[The Climbing Medal]
Major Kerry Lee, ED BA
My tour with United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan [UNMOGIP] was August 1970 to September 1971. I arrived in the Autumn and worked in field stations for the full year. My stations were Baramulla, Bimber, Poonch and Gilgit/Astore. I was in Katmandu on the way home when the war broke out in East Pakistan in 1971 so I was in the field during the pre war deployments of the Indian and Pakistani forces in the Punjab and Kashmir.
The operational problem for the United Nations peacekeepers was that the cease fire lines [CFL] were drawn in 1948 and the deployments from the restricted zones were written for the equipment of the period. In those days neither side had any artillery forward, and they had very few mortars. By 1970 there had been three wars in the area and both sides were poised to deploy new equipment all along the line. In 1971 air support was restricted to medium lift helicopters and seasonal airfields for transport aircraft. When I revisited the area in 1993 the standard of airfields was the only visible improvement.
Equipment in use by Pakistani and Indian Artillery units included 3.7 inch mountain guns and 105mm Italian Light guns. Both equipments were deployed in mule packs while 25 Pounders in a variety of marks, were deployed along the road accesses. The only medium guns I saw were a full Regiment of 5.5s doing an exercise along the main Srinagar/Leh road in the Autumn of 1970. They were in the valley on a visit from the Jammu area on the plains.
There were very few artillery units in the forward areas as they were severely limited by the cease fire rules of 1948. The need to use high angle in all of their potential fire plans/targets had also placed limitations on the deployment of artillery. Both sides had extra gun pits in support sites and artillery OP sites in critical infantry locations.
There were anti tank guns and many alternative gunpits in the lowland areas or along the river valleys which provided access to the CFL and the International borders. Many of the infantry positions in the forward areas had medium mortar pits for support weapon tubes. On one occasion I found a 3.7 mountain gun deployed into an infantry mortar pit on the reverse slope of the ridge line. The piece appeared to have been packed in as it was high on a steep slope and we found no guns within supporting range.
The Kashmiri farmers practice transhumance and the upper valleys all had clusters of huts sited in sheltered spots clear of likely avalanche tracks. The huts are flat turf roofed, with low ceilings and no windows. Tactically they usually had good observation, blended with the terrain and were close to the crests of ridge-lines. During winter they were abandoned as the villagers retreated from the snow. Sometimes the soldiers took over the huts in spring, so that often the first difference between a village summer site and a platoon HQ location was the siting of Mortar pits or a volleyball court. The latter was usually about the size of a helipad.
One of the pleasures of being a gunner among gunners was that whenever I had to patrol in the Tangdhar Sector where there was a lot of artillery, the RHQ always arranged for me to ride an Artillery mule. These animals [RQ designation, Mules Arty and not Mules GS] were bigger, more sure footed and moved faster than the local ponies to the point that made climbing a real pleasure. In another area, on a mules arty, I was map reading as I rode along the floor of the pass and noted that the contour was 12,450 feet. Who needs to climb Mt Cook?
We had no special gear for moving at high altitudes or in mountains. Our uniform issue included the parka, jersey and BD serge trousers - no waterproof or cold climate gear there. I managed to obtain Canadian aircrew underwear, gloves and jacket. For navigation we had to rely on the prismatic compass and the maps provided by USGS and British OS to UNMOGIP. Old British issue maps were the most interesting as the detail had changed little since they were drawn in the 1930's.
There was little movement by either side during the winter. Spring meant a steady increase in reported activity while Summer was mostly taken up with routine visits to known unit locations in the forward areas. Since the main line of separation was along the river valley, movement into the and along the forward areas involved a great deal of tramping in very steep country.
I had one nasty moment crossing a thawing icefall in a gully, when my NZ issue rubber soled boots slipped on the ice and sent me 100 feet down slope before I got my walking stick dug in enough to stop the rush. There were no ropes or crampons etc and the early season patrols were often with the first troops into a winter closed area. We joked that if one side needed to check the going in a specific location they reported a suspected violation and the opposing military had to take a UN Observer in to check. Anyway, we saw some pristine snow in the passes in spring.
Frank Gibbison (RNZA) and Dick Graham (Canadian infantry):
Patrolling was often risky in the Spring and Autumn as the weather changed very quickly. A case in point was one of Frank Gibbison's trips into the valleys along the Jelum River. He and Dick were trapped in the valley by a heavy snowfall in the pass and had a long wrangle with the local commander while UNMOGIP Headquarters arranged for a helicopter to fly in when the weather cleared. The other possible option was to cross the river to join another road over there but that road was blocked by snow, and the crossing involved getting permission from both the Indian and the Pakistani authorities. At that place the river was the cease fire line. Eventually they made it out by Indian Air Force helicopter.
Field communications were a constant problem. Base stations were Racal SSB and had huge aerial installations, so communication between headquarters and field stations were pretty reliable. But the pack sets for patrol duty were heavy to carry, [the porters hated them], chewed through batteries, were difficult to set up and more often limited by the extreme terrain. To set up the ¼ wave aerial involved a hundred feet or so of steel tape with two strong lines, some 100s of feet of co-axial cable and line of sight down a valley to a base station. That often meant having to relay messages through another station to your own base with the added complication of officers who had difficulty with English. Try to imagine a Belgian speaking to an Italian to relay for a Chilean using weak batteries. In times of stress we often resorted to using Anzac and Canadian officers on the stations to speed communication.
As a sportsman I was intrigued by the Indian army development of volleyball, basketball and football playing areas in the remote infantry positions. For many years afterwards I was able to assess pad requirements for specific helicopters by visualising the appropriate playing area.
U344489 K F Lee, [retd], March 2001