Military & Aerospace

1971 War: Battle of Poonch
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Consequent on the failure of the Poonch offensive, the Pakistani commanders apprehended an Indian counter-thrust towards Haji Pir. The Indians were capable of pursuing the withdrawing Pakistani troops or staging a counteroffensive from another direction to reach the Pakistani depth areas before the retreating units did so and delivering a crushing blow to them. This would have enabled the annexation of the Kahuta bulge without much difficulty. 33 Infantry Brigade Group, released from defensive commitment, was available for such a counteroffensive. But Maj Gen Kundan Singh, in charge of the Indian operations, was quite content with saving Poonch and resorted to nibbling operations here and there in the sector without any worthwhile aim. The Indian Army had not learnt to make good use of the offensive opportunities offered in war and remained a defence-oriented organisation.

As for 2 POK Brigade operations, the attack by 7 POK Battalion on the Danna feature on the night of 3/4 December failed, with heavy losses to the attacking troops. The attack by infiltration on a feature southwest of Danna in depth from the west the same night failed mainly because of intense defensive artillery fire. The Pakistani commanding officer was killed in this operation and this battery commander lost a leg. This was followed by another attack from the west by 51 Punjab Regiment which also met the same fate. The battalion lost some 60 killed in all. Akbar Khan was getting impatient with the repeated failures to secure the route of maintenance and tried to goad his formation commanders into action, without much success.

On 5 December, while 51 Punjab was attacking the Danna feature, IAF flew a few sorties and dropped napalm bombs which set the whole area on the fire and helped beat back the attack. The Kahuta area was also bombed at random, but no worthwhile targets were hit to make an impact on the operations in Poonch. The Pakistani medium-gun positions were protected by six 40-mm Bofors and nine 12.7-mm Chinese anti-aircraft guns which deterred attacks on these positions. The Indian commandos raided the gun position of one 105-mm battery. The gun crews ran away, and the officer in charge of it was subsequently courtmartialled. The raid was very successful as the commandos destroyed all six guns and some ammunition and carried away some weapons.

Akbar Khan was getting impatient with the repeated failures to secure the route of maintenance and tried to goad his formation commanders into action, without much success.

The Pakistani failure in Poonch may be attributed to the inability to open the routes of maintenance to sustain infiltration operations for any length of time, especially when ammunition was running low. The determined defence by 6 Sikh and 11 J&K Militia of the Danna, Guterian and Shahpur complexes prevented the establishment of a corridor through the crust, and as a result the requisite logistic backing could not reach the deep-infiltration troops. No attempt was made to supply them by air, neither did they get much local support from the civilian population in the way of food and porters. Nor did it seem that catches had been established for the purpose before the operations.

Despite carrying out a well-executed infiltration operation, the Pakistanis made no serious effort to intercept or capture Indian dumps or cause damage or losses to rear echelons which were well within their reach in the general area of Khanetar nullah. Having secured their objectives, their leaders displayed a general lack of enterprise and determination to pursue the operation to purposeful conclusions.

About 20 infiltrators were captured from various farflung areas like Arai, Mandi Poonch, Gulpur, Khanetar, Danna Pir and even Ghoshi Gali. They claimed to belong to the Liaquat Company of the special service group battalion. This deployment was dispersed in small groups primarily to incite a civilian upsurge. This they had seemingly failed to do because support from the local population was lacking. The limited employment of this commando company in support of the operation by laying roadblocks along the routes leading to Poonch so as to isolate the battle zone from reinforcements and maintenance from outside would perhaps have paid better dividends. Their dispersion dissipated their potential.

Fazal Muqeem describes the failure thus: “All the initial objectives except Danna and Karim [he means Shahpur] ridge were captured after heavy casualities. The Indians, however, had kept on occupying well-prepared counter-penetration positions along the main ridge leading to Poonch and they were holding CFL (ceasefire line) north of advancing troops which threatened their lines of communications. By 5 December the divisional commander had realised that he would not be able to capture Poonch. He therefore called off the attack.

The Pakistani failure in Poonch may be attributed to the inability to open the routes of maintenance to sustain infiltration operations for any length of time, especially when ammunition was running low.

“This was a wise decision as he had taken a big risk in extracting troops from CFL for this offensive. The attack failed because command and control were not well organised and the logistics required were not fully arranged. It is also said that the divisional commander was not forward enough to give enough push. In addition, there was lack of necessary drive and push at brigade and battalion level.” As a result, Akbar Khan and Brig Tony Mahmood, the flamboyant commander of 2 POK Brigade, were both sacked at the end of the war.

Infiltration was attempted on a large scale in the 1965 war to stir up mass uprisings and thus disrupt the civilian administration in the areas where these tactics were used. But these attempts failed partly because popular support was not forthcoming and partly because of the Indian ability to seal off the infiltration routes and gullies. Having learnt a lesson, the Pakistanis seem to have modified the use of infiltration in conjunction with the main attack on important objectives and other tasks directly aiding an operation.

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To deal with the Indian defences in the J&K theatre before the 1971 war, which consisted mainly of a hard crust of picquets organised into posts with little or no depth, Pakistan had evolved the following pattern of attack as evidenced from the Poonch operation:

  • Infiltration in strength through gaps in the hard crust between defended posts in the hours of darkness or poor visibility or through areas not under active surveillance of our troops, to secure tactical features in the rear not occupied or lightly held out having direct bearing on the success of operations for capture of the objective.
  • Reduction of defended localities covering the maintenance routes to the infiltration force initially, and thereafter to develop operations for proper linkup and capture of the objective, to be carried out simultaneously along with infiltration.
  • Establishment of roadblocks by long range commando patrols to isolate the battle zone, preferably before the capture of objectives in depth areas by the infiltration force.
  • The entire employment to be within artillery range for the enhanced offensive and defensive potential of the Pakistani thrust lines and roadblocks.

The reported Pakistani plan to acquire a large number of medium Puma-class helicopters after the 1971 war add a third dimension to the above manoeuvre. This implies that if there is another conflict with India Pakistan would be able to land troops swiftly direct on or close to the rear objectives without resorting to hazardous and time-consuming surface infiltration. It would also be able to maintain infiltration troops without having to open routes of maintenance. Besides landing roadblocks parties on bottlenecks, armed helicopters could be used for close interdiction to disrupt the movement of our reserves and maintenance columns.

Note:

  1. Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No 44, “Pakistani’s Military Activities, Akhnur-Chhamb Sector,” pp. 6745-6746.
  2. Asian Recorder, Vol XVIII, No 1, “Pakistani Attack Nine Airfields,” p. 10535.
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One thought on “1971 War: Battle of Poonch

  1. I AM RESIDENT OF POONCH TOWN, I ALWAYS PROUD ON OUR GREAT INDIAN
    ARMY,WHICH ALWAYS GUARDS POONCH TOWN FROM EVIL DESIRE OF
    PAK ARMY TO CAPTURE POONCH TOWN.
    PEOPLE OF POONCH ARE PROUD OF INDIAN ARMY
    I LIKE THE REAL STORY POONCH WAR 1971 WRITTEN BY GREAT AUTHOR
    MAJ.GEN.SUKHWANT SINGH
    AJAY KUMAR BHALLA

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