5 December: The camel battalion secured Rotak, Kelnor and Mankor in the Barmer sector by the end of the day in the north. Khokhrapar and satellite localities in the central sub-sector were captured by the leading brigade by midday against very light opposition along with a large quantity of ammunition. It appeared that the posts were thinly held by paramilitary troops who withdrew without a fight as no prisoners were captured or bodies found in the battle area.
With entry into the sandy belt, problems started cropping up in relation to its deeper penetration. The leading brigade reported that the Khokhrapar-Nayachor road was a desert track incapable of taking sustained wheeled traffic.
On the other hand, the railway line was in good shape, but there was no rolling stock at Khokhrapar. Anand requested Southern Command to make the track between Munabao and Khokhrapar operative as planned. Railway construction parties and material, till then waiting at Barmer, were accordingly moved to Munabao. Gadra City was captured in the southern sub-sector by a surprise move from its rear, killing 40 defenders and wounding many more, and leading troops were investing Dali and Pirani ka Par.
The Pakistani line of thrust towards Ramgarh was discernible fairly accurately. By midday our Air Force had destroyed about 17 tanks, and 23 others according to the pilots mission reports, and in view of the photographical confirmation these estimates were considered fairly accurate.
Khinsar was also captured by last light, killing about one platoon strength of Pakistan Rangers and capturing a few. At this stage, two additional BSF Battalions were released to Southern Command to relieve the firm base brigade in Gadra City complex so that the brigade, less one battalion, could be brought into reserve near Gadra Road.
Islamgarh in the Jaisalmer sector was captured by 0400 hours. About the same time, Maj Govindpuri, company commander from 23 Punjab, the battalion holding the firm base in the general area of Sadhewala-Longenwala, who was located with detachments at Longenwala, reported tank noises in and around his post. The poor major had with him, at that time, a couple of platoons, one or two RCL guns and flimsy artillery support as all the attention and resources were diverted towards Kishengarh. A few tanks were in contact by first light and destroyed the concrete-built BOP at Longenwala. Headquarters Southern Command were informed about this development about 0530 hours by Colonel General Staff 12 Infantry Division, and immediately thereafter communication between command and division went down for a while.
Khambata contacted Bawa, the commander of Jaisalmer air base, directly and requested him to take on the Pakistani armour, which had by then been sighted all along the Gabbar-Longenwala axis by the air observation post flown for the purpose. Bawa had only four Hunters at the base, of which two were unserviceable. His gallant pilots flew many sorties throughout the day with the two airworthy craft. Mercifully, the Pakistani Air Force did not appear in the skies. Without interference from the air and guided by air OP to the targets, this shuttle service of two craft had a free run in destroying the enemy column.
Khambata also reinforced the Longenwala post from Sadhewala with a troop of tanks rigged out of the Armoured Delivery elements, a company of infantry, and a field battery. The enemy commander was content with the initial contact and did not try to isolate Longenwala by establishing roadblocks or even rushing the post, which he could have carried easily as it had no anti-tank potential in the way of minefields. Meanwhile, Bewoor started playing with his toylike reserves. He ordered one troop of anti-tank guided missiles to Ramgarh, and the remaining squadron in the Kutch sector was ordered to stand by to move, but this could not be effective in this sector for another 48 to 72 hours.
Mercifully, the Pakistani Air Force did not appear in the skies. Without interference from the air and guided by air OP to the targets, this shuttle service of two craft had a free run in destroying the enemy column.
27 Madras, originally raised as an airfield defence battalion and hence without an RCL platoon, was also placed at one hour’s notice. It is incomprehensible what this penny packet feeding of the Jaisalmer sector could have achieved. The sector had one infantry division and adequate additional tank resources to meet the threat, and decisions of a greater magnitude were required. The scenario at that time was sighting the enemy column by our Tac R and Air OP stretched over 20 kilometres along the Kharotar-BP 638-Masit Wari-Bhit-Gabbar track.
Fourteen tanks were seen in the Point 30 area. It appeared that an armoured regiment, later discovered to be equipped with T-59 tanks and an infantry group supported by medium artillery (by then Longenwala was under shelling) had crossed into our territory although the whole column had not fetched up so far.
The Pakistani line of thrust towards Ramgarh was discernible fairly accurately. By midday our Air Force had destroyed about 17 tanks, and 23 others according to the pilots’ mission reports, and in view of the photographical confirmation these estimates were considered fairly accurate. This meant that a good portion of the Pakistani armour had been decimated, and there was no life left in their offensive unless they pulled off another surprise, but our Air Force, having free possession of skies, had noticed no other movement in the area.
By the end of the day the para-commando groups had completed their infiltration and were well inside Pakistani territory on their way to targets in the general area of Chachro-Umarkot.
It was for Bewoor to decide on war from the two or three options he had. After providing for the defence of the rear areas, he could continue with the planned offensive towards Rahim Yar Khan. Having committed the major portion of its armour, the Rahim Yar Khan defences would now be lightly held and easier to take. Any thrust reaching them would automatically make Pakistan recoil from Longenwala. 12 Infantry Division was now poised for an offensive, and within a few hours it could be on the move. He could alternatively divert the major thrust to Gabbar and trap the enemy column frontally, and with a shorter hook from Sadhewala get behind the enemy.
In any case, since this potential threat with one brigade group and one armoured regiment towards Ramgarh was in the Chief’s operational instructions the measures to meet the thrust should have been included in Bewoor’s contingency planning. With his characteristic caution, although unwarranted by the situation, he ordered 12 Infantry Division to adopt the following defensive posture by first light on 6 December:
- Longenwala-Sadhewala area: One infantry brigade group including one armoured squadron (T-55) and one troop (AMX-13).
- Kishengarh-Islamgarh-Sakhirewala Khu area: One battalion group plus.
- Ramgarh area: One brigade group with one armoured regiment less one squadron.
- The third brigade was in the process of winding up from its assembly area, and was to be used to destroy the enemy.
The camel battalion secured Kankor in the Barmer sector in the afternoon and contacted Saidu by last light. The mobility of the camel was obviously paying dividends in the north. The leading brigade started its advance in the central sub-sector at 0800 hours and secured the general area of Varsarbh, Aluwala and Sakna by the afternoon against no opposition. It could see the dust of the withdrawing enemy vehicles ahead. No effort was made to establish roadblocks behind with tank/infantry teams.
There was no further progress in the south except for consolidation of the gains but for one firm battalion which had made contact with Dali and was poised for its capture. Bewoor was apparently getting worried at this stage about the progress of operations in the sub-sector, which was more than he expected. He ordered the brigade not to overstretch itself, and he was concerned with improving the tracks in the region. He allotted one field company out of his reserves for this task.
Apart from intermittent shelling of the Longenwala area and some vehicle noise in the distance, there was no further activity in the Jaisalmer sector. One of our patrols found a Pakistani officer lying unconscious.
By the end of the day the para-commando groups had completed their infiltration and were well inside Pakistani territory on their way to targets in the general area of Chachro-Umarkot. Work had started on the restoration of the railway track from Munabao to Khokhrapar.
Apart from intermittent shelling of the Longenwala area and some vehicle noise in the distance, there was no further activity in the Jaisalmer sector. One of our patrols found a Pakistani officer lying unconscious. Documents on him confirmed that the armoured regiment was 22 Cavalry. The conversion of 22 Cavalry from Sherman to T-59 tanks had gone unnoticed by our intelligence. By midday, with one brigade group having established itself in Ramgarh, the threat to the rear areas petered out, but the action to destroy the enemy was still hanging fire. Bewoor gave further orders at this stage to Khambata to tighten the defence of the forward area as under:
- The brigade holding Longenwala-Sadhewala to concentrate in a compact defended sector in and around Longenwala.
- The second brigade, which had just established itself at Ramgarh, to upstick and establish a firm base south and southwest of Longenwala by last light.
- The third brigade to be responsible for the defence of Sadhewala-Tanot-Kishengarh-Sakhirewala Khu sector.
A little later, Khambata reported the presence of some enemy tanks south of Kharotar, but an air strike mission on the way back from its run over the column reported that the enemy force was bogged down in sand on the Gabbar-Longenwala axis. There was no question of any further progress of the enemy offensive.
“¦but the advance was retarded by opposition from elements of the Pakistani reconnaissance and support battalion and enemy air action against our forward elements.
The Chief was getting restive and was demanding action to make good use of the enemy’s folly. Constant goading urged Bewoor to order 12 Infantry Division to go on the offensive, saying that Khambata must plan to destroy the enemy force quickly, and if possible by last light 8 December 71. He also stipulated that the plan should be based on brigade attacks fully supported by artillery and armour. And he wanted the plan to reach him at Jodhpur by 1100 hours on 7 December.
Later in the afternoon, Khambata got the following message from Bewoor: “For GoC from Army Commander. Enemy is now without water and getting held up in sand. You and Force have destroyed half his tank force & many vehicles. You have superiority is total tanks and equality in types of tanks. You must not let his tanks get away. His force, including infantry, must be destroyed within our borders. Air Force fully geared up to support you. All good luck.”
As these messages were being exchanged between the two commanders the Air Force, by now reinforced from Jaisalmer, continued its missions and destroyed both tanks and vehicles wherever they could be found. It can be said categorically that the timely air action had broken the enemy offensive in a matter of hours while the Army was still planning action over two days. There were minor actions in the Bikaner and Kutch sectors, where our troops had occupied a couple of posts hurriedly vacated by the Pakistan Rangers.
The camel battalion had secured Parchiansar and Saidu in the Barmer sector in the north. Intercepts revealed that the enemy was panicking and did not want to get into a fight. The leading brigade made good progress along the Khokhrapar-Nayachor axis and was able to secure the Parche-ji-Veri area by afternoon, but the advance was retarded by opposition from elements of the Pakistani reconnaissance and support battalion and enemy air action against our forward elements. Vasarbh and Khokhrapar railway stations were strafed and a few vehicles destroyed.
The Pakistanis had removed the rails at three different places, and the damage done by our tank crossings had also to be repaired.
The firm base brigade was making good progress in the southern sub-sector in that it had secured Dali and Mahendro-ka-Par. And para-commando groups had successfully raided Cha-chro, but after the raid they were diverted for some inexplicable reason to Virawah from Umarkot. Restoration of the railway track was completed in good time, and the first train steamed into Khokhrapar in the afternoon, only to be strafed there.
By now the Chief was in a great temper. He accosted me in the operations room and said: “Look, the Pakistani opposite is in a bad way. He has lost most of his tanks, his vehicles are stuck, his men are hungry and without water. There is hardly any will left to fight. Why can’t we stage a bold pursuit to finish them before they get respite to get away? Time factor, my friend, is most crucial, and we are still preparing for set-piece attacks. Against what, I ask you.”