Military & Aerospace

1971 Operations - Case West - II
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Issue Book Excerpt: Indian Army After Independence | Date : 15 Mar , 2011


In the North-Eastern part of Kashmir, India was concerned about the safety of her lines of communication with Ladakh. Pakistani picquets in the Kargil area overlooked the Srinagar-Leh road. Infiltration routes from the direction of Gilgit and Skardu were also a cause for worry. The defence of this region was the responsibility of 3 Division, commanded by Major General S.P. Malhotra. An overwhelming portion of his strength faced the Chinese.

The threat from Gilgit and Skardu was eliminated by the Ladakh Scouts, under Major Rinchen, MVC. The operation began on 6 December with a bold advance up the Shyok Valley. Rinchen made good progress initially and took Turtok. This meant an advance of 22 kilometres in very bad weather, with temperatures dipping to –25 degrees Celsius. The average altitude of the posts captured by the Ladakh Scouts was 5,000 metres and their achievement was remarkable. However, the problem of resupply made further progress almost impossible.

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The Pakistanis now began their old game of interfering with movement between Dras, Kargil and Leh. 121 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier M.L. Whig, was ordered to deal with the situation.

The average altitude of the posts captured by the Ladakh Scouts was 5,000 metres and their achievement was remarkable.

The offending picquets were at altitudes averaging 4,500 metres and weather conditions were hardly better than in the Shyok Valley. Also, the Pakistanis had strengthened these since 1965. Whig, however, took up the challenge and mounted a vigorous offensive on both sides of the Shingo River, There was tough resistance by the enemy which was able to bring down mortar and machine-gun fire on the attackers. All the same, the brigade captured 36 out of a total of 80 enemy posts in the area. The territory gained was about 110 square kilometres.

The captured area in the Shyok Valley and in Kargil was later retained by India under the Simla Agreement. The gains in the Kargil area gave significant advantage to India. The cost, however, was heavy. There were 517 cases of frostbite, while battle casualties were 278 (55 killed, 195 wounded and 28 missing). The enemy lost 22 as prisoners, and its casualties in dead were estimated at 114.

The defence of the CFL in the rest of Kashmir, excluding the Punch sector, was the responsibility of 19 Infantry Division under Major General E. D’Souza. Anticipating that Pakistan might send guerrilla-type forces into this region, as in 1965, Indian authorities took adequate precautions. The division was freed of the responsibility for internal security by raising a temporary organization, called ‘V’ Sector. Pakistan, however, had learnt a lesson in previous ventures and did not repeat the tactic.

D’Souza’s brief was confined to limited offensive operations which would improve the division’s defesive posture. Both India and Pakistan had over the years strengthened their defences on the CFL to such an extent that it was difficult and costly to launch frontal assaults. The mountainous terrain also gained by 19 Division was largely due to the Pakistani command, having withdrawn some of its regular troops for its Punch offensive.

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Of the three operations mounted by the division soon after the outbreak of hostilities, only one succeeded. This was the capture of two features by 8 Rajputana Rifles in the Lipa Valley, between the Tithwal and Uri sectors. D’Souza exploited the success by pushing further into the valley and occupying the entire Kaiyan bowl.

These operations entailed much administrative effort and the troops undertaking them had to undergo considerable hardship. When the cease-fire came into effect, they settled down to winter conditions and snow covered the area. With the melting of the snows, a small Pakistani detachment surfaced near Kaiyan. The enemy had maintained it during the winter months through a track that ran along a nulla, both sides of which were held by Indian troops. The divisional commander had known of the existence of the pocket but had not reported it to the higher authorities on the assumption that he could get rid of it any time.

Of the three operations mounted by the division soon after the outbreak of hostilities, only one succeeded.

However, when he tried to negotiate with the Pakistanis for its removal, they refused.8 He then mounted a hasty attack which failed. The Pakistani command taking advantage of the situation, quickly brought up more troops and threw back 9 Sikh, the forward Indian battalion. The episode earned a good deal of criticism for Major General D’Souza.

11 Corps

Coming South of the CFL into the Punjab plains, past the Shakargarh Bulge, we reach the area of 11 Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General N.C. Rawlley. Headquarters 11 Corps had Number 1 Tactical Air Centre affiliated to it. Extending from Dera Baba Nanak to the Sutlej and beyond, up to Anupgarh, the area of 11 Corps had seen bitterly fought battles in 1965. This time, there were only local actions, though Some of them were contested enough to be considered battles. A major difference in the scenario, as compared to 1965, was a ditch-cum-bund line that now formed India’s forward defence in some sensitive areas. The defence line was a few kilometres behind the international frontier and the intervening ground was held by the BSF and covering troops. While it provides a safeguard against surprise attack, this type of linear defence entails initial loss of territory unless the ground ahead of it is dominated all along from the bund. This, however, ties down troops and equipment and may not leave adequate reserves to deal with a breakthrough. Some of the losses suffered by 11 Corps were due to this inherent weakness in the system.

From the course of events, it would appear that 11 Corps’ operational plans envisaged the evacuation of border posts when under attack. The premise apparently was that they would be recaptured with a riposte after the pattern of enemy plans had been evaluated. However, once the enemy had secured a lodgement, it became difficult to push it out. In the area between the Ravi and the Sutlej, the struggle to recapture some of the lost posts continued till the cease-fire.

Though enemy strength on the enclave turned out to be just about a company, the riverine terrain posed many difficulties for the operation, which was mounted on the evening of 5 December.

As in 1965, both sides went for each other’s enclaves on these two rivers. These bits of land were a legacy of the partition. Surrounded by alien tenitory, they were at the mercy of the other side. But they had tactical value: an enclave in enemy area was a launching pad for attack by the holding side.

15 Infantry Division

There were two enclaves near Dera Baba Nanak, one Indian and the other Pakistani. The Indian enclave of Kasowal was North of the Ravi and the Pakistani enclave of Jassar (Dera Baba Nanak Enclave to the Indians) was South of the river. The Jassar Enclave was linked to Pakistan’s hinterland by a rail-cum-road bridge. It had been fortified with pill-boxes and bunkers built on the irrigation bunds. The area was marshy and tall elephant sarkanda grass obscured observation. Facing the enclave was 86 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Gowri Shankar. This brigade was one of five under 15 Division commanded by Major General B.M. Bhattacharjea. The five brigades were as follows:

  • 86 Infantry Brigade with 71 Armoured Regiment (T-55) under command from Dera Baba Nanak to Gill Ferry on the Ravi.
  • 54 Infantry Brigade South of Gill Ferry and inclusive of the Ranian axis to Grand Trunk Road (exclusive).
  • 66 Infantry Brigade from the Grand Trunk Road to the Rajatal approach.
  • 96 Infantry Brigade was deployed to give a bit of depth to the main approach to the Chagawan area.
  • The fifth brigade, 11 Corps ‘reserve’, was actually a formation from 14 Infantry Division in the Ajnala area. 15 Division had 66 Armoured Regiment (Vijayantas) as its integral regiment.

Pakistani infantry and tanks attacked Kasowal enclave around 2130 hours on 3 December and its garrison vacated it before the morning. The next day, preparation began for the capture of the Dera Baba Nanak/Jassar Enclave. Gowri Shankar had under him one regiment of armour and an independent artillery brigade (seven fire units) besides his infantry brigade. Though enemy strength on the enclave turned out to be just about a company, the riverine terrain posed many difficulties for the operation, which was mounted on the evening of 5 December. When his armour bogged on a steep bund, Gowri Shankar quickly changed the direction of attack by sending the follow-up battalion from the enemy’s rear. This put the Pakistanis into panic and the enclave was in Indian hands by next morning. To make sure that the enemy should not use the bridge; one span on the home side was destroyed.

Book_Indian_Army_AfterAnother enclave over which the two sides fought was around the villages of Fatehpur and Bhago Khama. This was a readymade launch-pad for Pakistan for an advance towards Amritsar from the Nonh-West. It would have been more expedient for 15 Division to eliminate it right at the beginning but Bhattacharjea chose to block it with a containing position, held by elements from 96 Infantry Brigade. The enemy struck the first blow by capturing a bund and some villages to extend this enclave. Thereafter attacks and counter-attacks continued. The Pakistanis had no armour supporting their infantry here and suffered heavily in casualties and equipment. They also suffered a moral setback on 5 December, when about 150 men of the East Bengal Rifles surrendered to Indian troops in this area.

7 and 14 Infantry Divisions

South of the GT Road, the Khalra-Khem Karan-Ferozepur border was the responsibility of 7 Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Freemantle. In the Khalra area, the main Indian defence line was East of the UBD Canal, several kilometres East of the border. Covering troops ahead of the canal withdrew after the enemy’s initial assault on the evening of 3 December. Thereafter the Pakistanis advanced swiftly and were soon leaning on the canal and threatening Khalra itself. Attempts to throw them back proved fruitless, though 14 Rajput made a valiant bid to recapture Chhina Bidhichand, a village North of Khalra.

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The enemy did not, however, try to come further East. Pakistan’s Sehjra Bulge, South of Khem Karan, is of tactical importance to India. Its capture lends depth to the defences of Khem Karan and some security to her enclave at Hussainiwala, lying South of the bulge. In 1965, a company of Indian infantry and a detachment of armed police had taken Sehjra without much difficulty initially. But Pakistan had since strengthened its defences. This time a brigade attack by 48 Infantry Brigade was put in on the night of 5 December and the Pakistanis yielded the position after a stiff fight, in which they lost about 30 men killed and 65 taken prisoner.­

“¦the Pakistanis advanced swiftly and were soon leaning on the canal and threatening Khalra itself.

Had this operation been launched two days earlier it might have saved the Hussainiwala Enclave. The Hussainiwala complex, near Ferozepur, comprises the bridge over the Sutlej, the Gang Canal headworks and some territory across the river. A memorial to the great freedom-fighter Bhagat Singh also stood on this territory, giving it sentimental value. The whole complex was held by 15 Punjab and the BSF. The battalion was part of a peculiar command system that prevailed at the time. It belonged to a brigade of 7 Division, but had been placed under 35 Brigade of 14 Division which was then under 7 Division.

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