Military & Aerospace

1971: The Rajasthan Campaign - I
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As the crisis in East Pakistan gradually escalated, certain precautionary measures were necessitated in the west to meet any Pakistan initiative in this regions. 330 Infantry Brigade was accordingly moved from Bangalore to Desa, on the boundary of ujarat and Rajasthan, by the end of August 1971. This was followed by the movement of troops guarding the airfields and connected early warning installations. The administrative build-up was also ordered to commence with the movement of elements from static depots within the command.

“¦they would have enough uncommitted reserves to influence the battle in unforeseen contingencies. And such a modification was within the purview of the tasks allotted by Army Headquarters.

The rest of the formations and units, as also Command Advance Headquarters, fed forward in a trickle so as not to create premature alarm in Pakistan camps but yet retain the tactical balance at each successive stage. Bewoor objected to control of movement by Army Headquarters off and on, but then he did not realize that this movement was part of a mature plan thoughtfully worked out by the planners at headquarters and superbly executed by the railways without causing panic to the civilian population. By 25 October, Bewoor was poised to meet the offensive and defensive contingencies in the Rajasthan Desert.

Towards the beginning of November I was sent to Southern Command. The aim of my tour was to get the feel of the reaction of our operational plans at the execution level and verify on the ground the progress achieved in the build-up of troops and our preparedness as well as logistic backing. I landed one fine wintry morning at Jodhpur and visited Command Advance Headquarters. The headquarters were comfortably settled in an unit area, with a well-organized operation room.

Satinder Singh briefed me about the command plans. He was once regarded as an up and coming man but had recently been bypassed for promotion. He was very bitter and showed it in his thinking and actions. In the briefing, he referred to me frequently as “Sam’s spy” despite my pointing out that we were all batting for the same side. A loyal staff officer, he showed complete personal involvement in the command plans with his boss, but this was going to be his first serious war experience, like Bewoor. Although he had commanded 12 Infantry Division in the area, his orientation was still towards the Western Desert campaign of World War II.

Satinder Singh recapitulated the command’s overall plan, which in a nutshell meant two simultaneous divisional thrusts in two widely separated axes with one infantry battalion and a squadron of anti-tank guided missiles as command reserve. There was no change in Bewoor’s plans of almost three years before. This was no place for me to comment on the Army Commander’s plans,. and I listened in dutiful silence. The plan broadly envisaged 12 Infantry Division, concentrated in the Jaisalmer sector, intercepting rail and road communications in the general area of Khanpur-Rahim Yar Khan-Khairpur to destroy the Pakistani forces operating in this sector before they could be reinforced. On completion of these tasks, further operations were to develop towards Sukkur or Bahawalpur as ordered.

The air support set up in this command was a departure from accepted norms in a way, but was still workable.

At the same time 11 Infantry Division was to take the offensive in the Barmer sector to capture Gadra City and Khokhrapar and then advance towards Nayachor to destroy the maximum Pakistan forces in the Nayachor-Umarkot area. The offensive was to start at the outbreak of hostilities at 72 hours notice on the orders of Command Headquarters. Later is the evening, when he got a little animated over drinks Satinder Singh emphasized the importance of the Rajasthan sector as compared with the western sector so far as worthwhile political aims were concerned and accused the Chief of giving it a low priority, perhaps with a purpose.

Without attributing motives, I explained that there were reasons for allocating op: rational priorities which he was not aware of, but he should have faith that the authorities concerned knew their jobs and were aware and equally zealous of national interests. In any case, my mandate was limited to identifying the difficulties faced in his sector, and he was free to state these frankly. He thereupon drew attention to the woeful lack of uncommitted reserves to influence the battle, to which I replied that they should so modify their overall plan so as to be able to create suitable reserves at various stages of the battle.

In this regard, I emphasized that the existing plans distributed the offensive effort into two widely separated sectors without sufficient punch in either to achieve decisive results. Concentrating the effort in one sector at the cost of remaining dormant elsewhere could perhaps yield better dividends. Thus, they would have enough uncommitted reserves to influence the battle in unforeseen contingencies. And such a modification was within the purview of the tasks allotted by Army Headquarters. He apparently remained unconvinced, and it seemed that the die was cast for the three-year-old plans.

Then he complained about the change of command of both divisions just before battle. I explained that such changes were often done even in mid-battle. The changes hardly mattered so long as the persons chosen were professionally adequate and good commanders of troops. He gave me a cynical smile and cursed our systems, which he said brought up only “the dirt.” He had some other difficulties regarding transport and administrative units which were remedied immediately on my return.

Book_India_wars_sinceEarly next morning I flew along the railway line to land a couple of hours later at Jaisalmer airfield. It was heartening to find a warlike atmosphere at the air base under Wing Commander MS Bawa. Along with Uttarlai, this field had been activated recently by providing staff and aircraft from the training establishment at Jamnagar. The air support set up in this command was a departure from accepted norms in a way, but was still workable. Air support from Southern Command was planned and allotted by Headquarters Western Air Command at Delhi while the senior Air Force officer with whom the Army Commander had to deal with on air matters in Rajasthan was Air Officer Commanding at Jodhpur. Control of air effort was exercised through Officer Commanding Tactical Air Centre (TAC) located at Command Advance Headquarters.

Continued…: 1971: The Rajasthan Campaign – II

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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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