Military & Aerospace

1965 War: Lessons Learnt
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The Strategic Concept

Although we did succeed in whittling down PAK’s fighting potential, especially armour, and occupied chunks of her territory, most of our offensive actions, however, fizzled out into a series of stalemates without achieving any decisive results. With the exception of the HAJIPIR offensive, none of the remaining thrusts were pushed to a successful conclusion. This to my mind was due to a faulty strategic concept of the campaign which resulted in a number of ineffective jabs instead of a few selected thrusts in force. In consequence, there were fierce slugging matches spread over a vast area in which we destroyed each other’s potential but reached no strategic decisions.

Our strategy for war should have been confined to the concentration of effort on a few, well-defined offensive actions on narrow frontages to achieve rapier like thrusts deep into enemy territory and aimed at objectives of military and political importance. The momentum of the offensives should then have been maintained by continual regrouping of forces to ensure the required superiority of effort along the chosen thrusts. In this lies the essence of higher direction of War.

Although we did succeed in whittling down PAKs fighting potential, especially armour, and occupied chunks of her territory, most of our offensive actions, however, fizzled out into a series of stalemates without achieving any decisive results.

Tactical Implementation

In most of our battles, commanders rarely, if ever, deviated from the orthodox methods of fighting by the book. There was a marked tendency to fight shy of the unconventional in battle. In consequence, many a favourable opportunity was allowed to slip away unexploited. The rigid application of tactical doctrine and the unimaginative adherence to the principles of war did win us a few fights, but the cost in men and material was prohibitive. A commander must retain sufficient flexibility of mind to deviate from the beaten track, should the occasion demand.

Strategical and Tactical Overinsurance

There was a pronounced inclination to conserve forces for some vague distant contingencies instead of committing them on decisive actions of immediate tactical importance. The MIRPUR offensive, the success of which would have had far reaching consequences, was abandoned on the plea that artillery ammunition should be conserved for any subsequent action. Further, forces were often held in futile reserve under the mistaken notion of retaining balance. The thrust into HAJIPIR was consistently opposed as it was felt that the commission of forces on this action would create an unbalance in that area and invite an attack on PUNCH. As subsequent events were to show, our offensive into HAJIPIR unbalanced the enemy, restored our balance in the Sector and won for us the only decisive action of the war. In the SIALKOT Sector, many an armour action fizzled out into indecision for want of concentration of all available forces at the critical time and place when all the while an adequate force stood by in superfluous reserve.

In most of our battles, commanders rarely, if ever, deviated from the orthodox methods of fighting by the book.

Leadership

There appeared to be a tendency in higher command to succumb to pressure of events and fall an easy prey to dark and gloomy apprehensions. This is a dangerous attitude for such pessimism rapidly trickles down to the rank and file setting in motion a snowball process of demoralization. An officer, especially in the higher levels of command, must psychologically condition himself never to accept mental defeat, however adverse the circumstances of battle or grim the overall situation. He will usually find that beyond his own disintegrating battle lies an opponent faced with a similar or even a more serious situation. At such junctures the mind and spirit play the dominant role in deciding the fate of battle – the commander with greater mental stamina carries the day.

The instinctive urge to be at the critical place at a crucial juncture in battle is the hallmark of all successful commanders irrespective of their level of command. At battalion and brigade levels commanders should dominate situations with their physical presence to influence events through personal intervention whenever required.

It is common knowledge that commanders who lie low, play ‘safe’ and await developments always come out second best. Spectacular success goes to the bold, the audacious and the enterprising in battle. There were a number of instances during this war where, through want of aggressive action, favourable situations remained unexploited, attacks fizzled out prematurely and defences collapsed with shocking ease for lack of grit and determination. The indomitable spirit that defies defeat was often found wanting.

There appeared to be a tendency in higher command to succumb to pressure of events and fall an easy prey to dark and gloomy apprehensions.

Up in the hills, junior leadership was inclined to be complacent and sluggish especially when holding posts or picquets. Instead of using their posts as firm bases for aggressive action in the surrounding area, commanders often adopted the least line of resistance and awaited results – a most deprecatory practice both from the morale and leadership point of view.

As the drive, will power and courage, both physical and moral, of a commander are essential attributes of leadership in war, it is essential that due consideration be given to these qualities in the selection of commanders. The inculcation of the will to fight should form the object plus of all training. Situations requiring aggressive and bold action should be frequently introduced in training to instil this vital leadership quality and to assess those possessing it. Those displaying poor leadership traits should be weeded out and relegated to extra regimental employment or low grade staff appointments.

Surprise

The mere achievement, of surprise will not win battles unless the favourable circumstances created by it are exploited to the full. The mental imbalance of the commander and the physical disorganization of his troops following a tactical surprise must be taken full advantage of by bold and audacious action. During the conflict, the enemy was often found stunned and reeling, but the knock out blow came too late or never at all.

Employment of Armour

The most distinctive features in armoured operations are speed and flexibility. After a break through, the selected thrust must be developed with such lightning speed as to achieve a decision before the enemy can react with their reserves to reinforce the objective selected for the assault.

It is common knowledge that commanders who lie low, play ‘safe’ and await developments always come out second best.

All available forces must be concentrated on the chosen thrust to push it to a successful conclusion. While a reserve is essential to maintain balance, the forces earmarked must bear a judicious relationship to the total available. Moreover, as mentioned above, a reserve must be treated as a potential force to influence the overall situation by active participation. It should not be set aside merely to fulfill the formality of balance.

Firm Base

An offensive launched without a secure base is doomed to failure from the very start. A firm base is an essential prerequisite not only to serve as a springboard for mounting an attack but also to act as a security cushion should the offensive suffer a reverse. Without a secure base to fall back upon, a defeated force invariably loses balance and its subsequent disintegration is merely a question of time, depending upon the vigour with which the opponent exploits the resulting situation.

Intelligence

Intelligence about the enemy’s activities and intentions often proved to be inaccurate and misleading. There was no concrete evidence of the impending massive infiltration campaign even on the eve of PAK aggression. For want of definite information we could not assess, with any degree of certainty, PAK’S projected offensive with regular troops into J&K even when her forces were already poised for action. The enemy’s sudden burst into CHHAMB caught us off balance and, but for our timely retaliation with I and XI Corps, would have swept us out of the area. After the regular campaign had commenced the Intelligence Bureau could not penetrate the fog of war and virtually dried up as a source of information. From then onwards, little was definite, nothing certain.

As the drive, will power and courage, both physical and moral, of a commander are essential attributes of leadership in war, it is essential that due consideration be given to these qualities in the selection of commanders.

While making these comments it is not my intention to undermine the standing and prestige of the Intelligence Bureau for, I am sure, the organization fell short of expectations not for want of effort but on account of inherent weaknesses in the set-up. My aim in highlighting the lapses is to focus attention on this organization so that its basic structure could be re-examined and overhauled for a more efficient functioning. The Intelligence Bureau, as we know, is our main agency for keeping our finger on the pulse of a belligerent neighbour during peace. In war, it is an invaluable source of information for planning in the field. A streamlined Intelligence Bureau is a vital national requirement.

Once battle is joined, one of the most important sources of information is air photography. During the recent conflict, the provision of air photo cover was centralised at Army Headquarters/Air Headquarters level, resulting in inordinate delay in the availability of information through this source. The developed copies invariably arrived too late to be of any tactical use. Moreover, only a limited number of requests for air photo cover were entertained. It is recommended that facilities for air photo cover be decentralized to Corps Joint Operations Centre to speed up the availability of information through this source. Furthermore, measures to ensure rapid development of air photos and their delivery in time to be of tactical value should receive due attention.

The processing of information by Intelligence Staff was far from satisfactory – very often the emerging picture of enemy capabilities and intentions was distorted and disjointed even where reasonably accurate information was available. Intelligence Staffs require considerable training in the collation and interpretation of enemy information. We should, in all exercises, tie in and train our intelligence staff under realistic conditions.

Night Operations

The enemy’s most decisive weapon against us was its observed artillery fire by day. This combined with close air support played havoc with any troop movements and actions in daylight. It is anticipated that having asessed the value of this disastrous combination PAK would repeat its employment in any future conflict. This underlines the necessity of a high standard of training for night operations.

Night attacks by infantry achieved spectacular results with negligible casualties. But in a number of cases these were dismal failures for want of training and poor stage management. I would recommend devoting anything from 25 to 50 per cent of the training time to night operations. Only with such intensive training will we develop a high degree of night sense for confident and deliberate action in the hours of darkness.

The processing of information by Intelligence Staff was far from satisfactory  –  very often the emerging picture of enemy capabilities and intentions was distorted and disjointed even where reasonably accurate information was available.

Attack

In the planning of an attack, I have often noticed in some commanders an unimaginative obsession for frontal attacks which invariably result in heavy casualties. As a general rule I would say that unless a tactical situation leaves no other choice except a frontal assault, a flank attack or enveloping action should be preferred so that the enemy is defeated by skilful manoeuvre rather than costly attrition – a question of sweat saving blood.

Stage-managements for launching troops into battle should be faultless as far as circumstances permit. The tendency of higher commanders to fritter away most of the available time in planning, results in inadequate ground reconnaissance at lower levels, and the haphazard rushing of troops into battle which is one of the main causes of operational failures. It must be remembered that the best of plans is doomed to failure unless the commanders at lower levels are thoroughly conversant with ground, the men are fully briefed and are properly launched into battle. Where a situation demands speedy action and time is at a very high premium, a greater share of the period available must still be devoted to ground reconnaissance and briefing of troops.

The tendency by infantry to resort to artillery fire as an automatic solution to all enemy opposition must be discouraged. The infantry must place more reliance on weapons organic to it. It must be remembered that during the last stages of an assault, when all types of supporting fire have been lifted, the only way to close in with a determined enemy is through the use of fire from weapons organic to the infantry battalion and company. This applies particularly to fighting in the hills.

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3 thoughts on “1965 War: Lessons Learnt

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  2. India had no strategig plans.Ours was more of a reaction to counter offensive strikes of Pakistan.This I learnt from Gen Chaudri.He said ,”Indian Army was fighting a battle of attrition.”Quite a surprise it was when the Chief of Army Staff was trying to justify the indecisve war of 1965.

  3. The capacity to think out of the box isnt suddenly gifted on a particular day to any commander….. and most higher commanders dont have the resilience to tolerate out of the box solutions …. which indicate their propensity for safe and tried method to success (career and promotions) …. moral courage is indeed a ‘rare element’ in the atomic list of the Indian Defence Services….

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