“Fire & Move” – A Strategic Gem of the Indo-Pak War
Much of the Indian Army’s fundamental war waging tactics emerged with its experiences in defeating the armed rebels of Afghan and Pathan tribes on India’s North-West Frontier. The tribals were superb marksmen and fighters who held regular soldiers beneath contempt! However, once Mountain Artillery became integral to Infantry deployments, the tribes felt momentarily disadvantaged. Unaware, the tribal packs took to storming the guns, wielding swords from horses from both flanks, often emerging victorious.
Similar to the Infantry’s ploy of “Rushing an Ambush”, the Artillery followed a tactic of “Fire & Move”. Half the guns fired at the charging pack, with the rest hitched to horses, strategically redeployed some distance away. This continued till the ammunition lasted or the enemy was worsted. This aided the other half to disengage from the chaos. A success story from WW-II where Havildar Umrao Singh won a VC in a similar situation validates the plausibility of the tactic.
Refreshed Regiment for the Indo-Pak War of 1971
As “Instructor in Gunnery,” in the two months preceding the 1971 Indo-Pak War I refreshed our Regiment in the essentials of battlefield tactics. Lo and behold, “Fire & Move” saved the day the enemy attempted an after-hours attack from upfront. What ensued was akin to a pack of hyenas converging on a prey, biting at its heels to bring it down!
Shook, but unwavering, Captain Santosh Singh informed the Brigade Headquarter, ordering “Limber Up, Fire & Move to Bravo gun-area”. He then summoned the gun-towing trucks from about 500 meters away. Subedar Major Sant Ram moved from one gun to the next, while Lieutenant Praveen Kharbanda slowed down the enemy; Lieutenant Raminder Khajuria redeployed about 500 meters away re-engaging the enemy allowing Praveen to break contact. Both Subalterns continued till the entire 12 Field Regiment crossed over the bridge across Manawar Tawi, Chhamb battle zone.
‘Anxious but with a Sight of Angels’
There were anxious moments when the guns were hooked to the trucks and very few could wield their rifles to keep the attackers at bay. There were bullet injuries aplenty but fortunately all manageable with first-aid in place. The attackers now shifted focus on the tyres of guns and had success with four of our twelve guns. Swearing “never to desert their guns,” they jumped off the trucks and put their shoulders to the guns with deflated wheels. The truck drivers revved engines to the limit as all guns rattled out of the harm’s way; an hour later, the Regiment resumed the fight from Bravo gun-area! Napoleon had fondly endorsed Artillery as God of War and we certainly had angels hovering over us!
The GOC-in-C Western Command, during the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Lieutenant General K.P. Candeth lauded this action in his book, as to them it had looked an utterly hopeless situation to disengage from. Today, with the induction of the “Dhanush” gun which can fire more shells per minute and self-propel itself short distances, the “Fire & Move” terminology has a fancy avatar as “Shoot & Scoot”!