Military & Aerospace

1971: The Rajasthan Campaign - I
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I was to capture Gadra City on the outbreak of hostilities so as to improve the defensive posture of the Gadra Road complex by achieving greater depth. The task involved the occupation of the general area of Munabao with one battalion group and Gadra City with a brigade less one battalion. One field regiment (25 pr) and one medium battery (130 mm) were allotted in support. The armoured squadron was to join much later, and that too only for the divisional offensive.

In Jaisalmer and Barmer sub-sectors, where road communications were somewhat better, Pakistan could muster infantry brigades and one armoured regiment, less one squadron, either in Jaisalmer or Barmer sub-sectors at any time.

In overall planning, it was a strange situation that I was to sit in my defences for about seven days in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation waiting, and perhaps hoping, that Pakistan would not start a war before the rest of the division fetched up. Especially so when I had no armour while the enemy, the potential aggressor, had the option of concentrating his strike element with impunity and literally encircling me, thus scuttling the divisional concentration. I pondered over this and many other connected problems of desert warfare, and ideas gradually crystallised one by one.

Firstly, my problem was to ensure that before Pakistan could react to my move to the area I should be able to achieve such a degree of anti-tank potential that the enemy would not be able to rush my defended localities. I envisaged a night move to the defended areas by stealth and occupation and preparation of defended localities, including minefields, with minimum acceptable anti-tank potential by first light the next morning. Since the desert roads were liable to widespread disruption, there was a compulsive necessity to site our soft administrative elements well outside the immediate strike distance of the enemy armour and so stock the localities with water, food and ammunition that they could exist and fight without replenishment for limited periods.

Since I had no tanks, it was my endeavour to exploit the anti-tank potential of each article in my weaponry, and towards that end deployment of 25-pr and 130-mm guns assumed greater importance so as to achieve indirect security by location, especially from tank forays in the flanks and rear. 2 Field Regiment, in which I had served in my early years, was now self propelled, and had achieved distinction in the Western Desert by destroying 35 German tanks in the battle of Bir-Heichan, and I had heard of the effectiveness of the 130-mm Russian gun against tanks.

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I wanted to maximize the benefit of the secondary role of these guns. I had considerable experience of fighting the Pakistan armour at Khemkaran in 1965 and wanted to draw upon it in abundance in executing my role. The second problem which agitated me was the capture of Gadra City. The previous experience of this operation was not altogether pleasant. In 1965, frontal attacks on the city had failed twice, leading to the sack of the brigadier concerned. At the third attempt, the then Commander Artillery, in temporary command of the participating infantry brigade, had carried the objective by a flank attack, achieving a complete surprise. Since the Pakistanis were aware of the various possibilities, I wanted to exploit still another unexpected move.

The terrain around Jamnagar was typically black cotton soil with an occasional rocky outcrop, and there was no problem of water and mobility off the main roads

Regrettably, not much thought had been given to the details and intricacies of such contingencies in my own formation. So I set out to look around outside it. Maj Gen JFR Jacob (later Lt Gen), a progressive military thinker of the time, had done a lot of work on the subject when he commanded 12 Infantry Division at Jodhpur. I got hold of those training notes and found them very useful, especially in the use of medium machine gun and recoilless anti-tank gun mobile teams for reconnaissance, protecting flanks, presenting a false front, reinforcing threatened localities, and as tank-hunting teams. He visualized raising an ad hoc reconnaissance and support troop by pooling one MMG and one RCL mounted jeep at the scale of one such team per battalion without unduly sacrificing the inherent military potential of the infantry battalions. I ordered raising and training of such a troop under a spirited young officer.

Book_India_wars_sinceThe stage was now set for trying out my ideas and those of others in conditions as close as possible to those obtaining in my operational area. The terrain around Jamnagar was typically black cotton soil with an occasional rocky outcrop, and there was no problem of water and mobility off the main roads. So I took my formation straight into the desert for a spell of some tank-oriented training although, since the level of training enunciated by higher direction was confined only to unit training, it was not mandatory for me to do so. I wanted to be fully prepared for war should it come in my tenure.Gadra City lies in a bowl formed by high sand dunes. Like a second quadrant of a quadrangle, the international border runs east and south of it at a distance of four to five kilometres. Three tracks converge on the city from India, and the exits to Pakistan led west and northwest. The command appreciation estimated that Pakistan would defend the city with one infantry battalion and elements of reconnaissance and support elements.

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Considering the terrain and lay of the land, it was surmised that apart from holding a screen close to the border with the Rangers, Pakistan would defend the routes of ingress with one company each closer to the city, and would have one company on a commanding dune in the rear of the city blocking the exits. To experiment in taking such a position in the desert under similar circumstances, I chose the area of Dorimana, south of Barmer, which approximated to the conditions obtaining in and around Gadra City, and set a two-side exercise named Iron Fist with troops.

Three tracks converge on the city from India, and the exits to Pakistan led west and northwest. The command appreciation estimated that Pakistan would defend the city with one infantry battalion and elements of reconnaissance and support elements.

The exercise gave a free hand to one battalion commander who was to play the part of the Pakistani defender of Gadra City. He was given three or four days to develop his defences before the rest of the brigade group moved at night and took up the brigade-defended sector close to the border almost unnoticed. In the next three to four days both sides carried out deep patrolling, and the side representing India even left a small observation party in enemy territory which reported all movements. The enemy deployment was picked up and was more or less on the lines expected in the event of a Pakistani deployment in and around Gadra City. The emphasis on obstacles and defences lay in covering the approaches frontally and needed an audacious plan which, exploiting this weakness, would outwit the defender. The stage was now set for the attack.

The Army Commander landed one afternoon in a dust haze and was briefed about the exercise and visited the troops poised for attacks. He felt the artillery deployment rather bold, being immediately behind the firm base battalion-defended locality. He was told this was done with a purpose, firstly to see whether it could support the entire operation without movement, and secondly whether by virtue of its location it could afford anti-tank insurance from the rear and flanks. He did not seem convinced but said nothing as he was talking to a gunner who had come straight from the successful command of an artillery brigade.

The plan of attack was simple. On the outbreak of hostilities, the two battalion groups would advance along the routes of ingress after eliminating the border outposts to contact the main defences and lean against them aggressively. The next night, the third battalion, after a wide outflanking move, would attack the key defended locality in depth from the rear, thus bottling up the entire enemy force in the city. The battalion on the north-east flank would act as a reserve for the attack.

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One thought on “1971: The Rajasthan Campaign – I

  1. It is amazing to see how petty prejudices manifest in books written after retirement. Calling names such as ‘back-stabbing’ General Bewoor,’ who was his army commander, his GOC Maj Gen Mathur, “a good staff officer but a poor commander.” – when none of these officers could respond to his personal criticisms. I wonder if these dignified officers would even deign to respond to such petty observations! If Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh – Sukhi – (he dabbled in poetry where he wrote under that pen-name) were so great and able, he would have at least commanded a Corps, let alone an army or be the Chief. If Lt Gen P O Dunn (Gen. Sukhi did not even spare him!) could be recalled from leave prior to retirement) the author could have been recalled to command higher formation if were that as brilliant as he claims himself to be!
    Talking about ‘communalism in the army’ where, in his opinion, infantry officers were given precedence over other (mainly Artillery – Gen Sukhi being a gunner!), he is equally scathing against infantry or cavalry! In his disdainful attitude towards all and sundry, he has undermined the role of para-military like BSF in 1971 ops. His prejudice against the ‘Khaki’ is clear in the few pages here, where he says that it was embarrassing for the army to don Khaki uniform!”
    To be fair, one must say however, that Gen. Sukhi’s style of narration is fluid and simple; that only makes his personal perception of people or organizations he did not like crystal clear.

    Read more at: the senior generals

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