Consequent upon the failure of the Pakistani divisional attack on Poonch, it was decided to carry out local and limited actions all along the ceasefire line to improve our defensive posture. One such attack was launched by an infantry battalion in the area opposite Madarpur on the night of 10/11 December, and having captured Nangi Tekri, Jungle Tekri, Bump and other features denied the use of the Kotli-Madarpur-Hajira road to the enemy.
In pursuance of the overall aim of these operations, it was decided to secure Daruchian, a feature blocking the Balnoi neck of the Kotli-Balnoi road between the Poonch river and the ceasefire line. Daruchian is a conical feature, narrow and rugged at the top and with steep projections. It is forested on all sides except the southwest spur, which has a sparse growth of low scrub. This feature was reported to be held by less than one Pakistani company of regular troops and some Dafai Mujahids as part of the main picquet line. These troops were supported by two other picquets nearby, one north and the other south.
A battalion of grenadiers which was deployed in an extensive area was relieved for the attack on Daruchian and was allotted an additional company and artillery support of four to six fire units. 2200 hours on the night of 13/14 December was fixed.
From the version of the battle reported in Pakistani newspapers and the citation of the award to the defenders commander, it transpires that the enemy battalion commander happened to be visiting Daruchian on inspection in view of the apprehended Indian buildup opposite.
The salient points of the plan were:
- Phase 1: B Company less one platoon acting as reserve to capture neck spur and opposition at apex by H plus four hours.
- Phase 2: C Company to capture west spur by H plus eight hours from western approach. One platoon from A Company to act as reserve.
- Phase 3: D Company to capture southwest spur from apex side, one company from another battalion acting as reserve.
- Stops: One platoon each from outside resources to establish stops at S1 and S2 to prevent reinforcement of Daruchian feature from neighbouring localities.
Preliminary movements for concentrating the attacking troops were completed the previous night, and on the night of the attack various actions stipulated in the plan were set in motion as scheduled. All troops, including stops, were in position by 2320 because of slow physical movement. As a result, H hour was postponed to 2335 hours. The attack progressed later as follows.
Phase I (B Company)
The company captured the right portion of the neck, another pimple short of the apex. Because of heavy enemy enfilade automatic fire from Mala, the company suffered heavy casualties and the momentum of the attack petered out. Our troops consequently took up positions in trenches short of the objective, which had been booby trapped by the enemy, thus causing still more casualties. The company commander rallied his remaining troops and pressed home the attack on the apex. He was killed by a mine just short of the objective and the battle bogged down.
The battalion commander ordered the company to dig in and contain the enemy occupying the apex, and at this stage ordered Phase 2 of the attack to commence. He also ordered A Company, less the reserve for Phase 1, to attack the apex from the north along the existing mule track. En route, the company came under heavy fire and its commander, his second in command and the company officer were killed. Bereft of leadership, the company lost cohesion and fell back in driblets.
Phase 2 (C Company)
The attack commenced at 0100 hours and C Company captured two-thirds of its objective, the west spur, where they reached the basketball court covered by intense automatic fire from bunkers sited on the reverse slopes of the apex. C Company suffered casualties and by 0210 hours the attack was stalled near the edge of the court. The charges the company commander led personally to destroy pillboxes failed to make any dent on the defences. The commander was eventually wounded and his second in command killed.
Phase 3 (D Company)
While Phase 2 was in progress, D Company was ordered to move forward at 0112 hours to capture the southwest spur along the southern approach. The company commandar reached the forming-up place by 0300 hours with about ten to 15 men but was not able to collect his company till 0354 hours. This company also came under heavy automatic fire in an effort to close with the enemy along the spur. The commander was killed, and with that the attack fell into disarray.
The plan for centrifugal three-directional attack was certainly unconventional by Indian Army standards and came as a surprise, and for quite some time the enemy faced a difficult situation.
It became clear about 0600 hours that the multipronged attack from all sides had failed. In a rash action, the battalion commander mustered his reserves, consisting of one company of the supporting battalion, and rushed to link up with C Company, the only successful prong. This hurried movement in daylight immediately came under observed automatic and artillery fire, and the reserve elements were pinned down soon after they started from Picquet A. Some troops broke line and the company dispersed. The battalion commander was left behind with a handful of men and was out of touch with the battle.
The situation at 0930 hours on 14 December for the brigade commander was not altogether bright. A Company was out of communication, its commander and second in command having been killed, B Company had suffered heavy casualties and had been ordered back to its forming-up place, C Company was partially on the objective with its commander wounded and his deputy killed. The commander of D Company was also killed and its personnel were making their way to our lines in driblets. The reserve company from the supporting battalion was split into small groups and scattered beyond control. The stops had been withdrawn.
In anticipation, the brigade commander had moved in an additional company, but it arrived only after first light, too late to influence the outcome. In a final bid to change the course of events, an air strike was ordered on the apex. This materialised about 1115 hours and heavy artillery fire was directed on this objective. The battalion commander was asked to rally the returning men under this covering fire and join C Company on the objective. The battalion commander expressed his inability to do so because he lacked sufficient troops and because of the devastating effect of the enemy’s observed fire on his party. He then called off the attack, ordering C Company to disengage after sunset and return to the Indian side of the ceasefire line.
From the version of the battle reported in Pakistani newspapers and the citation of the award to the defender’s commander, it transpires that the enemy battalion commander happened to be visiting Daruchian on inspection in view of the apprehended Indian buildup opposite. He was involved in the battle as he was about to return to his headquarters, and in the event this saved the situation for Pakistan.
The plan for centrifugal three-directional attack was certainly unconventional by Indian Army standards and came as a surprise, and for quite some time the enemy faced a difficult situation. The locality was surrounded from all sides, and the noose was tightening with the progress of the battle, no reinforcements or relief being possible. There were also no immediate reserves nearby to counterattack.The Indian failure was of our own making and may be broadly attributed to inept handling of the battle professionally and lack of grit in leadership. The defended localities on the main picquet along the ceasefire line had their defence potential enhanced over almost a quarter of a century by methodical laying of mines, erection of other obstacles like wire, and construction of shellproof fortifications and bunkers with weapons sweeping the slopes with murderous fire.
To force an entry through such obstacles meant acceptance of casualties among the leading assault troops, but once the initial entry had been made by the leading troops and the weapons covering the approach had been silenced the passage of the followup troops would have been comparatively smooth and the requisite strength could have been made up to carry the locality.
The Indian failure was of our own making and may be broadly attributed to inept handling of the battle professionally and lack of grit in leadership.
In the case of the Indian attack, each prong was independent of the others, with its own reserves, making its own entry through the obstacle, suffering its own casualties and fending for itself in case of failure. As it happened, the prongs bogged down in the minefield and suffered such heavy casualties, especially in leadership, that the attack petered out except in the case of the company working its way along the west spur. There was now a chance to exploit the successful eftry into the enemy locality from that side, but the battalion commander and his reserves were well behind in terms of time to exploit this limited success to advantage. Even if he had started for the west spur immediately he would have reached it after about three hours or so, and by that time the enemy could have readjusted his weapons. In any event, day would have broken by then, and as it happened the movement was caught in observed fire.
It would perhaps have been profitable to contain the locality from the east and develop the attack along the west and southwest spurs, with the battalion commander and his reserves located at a central place close behind or in between the spurs, ready to reinforce success wherever achieved on either prong. In case of hesitancy or slow progress, the battalion commander should have been able to get things moving by personal command in battle. As it was, he was almost left out of it, content to command by telephone or radio. Moreover, strengthening a close thrust would have been better for concentration of artillery and infantry resources, as also for tighter battle control.
By daybreak, the situation, as depicted earlier, was bad but by no means hopeless. Our troops along the prongs had been badly mauled and had suffered heavy casualties, but they were certainly not decimated. Total casualties out of an approximate bayonet strength of 600 were no more than 160 odd, which made roughly one platoon worth in each company. Each company however had local reserves with it to make up the best strength. Command and control had certainly been disrupted because company commanders, and in some instances their seconds in command, had been killed. But the senior platoon commanders and artillery observers were there to take charge.
If the troops had been ordered to hold on wherever they were and dig in this would have been a perfect setting for a siege. The committed troops would admittedly have suffered more casualties the next day, but the enemy was in no position to counterattack and the Indians would have had a definite psychological edge. It would have been definitely possible to carry the position through the west spur the next night by bringing in additional reinforcements. Time is always in the attacker’s favour in a siege, and this factor should have been exploited. The commanders lost this battle in their hearts more than the troops who were involved in it. It does not pay for commanders to direct battles by remote control. They should have been forward to get its feel firsthand.
Who was to blame? All the commanders from the divisional commanders downward for having approved such an unsound plan. After all, this must have been one of the contingency plans wargamed successively in the intervening period between the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971. The brigade and battalion commanders were to blame for not having displayed the tenacity to stick it out and the ability to wrest success out of apparent failure. Finally, there was the failure of the Indian Army system, which by constant spoonfeeding in peace does not bring out the initiative and the ability of the ranks to take control in such situations.