India: The Partapur and 121st Brigade Sectors
in the 1971 War
v.1.0 April 7, 2002
With thanks to Mr. Jagan Pillarisetti for providing a copy of the Official 1971 War History, still to be published, but released without authorization in 2000 by the Times of India – to whom also we owe thanks.Partapur Sector [Col. Udai Singh]
This sector is based at Thoise, and covers the Shyok River Valley. It came under 3rd Division [Maj.-Gen. S.P. Malhotra] at Leh, and at the time was connected to Leh by an indifferent, rocky, single-lane road over the Khardung La, the highest motored pass in the world.
The sector was the responsibility of the Ladakh Scouts. They had five companies plus a support company in this sector. Two of the five were facing China. To free the others for offensive action, four companies of Nubra Guards totaling 500 men were raised from the local population, given 15 days training, and put to replacing the Scouts for static guard duties and for holding the firm bases. Three companies of Scouts, including G and K Companies, plus two sections of 81mm mortars and two sections of medium-machine guns, attacked on December 8, and by December 17, the date of the ceasefire, had advanced all the way to Biegdano.
Pakistan had not expected an attack in this sector: after all, it ranged from 4800 meters to 5600 meters, and this was winter, with barely nine hours of light. Though the official history does not say so, it is probable that the attack was made on the initiative of the legendary Major Chowang Rimchin, who as a boy soldier of 17 with the Nubra Guards had won a Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second highest combat gallantry award, during the Kashmir War in 1948. In 1962, he won the Sena Medal, for gallantry during the China War. In 1971, he led the men himself. They spent nine days in the open, suffering just three battle casualties but 45 to frostbite. Major Rimchin won a bar to the MVC for this exploit. En route, the official history tells us, the Indian force overran an enemy platoon picket at 5609 meters, which might just have been the highest battle in the history of warfare. In 1982 Major Rimchin was promoted to Lt.-Colonel and after his retirement, to Honorary Colonel. He died in 1997.
The History notes an oddity: the Battle of Turtok, enroute to Biegdano, took 60 hours but no casualties were reported from either side. The History makes one of its few valid speculations when it says that had the attack started on December 4, and had Turtok not held up the advance for another two days, India might have advanced all the way to Piun. This would have changed the subsequent strategic picture in the area because it would have given an approach to the sector through the Chorbat La, an easier pass to negotiate and a much shorter route to the Shyok Valley. This would have had implications for the Siachin confrontation also.
Of course, we might expect that the History should find the answers to these questions, but it does not bother. We hope that someone would a better knowledge about this unusual operation where a handful of men captured 800 square kilometers of high mountain terrain in the dead of winter will enlighten us. Meanwhile, the author of this article also notes an oddity: the attacking force included two platoons of Nubra Guards. Considering these men had had just 15 days of training, mainly in learning how to use a rifle, it is curious they were thought fit to accompany the Scouts, who were very experienced high altitude infantry.
Pakistan had no regular troops in the area, and it is thought this helped the Indians. Conversely, regular troops would have had difficulty operating at those heights and in that climate. The opposing troops might “only” have been Pakistani Scouts, but they were locally recruited. The history does note, however, that the Junior Commissioned Officers were illiterate, and unable to read maps. Since they were the platoon commanders, and this was a war of platoons, possibly this was a serious handicap.
121st (Independent) Infantry Brigade Group
- 2/11 Gorkha Rifles
- 7th Guards
- 18th Punjab
- 9th J & K Militia (inducted around December 13)
If necessary, three more battalions and a Border Security battalion were also available:
- 5/3rd Gorkha Rifles (Leh), probably from 163rd Brigade of 3rd Division
- 13th J & K Militia (Dras), part of the brigade
Had the 13th and/or the BSF battalion been used, it would have meant pulling troops off the border posts that protected the Sonamarg-Leh Road, and this probably would not have been a good idea – it was to protect this road that the Indians had mounted their offensive in the first place.
9th J & K Militia appears to have belonged to the brigade and was possibly a reserve located at Kargil.
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