Lt Col Dilbag Singh Dabas
IT was during the season of the traditional song, dance and feasting at tribal village Zari in Ranchi district of Chota Nagpur (now Gumla district of Jharkhand) that a son was born to Mariam and Julius Ekka on December 27, 1942. The Ekkas, a devout Christian couple, named the child Albert. Like most Adivasis, Albert was at ease in the art of tracking and was a good marksman with the bow and arrow. And he was also exceptionally good at the game of hockey. During one of the district tournaments, Subedar Major Bhagirath Soren of 7th Bihar spotted Albert and got him enrolled in his battalion.
After the 1947-48 India-Pakistan war in Jammu and Kashmir, General (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa decided to form a Guards Brigade in the Indian Army on the lines of Guards units and formations in the western armies. The raising of the Brigade commenced on September 1, 1949, and within three years, four existing infantry battalions — 2nd Punjab, 1st Grenadiers, 1st Rajputana Rifles and 1st Rajput, having converted into Guards battalions — formed the Brigade of the Guards.
In January 1968, 32nd Guards battalion was raised at Kota. It consisted of Ahirs from the Kumaon Regiment, Mazhabi Sikhs from the Sikh Light Infantry and Biharis from the Bihar Regiment, all in equal proportion. ‘C’ Company of 7th Bihar Battalion, to which Albert belonged, was allotted to the newly raised 32nd Guards. And Rifleman Albert Ekka, the ace hockey player of 7th Bihar, was now a proud Guardsman of 32nd Guards Battalion. In April 1971, 32nd was re-designated as 14th Battalion of the Brigade of the Guards.
The bombing of forward Indian airfields by the Pakistan Air Force at 4.30 pm on December 3, 1971, signalled the commencement of hostilities and soon began the unavoidable third round with Pakistan, with both countries fighting a two-front war.
But even before the declaration of war on December 3, two most decisive victories had been attained by the Indian Army in East Pakistan. The first — in the morning hours of November 21, the first full-fledged defensive battle at Garibpur, 7 km inside East Pakistan’s western front, had been fought and decisively won by 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal), with direct support from 6 Field Regiment (Artillery) and ‘C’ Squadron of 45 Cavalry (Armour). The second — by 10.30 am on December 3, six hours before the declaration of war, 14 Guards had completely decimated the seemingly impregnable defences at Ganga Sagar complex inside the eastern front of East Pakistan west of Agartala, and its braveheart Lance Naik Albert Ekka had earned the first Param Vir Chakra during Operation ‘Cactus Lily’, commonly referred to as the Bangladesh War.
During the third round with Pakistan in December 1971, to meet the challenges of the war on two fronts, the Indian Army adopted an aggressive strategy in the eastern theatre to sever the eastern half of Pakistan and liberate it from the tyrannical west and a defensive strategy in the western theatre to prevent Pakistan from occupying any Indian territory.
While the clouds of war were hovering rather low, 14 Guards, ex-73 Mountain Brigade, was concentrated near the border town of Pratapgarh on the southern outskirts of Agartala. It was soon to win a battle honour, a theatre honour, a Param Vir Chakra and a number of gallantry awards for the outstanding performance of its officers and men in the forthcoming battle of Ganga Sagar.
Ganga Sagar complex inside East Pakistan comprised Ganga Sagar railway station, Goal Gangail, Lilahat, Triangle and Mogra. It was during the capture of the whole complex that Lance Naik Albert Ekka of 14 Guards, for his most conspicuous acts of bravery, was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra. The battle account of his grit and determination, against all possible odds, reads:
“At 2 am on December 3, 1971, Lance Naik Albert Ekka was part of the left forward Bravo Company of 14th Guards during the attack on the enemy defences at Ganga Sagar on the eastern front. It was a well-fortified position held in strength and in great depth by the enemy. The assaulting troops were subjected to intense artillery shelling and heavy small arms fire, but they charged the enemy on the objective and were soon locked in bitter hand-to-hand combat. During that close quarter battle, Lance Naik Albert Ekka noticed an enemy light machine gun inflicting heavy casualties on his company. With complete disregard to personal safety, he charged the machine gun bunker, bayoneted the firing crew of two and silenced the machine gun. Though seriously wounded in this encounter, he continued to fight alongside his comrades through half-a-km deep objective, clearing bunker after bunker with undaunted courage.
Towards the northern end of the objective, one enemy medium machine gun opened up from the second storey of a well-fortified building, inflicting heavy casualties and holding up the attack. Once again, this gallant soldier, without giving a thought to his personal safety, despite his serious injuries and heavy volume of enemy fire, crawled forward till he reached the building and lobbed a grenade through the loophole of the bunker, killing one enemy and injuring the other. The medium machine gun, however, continued to fire. With outstanding courage and determination, Lance Naik Albert Ekka scaled a side wall and after boldly entering the bunker, bayoneted the enemy who was still firing. He silenced the machine gun, saving further casualties to his company and ensuring the success of the attack.
In this process, however, he received fatal injuries and succumbed to them after the capture of the objective.
In this action, Lance Naik Albert Ekka displayed the most conspicuous acts of valour and determination and made the supreme sacrifice in the best traditions of the Army.”
Lance Naik Albert Ekka, PVC, undoubtedly, is a shining jewel in 14 Guards’ crown, but 7 Bihar also deserves a fair amount of glory for having nurtured him during his formative six years in combat fatigues.
Near the main gate of its headquarters, as a mark of respect, the Tezpur-based 4 Corps has most suitably displayed the majestic bust of two of its bravest of the braves. One is that of Lance Naik Albert Ekka, the Param Vir from one of the tribal belts of India.
— The writer is Gunner Veteran