Military & Aerospace

1971: The Rajasthan Campaign - I
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This manoeuvre had many advantages. It went on the ground and from the direction it was least expected, it prevented an orderly withdrawal by the adversary to save fighting the same troops over and over again, it suffered fewer casualties at the assaulting troops avoided most of the fire and obstacles sited to cover the approaches frontally, and above all it achieved complete surprise.

The next war with Pakistan would be a war to the finish and may last years. You will get all the time to carry out your battle procedures.

Apparently, the Army Commander was not satisfied. He favoured systematic step-by-step tackling of the localities frontally in phases. This, he argued, would ensure that each commander down to a section would be able to see his objective in daylight. He was prepared to accept a 24-hour delay between the phases but would not sacrifice this requirement. When Hazari emphasized the advantage of attacking from the rear, he reluctantly agreed, but still insisted that the attacking troops, after having reached their firm base for the attack, should wait the next day there so as to point out objectives in daylight.

With as much tact as I could muster, I pointed out that such pinpointing of objectives in the desert, where shifting sands change the shape of dunes in hours, is redundant. At night, the troops could be, and were, guided by artillery covering fire and other navigational aids like tracer on the flanks. After a successful outflanking move at night, I would capitalize on the surprise achieved and carry through with the manoeuvre in attack rather than lose everything waiting for daylight only to point out the shifting sands.

The countrywide revolt against the military dictatorship in what was then East Pakistan and Gen Tikka Khans suppressive operations foretold the gathering of war clouds in the Indian subcontinent.

I also stressed that in the context of the short wars of today tight time frames did not allow a leisurely approach of time-consuming battle drills and systematic attrition tactics. On this, the Army Commander got visibly annoyed and said: “You boys have queer notions of short wars. The next war with Pakistan would be a war to the finish and may last years. You will get all the time to carry out your battle procedures. Let me be absolutely clear, I don’t want any shortcuts.” Hazari winked at me to keep my mouth shut.

While leaving the exercise area, Bewoor remarked to me: “You think your Army Commander is orthodox.” I kept quiet, but my face perhaps revealed my feelings. Later in the year, I had an opportunity to conduct an exercise discussion on the ground in his attendance. There was hardly any contribution from him. By that time, I had learnt not to argue with one who lived in the rigidities of his past, and such unfortunately was the case with some general officers of his seniority.

Bewoor lacked war experience and did not have the flexibility to follow the ever-changing trends of modern warfare. He still lived in tunes of World War II happily believing that his views were in tune with the present context. After a brief and very perfunctory combat experience as a company commander in Burma, he cooled his heals in South Block for the rest of the war years. Independence and the subsequent Indianisation of the armed forces found him in command of a battalion for a few months in the Kashmir operations, but it remained uncommitted during his tenure. He commanded two brigades, both in peace, a division in 1962 and a corps in 1965, but remained out of battle. Thus, within the parameters of our promotion systems, he floundered his way up the steps of the ladder of promotion without anything to show for this in the way of professional achievement. Such was the curse of our systems. I shuddered to think of him directing a modern war, which he was to do thereafter.

As the crisis in East Pakistan gradually escalated, certain precautionary measures were necessitated in the west to meet any Pakistan initiative in this regions.

A few days later, I received a demi-official letter from my Army Commander saying how much he enjoyed visiting my exercise. He spoke about the great interest he had in it, adding that after the visit he felt educated. There was no mention of any weakness noticed or directions on concepts and tactical doctrine. Much later, when I met Maj Gen Satinder Singh, his Chief of Staff and an old friend of mine, he told me that Bewoor remarked after his visit to my exercise: “Sukhwant believes he can achieve everything by sheer drive and push.” In the Army, where these two characteristics were sadly lacking, I took this as a compliment and left it at that. A year later, events led me to recognize the two facets of his personality: one with a charming smile, endearing words and profuse compliments, and the other stabbing you in the back. And he lacked the moral courage of a soldier to say frankly what he felt about events and personalities.

Bewoor was a self-appointed protagonist of infantry supremacy in our Army. He had a hand in both covert and overt moves which led to giving unfair advantage to the infantry over other arms in the way of reservation of seats at the Staff College. This was the first step towards sowing the seeds of professional communalism, which led to simmering discontent among deserving and competent officers of other units. Armies all over the world had realized that modern wars are fought on an all-arms combat basis, to which the infantry also contributes. But unfortunately Bewoor and his type had not done so, and their failure was to have serious repercussions affecting the national interest.

Independence and the subsequent Indianisation of the armed forces found him in command of a battalion for a few months in the Kashmir operations, but it remained uncommitted during his tenure.

Meanwhile, Hazari was replaced by Maj Gen AN Mathur, a signals officer who had made it through our systems the hard way. He was able and extremely hardworking. Perhaps motivated by the desire to prove himself, he drove everybody to tie up the loose ends in training and staff duties. With his professional knowledge and urge for dispatch, he could have achieved a lot more, but he failed to carry his team with him because of his petty ways of dealing with his command. He was a good staff officer but a poor commander.

It is essential to keep operational plans under constant review. Since the parameters of planning—political objectives, the enemy threat and our capability—are everchanging factors depending upon the national aspirations, plans need to have either the inherent flexibility to meet the demands of these changes or must be made afresh. In this regards, Southern Command, like others, held war games once a year. These meets generally coincided with the Pune racing season, when the Army Commander presented the coveted Command Race Cup. The get-together meant for a serious review of our plans, thus turning into a social event. Perhaps it was because of the rigidity of Bewoor’s professional mind, or maybe the conformist attitude of his generals, but it is amazing that despite the changing parameters of planning his plan remained static. We were to explore the ill effects of this rigidity later.

I left to join Army Headquarters as Deputy Director of Military Operations in March 1971. The countrywide revolt against the military dictatorship in what was then East Pakistan and Gen Tikka Khan’s suppressive operations foretold the gathering of war clouds in the Indian subcontinent. Planning started for a possible war. As described in earlier chapters, the overall strategy was to be initially defensive in the West while the war in East Pakistan was to be carried to its rightful conclusion.

In the briefing, he referred to me frequently as “Sams spy” despite my pointing out that we were all batting for the same side.

Towards this end, the resources for fighting in East Pakistan were created by denuding areas of lower priority. In the process, Bewoor lost 340 Mountain Brigade group and one medium regiment (130 mm) but was compensated with two independent armoured squadrons (T-55). In the middle of the year when a revised draft of Army Headquarters operational instructions was ‘circulated to army commanders for their comments before they were finally issued, Bewoor insisted that despite the depletion of his resources his plans should remain unaltered. He was obviously confident of their success. The instructions, laying down objectives, gave him leverage to choose the timings of offensives in each sector, thus allowing him to switch his resources from one to another, depending upon the opportunities offered by the tide of war. In the intervening months, Bewoor kept pointing out the lack of reserves in his command whenever he was told to cut his coat according to his cloth.

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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:
    http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/1971-the-rajasthan-campaign-i/4/when the senior generals

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