DAY 9 + 0220 HRS (L)
THE BATTLE OF DOTANANG-BARSHONG
FIVE KILOMETERS NORTH OF DOTANANG VILLAGE
The valley was lit by the moonlight broken up with a few clouds. But it was quieter tonight that in the entire last week. The damped man-made thunder coming from the Chumbi valley had died away in the last several hours as the battered Chinese 149TH Infantry Division had disengaged and withdrawn along the S-204 route to the north of the Dochen Tso, effectively yielding the Chumbi valley vegetated regions to the Indian Army units that had led the 33 Corps offensive several days ago. The Indian forces were now consolidating their hold in those sectors while the Chinese 13TH Group Army did the same around the Dochen Tso as well as their left flank elements that were now entrenched in northwestern Bhutan. In the latter sector, the Indian forces under General Potgam were leading an independent offensive with a collection of Special Forces units, airborne units and surviving Bhutanese forces. But time was of the essence as the 15TH Airborne Corps had begun sending elements of its three Divisions via the ground route into southern Tibet. The three organic Divisions of this elite Corps were to replace three battered Divisions of the 13TH Group Army as they conducted a passage of lines around Gyantse in southern Tibet. Once there, one of the three fresh Divisions now entering combat, the 43RD Airborne was preparing to enter Bhutan while the 44TH and 45TH Airborne Divisions were to head south and engage the Indian forces inside the Chumbi valley while the 149TH Infantry Division was withdrawn from combat altogether.
The arrival of the 43RD Airborne as reinforcements for the single Highland Brigade in northern Bhutan could not be tolerated. And while the IAF was doing its best to ensure that the 15TH Airborne Corps would endure heavy casualties during its transit to the south, the 33 Corps of the Indian Army was preparing for a heavy fight as the Chinese attempted to take back what they had lost in the Chumbi valley sector.
In Bhutan, this meant that the lone Highland Brigade and its two surviving Battalions, one north of Dotanang and the other at Barshong, had to be destroyed before their reinforcements arrived and seized the initiative from Indian forces. But the advance was not going to be easy, as Colonel Misra was finding out. The Chinese had started fighting more rigorously for some reason. Perhaps they had been told that there was to be no retreat. Either way, his forces including the 11TH Para-SF Battalion and light mechanized infantry platoons had fought their way to Dotanang and seized the village without much of a fight: the PLA infantry units had simply withdrawn to the north just as his forces had reached the southern end of the village. A tactical withdrawal that had been conducted professionally, as Misra had noted after reviewing his company commander reports. So now the Dotanang was in Indian hands. But anything north from there was not. That was to be changed tonight…
…the valley became abuzz with noise as a single Nishant unmanned drone flew over the moonlit village of Dotanang. The moonlight reflected somewhat from the handful of BMP-IIs parked on the narrow muddy roads of the village. As it flew north, it followed the path of the snow-covered road along the small river that went north to south along the bottom of the Dotanang valley. It had advanced a good five kilometers north of the village when flashes of light suddenly erupted all around the drone and lines of tracers flew by. The valley suddenly reverberated with rapid succession thud-thud-thud noises as the airspace around the drone was lit up with shrapnel. The drone crew at Haa Dzong to the south initiated evasive maneuvers and the drone banked to the side and began to turn south while climbing higher; To no avail: the skies around it were rippled with shrapnel. Several of these ripped through the wings and perforated the fuselage section and the undercarriage. The drone broke up under the impacts and disappeared inside a small fireball before a trailing smoke on its way down into the mountain side…
… “Oops! There goes our eye in the sky!” Vikram noted from his position, two kilometers from the north of where the drone went down. The tracers and explosions from the anti-air artillery fire stopped as the wreckage from the Nishant drone slammed into the trees a few kilometers north of the village and a column of smoke rose into the starlit sky. The valley went quiet once again.
“So now we know the Chinese have some radar-directed anti-air weapons north of here,” Ravi noted dryly over the team’s comms as he tucked in his INSAS rifle tighter into his chest. He heard a grunted agreement over the comms.
“Yeah, no shit! We could have used that information five minutes ago,” Captain Pathanya said while he lowered his binoculars and keyed his comms: “Vik, get the IMFS out and see if you can spot the location of the Chinese guns that fired on our bird. Their tracer rounds gave us a pretty clear idea where they were on the road about two clicks northerly. Let’s confirm it.”
“Roger that, boss. Deploying IMFS now,” Vikram said and pulled back from the set of boulders he was using as a cover. He put his rifle on the ground and motioned to Sarvanan to cover his zone while pulled down his backpack and removed the Integrated-Multi-Function-Sight or IMFS from it. The second generation of the new IMFS allowed them a combination of IR, Low-Light and standard optical modes with magnification and laser designation built in. It looked like a high-tech binoculars because it was exactly that. But it was also substantially heavier than the standard military binoculars that Pathanya preferred for most operations. Here and now, they needed intelligence that they could not get from a UAV flying overhead anymore.
“Okay commies, let’s see what you have down there,” Vikram said to himself as he crawled over the cold snow covered boulders on his stomach and set up the IMFS. As expected, the optical and low-light did not help much over the forested areas. He switched to IR and the depressed the button for W-Hot so that all high temperature sources were shaded down from white on the sights. As a result, the background valley became black with shades of dark gray. The 4x4 wheeled anti-air vehicles now being used by the Highland Brigade against the Indian UAV threat were lit up immediately as white and very-light gray shades. The brightest white coloration showed the engine areas of the vehicles and the blazing hot barrels of the 35mm guns on the back of the chassis that had ripped the Nishant UAV into shreds. Vikram let out a slight whistle as he watched the view…
“Boss, the commies have brought in some vehicle based support for their light-infantry units. I count two light-armor 4x4s with anti-aircraft guns on the back, still glowing hot from the fire we saw. I also see several other light-utility vehicles and what looks like a single 6x6 armored vehicle with a strange turret on top. Can’t make out the make but it is not a gun turret. Possibly anti-air vehicle as well,”
Pathanya looked over to Ravi with a raised eyebrow as they heard Vikram’s IMFS observations.
“Looks like our friends have been busy to the north,” Ravi noted quietly.
“Well, we did the same back in Thimpu. Didn’t expect them to sit around while we built up our strengths, did you?” Pathanya replied back calmly. It was true. While General Potgam and Colonel Misra had used their hold on Thimpu to bring in reinforcements and supplies for the offensive to retake northern Bhutan, the Chinese had done as much as they could to ensure that the Indians could not retake territories under their control. So now they had some very effective short-range-air-defense or SHORAD battery deployed against Indian UAVs.
“God knows what else has been brought in,” Ravi said out just before the SATCOM R/T squawked.
“Spear, this is Warlord-Central. Do you read?”
Pathanya removed his chest mounted speaker set for the SATCOM and pushed it through his woolen cap and to his ears before pressing the send button:
“Roger that, Warlord-Central. Spear-One reading you five-by-five, send traffic. Over”
“Spear-One, we lost an aerial drone near your location. Can you confirm?”
“Roger, Warlord. Spear has eyeballs on the crash site. We also confirm presence of what appears to be a SHORAD battery deployed with the Highland Brigade positions two click north of us. Over”
There was silence for several seconds on the other line. Pathanya looked over to Ravi and shook his head.
This was not good…
“Roger, Spear-One. Can you engage and eliminate threat at this time?”
“Uh…negative, Warlord. I repeat: we are two clicks away from target and do not have Intel on surrounding enemy defensive lines. Suggest we move close for recon,” Pathanya suggested. There was some confusion on the other side until the voice was much clearer and far more authoritative:
“Spear-One, this is Warlord-Actual. Be advised, we have reason to believe further reinforcements from Chinese airborne units underway to reinforce Chinese Bhutan presence. We are out of time. We cannot wait for further intel-gathering operations. The Paras will advance on schedule. I will not deploy any more RPVs to your area until that anti-air battery is dead. Hotel-Six will provide indirect fire support for the Paras and is not available. And all available friendly air is being directed north to prevent the arrival of these reinforcements to the battle-zone. So no chance to finesse this one: you are authorized to advance to contact and eliminate the commie anti-air battery immediately. I have a replacement RPV on standby once you send the all-clear. Get it done, son. Warlord out,” Lt-General Potgam’s voice was like a breath of fresh air for Pathanya and his men. He may have been sending them into combat but he was unhesitant about it and had a sense of confidence in their abilities. It gave his men the jolt of electricity they needed…
Pathanya looked around after stowing away the comms and keyed his team:
“Vik, get us a good fix on the red battery vehicles. The rest of you, form up on me and let’s figure how we are going to take this down...”
….An hour later and three kilometers down south, the village at Dotanang was abuzz with activity as the Indian Paratroopers moved. The three BMP-II engines roared to life and spewed out bursts of engine smoke as they did so. The auto-cannon turrets moved left and right as the gunners checked their optics and targeting systems. As the Paras moved out of the northern outskirts, advancing along the eastern edge of the river and moved north, the three BMP-IIs splashed on the mud-snow slush and began advancing up the road.
Further south, near a clearing around the northern outskirts of Thimpu that was being used as an advanced helipad by the Paras, two Rudra helicopters remained parked on the snow-covered grass, their engines switched off and their flight crews standing around with open cockpit doors. There was no way in hell they would be given the go ahead to advance up the valley in support of the offensive until that Chinese Yitian SHORAD battery remained active. As the army-aviation major commanding these two helicopters stood around with frustration, the skies above rippled with rocket fire as Hotel-Six battery got into action. The Paras had run into contact with Chinese defenses…
…The valley behind the Chinese lines was being continually lit up as each rocket explosion hit the slopes on either side of the road in the center of the valley. Pathanya advanced down the slope and through the bushes with deliberate slow movements. He pushed aside branches of trees that got in his way with one hand while holding the rifle in the other. His low-light goggles remained strapped to his eyes and he was experiencing regular flare-out as explosions far to the south at the battle being waged ruined his night-vision.
He and six others of Spear-One were moving down the slope and towards the road that lay below at the base of the valley. They were now close enough that they could hear the PLA officers shouting in Chinese to their men as they ran south to join the battle with the Indian paratroopers. He could also see the squad sized patrols on either side of him that were trying to climb up the same slope that he was descending on. But Spear ensured that they bypassed these men with a good margin. Surprise was the key here, especially when there were hundreds of Chinese soldiers in this valley and under a dozen men inside Spear Team.
They simply could not afford to get into a firefight.
Of course, there was a danger of being spotted by Chinese optics as well. They had deployed several observation posts with men equipped with tripod mounted high-frequency radars and IR scopes. Vikram had spent quite some time locating these positions and Pathanya had come up with an ingress path that would allow them to move within the blind-spots in the views of these teams. There was only one such position that they could not bypass on their way out. So Vikram and Ravi had branched off during the descent from the top of the valley and had headed around the back of the three man Chinese observation post that had its orientation to the south, towards the raging battle. Vikram pulled out his combat knife and nodded to Ravi. The latter lowered his rifle and pulled out his knife as well. As he handled it into position, it glistened in the moonlight. Ravi smiled at that and nodded back to Vikram.
By the time the PLA Lieutenant commanding the observation team heard the slight rustle of branches in the snow behind, Vikram leaped over and grabbed the man by his head, covered his mouth with his hand and shoved the large blade into his back and twisted it. The man’s eyes grew large with the pain and Vikram pushed the knife in again, this time draining the life out of the Chinese officer. It happened in under a second, during which time Ravi had done the same with the Chinese Signals NCO attempting to set up a tripod stand for a communications antennae. The third soldier had been looking through a binoculars at the battle to the south and by the time he heard the muffled thuds around him and turned to look, he saw the body of his commanding officer being pushed aside by a dark faced Indian soldier wielding a blood soaked combat knife. The Chinese soldier panicked at the sight and fell back on his hands, struggling to find his weapon and his face a mask of pure horror. Vikram gathered his strength and dove into his opponent, stabbing him in the gut while reaching for his mouth with his hand. He got there just a split-second later than he had planned, allowed a half-muttered shriek to go out into the valley around…
The Chinese soldiers and the Yitian vehicle crews standing around the on the valley floor below suddenly jerked at the distant shriek, and the battery commander, a Lt-Colonel, came running out from around the Yitian vehicle to look at the observation post on the hill side with his binoculars. He spotted the two Indian soldiers as they finished off the remainder of the team up there and then turned around to shout orders for his men...
A three round burst of INSAS fire ripped through his chest and he fell back on the muddy road, still clasping the binoculars and his other arm still pointed to the men he was ordering. His orders died mid-sentence.
The suddenness of it all seemed to halt the passage of time as all of the stunned Chinese soldiers looked around at the body of the Lt-Colonel now lying on the road and with blood pouring from his chest.
Then there was a series of continuous rifle bursts from the nearby bushes and boulders a few dozen meters away up the slope on the side of the road. Several Chinese soldiers fell to the ground as bullets ripped through their winter uniforms. Then they scrambled in all directions to find cover and return fire. The vehicle crew of armored Yitian began clambering to the top of their vehicle and into the hatches so that they could move the vehicle out of danger. Pathanya spotted the gunner and the driver attempting to get inside their vehicle and turned his INSAS slightly and fired a continuous burst. Bullets ricocheted off the metallic hull of the vehicle with distinct pings and sparks went flying in all directions. The gunner shouted in agony and his lifeless body fell on top of the vehicle, just a few inches away from the opening of the turret. The driver, however, managed to get inside and close the hatch above him before Pathanya could reload another magazine…
Damn! Damn! Damn!
Pathanya thought to himself as he dropped the empty magazine of his rifle and slapped a new one in there just as the boulders all around him began to get hit with Chinese rifle fire. His team was returning fire a well and dropping Chinese soldiers quickly, but there were a lot of them to the north and south and it wouldn’t take them long to get here. This had to be taken care of quickly. He looked over the top of the boulder he was on and keyed his comms:
“Vik, Ravi: Driver of armor vehicle inside turret. Engage! Engage!”
“Roger that! Engaging!”
Further up the slope, Vikram and Ravi had finished disabling all of the Chinese optics on the observation post and put their knives away. Ravi had taken out his rifle and got behind the rocks to take aim from above the Chinese forces engaging the rest of Spear Team below. Vikram grabbed Ravi’s backpack and grabbed the RPG-22 shoulder fired anti-armor weapon. He flipped the safety and extended the telescopic tube to full length, locked it and set it up on his shoulder. From this range, he could aim manually. He took a couple of seconds during which he noted that the Yitian driver had started the diesel engines and the vehicle was spewing out engine smoke. As the vehicle rumbled forward, the Chinese soldiers fell behind to take cover behind its armor. The vehicle pulled out of its parking and turned towards Pathanya’s men just as the rocket fired by Vikram slammed into its frontal armor and exploded amidst a smoke filled fireball that rose above and vanished, leaving large licks of flame rising into the sky, illuminating the valley for several hundred meters in all directions with a yellow-orange hew…
Vikram keyed his comms for the team:
Ravi was now cleared to open fire just as Vikram threw away the disposable launcher and grabbed his own rifle. Both men opened up with short bursts of fire that caught the exposed Chinese soldiers in a cross-fire from the front and top. They retreated behind the cover of the remained two 4x4 trucks while one of the remaining crews clambered on top of the 35mm gun turrets, attempting to turn them on the attackers. Pathanya noted the elevation of the gun turret and keyed his comms instantly:
“Vik! Ravi! Get out now! Incoming fire!”
The Chinese gunner opened up a moment later and the large caliber weapon fire ripped through the trees and branches in between and slammed into the boulders formerly occupied by their own observation team. The explosions were powerful enough to shred the rocky cover, filling the air with flying rocks and gravel as Vikram and Ravi scrambled out of the post and into the trees on either side. The 35mm cannon fire decimated what remained of the Chinese optics at the post in a matter of seconds. But the large muzzle flashes of the guns prevented the gunner from observing the effect of his fire and so he treated it as an area fire weapon: shredding tree trunks all around causing a lot of branches and snow to come crashing down the slope. The thunderous noise of the gunfire removed all coherence from both the Indian and Chinese sides.
Pathanya crouched back behind the boulder and removed a grenade from his belt-holster and hoisted it inside the tube of his rifle barrel mounted grenade launcher. He nodded to Sergeant Sarvanan and both men raised their heads over the boulder with their weapons. Sarvanan put the tripod of his INSAS LMG on the rocks and let loose a full barrage of covering fire that sent the Chinese soldiers diving for cover. An instant later Pathanya elevated his rifle upwards and pulled the trigger of his UBGL, firing the grenade on a depressed trajectory to its target. The grenade hit the base of the 35mm gun turret and exploded in a metal-on-metal explosion that sent splinters flying in all directions and left the Chinese gunner riddled with bleeding wounds on his seat. The anti-air gun turret was thoroughly disabled…
“Spear-One to Warlord-Actual! Anti-air threat destroyed! I say again: Red anti-air guns are dead in the water! My team is taking heavy fire from multiple azimuths! I need help over here! Send in the cavalry on my location right freaking now!” Pathanya shouted over the R/T as he lowered himself back behind the rocks. Sarvanan continued to blaze away with his LMG in a standing position next to him.
“Roger that! Hang in there! Cavalry on way! Warlord-Central out!”
…The army-aviation Major nodded as heard the R/T call from Colonel Misra and then waved at the three other pilots standing by their helicopters and all of them ran over and started climbing into their cockpits at the advanced helipad in the northern outskirts of Thimpu. A few moments later the turbine engines spooled up and the main rotor blades began rotating and gathering speed…
…Bullets smacked into the rocks and Sarvanan dived back behind rocks where Pathanya was slapping in another full magazine round for his rifle. Pathanya chambered the round and then looked around before facing Sarvanan:
“Okay, our jobs are done. We need to get out of here right away. We can’t go up the slope under this murderous fire or we will be shredded to pieces. Command is sending in the cavalry. We definitely don’t want to be here when they arrive. So that gives us a few minutes. Ideas?”
“Few, if any,” Sarvanan noted neutrally. He and Pathanya shared a look and then he smiled as he got into standing pose behind the boulder. He got his LMG tripod placed and got back into action, releasing bursts of fire in quick succession. Pathanya rolled around the side of the rocks and in prone position began picking off Chinese soldiers coming down the road from Barshong in response to the fighting. He saw three soldiers drop under his well-aimed bursts before a light-utility vehicle pulled up and the Chinese soldiers took up positions behind and started returning fire, churning up the ground around Pathanya with bullet impacts. He could not return fire after a few moments on account of the massive volume of fire pinning him behind the rocks.
And then he heard a new sound as a line of tracers whipped overhead and slammed into the Chinese utility vehicle, shredding its chassis into fragments and raising a dust cloud all around as the tracers bounced off the road and the side of the hills into arbitrary directions. The gunfire pinning Pathanya down instantly stopped. He jerked back to crouched position and dared to poke his head above the rocks and saw the smoke and dust clearing where the Chinese utility vehicle had been and saw a wrecked vehicle, spewing black smoke and half a dozen dead bodies nearby. Other Chinese troopers were taking cover behind the trees and rocks and returning fire into the sky…
One of the Rudra helicopters suddenly flew overhead as it fired its chin-mounted 20mm cannon and released a quartet of fin-stabilized rockets before pulling up aggressively. The latter smashed into the rocks and trees on either side of the road and several tree trunks collapsed on the road, throwing snow and dust in the air. Pathanya had just enough time to mutter an “Oh shit!” before the other helicopter riddled the remaining parked vehicles of the Chinese Yitian battery with a barrage of rockets. The trees above the road on the other side of the valley opened up with over a hundred flashes as a Chinese infantry company reinforcing the battered Chinese Battalion here came over the ridge. The air filled with rifle bullets and the second Rudra helicopter took multiple hits with Pathanya and the rest of Spear team hearing the definitive snags and thumps on the fuselage of the helicopter…
“This is Sierra-Two taking heavy Chinese small arms fire on peaks east of the river! We are hit and are hit and I have dead co-pilot in here. I am bringing this bird out of the fight. Sorry Spear-One, but I am RTB on emergency! Good luck down there!”
Pathanya grabbed his R/T as quickly as he could: “Roger Sierra-Two! Thanks for the assist! We will take it from here! Spear out!”
He saw the helicopter fly over the top of the peaks behind him at high speed and withdraw from the fight. He then turned to Sarvanan who had his binoculars out and observing the ridgeline on the opposite side of the river…
“What do you see?”
“Reinforced Company sized force making its way down to the road. Guess they must be from the Battalion at Barshong,” Sarvanan said as he squinted his eyes to make out the enemy force.
“We cannot stay here,” Pathanya said and was about to grab his team comms when the R/T squawked again:
“Warlord-Central to Spear, do you copy?” Pathanya fumbled with his comms but managed to sort it out:
“Roger, Warlord. Spear-One here”
“Spear-One, expect retreating Chinese infantry force to the south moving up to your position. Para commander confirms his force is seeing a break in the Chinese lines. You will be bumping into these forces imminently. Get out of there now,” the R/T voice said. Pathanya instantly motioned for Sarvanan to get the rest of the men together and to move out up the slope before they were faced with enemy forces from the west, north and south…
“Roger that, Warlord! Spear is disengaging! We are out of here!”
…Further south, the surviving pair of BMP-IIs rushed down the road as they advanced north, cutting across the trees and vegetation with their auto-cannons while the Paras ran alongside to keep up and provide infantry cover. Hotel-Six battery fire now turned its attention to the HQ of the Highland Brigade at Barshong. The Chinese Battalion line between Dotanang and Barshong had been broken, and what had emerged was a bitter running fight between the last surviving reinforced Battalion of the Chinese Highland Brigade and the 11TH Indian Para-SF Battalion for control of the peaks of Northern Bhutan…
Last edited by vivek_ahuja on 03 Dec 2012 23:10, edited 1 time in total.