhotra saw some enemy tanks withdrawing towards BaraPind. Straightaway, he and Khetarpal gave chase. The latter got within range of a Patton and shot it before the two were ordered to get back to B Squadron's position. Soon after, an.enemy squadron was seen approaching for attack and a fierce battle ensued. The three tanks under Malhotra were mainly responsible for taking on the enemy and completely breaking up the assault.

Adapted from Maj K C Praval's Indian Army After Independence, Lancer Publications.

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