Military & Aerospace

1971: The Rajasthan Campaign - II
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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
  1. Capture of Gadra City by the firm base brigade by 1400 hours D plus one day.
  2. Capture of Khokhrapar by the leading brigade group advancing along the Munabao-Khokhrapar-Nayachor axis by 1400 hours D plus one day.
  3. Elimination of BOPs in Manakau area by the camel battalion by last light on D Day.
  4. 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:

  1. The loading brigade group by last light on D plus two days as part of Phase 3 of the offensive.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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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.

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