Military & Aerospace

1965 War: General Chaudhury did not order withdrawal behind River Beas
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Aug , 2018

Fifty three years have passed since the 1965 war with Pakistan, still controversies and confusion on many issues and events persist. It is so because the official history of this war is shrouded in secrecy. The documents with the MOD, MEA, RAAW, IAF and army formations are yet to be declassified. Given this blanket blackout of authentic information, hearsay, gossip, speculation, calumny continue to be floated and controversies abound.

The one controversy that seems to have nine lives is the alleged order by General Chaudhury, the then COAS to Lt-Gen Harbaksh, Western Army Commander, to pull his troops behind Beas river

The one controversy that seems to have nine lives is the alleged order by General Chaudhury, the then COAS to Lt-Gen Harbaksh, Western Army Commander, to pull his troops behind Beas river. Inder Malhotra, in an article in a national daily, added his bit to this controversy. He records that, once General Chaudhry came to know that Pakistan has two armoured divisions, ‘he panicked and ordered Harbaksh to withdraw his troops behind Beas, and the latter refused.’ He goes on to add that it was the Maharaja of Patiala who prevailed upon Chaudhry not to insist on Harbaksh to carry out this order. However, Malhotra does not elaborate as to how a maharaja ( then a captain and ADC to Harbaksh ) came in between the army chief and his army commander concerning an order of far reaching consequences at a critical stage of the battle. He also does not seem to know that, the existence of second armoured division with Pakistan was known to army HQ well before the war.

K Subramanyam, a defence commentator of considerable repute and former director of IDSA, in an article, stated that Gen Chaudhuri had sought Prime Minister Lal Bahadhur Shastri’s permission to withdraw troops behind Beas and that the PM did not permit him to do so.  This version too, is seriously flawed and contradicts one by Malhotra. If Chaudhuri first approached the PM and drew a blank, he could not have passed such an order to Harbaksh. If he had spoken to Harbaksh first and got a response that there was no need for such a move, he could not have approached the PM on this issue. A catch 22 situation!

 This story of Chaudhury’s order and Harbaksh’ refusal is baseless and to support it is to display complete lack of understanding of conduct of operations.

This story of Chaudhury’s order and Harbaksh’ refusal is baseless and to support it is to display complete lack of understanding of conduct of operations. The assessment of the situation at army HQ is based on information and assessment sent to it by command HQ  etc. Unless those in contact with the enemy paint a very grim picture of the developments at the front and the command’s assessment is that the existing positions have become untenable and a withdrawal to the rear has become imperative, why should army HQ contemplate withdrawal! The army chief cannot possibly take a decision of such, far reaching consequences, without a detailed discussion with his Director General Military Operations (DGMO.) and the concerned army commander. In this case the then DGMO, Maj-Gen Narinder Singh rubbished this story of withdrawal and termed it as baseless.

Gen Harbaksh in his book, ‘War Dispatches’ and his chief of staff, Maj-Gen Joginder Singh in his book, ‘Behind the Scene’ makes no mention of any order or suggestion from the chieffor a pull back behind Beas. September, 9th and 10th were the critical days during the battle at Khem karan. On 10th Sep Gen Chaudhury moved forward and conferred with Gen Harbaksh at Ambala to take stock of the situation. Harbaksh’s chief of staff and Chaudhuri’s MA were present at this meeting.  Harbaksh in his book ( page 60) gives details of the discussions with the army chief, but there is no mention of any suggestion of a pull back behind Beas. Chaudhuri’s MA too maintained that at no point of time did the army Chief contemplate a withdrawal behind Beas. This story of falling back on Beas is the figment of Malhotra’s and Subramaniam’s imagination.

The war with China in 1962 had shifted India’s focus to that front, relegating capabilities against Pakistan. Indian tank fleet numbered 608, majority being of Second World War vintage, 625 artillery pieces and 35 infantry brigades for the Western front. Against this Pakistan had 765 tanks (including 352 state of the art Patton tanks) 552 artillery pieces, 26 infantry brigades and 9000 Razakars. Pakistan had two armoured divisions against one with India. Their guns had better range and higher caliber. Gen Chaudhury, soon after the Run of Kutch incident had warned his army commanders that, Pakistan could force a war on India. The last minute raising of HQ 1 Corps and 14 Infantry Division in May-June 1965 needs to be seen in this light. The Government of India expected no threat from Pakistan and was not prepared to spend any more funds on defence.

…Chaudhury adopted the strategy of offensive – defensive. Defence in the Punjab and offensive in the plains sector of J and K.

The relative strength was decidedly against India going over to the offensive, but there was no other option. Therefore, Chaudhury adopted the strategy of offensive – defensive. Defence in the Punjab and offensive in the plains sector of J and K. In Punjab it was to carry the war into Pak territory and take up defences based on the East bank of Ichugal canal.  India had no obstacle of its own. In the Punjab sector, though complete surprise was achieved and the task was simple, yet there were failures, which led to a crises situation in the Khem Karan sector.  It was the brilliant strategic concept of Gen Chaudhuri, that brought about destruction of Pakistan armour by an inferior tank fleet.

Malhotra alleges that the army chief had not bothered to take the IAF into confidence. Further that the fall of Akhnoor would have resulted in cutting off Kashmir from the rest of India. On both these points he is completely off the mark. Gen Chaudhuri learnt of Pak offensive on 1 Sep while he was in Srinagar. He and his DGMO flew to Delhi arriving there at mid-day. At 3 PM the army chief briefed the PM, RM, FM, the Chief of the Air Staff and others in the army HQ Operations Room on the situation and highlighted the imperatives of opening another front across the IB to relieve pressure from the Akhnoor sector. The IAF representatives at HQ 15 Corps (J and K) and HQ Western Command were fully aware of the details of PAK offensive in Chamb sector. In any case on 1 Sep, the IAF inflicted heavy damage only on own troops and not the enemy. This was mainly due to lack of joint training. Therefore, to contend that it is the IAF that stabalised the situation on 1 Sep is wrong.  Further his contention that fall of Akhnur would have cut off J and K from rest of India only shows his lack of knowledge of geography of J and K.

Malhotra’s figure of only 8 percent expenditure of ammunition by India is of his own imagination.

.Air Marshal Noor Khan of Pakistan Air Force, in his book has recorded that Pakistan army’s ammunition finished on the second day and Inder Malhotra says that, ‘Pak had run out of ammunition by the time of the cease-fire.’ Those who took part in this conflict would recall that, throughout the war they were subjected to intense shelling by the Pakistan artillery; the heaviest firing being after the cease-fire. By the end of the war, Indian army’s ammunition stocks were never alarmingly low. Malhotra’s figure of only 8 percent expenditure of ammunition by India is of his own imagination.

Pakistan did not expect India to retaliate across the International Border, because it had confined the conflict to CFL, (Chamb sector) as a mere counter to Indian actions across this line elsewhere in J and K. That was the logic that worked on the Pakistani mind, reinforced by perceptions of Indian capabilities; military and political. Given this background, Indian offensive across the IB caught Pakistan completely by surprise. However, the Indian army’s preparations for the offensive between 1 and 5 Sep, the side-stepping of armoured division from Amritsar sector to Jammu and maintaining complete surprise, was no mean achievement.

Though, Malhotra in his recent article in the Indian Express terms Indian army’s success in this war as, “marginal victory.” The point never understood by many is that due to high value targets close to the border neither side was willing to concede territory and therefore, pitched battles took place within few kilometers either side of the border. That was and will remain the dominant reality of any fighting in the plains sector of J and K and the two Punjabs.

It goes to the credit of those who planned the war strategy and others who took part in it, that inspite of being a weaker force, Indian army got the better of Pakistani troops and when the war ended they were decidedly and decisively on top. However to lift the prevailing fog, the entire records pertaining to this war need to declassified to place events and actions in their correct perspective. Only then will there be an end to disinformation and calumny. Gen Chaudhury was a brilliant strategist and Harbaksh a great field commander. These controversies do injustice to them and belittle Gen Chaudhury’s services to the nation.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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Lt Gen Harwant Singh

Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff. He also commanded a corps in J&K.

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32 thoughts on “1965 War: General Chaudhury did not order withdrawal behind River Beas

  1. I feel that, without General Chowdhury’s superb command it would have been hard for India to win the 1965 war against Pakistan as the latter had much more sophisticated weapons than India had. This was even recognized by next PM Smt Indira Gandhi during her speech in 1971 on the onset of 1971 war with Pakistan. Pakistan had Patton tans which had nearly 18″ steel walls, almost impenetrable by canon shells. General Chowdhury, after initial losses, instructed Indian soldiers to target the chain joints of the tanks. By cutting the chain joints Indian soldiers had tremendous success in paralyzing the tanks. 300 Patton tanks were destroyed by Indian army in a matter of a few days. General Chowdhury ordered the Indian soldiers to be offensive in triangular formation where the Pakistani soldiers would be trapped inside the triangle and squashed. The army was able to advance to Lahore. The withdrawal was a decision taken by the PM and his office that unfortunately caused the loss of a most dedicated and selfless PM of India. I heard that he used to sleep in his charpai bed, thinking that majority of Indians are poor.

  2. I am shocked to read about a lot of false allegation about the superb Indian General J. N. Chowdhury who had fought second world during British time very successfully. During 1965 war I was thirteen and I remember vividly how Indian army under his great generalship had tremendous success against very well equipped Pakistani army. India’s military equipment was no match then to Pakistani military weapons. General Chowdhury allowed Pakistani army to advance first and ordered Indian army to encircle them in triangular attack mode. He instructed the army how to destroy the Pakistani Patton tank (with very thick steel plate- made in USA) – to target the chains of the tank first to paralyze and then attack with mortar/bomb. Under him Indian army was able to capture Lahore. The question is, if general Chowdhury knew that Indian army did not have any weapon how did the army capture Lahore under his command? So it is completely baseless that he persuaded the PM Shastri to give order to pull out..Unfortunately then Prime Minister Sahstri took the decision (probably by himself ) and ordered halt of Indian army’s further advance and the general had to obey. The rest is history.

    Towards the late part of war with China I learnt that he also played a great role to change the direction of war and he was able to rescue a good number of Indian soldiers from China’s capture.

  3. Gen Harbaksh Singh has claimed in his book, ‘In the Line of Duty, a soldier remembers’, last paragraph of page 351( finishing on page 352), that Gen. Chaudhury himself gave this order to him, on telephone. There is no ambiguity in his account.

  4. Ok after much deliberation and a lengthy lengthy piece, you are trying to cement a widely known allegation. Agreed, nobody can claim the allegations to be true without the declassification of all documents (which are still not done). After all that, what about the fact that General Chaudhury told the Prime Minister of India that 80% of our reserves are over and we are in a desperate situation when the FACT was that barely 20% (lesser than that) were only over!?? Shocking SHocking lies to the pm! Blatant distortion of facts by General Chaudhury led PM Shastri to immediately sign the Tashkent agreement. HOW will you refute this fact ? And this time, it is well documented!!.. that General Chaudhury falsely told the pm that most of our ammunition was used!!! and that we have suffered considerable losses (thereby hinting that we will NOT win the war anytime soon!!). Either a completely ignorant general or a traitor. You pick. Expecting another great story to disprove this too! Unbelievable. This general had to be shamed for such a gross lie and make our pm sign the pact and yet here you have glorifying him. Gave him the padma bushan . Give him more accolades! Disgusting.

  5. This article at least tries to straighten the misconceptions against General J. N. Chowdhury’s contributions to India’s great success in 1965 war. This article at least tells the truth that I was familiar with during the war when I was in high school. I remember that Pakistani army was far better equipped than Indian army and had initial success over Indian army. General Chowdhury advised Indiana army to allow Pakistani troops to advance into Indian territory and then to surround the enemy like a triangle. He ordered Indian troops to focus on shooting the chain links of Patton tanks which had 18″ steel plates as body armor. With his technique Indian troops, practically with no ammunition and good tanks, destroyed 300 Patton tanks in a matter of a few days. That enabled Indian troops to enter Pakistan up to Lahore. He was a general of much superior class. This article tells the truth. In 1962 general Chowdhury, after taking over from then general Kaul, followed a completely different technique that enabled liberation of a large number of Indian troops from the hold of Chinese, who later eventually halted the attack.

  6. Captain Amarinder Singh nor Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh are the personalities to tell lies or could politicize being faithful & competent Army Officers. The POLITICAL office could go to any extent giving verbal instructions to the Army chief to be in accordance with the input painted before P.M. directly or through Defense Minister. TRUST among certain may not be challenges rather respected. The babugiri can always bring different PICTURES than in actual ……..Punjab Heritage & Education Foundation Chandigarh

  7. Thanks, Lt Gen Harwant Singh sir, for this great information. Your logical argument makes it a strong tool to foil the unceasing attempts by the bureaucrats to prove the soldiers cowards and fools.

  8. I wonder how this three year old article by Gen Harwant has suddenly come to light now.
    I however tend to believe that the General has a tendency to distort facts to suit the argument that he is trying to make. A few months ago he wrote an utterly illogical article titled ” apples and oranges can’t be compared” or to that effect in the HT Chandigarh edition depracatin the Central Armed Forces like BSF,CRPF etc. He got all his facts wrong and also got a strong reply from me in the same paper a few days later.
    My view, he doesn’t have any credibility.

  9. This explains why 7th Cav, which was under conversion to PT-76 was inducted into battle, without conversion, without Zeroing, with no HEAT ammunition. With the force levels as they were at the time Pak crack 1 Armoured Div with 5 Patton Regiments, was going to face only 1 Regiment that could stall their advance i.e. 3 Cav equiped with centurians. This move of 7th Cav was one of gtreatest strategic move made by the COAS, Gen Chaudhary. I am of the view that Pakistan knew of our aquiring new Tanks from Russia, and one of the reasons for launching the attack was to maximise their advantage of possesing Pattons. They did not know the tanks true capabilities.
    ‘A’ Squadron unloaded from the train at Makhu 16 miles ESE of Assal Uttar and drove straight to dibbipura at midnight on the night of 10-11 September. It placed under command 3 Cav.
    The rest of the Regt. was sent to Amritsar.
    This move of the Regt. at the precise timing, hearing the noisy tank engine noises sent shockwaves and perhaps helped in putting the Pak planners to go on the defensive in this sector. THEY MOVED 2 OF THEIR ARMOURED BRIGADES TO THE SIALKOT SECTOR, in the middle of the war to FACE 3 TANK REGIMENTS EQUIPPED WITH CENTURIANS!!
    A masterstroke indeed!

  10. Refer Gen Harbakhsh’s book – In the Line of Duty a soldier remembers – pages 351-352, where he clearly states that the chief of the army staff had advised him to save the whole army from being cut off by Pakistan’s Armour push , by pulling back to the line of river Beas. He also states that there was a very heated discussion in the Operations Room in Ambala. Lt Gen Harwant should have done his home work well – may have missed out on this one but what about IDR . Clearly they don’t have a panel on archives/past records. Normally, such a panel could have pointed out any discrepancy in the write up and rectified it before it saw the print.

  11. Gen Harwant is not to be believed. It is well known there was a meeting between Gen Harbaksh and Chaudhri in Ambala; it is well known they had a heated argument; it is well known that Harbaksh said he would only withdraw behind the Beas if the Prime Minister (Shastri) gave the orders. Chaudhri, always a fastidious person, balked at asking Shastri to give those orders. All this is in historical light. Mere analysis by Gen Harwant cannot change the facts. I agree with Mrinal Suman that “Distortion of history is not only unfair to the personalities involved but is a disservice to the nation.” Gen Harwant is patently distorting history, and so is doing a disservice to the nation. It has immensely hurt my sentiments, and I feel dismayed to have nationalistic feelings for India’s growth and strength. I immediately call upon IDR to WITHDRAW this article.

    • “It is well known there was a meeting between Gen Harbaksh and Chaudhri in Ambala; it is well known they had a heated argument; it is well known that Harbaksh said he would only withdraw behind the Beas if the Prime Minister….” –
      This is just coffee-house gossip. Try to get hold of documented evidence before you fire your counters to a very well respected General Harwant.

      • And how about you? Did you get hold of any documented evidence or do you just shoot your mouth off very loosely? By writing such an article I am afraid Gen Harwant has brought attention to his credibility or lack thereof, which he shouldn’t have done. Respected people can lose their credibility by opening their mouth or writing nonsense. I still think IDR should immediately withdraw this false article and strongly recommend to them to do so. This article is against the nation’s interests. The historical facts are incorrect.

  12. Gen Harwant is TOTALLY speculative in what is only an historical analysis. It seems he never knew Harbakhsh, never met him, and/or never discussed this matter with Harbakhsh. It does not behoove a senior retired general to come out so strongly on merely a speculative logic. It is very regretful.

    I know first hand from Harbakhsh that Chaudhri ordered a withdrawal; Harbakhsh was in my house when he told us. QED.

    It does not matter whether he mentioned this in his book or not; Harbakhsh was an old man by the time he penned his book; not everything can be remembered or written in; in any event, he recounted more of his younger days than his days as a general.

    War Despatches are despatches of record. Gen Harwant ought to know this, unless he’s never been in a war himself. The argument with Chaudhri in Ambala did not qualify for mention in a war despatch, because it was not a war despatch. Simple as that!

    • “I know first hand from Harbakhsh that Chaudhri ordered a withdrawal; Harbakhsh was in my house when he told us. QED.” –
      This is just another gossip monger ! Why haven’t you asked Harbaksh to record this vital fact of military history in writing in his memoirs ?

  13. One of the best articles one has read. Compliments to Gen Harwant. Distortion of history is not only unfair to the personalities involved but is a disservice to the nation. Both Gen Chaudhury and Gen Harbaksh were great generals and the nation must remain indebted to them for their service.

    Thank you Gen Harwant for a highly informative and revealing article.

  14. An eye opening and excellent account demolishing all sorts of gossips floating around and denigration of the then Army Chief Chowdhury. It also exposes the myth of drummed up charges that the Army did not think worth its while to take the Air Force into confidence as the war started in 1965 and kept it in the dark in the beginning, and that the army failed on its own to halt the advance of the Pakistani forces in the Akhnoor sector and that the Air Force played the crucial role then in blunting the Pakistani attacks. I guess the IAF has always been given the final credit by the media in the wars of 1965, 1971 and 1998 for Kargil. I also get the impression that the Army performed much better in the western front in 1965 under the direction of Generals Choudhury and Harbaksh Singh than in 1971 under the Field Marshal Manekshaw-Candeth-Sartaj Singh and others. I entirely agree with the general that “the entire records pertaining to this war need to declassified” now that half a century has passed. I look forward to more reporting by Lt Gen Harwant on these historical records as from the horses mouth.

  15. Sir, an excellent article to clear the on going gossip. It is a fact that Gen Choudhary and Gen harbaksh were great generals and neither the former could even think of issuing such an order nor the later was so weak to have obeyed, even if such order was issued.The Morale of Indian troops was on tops and withdrawl behind beas river was unthinkable. The indian Army was ultimate victorious despite the surprised armr ingress initially.On the whole although our armed forces were victorious but politically and diplomatically we proved to be loosers. People should not assign political defeat indirectly to our valiant soldiers&Generals. Col S B Singh, Retd, Jaipur

    • What does a Colonel know about how great a general Gen Chaudhri was? From those who served under Gen Chaudhri and worked with Gen Chaudhri and those in the army high command during those years, none spoke well of Gen Chaudhri or thought well of him. Gen Chaudhri nearly destroyed India by actually seeking to order Gen Harbakhsh to withdraw behind the Beas. It is frightening to think what would have happened if some weak army commander had been GOC-in-C Western Command instead of Harbakhsh.
      Gen Harwant doesn’t know what he is saying. He was no one in 1965. This article should be withdrawn by IDR. The article is false, blasphemous, and total nonsense!

      • I admit I may not be as aware as some commentators. But I have one question.
        What if Khem Karan had not succeeded? If a Paki thrust landed up and captured the Beas bridge, what lay between them and Delhi Gymkhana where Ayub wished to have an evening out? After all, at that time nearly the WHOLE of our Army was the other side of Beas !! Nothing thereafter between Delhi and Beas bridge.
        But then fortune favors the brave. Khem Karan worked. Asal Uttar was actually the REAL reply. Gods favored us. A lot can go wrong in inundation plans. That it did not, is good. But would that not have worked on the Chief’s mind? That was part of HIS battle. If he gave such an order, may be he read it that way. There was some logic.

        • Mr Chaturvedi’
          Sikhs would not have let Darbar Sahib (Amritsar) to fall into Pakistani hands – at any cost. Plus Harbaksh was a remarkable and fearless leader. No wonder his war dispatches/diary is taught and debated at Pakistan Officer’s Academy.
          Moreover, please recollect what happened in June 1984 – An odd 140 or so Sikh men defended a Division level (plus armored) attack on Golden Temple for three days. It is truly unfortunate what forces of mighty Ayub Khan could not do in 1965, 9th division of Indian Army did in 1984.
          I have not come across a single Sikh male relative enrolling in Army in last 30 years or. It India’s Bad Luck

    • The Indian army at that point in time was WWII vintage. Decision makers were British officers.
      Pakistani army had upper hand. The Pakistani army was upgraded by the Americans both in training and hardware.
      India did a tad better because of large army size.

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