Inder Gill, Zorru Bakshi on the ’70s Armored Doctrine …

Posted on June 9, 2010. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

First Zorru Bakshi.

He earned his first gallantry award as a brigade major to then Brig Bikram Singh, who had First Madras, First Sikh and Third Garhwalis in his brigade in the 1948/49 Indo Pak War. The latter two units won the highest number of gallantry awards won by any unit in any War.

Zorru as a brigade commander in ’65 made the then Major Ranjit Dayal capture the prized Hajipir Pass which got them both prized gallantry awards. 

Zorru, a thorough bred regimental type, is a Fifth Gurkha officer, who to his consternation also became Military Secretary. He remains one of the most highly decorated and respected generals of the Indian Army.

This post is of the time when he took over the 2 Corps in the mid 70s and was shown the armored division going through its paces for the encounter crossing of a lightly held water obstacle.

To show Zorru the offensive power of India’s elite Armoured Division, a ‘Demonstration’ was laid on to show how an unheld or lightly held water obstacle would be crossed, once this monster formation was unleashed.

The spectators took their seats with the water obstacle in front and an armourd squadron came roaring from behind. It stopped a kilometer and more short of the obstacle and fanned out. Then came the infantry. They got out of their armoured carriers which in those days were the Czech Topas.

Having spread out in assault formation, the infantry moved towards the obstacle through the minefield and took position on the near side of the canal to show ‘it had secured the home bank’.

The engineers then came and cleared a lane thru the enemy minefield. Then came the bridging equipment to make the bridge. Once that was done, the squadron crossed in file  and charged onward,pennants fluttering.

We awaited the new Corps Commander to say Shabash and ‘What a nice job done’ and commend one and all before we went home.

A short, snappy, alert, active figure with a chest full of gallantry medals (MahaVir and Vir Chakra), moved forward briskly and took the mike. His first, “Gentlemen”, showed a typical Dograi accent, unashamedly un english but which drew attention because of the voice behind it but which evidently left him unfazed. In the same accent, he continued –

Gentlemen, When i came here on my arrival, I first heard about this concept. Then I read it. And now I have seen it. And I am convinced in my mind that it is a tamasha and it will not work in war’.

“You say that this model  is for an unheld or lightly held water obstacle. I ask you that if that is so, why go through this drama? Why not just bump it and move on? I ask – why has the armor stopped a km or two short of danger? Is it to save tanks from being hit’?

“Gentlemen, I have seen a bit of war and I do not think it right for any sane commander to ask infantry to go through a minefield and then lay down in the open for what you call, securing the home bank. What, in heavens name, are they doing there lying in the open when both own and enemy artillery as well as enemy machine gun fire from pill boxes and bunkers within fifty yards, is being poured on them?  This infantry is being butchered and I call it down right murder’.

”Gentlemen, do you know how it feels to assault thru a minefild? I think not! And then what in Gods name are they doing there lying down in the open when the enemy opposite them is in pill boxes and safe from anything that can come down on them’?

“You call it securing the home bank. What utter rubbish! Can anyone imagine what is going on over there at that moment other than mass murder. Even the trench warfare of the First World War would be a picnic compared to this’!

“I tell you what you have shown me is pure drama and a ‘tamasha’ which will not work in war. If the obstacle is un held or lightly held, just bump it; accept some tank casualties, maintain  the shock effect by keeping on moving without losing momentum’.

“So for Heavens’s sake, please rethink your doctrines and drills. Thank you”.

This summation was the death knell of what we in the elite Armored Division had been practicing. It  had started under its showman commander General Butch, a bigger fraud than whom it is hard to imagine.

Indeed it was this man who as Brigadier had pulled the rug from under the feet of his own Divisional Commander, Gen RK Ranjit Singh, the Armd Div Comdr in the late 60’s, had maintained that one night was insufficient for a set piece armor offensive across a bund type strongly held obstacle, which included contacting the obstacle, bridging and establishment of the bridge head, induction and break out.

This had been mooted and desired  by no less a person than General Prem Bhagat and Butch won his favor by agreeing that it could probably be done with time to spare. Well, of course on paper and in demonstrations!

Now Inder Gill.

Inder took over as Zorru Bakshi’s boss – the Western Army Commander. This short statured, blonde haired, ‘Gora white’  para trooper had been a sapper in the British Army and his exploits as a Capt find mention in Wikipedia. This man will forever remain as one of the Indian Army’s All Time Greats.

Here follow the views of Inder Gill, who made similar points on the set piece armored offensive across a ditch cum bund, DCB obstacle.

These are his views on the first night of the set piece offensive by the armored division across  a prepared and held obstacle. These are his written words in Demi Official Letters to his Corps Commanders.

“We should always keep an ‘open mind’ – specially with regard to the offensive task.

“At at present we seemed to have closed our minds to any other option and all we seem to be obsessed with is a one night affair’.

“For God’s sake think of other options – two nights, a week, a month or something totally different. Learn from history – they win who do what was never thought of’.

“Doing everything n one night restricts and limits time for all the various needed activities. The result is very tight timings for all needed tasks like securing home bank, breeching minefields, establishing bridge head, bridging, induction and breakout’.

“Should any one thing go awry, the whole operation will unhinge, fall in pieces and the result will be disaster. It will take a long while to pick up the pieces’.

“Having tight timings with no alternate plans is dangerous. Should any timing go awry then the whole thing is jeopardized and no one can afford such a scenerio’.

“Tight timings make the risk of failure very high. We should  always keep our minds open and consider all alternatives. We should never ever close our minds. No fixations’.

The earthy practical sense of Inder Gill was displayed when I heard him take to task a top level highly rated professional. It was during the ’76 Corps Exercise when Brig Amarjit of JAK LI, the  highly rated officer whose brigade was occupying a defended sector in the Exercise. Read on ……

Gen Inder Gill accompanied by Zorru Bakshi flew down to hear the brigadiers briefing. For 45 mins the brigadier held everyone in thrall with a ruvetting flawless briefing.

Once it was over, I doubted if there could be any questions but Gen Inder asked, “Zorru, do you have any questions?” When Zorru answered “No Sir”, Inder went on, “Well, I have a few. Amarjit do you have any water points?”

It was the one thing that had not been mentioned and the Brigadier apologized and asked his Q staff officer to show them but Inder went on, “I am not trying to catch you. What I am saying is that you have at least four water points and also a number of reserved demolitions and all these are bing manned by engineer personnel’.

So, there are very few engineers left to prepare the engineer company localities – the main, alternate and temporary – so prominently marked on yur map. So these positions can not in reality be prepared in the given time frame’.

“What I am saying is that one must be practical. Similarly, all those antitank arcs of fire displayed render your position unpenetrable. But this is not the case because on the ground the whole thing is entirely different. So,  look into the practical side because that is what matters in war. Thank you”.

Thank God that Inder was DGMO in charge of operations during the Bangladesh war, as much of the credit for  its success belongs to this practical, wholly regimental and earthy officer with loads of good sense and character, matched only by Sam Manekshaw!

An aside, Misbah Mayadas was the Mech Bde Cdr, which was laying on an Encounter Crossing Demo for the Chief, Gen Gopal GorakhNath Bewoor in 1976 on the Sirhind Canal. Enemy was North of the Canal and own troops South of it. For some reason NO Topas Carrier of any unit could clamber out on the North Side whereas there was NO Problem whatever for them to climb out on the Southern Side.

The Comd was in a Real Fix – so a Courrier was sent to the Corps HQ where Zorru’s place had been taken over by another Gurkha Officer, This worthly promptly solved the problem with elan. He directed that Own Side be made the North Side and the Enemy Side be made the South Side.


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