after the fighting, we found a copy of a book, a thin memoir written by a Pakistani brigadier who was taken PoW in Bangladesh. It had been presented by an officer of the BSF’s intelligence branch, who had “sourced” it from across the border. It had a warm and respectful note to Shabeg Singh from his BSF fan, saying how happy he was to see high praise for the (now rebel) general from the Pakistani brigadier and what a privilege it was to present the book to him. Since it was being thrown in the rubble, I picked it up and kept it.
In any case, the defence of the Golden Temple was not so much about high strategy or even old-fashioned guerilla warfare. It was more like a battalion-level tactical defence of a built-up complex of buildings. They provided alleys, parapets, machine-gun emplacements, tunnels, towers and lots of ancient marble walls more impregnable than modern armour. Most importantly, it had a bunch of manholes. So important, because it was inside them that he placed his LMGs, which sprayed murderous grazing fire at assault troops while guns positioned higher up rained sweeping fire. Together, they fully covered the small, open courtyard, maybe half the size of a football field, where the attackers had to expose themselves to reach the Akal Takht. This was his designated killing ground, as it would be defined in classic infantry defence manuals, specifically, in this case, following the principles of what acronym-loving armies called FIBUA (Fighting in Built-Up Areas). Manhole LMGs were so effective because they denied the attackers the basic defensive tactic of hitting the ground and crawling, because the bullets then got you in the bodies instead of merely the legs. A very large number of the jawans, therefore, were injured in the legs. Please look at the picture of a row of beds from a military hospital treating the injured after Blue Star.
Shabeg wasn’t foolhardy enough to think he would win. His tactic was to optimise his resources, snipers behind any hiding place, every room along the parikrama infested by a gunman or two so any probing patrols would be cut down, others sprinting up and down the staircases linking just the two floors of the buildings and their parapets. His idea was to inflict as many casualties as possible and thereby delay the inevitable so that Bhindranwale’s supporters in the villages had enough time to organise mobs to converge on Amritsar and make further army operations impossible, unless Indira Gandhi was willing to inflict scores of Jallianwala Baghs in Punjab. It was a good approach that succeeded tactically. The commandos did not get very far, took several casualties and also underlined the generals’ unthinking impatience in launching them in black dungarees on white marble as it gleamed in bright moonlight. A more conventional infantry charge, by the troops of 10 Guards, a regiment genetically designed by none else than god for the assault role, was stopped as well as it spilled in …continued »