To begin with Pakistan had codenamed it ‘Operation Gibraltar’, after the Arab invasion of Spain which began with the capture of the Rock of Gibraltar. It was an ambitious plan conceived by the military dictatorship of that country under Field Marshal Ayub Khan, for the conquest of Kashmir. The Indian Army’s dismal show against the Chinese in 1962 had emboldened Ayub to make the move; and he was also in a hurry. The expansion and modernization of the Indian Army was going on at a rapid pace, and he would find himself at a disadvantage if he waited anymore.
Essentially the plan propounded to have a 30,000-strong guerilla force to infiltrate through the porous borders of Kashmir, and incite an uprising in the state. But before that he had to go in for a ploy, to cause imbalance in India’s troop deployment along its border with Pakistan. This would also provide his armed forces with the much-needed opportunity to try out the array of latest weaponry they had received from the US (the Sabre Jets, the Star Fighters and the Patton Tanks among them), concurrently assessing their adversary’s capacity to fight back. The venue selected for this initial trial phase was the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat.
Pakistan began the game in early 1965 with small scale incursions into this vast and thinly manned segment of Indian border, forcing India to relocate its troops to bolster the defences there.
Pakistan began the game in early 1965 with small scale incursions into this vast and thinly manned segment of Indian border, forcing India to relocate its troops to bolster the defences there. However, despite some hot engagements, the affair did not come about to much, with the British Prime Minister brokering a ceasefire to restrain the two members of the Commonwealth from fighting each other; and it ended up getting referred to the International Court of Justice for arbitration.
The second phase of the Pakistani plan got off the ground in August, with massive infiltrations into Kashmir. But Ayub Khan was in for a shock. In the first place the local population refused to play ball, and the planned insurrection just didn’t materialize. Second, the Indian Army chose offence as a means of defence, and went after the infiltrators, striking at their routes and capturing a number of enemy posts along the ceasefire line of 1948, most significantly the stronghold of Haji Pir Pass. The Uri-Punch Road was now open for the first time after 1948. India had won the first round.
The Pakistan High Command reacted with its contingency plan, that of an open invasion. Operation Gibraltar was off; in its place they now launched Operation Grand Slam – its objective: cut off all of J&K north of Jammu by striking at the Chamb-Akhnur front, and take Jammu itself. They unleashed the blitzkrieg with a massive tank and infantry attack in the wee hours of 1 September. By the 5th, Jaurian had fallen and Akhnur was being threatened.
The Indian Army opened two new fronts simultaneously, a southern one on the Lahore Sector and a northern one on the Sialkot Sector.
The Pakistanis were in for the second surprise now. A diminutive looking but highly determined Indian Prime Minister stuck to the word of warning he had issued to Ayub Khan that India would retaliate at the time and place of its choosing, should J&K be attacked. The Indian Army opened two new fronts simultaneously, a southern one on the Lahore Sector and a northern one on the Sialkot Sector. The offensive on the southern front was under way by early morning on 6 September; three infantry divisions of 11 Corps pushing forward on three different axes, the GT Road axis from Amritsar, the Khalra-Barki axis and the Khemkharan-Kasur axis. Capturing enemy territory in their drive, they were to converge on Ichhogil Canal – the 47-mile long obstacle which protected Pakistan—to threaten Lahore. The northern thrust by 1 Corps which got off the ground thirty-six hours later, with 1 Armoured Division – India’s only armoured division at that time – spearheading the advance of its three infantry divisions, would threaten Sialkot.
The Indian offensive didn’t exactly turn out to be a roaring success as it was expected to be; but we did snatch a victory of sorts, grabbing sizeable chunks of enemy territory by the time the war ended with the ceasefire coming into effect on 23 September. The Pakistanis who had started it all, ended up looking downright silly. They were hit for a six in their much-planned infiltration game under Operation Gibraltar. In Operation Grand Slam that followed too, they failed to exploit the initial advantage gained with their successful foray into the Chamb area. And if they didn’t end up losing Lahore and Sialkot, it had more to do with the fumbling1 of the situation by Indians rather than their own merit. And in armoured warfare – the war saw some of the fiercest tank battles after World War II – the Indians certainly got the better of their adversaries. The Indian tank men, riding their vintage Centurions, Shermans and AMX-13s, knocked off an awful lot of brand new US built Patton Tanks the Pakistanis were equipped with. Their armoured division was virtually written off. The story of their Sabre Jets in the air wasn’t any better either. Thus at the end of the day, India had managed to undermine the massive arms buildup Pakistan was pursuing. (The territorial gains or losses didn’t amount to much for either side anyway, since the pre-war status was eventually restored.) And it gave the Indian Army the much needed shot in the arm after the demoralizing ordeal of 1962.
Across every battle front, the war of 1965 saw the Madras Regiment in action in a big way, with as many as ten battalions taking the field. 1 Madras, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel CPA Menon (the nephew of the officer of the same name killed in J&K in 1948), was engaged from early August itself in the search-and-destroy operations against the infiltrators in the Rajauri Sector of J&K, where it did a commendable job of rounding up scores of infiltrators, before being shifted to Naushera by the end of the month to throw defensive piquets along the Ceasefire Line. Later by 10 September, the battalion joined the 1 Corps offensive in the Sialkot Sector as it got under way, forming part of 52 Mountain Brigade under 26 Infantry Division. Concentrating at Fatehpur by the 12th, the unit was assigned for an attack on Tilakpur, a village across the Ceasefire Line, 12 kilometres short of Indo-Pak Border.
Formed of a salient extending about a kilometre and a half into the Indian territory across the river Ravi, it was encircled by an embankment along which the international boundary ran.
The brigade attack, which materialized only on 18 September, went in an hour before midnight, 1 Madras forming its left point and 2 Mahar the right, with 5/11 GR in reserve. It was a gritty battle with the enemy artillery coming down murderously on the attackers. The brigade successfully took the objective, albeit at the cost of a considerable number of casualties. A squadron of tanks from 18 Cavalry drove in by daybreak to reinforce the infantrymen, who had dug in by then to take on the counter-attacks. During the next four days, before the ceasefire came onto effect in the early hours of 23 September, the enemy – mostly Baluchi troops – staged three powerful counter-attacks, backed by armour, artillery and air-power; but the battalion, with the rest of the brigade, doggedly held on, beating the enemy back every time, inflicting heavy casualties on them, including one of their tanks knocked out by anti-tank guns.
Soon after the ceasefire, the battalion was diverted for operations in the Akhnur-Chamb-Jaurian Sectors, first for penetration into enemy territory for establishing forward defence positions, and later to take up the defence of the Jhung Feature overlooking Sunderbani. On 30 September it was called up to go in for another attack, that of an important feature, Malla, in the Kalidhar Range, which had been lost to the enemy two days earlier. The attack was launched at 0330 hours the next day. Pounded by artillery and mortars and braving machinegun fire, the men had a job of clearing the false front the enemy had put up; and by the time they made it to the actual objective it was broad daylight. A nasty bit of fighting ensued with fierce hand-to-hand combat; but the assault carried the day, and by noon the objective had been taken. The enemy brought down heavy artillery with a vengeance; but the battalion stuck to the position, and later went on to secure a forming up place for another unit to attack a neighbouring feature. 1 Madras was to man the Kalidhar Defences for more than three months, until relieved in early January 1966. The battalion suffered 88 casualties in all during the course of the war; 2 JCOs and 28 men killed, and 3 officers, 2 JCOs and 53 men wounded.
2 Madras, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel CV Donoghue, based at Ambala before the war, joined the 11 Corps offensive towards Lahore right at the beginning. Forming part of 29 Infantry Brigade, which had been assigned to guard the northern flank of the offensive, the battalion found itself engaged in one of the most significant battles when it was earmarked, along with 1/5 GR, to attack the Dera Baba Nanak Enclave. Formed of a salient extending about a kilometre and a half into the Indian territory across the river Ravi, it was encircled by an embankment along which the international boundary ran. The place was clustered by ‘Sarkhanda’ grass growing ten to twelve feet all over. A massive steel-and-concrete bridge, about 800 metres long spanning the river, linked the enclave to Pakistan. The enemy had deployed about three companies of regular infantry – 3 Punjab – and a company of the Sutlej Rangers along with a battery of 25-pounder field guns, a platoon of mortars and a squadron of medium tanks to defend the place. The main body of the infantry with the field guns and mortars held the enclave, while the tanks with the rest of the infantry remained in reserve across the river.
The attack commenced sharp at 0400 hours on 6 September, the H-hour for the entire Corps, with 2 Madras going in from the right of the bridge and 1/5 GR from the left. Assaulting on a two-company front, the Madras men ran into a tough defence line refusing to yield ground. The fight that erupted was ferocious, but by daybreak the attackers had wrested a victory, occupying the objective. 32 Pakistanis lay dead and another 10 had been taken prisoner. The Gorkhas were victorious as well. The Indian Brigade had won the first round. The enemy had been driven to the far side of the river.
Despite heavy odds the attack went in at 1400 hours on 22 September, only to make very slow progress against the fierce resistance the enemy put up.
Almost immediately they counter-attacked with massive artillery and armour support. There were anxious moments when one of the Madras companies were almost overwhelmed and had to be reinforced by men from the reserve company; but finally the enemy was beaten back for good. Meanwhile the Gorkhas found themselves in a spot of trouble as the day wore on, with the counter-attacks on their side gaining momentum2, and two of their companies getting overrun. Alarmed, the brigade threw in its third unit, 3 RAJ RIF (Rajputana Rifles), by nightfall. The RAJ RIF men, in an interesting ruse, drove in in a huge convoy of vehicles with headlamps on, simulating the arrival of a much larger force. They then mounted an assault at 0200 hours on the 7th, and dislodged the enemy troops who had come to occupy the embankment by the river. The Pakistanis, having fallen for the ruse, panicked, and fearing an Indian thrust across the river, blew up a span of the bridge once it was daylight. They had blunted any more Indian offensive in the area, but the Dera Baba Nanak Enclave was firmly in Indian hands.