The Indian enclave of Hussainiwala lies west of the Sutlej along the Ferozepur-Lahore highway. It covers about 7.5 hectares and runs in a parabola from the rail and road bridge towards Shamoke in a northwesterly direction. The countryside is mainly riverine and crisscrossed with protective bunds, prominent among them being the Ullake, the Hockey Spur, the Perimeter and the Guide. All of them run parallel to the river from southwest to northeast and at right angles to the old railway and road embankments.
The importance of this enclave to India is threefold. Economically, it forms a part of the Hussainiwala headworks feeding the Gang Canal system which irrigates the arid district of Ganganagar and Karanpur. This role has however been debited considerably after the construction of the Harike headworks and the Rajasthan feeder. Politically, it is the site of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh memorial. Militarily, the area affords depth to the headworks and the road-rail bridge in defence and provides a readymade bridgehead across the Sutlej to support offensive operations in developing a thrust towards Kasur and Lahore. In addition, it can also act as a launching pad for a counteroffensive to relieve pressure against formations holding the axes emanating from Kasur towards Amritsar and the Beas.
It had won fame in World War II under Col Balwant Singh, described by Lord Wavell as “the grand old man of Patiala.” Balwant Singh and his successors had led the unit to victory in battle and had won a large number of awards.
The defence of this enclave was entrusted to 7 Infantry Division under Freemantle. The division was housed in the Ferozepur complex and nearby cantonments and had operational responsibility west of the Sutlej, mainly to deny the Lahore-Khalra-Patti axes and Kasur-Bhikiwind-Amritsar roads to the enemy. In the event of war 7 Infantry Division was to move out of the Ferozepur complex and wheel northwestward leaving the approaches to Ferozepur and thence to Ludhiana, Zira and Faridkot for 14 Infantry Division to defend on its induction into the area. Since moving this division from the hinterland would take some time, it was considered prudent to occupy the enclave as part of the covering force to facilitate induction of 14 Infantry Division against any Pakistani pre-emptive action.
Freemantle chose 15 Punjab, with its redoubtable fighting records, for this task. Originally known as First Patiala, this unit was incorporated in the Indian Army on the merger of the erstwhile state forces. It had won fame in World War II under Col Balwant Singh, described by Lord Wavell as “the grand old man of Patiala.” Balwant Singh and his successors had led the unit to victory in battle and had won a large number of awards. After the merger, it had shown its mettle in the Jammu and Kashmir operations under Lt Col Sukhdev Singh. It was used there mostly as the theatre reserve and was often utilized to retrieve adverse situations on both sides of the Pir Panjal range. The battalion later won laurels in peace and war. It had the distinction of moving from Calcutta to Sikkim in 24 hours in the 1962 war and occupying the important passes of Jelepla and Dhangchula on the shoestring resources of the time under a fine soldier, Lt Col Joginder Singh Mandher.
The battalion was moved to the Hussainiwalla enclave in February 1971 and was given the task of defending it, particularly the headworks. Three companies of the Border Security Force in that area were placed under the battalion’s operational command to hold border outposts and generally augment its man-power resources. For artillery support, the battalion had assured call on one field regiment plus, and the general availability of some more artillery, including a medium regiment, most of the time.
One squadron of armour was to be at hand for immediate induction into the enclave whenever required operationally. 15 Punjab, under Lt Col Shastry, set out to plan the enclave’s defence on induction into it in February 1971. He decided to cover the main Kasur-Ferozepur axis with C Company in the vicinity of the barrier itself and placed D Company in depth near the perimeter to meet any outflanking enemy move from the southwest along the river line.
It may be safely assumed that Pakistan had pinpointed these defences down to a single bunker, especially because of heavy international traffic along this route from Pakistan to India and because our weaponry, sited on the high embankments, was clearly visible from the road.
A and B Companies held the memorial and guideline bund positions respectively. The battalion’s defended area was compact, with mutually supporting and well-sited weapons. BSF was to hold the BOPs of BP 180, Ullake and Rajoke with one company each and a platoon at Shamoke. The defences were systematically prepared with extremely well-constructed fortifications, laying minefields and other obstacles over six months or so.
All this was executed in the proximity and under observation of Pakistan troops deployed on peacetime duties along the border. The battalion headquarters were comfortably housed in an Irrigation Department bungalow on the home side of the river, with a plan to shift to the enclave at the start of hostilities. The localities were stocked for ammunition and rations to last 15 days of intense war and were not dependent on replenishment from the rear along the only bridge. It may be safely assumed that Pakistan had pinpointed these defences down to a single bunker, especially because of heavy international traffic along this route from Pakistan to India and because our weaponry, sited on the high embankments, was clearly visible from the road.
The battalion group was initially placed under the command of 21 Infantry Brigade, located some 128 kilometres away near Patti crossroads. But the situation was redressed by placing it under the command of 35 Infantry Brigade on its induction into the area. The brigade group and this battalion in turn came under the operational control of Headquarters 7 Infantry
Division, located west of the Sutlej with precarious communication links. 14 Infantry Division was concentrated somewhere in the Faridkot-Kotkapura area but had no hand in the conduct of operations in the Ferozepur complex and the Hussainiwala enclave.
On 3 December, routine continued as usual. A tea party was organized at battalion headquarters in the irrigation bungalow to bid farewell to the retiring Subedar major, and all the officers and junior commissioned officers, except the minimum essential required for vigilance in the enclave, attended it. The traffic of foreign tourists and load carriers flowed as usual, and the last vehicle left the barrier almost at dusk. Unknown to the gathering at the party, Pakistan 106 Infantry Brigade had concentrated its attacking troops close to the barrier and the localities defended by the perimeter company.
The Pakistani plan envisaged a three-pronged attack, with one thrust along the main road axis through the barrier, the second from the south towards the mouth of the bridge over the perimeter-defended locality, and the third from the northwesterly direction overrunning the BOPS.
Despite the resistance of the defenders, the Pakistani assault progressed, but was finally halted at the memorial, which changed hands twice.
All the localities were accordingly subjected to intense artillery shelling about 1815 hours, and under its cover some Pakistani detachments occupied the Ullake bund junction against the surprised opposition, almost without resistance, as a preliminary operation. Some officers attending the tea party rushed back to their command posts after a hurried goodbye to the departing subedar major. Shastry remained behind, glued to his telephone in the irrigation bungalow on the home bank. The main attack commenced about 1830 hours with Pakistan 3 Punjab assaulting the perimeter locality and walking straight into a well-concealed minefield in thick sarkanda outgrowth which caught fire from exploding mines.
Casualties notwithstanding, the Pakistanis pressed home the attack and, fighting from bunker to bunker, steadily worked their way north of the bridge. At the same time, Pakistan 41 Baluch commenced an assault along the right back of Dipalpur bund towards the memorial through the barrier-defended locality. 15 Punjab resisted stiffly and a fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued in which Maj Waraich, commanding the barrier company locality, was seen facing wave after wave of assaulting Pakistani troops. Despite the resistance of the defenders, the Pakistani assault progressed, but was finally halted at the memorial, which changed hands twice.
Meanwhile, the perimeter locality was being eroded bit by bit by persistent and sustained pressure. About 2030 hours, Shastry decided to induct one troop of A Squadron, 3 Cavalry into the enclave and ordered the bridge to be armed for demolition. The chambers had been charged earlier as part of the overall corps demolition plan. The leading tank of the troop went across the bridge and entered the perimeter locality where the fire fight was intense. It became known later that an RCL gun located in depth on the guide bund fired at this tank, thinking it belonged to the enemy.
Although the tank was not hit, the crew got jittery and turned back to proceed to the home bank. The demolition officer in charge, seeing the phantomlike shadow of this retreating tank, thought Pakistani armour was rushing the bridge. Recalling the parameters of his task, that the bridge should not fall intact into Pakistani hands at any cost, he pressed the electric exploder, demolishing four spans of the main and two of the Gang Canal bridges instantaneously and damaging some sluice gates badly.