On the very outset we at the BHARAT RAKSHAK Team want to make it clear that, through this article, we do not wish to condone or criticize Operation Bluestar. This article is purely for reporting the Indian army's action and has been prepared by culling information from various sources. This sad event hurt both the Indian Army which went in with a heavy heart and the patriotic community of Sikhs who have given so much to India.
"We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips." General K. Sundarji
For the last three years Punjab was gripped by terror. The Pakistan-backed terrorist movement had acquired monstrous proportions. Not a day went by without massacres of Hindus, Sikhs, migrant workers and those who opposed the terrorists diktats. From Golden Temple, the most sacred symbol of Sikhism and seat of its religious power, hit lists were drawn up and death squads were dispatched under the guidance of the malevolent figure Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
The chanting of the gurbani was now drowned by the staccato bursts of gunfire. Prominent Sikh figures were assassinated in the Golden Temple when they went to pray there. Pushed to the wall, the Indian Government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi, gave the signal for the most complex and largest anti-terrorist action in the world.
May 30 to June 2
As the death toll from extremist actions climbed, the Government started holding frequent consultations with the Army. On May 30th, units of the 9th Infantry Division based at Meerut, started moving in on to Amritsar and other important towns. Para-Military forces were placed around the temple. The extremists responded with heavy exchanges of fire lasting for hours. Meanwhile newly fortified positions were coming up all around.
On June 1st, curfew was clamped and troops and para-militaries fanned along the 12,168 villages of Punjab. The Akalis were threatening a food movement agitation, designed to stop the movement of food grains to other states. Last minute attempts to get the moderate Akalis to reach an agreement came to a naught. The state was then put under siege. Lt. Gen. Ranjit Singh Dayal, Chief of Staff Western Command was brought in as security advisor to the Punjab Governor.
Men of the 12th Bihar Regiment fanned to take positions across the roof tops. Soon they realised that they were vulnerable to grenade attacks from the top of the 18th century towers and water tank. The Biharis were moved to sandbagged windows in vacated houses. Similarly, men from the Garhwal Regiment and The Brigade of The Guards were moved on the other side of the temple. Tanks fanned out to guard sensitive villages to prevent communal killings.
By now the whole state has been secured. The Biharis watched the area of the clock tower, the main entrance and Brahm Buta Market, the Garhwalis, the Guardsmen and Punjabis overlooked the Chowk Parag Dass, Chhati Khui, Atta Mandi, Baba Atal and Buddhi Lutt Bazaar. The aim was to apply psychological pressure to break the extremists resolve. Officers used loud-hailers to ask them to surrender peacefully. The reply was automatic gun fire. The jawans replied with bursts of automatic fire of their own. The extremists responded with grenade and heavy machine gun fire from the top of water towers.
It was now evident that this was no rabble army, but a determined insurgent army fired up with religious fervour. It was decided to deal with them effectively. 106mm jeep-mounted RCLs were brought in to fire at the pillboxes. But the concrete pillboxes proved hard to crack and it was decided that stronger firepower was needed.
A 3.7" howitzer was brought in. This was a risky move, as the artillery had to be elevated almost vertically and a miss would mean it would land on the top of houses. Thus the two elevated 18th century Bungas on either side of the langar, and the elevated water tank to the rear of the Teja Singh Samunsari Hall were targeted. The firing lasted five minutes, at the end of which the pillboxes were blown to pieces with sandbags and the sniper's bodies flying apart.
Maj. Gen. Brar, Lt. Gen. Sundarji and Gen. Vaidya: Tough Act
By now the senior commanders, Maj. Gen. Brar and Lt. Gen. Sundarji, had realised there was no way to avoid bloodshed. Brar went in and spook to all the troops. Spending 30 minutes at each location he explained the difficult and terrible mission at hand. It was not against Sikhs but against terrorists. This was to be a volunteer mission. Not one of the many Sikh officers, JCOs and ORs, opted out. The die was cast for Operation Bluestar.
The operation was to be launched in the following phases:I - Initial Operations:1. BSF to secure Hotel Temple View by 9 pm, June 5th.
2. CRPF to secure Brahm Boota Akhara by 10 pm, June 5th.
II - Phase 1
1. 10 Guards to secure Northern Wing of the Temple Complex by 1 am, June 6th.
2. 1 Para-Commandos
i) Secure a foothold in the Akhal Takht at the earliest and not later than 1 am, June 6th.
ii) Secure a foothold in Harmandir Sahib with divers and neutralise demolitions, if any, by 11:30 pm, June 5th.
3. Special Frontier Force (SFF) to isolate Akhal Takht and secure western flank by 1 am, June 5th.
4. 26 Madras to secure southern and eastern wings by 1 am, June 5th.
5. 9 Kumaon to secure Guru Ram Das Serai and SGPC building by 1 am, June 5th.
III - Phase 2
Mopping up all areas secured in Phase 1
IV - Phase 3
1. 9 Kumaon - extend operations to secure the rest of hostel complex.
2. Units of 10 Guards, SFF and 1 Para Cdo to secure rest of Temple Complex and check prisoners.
Others:12 Bihar was to continue to cordon of the Temple with CRPF units under its command and provide fire support to any target within its span of observation.
Armour: 16 Cavalry
1. Three tanks to enter through the main temple entrance, initially for close protection for 10th Guards but thereafter for support to infantry, paras and SFF with machine gun fire.
2. Three tanks to enter the langar area and provide machine gun fire for the 26 Madras.
Mechanised Infantry: 8 Mech Btn
1. 4 BMP to carry para-commando/divers.
2. 4 BMPs and 3 Skot APCs to support the 26 Madras and Paras.
Reserves : 15 Kumaon - 2 companies as backup for 9th Kumaon and 2 companies for any contingency tasks.
Central Rendezvous and Logistics Control - City Kotwali.
Divisional Tactical HQ - Roof Top outside Temple complex.
H-Hour for operation launch 10 pm, June 5th
One last minute attempt was made to avoid bloodshed. A senior civil administration member and a senior army officer through a public address system asked militants and devotees to come outside. From 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm the attempts continued. Only some 129 devotees many of them very sick were let go. The other hapless ones were held hostage inside, one used as a deterrent to the army.
At 7:00 pm troops started moving up to take their appointed positions. From the surrounding balconies, people watched the rumble of trucks and tanks, as night fell and a darkness of gloom settled in the city. In order to prevent a violent backlash there was a total shutdown of he telecommunication and electric system. Punjab was virtually cut off from the rest of India.
Initial operations went through as planned with the both the Hotel Temple View and Brahm Boota Akara secured with little resistance. It was however not surprising as they were isolated and only existed to provide early warning of the army's approach. However the battlements on the top of the clock tower were proving harder to knock out and thus H-hour was postponed by half an hour. At 10:30 pm the first phase of Operation Bluestar commenced.
At H-hour, the men of 10 Guards, under Lt. Col. Mohammed Israr geared up to maintain their reputation as one of the world's finest troops. At 10:30 pm, the leading elements of the 10 Guards moved through the main gate. Immediately they came under heavy and accurate machine gun fire, cleverly sited through wired enclosures on either side of steps. While some troops broke through the trap and reached the ground floor, others cleared the machine gun nests.
For those who made it across the steps, another nightmare awaited. For the couple of minutes they were caught in the open, before taking the cover of the Parikrama but then they were fired upon from the Parikrama itself. 20 soldiers were mowed down in the initial assault.
Capt Jasbir Singh Raina, who had three days before done a recce of the temple was severely wounded in the leg by a burst of machine gun fire. This young Sikh officer in tremendous pain refused to evacuate but was eventually ordered to do so. Unfortunately he lost the use of the leg. The troops started inching their way towards the Akal Takht but were fired upon from the southern side.
Meanwhile each room had to be cleared along the Parikrama, many by hand-to-hand combat. Militants would come out and lob a few grenades and rush back in. As troops cleared a room and moved forward they found militants again appearing from the rooms. Unknown to the Army, was an elaborate structure of concealed manhole and underground passages. Meanwhile a machine gun site was fitted about 12 inches from the ground. This low sitting meant even crawling troops were hit.
While this was going on, another group of men were preparing with cool and calm, that comes with being an elite unit. These men clad in black dungarees, with bullet proof vests made last minute checks on their specialised weapons. The Indian Army's youngest units - the Para Cdos - was about to be blooded. Their objective was to get a foothold in the Akal Takht and a foothold in Harmandir Sahib with the help of divers.
As they slipped in and made a dash across the Parikrama they met a similar fate to the Guardsmen. The Parikrama was exposed to fire from all four sides. Realising their predicament, the commandos dashed from pillar to pillar trying to cut off the suppressing fire. As they reached the Akhak Takht their misery was compounded by the devastating machine gun fire from the fortified Akal Takht, as well as the Harmandir Sahib and the area of Darshani Deori-Toshakana. Caught between the Sarovar on one side and the fortified concrete building on the other, the commandos had no option but to inch their way by fire and movement.
The Guards were asked to bring fire down on the northern side from whatever portions of the northern side they had secured. Meanwhile the senior officers were barking orders to ensure that under no condition was any fire to be returned on Harimandir Sahib. It is incredible that the orders were obeyed. The commanders were to note later that they never expected the troops to obey such orders. The mission of the divers to slip across the Sarovar was aborted as they would have not survived the murderous fire.
By midnight the Guards had secured the eastern half of the North Wing but the Western side was only 75% secured. Due to the severe casualties suffered by the first two companies, the third company was pressed in. Rather than wait for the complete clearance of the ground floor they were asked to secure a foothold on the first and second floor. This was deemed necessary to provide some sort of fire to the bogged para commandos and the SFF.
One platoon climbed to the first floor using aluminum ladders. They then moved methodically clearing the rooms one by one by lobbing grenades and spraying it with fire. Another platoon likewise moved from the first to the second floor and started clearing the rooms. Troops moving up from the ground floor were suddenly fired upon by militants through an opening in the wall next to the staircase. Some casualties resulted, but the troops quickly wiped them out. By now 145 militants lay dead along with 19 Guardsmen. By 1 am, the Guards had secured their objective and could now bring covering fire for the beleaguered commandos.
The commandos were still inching their way to the Akal Takht. This five-storied building was heavily fortified with all windows, balconies and other openings closed with brick masonry and sandbags, with small loop holes through which machine guns were being fired and grenades being lobbed. Together with a double storied building, the Nishan Sahib building and the Darshani Deori, they transformed the quadrangle into an ideal killing field. The leading team of para commandos made a desperate dash for the Darshani Deori. The foothold was needed to launch the CS canisters. Of the 35 men, only 12 made it. The remainder including, team leader Major Prakash Chand Katoch, were cut down. The SFF started with 50 men, had already 17 casualties (3 dead).
With midnight approaching, casualties mounting and the objectives far from being achieved, the situation was desperate.
On the eastern side, the 26 Madras was expected to enter and then sweep the southern side of any resistance. The entry from the southern side was ruled out because of the narrow passage not allowing for entry of any vehicle. But two companies of 9 Garhwal were stealthily brought in, as backup near the Southern entrance. But they had been delayed by a steel gate which was much more formidable then expected. It needed a tank to ram it down.
At H-hour, 26 Madras started to move in but came under a withering fire from atop the Langar, Guru Ram Das Serai, SGPC building, Manji Sahib and Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai. In addition the steel gate was proving difficult to break. 30 metres from the gate they came under fire from medium machine guns from the Deori itself. A section went ahead to lob grenades and clear it, but could not succeed. At this moment a sniper's bullet hit Lt. R.P. Ropiera killing him. As casualties mounted, the CO - Lt. Col. Panikker, changed his original plan quickly and moved some of his troops in an opening on the south west side. This gave some relief but progress was slow as they had to fight it room by room, like the Guardsmen on the other side.
At 11 pm, with 26 Madras behind schedule, the Garhwalis were asked to move in from the south side and secure a foothold on either side of Atta Mandi. They could then assist 26 Madras by laying down suppressive fire and allow 15 Kumaon to launch an attack on the Akal Takht from the south west. The committing of the reserves was decided based on the fact that the Guards were now more or less in control of the northern side. Garhwalis moved with little difficulty and by 1:30 am had secured the ground and upper floors of the southern gate. The 15 Kumaon, under Lt. Col. N.C. Pant, was in the process of building to launch an attack on the Akal Takht.
At 2 am the overall picture was as follows:1. The 10th Guards suffering heavy casualties, had more or less secured the northern wing. Sporadic militant activity from concealed chambers was still a problem.
2. 26 Madras had stalled, but was now gaining ground between the eastern and southern wings. However there was still heavy opposition.
3. 2 companies of 9 Garhwal had secured a foothold in the southern gate.
4. 1 Para Cdo and SFF had bogged down within reach of the Akal Takht.
At this point Brigadier A.K. Dewan, an armoured corps veteran and Dy GOC of 15 Division had come to see if his troops (9 Garhwal) had reached their location. Brar placed Dewan in charge of 26 Madras, 15 Kumaon and the two companies of 9 Garhwal, and created an ad hoc task force. By 2:30 am, Brigadier Dewan took charge of the Garhwalis and Kumaonis while 26 Madras had still to join up.
Meanwhile Maj. Gen. (retd.) Shahbeg Singh realising that the only way to win was to hold of the Indian Army till dawn, poured in an even higher volume of fire. Brar now sought Sundarji's permission to use tank fire to neutralise the Akal Takht's concrete defenses. Sundarji watching the proceeding from the Divisional Tactical HQ, agreed and relayed the request to New Delhi. Meanwhile reports started trickling of volatile Sikh masses gathering on the outskirts of Amritsar.
In the meantime, in order to help the SFF and Paras, a tank was brought in and asked to switched on its search light. It was hoped that this would temporarily blind the defenders as well as allow the SFF and Paras locate some of the defences. But unfortunately this move failed as the Xenon lamps filament burned out in a couple of minutes. When this happened, another tank was moved in followed by a third. Thus all 3 tanks were in the Parikrama. Meanwhile at 4 am, a Skot APC was brought in. Since it is a wheeled vehicle, the tank had to roll back and forth on the steps and crush the marble slabs. Only then could the APC be safely brought in. The APC was then supposed to take a squad right up to the Akal Takht.
The Guards were asked to fire a few 84mm Carl Gustaf rocket rounds at the Akhal Takht to precede the arrival of the APC. As the APC was approaching the Akal Takht, it was hit by an RPG-7 anti-tank launcher from the Akal Takht. This came as a complete shock as none had been expected. As the APC squad dismounted and retreated, the driver was shot by a sniper.
By now dawn was approaching and soon the troops in the Parikrama would become sitting ducks. At 5:10 am the clearance to use tanks came from Delhi. The 3 tanks in the Parikrama, were asked to line up their machine guns on the Akhal Takht. Dewan had meanwhile readied for an assault, and the first Madrassis were trickling having cleared the southern wing.
The first assault was led by 'A' Company of 15 Kumaon. Led by Major B.K. Mishra, a group of men reached the footsteps of Akal Takht, the first group to make contact. As they climbed the stairs, a machine gun opened up from the inside and all seven men were mowed down. More machine gun fire rained from the base and the buildings on both side and the Kumaonis were thrown back with heavy casualties.
It was clear that the tank machine gun fire was not enough. The Kumaonis fell back to reorganise, having suffered 7 killed and 23 wounded. 2 companies of 26 Madras were now asked to pick up where the Kumaonis left. In the darkness there was confusion as Kumaonis and Madrassis got mixed up. It was realised that the 2 machine guns at the entrance had to be eliminated for any chance to move in on the Akal Takht. A section of troops were asked to volunteer for this dangerous task. The group was led by Lt. Jyoti Kumar Dang and was formed into two sub groups.
One group led by Subedar K.P. Raman Ravi and 4 ORs was to destroy the bunker covering the staircase by hurling pole charges. Another led by the Lt and4 ORs was to rush the first floor and silence the MG there.
As the groups reached the Akal Takht, 8-9 fortified machine guns opened up. Valiantly the two groups moved forward. Subedar Ravi and his men reached the bunker and were about to launch their charges when they were cut down by machine gun fire. Lt. Dang and his men also managed to reach the first floor only to be cut down by machine gun fire. Two of the wounded men managed to crawl back.
Lt. Dang, although wounded, tried to pull the wounded Subedar Ravi with him but had to give up due to the heavy fire. The barbarism of the terrorists now came through. Subedar Ravi was dragged back, attached with sticks of dynamite and blown up in full view of the other troops. In spite of this, discipline still held. 26 Madras had suffered 14 dead and 49 wounded.
Progress of Operations in the Golden Temple
It was 7:30 am and daylight was well upon us. The temple complex marble was a sea of olive green and red as dead army personnel and terrorists lay sprawled all over. The Temple of God, was a full fledged fortress. With no other option the Generals authorised the tanks to use their 105mm main guns. The high explosive squash rounds smashed into the Akal Takht throwing up flames and masonry. This subdued the machine guns. Except for a few machine gun bursts it was now calm. All troops were asked to stay in the building they had secured and wait till dusk before launching an attack to clear the Akal Tkaht of any remaining militants.
In response to reports of angry mobs approaching Amritsar, 15 Infantry Division moved in and sealed of the routes leading to Amritsar.
At 11 am a large number of militants rushed out of the Akal Takht on to the Parikrama and fled towards the gates. Most were cut down. Seeing that the troops were not firing on the Harmandir Sahib some of them jumped in the Sarovar and tried to swim towards it. They too were killed. This led to a group of militants emerging from the Akal Takht, waving white flags.
Now the Akal Takht suddenly went silent. To the army commanders it indicated that either the top leadership of Bhindranwale, Maj. Gen. (retd.) Shabegh and Amrik Singh had either escaped or been killed.
The Hostel Complex
The main buildings of the Hostel Complex were the Guru Ram Das Langar, Guru Ram Das Serai, Teja Singh Samundari Hall, Guru Nanak Niwas, Manji Sahib and Baba Atal Gurdwara.
Guru Ram Das Langar - double storied heavily fortified building commanding a view of the side entrances and open area leading to Parikrama.
Guru Ram Das Serai (Akal Takht Rest Hous) - 3 storied building, 228 rooms and seven halls.
Teja Singh Samundari - houses the offices of SGPC and occupied by Longowal, Tohra, Ramoowalia and others.
Guru Nanak Niwas - 4 storied building with fortified roof tops, 85 rooms and one hall.
As mentioned earlier the operations was in the hands of 9 Kumaon. The operation was to commence at 10 pm, with the simultaneous launch of the Paras and SFF. It had three Vijayantas, six BMPs and three Skot APCs to provide machine gun support. In addition they were to break open the gates to help 26 Madras to enter the eastern gate.
On schedule, 9 Kumaon moved into the Guru Ram Das Serai. A company was deployed on each of the floors with the fourth held in reserve. The troops encountered opposition from each of the floors although it was lighter than the temple complex. Many a place hand to hand combat resulted. The troops secured all corners and stairwells, as the rooms were to be cleared later in mopping operations. By 1:30 a.m. the building was isolated from the rest of the complex. Two companies were left behind to secure it while the rest led by Lt. Col. K. Bhaumik moved to clear the Teja Singh Samundari Hall.
Now initial briefings had indicated a large number of devotees and Akali leaders in the building. In the dark Bhaumik realised that it would be impossible to separate the militants. He decided to block the exits and ask them to surrender. The building was isolated by 2:30 am and an emissary sent to establish contact with Tohra and Longowal. Both men had initially vowed to defend the Temple to their death but now agreed to surrender.
Major H.K. Palta with a few men went into meet the leaders which also included Ramoowalia, Akali Dal secretary Gurcharan Singh, SGPC member Bagga Singh and head of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Bibi Amarjit Kaur. The leaders were fearful that they might be targeted and needed protection. As the troops started leading them out a group of 350 devotees rushed out to join them. At this, the terrorists threw hand grenades in the crowd and sniped at them. Total chaos reigned as the Kumaonis tried to control the situations. While Major Palta managed to get Tohra, Longowal and Kaur in an APC, snipers got Gurcharan Singh and Bagga. It was 5 am, when things were under control. About 70 innocent devotees were killed or injured in the indiscriminate fire.
With 1 company left behind, the Kumaonis tackled the Guru Nanak Niwas. The clearing operations continued. Every now and then devotees would try to escape only to have the militants throw grenades at them and open fire. By morning, the Kumaonis had 600 hundred prisoners and controlling them absorbed manpower.
By 10 am, the Hostel Complex was fairly secured by 9 Kumaon. There were terrorists holed up in manholes, tunnels and concealed basements. The only are of resistance continued to be the langar. The militants continued to pour machine gun fire and hurl grenades. The Kumaonis fired back with everything at their disposal. At one point the wheat and kerosene caught fire sending huge columns of smoke.
Gas cylinder caught fire and exploded intermittently. This fighting however was a rearguard action allowing some 40 Babbar Khalsa activists to escape. By the early hours of the morning on June 7th, the fighting suddenly died down. Perhaps they had learnt the fate of their leaders in the Akal Takht.
Mopping Operations, 7th - 9th June
Now the job of clearing the many rooms, concealed tunnels and basements began. A number of them were captured and handed over to the Punjab Police and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile other units began cleaning the remains of the battle. The snipers continued to take potshots. When President Zail Singh was visiting the complex a sniper's round hit his bodyguard Lt. Col. M.P. Choudhary of the SFF in the arm.
The sniper was spotted on the terrace and was gunned down. After his departure two companies of 10 Dogra joined 9 Kumaon, in the flushing operations. At this point a burst of gunfire from the area around the bunga wounded four soldiers. While the rest fanned out to search for the militants, Captain Ramphal of the Medical Corps and his nursing assistants were attending to the casualties.
Suddenly a group of militants emerged from a concealed tunnel and grabbed Captain Ramphal and 2 soldiers of 10 Dogra. As the alarm was raised, the SFF and 10 Dogra got into position to clear the tunnel. The militants were asked to surrender. Their responses was to ask for the Head Priest Gianin Sahib Singh. When he was brought in the militants demanded that he come in. The scared Head Priest refused to go in and troops got ready to blast in. A demolition party crawled up and fixed explosives to the grill at the entrance. When it was blown up the SFF charged in and in the firefight, killed 7 militants inside only to find that the three soldiers had been executed in a inhumane manner. Their limbs had been chopped of. Search revealed cash, weapons and survival rations stashed away.
Behind the Akhal Takht, a lone militant jumped down and tried to make a getaway. He was caught and his turban fell away to reveal a wad of currency notes. Further interrogation revealed him to be one of many criminal elements which had taken refuge in the temple. He further indicated that many others were dumping valuables in the well behind during the course of the fighting. 12th Bihar and the Engineers lowered an anchor in the well. The first attempt pulled up 19 weapons and cash. As naval divers joined the search it revealed Rs.20 lakhs in cash sealed in trunks, gold and silver biscuits, transmitters and weapons and ammunition.
A weapons manufacturing unit was discovered in a room at the top of the Deori with grenades, country pistols and rifles in various positions of manufacture. All this added to the ability to convert the holy Golden Temple into an armed fortress.
An assortment of weapons, ammunition and improvised country-made grenades which formed part of the militant's armoury.
The army suffered 83 dead and 248 wounded. A total of 492 terrorists and others were killed and 86 wounded. About 1500 people were captured, including a number of Pakistanis. Thus ended the Indian Army's toughest operation. However a number of terrorists had fled to the countryside and the army had to launch Operation Metal to move around Punjab. These operations were relatively minor. The operations indicated the need for a specialised unit for such operations and led to the formation of the National Security Guards.
Thus the next time around it was the NSG which was involved in Operation Black Thunder I and II at the Golden Temple along with the Punjab Police. It would take a few more years before a reinvigorated Punjab Police led by K.P.S. Gill and backed by the army, would break the back of the terrorist movement.
Sources: Extremely grateful to the following sources;
1. Crackdown in Punjab - Operation Bluestar, India Today, 30 June 1984
2. Night Of Blood - Operation Bluestar, India Today, 15 August 1984
3. Operation Bluestar: The True Story by Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar (retd.)
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