M.S.R., 4TH AND 10TH MECHANIZED BATTALIONS
SOUTH OF THE CHIP-CHAP RIVERBED
DAY 5 + 1035 HRS
Colonel Sudarshan walked out of his CP, formed from a group of two modified BMP-2s with their troop carrying area stowed with radios and with camouflaged netting extended over the rear. As his command staff ran about with various jobs and crises to solve, he took it all in with his senses. The continuous distant rumble just over the CP’s LOS was a constant reminder that a war was being fought that very instant. The radios were alive with the incoming traffic from the small unit commanders of the various Mechanized Battalions committed into the fight that morning. Much of the current work at the CP was simply to eavesdrop on the conversations taking place between the Battalion Squadron commanders and the Battalion CPs, all of which were listed on one of the screens of the battlefield computers set up on a table just outside the hatch of one of the command vehicles. This eavesdropping on friendly forces was allowing Sudarshan to keep track of the battle being fought without constantly interfering with the Battalion commanders demanding updates. He also had a couple of Nishant UAVs just overhead of the advancing forces, giving him and his junior Battalion commanders a three dimensional battle-space viewpoint.
But nothing beats commanding Battalions from the front...thought the Colonel as he folded his cold hands into a fist and saw the whitish skin turn pink as blood returned to it. He looked at his hand before a crumble of distant thunder caused him to look back up to the east. That was where the battle was. A couple of days ago he had taken charge of the ‘A’ Squadron BMPs and led it during the desperate early battles for control of DBO alongside Brigadier Adesara’s 5TH Infantry Brigade. That sole squadron of vehicles from the 10TH MECH Battalion along with a Troop each of NAMICA AT Vehicles and T-72Ms had at the time constituted the entire Mechanized force that existed around DBO when the Chinese had come charging in with their armored forces. The maneuver warfare that had enveloped DBO and turned it into a smoldering cauldron of broken and burning tanks and men had also seen 5 INF pushed to the very perimeters of the airstrip around DBO. The T-72M Troop had suffered cent percent casualties with their tanks now littered in front of the current 5 INF lines. The same battle had also seen A/10 MECH lose more than a third of their ICVs in a few hours. The battle had cost the Chinese dearly too, and their current drive towards taking the whole of Northern Laddakh had been stalled temporarily. But that was two days ago.
Since the time of the first battles, the Indian Army units pushing from Shyok through Saser to DBO along the main Divisional Main Supply Route or DIV-MSR had begun to bring in much needed reinforcements. With the arrival of the remaining two Squadrons and other support elements of the 10TH Mechanized Battalion, the unit had come to full strength minus the losses in its third squadron. Behind that force had arrived the 55 ICV force each of the 3RD and 4TH Mechanized Battalions, with the 8TH on its way from Leh. 5TH and 6TH Mechanized Battalions had been planned for surge southeast towards Chushul and beyond to Demchok where other major battles were underway. With three major Battalions under his command and fourth arriving soon, Colonel Sudarshan was essentially in command of a Mechanized Division of roughly 200+ vehicles, counting the attached NAMICA vehicles and even a few T-72 Troops. It was at that time that he had handed over command of the 10TH MECH Battalion over its new CO, and taken over the reins at the main forward CP of what constituted the only Indian Mechanized Division currently in the Himalayas. There were rumors that the Divisional Commander at Leh had been notified to release this Mechanized Division over to a new Divisional Staff who would take over the command once the reinforcing Infantry Brigade arrived alongside the Mechanized units into the DBO sector and brought local Infantry units up to a decent defensive posture. Colonel Sudarshan was unsure what his role remained at that point, but he deemed the chances of him getting relieved pretty slim at the moment.
The problems on the ground were far worse than anything the commanders at Army HQ could imagine and which were plainly obvious to field commanders such as Sudarshan and Adesara. While on paper the “Mechanized Division” concept was very appealing given its makeup and current positions of advantage south of the Chip-Chap river valley wherein it was strategically placed to slice southeastwards into the Aksai Chin, perhaps even demolishing the Chinese Galwan Valley offensive that was currently underway and threatening to cut off the DIV-MSR. In reality, the Division forces were stretched out over a vast front fighting isolated battles with little coherence in an effort to control the Chinese advance. Even the thought of disengaging them to reestablish Divisional Coherence required for a strategic push southwest was impossible. The Chinese were applying pressure over a vast front and clearly outnumbered the Indian units. In addition, the equipment advantage was enormously stacked against the light armored Indian Mechanized Battalions with the Chinese brining in their main MBTs into the fight very early on. As of right now, there was not even an Armored Squadron in the DBO sector, let alone the Regiment level forces required to support the push of a Mechanized Division.
Further, the losses in vehicles had been heavy for the units already engaged in the fight. 3 MECH was engaged to the north of the Chip-Chap valley and had been mauled in its efforts to fix the enemy armored units while 4 MECH and 10 MECH units maneuvered southeast. 10 MECH was now heavily engaged and fully committed in trying to cut off the Chinese Divisional Passage of lines taking place north of them just beyond the LAC. Only 4 MECH remained available for independent thrusts southeast into the Aksai Chin. 8 MECH was not even in the DBO sector yet, stretched out as it was all along the congested traffic along the DIV-MSR from Shyok to Sul-Tan Chhushku, south of Saser. 5 INF was depleted in numbers with the two Gurkha Battalions under it supporting 3 MECH operations getting pinned down under superior Chinese Divisional Artillery shelling. Regardless, Army and Corps Level Command had rejected the Divisional Commanders recommendations against adding yet another level of bureaucracy and command link by sending the new Divisional Staff and equipment to take over the “Mechanized Division” operating in the DBO sector.
Idiots. Here we are: a thin thread away from losing the entire DBO sector and there they are, at Army Command, watching the pins move on the map and thinking of imaginary offensive pushes into the Aksai Chin...Sudarshan thought as he saw yet another supply truck being pushed out a slushy quagmire of wet mud and snow by the soldiers. Even his own shoes were wet and cold from being ankle deep in snow and mud. Vehicular traffic along the MSR for the 4 MECH and 10 MECH units operating east of Sudarshan’s CP was now a little more than a much trampled on trail in the snow on which continuous convoys were rolling eastwards with supplies and ammunition and coming back with wounded soldiers and broken down equipment. As he watched, one of the armored recovery vehicles or ARV, of the 10TH Mechanized Battalion pulled past in a rumble, pulling behind it a badly damaged but relatively intact BMP-2. The tracks had blown off as a result of some explosion and the hatches were opened wide, the blood stains clearly marking the route taken by the injured crewmembers as they must have debussed from their vehicles. Sudarshan could watch in impotence no further.
He walked back into his CP to see the grim faces of his staff members around him. His operations officer, a Major, walked over to him with a sitrep:
“3RD MB is again bogged down, taken losses and unable to advance. 199HU LCHs destroyed several T-99s and ZBDs in that sector but otherwise the frontlines remain unchanged. Brigadier Adesara has pulled the entire Gurkha force and the remaining vehicles of 3RD MB back west towards the Citadel Defensive lines. 10TH MB is making progress, but under heavy fire from the surrounding hills. Lt-Col Sharma is reporting that he is now encountering increasing numbers of Chinese armored vehicles as he is approaching the enemy DIV-MSR. The Chinese seem to be pulling units off the incoming convoys and diverting them south towards the 10TH MB forces to try and cut their advance off. 4TH MB is on reserve and awaiting orders to begin FEBA breaching operations southeast of the LAC.”
Sudarshan took the paper from his S-2 and then walked over to the map board. He looked at it a few seconds before he spoke again: “10 MECH is not going to be able to hold the Chinese DIV-MSR even if they take it now. It’s just taking too long and the Chinese are clearly now receiving their reinforcements along that MSR. We could pull 4 MECH back and use them to plug more forces and try and hold on to the chicken’s neck here along the Chinese MSR, but that will mean we scrub our attack mission for 4 MECH southeast into the Aksai Chin region. Else we pull back 10 MECH to their earlier starting lines and put them on defensive positions and let 4 MECH do their mission with 10 MECH forces protecting their left flank. But how long will that single Battalion push going to last?” Colonel Sudarshan shook his head before he turned to his comms-officer: “Get me Brigadier Adesara at 5 INF HQ”
“BLUE-LIMA-ONE, this is THUNDER-ONE-ACTUAL. Stand by for traffic. Over”
“THUNDER-ONE, this is BLUE-LIMA-ONE-ACTUAL. Standing by for traffic. Over”
“BLUE-LIMA-ONE-ACTUAL, lead elements confirm arrival of RED-STEEL along DIV-MSR. Reporting considerable casualties. Am I to understand continual of OP-PLAN-ONE? Over”
“THUNDER-ONE-ACTUAL, can you sustain OP-PLAN-ONE towards completion? Over”
“Negative with current resources. Suggest scrubbing OP-PLAN-TWO and diverting resources to hold defensive positions pending arrival of reinforcements. Over”
“Copy all, THUNDER-ONE-ACTUAL. Stand-by for DIV-COM update. Deploy DIV-ARTY in supporting role and disengage lead elements. Pull back to defensive locations. Do not, repeat, do not scrub OP-PLAN-TWO. Divisional orders. Stand by for updates. Request Hard-Copy. Over”
“Uh...that’s a solid copy on all, BLUE-LIMA-ONE-ACTUAL. Out”
Sudarshan handed over the R/T speaker back to the signals officer sitting inside the vehicle as he turned to his S-2:
“Division wants us to continue the plan to deploy 4 MECH in an offensive role. Problem is, if 10 MECH gets overrun by Chinese tanks, 4 MECH is going to get cut off inside the Aksai Chin. This is what happens when you run wars from a map board with pins and overrule field commander inputs. Division Command is about to turn the only real chance we have to control the Chinese advance by turning it into an encirclement of stretched friendly Battalions inside the Aksai Chin.”
“Maybe they will see the threat to their plans at Leh and give us the orders to redeploy 4 and 10 MECH units into a defensive cordon around DBO.” The Major offered.
“Maybe. Let’s see. We will come to know soon just what is going on at DIV-COM regarding the battle being fought in northern Laddakh...”