The Chhamb Offensive
With Operation Gibraltar having miscarried, Pakistan undertook the bold Chhamb Offensive on September 01, 1965, by using a division-sized force of tanks and infantry, with the objective of capturing the strategic Akhnoor, thereby hoping to cut off the vital road link between Jammu and Poonch. Soon, it became clear that Pakistan’s objective in this sector was also to envelope Jammu through a subsidiary thrust from Sialkot. Another blitz was to be launched from the direction of Pasrur for the capture of Pathankot, the then railhead to Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian forces were fewer than brigade strength in the Chhamb Sector.
Pakistan’s Chhamb Offensive, across the international boundary, had added a new dimension to the Indo-Pak conflict. India now faced the dilemma whether to seek negotiations or to retaliate by a major counter-offensive at the place (s) of its choosing.
With surprise on its side, Pakistan’s Chhamb offensive did make initial gains, but the stubborn resistance put up by the Indian ground forces, supported by the air strikes, brought a temporary halt to the Pak offensive. By September 04, 1965, the assailants had crossed the shallow Munawar Tawi, and were inching towards Akhnoor, despite heavy casualties of tanks and assault troops. It was the decisive moment for India to undertake an immediate and telling counter measure.
In the face of the precarious situation, Lal Bahadur Shastri declared in the Parliament, “Pakistan’s attack was so formidable and so swift that we could not afford to endanger the freedom of our country… we have always held fast to the principle of peace, but in the situation that was created, not to act would have been cowardice and sloth…. When the generals consulted the government about the situation, I told them firmly that there was no room for indecision and that they must go ahead and not flinch.”7 Surely, the Indian forces did not flinch.
On September 06, 1965, Indian 11 Corps launched a three-pronged attack, spread over about 50 km front along the axes: Wagah-Dograi (15 Infantry Division), Khemkaran-Kasur (4 Infantry Division) and Khalra-Burki (7 Infantry Division). The Indian higher command decision of not making any war preparations in Punjab and not sending troops to Jammu and Kashmir, was again a well-taken risk, which achieved for India a tactical surprise in the Lahore Sector.
By last light on September 06, 1965, the Indian troops had crossed Ichhogil Canal, at more than one point, and its leading elements had reached the outskirts of Lahore. However, the inability of the senior commanders to cope with the fluid situation, and the failure to consolidate across the fortified canal obstacle, rendered the Indian columns in the forefront vulnerable to Pakistan’s fierce counterattacks, forcing them to retire to the Eastern bank of the canal. In the absence of a linear obstacle-line on the Indian side, comparable to the Ichhogil Canal, the Indian plan envisaged leaning on this water obstacle; firstly, to prevent a Pakistan offensive against Amritsar, and secondly, to threaten Lahore. The counter offensive in the Lahore Sector forced Pakistan to pull back its armour from the Chhamb Sector.
While the offensives by 15 and 7 Infantry Divisions progressed as planned, the 4 Infantry Division offensive along the Khem Karan-Kasur Axis confronted stiff resistance from the outset, as the Pakistani 1 Armoured Division had already concentrated in Kasur Sector – ready to be launched for an offensive against India, along the same (Kasur-Khem Karan) Axis. With the stalled 4 Infantry Division offensive, and its forward elements having been pushed back, it carried out a quick readjustment of changing to the defensive posture, based on the village of Asal Uttar, a few kilometres from Khem Karan. Apparently, both sides had misread the opponent’s move. While India was quick to modify its plan, Pakistan rushed headlong into the Asal Uttar trap.
In conjunction with the major offensive in Lahore Sector, India also launched a subsidiary offensive to capture the road and rail bridge on River Ravi at Dera Baba Nanak.
India’s Strategic Corps offensive
I Corps, designated as the Strategic Reserve Corps, was raised in mid August 65, with the following on its ORBAT: 1 Armoured Division located at Jalandhar, 26 Infantry Division (Jammu), 6 Infantry Division (Barreilly), and 14 Infantry Division (Dehradun). The Corps had not trained together, nor formulated its concept of operations – the formations met each other only in the Concentration Area around Samba. Pakistan’s 4 Corps, responsible for defence of Sialkot Sector, had on its ORBAT 6 Armoured Division and 7 and 15 Infantry Divisions.
For reasons of delay in concentration of the Strategic Reserve Corps, for simultaneous launch with 11 corps on September 06, 1965, the I Corps offensive was postponed by 48 hours. Tasked to secure area Pargowal, Phillora and Chavinda, with a view to advancing towards Marala Link Canal, I Corps launched its offensive in Sialkot-Chavinda Sector on September 08. It was in this sector that the war witnessed, in the general area Phillora–Chavinda, series of tank battles, the greatest since the Second World War.
In the sustained operations for over a fortnight, Pakistan’s 6 Armoured Division, equipped with Shermans, Chaffes and, in greater number Pattons – most of them brand new M-475 and M-485 – was outmanoeuvred and almost incapacitated for further combat by the superiorly trained Indian 1 Armoured Division. The Strategic Corps offensive penetrated up to about 15 km inside enemy territory. Pakistan lost 181 tanks against India’s 27 tanks, with an equal number damaged. Deplorably, due to the lack of inter-services coordination, this crucial Indian offensive operation failed to receive close air support.
In the meantime, in Lahore Sector, both the Pakistani defenders and the Indian attackers, in the Battles of Burki and later Dograi, fought heroic actions. Dograi was overpowered by Indian troops on the night of September 21 – 22, 1965, just a day before the ceasefire. The Battle of Dograi will be remembered for the amount of Pakistani equipment captured and its heavy casualties: “A dozen jeeps in good condition and 11 tanks including a Patton were captured and the enemy left behind 305 men killed including two captains and 105 prisoners …a grand victory for India that ushered in the ceasefire, which was soon followed by the gallant Indian gesture of handing over to Pakistan bodies of its soldiers killed in the battle of Dograi.”8
Analysts have viewed India’s launch of its only armoured division for the major offensive against Pakistan, in the Sialkot-Shakargarh Sector, differently. One way of thinking reckons it as a sound strategy. The other view is that the armoured division would have produced for India more decisive results in the Lahore Sector.
The Battle of Asal Uttar
The Battle of Asal Uttar (True Answer) constituted the coup de grace delivered by India in the 1965 War. Since Pakistan had already concentrated her strategic reserve (I Armoured Division) for offensive along Kasur-Khem Karan Axis, the sheer weight of the Pakistan’s armoured offensive unsettled the Indian 4 Infantry Division advance from opposite direction of the same axis. Pakistan had seen merit in selecting Kasur Sector, for launching its major offensive, aimed at cutting off Indian formations in the Amritsar and Lahore sectors, as also to establish a crossing over the River Beas. Initial success of this operation had prompted Ayub’s broadcast brag of sharing a toast in the Delhi Gymkhana. Obviously, he had blinked at the words of wisdom in war, ‘More is expected of the commanders than determination in thrusting men to their doom.’
The Pakistan assault force, which primarily comprised Patton tanks, pressed forward with a series of attacks, between September 08 and 10, 1965, and met Indian well-dug and dogged defences in the tactically flooded area, which left the enemy little freedom for manoeuvre. The Indian tanks and infantry anti-tank weapons, concealed in the tall sugarcane crop, had a field day taking potshots at the enemy tanks at close range. It was in this operation that Company Quartermaster Havaldar, Abdul Hamid (Grenadiers), knocked out four Pakistani tanks, before being martyred – this feat of undying valour won him (Posthumously) the nation’s highest gallantry award, Param Vir Chakra.
According to the reported account, in the face of Pakistan’s determined thrust to break through the Khem Karan defences, on September 10, General Chaudhary suggested the withdrawal of the defenceline to the Beas, which Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh strongly contested. Staying put firmly in the defences proved decisive in disintegrating the Pakistan armoured assaults by the end of the day.
Asal Uttar became the graveyard for the enemy tanks, where Pakistan lost 97 tanks, mostly Pattons. The General Officer Commanding of the Pakistani attack division, Major General Nasir Ahmed Khan, in his attempt to lead boldly from front, was wounded and the artillery commander was killed. Besides, a large number of Pakistan officers and men were taken prisoners. It was in this operation that the 4 Mountain Division, which had lost its reputation in 1962 Sino-Indian War (Kameng Sector), was able to redeem its honour.
By September 11, the punch of the Pakistan offensive had gone and with it had gone her vision of rampaging through the Indian countryside. That Pakistani tank assailants had retreated from the battlefield, leaving behind destroyed or abandoned tanks in such large number, was apt to cause worry to the Pentagon, as to why the Patton had failed to live up to its promise. We are told that, “A study in this context had concluded that the Patton tank, then with a petrol engine, was highly inflammable, and the Pakistani soldiers were frightened of dying by fire. This finding had led to the future American tanks being built with diesel engines.”9
The Chinese Ultimatum
The Chinese were reluctant to be drawn into the 1965 Indo-Pak War, but in view of the newly-grown mutual understanding with Pakistan, they did not want to let down the friend in need. Short of direct involvement, they intervened mysteriously by raking up a protest against the Indian security forces, for having constructed some military structure(s) on the Tibetan side of the border at the Nathu La in Sikkim. They issued an ultimatum to India that there would be dire consequences, if India did not demolish these so-called structures within 72 hours. While India vehemently disputed these allegations, on their own, the Chinese extended the ultimatum by another 72 hours, which strangely coincided with the date of the ceasefire.
In view of the persisting tension along the Indo-Tibetan border, India could not de-induct any of the divisions from the East for operations against Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan felt grateful to her Asian ally, for this gesture, particularly because the US and UK had not supported the Pakistani cause. The 1965 War expedited the Sino-Pak project of further developing the Singkiang-Gilgit road across Karakoram Pass, much against Indian protests, besides, drawing Pakistan into the Chinese fold for arming and equipping its forces.
Pakistan also received crucial help in terms of the short-supply war material from Turkey and Iran – both members of CENTO. Even though the war was mainly because of Pakistan’s aggression, the USA declared its neutrality. The Soviet Union too adopted a neutral position and provided its good offices for the Tashkent Declaration of Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities, with effect from September 23, 1965.