Thursday, September 01, 2011

Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid PVC (4 Grenadiers)

It is September, and in one week’s time, it would be the 46th anniversary of Indian’s second war with Pakistan after Independence. It is befitting then, that we remember those brave soldiers who fought this war bravely, some of them laying down their lives to thwart Pakistan’s designs to once again forcibly take away the Region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The first in the series of remembrances is that of Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid, who belonged to 4 Grenadiers, who fought gallantry to thwart a massive enemy armoured offensive with just RCL guns, in the Punjab sector, and was successful in restraining the attack and holding back the enemy. In the process Abdul Hamid laid down his life.

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Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid, PVC

It was early September 1965 and Pakistan had just launched an intense offensive in J&K (Operation Grand Slam) aimed at capturing Akhnoor in Jammu. The objective was to cut off communications and supply routes to the Indian forces on the border in J&K. India had retaliated with air attacks and was on the verge of opening the front in Punjab.
On 6th September, Indian forces (11Corps) was tasked to launch an offensive near the west bank of Icchogil canal (a de facto border between India and Pakistan). The intent was to establish bridgeheads across the canal and pose a threat to Lahore. It was expected that Pakistan would react violently and provide 11 Corps an opportunity to destroy them. It was decided that ‘Asal Uttar’ would be a suitable place to cover an enemy offensive, as it covered both the Khem Karan – Amritsar axis as well as the Khem Karan – Patti axis.
4 Grenadiers is a unique example of a Battalion that distinguished itself in an intensely fought out war, without its regular company commanders and platoon commanders who were then deployed on the Indo-Tibetan border. The Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) were elevated to fight his battle, and Company Quartermaster Abdul Hamid was directed to take over a detachment of RCL gums of his battalion (he was chosen because of he had done well in the RCL course at Infantry School Mhow, and therefore was the obvious choice).
The Battalion arrived at Ichhogil Canal on the night of September 7-8 and made preparations. No overhead cover was possible, and no camouflage necessary as the battalion was in the midst of sugarcane fields.
Very early morning on September 8, 1965 the battalion heard the ‘rumbling’ of tank movement. By 9 o’clock, the first three Patton tanks came astride the road. When the lead tank was about 30 yards away, Abdul Hamid fired with this RCL gun and knocked it out. The crew of the two follow up tanks abandoned them and fled.
At 1130 am, three more tanks came into view. Once again, Abdul Hamid fired when the lead tank was at close range, and destroyed it. And once again the crew of the two follow up tanks abandoned them and fled. By the end of the day, two enemy tanks were destroyed singularly by Abdul Hamid, and four others had been abandoned, thus taking the tally up to six. An Engineer company was frantically called and some anti tank mines were laid.
On September 9, the 4 Grenadier position was attacked came under air attack, but fortunately not much harm was done. This was followed by three waves of attacks by Pakistani tanks – at 9.30 am, 1130 am and at 2.30 pm. Abdul Hamid destroyed two more tanks. Some sounds of the anti tank mines exploding were heard. At the end of the day, more than 13 Pakistani tanks lay abandoned in the fields
It was clear that 4 Grenadiers was facing a massive and determined armoured assault. Furthermore, for strategic reasons, the Indian armour could not be deployed there, as a result of which this Battalion was to fight what was evidently a full armoured division, with just its RCL guns.
One September 10, the battalion was first shelled heavily and what followed was pretty much a similar armoured thrust. Three tanks moved first at 8.30 am, in a pattern similar to that on the previous two days – the lead tank on the road, with two follow up tanks moving on the lower verges of the read a little behind.
Abdul Hamid aimed his RCL gun once again, and when the lead tank was close enough, destroyed it. The second armoured thrust came at 9.00 am, and Abdul Hamid got another tank – his sixth one. The artillery shelling meanwhile became heavier. Abdul Hamid moved his RCL jeep to a different firing position, and told the rest of his jeep crew to take cover.
The next tank, and Abdul Hamid spotted each other at the same time. Abdul Hamid, now alone took aim of the tank. Both the tank and Abdul fired simultaneously. Abdul Hamid was killed instantly. According to unofficial reports, both the tank and the RCL jeep were blown together to bits.
Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously. His citation reads thus:

“Abdul Hamid’s brace action inspired his comrades to put up a gallant fight and to bear back the heavy tank assault by the enemy. His complete disregard for his personal safety during the operation and his sustained acts of bravery in the face of constant enemy fire were a shining example not only to his unit but to the whole division and were in the highest traditions of the Indian Army”
Major General Ian Cardozo SM, in his book “Param Vir – Our heroes in Battle” highlights the irony related to his award. Apparently, the recommendation for the Param Vir Chakra was sent on the evening of September 9, by when Abdul Hamid had personally destroyed three enemy tanks. By September 10, Abdul Hamid had destroyed three more, and was killed in the process of destroying a seventh tank. A follow up message was sent for correcting the previous citation. His award was changed to a ‘posthumous’ one but the record about the number of tanks destroyed was never amended to this date.
With contributions from :
1. “Param Vir – Our heroes in Battle” (Major General Ian Cardozo, Lotus Roli)

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