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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Above all commanders must always place themselves in a position to be able to influence personally the course of an action. It must be impressed upon all that a commander’s function does not end with the formulation of a plan – it really begins with the launching of troops into battle. For while a good plan is essential for any battle, its proper execution is vital for success.
The fighting in J&K confirmed in no uncertain terms the immense value of paramilitary forces. Operating in conjunction with regular troops, these forces enabled the enemy to hold large areas both in frontage and depth.
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 static holding of picquets by regular troops, as in our case, psychologically and professionally undermines their ability for offensive action. Commanders and troops become static-minded and lose the flexibility needed for aggressive action. Besides, training, except on limited individual basis, is not practicable. Therefore, regular troops committed to picquets lose professional efficiency and suffer from mental inertia induced by the role of static defence.
With the positioning of paramilitary forces, like the J and K Militia, on picquets, the regular troops can be suitably deployed in battalion groups at strategic points to serve as ‘mobile striking force’ against any seriously threatened sector. Such an action will have the following advantages:
- Economy in regular troops.
- Ability to train up to battalion or even brigade level.
- Mental conditioning to aggressive action.
The availability of suitable paramilitary forces to release regular troops from the holding role on the Cease Fire Line is strongly recommended. To be effective these forces should be adequately trained and suitably equipped for the role. The present Armed Police battalions are not suitable for manning the Cease Fire Line.
Use of Helicopters
Helicopters have proved to be invaluable in J&K for the following tasks:
The fighting in J&K confirmed in no uncertain terms the immense value of paramilitary forces.
- Move of urgently required defence stores, ammunition and equipment during critical periods in operations.
- Evacuation of serious casualties, from virtually inaccessible areas, with consequent good effect on morale.
- Speedy reconnaissance over a wide area, especially in sectors where no other means of transport can be used.
- Tracking and hunting of infiltrators in terrain almost inaccessible to regular columns.
- Use as Air Observation Posts.
There was, however, always an acute shortage of this invaluable aircraft for the multiplicity of tasks mentioned above.
Close air support was neither very effective nor timely for a variety of reasons. The weaknesses in the provision and execution of close air support have been discussed in detail in PART V. The subject is therefore not elaborated here.
In the initial stages of the campaign, some of the units, especially those with a large proportion of ‘green’ troops, were visibly shaken when subjected to air strafing and heavy artillery and tank fire. This was doubtless due to lack of, or faulty, battle inoculation where the safety factor has been unnecessarily exaggerated. To give a realistic feel of battle field atmosphere, battle inoculation exercises should be framed to include the following essential requirements:
- The use of air artillery and armour fire in addition to the fire of normal infantry weapons.
- The physical assault by armour on dug down positions. Troops ‘ducking down’ while the armour is passing overhead must immediately come into action once the tanks have gone over.
- Troops coming into firing positions and engaging targets as soon as artillery fire lifts.
- The performance of specific functions by commanders, eg the issue of orders, transmission of messages over phone or wireless and so on, while under fire.
To achieve realism, a percentage of unavoidable casualties should be accepted.
There is a tendency amongst some commanders to exhaust themselves mentally with routine details long before battle is joined.
In war the ability to outlast the opponent physically is often a deciding factor for success. While some of the units had a high standard of physical fitness, a few of them lacked the stamina to continue fighting over an extended period. There was a sharp drop in their fighting efficiency after a period of two to three days continuous battle. This is unacceptable in war. A formation or unit should be trained to continue fighting, without appreciable loss of efficiency, over a period of one week. For this, training exercises must be planned to accustom troops and commanders to withstand long spells of continuous stress and strain under realistic conditions of battle.
There is a tendency amongst some commanders to exhaust themselves mentally with routine details long before battle is joined. This must be avoided. Commanders should conserve their mental stamina for withstanding the inevitable exhaustion associated with the actual conduct of battle. The ability to keep oneself mentally fresh, and hence alert, is an absolute prerequisite to sound judgement and sober decision in battle.
The enemy had used only a few Napalm bombs during the recent fighting, but we must be prepared for more of these on a larger scale in any future conflict. To untrained troops, the sight of an exploding Napalm bomb can be terrifying unless they are forewarned. Napalm bombs are also most dangerous against inflammable targets, like ammunition and petroleum, oil and lubricants dumps, on account of the resulting chain reaction.
In the initial stages of the campaign, some of the units, especially those with a large proportion of ‘green’ troops, were visibly shaken when subjected to air strafing and heavy artillery and tank fire.
Precautions against the effects of Napalm bombs should be evolved and introduced as a regular feature in training. Our troops should be educated in the nature and consequences of Napalm bomb attacks.
Destruction of Pill-Boxes
The enemy had constructed concrete pill-boxes along the main approaches. In some cases our assaulting troops stalked these defence works and destroyed the occupants by throwing hand grenades through the slits. In most cases, fire from these pill-boxes held up our advance, until these could be stalked at night and tackled from the rear. Rocket launchers and antitank grenades made little impact on them. A drill needs to be evolved for the destruction and neutralization of pill-boxes both during day and night.
The standard of radio telephony procedure, particularly in the infantry, was far from satisfactory. Officers were either shy to speak on the wireless or were inclined to ramble. Rarely, if ever were slidex and linex used to ensure security.
As enemy counter attacks supported by air, armour and artillery were launched with speed, troops in the open suffered heavy casualties and were in many cases driven off the objective. Even an open trench is a great life saving factor during shelling which accounted for 75 per cent of our casualties in battle. The habit of digging-in must come as second nature to all men. Half-hearted digging, which is allowed to pass unchecked during training, becomes a habit with troops and leads to disastrous consequences in war. Men must be trained to dig hard and deep until a trench is completed, even when they have to move on soon afterwards. Officers and Junior Commissioned Officers must carry entrenching tools and learn to dig for themselves.
Training of Administrative Personnel
The type of fighting we experienced in J&K and the taste of enemy para action in the PUNJAB, however abortive, should make us realize that there are no rear areas or non-combatants. All administrative personnel, whatever their trade or location must be trained to fight as soldiers should the occasion demand.
On the conclusion of hostilities, our training techniques were suitably re-orientated to eradicate the weaknesses revealed during the conflict. A series of training notes were issued to emphasise particular aspects of training. I have made it a particular point to watch for shortcomings in leadership traits during my visit to formations on exercises. Formation commanders have been instructed to do likewise.