Paramvir Chakra Shaheed Abdul Hamid, the Tank Buster!!

Abdul Hamid was a great soldier who had served his country faithfully and well, a very brave man, a martyr and a modern day story. Born in a poor Darzi family at Dhamupur village (Ghazipur, UP) on July 1, 1933. Hamid, was no stranger to the traditions and rigors of army life. Hamid had three brothers and two sisters. Hamid was 20 years old when he was recruited at Varanasi into The Grenadiers infantry. Initially, he served in a rifle company and was then posted to a recoilless platoon. During his service, Hamid served with his battalion in Agra, Amritsar, Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi, NEFA and Ramgarh.

During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, Hamid’s battalion was part of the 7th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier John Dalvi, and participated in the battle of Namka Chu against the Chinese. Surrounded and cut off, the battalion had made a fighting breakaway into Bhutan by foot and then to Misamari. A young officer, Second Lieutenant GVP Rao had been awarded a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award won by the battalion since Independence till then. After the ceasefire was declared his unit moved to Ambala where Abdul was appointed Company Quarter Master Havildar (CQMH) of his company. Hamid already had five years of service in the anti-tank section, and he was the best 106mm recoilless rifle shot in the battalion.

IMAGE: The bust of Company Quarter Master Havildar Abdul Hamid at the Grenadiers Regimental Centre. Photograph: Kind courtesy, 1965-Stories from Second Indo-Pak War by Rachna Bisht Rawat.

Indo-Pak War – 1965:

In 1965, when war broke out between India and Pakistan, Abdul Hamid had already completed ten years of service in the Indian army and won the Sainya Seva Medal, Samay Seva Medal and the Raksha Medal.

At the peak of the war of 1965, Pakistan’s General Ayub Khan devised a strategy to capture Amritsar and block the supplies of the Indian Armed Forces stationed in Jammu & Kashmir. The task was handed over to the ‘1st Armoured Division’ aka the ‘Pride Of Pakistan’. Pakistan’s motive, in a nutshell, was to defeat India in the worst way, inflicting as much collateral damage as possible. The enemy’s offensive was aimed at Aknoor in Jammu. The 4th Grenadiers occupied a vital area near Chima village on the road to Khem Karan. A firm hold of this area was essential for the Indian plan of defence.

Earlier the Battalion had captured its objective on the Ichhogil Canal but being outflanked by the Pakistani counter-offensive was ordered back to new positions. It had already been in combat for more than 24 hours when it began digging trenches and weapon pits in its defensive positions. The battalion defended area was covered with cotton and sugarcane fields, and the battalion was able to camouflage its location, using ploughed fields for fire. The 106mm recoilless guns were deployed along the Khem Karan-Amritsar road.

On September 8, the enemy made repeated attacks on the Grenadiers’ position but was repulsed each time. The most serious assault came when the enemy advanced with a regiment of Patton tanks. So intense was the attack that a shell littered every yard of ground occupied by the Indian battalion. Hamid was in command of a recoilless gun detachment. He moved out to a flank with his gun mounted on a jeep.

Khem Karan Sector, September 8, 1965:

Hamid sat in the co-driver’s seat of his jeep and passed through the sugar cane fields. The Jeep trundled over a narrow mud track ahead of Chima village. He knew Pakistan had launched an attack with a regiment of Patton tanks and had barged right into the forward position. He first heard the rumble of armor and then caught the sight of a few Pakistani Patton tanks that were heading in the direction of his battalion. Taking cover behind the tall crop, he pointed his gun in their direction and waited.

The Grenadiers held their fire so as not to warn the enemy. Just as the tanks came within the shooting range, Hamid asked his loader to load the gun and fired. He watched the shell on his binoculars as it shot out and arched towards the first enemy tank. The tank goes up in flames in front of his eyes. Hamid and his men rejoice with wide smiles….. ‘Shabaash!

Destroyed Pakistani Patton Tanks

Soon they spotted the crew of the two following tanks dismount and flee. He then ordered the jeep driver to reverse and move. Again the battalion was subjected to heavy artillery shelling. Soon after, they heard the familiar rumble again. Hamid took out his binoculars again and saw three more tanks heading in their direction. He again asked his driver Mohammad Naseem to position his jeep in the middle of the field, hidden from the view. He again adjusted his weapon and waited.

The moment the tank came within the shooting range, he signaled to the loader and watched the trajectory of the shell. It hits the target, and one more tank is aflame in front of his eyes while the remaining two are again abandoned by the Pakistanis. By the end of the day, Hamid had destroyed two tanks, while four had been abandoned. They called on the engineers to immediately lay out anti-tank mines in the area as that was where the enemy tanks were coming from.

They did their best they could in the little time they had. It was clear that the battalion was facing a Brigade-level attack from the Pakistani armed forces, and all they had to fight them with were recoilless guns. But that didn’t daunt the soldiers who were in high spirits after their initial victories.

The following day he showed up on the battlefield yet again to his recoilless gun. By the end of the day, he and his team have shot down two more tanks, a remarkable achievement. His citation, crediting him with the destruction of four tanks, had been sent for the award of Param Vir Chakra.

10th September 1965:

On the 10th September 1965 at 0800 hours, a battalion of Pakistani armor supported by Patton tanks attacked the 4th Grenadier positions but was unable to locate the battalion’s defenses. The attack preceded by intense artillery bombardment to soften the target and to garner a heavy fire in an attempt to draw Indian response. The battalion also faced an air attack from Pakistani Sabre Jets, but these didn’t do much damage.

By 0900 hours, the enemy tanks had penetrated the forward company positions. They were moving in a formation of three. The brave Grenadiers had moved to another point behind a thicket from where they were targeting their gun on another Patton. They shot it down as well. By now, the heavy shelling had started. The enemy tanks had noticed the jeeps, and they concentrated machine-gun fire on them. Hamid was tricking them by constantly changing his position and by keeping his jeep camouflaged by the tall sugar cane crop.

Hamid waited under cover of vegetation and when the second tank came close, he blew it up, quickly asking his driver to move away. He told his driver and loader to jump off. ‘Hum kapas ke khet mein kude aur roll hokar nale mein ludhak gaye (We jumped into the cotton field and rolled into a drain),’ said Naseem. Just as they did, a tank shell dropped and exploded at the very spot where they were a few minutes ago.

Soon another tank slowly lumbered towards him, but this time he did not have the time to move since they had both spotted each other. Intense enemy shelling and tank fire did not deter him. Both placed each other in their sights and shot. Both shells hit their targets. There was a loud blast, fire and smoke. Even as the tank was blown up, its shell hit the jeep. There were screams of pain, a loud crash and then complete silence intercepted only by the crackle of flames.

Hamid was dead. He had blown up a total of seven enemy tanks, even more than an armored formation can hope for. He did not live to see the next day or share in the joy of victory that came after three days of intense fighting. Today he lies in a modest grave at a place commemoratively called ‘Asal Uttar’ (Befitting Reply).

Abdul Hamid was honored with the highest wartime gallantry medal, Param Vir Chakra, posthumously. The award was announced on 16 September 1965, less than a week after the battle. While his citation gives him credit for three tanks destroyed; in fact, he had destroyed no less than seven enemy tanks. It is because the citation for Abdul Hamid’s PVC was sent on the evening on 9 September 1965, but he destroyed three more tanks on the previous day, plus the seventh one that also killed him.

Havildar Abdul Hamid’s act of valour documented on a plaque. Photograph: Kind courtesy.

Battle of Asal Uttar was the largest tank battle post-WWII and was a decisive Indian victory, one that was a turning point in the ’65 war. It was the first time in military history that a battalion armed with nothing more than recoilless guns had fought off an armoured division. India set up a war memorial named “Patton Nagar” (“Patton Town”) in Khem Karan District, where the captured Pakistani Patton tanks are displayed.

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