1965! A year of unprecedented turmoil in Indo-Pak history. In April that year, a minor border dispute in the Rann of Kutch area had resulted in limited scale conflicts between the armies of India & Pakistan.
Due to superior armaments & training that it received from the US, the Pakistan Army dominated the skirmishes in the Rann area and made some territorial gains. India on the other hand was recovering from a disastrous war with China and still licking her wounds. Though the modernization of its military was underway, it was still to gather steam. India was at its most vulnerable position in1965.
This emboldened the Pakistanis and set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the Second Kashmir War of 1965.
Meanwhile, much before any of these events,in 1933, a Tailor named Mohammad Usman and his wife were blessed with a baby boy after many years of marriage in Dhamupur, District Ghazipur UP of pre-partition India. The grateful parents decided to name the boy Abdul Hamid.
Abdul Hamid had an unremarkable journey to adolescence, and was trained by his Father in the craft of Tailoring. However when a childhood friend successfully enlisted in the Army, this set young Abdul thinking. He had dreams of his own. He wanted to travel the world and see far off places, instead of being confined to his village for his entire life. The stories narrated by his friend in the Army, instilled a new found passion to serve his country. He would dream of scenarios in which he envisioned himself performing some brave act or the other and that his entire village celebrated him as a Hero.
All his plans for valour and chivalry crash landed when his idea was shot down by his rattled parents. They were not ready to send their only son off to serve in the Army. To make matters worse, he was soon married off to a Girl of his mother’s choice, with the hope that wedlock will drive out all such ‘crazy notions’ from his head. However, young Abdul had other plans and he made it clear to young Rasoolan (his bride) on the very first night of his marriage that he intended to enlist in the Army and that nothing, not even marriage, could make him change his mind.
To his utter surprise, he found that his wife was actually supportive of his plans. With the support of his wife, but against the wishes of his parents, Abdul Hamid applied for and was enlisted into the Grenadiers infantry regiment as Army enrollment number 239885 on 27 December 1954.
He was later posted in the 4th Battalion of the regiment where he served all his service life. During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Hamid’s battalion was part of 7th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier John Dalvi, and participated in the battle of Namka Chu against the Chinese. Surrounded and cut off, the battalion had made a fighting breakaway into Bhutan by foot and then to Misamari. Abdul was the only survivor of his Platoon who made his way back to the camp, and nearly died trying.
Though this experience served to wash away any shred of Romanticism that was left in his heart, the awards and citations that he received for his grit and determination further emboldened his resolve to continue his career with the Army. He was awarded with the Raksha Medal, Sainya Seva Medal and the Samar Seva Medal.
Rising steadily through the ranks, Abdul Hamid was promoted and being the most experienced and best 105mm recoil-less rifle shot in the battalion, he was entrusted with the NCO command of battalion’s recoil-less rifle platoon.
In May 1965 following the mood of jubilation in Pakistan because of the Rann-of-Kutch episode, Ayub Khan was advised by his trusted advisers to launch “Operation Gibraltar”; a military master plan that envisaged capturing Kashmir by launching armed soldiers and militiamen, dressed as locals into Indian held Kashmir. The immediate objective of such a move was to intice the local Muslim population to revolt against India, finally forcing India to abandon Kashmir.
Operation Gibraltar was set into motion in the first week of August 1965, as soldiers from the Pakistani infantry infiltrated the border in small teams of twos and threes, dressed in local Kashmiri attire, till their numbers eventually swelled to almost 9000, or roughly, a size of an entire Division.
India was caught unawares, but soon the news started pouring in from the valley that Armed Intruders from across the border were wreaking havoc. India countered them by bringing in additional troops. However it was soon clear to the Indian leadership that if they kept the war confined to Kashmir, the state will soon be lost. In order to relieve pressure on its defensive lines in J&K, the Indian Army also launched attacks on the logistical bases of the insurgents in POK, and opened up another front in the plains of Punjab.
The Pakistani Army was left with little choice but to break their defensive lines and charge forward, and they did so at a massive scale in what was to be called as Operation Grand Slam. Pakistan’s invading force, consisting of the 1st Armoured Division and 11th Infantry Division, crossed the International Border and captured the Indian town of Khem Karan.
The enemy outmatched us 6:1 in the particular theatre of operations and enjoyed overall technological superiority in Armour. The freshly supplied American M-48 “Patton” Tank was the pride and joy of the Pakistan Army, of which they had around 350 in numbers. Facing them on the Indian side were WWII era Tanks such as Chieftains & Shermans and a few dozen AMX light Tanks, which belonged more in the Museum than on the battlefield.
Considering the gravity of the situation, General-Officer-Commanding of the Indian 4th Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. Gurbaksh Singh immediately ordered the division to fall back and assume a horseshoe shaped defensive position with Assal Uttar as its focal point.
As per the new defence tactics, the 4 Grenadiers occupied a vital area in the vicinity of Chima village on the Khem Karan-Bhikhiwind road. It was made clear to the defending company that a firm hold on this area was vital to the defence of the entire theatre.
On the night of September the 8th, the enemy made repeated attacks on Indian positions but was frustrated in all the attempts. The most serious threat, however, developed when the enemy attacked with a regiment of Patton tanks at 08:00 hours on September 10th. The attack was preceded by intense shelling that littered the entire area in and around India positions with shrapnel and unexploded shells. By 09:00 hours, the enemy tanks had penetrated the forward company positions. At this critical juncture, Abdul Hamid was commanding an M-40 recoil-less gun detachment. Seeing the gravity of the situation, he moved out to a flank with his gun mounted on a jeep. Intense enemy shelling and tank fire did not deter him.
From his new position, he knocked out the leading enemy tank with accurate fire. Then he changed his position and knocked out another enemy tank. By this time the enemy who had spotted his position brought down concentrated machine gun and high explosive fire on him. He continued to fire on one enemy Tank after another, using the natural camouflage of Sugarcane fields, constantly changing his position.
This forced the Pakistani Commander to order his tanks to spread out, further weakening their tactical position. Though this allowed several Tanks to be knocked out by Indian Jawans armed with Bazookas, Abdul Hamid eventually ran out of luck when his RCL Jeep came face to face with an enemy Tank. He was knocked out by an enemy shell, but not before he had managed to knock out as many as 7 Patton tanks!
This had a considerable debilitating effect on the morale of the enemy and in the decisive Battle of Assal-Uttar, the entire Pakistani Armored Division was decimated and around 100 Pakistani tanks mostly Pattons were lost to Indian fire.
Ayub Khan’s evil plan to snatch away Kashmir was buried in the sugarcane fields of Punjab !
For his supreme sacrifice and unmatched valour, Abdul Hamid was honoured with the highest war time gallantry award – the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously received by his wife Rasoolan Bibi from Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then President of India during the 1966 Republic Day Parade.
The residents of Asal Uttar operate a dispensary, library and school in the village named after Abdul Hamid. In his memory, a mausoleum was constructed on his grave by the 4th Grenadiers at Asal Uttar and each year a “mela” is held there on the date of his martyrdom.
“वतन की आबरू का पास देखें कौन करता है
सुना है आज मक़तल में हमारा इम्तिहाँ होगा
शहीदों की चिताओं पर जुड़ेंगे हर बरस मेले
वतन पर मरनेवालों का यही बाक़ी निशाँ होगा..”
~जगदम्बा प्रसाद मिश्र ‘हितैषी’
– This post was written by Rahul Sharma as a part of the Veer Gatha Series.
Official 1965 War History, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.
Bharat-Rakshak consortium and forums.
“Param Vir Chakra” – a DD serial of late 80’s – episode on Abdul Hamid