1971 Bangladesh War

Thambi's Triumph

On 22/23 September 1965, Ichhogil Bund was captured by the 9th battalion of Madras Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel B.K. Satyan in a terrific hand-to-hand fight. The fight ended with the annihilation of approximately two Pakistani companies which attempted to re-occupy the eastern bund of Ichhogil Canal. A company was sent away for a different task only that evening. The battalion had three rifle companies at its disposal. Orders were given in no time. But there was hardly any time for the Company Commanders to pass the orders. However, they knew their Thambis. With brief orders, companies went in the following order: 'D' company was given the task to clear the bund up to KG Hut; 'C' company to clear from KG Hut to Centre Hut and 'B' company up to Broken Hut. The whole of divisional artillery and mortars opened up at 'H-20'. The tanks also lined up in front of village Barka-Kalan and started pounding on the bund and kept the enemy pinned down with their Brownings. The 'B' and 'D' companies reached their positions without much casualties. But when 'C' company got out of its position, it was caught up in the enemy's cross-fire. 50% got wounded including the Company Commander, Major Dharam Pal.

Arms and ammunition recovered in the battle of Ichhogil Bund.

Young Uniyal, a gallant fighter from Tehri Garhwal, and a school teacher before joining the Army, was the first to lead his platoon into the battle. With a bayonet fixed on his sten, he led his men right into the bund in the face of thousands of tracers from enemy MMGs. When he reached two hundred yards short of the objective, heavy MMG and LMG fire came from a pill-box north of the KG Hut and the platoon was held up. Uniyal knew that clearing of this position was very important for the success of the whole operation. He crawled forward with his men. Two gallant young volunteers of his platoon, Sepoy Narayanan and Sepoy Bhaskaran came forward to silence the enemy guns. They crawled under the cover of tall grass and within twenty minutes those guns were silenced. Uniyal and his platoon rushed forward, cleared the enemy and occupied the pill-box, and from then onwards, charged and cleared trench after trench. Sometimes, the Thambis lifted the enemy out physically and pushed them into the water. It was a hand-to-hand fight. A good number of Pakistani soldiers, leaving their arms, jumped into the canal in an attempt to cross, but hardly anyone reached the other side as they were swept away in the fast current of the canal. The rest were found dead in the trenches with shell or bayonet wounds.

Thambis at the Barkee Police Station in Lahore, Pakistan.

The battalion captured one officer and ten ORs (Other Ranks) in this operation. The bund was echoing with war cries of Adi Kollu (Hit, Kill) for one hour. Killing, firing and hurling of grenades across the canal went on unceasing till 3 a.m. The way battalion's stretcher- bearers evacuated and treated casualties during the battle put everybody in awe. A good piper, Reddy, was hit by an enemy MMG and he fell dead. When the ambulance jeep attached from the advance dressing station went out of action, the medical NCO, Thankappan known as Rasam in the battalion, took the wheel of the Medical Inspection Room truck and made at least ten trips, evacuating the casualties throughout that night. The battalion had killed forty eight Pakistani soldiers and presumably eighty Pakistani soldiers were washed away in the canal while attempting to cross. This figure was verified by the Pakistani Commanding Officer who came to collect the dead after the ceasefire.

The outstanding feature of this battle was that an attack was launched by one battalion less a company against a well co-ordinated defence position occupied by approximately two Pak companies with a complex of MMGs and pill-boxes. The attack was launched within the minimum time with brief orders. In the morning of September 23rd, when the Pakistani CO met his counterpart, he did not speak a word. He came with a grim look accompanied by a company commander and a few men, collected the dead bodies and rowed across the canal. In the wee hours of September 23rd, Sepoy Narayanan and Sepoy Bhaskaran of the leading platoon were found dead in a pool of blood. Sepoy Narayanan was within a few feet of the pill-box, presumably after throwing a grenade through the slit of the pill-box which held three Pak soldiers - a machine gunner, a light machine gunner and a rifleman with unlimited quantity of ammunition. Sepoy Narayanan had six bullets across his face.

Mother of Late Sepoy Bhaskaran Nair receiving the Vir Chakra from President Radhakrishnan.

The whole battalion was able to sweep past only because of gallant fighters and the supreme sacrifices of men. Sepoy Mallappan was sitting dead holding his MMG tight and Sepoy Ramachandran was dead with a big splinter in his stomach. The concrete pill-box and the bund, splashed with the blood of young heroes, twisted telephone poles with traces of blood and shell holes were evidence of the heroic actions of Thambis. In this heroic action, 27 Terrors made supreme sacrifice. The battalion was honoured with one Vir Chakra, two Sena Medals, twelve mentioned-in-despatches and theatre honour - Punjab.

© Sainik Samachar, Vol.51, No.7, 01-15 April 2004