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.