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.
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.
The speed of construction could not be greatly accelerated by an increase in manpower or transport as single-lane development could not absorb additional hands and equipment. This proved that the advance guard would have to fend for itself against the likely Pakistani reaction.
Our estimate of the enemy, based on traditional thinking, was that one infantry brigade group of Pakistan 8 Infantry Division with one armoured regiment (Sherman 76 mm) was expected to be disposed as under:
- Brigade, less one battalion group, covering the Islamgarh-Bhagla axis with defences based on the canal lines.
- One battalion group covering the Manthar-Sadiqabad axis.
- Some elements at Khairpur.
- The Ranger BOPs were held along the general Bhagla Jadewali-Tada Kandhera line.
- Two Ranger companies in the Islamgarh and Ghunewala Khu areas.
The plan looked very bold and audacious superficially, and certainly a refreshing change from the timid military thinking of the times. But on detailed scrutiny it fell to pieces. Firstly, the armour consisted of one regiment of AMX-13 light tanks. 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. The vintage AMX-13 fleet was in doubtful mechanical condition to undertake operations of such deep and swift penetration.
Although it was believed that the Pakistani brigade group in and around Rahim Yar Khan was supported by one armoured regiment equipped with upgunned Shermans (76-mm guns) by our estimates, there was a possibility that under the plan to re-equip the Pakistani Army with liberal doses of Chinese military aid the regiment could have T-59 tanks, a Chinese version of the Russian T-54. Our AMX-13 would then be no match in battle, especially with the support available from the resources of the advance guard.
The need for medium artillery support was also realized to cope with fast-moving armour/mobile infantry columns operating at greater ranges.
The next problem was the presence of Pakistan 1 Corps comprising 1 Armoured Division and 31 Infantry Division, near Bahawalpur, from where a reaction could be expected within 48 hours with at least one combat group. It therefore became incumbent to build up the rest of the division, or at least as much of its strength across the desert belt as to meet the additional threat, in that time. This build-up depended upon the state of the Rahim Yar Khan-Bhagla-Islamgarh road. As described earlier, our intelligence was certain that the tarmac portion ended at the Abai-Hiyat Canal and that beyond was only a dirt track.
The distance from our roadhead at Kishengarh to the canal was approximately 75 kilometres, out of which 15 kilometres was in Indian territory and could be constructed before D Day. Our engineers had developed the technical capability of blazing a trail in the desert by laying a track of duckboards, involving the construction of a road by joining wooden boards with hinge-type clamps. Such a road could bear sustained one-lane divisional traffic.
“¦there was a possibility that under the plan to re-equip the Pakistani Army with liberal doses of Chinese military aid the regiment could have T-59 tanks, a Chinese version of the Russian T-54.
The snags in 12 Infantry Division, in this regard were two-fold: the first was that the track material (a combination of duckboards, summer field track, and PSP) available was only enough for 42 kilometres against a requirement of 75. The next was the speed with which the trackmaking could follow the leading elements, construction with the prevalent techniques being only one kilometre in four hours over day and night. 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, and then too subject to the availability of stores for the remaining 33 kilometres on time. The speed of construction could not be greatly accelerated by an increase in manpower or transport as single-lane development could not absorb additional hands and equipment. This proved that the advance guard would have to fend for itself against the likely Pakistani reaction.
Daylight movement of vehicular traffic of the magnitude visualized in the operation along a single track would invite fierce retaliation by the enemy from the air. It was thus necessary that if vehicles moved from one dispersal area to another by night and day they should be protected by combat air patrols, but this was not possible within the mathematically distributed air resources of the command of about 32 odd sorties when offensive operations were to be undertaken simultaneously in all sectors at the same time.
In addition, there was the problem of carrying and storing water, which needed a number of plastic portable containers and Braithwaite tanks.
It was felt that the commando group could be more profitably employed in isolating the battle zone by establishing a series of roadblocks in the direction of Bahawalpur, from where the reaction would emanate, rather than go for aimless disruption of the area north of Rahim Yar Khan.
This analysis of Khambata and his capable Colonel General Staff Dev was not meant to be a council of fear but a coldblooded evaluation of the plan’s efficacy. In the process, we set out to explore ways of making it work without sacrificing the concept and mode of operations. We felt that allotting one armoured squadron equipped with T-55 tanks would increase the punch of the spearhead. We could cut down the distance of the desert traversed by adopting the shorter route from Laduwali Rekh to Bhagla as the axis of advance. This would economize on track material, as also much-needed time.
Let the war come, then I shall do only what is possible. Who can hustle me then?” We left it at that, and I drove with Dev to the helipad. On the way, I described to him the scenario of the divisional column, stuck in sand and stretched along the axis and being taken on by the enemy air at will, a helpless situation where you could neither go ahead nor come back. Mercifully, this fate befell the Pakistani offensive in the ensuing war. This plan was conceived by Khambata’s predecessor Maj Gen EA Vas, a progressive military thinker. He was known for his unorthodoxy and boldness, and had rightly been selected to head our Military College of Combat.
Mercifully, this fate befell the Pakistani offensive in the ensuing war. This plan was conceived by Khambatas predecessor Maj Gen EA Vas, a progressive military thinker.
It speaks well for his articulate argumentation that this plan was war gamed for almost three successive years without detection of the above flaws. It is inconceivable how it got the Army Commander’s approval, especially when Bewoor was imbued with a cautious step-by- step approach. All one could surmise was that Bewoor was overawed by Vas’s professional halo. Vas might still have been able to pull off this plan, but Khambata was not of the same mould. I had some disturbing thoughts about the plan on my long flight to Gadra Road.
The Barmer sector comprised the southern portion of the Rajasthan desert to Bakhasar, north of the Little Rann. The main rail and road links with the Pakistani system ran from Barmer to Gadra Road via Ramsar and thence to Munabao on the border. It was an old pre-partition rail route connecting Jodhpur with Karachi, and was well known among tourists for its luxurious metre-gauge train rides through the desert. The road had since been termaced up to Munabao. From Munabao, the rail track had been removed for about 200 metres, and another stretch of about six kilometres up to Khokhrapar was under sand because of disuse. On the Pakistani side, trains ran regularly from Hyderabad up to Khokhrapar. Arrangements had been made by positioning track construction material at Banner and assembling manpower to connect the two rail systems quickly in the event of war.
On the Pakistani side, trains ran regularly from Hyderabad up to Khokhrapar. Arrangements had been made by positioning track construction material at Banner and assembling manpower to connect the two rail systems quickly in the event of war.
We had been led up the garden path so far as terrain intelligence was concerned. We were told that a tarmac road ran up to Khokhrapar. In fact, as a brigade commander in the sector I had debriefed a reliable agent, who swore that he had travelled by bus along the route and was certain of the information he was feeding. He also produced a beautiful sketch of the fortifications in and around Khokhrapar. He seemed so infallible that three different intelligence agencies paid him on different occasions and produced the same information, which was accepted as having been checked independently.
Much later, our leading troops who captured Khokhrapar discovered that the tarmac road did not exist and there was no trace of fortifications. We had been duped. A portion of our rail and road communications from Gadra City to Munabao runs along the border for about 30 kilometres, thus making it liable to interception. Another road runs in greater depth from Barmer to Harsini and thence to Myajlar. A radial road serves the border posts from Myajlar to Munabao, and a lateral runs between Harsini and Gadra Road. Another road runs from Barmer towards Kelnor via Chotan, serving the southern part of the sector, and another from Barmer to Bakhsar.
By the time I landed at Ranasar to meet the General Officer Commanding 11 Infantry Division, the divisional concentration was complete. In accordance with earlier plans, covered by the establishment of a firm base by the leading brigade group, the build-up of the rest of the division had been inducted in the forward zone. The posture on the day of my visit was purely defensive. 17 Grenadiers, the camel battalion, was holding Myajlar-Sundra-Panchla.
The threat to Gadra Road was very great and was not to be dismissed lightly as Pakistan was capable of producing one armoured squadron/infantry battalion group from that direction.
One infantry brigade group in the Munabao-Gadra Road area and one battalion with BSF in adequate strength were deployed in the Kelnor area to destroy the enemy entering the Barmer sector. The remainder of the division was concentrated behind. One infantry brigade was in the Harsini area, one infantry brigade in the Chotan area, an artillery brigade and main division headquarters were in the Ramsar area and rear division headquarters and the administrative area in Marudi. The pattern of concentration was so contrived that it did not give away the intended thrust lines. The division had by than received one independent armoured squadron (T-55) and its integral medium regiment (130 mm) was in support.
On arrival, I was taken to Maj Gen RDR Anand, General Officer Commanding 11 Infantry Division, whom I was meeting for the first time. Like Khambata, he had taken over the division only a few months earlier, but he had been able to collect it and run an exercise or two to get the feel of his formation and the desert. He was an armoured corps officer with typical spruce turnout and the polished manners of a wellbred gentleman.
The few medals on his chest did not indicate much war experience, but the confident tone in which he unfolded his plan spoke well of his professional knowledge. Since he had been promoted from within the command, he seemed to get on well both with the Army Commander and his Chief of Staff. The divisional plan was basically the same old Hazari plan, with slight modifications here and there.
“¦within a day or two of the capture of Khokhrapar it would be possible to connect Indian rail and road communications with those of Pakistan by rebuilding the disrupted portion between Munabao and Khokhrapar.
The task allotted to the division was to capture Khokhrapar, Gadra City and Khinsar to dominate the general area of Manakau and Relnor with the aim of providing depth to the firm base in protecting our lines of communication and destroy the maximum enemy forces in the area of Nayachor-Umarkot. The offensive visualized the execution of this task in three phases commencing on D Day as under:
- Phase 1
- Capture of Gadra City by the firm base brigade by 1400 hours D plus one day.
- Capture of Khokhrapar by the leading brigade group advancing along the Munabao-Khokhrapar-Nayachor axis by 1400 hours D plus one day.
- Elimination of BOPs in Manakau area by the camel battalion by last light on D Day.
- The third brigade group to capture Kelnor with one battalion group, provide one battalion for track construction at Munabao, and keep a third as divisional reserve at Gadra City.
- Phase 2
Clearance of the axis from Khokhrapar to Nayachor and establishment of a firm base by the leading brigade for an attack on the Nayachor defences by last light on D plus two days.
- Phase 3
Capture of Nayachor by the division. Attack to commence not earlier than on D plus five days and to be completed by last light on D plus eight days.
The offensive plan visualized the movement of three brigade groups for an attack on Nayachor as under:
- The loading brigade group by last light on D plus two days as part of Phase 3 of the offensive.
- The follow-up brigade group was to move from Chotan to the Munabao area at night on D plus one day, and from there to area Nayachor the next night, depending upon the progress of the operations in the first phase.
- The firm base brigade group was to hand over the Gadra City, Gadra Road and Munabao defensive commitments to BSF and proceed to Nayachor to join the divisional attack after D plus two days.
At the same time, one para commando battalion was to raid targets by ground infiltration in the Chachro and Umarkot areas to cause confusion in the enemy’s rear areas by destroying troops and materials. It was also to destroy the road and rail bridge over the Thar Canal to assist 11 Infantry Division operations in the Nayachor area as well as to raid targets in the Virawah-Nagar Parkar area to assist the Kutch sector operation. This battalion was commanded by Lt Col K Bhawani Singh from Jaipur and was to operate directly under Headquarters Southern Command.
The commando teams had been made mobile on 4×4 balloon-tyred motor transport and provided with adequate communications. It had also been able to procure guides from the refugees in the area. I met the spirited young officers who were to lead these teams and was greatly impressed by the confidence they displayed. Bhawani Singh was to lead this operation himself. He was exuberant over the opportunity he was getting to display the characteristic Rajput chivalry of the house of Jaipur in battle. For him, it was another polo match in the offing.
Pakistan was holding BOPs with two wings of Rangers, and one battalion group from the brigade group at Hyderabad was known to be located in the Badin area. Agents had also talked about seeing some tanks in the vicinity.
The Hazari plan was conceived with two basic assumptions. Firstly, that within a day or two of the capture of Khokhrapar it would be possible to connect Indian rail and road communications with those of Pakistan by rebuilding the disrupted portion between Munabao and Khokhrapar. Thus it would be possible to induct and maintain the entire divisional force at the other end of the sandy belt with ease. Secondly, it had counted on one brigade group being located in the general area of Barner-Chotan as a command reserve to protect the Gadra City area should a threat develop there after the firm base brigade group had been lifted for the divisional attack. Gadra Road was our major source of water and lay on the vital rail and road communications.
In this context, most of the division would be concentrated between Nayachor and Khokhrapar after D plus two days and Gadra Road would be left almost bare, thus causing an imbalance unacceptable at that stage. The threat to Gadra Road was very great and was not to be dismissed lightly as Pakistan was capable of producing one armoured squadron/infantry battalion group from that direction. The capture of Gadra City by overcoming BSF localities with hardly any anti-tank potential would cause considerable tactical embarrassment for, since reserves would be lacking,, the only way to meet this threat was to draw back the division from Nayachor and perhaps abandon the attack altogether.
Although an alternative road connection was available bypassing Gadra City, the route, being circuitous, would have increased the turnround time considerably. With what transport was available it would not have been possible to support the divisional force without the use of railways. Further, the commando operations were isolated and not directly in support of the main thrust. The advantages accruing from them could only be very indirect and not commensurate with the effort involved.
The lack of a road from Khokhrapar to Nayachor was not known at that time, so ignorant were we of terrain intelligence.
The lack of a road from Khokhrapar to Nayachor was not known at that time, so ignorant were we of terrain intelligence. But the imbalance in the Gadra City area after D plus two days was emphatically brought out in my discussions with Anand, who quickly saw the point, and it was decided to recommend modification of the plan to allow the firm base brigade to stay in the area of Gadra City and Kelnor till the threat from that direction wore off. This brigade could also act as the command reserve to meet unforeseen developments in other sectors.
My next step was Bhuj, headquarters of the Kutch sector improvised on an ad hoc basis under Brig SS Malhotra, Commander Bombay Sub-Area. The sector extended from Bakhasar to the Arabian Sea and consisted mainly of the Little and Great Ranns of Kutch. The Rann was on the verge of going dry.
The mode of operation in the sector was to hold in strength selected localities on likely approaches and retain adequate mobile reserves to eliminate intrusion into the sector and harassing the enemy by destroying border posts, water sources, administrative dumps and other installations.
Apart from limited actions on the line of border outposts nearer the border, a deeper Pakistani thrust could be effected only by a mobile force consisting of armour/mechanised infantry combat groups. To block these intrusions it was imperative to develop the localities acting as stops into anti-tank localities by using mines and generally enhancing their anti-tank potential with additional anti-tank weapons. They were otherwise liable to be rushed by armour. The tactical compulsion was for them to hold out despite being bypassed and to have the capacity to send out tank-hunting parties at night. Within the existing constraints on equipment they were capable of neither. Serious reconsideration of the policy of equipping BSF and TA units was involved, and these could not be implemented in the short time before the war.
“¦enable us to utilize a bigger force to maintain the momentum of offensive operations better. Use of the railway would nullify the uncertainty of the state of the roads in Pakistani territory.
As part of the overall offensive in the Rajasthan sector, Malhotra was to secure the salient in Bhadesar opposite Suigam across the Little Rann. For this he was to use a heterogeneous collection of troops consisting of one infantry battalion (command reserve) from the Jaisalmer sector, two companies from the TA infantry battalion at Bhuj, and two to three companies of BSF raised from local resources at Suigam. I however felt that this offensive would achieve little but would instead cause imbalance in the Khavda-Bhuj area. Malhotra replied that a series of limited tasks to eliminate Pakistani BOPs would be undertaken all along the border to forestall an enemy initiative in the sector.
From there, I visited Jamnagar Air Force station. It was commanded by Group Captain Pete Wilson, a highly capable officer who had organised the training establishment on a war footing in a soldierly manner. Jamnagar was perhaps the only station which functioned in the war as an integrated three services unit. It is to Wilson’s credit that under his stewardship the three services functioned very efficiently and with great fervour, achieving good results.
As happens in every war, rumours were afloat of commando raids on our atomic reactor at Trombay and oil installation in and around Baroda, as also of bomber raids. Protection of rear area VA/VPs was the responsibility of Maj Gen R N Batra, General Officer Commanding Maharashtra and Gujarat Area. He correctly assessed that the ground and air threat to these installations was grossly exaggerated and felt confident that the judicious employment of the recently activated urban TA and local police units would fill the existing gaps in AD cover and provide adequate security to the VA/VOs in the region.
As the war clouds started gathering towards the end of November 1971 because of the gradual escalation of hostilities in the east, the army in the west waited for Pakistan to take the initiative and launch action.
But our troubles were not over. Pressures steadily developed on the Defence Ministry from various public and private undertakings for protection of numerous but nonetheless vital installations, and despite stiff resistance from the services our resources were dispersed to a great extent. Fortunately, tactical area resources were not touched in this process. The authorities of some undertakings however suggested that they be permitted to raise their own AD units and debit the costs to their projects.
On my return to base, I submitted a written report on my impressions. I brought out that between the two sectors overall priority should be given to the Barmer sector for two main reasons. Firstly, by developing the main thrust along the railway line it would be possible to haul greater tonnages for administrative backing. This would enable us to utilize a bigger force to maintain the momentum of offensive operations better. Use of the railway would nullify the uncertainty of the state of the roads in Pakistani territory. Secondly, the reaction from Pakistan I Corps elements would take not less than four or five days to materialise in the sector, by when our forces would have dealt with the Pakistan brigade group in the Nayachor-Umarkotarea in isolation.
Since the elements of Pakistan I Corps deployed in the sector could not be switched back to Bahawalpur quickly, this would mean a proportionate reduction of the threat in the western theatre. On the other hand, the Jaisalmer sector offensive would invite quicker reaction without a proportionate reduction of the threat to this theatre. Ever, if a road was laid through the sandy belt to join the Pakistani road system it would not be possible to build up and maintain a divisional force along a single-line traffic route liable to disruption by enemy air and ground raids.
Lack of uncommitted reserves to meet any unforeseen developments in both sectors, as well as insufficiency of armour and connected medium artillery support, dictated that it would be prudent to go on the defensive in one sector and concentrate the maximum available resources for an offensive in the other. This was visualized by Army Headquarters in allotting tasks to Southern Command although the overall priority for offensive tasks had been assigned to Jaisalmer sector, perhaps with the aim of ensuring disruption of the Pakistani road and rail communications, Rahim Yar Khan being closer on the main communication artery.
Intelligence continued to stick to earlier estimates that Pakistan 18 Infantry Division with two armoured regiments (both Shermans) and three infantry brigades was holding the sector.
My arguments failed to convince the Chief of the advisability of changing plans at that stage. Later, I came to know that although he had sensed the necessity for change he did not want to press the issue as Bewoor might accuse him of interference in his function of command. Inder Gill, essentially a pragmatist, got down to filling the existing gaps step by step. He initially tackled Satinder Singh to verify the shortcomings. Satinder Singh felt this was tantamount to faulting their planning capability. He at once rang me up to accuse me of spying with a view to engineering a campaign against him personally. I tried to pacify him but he was not convinced. Meanwhile, Gill got things moving, despite an unpleasant exchange of words between him and the Army Commander, to remedy the shortcomings.
The following action was taken:
- In the Jaisalmer sector, an independent armoured squadron (T-55) was inducted to enhance the punch of our armour, track material was provided to reach up to the Abai-Hiyat distributary, and sufficient water containers were issued to make the formation self-sufficient for the required number of days.
- Plans were modified in the Barmer sector to the extent that the firm base brigade was to operate in the Gadra City Chachro area so as to protect directly road and rail communications from Gadra Road to Munabao as well as the water supply.
- One Army engineer regiment, a few transport platoons, including one jeep platoon, and two additional BSF battalions were allotted to the command.
Barring direct orders to the Army Commander, every effort was made to carry out the necessary changes in the command operational plans, but Bewoor left them unchanged.
Although no discernible pattern of Pakistan operation emerged from the shelling thus far, the Chief directed Bewoor to put his offensive plans into effect at the earliest, and the restriction on crossing the international border by our troops was lifted immediately.
As the war clouds started gathering towards the end of November 1971 because of the gradual escalation of hostilities in the east, the army in the west waited for Pakistan to take the initiative and launch action. At last news came of Gen Yahya Khan’s announcement at a party to a foreign delegation that “for all you know I may be fighting a war with India within ten days.” The commands were alerted, but no readjustment of the dispositions mentioned earlier took place in the Southern Command. Our intelligence failed to notice any regrouping or untoward movement opposite the Rajasthan sector. Intelligence continued to stick to earlier estimates that Pakistan 18 Infantry Division with two armoured regiments (both Shermans) and three infantry brigades was holding the sector.
One armoured regiment was reported to be located in the Mirpur-Mathelo area and another in the Hyderabad sector with a squadron at Vasarbah, one infantry brigade group, less one battalion, in the area of Chor and Nayachor with one battalion at Badin, and another in the Rahim Yar Khan-Khairpur-Khanpur area. The whereabouts of the third brigade was not known, but it was expected to be in the Hyderabad area as an uncommitted reserve ready to reinforce either sector. Although a limited offensive in the Jaisalmer sector was not discounted because of the Pakistani offensive potential in the sector, such a possibility was not considered seriously.
Meanwhile, our intelligence managed to dig out air photos of the Bhagla-Islamgarh road which showed it was no more than a desert track. This information was fed in time to Southern Command, but Bewoor made no change in his original and much wargamed operational plans. But he warned his sector commanders on 1 December that a Pakistani initiative should be expected any time after 5 December and placed his formations at 48 hours notice from first light on that day to carry out their respective offensive plans. The sector commanders were permitted to carry out preliminary movements to the forward areas and make necessary adjustments in their dispositions, if applicable, after last light on 2 December so long as these preparations were completed by last light on 4 December.
About 1730 hours on 3 December, when Southern Command formations were in the process of readjustment, Yahya Khan’s force attacked Indian forward air bases at Amritsar, Pathankot and Srinagar as part of his half-hearted pre-emptive action. But to the great relief of our troops this started the much-awaited war. Artillery shelling of our forward localities all along the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir and the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan followed. Although no discernible pattern of Pakistan operation emerged from the shelling thus far, the Chief directed Bewoor to put his offensive plans into effect at the earliest, and the restriction on crossing the international border by our troops was lifted immediately. Bewoor rang up later to say that he would be able to get going the next night.
A last light tactical reconnaissance sortie by the air unit reported no untoward movement along the Islamgarh-Bhagla-Rahim Yar Khan axis. The Gabbar and Longenwala area was not covered.
This was accepted, as it was hoped that by that time some pattern of Pakistani initiative would help in our reactions. Deeper into the night, Bewoor rang up to say that his offensive in Barmer sector would start at last light on 4 December, but because of insufficient preparations it would start in the Jaisalmer sector 24 hours later. In the meantime, limited operations for the capture of Islamgarh-Sakhirewala Khu and a raid on Sandh would be carried out in the night 4/5 December to give the impression of simultaneous attacks on both fronts and confuse the Pakistanis as regards our thrust lines. I later got to know that Khambata refused to be hustled by Bewoor into advancing the timing of his offensive. He stuck to a delay of 24 hours. Bewoor was visibly annoyed, little knowing that these 24 hours saved the day for him and paved the way to his becoming the next chief.
A three-pronged advance started in the Barmer sector at 1830 hours, with the camel battalion securing Ranek Dhar by midnight in the north. The leading brigade group in the central sub-sector contacted the defence in no time after the bombing of Khokhrapar and its satellite posts. Meanwhile, the firm base brigade group, having captured the peripheral Pakistan BOP, had set the manoeuvre for the capture of Gadra City.
Sukhirewala Khu, in the Jaisalmer sector, had been captured by late night while operations were in progress for the capture of Islamgarh and raids on Sandh. Preparations were also afoot for the main thrust towards Rahim Yar Khan, involving moving forward the division, less the firm base brigade, in the concentration area near Kishengarh-Tanot. A last light tactical reconnaissance sortie by the air unit reported no untoward movement along the Islamgarh-Bhagla-Rahim Yar Khan axis. The Gabbar and Longenwala area was not covered.