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1971: Assessment of campaign in the Western Sector
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According to a Defence Ministry announcement after the 1971 conflict, India claimed the capture of 3,600 square kilometres of Pakistani territory against 126 square kilometres of Indian territory lost on the western front.1 The Indian public was elated at a marginal gain of a few square kilometres of territory. It failed to question, and the Government did not elucidate, the economic and strategic value of the territory lost or gained to evaluate fairly the overall gains.

The major Indian gains claimed in terms of area were about 3,200 square kilometres in the Ladakh region under Lt Gen Sartaj Singh and 1,200 square kilometres. under Lt Gen G G Bewoor in the Rajasthan Desert. In both regions these gains lay in farflung, desolate, uninhabited and difficult areas of negligible economic, strategic and political value which could hurt the rulers of Pakistan only in their prestige.

The major Indian gains claimed in terms of area were about 3,200 square kilometres in the Ladakh region under Lt Gen Sartaj Singh and 1,200 square kilometres. under Lt Gen G G Bewoor in the Rajasthan Desert.

On the other hand, Sartaj Singh lost the area of Chhamb, where the aftermath of the refugee problem still haunts the Jammu and Kashmir administration. The loss of the Kasowala bulge, the Hussainiwala enclave and the Fazilka agricultural belt in Punjab could not be equated with marginal gains in the Sehjra bulge and the Mamdot enclave in economic, military or political terms. The Indian occupation of the major portion of the Shakargarh bulge was somewhat embarrassing to the Bhutto government in view of the restive refugee population, but this in no way impaired the Pakistani economy or upset its military tactical balance. In short, this war failed to achieve a decision, although the Indian public was misled by articulate propaganda and impressive statistics. It is therefore imperative that the public should be educated to judge the country’s military achievement on merit.

In the field of attrition India claimed the capture of 244 Pakistani tanks.2 Pakistan made some fantastic counter-claims, but the claims of both sides were not corroborated by an independent authority. A free flow of war correspondents from one country to the other was not permitted by either side, and as such the figures given in their handouts remain one sided. Perhaps the only exception to this clampdown on information of this nature was Gen Andre Beaufre (Retd) of the French Army, who was invited by Pakistan and remained there throughout the war. He later came to India by invitation and toured the battlefields after the ceasefire. He felt it was difficult to get an accurate picture because both India and Pakistan grossly exaggerated the casualties in men and material inflicted on the adversary.

…visited the Chhamb sector soon after the main battle but did not see much captured equipment, and it certainly bore no relation to the much-publicized Pakistani claims.

He gave two examples to support his view. The Pakistani commanders in the Chhamb sector claimed that a brigade of four battalions supported by a regiment of armour and five artillery regiments had annihilated an Indian infantry brigade and captured many tanks, a large number of other vehicles and large quantities of arms and equipment. Some pictures shown to him in support of these claims appeared to him to be the product of trick photography. He visited the Chhamb sector soon after the main battle but did not see much captured equipment, and it certainly bore no relation to the much-publicized Pakistani claims.

Similarly, the Indian claim of destroying more than 50 Pakistani tanks in the Basantar bridgehead battle in the Shakargarh sector was not correct, because he was present on the Pakistani side of this area at the time. Similar incidents may be quoted from other sectors. Let it be said that neither side was able to cause such attrition as to cripple the adversary’s local or overall war potential and derive any military benefit.

It is ironical that both India and Pakistan failed to exploit fully the military resources in hand, each waiting for the other to show its hand till the ceasefire became effective.

In the military sphere, Candeth and his generals on the western front displayed utter lack of enterprise and daring in the execution their plans and let opportunities slip by. It is ironical that both India and Pakistan failed to exploit fully the military resources in hand, each waiting for the other to show its hand till the ceasefire became effective. Candeth had 11 infantry divisions, one armoured division and four independent armoured brigades (a total of some 21 armoured regiments or their equivalent), three independent artillery brigades and three engineer brigades, with some rare assault equipment which had been procured with great pains and at considerable cost. Yet very little of this was employed in battle, and out of the 21 armoured regiments available Candeth used no more than seven or eight at a time, the rest hibernating in their areas of concentration.

The engineer brigades found employment in a holding infantry role, shedding their prized equipment in engineer parks. The infantry confined itself to border skirmishes and such local operations as had no relevance to the overall military aims. In the context of modern wars, which are essentially short because of international political compulsions, no underdeveloped country can afford to create a war potential and see its efforts go in vain through underutilisation by inept military leaders.

Both the Indian and Pakistani armies were subconsciously following World War II strategy and tactics not applicable in the modern context in a war between two countries with long land frontiers. In the Second World War the time factor was of no importance, nor was loss of territory. The territory was alien soil, either belonging to allied nations or to colonies which could be traded for time. In the time thus gained, the war potential in men and material could be built up to such preponderant superiority as to achieve victory decisively at the chosen point at will.

None of these conditions prevail in the Indian subcontinent. International political compulsions, and the limited stockpiling possible from indigenous production and open war shopping abroad essentially limit wars to no more than two or three weeks. In such short wars it becomes necessary for the attacker to make swift strategic gains so that the adversary is so unbalanced that he is not in a position to move his reserves in time to meet the threat.

Both the Indian and Pakistani armies were subconsciously following World War II strategy and tactics not applicable in the modern context in a war between two countries with long land frontiers.

On the other hand, the defender must counter such attacks by quickly moving reserves to the threatened sector and at the same time launching a counter-offensive equally speedily to nullify the enemy’s move. This requires large reserves positioned at selected tactical points and a high state of training of forces to exploit the opportunities of war. Defence has therefore become a more difficult operation of war than attack these days, and needs more dynamic generals than India possessed.

Starting from Ladakh in the north, Sartaj Singh made gains in the vacuum of inhospitable terrain in this high-altitude region working more against extreme cold than enemy opposition. Except providing security in depth to the main road artery from Srinagar to Leh, nothing of military consequence was achieved there, although 800 men were frostbitten and lost the use of their limbs.

Some territorial gains were made in the Kaiyan bulge in Kashmir Valley, but later developments greatly embarrassed the Indian Government no end as I have narrated earlier. In the Poonch sector, an ingenious and audacious Pakistani plan failed because of irresolute execution, but the Indian generalship failed to capitalize on the Pakistani mistakes and was content to nibble at an insignificant hill feature called Nangi Tekri despite adequate resources to pursue the withdrawing Pakistanis and inflict a crushing local defeat.

A small force infiltrated behind the Indian defences over the Kachrael heights was not enough. A larger force in the same role would have definitely altered the situation.

According to Gen Beaufre, the Pakistani offensive in the Chhamb sector lacked boldness. Their forces moved slowly, and because of inadequate training and faulty planning, marrying of infantry and armour was delayed and resulted in a halt at the Manawar Wali Tawi, thus giving the Indians time to reinforce their position. Pakistan attacked positions west of the river with four battalions supported by one armoured regiment and five artillery regiments.

Armour was not used in a concentrated manner, and artillery fire was spread all over instead of focusing on one objective at a time. Beaufre would have liked at least two brigades to attack simultaneously in the initial phase, followed by at least one brigade and a couple of armoured regiments to break through after securing the river line. A small force infiltrated behind the Indian defences over the Kachrael heights was not enough. A larger force in the same role would have definitely altered the situation.

On the Indian side, Sartaj Singh was content to stabilize the situation along the Manawar Wali Tawi. He made no effort to resume the offensive to carry the war across the river, nor did he thin out the holding force to employ it in a counter-offensive in some other sector. Especially so when Maj Gen Zoru Bakshi, having captured Chicken’s Neck, was in a position to implement his part of the offensive plan for a thrust towards the Marala headworks had resources been released to him from 10 Infantry Division sector opposite the river. Sartaj Singh failed to do this and Candeth did not have the concept of the conduct of war at the level entrusted to him to guide or instruct him to do so.

…the Indian generalship failed to capitalize on the Pakistani mistakes and was content to nibble at an insignificant hill feature called Nangi Tekri despite adequate resources to pursue the withdrawing Pakistanis and inflict a crushing local defeat.

KK Singh was too slow and too cautious in his advance in the Shakargarh to call it a strategic strike. Instead of cutting hard and deep with a lightning blow, he chose to move on a broad front in steamroller fashion against initially a very light opposition. But as he allowed time for Pakistan to react, the opposition stiffened with the passage of days. He encountered some nuisance mines scattered in some depth, but with wide gaps through which a quick breakthrough could have been effected with ease by hold action. But he preferred to progress step by step, systematically establishing a bridgehead across the minefield and making sure of the security of his flanks and firm bases.

This tied down about three-fourths of his force in holding its ground, and as a result the punch of his advance was drastically reduced, thus arresting the momentum of his offensive. Undoubtedly, balance in offensive must be maintained, but KK failed to realize that balance in advance is created in battle by unbalancing the enemy with speed and a stunning blow, thus forestalling his moves rather than by a slow and methodical advance. KK maintained his own pace, and Candeth lacked the commanding personality to urge him to move faster. Between the two they compounded a stalemate. It is a matter of conjecture whether anything worthwhile could have been achieved even if the ceasefire had come a few days later.

Rawlley lost more than he gained in Punjab. The loss of Hussainiwala, the Fazilka cotton track and Chhina Bidhi Chand were inexcusable. The battle in this sector was a peripheral loss and gain of border outposts and nothing more.

There was no direction throughout, no guidance, no advice and no acceptance of responsibility.

There was no direction throughout, no guidance, no advice and no acceptance of responsibility. Things were allowed to run by themselves, and where there was success Rawlley was there to claim the credit. Where things went wrong, he was far removed to apportion blame. The whole concept of the battle was timid and defensive in outlook. There was a tendency to react to the enemy’s move rather than wrest the initiative from him and throw him back.

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Candeth and his generals came out the worst from this conflict. They had no concept of conducting a short war. They dissipated their efforts on outmoded World War II ideas and allowed the opportunities offered by Pakistani mistakes to slip by. They also failed to use their resources to full capacity, and thus the optimum capability of the Indian war potential, created at great expense and sacrifice, remained unexploited, at least on the western front.

Notes:

  1. Asian Recorder, Vol XVIII, No 3, “India’s Gains And Losses,” p.10569.
  2. Asian Recorder, Vol XVIII, No 3, “Pakistan’s Casualties,” p.10569.
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3 thoughts on “1971: Assessment of campaign in the Western Sector

  1. The esteemed General fails to realize that the overall 1971 plan in the Western sector was to play a holding role. There was to be only a defensive strategy and no major offensives were to be taken, even if the situation was inviting. The esteemed General fails to realize that opening an offensive front in the Western Command could have opened new risks that Gen Manekshaw was not willing to take. Gen Manekshaw personally laid out this strategy for Candeth.

    However, I do side with the General in this debate, and think that the Western Command should have been bolder when the opportunity presented itself. When one fights, it is always better to fight with all one has, rather than limit oneself.

  2. What is your point General?

    Your view is not supported by the political objectives i.e. to finish the war in the east and then turn the full force of the army and airforce westwards.

    Indira Gandhi was not letting any general or other ranks to take initiative until the job in the east is finished. She had US and Russia breathing down her neck to call off any operation in the west. Hence there were a few unfinished items in west which had the war continued a week or two more would have been completed.

    Hence your analysis is to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Claims and counter claims are of propaganda value. Never the less the Pakistani lost more war materials and men. The forgoing has been confirmed by Henry Kissinger who was running an hour by hour commentary to his boss Richard Nixon.

  3. Excellent analysis excepting for silence on the role of the Army Chief Manekshaw in the background as the C-in-C. After all, he must have been controlling from his box seat at the top and directing the conduct of the war at the top level. We look forward from this author further illumination on the Army Chief’s strategic plans for the war – what were his final objectives and why didn’t he intervene. Lt Gen Jacobs has already dented FM Manekshaw’s reputation on marching over Dacca. And Bharat-Rakshak has castigated Jacobs in no uncertain terms in this regard as talking rubbish. And what about the great strategist Jagit Singh Aurora on the Eastern front who has been reported to have destroyed all the war documents in the Fort Williams ? Thank you, Gen Sukhwant Singh for educating us about that 1971 great war the Indian nation won for the first time after a lapse of 2500 years after Ashoke.

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