He stumbled back into the command bunker where he had last discussed their strategy with now dead Major and Subedar. All of it felt unreal to the young Lt. who just realised that now he was the senior most officer on the post and was responsible for the well being of all the men under his command. His attention was taken up by the radio which was cackling with excited chatter. He recognised voice of Colonel Saha from the base camp calling on their call-sign, “Watchguard Alpha. This is Base 1. Do you copy ? “
He picked up the receiver and replied, “ Base 1, this is Watchguard Alpha. “
“Thank god, somebody replied. Who are you? Identify yourself. What was that explosion ? ”
“This is Lt Shubhranjan. One Paki artillery shell hit one of our M46s. We lost 4 men including Major Baljit and Sub. Sonam.” Shubhranjan heard himself reporting mechanically.
“Shit !” Voice on the other end replied. “What about the other gun ? Do you have enough ammunition ?”
“Other gun is operational but we are fast running out of it’s ammunition. For heavy fire power, we only have some mortars left.”
“Damn it !. Listen Lt. Activate your UAV feed. We have just started receiving live video from one of our UAVs flying in your sector. It seems like Pakis are making an attempt to capture your position.We can see their infantry moving up on the slope from west. Do you have a visual on them ?”
“Negative sir. Visibility is less than 100 metres.”
Colonel replied in a worried voice, “That’s bad. That bird won’t stay up there longer than 30 minutes. Listen Lt., As you might’ve known it by now, Pakis have moved in a couple of their M198s. We are sending you reinforcements and ammunition right now. You just hang in there tight and don’t let those bas**** come anywhere near your positions.
Use your mortars, machine guns anything to hold their advance. We’ll provide you support against their heavy artillery from our 155mm guns.” and added almost as an afterthought, “as long as our stocks last.”
“Understood sir. I will not let Pakis take this post” Shubhranjan said with much more confidence than he actually felt.
“Good luck son. Over and out.”
The young Lt. Was left staring at the headset of the communication gear for a while before he was jarred back into reality by sound of yet another Paki artillery shell landing close by. He immediately picked up the short ranged field radio to contact the crew of remaining M46 and filled them in with the new developments. The artillery crew in turn replied that they had only 13 shells remaining.
Indian 155mm gun crews immediately started targeting Paki gun positions after the feed from UAV started coming in. Indian soldiers on top of Pt 6431 could hear the distant rumble as Indian gunners fired off their first salvo targeting their Pakistani counterparts. Effect of this counter- artillery fire was immediate. Some of the Paki guns were forced to change their positions, thus providing some respite to besieged defenders on Pt 6431. But they were not quite out of danger yet. Pakistani infantry was still advancing along the rolling slope of the mountain. Even in the bad weather, Heron operators could see the mortars they were carrying. It was only a matter of minutes before they reached close enough to fire them.
Subharanjan hailed crew of his remaining M46 on radio and ordered them to concentrate their fire on advancing Paki infantry. Indians knew the territory like backs of their hands and the effect of their firing made it quite obvious. Still smarting from the losses they had sustained earlier, they let loose a volley of high explosive shells that very nearly wiped out the whole advancing column of Paki infantry.
Subhranjan watched in quiet fascination as he sat in front of UAV feed console watching shells exploding in between Pakis. But the invaders were spread out over a large area and there were not enough heavy guns to cover them all. Even as one of the advancing parties was wiped out, another group started racing upwards. Now, it was turn of Indian mortar crews. AS soon as they were in range, all of them started their fire simultaneously. Although the effects were not as spectacular as 130mm shells, they were not less deadly for the attackers. A lot of them were blown to pieces even as they were running on the slopes. Survivors tried to take cover behind the rocks, but mortars were still finding their mark with deadly results.
Subhranjan allowed himself a slight smile as he watched Paki offensive break up and loose steam under sustained Indian artillery and mortar fire. Pakis had been unable to come close enough for their machine guns or mortars to be of any use. They were counting on their own heavy artillery to suppress the defenders. Banking on element of surprise, dense fog and fast deteriorating light they felt they had good chance of taking the post without suffering too many causalities. But early warning given by UAV and subsequent Indian artillery fire had broken the back of their offensive. With their forces severely depleted and scattered, they ordered retreat causing quite a few roars of joy and laughter from Indians. But Indians were not quite out of woods yet. Ammunition for mortars and sole 130mm gun was almost depleted and reinforcements were still more than 3 hours away.
Colonel Saha came on the radio, “ Nice work Watchguard Alpha ! Paki infantry is retreating, good job by your mortars. Our Bofors guns managed to break up their artillery formation but not as well as I’d have liked. Still, they’ll be out of action for some time. How are you faring up there ?“
“No further causalities sir, but we are all out of ammo for our 130mm. Less than 12 mortar rounds left. We need supplies immediately.”
“A team with reinforcements and ammunition is on it’s way Lt. You can expect them in 3 hours maximum. There’ll be no UAV coverage for 3-4 hours at least, as the bird needs to be refueled and repaired. You’ll have to hold on to your position till then. ”
Subharanjan could feel the unease in Colonel’s voice even as he broke the bad news. Lack of UAV coverage in such low visibility conditions was going to be a big handicap for Indians. Without UAV, they had to rely on their night vision devices, which had a very limited range and utility in comparison.
“I understand sir. Just try keep their heavy artillery off our backs and we can manage the rest.”
“Good. One of our convoys just delivered a artillery position locating radar. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Hope it’ll do the the job.”
“One good news at last.”Subhranjan thought to himself then heard the Colonel say, “Listen son, I know I’m asking a lot from you, but you have to hold your positions until reinforcements arrive. A lot depends on you tonight. God bless.”
It’s going to take much more than just blessings if we want to defend the peak against another attack. Subharanjan thought to himself and went out again to check on his men.