‘It was better to die of your own fire than of enemy fire’: Capt Sashidharan on 1971 war

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‘To thwart the enemy attack, every time I called for firing on my post, my officers and men at the gun position about 2-3 kms behind me reluctantly did so, because I was in line also. However, they provided such accurate fire that it worked brilliantly,’ says Captain Sashidharan (K.S. Menon) recollecting a glimpse of the attack on his post in Poonch, during the 1971 war.

As things were building up on the Bangladesh front, Pakistan had launched an assault in the West — Poonch sector as well, which was repulsed. Retired Capt. Sashidharan (K.S. Menon) of 11 Field Regiment (Artillery) was among those who participated in that action, in the war that went on to create history.

Capt. Sashidharan (K.S. Menon) was eventually awarded a Mention-In Dispatches. He subsequently joined the Civil Services in 1974 and retired from the Indian Audit and Accounts Service as Additional Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General and then later as Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal. He shared his experience of the war of 1971, which created history, with IANS.

“I was commissioned into the army when I was 21. Three years later we were at war. I was excited at the thought of seeing some action. At school I had been in the NCC and I was considered a marksman. But the experience of war was completely different. Frankly, if I had got into the Civil Services without serving in the army or fighting a war, I would not be the person I am now,” he says.

“The tension on the Eastern front — Bangladesh — had been building up. The need to protect our Western side was also felt as they might try and do something there while we were kept busy on the east. We were first deployed at Shakargarh where a tank battle took place. Overnight we were moved to Poonch as heavy infiltration had begun and Pakistan was trying to cut off Poonch,” He recalls.

“If they had been allowed to come in, most of Jammu and Kashmir would have also been cut off from the rest of India. Pakistan’s post was located at a much higher level and they thought that if they overrun this particular post where we were they would have free and easy run right up to our brigade headquarters,” he stated.

“At 8.30 at night they launched their attack on us which was preceded by heavy artillery firing onto our picket. After the first few rounds within half an hour I had to call for artillery fire on our own position and also on the forward slope which is where the Pakistanis were climbing up from,” he recalls.

“In artillery there is something called ‘Defensive Fire’ an SOS ‘Code RED, RED, RED’ which means that the enemy has already reached your position and you want to deny him that position, so you call for fire onto your own position, he remembers. I had to call for that. My officer told me that my men were hesitating to fire. So I told him that it was better to die of your own fire than to die of enemy fire.

“The firing was absolutely accurate. Our Regiment is a very well-known regiment, one of the best,” he explains. “Captured Pakistani soldiers in 1965, and 1971 have said ‘if only we had Indian officers to lead us we would have produced similar results.’

“So that is what happened. From 8.30 p.m. till 2.30 a.m. on December 4th these attacks continued. Then they stopped suddenly. By the time it became daylight and we took stock of the situation we found the bodies of enemy soldiers lying in our picket. Then congratulatory messages began to trickle in even from Western Command HQ. We were very happy we had been able to prevent Pakistan’s plan to cut off Poonch,” he says proudly.

“I was then called back by the Regiment to provide artillery fire for 13 Mahar and the BSF at another picket called Thanpir which our brigade was trying to recapture. As 13 Mahar climbed on one side and I with the BSF climbed on the other, the enemy sensing a two pronged attack fled the picket and ran away. Thanpir was important because it was a very important defensive post in Poonch and if we hadn’t recaptured it, they would have gone on to control Poonch town,” he says

“So, I took part in two actions. One defensive and another an offensive operation before the ceasefire was announced. I am satisfied with the role I played,” He says while looking back.

“Later, when I was leaving after I had passed the UPSC exams, my GOC told me that ‘you have been in the army and fought a war. You have seen the discipline in both. That will stand you in good stead in civilian life as well. You will be better off than most others who join the civil services directly. In hindsight he was right,” Capt. Sashidharan remarked.

“At my UPSC interview the interviewers were all great luminaries. They asked me how I would adapt to civil life. My answer was simple. The Army was also a new life when one joined and then based on the training and the values inculcated there while being trained, one learnt. Finally, your mental strength dictates terms for you always. So similarly in the Civil Services too whatever it teaches me and whatever I am called upon to do, I hope because of this disciplinary approach to everything that has been inculcated in me, I will be able to acquit myself,” the Captain said.

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