Military & Aerospace

1971: The Rajasthan Campaign - II
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Air Force units located in Gujarat and at Nal did not come under AOC Jodhpur, air support for Bikaner and Kutch sectors had to be dealt with directly with Headquarters Western Air Command. Allotment of air sorties for close support was 32 on D-Day and 40 thereafter per day. These were primarily earmarked for 11 and 12 Infantry Divisions. Communications back to command and supporting air bases were tenuous but nonetheless commercial most of the time. Bawa and his boys were in good spirits and looked forward to the coming war eagerly.

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From there I flew over the 12 Infantry Division deployment area to Tanot, the location of its headquarters. On arrival, I met Maj Gen Khambata, who had taken over the division a few months earlier. This officer was professionally the least qualified of his time to hold the general’s rank. He was not a Staff College graduate, nor had he attended any other worthwhile courses and had nothing to show in spheres of command. His only qualification was that he had been Assistant Military Secretary at Headquarters Eastern Command on personal appointment to two future chiefs, Kumaramangalam and Manekshaw.

Very little was known of the roads penetrating the sandy belt. It was presumed that since Pakistan maintained two posts at Islamgarh and Ghunewala Khu, north of salient, there would be reasonable roads serving them.

Kumaramangalam gave him an infantry brigade and Manekshaw a division. His promotion had caused quite a bit of heartburning in the Army. In fact, the number of aspirants for personal appointments increased thereafter. It was widely known that Bewoor did not like him, nor did he care much for Bewoor, but neither was in a position to alter the situation. In the end, they just tolerated each other.

The divisional area of operational responsibility comprised flatish Ramgarh Salent jutting into the Sind Desert Since 1965, road communications had considerably improved beyond the railhead of Jaisalmer. A radial road ran parallel to the border connecting Asutar-Longenwala-Tanot-Kishengarh, and this was in turn connected by feeder roads emanating from Ramgarh to Astitar, Longenwala and Tanot like the spokes of a wheel with Ramgarh being the hub.

These roads had been maintained by the Rajasthan Public Works Department, but had been recently taken over by the Border Road Task Forces for better upkeepment. The Indian forces in the Rarngarh salient and those of Pakistan in the general area of Rahim Yar Khan were separated by a sandy belt of 48 to 64 kilometres.

Roads led from Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad towards the Ramgarh salient, but all were known to terminate at the end of the green belt along the general line of the Abai-Hiyat Canal. Very little was known of the roads penetrating the sandy belt. It was presumed that since Pakistan maintained two posts at Islamgarh and Ghunewala Khu, north of salient, there would be reasonable roads serving them. When we got the photographs of the area interpreted after the visit, it was revealed that the road from Bhagla to Islamgarh was no more than a dirt track. Tarmac roads ended at the canal.

This tank had a powerful gun which could take on any known Pakistani tank in a static defensive role, but in tank-to-tank battle it was no match for their tanks, especially when the enemy armour was visualized to be in an offensive role.

In this briefing Khambata detailed the task assigned to his division, which in military terms entailed:

  • Advance on the Kishengarh-Sakhirawala Khu-Bhagla axes to contact the Pakistani defences in the Rahim Yar Khan area at the earliest.
  • Cut the Pakistani rail communications in Rahim Yar Khan area as a priority task by last light D plus 2 days.
  • Intercept and raid Ahmedpur Lamma-Khanbela in the area north of Rahim Yar Khan at the earliest, but not later than last light on D plus three days.
  • Destroy the maximum Pakistani forces in the Rahim Yar Khan-Sadiqabad area before these could be reinforced.

At the time of my visit, the division was poised to develop a major thrust towards Rahim Yar Khan. One brigade group held the firm base in defensive posture, with one battalion group each in the general area of Kishengarh, Tanot, Sadhewal, Longenwala.

The rest of the division was concentrated in the order of march it was to advance. One brigade group less one battalion which was to secure a firm base for the advance was concentrated at Mokal, the advance guard comprising one infantry battalion and one armoured regiment, one light regiment and one field battery in the area of Ghantiali, the followup brigade group with the remainder of the artillery brigade in Sanu area, and rear divisional headquarters and the administrative area units at Rarau. Divisional headquarters (main) were established at Tanot.

To construct 60 kilometres of track in Pakistani territory would therefore require 240 hours to reach the road system in Pakistan. This meant that the track would be fit for build-up traffic five days after the divisional attack

The plan envisaged the development of the offensive as under:

  • On outbreak of hostilities, the firm base would be extended by the capture of Sandh, Jadewali and Islamgarh within the resources of the brigade group holding it.
  • Phase I. The leading brigade group, less one battalion, was to secure assembly area short of the border by last light D Day.
  • Phase 2: The combat group of the leading brigade group, comprising one armoured regiment (AMX-13), one infantry battalion and one light regiment (mounted on one-ton Nissan 4 x 4 trucks fitted with baloon tyres), was to advance along the Kishengarh-Jamalwala Toba-Bhagla-Rahim Yar Khan axis and contact the Pakistani defences based on Tarinda and Pattan Minadra distributaries by H plus 12 hours after bypassing Bhagla, which was to be captured by the remainder of the leading brigade group by H plus 18 hours.
  • Phase 3: Capture of Tarinda and securing the west bank of the Tarin a distributary by the leading brigade group by H plus 36 hours.
  • Phase 4: One battalion group of the followup group was to relieve the leading brigade from the road/Tarinda distributary junction by H plus 24 hours, and thereafter the remainder brigade group was to build up by H plus 48 hours. At the same time, the firm base brigade was to build up Rahim Yar Khan area, leaving behind one battalion group is Sadhewala.
  • Phase 5: Attack on Rahim Yar Khan not before D plus five days.

Concurrently with Phase 3, one commandor group was to be dropped at night by air in suitable zones so as to carry out raids in the area north of Rahim Yar Khan, after which link-up was expected with the main force.

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