LIEUT-GENERAL ZC BAKSHI, PVSM, MVC, VrC, VSM
Zorawar Chand Bakshi is one of the most distinguished soldiers of the Indian Army, who won laurels both in peace and war. He took part in every war fought by the Indian Army after Independence, except the Indo-China War of 1962, when he was in the Congo. He also has the unique distinction of being the most highly decorated officer in the Indian Army, having won awards for gallantry at every level, from company to division. A rare combination of a fighting and thinking soldier, he is as well known for his achievements as for his reluctance to talk about them. Rules regarding seniority and age prevented him from reaching the top, and the Army was deprived of a first rate Army Commander, and Chief. Even without attaining these ranks, he is known and admired more widely in the Army, than many who did. A perfect blend of a soldier and a gentleman, 'Zoru' Bakshi, as he is affectionately known throughout the Army, is an icon, who has been a source of inspiration for an entire generation of officers.
Bakshi was born on 21 October 1921, in Gulyana village, in Rawalpindi district of Punjab, which is now in Pakistan. His father was Sardar Bahadur Bakshi Lal Chand. After graduating from the Gordon College, Rawalpindi, he joined the Indian Military Academy in 1942. He was commissioned on 27 June 1943, into the Infantry. After a short attachment with a British battalion, he was posted to 16/10 Baluch, which was then in the Arakan, in Burma, and part of 51 Infantry Brigade, under 25 Indian Division. The battalion was being commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Fairlay, who was very fond of Indian officers, having earlier been an instructor in the Indian Military Academy, at Dehradun. The second-in-command was Major Mohd. Usman, who later became a Brigadier, and was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, in 1948, after the capture of Jhangar. The battalion had two companies of Pathans, one company of Punjabi Mussalmans, and one of Dogras. Unlike the Dogras in most other regiments, the Baluch Dogras were not Rajputs, but Brahmins. Bakshi was assigned to one of the Pathan companies.
When Bakshi joined the battalion, the monsoon had just finished, and operations started, after a long gap. Usman sent Bakshi with a patrol, through the No Man's Land, to probe the Japanese defences. Since Bakshi had just joined the battalion, and was inexperienced, the patrol was led by a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), who was told to keep an eye on the young officer. As they were climbing a hill, the Japanese opened fire. Immediately, everyone went to the ground. The JCO asked Bakshi what they should do. They could either withdraw, or bypass the enemy position. However, there was a sheer drop on one side, and a steep climb on the other. If they withdrew, they could walk into an ambush. Bakshi thought for a moment, and then decided that they should go down. They were able to bypass the enemy position, and returned safely, after completing the task.
The JCO reported to Usman, and told him about the firing, and how the young subaltern had handled the patrol. Next day, Usman sent another patrol, and asked Bakshi to lead it. Zoru took some men from his own company, which comprised Pathans. On his return, he was able to give some more information about the hill feature, which was held by the Japanese. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Fairlay, was leaving on transfer next day. However, he gave orders for the hill to be captured, and the Dogra company was assigned to carry out the task. Fairlay had begun his career in the Dogras, and had a soft corner for them. However, he did not have much faith in the British officer who was commanding the Dogra company, and ordered Bakshi to lead the attack. Zoru would have preferred to take his own company, but he had no choice in the matter. Since the Dogra company was not up to full strength, he decided to take a few non-combatants, such as cooks. One of these was Sepoy Bhandari Ram.
Bakshi took the Dogra company, and launched the attack on the feature from three sides, using a platoon from each direction. There was a bloody fight, at the end of which the feature was captured. After the company had reorganised, it was found that Bhandari Ram was missing. Bakshi had seen him during the assault, and had been impressed by his gallantry. Later, Bhandari Ram was located, and evacuated to the Regimental Aid Post. Apart from stopping several bullets, a grenade had burst right in front of him, and he was seriously wounded. The Regimental Medical Officer was a South Indian, who was rarely sober. He promptly gave his opinion that Bhandari Ram would be lucky to survive. But he was wrong. Bhandari Ram not only lived, but also became a hero.
After the operation, Bakshi reported to Major Usman, who was officiating as Commanding Officer, since Fairlay had left, and the new incumbent, Lieutenant Colonel LP 'Bogey' Sen, had still not reported. Usman decided that Bhandari Ram deserved a Victoria Cross (VC), and when the new Commanding Officer joined next day, requested him to forward his name for the award. Sen did forward Bhandari Ram's name for an award, but for the Indian Order of Merit (IOM), which ranked much lower than the VC. Usman felt that this was not fair, and since he had been in command when the action took place, insisted that his opinion should count. Ultimately, Usman went to the Brigade Commander, who supported him, and Bhandari Ram was awarded the VC.
In January 1945, 51 Infantry Brigade took part in the Battle of Kangaw, which was one of the hardest fought battles of the Burma Campaign. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier RA Hutton, was awarded the DSO, and so were all three Commanding Officers of the famous 'All Indian Brigade', i.e. SPP Thorat, KS Thimayya and LP Sen. Zoru Bakshi was Mentioned in Dispatches, and this was the first in a string of gallantry awards that he was to win, in different wars, over the next thirty years. After the operations ceased in Burma, the battalion was sent back to India, for rest and refit, and was located at Pollachi, near Madras. But the battalion did not stay in India for long, and was soon moved to Malaysia, with the rest of the division. However, as soon as they landed, the Japanese surrendered, and the battalion was given the task of looking after prisoners of war. It remained in Malaysia for about a year, before being repatriated to India.
In August 1947, Bakshi was posted to the Punjab Boundary Force, which had been set up to maintain peace in the Punjab. The task of dividing the state had been entrusted to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was expected to finalise the alignment of the boundary by 15 August 1947, when Partition would come into effect. It was anticipated that the announcement of the boundary award would be accompanied by large scale disturbances, and a special force was set up to maintain order when this happened. With its headquarters at Lahore, the Punjab Boundary Force was created, under the command of Major General TW Rees, who was commanding 4 Indian Division. It comprised a force of about 25 battalions, drawn from different regiments. The staff and troops of 4 Indian Division formed the nucleus of the force. Rees had senior Indian officers, of the rank of brigadier, from both countries, to act as his advisers. They were KS Thimayya and DS Brar from India, and Mohd. Ayub Khan and Nasir Ahmad from Pakistan.
As a member of the Boundary Force, Bakshi witnessed the horrors of Partition, at close hand. As the exodus of people from both sides began, it was accompanied by violence, which quickly escalated from individual acts of looting and revenge to full-scale attacks, by armed gangs. Scenes of carnage, accompanied by looting and rape, became an everyday occurrence. Entire villages, columns of walking refugees, and trains were attacked by armed mobs, driven by hatred and vengeance. The brutality of these attacks surprised even the battle-hardened soldiers of the Boundary Force, whose officers had to strive hard to ensure that they themselves remained unaffected by the virus of communalism. In his report, General Rees was to remark; "The killing was pre-medieval in its ferocity. Neither age nor sex was spared. Mothers with babies in their arms were struck down, speared or shot."
It was soon realised that the Boundary Force would not be able to maintain peace, with the meagre resources at its disposal. Civil administration had virtually ceased to exist, and the Force not only had to look after law and order, but the arrangements for transportation, shelter, and food for the refugees, whose numbers had swelled to over two million. There was also the danger of the troops themselves becoming affected, as they came to know of atrocities against their own families, and relatives. Rees told the Supreme Commander that the situation was critical, and recommended that the responsibility for maintaining peace in their areas should be taken over by the respective governments. The Joint Defence Council agreed this to, and on 1 September, the Punjab Boundary Force ceased to exist. Ten battalions of the Force, which belonged to regiments that had been allotted to Pakistan, left to join their new formations. The remainder, comprising units that were to stay in India, were formed into the East Punjab Area. General Rees was appointed Military Assistant to the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, and moved to Delhi. He took Bakshi along with him to his new appointment. In his new assignment, Bakshi had to man the operations room in the Governor General's House (now Rashtrapati Bhawan).
As a result of the Partition, Bakshi's parent unit, 16/10 Baluch, was allotted to Pakistan. Bakshi was transferred to the Fifth Gurkha Rifles, which was one of the six Gurkha regiments that were to remain in India, while four were transferred to the British Army. Till then, Indian officers had not served in Gurkha regiments, and the sudden departure of British officers left a void that had to be quickly filled by posting officers from other regiments. These officers initially had a difficult time, since none of them knew about the customs and background of the men, and neither could they speak 'gurkhali'. Unlike other regiments, where the Viceroy's Commissioned Officers (VCOs) knew English, and acted as a link between the officers and the men, very few of the Gurkha Officers (as the VCOs in Gurkha regiments were then called) knew English. The Regimental Centre of the Fifth Royal Gurkhas was at Abbotobad, and this was moved to Dehradun, where most of the other Gurkha regimental centres were located. After joining the Indian Army, the appellation Royal was dropped, and the spelling of the word 'Gurkha' was also changed to 'Gorkha', in February 1949. Bakshi joined the Centre at Dehradun, where Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Niranjan Prasad was posted as the Centre Commandant.
In March 1948, Bakshi was posted as the Brigade Major of 163 Infantry Brigade. The coveted appointment of Brigade Major is normally given to officers who perform well on the staff course. Bakshi had not done this course, but the shortage of staff trained officers, after the departure of the British, resulted in his being given the prestigious appointment. 163 Infantry Brigade had been initially raised as 'Z' Brigade at Srinagar, in the spring of 1948. At that time, there were three brigades in the Kashmir Valley, which were part of the Sri (later 19) Division, under the command of Major General KS Thimayya. 161 Infantry Brigade, had been inducted in October 1947, soon after Pakistani tribesmen had entered Kashmir. After pushing back the tribesmen, it had been holding on throughout the winter. 77 Parachute Brigade had arrived in May 1948, and 163 Brigade had been raised at about the same time. In the summer of 1948, after the snows melted, a general offensive had been planned, to throw the enemy out of the Kashmir Valley. According to this plan, 161 Brigade was to advance on the Uri-Domel axis, and 163 brigade on the Handwara-Tithwal axis. The commanders of 161 and 163 Brigades were 'Bogey' Sen, and Harbaksh Singh, while 77 Brigade was under HL Atal.
163 Infantry Brigade was given the task of advancing towards Tithwal, clearing enemy opposition enroute, and recapturing lost territory, including the strategic town of Tithwal. The Brigade comprised four infantry battalions viz. 1 Sikh, 1 Madras, 6 Rajputana Rifles and 3 Garhwal, during various stages of the battle. It also had a squadron of 7 Cavalry, equipped with armoured cars, and two batteries of artillery guns. The brigade commenced operations from Handwara on 18 May, and by 20 May, had taken Chowkibal. The next day, the 10,000 foot high Nastachun Pass had been captured, and by 23 May, Tithwal was in Indian hands. In five days, 163 Brigade had advanced 65 kilometres, killed 67 of the enemy, and taken many prisoners. It was poised to advance to Muzaffarabad, which was just 30 kilometres away, when operations were halted on orders from Army Headquarters, as a result of the United Nations resolution, after India took her case to that organisation. This came as a severe jolt to the morale and spirits of the soldiers, who were all set to drive the invaders out of the Kashmir Valley.
The loss of Tithwal was also a severe blow to the Pakistanis, who reacted violently, and launched several counter attacks to recapture the feature. These attacks were supported by heavy shelling, and there were many casualties. There were also several individual acts of bravery, including that of Company Havildar Major Piru Singh, of 6 Rajputana Rifles, who was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the country's highest award for gallantry. Bakshi played a prominent part in the battle, and displayed conspicuous gallantry, and leadership, for which he was awarded the Vir Chakra. This was remarkable, because Bakshi was not commanding troops, but a staff officer in the brigade headquarters. Unlike commanders, staff officers rarely get a chance to display gallantry on the battlefield. The fact that he was recommended for the Vir Chakra, and won the decoration, was truly a brilliant achievement.
Shortly afterwards, Bakshi notched up another feat that resulted in his being awarded the Macgregor Memorial Medal. This medal was instituted in 1888, in memory of Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe Macgregor, the founder of the United Services Institution of India. It is awarded every year for the best military reconnaissance or journey of exploration or survey, in remote areas of India. However, it is awarded only if the journey or expedition is exceptional, and in case there are none, no award is given that year. In fact, there have been only about a dozen awards, during the 50 years since Independence. Bakshi was assigned the task of carrying out an important strategic military reconnaissance of certain areas in Tibet. Dressed as a Buddhist monk, Bakshi went from Nathu La into the Chumbi Valley, and then to Gyantse and Lhasa. He covered a distance of 400 kilometres, in 80 days, and traversed over some of the highest passes in the Himalayas. For this feat, he was awarded the medal in 1949. He was the first recipient of the medal after Independence.
After completing his tenure in 163 Infantry Brigade, Bakshi was posted back to the Regimental Centre, at Dehradun, in July 1949. Early in 1951, he was posted to 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, which had recently moved to Dehradun, after short tenures in Meerut and Jhansi. The battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan Prasad, who had brought it to Jhansi from Hyderabad, where it had taken part in the Police Action in 1948, and then stayed on for internal security duties. In April 1951, the battalion moved to Jandiala Guru, in Punjab, as part of 43 Lorried Brigade. While he was with the battalion, Bakshi appeared in the entrance examination for the Staff College. Having qualified, he was nominated on the Fourth Staff Course, at the Defence Services Staff College, at Wellington, which commenced in October 1951. He performed exceptionally well on the course, and was recommended for an instructional appointment, in his course report. On completion of the course, in August 1952, he was posted as Brigade Major of 123 Infantry Brigade. He remained in this appointment till October 1955, i.e. well over three years. He thus had the distinction of not only doing two tenures as Brigade Major, but an unusually long stint in this coveted staff appointment.
After his tenure as Brigade Major of 123 Infantry Brigade, Bakshi was posted to 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, which was then located at Mahura, in the Uri Sector of Jammu and Kashmir. In April 1958, he was posted as an instructor, to the Infantry School, Mhow, where he remained for almost two years. In January 1960, he was promoted Lieutenant Colonel, and posted to the Staff College, Wellington, as an instructor. During his tenure at the Staff College, Major General (later Field Marshal) SHFJ Manekshaw was the Commandant, against whom an enquiry was ordered, at the behest of Lieutenant General BM Kaul, the Chief of General Staff. The charges related to Manekshaw's so called anti Indian views, and were frivolous. Bakshi was one of the officers who were questioned, by the Court of Inquiry, headed by Lieutenant General Daulet Singh. None of the charges could be proved, and the enquiry was dropped.
Bakshi had completed about a year and a half at Wellington, when he received orders posting him as Commanding Officer of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, which was then in Calcutta, in August 1961. The battalion had been ordered to move to Silchar, but these orders were cancelled, and they were ordered to go to Congo. At that time, the battalion had two Victoria Cross winners - Subedar Major Gaje Singh Ghale and Subedar Agansing Rai. According to Army rules, holders of the Victoria Cross and Param Vir Chakra are not permitted to go into areas where there is likelihood of action. However, both Ghale and Rai were adamant about accompanying the battalion to Congo, and Bakshi had to refer the matter to Army Headquarters, which agreed to make an exception in their case.
In January 1962, they left Calcutta for Ahmednagar, en route to Bombay. On 10 March 1962, they embarked on the US Naval ship 'General Blatchford'. They reached Dar-e-Salaam after a voyage of nine days, from where the troops were flown to Elizabethville, while the baggage was transported by barges across Lake Tanganyika, and by train. By 25 March, the battalion had concentrated in Elizabethville, as part of the Indian Brigade, which was in the Katanga province. The Indians formed part of the twenty-seven nation United Nations Force, called the Organisation Des Nations Unies Au Congo (ONUC), which had its headquarters at Leopoldville.
After grant of independence by Belgium, Congo (now Zaire) suffered civil war, due to tribal disunity, and breakdown of law and order. The army mutinied, and one of the tribal leaders, Tshombe, seized power. The task of the United Nations peacekeeping force was to maintain law and order, and protect vital installations, from sabotage. In most cases, the battalion had to fight the Katangese Gendarmerie, and there were several skirmishes, as well as some hard fought battles, resulting in heavy casualties, to both sides. By the end of the year, 2/5 GR had cleared Elizabethville, and the surrounding area, within a radius of about twenty kilometres, of all enemy positions, as well as minefields. The battalion returned to India in March 1963, after a year, on the same ship it had sailed on earlier. It had been awarded two Sena Medals, and four Mentioned-in-Dispatches. Bakshi had missed the India China War of 1962 - in fact, this was the only operation he missed - but was awarded a Vishist Seva Medal for his role in the Congo. On return to India, the battalion moved to Almora.
In August 1963, Bakshi was posted to the Military Operations Directorate, in Delhi. Military Operations is the most important branch in Army Headquarters, responsible for operational planning, and only officers with the highest rating are posted to this directorate. From December 1964 onwards, he officiated as the Director of Military Operations. Early in 1965, Pakistan had launched operations in the Rann of Kutch, to regain control of territory that she claimed as her own. Indian troops were rushed to the sector, and the offensive was blunted. As a result of the efforts of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who acted as a mediator, a cease fire was accepted by both sides, on 1 July 1965, and an agreement signed, returning to the situation as on 1 January 1965. However, as was subsequently discovered, the Kutch operations had been launched by Pakistan with a view to tie up Indian reserves, and test weapons and equipment that had been supplied to her by USA. It was also intended to gauge Indian reaction, both political and military. After the debacle against China in 1962, India's defence capability was not held in high esteem, and Pakistan's new President, Ayub Khan, saw a golden opportunity to wrest Kashmir, an attempt in which Pakistan had failed in 1947.
Preparations for the operations began in early 1965. Thousands of guerrillas were trained, and armed by Pakistan. By mid 1965, a force of 8,000 Razakars, a lightly armed volunteer force, was raised. In addition, about 150,000 Mujahids (Crusaders) were trained, to support the regular Army and militia. Anti India propaganda was stepped up, and Kashmiris were exhorted to rise against the 'alien' rule of India. A special organisation, called the Gibraltar Forces, was created, to undertake the operations in Kashmir. Each force was to have about 30,000 men, divided into small groups, of about a hundred each, with a hard core of regular troops, supported by Mujahids and Razakars. The forces were given names of famous Muslim warriors, such as Salauddin, Ghaznavi, Babar, Khilji, and so on, to inspire the guerrillas, and induce religious fervour. The forces were concentrated at Murree, and placed under the command of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, General Officer Commanding 12 Division, in Pak Occupied Kashmir.
In July 1965, Bakshi was promoted Brigadier, and given command of the newly raised 68 Infantry Brigade, in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the Brigade formed part of 3 Infantry Division, in Ladakh, it was located in the Kashmir valley. A few days after he assumed command, the Pakistani infiltration commenced. Crossing the border at several places, the guerrillas began to blow up bridges, establish roadblocks, and destroy administrative installations. Though the Indian troops had no inkling of the planned infiltration, they were well prepared, and reaction was swift. The infiltrators were dealt with wherever they were encountered, and soon most were either liquidated, or surrendered. In some places, the Pakistanis used artillery to support the guerrillas, and the operations escalated. To prevent further ingress of guerrillas, and block the routes of infiltration being used by them, it was decided to capture some key tactical features. One of these was the Hajipir pass.
The road connecting Uri and Punch passed through the Hajipir pass, at a height of 8,650 feet. The pass was strategically very important, and provided on of the main routes of ingress into the Kashmir valley. The pass had been given to Pakistan, after the cease-fire agreement in 1948. It was decided to capture the pass, in order to block the major route of infiltration, by the guerrillas. A pincer attack, from two directions was planned, with one brigade ex 19 Infantry Division launching an attack from the North along the road from Uri, and another brigade ex 25 Infantry Division from the South, along the road coming from Punch. The task of capturing the feature from the North was assigned to 68 Infantry Brigade. By this time, Bakshi had already proved his worth as a commander, and won decorations in Burma during World War II, in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48, and in Congo in 1962. To indicate the confidence he enjoyed of the higher command in the Army, the operation for the capture of Hajipir was code named 'Operation Bakshi.' Zoru Bakshi more than justified the faith reposed in him by his superiors. In one of the most brilliant and successful operations of the 1965 War, he captured the Hajipir pass, and wrote his name into Indian military history.
Bakshi had only one battalion, 6 Dogra, which had been raised only six months earlier. For the operation, almost all the troops allotted to him were new to him. He concentrated his Brigade at Uri in the third week of August 1965, where most of his units joined him. He had three infantry battalions viz. 1 Para, 19 Punjab, and 4 Rajput. Another battalion ex 161 Infantry Brigade was placed under his command for the operation. He also had an artillery regiment, 164 Field Regiment, equipped with 25 pounder field guns, 144 Mountain Battery, and a troop of medium guns ex 39 Medium Regiment. In addition, he had the usual complement of Engineers and Signals. The artillery ammunition was restricted - the field guns had five first line scales, and the medium guns four first lines. Information about the exact dispositions of the enemy was scanty. Bakshi was not permitted to carry out any ground reconnaissance or visit area held by troops of 161 Infantry Brigade, through which he had to pass to launch the attack. The Hajipir pass, and the subsidiary features covering its approaches were known to be held by 20 Punjab, of the Pak Army. To distract the enemy's attention, and prevent him from reinforcing the position, troops deployed all along the Cease Fire Line in the 19 Infantry Division Sector were ordered to put in small scale attacks, to coincide with the main attack of 68 Infantry Brigade. Strange as it may seem, Bakshi was not told about the pincer movement, and the attack by 93 Infantry Brigade from the South.
Bakshi's plan for the operation envisaged a two-pronged attack, from the North, to be conducted in three phases. In the first phase, 1 Para was to attack from the right, and capture Sank Ridge, Sawan Pathri and Ledwali Gali, by 0500 hours on 25 August 1965. Simultaneously, 19 Punjab was to attack from the left, and capture Ring Contour and Pathra, by 0100 hours, on 25 August 1965. In Phase 2, 19 Punjab was to capture Point 10330 and Point 11107, two features on the left axis, by 0600 hours, while in Phase 3, 4 Rajput was to capture Hajipir Pass by 1430 hours, the same day, along the right axis. D Day for the operation was 24 August 1965.
Bakshi met the commanding officers of the infantry battalions and the artillery regiment for the first time on 23 August at Uri, when he issued his orders for the operation. He had not met any of them earlier, and had not had a chance to see the officers and men under their command. He was also not aware of the plan of 93 Infantry Brigade, which was to link up with him, from the South. Undeterred by these handicaps, Bakshi went ahead with his orders, during which he explained not only his plan, but also his philosophy for conduct of the attack. He stressed the need for surprise, speed, flexibility, offensive action, and the necessity for officers to lead from up front.
On 24 August, the Army Commander flew to Headquarters 25 Infantry Division, and was briefed on the plan for attack from the South. He was surprised to learn that 25 Infantry Division, with the permission of the Corps Commander, had drastically reduced the scope of the operation. He ordered that the minimum strength to be employed for the attack was a battalion, and the objective should be as far towards Kahuta as possible. He then flew to Headquarters 19 Infantry Division, where he found things more to his liking. Bakshi was ready to undertake the operation as planned, but recommended postponement by a day, since there was heavy rain throughout the day and night, and all the nullahs (streams) along the right axis were flooded. This was approved by the Army Commander. Bakshi also decided to switch over 4 Rajput to the left axis, i.e. Ring Contour - Pathra, instead of the Sank - Ledwali Gali approach. In the revised plan, there were two converging arms of the pincer, meeting at Hajipir pass. The left column, comprising 4 Rajput and 19 Punjab, was to advance along Point 10048 - Point 110944 - Bedori- Kuthnar di Gali - Hajipir pass. The right column, comprising 1 Para, was to advance along Uri - Sank - Ledwali Gali - Hajipir pass.
The attack was launched on the night of 25 August. By 0130 hours on 26 August, 19 Punjab had captured Pathra. However, it could not proceed further to Bedori, due to the rugged and precipitous terrain, and stiff resistance by the enemy, and fell back to Pathra by first light. On the right axis, 1 Para launched their attack on Sank as planned. Initially, the assaulting troops lost their way, due to lack of topographical information about the feature. In a subsequent attempt the same night, they were held up by intense enemy fire, and suffered about 30 casualties. The forward companies were pinned down, and had to extricated next morning, with great difficulty. Bakshi was now in a dilemma, since both the attacks, on Bedori and Sank, had failed. He decided to attack Sank again, using 1 Para, and requested Divisional Headquarters to assign the task of capturing Bedori to 161 Infantry Brigade. To add to his worries, at about midday on 26 August, he received a 'personal for' message from the Army Commander, expressing dissatisfaction at the heavy expenditure of artillery ammunition, which 'was not commensurate with the results.' After the failure of his initial attacks, Bakshi knew that if he failed again, he was unlikely to remain in command for long. Hence it was all the more important that the enemy positions be softened up by a heavy barrage of artillery before the attack went in. If he succeeded, no one would hold the heavy ammunition expenditure against him. If he failed, he would be sacked in any case. He decided to disregard the signal, and go ahead with the attack, as planned.
At about 1500 hours on 26 August, Bakshi got a telephone call from the General Staff Officer Grade 1 (GSO I) from Headquarters 19 Infantry Division, who informed him that Bedori had been captured by 161 Infantry Brigade. Bakshi was skeptical, since none of his troops had reported any movement or battle noises. When he expressed his doubts, the GSO 1 connected him to Commander 161 Infantry Brigade, who confirmed the news. Bakshi then decided to modify his plan, and asked 4 Rajput to resume the advance along the Left Axis, and proceed to Kuthnar di Gali, skirting round the Western slopes of Bedori. The attack of 1 Para on Sank would go ahead as planned.
The attack by 1 Para on Sank went in at 2230 hours, after a heavy artillery barrage. The enemy opened up with automatic weapons, with the aim of breaking up the assault. The artillery forward observation officers, accompanying the assaulting troops, adjusted the artillery fire on the enemy, who had come out of his defences. In spite of heavy opposition, 1 Para continued their attack, and by first light on 27 August, Sank had been captured. The enemy vacated the feature, leaving 15 dead, and a large quantity of arms and ammunition. 1 Para did not lose the momentum, and continued to press on. By midday, they had secured Sar and Ledwali Gali.
While the capture of Sank raised spirits in the brigade, Bakshi was in for a shock on the Bedori approach. 4 Rajput came under fire from Bedori while going around its Western slopes, and asked for artillery fire to neutralise the 'enemy fire'. Bakshi did not permit this, believing that Bedori was held by troops of 161 Infantry brigade. He spoke to the Divisional Headquarters and Commander 161 Infantry Brigade, who again confirmed that Bedori had been captured. In the mean time, 4 Rajput was suffering casualties. Bakshi ordered them to fall back, till the situation became clear.
Bakshi now decided to exploit the success he had achieved on the Sank approach, and ignore the Bedori approach till the situation became clearer. Hajipir pass, being in depth, was not expected to be occupied by the enemy, ab initio. However, the enemy had by now been alerted, and would have started moving additional troops, to reinforce the feature. Once it was reinforced, it would no longer be within the capability of a brigade to capture the pass. He decided to go for the pass directly, without waiting for Bedori to be cleared. Of course, this meant a frontal assault, from the North. This would have to be under enemy observation, and fire, and could result in heavy casualties. He knew that the men were physically and mentally exhausted, having spent two days on the move, in rough terrain and abominable weather. The attack would succeed only if pressed home, and needed resolute leadership.
Bakshi spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Prabhjinder Singh, the Commanding Officer of 1 Para, and told him that he was looking for a suitable officer who could deliver the goods. Prabhjinder suggested the name of his Second-in-Command, Major (later Lieutenant General) Ranjit Singh Dayal. Dayal was summoned to the Brigade Headquarters, and Bakshi personally briefed him on the mission. He explained that Dayal would have to avoid the direct approach, along the ridge from Ledwali Gali to the Western Knoll. He would have to capture the knolls on either side of the pass, from an unexpected direction. He was told to take an infantry company, with an additional platoon. An artillery officer would accompany him, as the forward observation officer (FOO). Another company of 1 Para was earmarked to reinforce Dayal as soon as he had captured the pass. At the end of his briefing, Bakshi told Dayal, "If you succeed, the credit will go to you. If you don't, I will accept responsibility for the failure."
While all this was going on, Bakshi received another call from the GSO 1 of 19 Infantry Division, who informed him that Bedori had in fact not been captured, as reported earlier, and was still in enemy hands. Shortly afterwards, the Divisional Commander spoke to Bakshi, and told him that Bedori must be captured at the earliest, and had priority even over Hajipir pass. Bakshi was flabbergasted, and protested strongly, saying that the diversion of troops from the Sank axis to Bedori would take time. What was more important, any delay in the capture of Haji Pir would give the enemy time to occupy and strengthen the defences at the pass. But the Divisional Commander would have none of it. The capture of Bedori had been announced on All India Radio on 26 August, and its immediate capture was essential, to avoid embarrassment.
Bakshi was forced to modify his plans again. However, he decided to make no change in the plan for the capture of Haji Pir, by Dayal. The problem was finding troops for the capture of Bedori. At this stage, Lieutenant Colonel Sampuran Singh, the Commanding Officer of 19 Punjab, volunteered to capture Bedori using the subsidiary axis Kaunrali - Burji - Bedori Spring - Bedori. Bakshi readily granted permission, and instructed 4 Rajput to maintain pressure on the enemy from the North and North and North West, to divert their attention when the attack went in, on night 28/29 August.
Major Ranjit Singh Dayal left with his column at last light on 27 August. He was accompanied by Captain Vaswani, as his second-in-command, and Second-Lieutenant JS Talwar, of 164 Field Regiment, as the FOO. As the company was descending from Ledwali Gali into the Haidarabad nullah, it came under machine gun and mortar fire from the western shoulder of the pass, which overlooked the nullah. But this was more of a nuisance than a threat. Soon, the column came under fire from a different direction. A party of Pathans, withdrawing from Sawan Pathri had seen the force, and concluding that they were being encircled, had opened fire. Dayal despatched a platoon to deal with the Pathans, and asking them to join up with him later, continued the advance. In case it was delayed, the platoon was told to join the battalion, at Ledwali Gali. Dayal also ordered the FOO to register the eastern and western shoulders of the pass, which dominated the area all round.
After registration had been completed, the company moved along the left bank of the Haidarabad nullah, hugging the hillside. By about 1800 hours, it started raining, and the valley was covered with low clouds and mist. It made movement difficult, but also concealed their movement, and the enemy lost touch with the company till the morning. Crossing the nullah, the column began to climb, avoiding the track. At about 2000 hours, they reached a house, which appeared to be occupied. It was found to be occupied by ten Pak soldiers, who had fallen back from Bedori, and were resting for the night. After they were disarmed, they were pressed into service for carrying loads. Soaked to the skin, and utterly exhausted, the men kept on moving, throughout the night, weighed down by heavy loads. Dayal knew that soon it would be first light, and before that happened, he must reach the pass. He kept up the pace, and did not allow the men to rest, except after crossing a difficult stretch, when they were halted, counted, and only then was the advance resumed. He had taken the precaution of taking a local porter as a guide, who led them to the pass, without losing his way even once.
At about 0430 hours on 28 August, the company hit the old Uri Punch road. At this stage, Dayal decided to give the men a much-needed break. After a few hours rest, the advance was resumed at 0700 hours. After advancing for about an hour, the leading platoon negotiated a turn, and came under intense machine gun fire from the western shoulder of the pass. The area was open, and the objective was almost 1200 yards away. Leaving the leading platoon and the forward observation officer to keep the enemy engaged from the front, Dayal took the balance of the company to the right, and began climbing up the western shoulder of the pass. On having reached the top, they rolled down, completely surprising the Pak soldiers, who took to their heels, without offering any resistance. By 1100 hours on 28 August, Hajipir pass had been captured. Twelve Pakistanis, including one officer, were taken prisoner. There was not a single Indian casualty.
After the capture of Hajipir, Bakshi turned his attention to the capture of Bedori, which was to be attempted by 19 Punjab. Bedori is a rocky feature, where it was difficult to dig trenches. The enemy had constructed stone 'sangars', to improve their defences, on the pattern used in the North West Frontier. During the frontier campaigns, the mountain gun had been used in direct shooting role very effectively against such defences. Bakshi decided to use similar tactics, and ordered one 3.7 inch howitzer to be deployed forward, for the destruction of sangars on Bedori, by direct shooting. While 19 Punjab was getting ready for the attack, the howitzer picked up one sangar after the other, and before last light on 28 August, had knocked out most of them. The attack was launched during the night, and Bedori pass was captured in the early hours of 29 August. It was found that two companies of the enemy, supported by five medium machine guns, occupied the position. However, the enemy was so shaken up by the ferocity of the assault by 19 Punjab that he did not launch a counter attack, and left behind a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
After the loss of Hajipir, the enemy began to bring up fresh troops on to Ring Contour, a feature about 1,500 yards South West of the pass. When Bakshi got wind of this on 29 August, he ordered 1 Para to dislodge the enemy before it could build up in larger numbers, and launch a counter attack. The same night, a platoon patrol was sent from 'D' company, which had joined 'A' company on the pass. However, the platoon found the task beyond its capacity. Dayal then set off himself, at about 0730 hours, with a platoon of 'D' company, and Major AS Baicher, the company commander. He told the remainder of 'D' company and a platoon of 'A' company to follow, along with the forward observation officer.
The assault involved a descent of about 1,000 feet, and then an ascent to the same height. It was now broad daylight, and when the enemy saw the assaulting troops, he reacted violently, and opened fire with all weapons, including artillery. As the platoon was climbing the last 100 feet, the fire intensified. The platoon was composed entirely of 'Ahirs' (a sub caste of Hindus, found in North India, especially in the region around Delhi. They are simple and hardy folk, mostly engaged in agriculture and dairying, who worship Krishna). Suddenly, the Ahirs raised their battle cry - Krishan Maharaj ki Jai ( Glory to Lord Krishna) - and then charged. A hand-to-hand fight followed, in which nine men were killed, and 26 wounded, including the platoon commander. The enemy lost eight men, and the rest ran away. During the next three hours, the enemy launched three counter attacks, but all were beaten back. Major Baicher was wounded in the leg, and Major Dayal had a narrow escape - a machine gun burst shot off the sten gun slung on his left shoulder. By 1600 ours on 30 August, the enemy gave up, and the feature was firmly in Indian hands. Soon afterwards, 19 Punjab linked up with 1 Para, and the entire area between Bedori, Ledwali Gali and Hajipir pass was free of the enemy. On 1 September, Bakshi moved his tactical headquarters to Hajipir pass.
The battle of Hajipir pass is a saga of courage, determined
leadership, and valour. Its capture was an important victory for India, and a big blow to Pakistan. The credit for the success went to Dayal, who had led his men resolutely, and to Bakshi, who had not only conceived the bold plan, fraught with risk, but had executed it brilliantly. Had the attack failed, there is little doubt that he would have been held responsible, since he had undertaken it without the approval of higher authorities. He had taken a grave risk, but it had paid off. In battle, a commander must be prepared to take risks, and Bakshi had proved this quite conclusively. He was awarded a Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the country's second highest gallantry award. Having already won the Vir Chakra earlier, he became the only Indian to have won both the awards. Major Ranjit Singh Dayal was also awarded the MVC, for his courage and gallantry, in capturing Haji Pir pass. Incidentally. The Muslim porter who guided Dayal to the pass, continued to work for the Indian Army for several decades, as a Mate (Supervisor) in the Labour Procurement Organisation, which provides porters and ponies, to carry stores for troops operating in difficult areas in Jammu and Kashmir.
After the capture of Hajipir pass, 68 Infantry Brigade expected some rest, but this was not to be. On 2 September, the Divisional Commander ordered Bakshi to capture Bisali (Point 11229), which was the highest feature on the western side of the road joining Uri and Hajipir. However, it had little tactical significance, and Bakshi requested that he should be permitted to press on to Kahuta. This was not agreed to, and he was told to capture Bisali first. 6 Dogra relieved 1 Para at Hajipir pass on 3 September, and was now available for further operations. The Commanding Officer of 4 Rajput, Lieutenant Colonel Sudershan Singh, requested that the task of capturing Bisali be assigned to him, since the other two battalions, 1 Para and 19 Punjab, had already had their share of glory during the Hajipir battle. This was accepted by Bakshi, who also gave 4 Rajput two additional companies from 6 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. 1 Para was to be used in Phase 2 of the brigade attack.
4 Rajput launched the attack on Bisali at 2200 hours on 4 September, with artillery support. At about 3.30 a.m. on 5 September, the Commanding Officer reported that he had captured the objective, and Phase 2 could be cancelled. The assaulting troops were exhausted, and having captured the objective, flopped down for a well-earned rest. The FOO with he leading company realised that what they had captured was not the top of the feature, and expressed his doubts to the company commander, who was his batch mate at the Academy. The company commander's response, accompanied by a choice expletive, was to advise the FOO not be afraid, and go to sleep. When dawn broke, the enemy began firing from the top, and then counter attacked. 4 Rajput withdrew in disorder, leaving behind a large quantity of weapons. The casualties were substantial - two officers and 63 other ranks killed; four officers and 47 other ranks wounded.
Soon afterwards, the Divisional Commander visited 68 Infantry Brigade and discussed the plan for the link up with 93 Infantry Brigade, which was undertaking an offensive from Punch towards Kahuta. Bakshi was ordered to advance southwards towards Kahuta. Once again, there was a disagreement, since Bakshi preferred to operate along the eastern ridge of Kuthnar - Ziarat, while the Divisional Commander ordered an advance along the western side. 1 Para was tasked to capture Ring Contour South of Point 8786 in Phase 1, while 19 Punjab was to capture Point 8777 in Phase 2. Both attacks failed.
Bakshi then decided to switch to the eastern approach, which he had always preferred. On 8 September, he ordered 1 Para to relieve 6 Dogra. The revised plan was to capture Point 9270 with 19 Punjab and Point 7720 with 6 Dogra. Both attacks were successful, and operations continued further South. On 9 September, 19 Punjab secured Ziarat while 6 Dogra captured Halan Zanubi next day. On 10 September, Major Megh Singh, with a platoon of commandos from Punch, made contact with 19 Punjab at Ziarat. Kahuta, an important town North of Punch, was captured on 11 September, and this opened the road link between Uri and Punch, which had been not in use since 1947. However, the enemy was still holding strong positions around Gitian from where they could interfere with the movement on the Uri-Punch road. On 15 September, the enemy attacked 19 Punjab positions between Kahuta and Gitian three times without success. On 18 September, Bakshi ordered 6 Dogra to capture enemy positions South of Gitian, consisting of Left Knoll, Tree Hill and Hut Hill. It was to be a silent attack with a pre arranged fire plan, on call. 6 Dogra was to attack Tree Hill and Hut Hill, while one company each from 1 Para and 19 Punjab were to simulate attacks on Ring Contour and Point 8777 respectively, to divert the enemy's attention.
On night 20/21 September, 6 Dogra launched their attack and the forward companies managed to capture their objectives. But the enemy brought down effective artillery fire, causing some disorganisation, and Bakshi ordered a company of 19 Punjab to pitch in. This was on of the most expensive battles of the campaign, where three officers lost their lives - Major Lalli, of 6 Dogra, Major Ranbir of 19 Punjab, and the artillery FOO from 164 Field Regiment. In addition, one JCO and 32 other ranks were also killed. The list of wounded included five officers, three JCOs and 80 other ranks.
By this time, Pakistan had launched a full-scale attack, code named 'Grand Slam', in the Chhamb-Akhnur sector, and the conflict between India and Pakistan had escalated into a full-scale war. The focus shifted to the plains of the Punjab, where the decisive battles of the 1965 war were fought. On 23 September, a cease-fire was declared, after a resolution in the UN Security Council, and hostilities came to an end. As a result of the agreement signed in Tashkent between President Ayub Khan of Pakistan and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri of India, troops of both countries had to withdraw to positions held by them before 5 August 1965. For the second time, Haji Pir pass, captured at great cost, was returned to Pakistan.
In March 1967, Bakshi was posted as Brigadier General Staff, Headquarters Eastern Command, in Calcutta. Lieutenant General Sam Manekshaw was the Army Commander, and he found Bakshi to be a pragmatic, efficient and competent staff officer. At that time, Eastern Command was engaged in building up defences in the North East, which had become the Indian Army's top priority after the debacle of 1962. The situation in Naga and Mizo Hills had also begun to deteriorate, and this too required deft handling. Bakshi did not stay for long in Eastern Command. In December 1967, he was selected to do the course at the Imperial Defence College, London. This was a prestigious course, on which only highly rated officers, of the rank of Brigadier, were sent. He stayed in London for a year, and qualified on the course with distinction. The Imperial Defence College has now been renamed the Royal College of Defence Studies, and one Indian officer is still nominated on the course, even though India now has its own institution of the same level, called the National Defence College, in Delhi, since 1961.
On his return from England, in February 1969, Bakshi was posted to the Military Training Directorate at Army Headquarters. In June 1969, he was promoted Major General, and appointed General Officer Commanding 8 Mountain Division, in Nagaland, where insurgency had become a serious problem. His previous experience in Eastern Command, as well as the fact that Sam Manekshaw was still the Army Commander, probably played a part in his appointment. Soon after the announcement of his appointment as Chief of Army Staff, Sam came to Nagaland on a farewell visit. He told Bakshi, perhaps in a lighter vein, that Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) SK Sinha, who was commanding 71 Brigade, had reached his limit, and had not acquitted himself well as a brigade commander. He hoped that Bakshi would duly reflect this in Sinha's Annual Confidential Report. Bakshi replied that on the basis of performance, he considered Sinha to be the best brigade commander among the six he had in his Division. As the Reviewing Officer, Manekshaw could always disagree with Bakshi's assessment, and write whatever he liked in Sinha's report. Manekshaw smiled and said that Bakshi was showing his regimental loyalty, since he and Sinha were from the same Regiment. Bakshi replied that it was not a question of loyalty but of conscience. Sam was soon to take over as the Army Chief, but this did not deter Bakshi from expressing his views, knowing them to be contrary to those of the Chief designate. Fortunately, Sam admired men who had the courage to speak their minds, and did not take it amiss.
When Bakshi was commanding 8 Mountain Division, there was an incident of two Nagas who were reported missing from a village. It was alleged that they had been picked up by soldiers from an infantry battalion, which was operating in the area. Sinha, who was the brigade commander, called the commanding officer and asked him to investigate. The commanding officer visited the picquet, and then reported that his men were not responsible. The Nagas insisted, and reported the matter through the civil administration. The Lieutenant Governor took up the matter with Zoru Bakshi, and he spoke to Sinha about it. Sinha told him that there was no truth in the allegations, and suggested that he order an inquiry to investigate. Bakshi detailed Brigadier Irani, who was commanding one of his brigades, to conduct the inquiry. He had been an instructor at the Academy, when the battalion commander was a cadet, and he was able to get the truth out of him. The company commander, in order to win laurels and impress his commanding officer, was keen to notch up a high score in terms of captured weapons. He picked up the two Nagas, who were suspected to be hostiles, and based on the advice of a JCO who claimed to have supernatural powers, subjected them to torture to elicit information about hidden weapons. In the process, the two Nagas died, and their bodies disposed off.
When the truth came out, Bakshi was very upset, and conveyed his displeasure to Sinha, who had been badly let down by one of his battalions. He told Sinha that he was about to put him up for the award of an AVSM, but could not do so any longer, after this incident. He had the battalion commander removed from command, and demoted to the rank of Major. The two officers who were directly involved were court martialled, and sentenced to be dismissed from service, and to undergo varying terms of imprisonment. The JCO was also dismissed from service.
In September 1970, Bakshi was posted as General Officer Commanding 26 Infantry Division, which was responsible for the defence of Jammu. In 1971, operations against Pakistan became imminent, after it was realised that the problem of the refugees from East Pakistan could not be solved by other means. Since the primary aim of the operations was the liberation of Bangla Desh, the Government had decided that only a defensive posture would be maintained in the West. However, limited offensive operations were planned, with the intention of drawing out Pakistani reserves, so that they could not be used for major offensives, against India. Lieutenant General KP Candeth, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, had accordingly planned an advance by 1 Corps in the Shakargarh bulge, and a two pronged offensive by 15 Corps, with 10 Infantry Division advancing North of the river Chenab, and 26 Infantry Division advancing South of the river, to threaten Sialkot. Pakistan's 15 Infantry Division, under Major General Abid Ali Zahid was holding defences in the Sialkot sector. To its rear, Pakistan’s strongest strike formation, 1 Corps, had its headquarters at Sialkot. Considering the importance of the task assigned to 26 Infantry Division, Sam Manekshaw, the Army Chief, had selected Zoru Bakshi to command the Division.
The operations commenced on 3 December 1971, after air strikes by Pakistan, and orders were issued for the planned advances by Indian troops to commence. However, due to the Pakistani offensive in Chhamb, 10 Infantry Division had to fall back, and could not undertake any offensive action. A brigade of 26 Infantry Division was sent to 39 Infantry Division, to make up the loss of 33 Infantry Brigade, which had been despatched to Punch, to counter the Pakistani offensive in that sector. This resulted in the cancellation of the all-important offensive of 26 Infantry Division, towards Sialkot. However, Bakshi was not deterred by this setback, and proceeded to capture Chicken's Neck, which was one of the important gains of the 1971 operations, and compensated, to some extent, the loss of Chhamb, by 10 Infantry Division.
Zoru Bakshi coined the name ‘Chicken’s Neck’. To the South of Akhnur, there is a narrow strip of territory, belonging to Pakistan, measuring about 170 square kilometres in area. It is actually an islet, between the river Chenab and one of its subsidiary channels, called Chander Bagha. It has a small neck in the South, and a jagged head, with a beak, shaped like a dagger, extending towards the North. The beak pointed towards the Akhnur Bridge, and because of its shape, and the threat it posed to Akhnur, the area had long been known as 'the dagger'. Bakshi felt that the name indicated a defensive mentality, and promptly informed everyone that henceforth it would be known as the 'Chicken's Neck', which could be wrung at will, by India. It is known by this name, even today.
The Chicken's Neck, called the Phuklian salient by Pakistanis, was strategically important, as it provided Pakistan with the shortest access to the bridge over the Chenab at Akhnur. It enabled operations to be developed towards Jammu, and also uncovered the flanks of troops deployed in the Jaurian sector. They used it for infiltration into Indian territory, from their base at Marala, which lay to the South of the salient. To enter the salient, they had to cross the Chenab, using ferries. Intelligence reports indicated that the area was held by four companies of Rangers, supported by a regular battalion and some armour. Protective minefields had been laid around the defended localities. Except during the monsoon, the area was dry, and could be negotiated by tanks and motor vehicles.
Bakshi's main task was to defend Jammu, and almost his entire division was deployed in a defensive posture. He had been allotted an armoured brigade and an additional infantry brigade for the operation. Though his role was defensive, Bakshi had to undertake the advance towards Sialkot, as part of the limited offensive planned by 15 Corps. Bakshi had planned to carry out certain preliminary operations, to facilitate his task, as soon as operations commenced. In order to remove the Pakistani threat to the Akhnur Bridge, he decided to capture the Chicken's Neck. This would release the troops employed in the close defence of the bridge, which he could then utilise for the advance towards Sialkot. It was essential that this be done swiftly, immediately after hostilities broke out.
Since the Pakistani defences were oriented towards the North and North East, Bakshi decided to infiltrate into the salient from the South, from where the enemy least expected an attack. This would achieve surprise, cut off his route of withdrawal, and demoralise the enemy, even before his main defences were contacted. He tasked 19 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Mohinder Singh, to carry out the operation. 9 Para Commando, and some armour were given in support. He decided not to use the bulk of the armour, since he realised that it would take several days to ferry the tanks across the river, and once in the salient, it would be extremely difficult to retrieve them, for subsequent advance towards Sialkot, which was his main task.
19 Infantry Brigade commenced infiltration on the evening of 5 December 1971. The operation achieved complete surprise, and the leading battalion found well-prepared defences, which were not occupied, having been vacated by the Pakistanis. In spite of this, the leading troops made slow progress, since they insisted on following set piece battle drills, losing precious time. The situation called for bold and audacious action, but the commanders were over cautious, and refused to exploit the factors of surprise, and demoralisation of the enemy. The pace was further slowed down due to motor vehicles of the follow up battalion getting bogged down in the soft sand of the rivulets and streams that they had to cross.
Bakshi arranged to set up roadblocks, using his tanks and the para commandos. However, most of the enemy was able to withdraw before the roadblocks were in place. In one case, some armour that had been inducted into the salient, to hasten its clearance, clashed with the roadblock armour, which mistook them for withdrawing Pakistani tanks. Timely intervention of the brigade headquarters staff averted what could have been a disaster. The para commando road block at one of the ferries was attacked by a large body of withdrawing Pakistani troops, and had to be rescued by tank mounted infantry, which was rushed to their aid. By the evening of 7 December, the salient was cleared of the enemy, and Chicken's Neck had been captured. Enemy casualties were 32 killed, four wounded, and 28 captured, including two officers. Leaving a battalion to hold the salient, Bakshi withdrew the remainder of the brigade, to be used for other tasks.
The capture of Chicken's Neck, within 48 hours, did a lot to raise the morale of the Indian forces, in the sector. The operation was brilliantly conceived, and had it been pursued with greater vigour by the leading elements, which tended to be over cautious, a large number of prisoners would have been captured. In an operation reminiscent of the capture of Hajipir pass in 1965, Zoru Bakshi had once again proved that in war, it is not numerical superiority but daring and audacity that brings success. After the capture of Chicken's Neck, 26 Division had little to do, and had to content itself with small raids on border outposts, opposite its area. It was unfortunate that higher commanders found no use for the troops of 26 Infantry Division, which had been relieved after the operation, or its gallant commander, for the rest of the war. Since he had already won both the MVC and the VrC earlier, Bakshi was awarded the Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM), for this operation. This made him the most highly decorated soldier the Army, who had won awards at every level, from company to division.
After completing his tenure in 26 Infantry Division, Zoru was appointed the Director of Military Operations (DMO), at Army Headquarters, in October 1973. He remained for a year in this important appointment, which carries a lot of respect, and authority. In September 1974, he was promoted General-General, and appointed the Military Secretary, at Army Headquarters. He was now responsible for promotions and transfers of all officers, of the Army. Bakshi performed this job with credit, and was known for being fair and impartial.
In May 1975, Bakshi was given command of the Strike Corps, which is perhaps the most coveted assignment for a Lieutenant General. He replaced Lieutenant General TN Raina, who moved on promotion as Western Army Commander, and later became the Army Chief. Bakshi remained in command of 2 Corps for more than three and a half years, till he retired on 31 January 1979. He thus had the longest tenure, as a Corps Commander, in the Indian Army. Though he had all the qualifications to be promoted as an Army Commander, the rules stipulated that only Lieutenant Generals who had at least two years residual service could be given this appointment. Age was against Bakshi, and he had to retire as a Corps Commander. If he had been younger, there is little doubt that he would have become not only an Army Commander, but probably the Army Chief as well.
After retirement, Bakshi did not take up a job, in the private or public sector. With his drive and determination, he was ideally suited for a challenging assignment, such as breathing new life into a sick public sector undertaking. If he had been given such a job, there is no doubt that he would have done it well, as Prem Bhagat did in the Damodar Valley Corporation. Because of his modest and unassuming nature, he was not very well known outside the Army, and this was the reason for his services not being utilised. However, he continued to take keen interest in the profession of arms, and was a regular visitor to the United Services Institution of India, in Delhi. Even today, he is an elected member of the Council, of the Institution.
Zoru Bakshi is one of the most well known generals of the Indian Army. A highly decorated soldier, he possesses all the qualities one would expect in a successful military leader. A thorough professional, he epitomises the classic image of an officer and a gentleman. In battle, he has displayed, time and again, his brilliance as a strategist and tactician. In all operations he has undertaken, he has tasted defeat not once, and neither has he lost an inch of territory, to the enemy. This is a unique record, unequalled by any other Indian military leader, except for Lieutenant General Sagat Singh. His courage on the battlefield is matched by his sense of fair play, upright behaviour, morality and the courage to stand by his convictions, and his subordinates. Zoru Bakshi is a true son of the soil, who defended the honour of his Motherland, and of his command, always and every time.