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Indian Army had a ‘Ghost Regiment’. It spooked Pakistanis in 1971 and earned their praise

It is not often that the enemy praises you on a battlefield. But the Indian Army's Ghost Regiment in the 1971 war got Pakistan's grudging admiration.

Indian Army units strive for recognition and legacy, which come in the form of the Army Chief and Army Commander’s citations. The most coveted are battle and theatre honours, awarded after campaigns. However, even rarer is earning the enemy’s appreciation.

Poona Horse, the regiment led by Lt Gen. Hanut Singh that fought bravely in the 1971 war, earned the honorific ‘Fakhr-e-Hind’ (Pride of India) from the Pakistan Army. Capt. Vikram Batra was honoured with the title of ‘Sher Shah’. We are celebrating Swarnim Vijay Varsh or Golden Jubilee of the 1971 operations. It will be appropriate to recount the story of an armoured regiment that received the title of ‘Ghost Regiment’ from its adversaries. Pakistanis were so confused that they called it ‘khalai makhlooq’ (aliens or space creatures in Urdu) in sheer desperation and grudging admiration.

East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), surrounded by India, lent itself to multi-pronged offensives. Hence, operations were designed on four thrust lines and spearheaded by tanks, appropriately termed as Blitzkrieg. From the west, 2 Corps charge was led by 45 Cavalry equipped with amphibious PT-76 light tanks weighing just 12 tonne. In comparison, recently fielded Chinese Type-15, the so-called light tanks, weigh nearly three times, 34 tonne. Pakistan referred to PT-76 tanks disparagingly as ‘pipa’ (Punjabi for container). This prong was strengthened with a squadron of T-55 medium tanks of 63 Cavalry, inducted just before the operations.

The offensive resulted in the capture of Jessore, after a bloody battle in the town of Dograi near Lahore. Interestingly, 2 Corps (Kharga Corps) was raised only for the 1971 offensive and was to be disbanded when the war ended. But it not only carried on, it is also now the main strike punch against Pakistan.

Creation of an ad-hoc squadron

n the north, 33 Corps prong was led by 63 Cavalry with two squadrons with T-55s, having loaned one squadron to the western thrust. The 69 Armoured regiment with PT-76s was also on this axis. They overcame very stiff resistance at Hilli and orchestrated capitulation of Bogra. The 63 Cavalry had the rare privilege of having an independent armoured squadron, 5 IAS, as well. While converting from PT-76 to T-55, old tanks of the regiment were handed over to 5 IAS.

The 5 IAS, in turn, created an ad-hoc, fifth squadron with armoured cars, its original equipment, giving the Indian Army yet another additional prong. It is sheer ingenuity of the regiment that it found crews for all its equipment with administrative personnel taking on combat roles. No soldier wanted to be left out of the battle, referred disparagingly as LOB. This squadron captured Akhuara and, pushed by legendary commander Lt Gen. Sagat Singh, exploited the amphibious capability to swim across the mighty Meghna.

The so-called pipas raced to Dhaka. PT-76 tanks of 5 IAS were the only ones to reach, leading the advance of Indian forces. Surpassing all expectations, the ad-hoc squadron also assisted in the capture of many objectives. Radio and visual reports of sighting 63 Cavalry on multiple prongs and with three different types of platforms, from different directions, spooked the Pakistanis, who reportedly started referring to the regiment as ‘Ghost Regiment’. This was largely in despair and frustration, but also with some degree of reluctant awe and admiration, hence the Khalai regiment.

How ‘Ghost Regiment’ operated

In the aftermath of Operation Vijay in 1999, when war clouds were looming large, concern about the vulnerability of tank columns at night, with their contour lights on turret, giving away their location was flagged. These lights are basically meant for safety to prevent collisions during pitch dark nights. In stark deserts, they can be seen for miles. They are also identification aids with distinctive colours — green, red, amber and blue, consequently, are referred to as GRAB/RABG. Different regiments used different radio codes — Jugunu, RAB-Gi, RAG-Bajao — to operate them.

31 Jan 21/ Sunday                                                                                                   Source: theprint

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