In the wake of President Yahya Khan’s threats, India had considered the various courses open to Pakistan on the Western front. Many possibilities were considered: an attack across the CFL in the hilly areas of Jammu & Kashmir, or against Chhamb, or the Samba-Jammu or Samba-Pathankot sub-sectors. An offensive in the Punjab plains and forays into Rajasthan were also envisaged. However, due to the commitment on the Eastern front and the possibility of intervention by China, the Indian Government had decided that a posture of offensive defence would be maintained in the West.
As in 1965, two commands shared the responsibility for India’s Western borders. The Western Command, under Lieutenant General K.P. Candeth, was responsible for the whole area extending Northward from Anupgarh, on the edge of Rajasthan, to the furthest limit of the CFL in Jammu & Kashmir. It was also responsible for the India-China border in Ladakh.1 The border running through the Thar Desert, in Rajasthan, and along the Rann of Kutch, in Gujarat, was under the Southern Command commanded by Lieutenant General G. G. Bewoor (later General G.G. Bewoor, PVSM, COAS) .
In this theatre, Pakistan had near parity with India in armour and artillery, while the latter had superiority in infantry (for the order of battle on the two sides, see Appendix 3). West Pakistan had ten infantry divisions, a few independent infantry brigades, two armoured divisions, and two independent armoured brigades. Of these formations, their 12 Infantry Division, with a large paramilitary force under command, was deployed in the Northern sector of Occupied Kashmir, while they had their 23 Infantry Division (of four infantry brigades) deployed against Chhamb. These two divisions also included seven POK Brigades, which were considered as good as regular Pakistan Army troops, especially when employed in Jammu & Kashmir. Their 1 Corps, with Headquarters at Sialkot/Kharian, was responsible for the area opposite Chhamb to Dera Baba Nanak, between the Chenab and Ravi Rivers. Of West Pakistan’s three corps, this was the strongest in armour and infantry. It had 6 Armoured Division (less two regiments, which were with 23 Division), 8 Independent Armoured Brigade (of four regiments) and 8, 15 and 172 Infantry Divisions. Of these 6 Armoured and 17 Infantry Divisions were uncommitted and therefore in reserve. 8 Independent Armoured Brigade was committed to act as a mobile strike force in Shakargarh at the limit of penetration.
Pakistan had near parity with India in armour and artillery, while the latter had superiority in infantry.
Pakistan’s 4 Corps, with Headquarters at Lahore, was responsible for the Lahore-Amritsar axis and the area opposite Khem Karan. It had two infantry divisions (10 and 11). Their 2 Corps was responsible for the area down South up to Fort Abbas with its Headquarters at Multan. It had one infantry division (33) and two infantry brigade groups. The sector opposite India’s Southern Command was under their 18 Infantry Division, which had two regiments of armour. Pakistan’s GHQ reserve, consisting of 1 Armoured Division and 7 Infantry Division, was held in the Okara-Montgomery area, close to their 2 Corps.
Candeth had three corps. In the North, 15 Corps, under Lieutenant General Sartaj Singh, was deployed in Jammu & Kashmir. It had five infantry divisions (3, 19,25, 10 and 26) and one independent armoured brigade (3) under command. The area from Anupgarh to Dera Baba Nanak (North of Amritsar) was the responsibility of 11 Corps under Lieutenant General N.C. Rawlley. This Corps had three infantry divisions (15, 7 and Foxtrot Sector [a divisional level area command]) and one independent armoured brigade (14). North of Dera Baba Nanak, the Indo-Pak border takes a plunge to the East, forming a bulge that reaches close to Pathankot, India’s base for land-communications with Jammu & Kashmir. This bulge, with the Pakistani town of Shakargarh at its centre, was a source of worry to the Indian command. Its neutralization was made the responsibility of 1 Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General K.K. Singh, and the main strike force of Western Command. Of the Corps’ three infantry divisions, only one was stationed in the vicinity of the bulge in normal times. The rest of its strength was held in Central and Southern India and was moved to Punjab in October after Pakistan had begun a build-up on the border. Indian Army Headquarters reserves, comprising 1 Armoured Division and 14 Infantry Division, were positioned South of the Sutlej.
Accounts published after the termination of hostilities spoke of a sharp division within the Pakistani high command. It was said that one group had been for an all-out offensive, while the second group favoured preliminary operations by holding formations. These operations would fix the Indians and divert their attention, so as to facilitate the subsequent launching of the main offensive. Ultimately, the views of the second group prevailed.
Pakistan began the war without ultimatum or warning by launching air-strikes on Indian airfields.
Pakistan had the advantage of choosing the time and place of her attacks. The Indian high command could only plan measures to counter Pakistan’s designs, as perceived from the placement of her forces. Both sides knew fairly accurately the general dispositions of each other. The Indian aim was to draw out Pakistani reserve formations in such a manner that they should not be in a position to launch a major offensive against India. Towards this end, limited offensive operations were planned as under:
- An advance by 1 Corps into the Shakargarh Bulge with a view to capturing Zafarwal, Dhamthal and Narowal. The Corps was subsequently to secure the line Marala – Ravi Link Canal- Degh Nadi and later take Pasrur.
- A two-pronged move by 15 Corps, with 10 Infantry Division advancing North of the Chenab towards Tanda and Gujarat and 26 Infantry Division advancing South of that river to threaten Sialkot.
- A feint towards Qila Sobha Singh by simulating a crossing over the Ravi in the general area of Gill Ferry.
The rest of the Western Command was to maintain a posture of offensive defence. In case 1 Corps’ offensive succeeded in diverting Pakistan’s GHQ reserve to the Shakargarh Bulge, Candeth was to launch the Indian reserve, together with other troops that could be mustered from the holding forces at the point of thrust, across the Sutlej so as to secure Pakistani territory up to the line Raiwind-Rajajang-Luliani, South-West of Lahore.3
In the event, neither side could launch its reserves to deliver what each had planned as its coup de main. The Pakistani command kept dithering till the declaration of unilateral cease-fire by India, while the Indian advance bogged down before 1 Corps could capture its initial objectives.
Pakistan began the war without ultimatum or warning by launching air-strikes on Indian airfields. At about 2000 hours, Pakistani artillery shelled Indian border posts, which were mostly manned by the Border Security Force (BSF). The shelling was followed by infantry attacks. These came mostly in company-strength and were repelled in most cases. There were, however, certain objectives over which the Pakistanis expended much more effort.
One of the Pakistanis’ main objectives was Chhamb in the 10 Division Sector of 15 Corps. In 1965, the Pakistanis had succeeded in capturing this place with a surprise attack. There should have been no surprise element in 1971, yet they succeeded again. This time they caught 10 Division off balance.
This division, under Major General Jaswant Singh, was deployed for the offensive already mentioned. It was fairly well-equipped, having as it did four infantry brigades, two regiments of armour (9 Horse and 72 Armoured Regiment), two Engineer regiments, six regiments of artillery (two medium, three field and one light), besides elements of air defence and locating artillery and the usual ancillary units. The division also had a para commando group (from 9 Para) and a squadron equipped with anti-tank guided missiles. Of his infantry, Jaswant Singh deployed 28 Brigade in the hill sector North and North-East of Chhamb, while 191 Brigade held the firm base in the plains West of the Manawar Tawi. Covering troops held positions supporting BSF posts on the border. The first phase of the attack was to be put in by 68 Brigade, held around Akhnur. The division’s fourth brigade (52) was had near Jaurian.
The deployment of the division was based on the assumption that the commencement of its offensive would by itself ensure the defence of the Chhamb-Akhnur area. This was unfortunate. The assumption disregarded the basic principle that it is always the responsibility of a commander to ensure the security of his own force and what he is required to defend in the first instance. As it was, the bulk of 10 Division’s troops had been pulled out of their defences into concentration areas to prepare for the offensive. This should actually have happened after the main offensive of 1 Corps had got under way, enemy reactions observed and it was reasonably certain that a threat to Chhamb no longer existed.
On 30 November, the Indian Government received an intelligence report that Pakistan would attack in the West in the next few days. This information was conveyed to the Army Chief with a directive that Indian troops on that front would remain on the defensive until permission was given to go on the offensive. Thanks to the lethargy in passing down this information, it reached 10 Division on the evening of 1 December. It was only on 2 December that a co-ordinating conference was held at Jammu and certain moves were ordered. In the event, no major adjustment was made in the deployment of the division and only marginal changes were effected. Efforts were made to strengthen the existing minefields and lay new ones. However, in the Barsala-Jhanda area, South-West of Chhamb, through which 10 Division was to have attacked, a dummy minefield was left.
On the evening of 3 December, Major General Jaswant Singh was with Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) R.K. Jasbir Singh, Commander 191 Brigade, at the latter’s Headquarters at Chhamb. Of the brigade’s four infantry battalions, three covered the CFL from the Manawar village-Jhanda area, in the South, to Mandiala, in the North (see Fig. 11.2). One battalion held positions East of the Manawar Tawi. A squadron of 9 Horse was deployed West of the river, and guided missiles covered the crossings over it. One battalion of 28 Brigade was holding the Dewa-Ghopar axis in the foothills North of Mandiala. The new defences, occupied after the warning from Army Headquarters, had been hastily prepared due to lack of time and stores. About 1900 hours a general alert was sounded after the corps commander rang up and told of the Pakistani air-strikes. A massive artillery bombardment of border posts began shortly before 2100 hours. Then, around 2130 hours, came simultaneous attacks all along the line. Indian troops stood their ground except at one or two places.The attack was mounted by Pakistan’s 23 Division. Captured documents and prisoners of war later revealed that the Pakistanis’ aim here was to secure Indian territory up to the East bank of the Manawar Tawi. Major General Iftikhar Khan, the Divisional Commander, showed skill and determination in carrying out his mission. He decided to capture Chhamb with an outflanking move from the North. After the cease-fire it came to be known that he employed four infantry brigades, supported by an armoured brigade and eight regiments of artillery for the operation. The additional resources given to him were 2 (ad hoc) Independent Armoured Brigade, 66 and 111 Infantry Brigades and sizeable corps’ artillery reiriforcing his own (see Fig. 14.1). He used two of his own brigades to hold his firm base.
Indian intelligence sources had indicated the approximate location of Pakistani concentrations but the presence of that much artillery and armour was not known. It is probable that after the initial attacks on the night of 3/4 December more enemy units were quickly brought forward under cover of the noise and fog of battle. The Pakistani base at Kharian was only about 50 kilometres away.
The enemy had occupied the high ground at Mandiala and brought the troops on the Eastern end of the bridge under machine-gun fire.
On 4 December, the enemy attacked many Indian positions with armour and infantry. On the Dewa-Ghopar axis, in the North, six Pakistani tanks were knocked out. However, by midday, Mandiala North had fallen. That day several localities South and South-West of Chhamb were also overrun or ordered to withdraw.
During the afternoon, efforts were made to reinforce 191 Brigade but these reinforcements were sent piecemeal and could not save Chhamb. A squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment was placed under the brigade and the para commando group and a troop of 9 Horse were deployed on the Eastern side of the Mandiala Bridge to block the enemy’s advance towards Jaurian. To retake Mandiala North, 7 Kumaon and a squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment were ordered forward from Akhnur (68 Brigade). During the night, however, while this group was on its way, its mission was changed. It was told that its task now would be to guard the East bank of the Manawar Tawi in the area of the bridge. The change was perhaps due to the failure of a counter-attack against Mandiala North that had been put in at 2020 hours.
The cavalier manner in which the situation was being handled can be seen from the composition of the force employed for that counter-attack: about 70 men lifted from an area South of Chhamb, a detachment of tanks and a field battery. The enemy had occupied the high ground at Mandiala and brought the troops on the Eastern end of the bridge under machine-gun fire. Around 0300 hours on 5 December, a company of enemy infantry and a troop of tanks scrambled across the Sukhtau Nulla, a tributary of the Manawar Tawi that joins it North of the bridge. The para commandos and 9 Horse were wide awake and scattered the enemy with ease. But this was only a probe.
A brigade attack came an hour and a half later when Pakistan’s 47 Punjab attacked after a heavy artillery concentration. The tiny force at the bridge held its ground but an overflow of the assault went on to 216 Medium Regiment gun area and wagon lines and the enemy succeeded in disabling six of its guns4 and killing some men in the wagon lines. The assaults was beaten back by the depth battery and 39 Medium Regiment firing over open sights. This regiment was deployed a short distance East of the para commandos. The second medium regiment of the division (39th) was also deployed about 1,000 metres further East.The enemy’s 47 Punjab was soon followed by 13 Azad Kashmir Battalion. Meanwhile, the main body of 7 Kumaon had come under heavy shelling when moving to Mandiala Crossing after debussing at Kachreal. Caught in the open, the battalion suffered heavily and four of its officers (including the commanding officer) were wounded. With the arrival of the second enemy battalion, pressure on the Indian position increased. The para commandos lost some ground and the Kumaonis were in disarray. There was confused fighting for some time. Enemy infantry tried to capture the tanks on the bridge but their efforts were foiled by the crew, who managed to keep their cool.
At this stage, some enemy armour that had been standing by under cover of the Sukhtau Nulla moved out to link up with its infantry under the impression that the latter had already secured a bridgehead. As they came up the embankment, they were easy targets. Within seconds five of them were written off while the remainder managed to get away.
After the rebuff in the Kachreal-Mandiala Crossing area, the enemy had shifted its attention South-West of Chhamb.
The situation eased when the Commander of 68 Brigade reached the scene on the morning of 5 December with a company of 9 Jat mounted on two troops of tanks from 72 Armoured Regiment. The remnants of the enemy between Mandiala Crossing and Kachreal Heights were cleared. During the mopping up, about 180 Pakistani dead were counted. Among the prisoners was Lieutenant Colonel Basharat Ahmed, the commanding officer of 13 Azad Kashmir Battalion.
A reorganization on the morning of 5 December limited 191 Brigade’s responsibility to the area West of the Manawar Tawi. That day the rest of 9 Jat moved up from Akhnur and was made responsible for the three crossings over the river South of Mandiala Crossing: Darh, Chhamb and Raipur. After the rebuff in the Kachreal-Mandiala Crossing area, the enemy had shifted its attention South-West of Chhamb. That night, after bitter fighting, it succeeded in taking three localities in the area. Though a counter-attack soon drove it back, the situation was causing considerable concern. The artillery deployed West of the river was moved East of it and a battalion (less a company) from 68 Brigade was sent forward to reinforce 191 Brigade.
On 6 December, the enemy increased its pressure South-West of Chhamb as it had discovered that the minefield in the area was a dummy. During the afternoon, it captured Ghogi and Barsala after repeated attacks. By evening, Mandiala South had also fallen. Quickly exploiting this success, it pushed East. Attempts to readjust the line proved futile and 191 Brigade was ordered to withdraw across the river after last light. The Mandiala bridge was blown up at 2330 hours after the last Indian troops had crossed over.
As in 1965, the Pakistanis chose to pause after this initial success. Iftikhar Khan did not pursue 191 Brigade across the Manawar Tawi straightaway. This gave Indian troops the time to strengthen their defences and the enemy lost the chance of establishing itself East of the river.
It was on the night of 7/8 December that the Pakistanis tried to get a foothold East of the river, only to be thrown back. However, on the afternoon of 8 December, Dewa, in the hill sector, fell. On the night of 9/10 December, the enemy made a second and more determined attempt to come East of the river. It put in a brigade attack, supported by armour, against 9 Jat. The battalion fought hard to hold its ground but superior numbers prevailed and the enemy succeeded in taking the crossings at Darh and Raipur. However, timely reinforcement of the area prevented it from expanding and building up its bridgeheads. Some of its follow-up echelons were shot up and its tanks were unable to give much support to the infantry due to bad going. The next morning, a counter-attack was launched by 3/4 Gorkha Rifles (ex 52 Brigade), with some armour in support. However, when the tanks bogged in the soft ground, the infantry also dug in about 900 metres short of Darh.