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.