Military & Aerospace

The 1965 War with Pakistan-I
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Issue Book Excerpt: In the Line of Duty | Date : 16 Feb , 2011

With the capture of Hajipir Pass, on the 28th of August, there was a distinct fall in the tempo of attacks launched by the infiltrators in the Valley, and Pakistan’s nefarious designs were completely check-mated. This was later authenticated by Pakistan launching a desperate attack with its regular forces, equipped with American equipment, in the Chhamb Sector, on the 1st of September 1965. This was the beginning of a regular war with Pakistan.

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The area of attack by Pakistan regular forces in Chhamb Sector was cleverly selected, because it was plain country wedged in by rough mountainous terrain on the west and had a formidable obstacle, river Chenab on the east. Therefore, Pakistan could use its arm our and heavy artillery in this area, where as due to United Nations restrictions and ‘a weak-bridge over the Chenab, at Akhnoor, we would be unable to induct our own armour and artillery into the area; it allowed the neatest distance to the bridge over the Chenab at Akhnoor, a vital bottleneck on our communications with Rajouri and Punch. Besides, from Akhnoor, operations could be developed towards Jammu and our lifeline to the Srinagar Valley could be completely blocked; the area lay at the junction of the cease-fire line and the international border between the districts of Sialkot and Jammu. By crossing its arm our over the international border, where the terrain was favourable, Pakistan could claim to have only violated the cease-fire line; the area was governed by the cease-fire agreement and we could station only limited forces there.

The area of attack by Pakistan regular forces in Chhamb Sector was cleverly selected, because it was plain country wedged in by rough mountainous terrain on the west and had a formidable obstacle, river Chenab on the east.

Therefore, on the early morning of the 1st of September, Pakistan launched a full scale attack in this area with a whole Infantr1 Division, with two Regiments of Tanks (Pattons), against a truncated Infantry Brigade. Initial success in such a case was inevitable.

Our answer to such an offensive, as I insisted, could only be a full­fledged assault across the international border in Punjab, so as to compel Pakistan to withdraw from the Akhnoor Sector.

Upon Pakistan launching its attack in the Chhamb Sector, on the 1st of September, the Chief of the Army Staff wanted me to meet it forward of Akhnoor, but I asked him to get me the Government’s permission to cross the international border, towards Lahore. The Chief was hesitant. I, however, insisted on it, saying that if the Chief was not inclined to ask the Government, then I should be allowed to see the Prime Minister, Mr Shastri, to point out to him that the Government had announced over All India Radio that any attack across the cease­fire line in Jammu and Kashmir would be considered an attack on India. Eventually, on 3rd of September, I was given the ‘go ahead’ and I had 48 hours in which to launch the offensive across the border. During the three days, since Pakistan’s attack in the Chhamb Sector, I had not been sitting idle. In order to dupe the enemy into thinking that we were going to meet his offensive forward of Akhnoor, I ordered the engineers to start repair activity on the Pathankot-Akhnoor road and to strengthen the bridges over the Jammu Tawi and over the river Chenab, just short of Akhnoor. Whether this ‘engineered’ activity had any effect on the Pakistani plans or not, it is difficult to say. But the fact is that our going across the international border, towards Lahore, took them completely by surprise.

Our answer to such an offensive, as I insisted, could only be a full­fledged assault across the international border in Punjab, so as to compel Pakistan to withdraw from the Akhnoor Sector.

At about 11 pm, on the night of the 3rd of September, Lt Gen Kumaramangalam, the Deputy Chief of the Army Staff, rang me up on the secret telephone, to say that General Officer Commanding XV Corps had been on line from Udhampur to the Chief of the Army Staff, General Chowdhary, and wanted my permission to withdraw 41 Mountain Brigade” engaged, at the time, with the Pakistanis in the Jaurian position, during the night. Now I must explain, that the General Officer Commanding XV Corps, Lt Gen Kashmir Katoch, was a great favourite of General Chowdhary and used to ring him up directly, which as Army Commander I did not like. Therefore, I questioned Kumaramangalam as to what business my Corps Commander had to ring up the Chief directly? If my Corps Commander was seeking my permission, he should ring me up directly. After saying this I put down the telephone. Within a minute, I got a telephone call from Kashmir Katoch, whom I knew quite well, and he repeated his request. First of all, I took him to task for ringing up General Chowdhary directly over an operational matter, and then discussed with him his suggestion of withdrawing the Brigade, actively involved with the enemy, that very night. “Was it feasible?” I asked. In the end, I decided that the Brigade would stay where it was, and that I would arrive at Jammu Airfield at nine o’clock the next morning, and that he should be ready to accompany me to Akhnoor, in a helicopter.

As an aside, I might mention here, the close call I had on the home front soon after this telephone conversation on the ‘Ulta’ telephone, which directly connected me to the Chief of the Army Staff. My wife and I had been sleeping in the same room, in our Simla house, and just as I got up from bed to answer the phone, she had given a couple of hearty sneezes, obviously a precursor to a cold. I, immediately, decided to shift my bed to another room, to escape catching it c and that’s what saved me. For not only was it a common cold, but in the days that followed it was diagnosed as German measles, which is extremely contagious. It would have been difficult for me to explain why I had fallen sick at that time. People would have indulged in all kinds of speculations. Thank God I took some timely action and saved myself acute embarrassment!

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I arrived at Jammu exactly at 9 am and flew with the Corps Commander to Akhnoor. There we met Major General Chopra, Commander 10 Division, who reported that all was well with the Mountain Brigade at Jaurian. I asked him to ring up. the Brigade Commander (‘Bhaiya’ Rajwade), whom I knew quite well, and to tell him that I had arrived and that he would get his orders for withdrawal by 2 o’clock that afternoon, from his Divisional Commander. I also asked him to get the latest news about the Brigade. The reply was that all was well so far, but that the Pakistanis were making preparations for an attack on his forward Companies.

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