BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 3(6) May-June 2001

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Nische kar apni jeet karon


The Sikh Regiment

Indian Army's Most Decorated Regiment

D.S. Sandhu

With 73 Battle Honours, the largest collection of Victoria Crosses-Param Vir Chakras and equivalent, the Saga of Saragarhi, the young soldiers of the Sikh Regiment are proud to wear the regimental colours of India's highest decorated regiment. Since it’s raising more than 150 years ago, the regiment has been in the vanguard of various actions and operations both in the pre and post-independence era in India and abroad.

To annex Punjab, the British had to fight two wars against the Sikhs. During the First Sikh War (1845-46). Two fierce battles, laden with treason and treachery within the Sikh high command at Mudki and Ferozeshahr were fought. The Ferozeshahr battle was particularly fierce, with the British suffering heavy casualties. During both these battles the British were a witness to the reckless valour of the Sikhs, when time and again groups of Sikhs made cavalry charges against well-entrenched British positions. They also witnessed the tenacious defense that the Sikhs put up at many of their positions. Two more battles were fought during the Second Sikh War (1849) at Chillianwala and Gujarat. Chillianwala was the only battle of the two Sikh wars in which the Sikhs fought under capable leaders and without treachery in the high command. The net result of which was a defeat for the British. The Sikhs made very effective use of artillery, infantry, cavalry charges and hit and run tactics. At Chillianwala the Sikhs failed to drive home their advantage because they failed to realize the magnitude of the punishment inflicted on the British army and they had no plans of what to do in such a case. This is one of the inevitable 'ifs and buts' of history.

Even before the Second Sikh War (1849) was fought the British decided to raise two infantry battalions composed of Sikhs. In 1846 the two battalions, Regiment of Ferozepore Sikhs (later the 14th Ferozepore Sikhs and then 1 Sikh) and the Regiment of Ludhiana Sikhs (later the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs and then 2 Sikh) were raised. In 1856 the 45th Sikhs (also known as Rattray Sikhs and then as 3 Sikh) was raised initially as a military police battalion and then it was transformed into a regular infantry battalion. The initial compositions of these battalions consisted of Sikhs, Muslims and Rajputs.

All the three battalions took part in the suppression of the sepoy mutiny of 1857. The 14th Ferozepore Sikhs were at Mirzapore and became part of the British column for the relief of Lucknow. During this course the battalion fought a series of actions. The most noteworthy being the attack on Little Imambara. It was after this action that the battalion was permitted to wear the red turban as a mark of valour and distinction. The red turban is now the part of the regimental uniform of the entire Sikh Regiment. Another gallantry award was the grant of one rank higher for all ranks. The 15th Ludhiana Sikhs was at Benaras and it saw action in and around the place. During one of these actions a British NCO was awarded the Victoria Cross. Rattray's Sikhs was in Bihar and the participated in 25 to 30 engagements, the most noteworthy being the action at Arrah. Here a small group of Sikh soldiers defended a group of British civilians in a judge's house against a group of 2,500 men until help arrived. Two Victoria Crosses both to British officers were awarded for this action.

After the mutiny all three battalions took part in the Second Afghan War. Chitral (1894-95) is a double battle honour for the Sikh Regiment. The honour Defense of Chitral was earned by the 14th Ferzopore Sikhs, when a detachment of 88 men along with 300 men of Kashmir State Forces was responsible for the defense of the Chitral fort for 46 days. 14 IOM's were awarded to the Sikhs during these operations and all men in the fort were given six months pay as bonus. The British Lieutenant in command of the Sikh detachment was awarded the DSO. 15th Ludhiana Sikhs earned the Battle Honour Chitral as it was part of the relief force. The 14th Ferozepore Sikhs after this served in East Africa and the China. 15th Ludhiana Sikhs were sent to Egypt and then to Sudan. It was in Sudan that it won the Battle Honour Tofrek (1885). Rattray's Sikhs were also at Tofrek and then were part of the Hazara expedition (1888) and Malakand Operations (1897). In 1887 two more battalions, 35th Sikhs ( later 10 Sikh) and 36th Sikhs (later 4 Sikh) were raised. The 36th Sikhs was raised a single class Jat Sikh Regiment [1] .

The Battle of Saragarhi [2-4], fought by men of 36th Sikhs in 1897, is an epitome of raw courage, sheer grit and unshakable determination. Saragarhi was a small signaling post located between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan on the Samana Ridge in the N.W.F.P. On September 12, 1897 about 10,000 Afridis and Orakazais tribesmen swarmed towards Saragarhi, while another group cut off all links from Forts Gulistan and Lockhart. For the next six hours the small detachment of 22 men led by Havildar Ishar Singh stood firm and repulsed all attacks. With passage of time the ranks of the Sikhs started getting thinner and their ammunition was running out. But they never faltered and continued to punish the enemy. The enemy succeeded in making a large breach in the outer wall and swarmed in, the Sikhs fought to the last man. When the news of the battle reached London, the British Parliament rose to give a standing ovation. All the 22 men were given the posthumous award of Indian Order of Merit, Class 1, (IOM). This was the highest gallantry award given to Indian ranks in those days and was equivalent to the Victoria Cross. All dependants were given two squares of land and Rs. 500 as financial assistance and memorials were built at Ferozepore and Amritsar. The award of so many posthumous IOMs to a single group of men in one day was something unheard of and remains unparalleled in the annals of military history. After Saragarhi the tribesmen then attacked Fort Gulistan, which was held by 160 men of 36th Sikh. The fort held out until relief arrived. A group of Sikh soldiers in a daredevil attack managed to capture 3 Afghan standards ( flags). 30 IDSM's were won by the defenders of Fort Gulistan.In 1901 another battalion, composed entirely of Jat Sikhs was raised and it came to be known as 47th Sikhs (later 5 Sikh).

World War 1

During WW1 the Sikh battalions fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France. The 14th Ferozepore Sikhs were in Gallipoli in April 1915 and fought in a number of battles in the Gallipoli campaign [5]. After Gallipoli the battalion was in the Persian Gulf region and took part in some fierce fighting on the Tigris River. The 15th Ludhiana Sikhs were in France in September 1914 and participated in fighting at Fauquissart, Festubert and Neuve Chapelle.

In the area near Glory Hole, Lieutenant John Smyth was ordered to deliver some bombs along with a bombing party, from the support trenches to the company, which was holding part of the German trenches. The distance to be covered was an open ground about 250 yards long, without any cover but covered by German machineguns and rifle fire. The whole company of 15th Ludhiana Sikhs volunteered but only 10 men were selected. The Sikhs started pulling the boxes along the open field under heavy German fire, which started to take it toll on the party. But the Sikhs kept on advancing, only Lt. Smyth and two other men were able to reach the trenches safely with the bombs. For this action Lt. Smyth was awarded the Victoria Cross, the two men who survived with him were awarded IOM, class 2 and the rest were posthumously awarded the IDSM [5].

La Bassee is a proud battle honour for the 47th Sikhs. The 47th Sikhs were part of a planned group attack on the German trenches, but this attack was cancelled. Two companies of the 47th Sikhs did not receive the cancellation order and so on October 28, 1914 they went into attack all by themselves and reached the German trenches where fierce hand to hand fighting took place. Out of 280 men who went into the attack only 68 returned, in spite of this heavy casualty rate the Sikhs had captured and destroyed the strongly held German feature. The British Parliament specially commended the battalion for valour during this attack. After France, 47th Sikhs were in Mesopotamia and Palestine for the next three years. In Palestine they fought at the famous battles of Sharon and Nablus, both of which are battle honours. 36th and 45th Sikhs were also in Mesopotamia and in early 1917 fought in the Battle of Hai River against the Turks.

In 1922 the regimental pattern was introduced in the infantry and all the battalions were renumbered. As the Sikh Regiment was number 11 in the seniority list, all its battalions were numbered on the line 1/11, 2/11 etc. After independence the number 11 was deleted from the name. The name changes were as follows:

14th Ferozepore Sikhs became 1st Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 1 Sikh

15th Ludhiana Sikhs became 2nd Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 2 Sikh

45th Rattray's Sikhs became 3rd Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 3 Sikh

36th Sikhs became 4th Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 4 Sikh

47th Sikhs became 5th Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 5 Sikh

35th Sikhs became 10th Battalion the Sikh Regiment or 10 Sikh

World War 2

To over come the heavy demands of manpower six new battalions of the Sikh Regiment were raised. They being 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 25th [5]. Out of the old battalions 1st and 5th saw action in Burma and three others, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fought in the Middle East.

The 4 Sikh were in Siddi Barrani and El Alamein in 1941. When the Germans launched their offensive on El Alamein the battalion was forced to disperse to the rear in small parties and over 500 became prisoners of war. The battalion was reformed and was back in action in Italy [5]. 2nd and 3rd Sikh were at Basra, Iraq. 2 Sikh later moved on to Italy where they took part in the fighting at the Gothic Line.

On the Burma-Malaya front, the 5 Sikh were the first to reach Malaya in April 1941. They fought the Japanese in Malaya, but had to disperse in small parties. About 200 of the men reached Singapore while the others were combined with elements from another battalion to form a composite 5 Sikh. The battalion could not hold back the Japanese tide and was pushed back to Singapore along with the rest of the British Forces. When Singapore fell in February 1942 the remnants of the 5 Sikh became POWs. While in the prison camps about 90 % of the men joined the Indian National Army (INA).

1 Sikh landed in Rangoon in February 1942 and took part in some fierce fighting but the Japanese had built up their strength in the area and pushed the British forces to the Indian border. The battalion was rested and refitted and was back in the war zone on the Indo-Burma border. On March 11, 1943 the battalion was the advance party along the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road. The Japanese were holding a knife-edge hill feature and putting up stiff resistance. The only way to approach the hill was by means of a narrow track. On this track leading the attack was the section commanded by Naik Nand Singh. When the section reached the crest it came under heavy machinegun fire and every man in the section was killed or wounded. Naik Nand Singh dashed forward alone, he was wounded by a grenade as he neared the first Japanese trench. He took out his bayonet and killed the two occupants. Under heavy fire Nand Singh jumped up and charged the second trench, he was again wounded by a grenade and knocked down, but he got up and hurled himself into the trench again killing two Japanese with his bayonet. He then moved on to the third trench and captured it single-handed. With the capture of the third trench the enemy fire started to die away and the rest of the platoon charged the other Japanese positions, killing with bayonet and grenade thirty seven out of the forty Japanese holding it. Naik Nand Singh wounded six times in the assault literally carried the position single-handed. For his valour an immediate award of Victoria Cross was bestowed upon him. The company commander Maj. John Brough was awarded the DSO and the platoon commander Jemadar Mehr Singh the IOM. Two IDSMs were also awarded for this attack [5].

The battalion then moved to Imphal and took part in the famous battle at Kanglatongbi. After this battle the battalion was among the vanguard in pushing the Japanese back and recapturing Rangoon. During the Second World War the battalions of the Sikh Regiment won 27 battle honours.

At the end of WW2 all the newly raised battalions except for the 7 Sikh were disbanded and 5 Sikh was not re-raised, because of its men joining the INA. At the time of independence to accommodate the Sikh soldiers coming to India from regiments allotted to Pakistan, three new battalions were raised. They being the 16th, 17th and 18th Sikh.

Jammu and Kashmir Operations 1947-48

With the bifurcation of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, the princely states were given the option of joining either of the two countries. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir delayed making a decision and whilst he was still vacillating, Pakistan decided to acquire the state by sending in tribals from N.W.F.P. along with Pakistani army regulars. The Maharaja asked the Indian government for help, but the Indian politicians and senior British Indian army officers informed him that no help would be forthcoming until Kashmir accedes to India. Both sides kept on delaying the matter and it was only when the tribals were at Baramula that the Maharaja signed the accession draft. The only way to get troops into Srinagar in time was to airlift them. 1 Sikh was at Gurgaon, with its units spread around the district helping the civil authorities to maintain law and order. On October 26th, 1947 the commanding officer Lt. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai was called to army HQ and informed that his battalion would the first to be airlifted to Srinagar and to get his units ready at Palam airport the next morning. On early morning of 27th October units of 1 Sikh were airlifted by Indian Air Force and civilian Dakotas.

The orders to Lt. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai were to deny the airfield and the civil aviation radio at Srinagar to the raiders. The CO had two options, either deploy his meagre forces around the airfield and wait for the enemy or take the fight to the enemy away from the airfield and fight a series of delaying actions, thus buying time so more troops could be inducted into Srinagar. The gallant commander chose the second option. On arrival at the airfield he was informed by local and state authorities that the raiders had still not entered Baramula. The CO deployed troops to safe guard the airfield and sent C Company towards Baramula. Reaching milestone 32, the company found out that Baramula had already fallen into the raiders hand. The company then took position on a hill feature and soon were in contact with the raiders. The raiders opened mortar and MMG fire on the company positions. The raiders then tried to bypass the positions but did not succeed, soon more of them poured in from Baramula and seeing that the company might be cut off, it was decided to withdraw to Sangram. Lt. Col. Ranjit Rai was among the last to withdraw and during the process he was hit and killed. At 34 years of age, Lt. Col. Ranjit Rai became the first commanding officer to sacrifice his life for independent India. He also became the first Indian Army officer to be awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

Command of the battalion then fell on Major Harwant Singh MC, who deployed it around Pattan. Here the battalion checked the raiders progress towards Srinagar and held them off for three days thus enabling 1 (Para) Kumaon and 4 Kumaon to be inducted into the theatre through the Srinagar airfield. On November 7, 1 Sikh along with 1 (Para) Kumaon and 4 Kumaon fought the battle of Shalateng, which broke the back of the raiders column advancing towards Srinagar. Baramula was retaken by the Sikhs on November 8. In the town they found a number of orphans. The battalion adopted more than 100 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh orphans and raised them at the Sikh Regimental Center [6].

The battalion then moved towards Uri and retook it from the raiders. A piquet, known as Nalwa piquet was established across the Jhelum River overlooking Uri. The Pakistanis made a number of attempts to capture this piquet but were foiled. In the defense of one of the attempts, Naik Chand Singh earned a posthumous MVC [6].

On December 12, a strong patrol of 1 Sikh was sent out of Uri and on the way back this patrol was ambushed by a large Pakistani force near the village of Bhatgiran. There was a fierce fight in which the Sikhs suffered heavy casualties (62 killed and 60 wounded). Among the casualties were officers and several senior JCO’s and NCO’s. Among the dead was Jemadar Nand Singh, who had earlier won a Victoria Cross in Burma. On later interrogations of Pakistani prisoners it was found that the enemy suffered more than 300 casualties in this encounter. The Sikhs won two posthumous Maha Vir Chakras (Sub. Bishan Singh OBI, MC and Jemadar Nand Singh VC) and two Vir Chakras (Sub. Gurcharan Singh MC & Bar and Jemadar Mal Singh MC) during this battle [6].

Lt. Col. Harbakhsh Singh dropped a rank and took over as CO of 1 Sikh and the battalion moved to Srinagar. In February 1948 the battalion retook Handwara, Kupwara and Trahgam from the enemy [6,7]. The battalion was a part of 163 Brigade group that captured Tithwal and the area around it.

On 13 October 1948, L/Naik Karam Singh MM (left) was manning a post with three men in Richhmar Gali in the Tithwal sector, when he was suddenly confronted by an enemy force, Karam Singh warned his the company commander of the approaching threat and opened fire on the enemy. The enemy attacked his post a number of times during which he was wounded twice. During the last of these attacks he leapt out and bayoneted two enemy soldiers. With the help of his only unwounded man, he then carried the two wounded men to safety. L/Naik Karam Singh earned the last Param Vir Chakra of Kashmir operations. During the Kashmir operations 1 Sikh won 1 PVC, 4 MVC’s, 22 VrC’s and 32 Mentioned in Despatches.

It would not be out of context to quote Lt. Gen. V. R. Raghavan about his remarks regarding 1 Sikh’s efforts after landing at Srinagar [8]: "The battalion with approximately 500 troops had gained by its fast moves and self reliant actions, two days’ time against a much larger force of 5000. This was enough to bring in more troops into Srinagar and the capital was thus saved from falling into enemy hands. The history of Jammu and Kashmir would have been different without this one infantry battalion being able to change it decisively."

7 Sikh was another Sikh Regiment battalion that was involved in the Kashmir operation. It fought in the Handwara-Kupwara area and the later on in the Tithwal sector.

In 1948 battalions of the Sikh Regiment were also involved in the Hyderabad police action. 2 Sikh were in the Naldurg fort area. Hav. Bachitter Singh leading a platoon saw two vehicles coming from Naldurg and in spite of heavy fire, he ran forward and captured the vehicles and its escorts. Later in the day a well-entrenched Hyderabdi position opened fire with Bren guns on the Sikhs. Hav. Bachittar Singh charged the position and about 20 yards from it was hit in the thigh. He crawled forward and silenced the post by lobbying grenades. Even though wounded he kept on encouraging his men to go forward and destroy other positions. He was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra, becoming the first Indian to receive this gallantry award. 2 companies of 17 Sikh was part of the group that took Aurangabad. 3 Sikh was part of the force that took Jalna. Hav. Joginder Singh won another posthumous Ashoka Chakra for 2 Sikh, when the battalion was involved in CI operations in Nagaland in 1956.

In the early 1960’s it was decided to reraise 5 Sikh because of its outstanding record during World War 1. For this purpose the existing 7 Sikh was renamed 5 Sikh, getting all the colours and honours of the old 5 Sikh battalion. 7 Sikh was then reraised as a new battalion in 1963.

India-China War 1962

The 1962 war with China was fought at a time when Indian Army was suffering severely from the sustained efforts of the politicians to reduce it to a stage of near impotence. A lot has been written about the Indian army's performance during this period. The performance of formations up to Brigade level in the war cannot be faulted. What was lacking at that time was leadership at the divisional, corps levels and higher up in the Eastern Sector.

Two battalions of the Sikh Regiment fought in this war, 1 Sikh in the Towang sector and 4 Sikh in the Walong sector. Twenty-three men of 11 Platoon, D Company, 1 Sikh under Subedar Joginder Singh (left) were holding I.B. ridge near Tong Pengla. On the morning of October 23, 1962 the Chinese attacked it with about 200 men coming in waves. The platoon held their ground and halted the attack. A little later the Chinese launched another similar attack, but could not get past the Sikh defenses. By this time the Sikhs had suffered about 50 per cent casualties including Sub. Joginder Singh who was wounded in the thigh. As their ammunition was running low, three men were sent to the company location to get more ammunition up to I.B. Ridge. In the mean time the Chinese attacked again this time in greater strength, Sub. Joginder Singh in spite of his wounds manned a machinegun and inspired his men to hold their ground. When the 2-inch mortar had exhausted its bombs, L/Naik Santokh Singh leapt up and killed two Chinese with the barrel of the 2-inch mortar, before he was shot dead by another Chinese. By this time very few men of 11 platoon were left standing and they were out of communication with the company HQ and out of ammunition, there was only one thing left for the surviving men of 11 platoon to do, they fixed bayonets and led by an injured Sub. Joginder Singh charged the Chinese and killed a number of Chinese but were overrun by the enemy's superior numbers and died fighting. Sub. Joginder Singh was taken a prisoner in a gravely wounded state. He was operated upon, one of his legs had to be amputated, but he died shortly afterwards. The Chinese kept his ashes and returned them to the Indian authorities afterwards. The ashes were then taken to Sub. Joginder Singh's native village under full military guard of honour. Sub. Joginder Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his leadership and gallantry. Out of the 23 men only the three who were sent back to get ammunition survived, the rest died fighting at I.B. Ridge. Indeed it was a battle of Last Round Last Man [9]. The last bayonet charge of Sub. Joginder Singh and his men was witnesses by a group of Assam Rifle men on an adjacent feature.

The Chinese then made contact with the D Company defenses at Tong Pengla. But the company under Captain Haripal Kaushik held firm and the Chinese could not break through the defenses. The Chinese then tried to bypass the company location, so in order to avert a dangerous situation a general withdrawal of the Tawang area was ordered. Capt. Haripal Kaushik was awarded a Vir Chakra (Capt. Kaushik represented India in hockey at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics). Capt. Mahavir Prasad, who was the adjutant of the battalion, on loan to 1/9 Gorkha Rifles established the 'Dhola Post'. He later fought with a platoon of 1/9 Gorkha Rifles at Namka Chu and was awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra.

The battalion then moved to Sela, where they were given a wide frontage to defend without any defense stores such as mines, wires, sandbags or medium machineguns. Difference of opinions between the brigade commander, divisional commander and the corps commander on how to defend the Sela area, led to the Chinese bypassing the position and these battalions holding Sela had to go through a totally confused withdrawal. These battalions had to disperse in small groups, many of the groups were ambushed by the Chinese and others had to brave hunger and cold in order to get back to the Indian lines. The Sikhs suffered 170 casualties (134 killed, including the CO, Lt. Col. B.N. Mehta) [9].

4 Sikh along with 6 Kumaon were in the Walong sector. The Chinese attacked the Sikh positions at Ladders and Mithun on the morning of Oct. 23. There was heavy fighting in which casualties were inflicted on the Chinese, but being outnumbered by the Chinese, the battalion had to withdraw. During the fighting at Mithun, Sepoy Kewal Singh was awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra [9-11]. In middle of November the Chinese launched large scale attacks on Indian positions in the Walong area, after putting up a tough fight the battalions had to give way to the Chinese and again another disorganized withdrawal took place. The 4 Sikh suffered 172 casualties ( 81 killed) [9, 11].

A number of citations and recommendations for gallantry were ignored by the higher ups under the ostensible gloom and despondency that enveloped the politicians after the debacle. It is real pity that a nation such as ours still cannot reward the gallantry of 2 Rajput at Nam Ka Chu, 1 Sikh at Bumla and 6 Kumaon at Walong.

India-Pakistan War 1965

Ten battalions of the Sikh Regiment saw action in the 1965 war. In a bid to seal off routes of infiltrations for the Pakistanis in J & K, 1 Sikh who were in the Tithwal sector attacked Pakistani positions . A company lead by Major Somesh Kapur captured Richhmar Ridge on 24 August 1965 and then attacked and captured the Pir Sahiba feature on the night of 25/26 August. From this feature the Indian troops could now overlook an extensive area under Pakistan control. Through out September, Pakistani troops tried hard to recapture this feature but were unsuccessful. 1 Sikh received 3 Vir Chakras ( Major Somesh Kapur and L/ Havildar Gurdev Singh and Sepoy Gurmel Singh (posth.)) for these operations [12]. 3 Sikh were in the Keren -Kishanganga sector. A platoon of 22 men under Subedar Sunder Singh withstood attempts by Pakistanis to capture the Pharkian Ki Gali feature. In the end of September the Sikhs blew up the Shahkot Bridge.

7 Sikh were also very active against the infiltrators in the Haji Pir Bulge area in August. In operations after cease-fire in the Mendhar sector they were part of a three battalion attack to clear the Pakistanis from a feature called OP Hill. In the first phase 2 Dogra cleared a number of heights but the going was slow as all the heights were held in strength and the Dogras suffered heavily. The enemy still held portions of OP Hill and as daylight was approaching, time was becoming critical. 7 Sikh were ordered to rush up a feature called Jungle Hill. There was fierce fighting but in the end the enemy was ejected. The leading company of 7 Sikh suffered 80 casualties (21 killed). As the company radio was put out of order during the attack, and the battalion HQ had to be told of the success of the mission, the Sikhs did this by sounding the Reveille by the buglers. One Vir Chakra to Capt. Sansar Singh was awarded to the 7 Sikh for this operation along with the battle honour OP Hill [12].

2 Sikh who were active in the Chhamb area in August and then were asked to capture Rani feature on the Uri-Hajipir axis in early September. In the initial plans 2 Sikh were to capture Rani after 3 Dogra had captured the Raja feature. The 3 Dogra attack on Raja did not succeed and CO of 2 Sikh, Lt. Col. Narinder Nath Khanna volunteered to capture Raja. The Raja feature was at a height of 7,700 feet and strongly defended. The enemy had fortified the bunkers and had laid a deep minefield and wire obstacles around the surroundings [6]. On the night of September 5/6, the 2 Sikh moved to attack the feature, when they reached the forward location they came under heavy machinegun fire. A company strength attack was launched, but it came under heavy fire. Naib Sub. Darshan Singh, the national 100 and 220 yards champion valiantly led one platoon up the hill despite heavy machinegun fire till he fell down wounded. The Company commander Maj. K.C. Kalley, then moved up to lead but he too was seriously wounded. The attack seemed to stall and as daylight was fast approaching something had to be done. Lt. Col. Khanna leapt out and called out to his men to follow him. Col. Khanna dashed across a mined area and threw a grenade into one of the enemy's forward bunker destroying it. As he did so, he was hit by a burst of automatic fire in the chest.

Inspired by their CO's act, waves of Sikh soldiers leapt over wire obstacles and swarmed over the enemy position. A group of them even charged through a minefield. This time the Sikhs fought their way to the top of the feature and captured it. The battalion suffered 162 casualties (42 killed) among the casualties were a number of national and services level sportsmen. Lt. Col. Khanna was awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra. The battalion also received one Vir Chakra (Naik Chand Singh) and one Sena Medal. It also received the battle honour Raja Picquet. Ref. [6] has a detailed account of this battle along with photographs and maps.

4 Sikh were in the Lahore sector as a part of 7 Infantry Division. On Sept 10 they attacked Burki and captured it. There was heavy fighting involved as the enemy put up a tough fight. The 4 Sikh suffered 123 casualties (23 killed) [11]. The Sikhs won 1 MVC (Sub. Ajit Singh (posth.)), 3 VrC's ( L/Naik Pritam Singh (posth.), Maj. Shamsher Singh Manhas, Hav. Ajmer Singh) and the battle honour Burki. The battalion was then chosen by Lt. Gen. Harbakhsh Singh to recapture Khem Karan on 12th September, 200 men under the CO, Lt. Col. Anant Singh were selected for the attack. They marched through the night and reached the outskirts of Khem Karan, where a group of tanks were to link up with the men. The men rested for some time and then heard tank noises, thinking it was the Indian Armour they rushed out into a group of Patton tanks. There was some fighting in which 40 men were killed and another 40 men led by Maj. D.S. Sidhu managed to breakout and the rest including the CO were taken POW's [11]. An advance party of 17 Sikh comprising of 85 men fought at the Battle of Assal Uttar alongside 4 Grenadiers.

India-Pakistan War 1971

A number of Sikh battalions fought during the 1971 war, most of them on the Western Front. 8 Sikh were in the Uri sector and 9 Sikh in the nearby Tangdhar sector. Two companies of 9 Sikh attacked and captured Thanda Pani and Kaiyan on 5 December night. The battalion then captured some more positions. At one stage they had advanced so rapidly that they went beyond artillery range. When the Sikhs came under Pakistani fire, they manhandled a medium gun over the mountains to take on the enemy by direct fire [8]. On 14 December, 9 Sikh then cleared the heights dominating Naukot.

6 Sikh were in Poonch and were holding piquet’s 405 and 406 situated on hills north-east of the town. These piquets were key to the defense of Poonch as they dominated the town. The Pakistanis were also well aware that the success or failure of their plan to capture Poonch depended on their ability to wrench control of the piquets from 6 Sikh. The Pakistanis gave the task of capturing the piquet’s to 2 POK Brigade composing 5 Frontier Force Rifles, 7 POK Battalion and 51 Punjab Regiment [13]. On the evening of 3 December the enemy subjected the piquets to heavy shelling and under this covering fire attacked with 5 FFR and 7 POK Battalions. The Sikhs were ready for it as they had shored up their defenses and the machinegun fire along with concentrated artillery fire took a heavy toll of the enemy. The enemy then attacked the helipad, but were repulsed. On the 4th morning they again shelled the Sikh positions and attacked with all the three battalions, again the Indian artillery and the Sikh machineguns took a heavy toll, but the enemy managed to capture the helipad. After this the enemy tried to establish a block between piquet’s 405 and 406 but the Sikhs did not allow this to happen. On December 5th these piquets were reinforced by a platoon each of 8 Jat. Throughout the day and night the enemy made repeated and determined attacks on piquet’s 405 and 406, but were repulsed back with heavy casualties. On 6th December, 6 Sikh following bitter fighting evicted the Pakistanis from the helipad [13]. After this the enemy made no major attack on the two piquet’s or Poonch. The 6 Sikh casualties were 8 killed and 33 wounded. The 6 Sikh won 1 MVC ( CO, Lt. Col. Kashmiri Lal Rattan) and 5 Vir Chakras ( Major Panjab Singh, Hav. Gurdev Singh, Hav. Malkiat Singh, Naik Naib Singh (posth.) and Sep. Sampuran Singh) and 2 MOD's along with the battle honour Defense of Poonch [14].

5 Sikh were at Chhamb and were in the middle of the brigade group with 5 Assam and 4/1 Gorkha Rifles on either side. 5 Sikh defenses covered point 303, Phalli and Mandiala. Throughout 4 December Pakistani artillery and PAF were very active in the areas of 5 Sikh and 5 Assam. On Dec 4th Pakistani infantry supported by armour captured Mandiala North after bitter hand to hand fighting. On 5th December, 2 tanks of Deccan Horse and a platoon of 5 Sikh led by Sub. Karam Singh recaptured the Mandiala Bridge. On 5 Sikh, 5 Assam and 4/1 Gorkha Rifles side ding-dong battles raged on through the day and night of 5 December. These battalions were subjected to intense shelling and repeated PAF attacks [14]. The Pakistanis then launched a major attack on 5 Sikh positions at pt. 303 and Phagla. During this attack the company commander at pt. 303, Maj. D.S. Pannu was killed. The battalion withstood five full fledged Pakistani attacks over a three day period. The battalion along with the brigade group was then withdrawn across the Manawar Tawi. The Sikh had suffered 80 casualties ( 41 killed). 5 Sikh received two Maha Vir Chakras ( CO, Lt. Col. Prem Kumar Khanna and Maj. Jaivir Singh) and 2 Vir Chakras ( Maj. D.S. Pannu (posth.) and Sep. Rachpal Singh) [14].

2 Sikh were in the Lahore sector and part of the battalion was defending the Ranian Post , which the Pakistanis seemed determined to capture. They attacked the post repeatedly on 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th December, but each time they were beaten back. At the start of the war the Pakistanis had managed to capture the village of Pulkanjri and had sited 12 BMG's and some 3.5 inch rocket launchers around it. On December 17th and 18th, 2 Sikh attacked and recaptured the Pulkanjri village. During this attack L/Naik Shangara Singh displayed conspicuous gallantry in clearing two machinegun posts which were holding the attack up. Shangara Singh dashed through a minefield and hurled a grenade at one of the post. He then charged the second gun and leaping over the loophole he snatched the gun from its occupants. As he stood with the gun in his hands he received a fatal burst in his abdomen and fell to the ground with the gun still in his hand. He was awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra. N/ Sub. Gian Singh received a posthumous Vir Chakra. The Pakistanis tried to recapture the Pulkanjri village using a company of 43 Punjab and two companies of 15 Punjab. The Sikhs stood firm and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy's 15 Punjab. In a local counter attack they captured 1 officer and 8 OR's of 43 Punjab and 4 OR's of 15 Punjab [13]. 19 Sikh was in the Ajnala area and captured the border post Budhai Chima on the night of December 5/6.

10 Sikh was in Rajasthan along the Nayachor axis. On December 11, they were part of a brigade attack along with 2 Mahar and 10 Sikh LI to capture Parbat Ali a feature which dominated both the main road and railway line to Nayachor and it was turned into a formidable defensive position by the enemy. In a grim battle working with bayonets and going from trench to trench the feature was cleared by the morning of 13 December. 10 Sikh won 6 Vir Chakras (Major Amrik Singh, Sub.Gurcharn Singh (posth.), Naik Gurjant Singh (posth.), L/Naik Harbhajan Singh, Sep. Mohan Singh) and 3 Sena Medals along with the battle honour Parbat Ali [14].

4 Sikh fought in the Eastern sector on the Jessore front. The battalion cleared the village of Burinda, which then opened the road to Jessore. The battalion then continued the advance to Khulna and on December 16, attacked Shyamganj and captured it. Naik Mohinder Singh won a posthumous Vir Chakra and the battalion received the battle honour Siramani [14].

The Turbulent 80's

The 80's was a decade of turbulent times for the battalions of the Sikh Regiment, with particular reference to the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. The decade started on a sad note for the Regiment because 1979 marked the end of a long and glorious innings for 1 Sikh, the British Commonwealth's most decorated battalion (245 pre-independence and 82 post-independence gallantry awards) as it was transferred out of the folds of the Sikh Regiment to become the 4th Battalion of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment. The class composition of this battalion also changed to All India Class. Presently the numbers of Sikhs in the 4 Mechanised Infantry has fallen to a level well below the minimum required for the battalion to sanction a gurdawara. This move along with the move of the Regimental Center to Ramgarh was opposed by most of the serving and retired senior officers of the Sikh Regiment.

Following Operation Bluestar, a large number of recruits at Ramgarh mutinied. They shot and killed the Commandant of the Sikh Regimental Center, Brigadier S.C. Puri and wounded some other officers. They then got hold of a number of trucks and started to proceed towards Punjab, but were stopped by army men in Bihar and U.P. A large part of 9 Sikh which was in the Ganganagar area of Rajasthan mutinied. This battalion was disbanded on April 1, 1985 [15]. Following Operation Bluestar, the then COAS, General Arun Vaidya wanted to have more mixed battalions, so he passed an order that single class battalions should begin recruiting other classes as well as their parent class. These mixed battalion came to be known as "Vaidya's Battalions". Regarding the Sikh Regiment, 13 Sikh is the Vaidya battalion and its class composition consists of a company each of Sikhs, Dogras, Garhwalis and South Indians [15]. When General K. Sundarji took over as army chief, one of the first orders he issued was to put a stop to the formation of more "Vaidya's Battalions". Now-a-days most of the regiments have started to switch their Vaidya battalions back to original regimental class composition.

The turbulence created by Operation Bluestar was soon left behind and the regiment acquainted itself very well in operations like: Operation Meghdoot, Operation Pawan, Operation Bajrang and Operation Rakshak.

Four Sikh battalions served as part of IPKF in Sri Lanka and they were; 7th, 16th, 17th and 22nd Sikh. These battalions won a number of gallantry awards. 16 Sikh were in action a number of times in 1987 and 1988 and they won 3 Vir Chakras ( 2/Lt. R.S. Nagar (posth.), L/Naik Mohinder Singh (posth.), Sep. Dayal Singh). 17 Sikh and 22 Sikh were part of IPKF in 1988 and 1989. One Vir Chakra was won by 22 Sikh - Sep. Gurdip Singh (posth.).

1999 Kargil Conflict

During the Kargil Conflict of 1999, two battalions, 8 Sikh and 14 Sikh were inducted into operations. 8 Sikh were tasked to capture Tiger Hill. By 21st May, the 8 Sikh had isolated Tiger Hill from three directions, east, north and south. In order to inflict casualties the enemy positions on Tiger Hill were subjected to artillery and mortar fire. A fresh battalion, 18 Grenadiers was brought in to capture the peak with 8 Sikh holding the firm base. On the night of July 3rd, 18 Grenadiers captured the eastern slope but further advance was held up due to effective enemy fire from Helmet Top, India Gate features on the western slope.

On the night of 5th July a group of 8 Sikh comprising of 2 officers, 4 JCO's and 52 OR's under heavy rain and fog attacked and captured these positions on the western spur. The enemy made a number of attempts to dislodge the Sikhs from these positions but failed to do so. Among the group of the Sikh soldiers who attacked the western spur, both officers were injured and three out of the four JCO's were killed. On July 7th the 18 Grenadiers then attacked and captured the Tiger Hill Top. The 8 Sikh suffered about 110 casualties ( 35 Killed) and received 3 Vir Chakras ( Sub. Nirmal Singh (posth.), N/Sub Karnail Singh (posth.), Sep. Satpal Singh) and 8 Sena Medals ( 5 posthumous) [16].

14 Sikh were air lifted to Leh from New Delhi on May 27, where they secured the Handangbrok heights in the Chorbatla area. They also captured points 5620, 5512, 5232, 5310 and 6041. N/ Sub. Jasbir Singh established a section post at a height of approx. 19,000 ft. This secured the eastern flank of Chorbatla [16].

The Regiment only recruits Sikhs except Mazhabi and Ramdasia. The Regimental Centre was in Nowshera (N.W.F.P.), then it moved to Ambala Cantt in 1947, in 1952 it moved again to Meerut and in 1977 moved to Ramgarh, Bihar. The War Memorial at Ramgarh is in the form of a quoit (chakra) and a khanda (sword). Each battalion also puts up a plaque along the walkway surrounding the Golden Temple at Amritsar, honouring the brave soldiers, who have laid down their lives for the country.

The Regimental motto is the vow taken by Guru Gobind Singh, "Nische kar apni jeet karon" - with determination, I'll fetch triumph. The Regimental March is a hymn written by Guru Gobind Singh during the Battle of Chamkaur, "De shiva bar mohey ehai" and the battle cry is "Bole so nihal, sat sri akal".

GALLANTRY AWARDS [1,8]

Pre Independence

Victoria Cross 10, IOM 100, IDSM 231, DSO 35, MC 46, MM 51, DSM 10

Post Independence

PVC 2, AC 2, MVC 14, KC 16, VrC 67, SC 22+, SM 104+

(+) sign indicates that the numbers would be more as some of the Republic Day gallantry awards for CI operations since the mid 1990's have not been taken into account.

 

BATTLE AND THEATRE HONOURS [17]

Pre World War 1

Lucknow: Defence and Capture, Defence of Arrah, Behar, China 1860-62, Ali Masjid, Ahmad Khel, Kandahar 1880, Afghanistan 1878-80, Suakin 1885, Tofrek, Defence of Chitral, Chitral, Malakand, Tirah, Punjab Frontier, Samana, China 1900

World War 1

La Bassee 1914, Armentieres 1914, Givenchy 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres 1915, St Julien, Aubers, Festubert 1915, France and Flanders 1914-15, Suez Canal, Egypt 1915-16, Megiddo, Sharon, Palestine 1918, Tigris 1916, Kut al Amara 1917, Baghdad, Sharqat, Mesopotamia 1916-18, Persia 1918, Helles, Krithia, Suvla, Sari Bair, Gallipoli 1915, Tsingtao, NW Frontier 1914, 15, 1916-17, Afghanistan 1919

World War 2

Agordat, Keren, Abyssinia 1940-41, Iraq 1941, Kuantan, Niyor, Malaya 1941-42, Omars, Mersa Matruh, Deir El Shein, North Africa 1940-43, Gothic Line, Monte Calvo, Coriano, Poggio San Giovanni, San Marino, Italy 1943-45, Greece 1944-45, Buthidaung, North Arakan, Kanglatongibi, Nayaungu Bridgehead, Shandatgyi, Kama, The Irrawaddy, Sittang 1945, Burma 1942-45.

1947-48 Jammu and Kashmir Operations

Srinagar, Tithwal, Jammu and Kashmir 1947-48

Indo-Pak Conflict 1965

Raja Picquet-Chand Tekri, OP Hill, Jammu and Kashmir 1965, Burki, Punjab 1965

Indo-Pak Conflict 1971

Siramani, East Pakistan 1971, Defence of Punch, Jammu and Kashmir 1971, Punjab 1971, Parbat Ali, Sindh 1971

 

References

[1] Prabhjot Singh, Most Decorated Army Regiment, The Tribune , 9 March, 2000.

[2] Bharat Rakshak, Battles Section, Defending Saragarhi, 12 September, 1897.

[3] Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh, Epic Battle of Saragarhi, The Sikh Review, May 2000

[4] Vijay Mohan, A Sikh Regiment Battle Etched in History, The Tribune, 11 Sep. 2000

[5] Lt. Col. Gautam Sharma, Valour and Sacrifice, Allied

[6] Amarinder Singh, Lest We Forget, Regiment of Ludhiana Welfare Association, Patiala, 1999.

[7] Lt. Gen. Harbakhsh Singh, In the Line of Duty, Lancer, 2000.

[8] Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, Infantry in India, Vikas, 1997.

[9] Lt. Col. Gurdip Singh Kler, Unsung Battles of 1962, Lancer

[10] Bharat Rakshak, Battles Section, Battle of Walong, 18 Oct.-16 Nov. 1962.

[11] Kanwaljit Singh and H.S. Ahluwalia, Saragarhi Battalion, ashes to glory: the history of the 4th Battalion Sikh Regiment, Lancer International, 1987.

[12] Government of India, Official History of the 1965 India-Pakistan War, Times of India Group web site.

[13] Lt. Gen. K.P. Candeth, The Western Front: Indo-Pakistan War 1971, Allied

[14] Government of India, Official History of the 1971 India-Pakistan War, Times of India Group web site

[15] Mandeep Singh Bajwa, The Sikh Regiment, Orders of Battle Web site

[16] Prabhjot Singh, Sikh Regiment: Where Valour is a Tradition, The Tribune, 7 August 1999.

[17] Maj. Sarbans Singh, Battle Honours of the Indian Army, Vision

 

Copyright Bharat Rakshak 2001