Things had gone on as expected with Subhranjan. He had learnt from his his first experience of being in enemy fire and as the more experienced soldiers had predicted, learnt to took it in stride. After nearly 2 weeks, his initial “welcome” was just another part of life on the border. Still, the soldiers watched the events unfolding in Pakistan warily. They knew that any kind of unrest in Pakistan will definitely affect the peace on border. They were not entirely wrong in this assumption and Pakis proved them right by increasing the amount of shelling just after the news of attack on Paki President had hit the news channels.
Although they were under strict orders to exercise restraint, Indians had no choice but to retaliate in self-defence. The shelling that lasted for a maximum of 10-12 rounds earlier, had now escalated to full blown artillery duels being fought on multiple locations. Now after 2 days of facing intense firing Indians were hoping that the news of coup will dampen the enthusiasm of Pakis and volume of fire might decrease. Much to their disappointment, Pakis had actually increased the tempo.
The 3 senior most ranking personnel on Point 6431, Major Baljit, Lt. Shubharanjan and Subedar Sonam were huddled in a bunker discussing their plan of action in current situation. The walls of the bunker were covered with maps and recently taken pictures of Paki positions by Heron UAVs . Things were not going well for Indians. They were running short of ammunition due to paucity of stocks. The convoys that were expected to bring more supplies were delayed due to bad weather and land slides. Bad weather had also stopped the base camp from sending mules and porters up.
“What’s our inventory situation Sonam?” Major Baljit without lifting his eyes from the reports he was studying.
“We are running short of ammunition for our M46s as well as 81mm mortars. Stocks for both are reduced to 31 and 42 rounds respectively. We do have enough grenades and bullets for our rifles, but that’s only because we haven’t had to fire them, yet. We still have enough food and water to last us a week” Sub Sonam was quick to reply.
“Going by the current rate of fire, these stocks wouldn’t last for more than a day. When are we going to get more supplies ?” Shuhranjan couldn’t help wondering aloud.
Sonam gestured towards the small window of the bunker “Our mules can’t carry anything up due to this bloody fog and rain. They tried sending some men in the morning but the team had to turn back within 1 hour of leaving the camp. Using choppers in these conditions too risky. We can only hope that the weather eases soon.”
“Even if the mules start their journey right now, it’ll take them at least 3 hours to reach here. If our ammo runs out sooner then their arrival, we will be in real deep shit.”
“What do we do then sir? “ Sonam asked Major Baljit.
“We’ll have to use our ammunition more judiciously. Fire only when you have a sure fix on their position. No need wasting firing just for the effect.”
Taking up a pointing stick, he pointed out position of Paki guns on maps and pictures, “Herons took these pictures last night. As you can clearly see, we did manage to hit one of their big guns in previous night’s shelling. But they still have 2 more type 59Is and 3 Type 54s spread all over this sector, most of them pointed in our general direction. Although 59Is have more range, it’s 54s that worry me more. These smaller guns are comparatively more mobile and can proved really hard to counter if Pakis keep moving them as they’ve started to do recently. Am, I clear on this ? “ He asked.
Both men nodded their agreement and Major continued, “Lt., I’ll need you to check on machine guns and mortar crews. Make sure the they are ready to fire and have enough ammunition. You never know when we might need to fire them. Sonam, come with me. I want to check the big guns myself.”
With this he ended the meeting and went out of the bunker followed by his two juniors. Subhranjan watched the two men walk towards M46 positions while he himself started his walk towards machine gun bunkers.
He found the soldiers slightly tired and wary but in good spirits otherwise. He was in first bunker on the eastern side when he heard the sound of artillery shells streaking in.
Even just by listening to the sound of the shells as they streaked towards his post, Shubhranjan realised that something was different. But he didn’t have enough time to guess what. Within seconds, 1 shell landed smack in middle of the post area, with 2 passing over the peak.
“Damn it! They are firing 155mm shells. “ Lance Naik Joginder shouted in surprise.
“Seems like they have a good lock on our position as well. You sure it’s 155mm ? “ Shubhranjan shouted back, his ears ringing by sounds of the blast.
“100% sure sir! These shells are much bigger and even clearing the peak this time. Their 130mms cant fire that far.” Joginder replied back.
Their conversation was interrupted by the boom of Indian M46s firing back at the Pakis.
Joginder grinned at the Lt., “Heh! That’s sure to teach those idiots some good lesson.”
Right about then, 1 of the shells fired by Pakis got lucky and landed smack on one of Indian M46s. The ammunition dump right next to the gun caught fire and some of the shells exploded.
Shubhranjan heard the racket with a sickening feeling as he remembered that both Major Baljit and Subedar Sonam were supposed to be right there. He at once scrambled out of the bunker and started running towards the gun’s position. He stopped in his tracks when a badly wounded soldier, covered in soot and dust staggered in front of him and collapsed. He muttered deliriously, “Nobody survived sir. The shell landed right on our position.” Shubhranjan asked the soldier to keep quiet and shouted for the medic. He was also scrambling towards the gun’s position along with his assistant. He at once started administering first aid to the wounded soldier.
Shubhranjan left the 3 men there and resumed his search for his two compatriots. He stopped dead in his tracks when he came across the gun’s position. The small clearing was nothing but a mess of twisted metal, smoke and fire. Overcome by fear and desperation he sprinted towards the clearing trying to find survivors. All he could find was splashes of blood and a few dismembered limbs. Unable to control himself, he collapsed on his knees and puked. He didn’t knew how much time had passed as he vaguely felt rather than heard sounds of more explosions as the fight got more intense. He was shaken out of his state by the medic who was trying to drag him back towards cover.
He shook away his arm and said confusedly, “What are you doing ?” Pointing at the place where the gun was, he screamed, “We have to help them ! Come with me !”
That medic, another NCO in the unit replied gently, “We can’t help them sir. They are all dead. But we need to get back in to cover.”
“But Major Baljit and Sub Sonam were there.”
“I know sir. They are both dead. The wounded soldier you saw earlier saw them die with his own eyes. Now, we have to get out of this exposed position in to cover. Please hurry up.”