1965 War: Exploits of Capt Shamsher Singh (later Brigadier, AVSM), OC 68 (Indep) Brigade Signal Company (Haji Pir Operations)
68 Infantry Brigade Group commanded by the legendry Brig ZC Bakshi (later Lt Gen), popularly known as Zoru Bakshi, was given the task of capturing Haji Pir, eliminating Haji Pir Bulge and linking up with Punch. The Operation entailed a number of battalion attacks to capture features up to 12000 ft, leading to Haji Pir Pass and thence beyond towards Punch. Capt Shamsher Singh (later Brigadier, AVSM) was the Brigade Signal Officer, since 1963. 68 Brigade was known as ‘Bakarwal Brigade’, as it often carried out training and exercises on man/ mule pack basis in high mountains around the Valley and was always on the move like the Bakarwals.
68 Brigade was allotted five infantry battalions and an artillery regiment, which entailed considerable additional communication responsibility. A few weeks before the Operations, American equipment, particularly Radios AN/GRC9, which could be easily man packed, were withdrawn and replaced with very heavy Wireless Sets C11/R210. The Brigade Signal Company took this in its stride. As a result, old but tried Radio Sets 62 were the main HF wireless equipment used during the Operation.
Once the Operation was launched on Night 26/27 Aug, Brig Zoru Bakshi mostly remained well up ahead of the Brigade Headquarters ie a Brigade Tactical Headquarters functioned all the time. Capt Shamsher Singh was always with the Brigade Commander along with a small Signal Complement, comprising radio detachments as also a small exchange, line detachment, plus battery charging facility; all on man/mule pack basis. This enabled Capt Shamsher Singh to be in the latest tactical picture and know the thinking of the Brigade Commander. He was thus able to cater communications well in time for all attacks and speedily re-orient these to meet changing operational requirement.
In addition to the standard radio communications ie D1, B1 nets, a VHF set No 31 was invariably opened to listen in on the assaulting battalion’s forward net, so that the Brigade Commander could gain first hand feel of the battle. A radio set was also used to listen in on the net of Pak battalion being attacked, to gain information about the actions being taken/ contemplated by them.
Line communication was extended to all battalion headquarters even while they were attacking. Field cables were laid along mountain tracks and cross-country, at great heights, not an easy task. Personnel of 68 Infantry Brigade Signal Company worked tirelessly, faced dangers shoulder to shoulder with infantry battalions and showed tremendous spirit and devotion to duty even when under shelling and small arms fire. An incident described below is indicative of the spirit and devotion to duty of the Signal Company.
Late one night in the Second half of Sep, when the battle for a Feature called Gittian was in progress, Brig Zoru Bakshi had bedded down in a Bakarwal hut, where the Commander’s party was located. He heard Capt Shamsher Singh sitting out side under a ‘lean to’ getting ready to go out to repair a line, which was not through. The Brigade Commander instructed Shamsher not to move about in the dark as enemy troops were in the area and instead send out a line party at First Light. The Brigadier dozed off but after some time he heard a telephone ring and some one saying, ‘the line was through’!
Brig Bakshi asked Capt Shamsher Singh if he had taken out a line party to repair the line? The Officer answered in the affirmative. Brig Bakshi there upon enquired why he had gone out at night to repair the line against his instructions? Capt Shamsher Singh answered, “ Sir, if I had not done so, it would not have been possible to obtain latest information from the Brigade Headquarters and the battalions. This would have hindered you in formulating your plan and issue of orders. We all know that you need not be so far in the front, exposing yourself to danger including shells and bullets.
You are doing so because you consider it to be your duty. We have also done our duty by ensuring that signal communications for you function, to the best possible extent; danger or no danger”.
Brig Zoru Bakshi never forgot the spirit and devotion to duty exhibited and the quality of communication support provided by Capt Shamsher Singh and his men. Years after, during numerous presentations of Battle of Haji Pir by him, he always narrated this incident. The details of the Episode are also given in a Book ‘Missed Opportunities’, authored by Maj Gen Lachhman Singh Lehl.
It was an intense and prolonged operation over high mountains, lasting nearly three weeks, on which the eyes of the whole Nation were fixed. Providing signal communications for such a large, difficult and important operation in high mountains was not an easy task. However, Capt Shamsher Singh, though having hardly three years service, functioned like a veteran of many wars and performed as an outstanding Signal Officer, much beyond his age and service. All ranks of the Signal Company also worked admirably in face of danger. Sadly, due to bureaucratic hastles, honours and awards so richly deserved, did not come to the Signal Company and they have remained un sung heroes of 1965 War.