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.”
The offensive was planned for 3 December, but was postponed for the next day because of logistical problems.
I kept quiet and listened. “Go and tell your friend Satinder Singh to get moving,” he said. When I rang up Satinder Singh, he replied: “My dear fellow, you can come and take over. What can one do with General Khambata?” He failed to mention the detailed stipulation laid down by the cautious and slow-moving Army Commander.
I repeated this remark to my colleagues, who may have conveyed it to the Chief. Visibly annoyed, the Chief ordered this message to be passed to Khambata on the hot line in pure Gujarati: “I have made you what you are. I made you a brigadier, and I gave you general’s rank. What have you done for me? Run in pursuit of the enemy, otherwise there will be trouble.” While Bewoor was delivering lectures on counteraction plans, the Pakistani hierarchy ordered the dismissal of Maj Gen Mustafa, in command of 18 Infantry Division and responsible for the offensive. The new GoC, Maj Gen Hameed Khan, took over on 7 December and ordered a withdrawal, which according to the author of Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership “mercifully the Indians did not pursue.”
The offensive could not be supported from Masroor because of operating range problems. As a result, the Pakistani offensive operation without air cover was foredoomed.
According to the Pakistani version, as given in this book, the division was to launch an offensive with two combat groups against Ramgarh on two axes along the Tanot and Longenwala approaches. The offensive was planned for 3 December, but was postponed for the next day because of logistical problems. Mustafa claims his division was not equipped or trained to fight in the desert. He had made this amply clear and accepted the task on the condition that four-wheel-drive vehicles would be made available for the operation. The only unit capable of operating in sand was 22 Cavalry. The other regiment was equipped with an aging fleet of Shermans.
“So much so,” says the book, “that when orders were passed by the Divisional Commander for the offensive, his artillery commander and one of the brigade commanders had vehemently objected. They had maintained that the division was not capable enough to move in the desert up to the border, leave aside getting beyond the border into the Indian territory.” There seemed to be utter confusion regarding air support. The air force was waiting for a special request to activate Jacobabad airfield, but this never came from the army. The offensive could not be supported from Masroor because of operating range problems. As a result, the Pakistani offensive operation without air cover was foredoomed.
By that time, a large number of vehicles, guns and tanks had bogged down in sand, and the Indian Air Force had free air to destroy them at will throughout that day and the next.
Both columns, one by design and the other by accident, landed in Longenwala by 1030 hours on 5 December, about six miles in Indian territory. By that time, a large number of vehicles, guns and tanks had bogged down in sand, and the Indian Air Force had free air to destroy them at will throughout that day and the next. The Pakistani force was very short of water and in disarray and started withdrawing towards Pakistan after last light on 7 December.
Meanwhile, Bewoor had started sounding Army Headquarters on re-appraising the tasks allotted to him in the light of developments in the Jaisalmer sector. He felt his troops could no longer fulfil their original tasks and wanted to change them. The Chief was however adamant that Bewoor should carry out his allotted task, although he was prepared to review its time schedule in view of the operations for destroying the enemy forces stalled opposite Longenwala. He argued that by committing this force Pakistan had in fact eased Bewoor’s task. Once this force was destroyed, the way to Rahim Yar Khan would be absolutely clear, and the reaction capability of Pakistan would considerably diminish so far as operations for its capture were concerned.
Bewoor was accordingly told to get on with the job. He promptly demanded additional resources comprising an infantry brigade, a medium artillery regiment and an engineer regiment among other reinforcements, knowing fully well that these could not be made available within the constraints of other operational commitments. In addition, he wanted the HF-24s and Gnats operating from Uttarlai airfield in support of 11 Infantry Division replaced by longer-range aircraft as the HF-24 could not reach the Nayachor area.
The Pakistani force was very short of water and in disarray and started withdrawing towards Pakistan after last light on 7 December.
This request was equally strange considering that he had not objected to this deployment at the planning stage. The meaning of this request was quite clear. He just wanted to drag his feet.
In the Barmer sector, the camel battalion, which was originally ordered to develop a threat along the Relnor-Nayachor axis, seemed to have lost steam after the capture of Sandh. In view of the reported activities of Mujahids in the area, the battalion was asked to consolidate the gains and deny ingress to Miajlar. From then on, the unit carried out this task till the ceasefire.
Resistance was stiffening lower down. The leading brigade came under fire from the Parbat Ali area at 1830 hours. By midday, they were counterattacked, but this was beaten back by timely reinforcements. Both sides suffered casualties in this action. The leading brigade thereafter established a firm base in opposite Parbat Ali. By this time, the follow-up brigade had been inducted into the sandy belt and was concentrated in the Bhitala-Parche-ji-Veri area by last night.
There was no point in inducting an additional brigade group into 11 Infantry Divisional Sector as the command found it difficult to support the existing force level there administratively
The unit holding Kinsar in the southern sub-sector was ordered to occupy Chachro after the commando raid. But it arrived there a day later with company strength—the rest of the force being badly stuck in sand—only to find the town still in enemy occupation. The town was cleared after a stiff fight and the company captured a jeep, a 6-pr anti-tank gun and a large quantity of ammunition. At this stage, the firm base brigade was holding the Pipani-ka-par-Hameendro ro Par-Fateh ro Par area with one battalion, the Dali area with another, Chachro-ghinsar with a third, and brigade headquarters were in Gadra city,
The para-commando groups which raised Virawah had by now exfiltrated and were ordered back to Jodhpur. That was the end of their involvement in the war. Following on their heels, the Kutch sector commander was ordered to advance towards Virawah and capture as much territory as possible.
The counterattack in the Jaisalmer sector commenced at first light on 8 December against thin air as it had been earlier brought out that the enemy had cut his losses and managed to extricate his force by last light on 7 December. The 12 Infantry Division counterattack plan consisted of phase attacks, two brigades up, one on either side of the axis of enemy withdrawal, with the third brigade holding the firm base. Despite hardly any opposition, Khambata did not move. He and his troops were assailed by imaginary fears. The Chief started goading Bewoor for action, and he in turn urged Khambata to speed up, but throughout the day there was no progress.
It is significant that till then Bewoor was content to issue directions from his headquarters and give Khambata a piece of his mind on the telephone.
He never visited 12 Infantry Division and had no pulse of the battle.
It is at such times that a field commander exercises his personality and seizes his opportunity in battle. But Bewoor was not made in the mould of Auchinleck, who took over command of the Eighth Army from Ritchie in the Western Desert in World War II.
The enemy offensive in the Jaisalmer sector had been blunted by air action and by the enemys own difficulties. Although the threat of any further enemy adventure had petered out”¦
Compelled to move, 12 Infantry Division inched forward to take possession of the debris of burntout tanks and vehicles, for the enemy had well and truly departed by that time. Khambata reluctantly reported that the area up to the border had been cleared of the enemy.
The scenario as seen in the operation room at Army Headquarters at this stage was like this 11 Infantry Division had contacted the enemy screen position of the Nayachor defences with its leading brigade in the Barmer sector and was finding it difficult to maintain the force already inducted into the sandy belt. There were frantic calls the previous night for supply of water by air, but because of operational difficulties out of cover from Uttarlai airfield this could not be done.
The track from Munabao was well behind schedule because construction material was short. The railway facilities remained to be exploited. Anand had not appreciated the administrative implications of desert operations beforehand and was now overwhelmed by them. The command had to rush their Colonel Q to organize and control administrative arrangements for the division and their Chief Engineer to take over track construction.
The enemy offensive in the Jaisalmer sector had been blunted by air action and by the enemy’s own difficulties. Although the threat of any further enemy adventure had petered out, the performance of 12 Infantry Division had made it quite apparent that this formation was incapable of offensive action.
The force heading for Badin was considered sufficiently strong to deal with any last-minute enemy build-up in and around Hyderabad.
By now everybody, including the Chief, was disillusioned with Bewoor’s conduct of operations. He had bogged himself down in sand everywhere against the first serious enemy opposition and was hard put to support further offensive action logistically. Five days of war had gone and he was nowhere near completing his task. The Chief decided to bail him out by suggesting that under the circumstances 12 Infantry Division should go on the defensive with two brigades. The third brigade group, track construction material and other resources thus released from this sector could be used to enhance our potential in other sectors.
Bewoor bemoaned the poor mechanical state of the AMX-13 tanks and the lack of medium artillery support in justification of the lack of gusto in his war-making. He was told firmly that these factors were well known to all concerned before he accepted the task. Anyway, this was no time for recrimination and he should instead get down to planning future operations and try to retrieve the situation with the resources created for him. His headquarters submitted the following plan:
He had bogged himself down in sand everywhere against the first serious enemy opposition and was hard put to support further offensive action logistically.
- 12 Infantry Division less two brigade groups to take up the defended area in the Jaisalmer sector.
- One brigade group of T-59 tanks to reinforce 11 Infantry Division for its operation in the Nayachor area and beyond towards the canal line.
- One brigade group with AMX tanks to be allotted to the Kutch sector for operations towards Badin.
- All track materials and engineer resources to be put on the Khokhrapar-Nayachor track.
- The airfield at Bhuj to be activated to provide air support up to and ahead of Badin.
These proposals were examined in detail and the following modifications were suggested:
- There was no point in inducting an additional brigade group into 11 Infantry Divisional Sector as the command found it difficult to support the existing force level there administratively. And since no futher build-up of enemy strength opposite had been noticed it should be left to 11 Infantry Division as constituted to capture Nayachor, which was well within its capability, and develop operations towards Mirpur Khas as far as possible.
- One brigade group from 12 Infantry Division to operate from the Kutch sector towards Badin and then towards Hyderabad as far as possible. The force heading for Badin was considered sufficiently strong to deal with any last-minute enemy build-up in and around Hyderabad.
We should remain sufficiently secure in the Jaisalmer sector and at the same time be able to dispatch a force to Bikaner to meet the threat developing from the direction of Anupgarh. Subsequent events proved the wisdom of this decision, for Yahya planned to launch his 1 Corps offensive in the region but was prevented by the Indian ceasefire, much to the regret of Tikka Khan, who was in command of the offensive.
The brigade in contact with the Nayachor defences in the Barmer sector had carried out patrolling at night and was able to establish that the front was held by approximately two battalions of the enemy. One battalion was on either side of the railway line supported by tanks, which were dug in and extremely well camouflaged. Our build-up was further delayed because trackmaking was lagging behind, the railway track having been damaged by our tanks at places and by intermittent air action.
In the southern sub-sector, the battalion which had captured Chachro had consolidated itself, and the firm base brigade headquarters were moved to Khinsar to be able to control the widely scattered troops.
He was asked in addition to carry out intensive patrolling and raids to retain an offensive posture and cause the maximum casualties to the withdrawing enemy in Pakistan.
At 2135 hours, Khambata reported that the enemy had been cleared from our territory in the Jaisalmer sector. Orders were issued for the defensive occupation of the Ghotaru, Longenwala, Sadhewala, Tanot and Kishengarh areas with one battalion group each and a divisional mobile reserve of one infantry battalion/one AMX squadron. He was asked in addition to carry out intensive patrolling and raids to retain an offensive posture and cause the maximum casualties to the withdrawing enemy in Pakistan. This was obviously a piece of play acting by Bewoor as it was obvious by then that Khambata was incapable of any pursuit because of the posture of his division. Besides, he was also asked to detach one brigade group and the major portion of his armour for operations in the Kutch sector.
Analysis of these figures indicate that the Pakistani offensive was based on two infantry battalions supported by a composite armour regiment of two squadrons of T-59s and one squadron of Shermans, possibly divided into two combat groups which, to their misfortune, had landed at the same place because of a navigational error. Of great significance was the fact that not a single prisoner had been captured nor body recovered, indicating that Bewoor’s deliberate counter-offensive went obviously in thin air. The credit for blunting this offensive should justifiably go to Bawa and his gallant pilots, who achieved this feat with only two serviceable aircraft. In fact, these two craft proved far more useful than Bewoor’s division in the sector.
“¦it should be remembered that if the Pakistani air had been active it could have destroyed our meagre aircraft strength”¦
On the other hand, it should be remembered that if the Pakistani air had been active it could have destroyed our meagre aircraft strength, and it was within the realm of possibility that the Pakistani columns could have reached Ramgarh, overcoming no more opposition than a couple of platoons and Longenwala. 12 Infantry Division, which was then leaving for Kishengarh for the impending offensive, would have been in an awkward situation, especially because Bewoor had no reserves.
Anand was still handicapped in the Barmer sector because of the slow build-up there. The causes were the same old ones of inadequacy of resources of troops and materials and ineptness in handling such situations. Consolidation went on in the southern sub-sector, and everywhere troops felt the inadequacy of administration.
Bewoor appeared personally for the first time in the Jaisalmer sector after the start of hostilities when everything is over. He discussed the defensive posture with Khambata and talked vaguely about his offensive plans in other sectors with which Khambata was not even remotely concerned. Meanwhile, on their own initiative and making use of the opportunities offered, some units had occupied Masitwari Bhit and captured Bhai Khan Wala Khu. They took 24 prisoners and three jeeps and killed about 100 camels, mostly by our air action. Vingour and Virawah posts in the Kutch sector were captured by BSF units.
BSF captured another Pakistani post at Jattalai in the Kutch sector. Pakistani aircraft attacked our post at Biarbet, but without causing much damage.
Bewoor confirmed accepting the modifications in regrouping his force for offensive operations in the Kutch sector, but he submitted that because he needed time to relieve 12 Infantry Division troops in contact and because of the rail movement involved to Bhuj he would not be able to launch an offensive before 18 December. The Chief did not see the difficulties confronting Bewoor. The enemy had slipped away almost from Khambata’s hands and there was no contact in the divisional sector. Rolling stock was in position in the region, and sufficient motor transport was also available. By Army Headquarters estimates the brigade group could be concentrated by the combined rail and road movement within 72 hours. The Chief asked Bewoor to speed up the movement, reminding him that time was always at a premium in short wars.
The followup brigade group managed to extend the firm base for attack and was leaning on the Parbat Ali feature in the Barmer sector. An effort to outflank the position with the armoured squadron had failed, resulting in the loss of four tanks. Meanwhile, the independent armoured squadron (T-55) released from the Jaisalmer sector was diverted towards 11 Infantry Division to give the thrust in the sector greater force. The Army Commander visited Anand and told him to go slow till his administration caught up.
Occupation of the vacated peripheral posts continued in the Jaisalmer sector. Some troops occupied Tamanchi WalaTobain the Kutch sector, and wireless intercepts indicated the vacation of the posts at Nabisar, Tibar and Paneli to concentrate at Wungee at 1100 hours.
The enemy was caught almost sleeping and did not fire till the assaulting troops were about 90 to 180 metres away. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued and resulted in the enemy leaving 57 dead and 35 prisoners of war.
Bewoor suddenly got cold feet and confided to Lt Gen Harparsad, Vice Chief of Army Staff, obviously for the Chief’s ears, that the offensive operations towards Badin would not be possible before 22 December. The reasons put forward for the postponement were mainly administrative and the movement problem involved in covering approximately 725 kilometres to Bhuj and beyond. Once again, he harped on the low mechanical reliability of AMX tanks. He asked for guaranteed additional air support. Bewoor was apparently assailed by inherent fear for the suggestion for the offensive had come from him. All the factors brought up by him at this stage had been present before. To get out of the commitment, he suggested that the scope of the offensive should be reduced to a raid on Badin by para-commandos.
Reconnaissance continued in the Barmer sector opposite Pakistan’s Nayachor defences, and it was discovered that the Parbat Ali feature was held strongly. Meanwhile, efforts were made to link the forward brigade by track with Munabao to build up for the divisional attack. The enemy carried out some’ air action along the railway line.
As the division was busy adopting the newly adopted defensive posture in the Jaisalmer sector, 12 Infantry Division was ordered to detach one brigade group with two squadrons of armour (one AMX and the other T-59) and supporting artillery. This brigade group was now diverted towards the Harmer sector for the divisional attack on Nayachor.
BSF captured another Pakistani post at Jattalai in the Kutch sector. Pakistani aircraft attacked our post at Biarbet, but without causing much damage. The para-commando battalion was ordered back to the Kutch sector after four days at Jodhpur to cause confusion in Tharparkar district, thereby facilitating the operations of 11 Infantry Division. Bewoor specifically allotted the commandos the following tasks:
The battalion group in the southern sub-sector made slow progress towards Umarkot through sandy stretches, where wheeled vehicles got stuck without encountering enemy opposition.
- Raid worthwhile targets and cause confusion in the area bounded by Mara-Badin-Mirpur-Batoro.
- Raid and destroy enemy troops and material in the Badin area at the discretion of the officer commanding the battalion.
It was visualized that the commando groups would infiltrate into Pakistani territory on the night of 15/16 December and exfiltrate on the next two nights. The targets the Army Commander gave were however so far from the lines of communications affecting the Nayachor area that the raids would have had no affect on the 11 Infantry Division battle. Employment of these groups at this stage seemed an afterthought on his part.
Bewoor was worried by the hit-and-run raids of the Pakistani Air Force, particularly over the stretch from Khokhrapar to Nayachor. This area lay at the extreme range of our HF-24 aircraft operating from Uttarlai airfield, and a favourable situation was difficult to obtain till longer-range aircraft were diverted there for the purpose. These shortcomings were being brought home one by one by events, but they had completely escaped Bewoor’s attention in almost three years of joint planning. To learn from war was always costly, and Bewoor was slow to learn even then. A new operational instruction was issued to 11 Infantry Division:
- To speed up construction of the track, to organize generally administrative backing on a sound footing, and to build up for the impending attack in particular.
- To plan for the attack on the Nayachor defences by the night of 15/16 December if possible.
The latitude allowed in the Army Commander’s order by the phrase “if possible” indicated that Bewoor had some doubts about the feasibility of executing the operation by the stipulated time. The division had been in contact with the Nayachor defences from 8 December, but the Army Commander was not sure even by 16 December—after eight days of deliberation and waiting—that he would be able to attack. If this hesitation was due to the state of the track and its resultant inability to sustain administrative traffic, where lay the wisdom of inducting an additional brigade group from 12 Infantry Division into the sector?
Meanwhile, the opposing Pakistani commanders were getting wiser. After watching the Indian failure to follow up the withdrawal from Longenwala and the subsequent dormancy in the Jaisalmer sector, they decided to reinforce Nayachor with one infantry brigade group from 33 Infantry Division, which arrived earlier than Bewoor’s sluggish moves could materialize. At this stage, Bewoor also ordered the move of the command reserve battalion with the anti-tank guided missiles squadron to the Kutch sector.
The Parbat Ali feature in the Barmer sector was attacked by the leading brigade group at 0300 hours in a silent attack along an expected approach and achieved a complete surprise. The enemy was caught almost sleeping and did not fire till the assaulting troops were about 90 to 180 metres away. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued and resulted in the enemy leaving 57 dead and 35 prisoners of war. The feature was firmly in Indian hands by 1100 hours and withstood three determined counterattacks and successive air strikes throughout the day.
The brigade in contact with the Nayachor defences in the Barmer sector had carried out patrolling at night and was able to establish that the front was held by approximately two battalions of the enemy.
The credit for this unorthodox attack and the resultant success goes to Brig Gurjeet Singh Randhawa, who did not follow Bewoor’s professional line of set-piece frontal attacks. Identification revealed that the feature was held by two subunits of two different units. It appears that the feature was on the inter-battalion boundary of the two battalions or was occupied by an ad hoc force. Hence the lack of cohesiveness in the fighting on it.
The scope of the firm base brigade group operations in the southern sub-sector was enhanced by Anand to include the development of a thrust towards Umarkot from the direction of Chachro. This brigade group was originally to hand over the sub-sector to the paramilitary force and pull out to participate in the divisional attack on Nayachor. As it was, Anand was finding it difficult to support administratively his two brigades opposite Nayachor along a single desert track, and the duckboard track was taking long to catch up.
The Army Commander was not happy about this departure from his plans, but Anand thought it prudent to use this brigade in a better way rather than to have a formation sitting in the Munabao-Gadra Road area doing nothing. In any event, the Umarkot operations directly affected his attack on Nayachor and would be of help. Anand stuck to his decision, and to implement it one battalion group advanced from Chachro.
After consolidating the Parbat Ali feature, further probing went on to fix the flanks of the Nayachor defences in the Barmer sector. The battalion group in the southern sub-sector made slow progress towards Umarkot through sandy stretches, where wheeled vehicles got stuck without encountering enemy opposition.
There was an engagement between the Pakistani Nayachor defences and one of the units on a probing mission in the Barmer sector. We suffered on officer and five other ranks killed and fiver officers and 26 other ranks wounded. This resulted in greater caution about further probings. BSF continued to be aggressive in Kutch. From Virawah operations were developed towards Date jo-God, and in the process a few more posts were occupied.
The leaders of the commando group reported that local intelligence revealed no suitable tracks for infiltration from southwest of Rahim-ki-Bazar towards badin. Bewoor accordingly changed their takes to raids on Islamkot on the night of 16/17 December. It was apparent that the command had no master plan for commando tasks and these were being thought of on the spur of the moment.