Indian Special Forces & Para Commandos: Story of their Birth and the Initial Years- 1962-71.
After the debacle of 1962, Indian Army was in a mode of shaking off old ideas and strategic outlook which were still attuned to the days of World War II. Indian Army wanted to be a modern fighting unit and it’s leadership was open to new ideas which would break traditional mindset which had taken deep roots in the Army establishment and thought process. One such new idea was to create a battalion of Commandos or Special Forces who would go behind enemy lines and cause havoc much greater in proportion to their numbers.
Special Forces have been a part of battle tactics since time immemorial. In one way, the soldiers hiding inside the wooden horse, which the people of Troy pulled inside, were commandos. So were the daredevil Marathas who used the ‘Goh’ lizard to scale the walls of a Mughal held fort. In World War II, the British created the concept of Commando units and also used them in a highly effective manner. British SAS was born in the sands of Northern Sahara, where the British were fighting against the rampaging German Panzer divisions of Field Marshall Rommel whose eyes were set on capturing Egypt and the Suez canal. SAS actually stood for ‘Special Air Services’ to confuse the Germans. SAS units would go out on long range desert patrols in their specially fitted Jeeps and would destroy the fuel and ammunition dumps which slowed down the German army’s advance.
David Stirling with one of the SAS commandos.
Coming back to the birth of Special Forces in the Indian context. The CIA under John F Kennedy was trying to reach out to India in this regard. They had already done so with Pakistan in 1954 and had convinced the Pakistani Leadership at Rawalpindi, that a Specialized Commando unit would be beneficial in case of a Soviet Aggression. The Pakistanis agreed as they knew that such a force could be used against India in any future wars too. And they did so, when the dreaded commandos of SSG (Special Services Group) infiltrated into the Valley in 1965. They also managed to enter many of the forward air bases and did cause a lot of panic.
Now, the CIA played the card of an aggressive China to make India agree for raising a new secret Force called SFF or Special Frontier Force which was comprised mainly of exiled Tibetans. This force was mainly under the Indian Intelligence establishment and not under the Army.
The army took some more time to realize the usefulness of a Commando force. The man who took initiative was Maj. Megh Singh. He managed to impress Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh, the then Commander of the Western Army (and a stalwart of the 1965 war) with the idea of raising a unit of Commandos who shall have specialized training, weapons and command structure. The force was to comprise of officers and men who were physically and mentally stronger and could think ‘out of the box’. This new born unit didn’t have a designated official name yet, so they aptly named themselves ‘Meghdoot Force’ after their leader.
In the 65 war, Meghdoot Force did many cross border raids, disrupting enemy supply lines. The results were very promising and after the war the MeghDoot Force was reorganized into the First Commando Battalion and officially named as 9th Parachute battalion (Commando) and given a proper home base. This battalion was further split into two. One group specializing for fighting in the mountains while the other in the Desert (10th Para Commando).
In the 1971 war, even with clear cut demarcation between the expected roles/responsibilities and skill set of the Parachute Commando units, they were not utilized as they should have been. Local commanders with not much awareness and experience of appropriate tactical use of such units, used them like rest of the infantry units and assigned them with conventional tasks.But, there were two commando operations which stood out in this war.
1. Charlie company of 9th Para proved how potent they could be. There was an artillery unit across Poonch river, in the Pakistani village of Mandhol and was regularly harassing Indian defensive position in that area with some accurate shelling from their 122mm Guns. Charlie team infiltrated at 0200 hours and blew up all the guns while suffering some casualties. This successful operation is still a legend in the annals of 9th Para.
2. Another famous attack was by the 10th Para unit who decided to attack and capture the town of Chachro, 80 kms inside Pakistan across the desert. They rode their Jeeps into Chachro and took the defending forces at the Pakistan Rangers (ala BSF) Headquarters totally by surprise. Although, while coming back, they were fired upon by the Indian forces mistaking them for the enemy, but luckily no one was hurt.
10 Para in their jeeps.
Such amazing feats bode well for the future of Special Forces. More about that in future posts.
– Jai Hind
Ref: India’s Special Forces by Lt. Gen. P C Katoch and Saikat Datta.