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.
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!
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.
The next morning, the 5th of September, my Chief of Staff was rung up by General Officer Commanding 10 Division to say that the Brigade had come back safely, with all its equipment and ammunition. But before congratulating the General Officer Commanding for this successful operation, I asked my Chief of Staff to check up from the General Officer Commanding if the guns had also been brought back. His reply that they could not be brought back made me furious. I ordered his Corps Commander to hold a Court of Inquiry for this lapse. As a result of this inquiry, General Chopra was sacked from his appointment.
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.
By attacking across the international border of the Punjab, we had definitely achieved complete surprise on all fronts. Our plan of attack was quite simple. The idea was to advance up to the Ichhogil Canal (which had been built by Pakistan for the defence of Lahore), on a wide front of four axes and to capture the Canal from Ranian, in the North, Dograi on the GT Axis, Barki, on the Khalra Axis, and its termination opposite Ferozepore and turn it into a defence-line against Pakistan and thus save our troops for further operations. My idea was to keep the additional force, including the 1st Armoured Division, in the reserve for the first phase of the operations. And when the Ichhogil Canal was secured, to launch this force, including the Armoured Division, against Sialkot, crossing the river Ravi in the area of Nainakot, an area already in our hands.
For this purpose, we had carried out an engineering reconnaissance of both banks of the river. We could even, in our own time, put up a temporary bridge over the Ravi, since the river was in Indian Territory. But the Chief of the Army Staff had other plans, of which I had no idea. Unknown to me, he had formed another Corps, under the command of his favourite, PN Dunn (whom he promoted out of turn), and had launched it from the direction of Samba, leaving me in the Punjab without any reserves during my offensive towards the Ichhogil Canal! It was bad planning, but there was little I could do for it would have meant going against the wishes of the Chief.
However, the surprise on the Punjab fronts was so complete that we had almost free-sailing until 10 am of the 6th of September, the day of the attack. After 10 am, the Pakistani Mass-Artillery, which was till then sojourning in the Lahore Cantonment, was hurriedly deployed in a pre-prepared position, just behind the Resin Factory, on the GT road, towards Lahore on the Ichhogil Canal. They fired their first salvo against 1 Jat, which had just that morning secured the bridge at Bhaini Dhilwan (near Ichhogil Utter) in the Ranian Sector. The truth is that after the capture of the objective, having faced no opposition, the Jats became lax and sent for their Mess truck and started having their breakfast in the open.
By attacking across the international border of the Punjab, we had definitely achieved complete surprise on all fronts.
The Pakistan Mass-Artillery hit the area where the officers were having their breakfast and the Battalion, consequently, scattered running helter-skelter! There is an object lesson in this: that before a war, the officers and Other Ranks must be put through ‘Battle Innoculation’ and should be generally oriented to battlefield conditions, however easy the victory might be. As a consequence of this, it took two more attacks, by different battalions, and heavy casualties, before the objective, the bridge over the Ichhogil Canal, could be, regained.
The Mass-Artillery of the enemy, then took on Dera Baba Nanak and caused a break-through over the bridge, by arm our and some infantry; and later still, concentrated its fire power against 15 Infantry Division position on the GT Axis. But, until mid-day of the 6th of September, all that was opposing 15 Infantry Division on the GT Axis, was just a company of the enemy’s Reconnaissance and Support Battalion, which had been sent ahead to oppose the Indian Offensive. This Reconnaissance and Support Battalion had been introduced into the Pakistan Army by the Americans, at the scale of one per Corps. It was fully mounted on jeeps, armed with formidable firepower: 12 Recoilless guns and 12 Medium Machine Guns per Company. A Company came up to the Canal and started firing aimlessly and this is what made Niranjan Prasad believe that he was being counterattacked by ‘two Divisions’, as conveyed in his message.
I was pleading all the time that an offensive, across the international border, towards Lahore, would compel the Pakistanis to pull back their Pattons from the Chhamb Sector. This was confirmed by a message sent by the Pakistan Army and picked up on the morning of our offensive. Another ruse I played to lull the enemy was not to move my Headquarters down to Ambala till the afternoon of the 5th of September. What is more, I accepted, and asked my senior Staff Officers to accept, an invitation to lunch, at Kanwar Dalip Singh’s house, in Simla, on the 5th of September, just a day before the offensive started. That afternoon, I had a helicopter waiting for me at Anandale, Simla, which flew me, after lunch, to Jalandhar, where I had arranged to pick up General Officer Commanding XI Corps, Lt Gen Joginder Singh Dhillon, before proceeding to Amritsar to see the various formations going into the attack. Besides, I had requested Mr Ashwani Kumar (Senior Superintendent of Police, Amritsar) and the local Deputy Commissioner to meet me at Tactical Headquarters of 15 Division, on the GT Axis, at midnight of the 5th, as I had something important to tell them, and that’s when I broke the news of our attack across the international border, for the first time, to the civilian Government of Punjab.
By 3 o’clock in the morning, both General Dhillon and I, were back at the forward Corps Headquarters, at Raya, and I requested everyone not to disturb me till 6 am, come what may, as I had busy nights ahead and needed some sleep. Punctually at 6 am, I was told that our assault had gone on well on all fronts. Soon, the Corps Commander and I drove up to the XI Corps’ Tactical Headquarters, which was nearer the Front. There, a map of the whole area was displayed on an easel, and the Brigadier General Staff of the Corps, Brigadier Parkash Singh Grewal, was manning, in a trench, the Forward Wireless link to the various Divisions.
The gist of what he (Ayub Khan) said was that the die had been cast; that India would get what it had asked for; that it would be a cakewalk to Delhi and .that he had declared war on India!
Here we listened, over a small dry-battery wireless set, to the broadcast made to the nation by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan. He seemed to be terribly nervous and was stammering. The gist of what he said was that the die had been cast; that India would get what it had asked for; that it would be a cakewalk to Delhi and .that he had declared war on India! Just after 12 noon, Brigadier Parkash brought a wireless message from General Officer Commanding 15 Division, on the GT Axis, where initially there had been reports that their leading Brigade had crossed the Ichhogil Canal. He said that his Division had been attacked by two Divisions of the Pakistani Army and that his leading Brigade had withdrawn to Gosal Dial, 7 miles behind the Ichhogil Canal; his flanks were exposed and, therefore, he had decided to withdraw behind the border.
I was stunned to receive this message and asked Brigadier Parkash to let the General Officer Commanding 15 Division know that he would not move back an inch from where he was, and that I and the Corps Commander were coming to meet him. I drove the Jonga in which we travelled. It was not long before we saw the havoc that the enemy air had caused on the GT Road. Vehicles were burning here and there, while there were craters on the road, and enemy aircraft were still flying over head. We saw 15 Division Administrative Echelon vehicles abandoned on the road, the drivers having run away, leaving some of the engines still running. We saw an armoured carrier standing in the middle of the road, with its keys still in it. I had it removed off the road. We were directed by the Divisional Military Police to the General Officer Commanding, Major General Niranjan Prasad, who was hiding in a recently irrigated sugarcane field! He came out to receive us, with his boots covered ‘with wet-mud.
He had no head-cover, nor was he wearing any badges of rank. He had stubble on his face, not having shaved, contrary to the custom before the start of an operation. Seeing him in such a state, the first question I asked him was whether he was the General Officer Commanding a Division or a coolie? Why had he removed his badges of rank and not shaved, I asked? Of course, he had no answer. We were standing in the open, and, naturally, the men of his Headquarters had formed a circle around us, though at a distance. At one stage a couple of enemy fighter planes flew over head, strafing vehicles on the road, and Niranjan Prasad tried to pull me to safety under the cover of a bush nearby. I had to shout at him to explain that the enemy aircraft were not interested in us, nor could they see us. What they were after were his vehicles that had been abandoned the road, head-to-tail. I asked him where his reserve Brigade Commander was. He shouted: “Pathak, Pathak” and Pathak came to us, his face as white as a sheet.
Seeing him in such a state, the first question I asked him was whether he was the General Officer Commanding a Division or a coolie? Why had he removed his badges of rank and not shaved, I asked?
I asked him where his men (F Group) were, and he answered that they were following, but they were inoperative, because they had suffered very heavy casualties from enemy aircraft. I, naturally, asked him how many casualties they had suffered, and he replied, “Nearly 30 wounded”. I said, “30 out of 4000 (the strength of his Brigade) and you say your Brigade was inoperative!” I asked him to pull himself together and then gave him his orders, on the map and on the ground, for the next phase of his advance. He was to take his Brigade along the distributory, shown on the map, and on reaching the Ichhogil Canal, to turn left and re-capture the bridge on the GT Road near Dograi. In order to give his Divisional Commander another chance, I asked Niranjan Prasad to ”keep an eye on his Brigade, and report to his Corps Commander, in the morning, regarding the progress of the operations”.
I had known Niranjan Prasad for a long time. He had already, on two occasions, acquitted himself badly while commanding a Division. The first time was in NEFA and then later, while commanding 25 Infantry Division, at Rajouri. I was also aware that each time he had written a representation against his senior Commanders. I had found him deficient in command of 15 Infantry Division as early as June that year, and had said as much to General Chowdhary when he visited XI Corps during an Exercise. But the Chief chose to disregard my suggestion for according to him Niranjan Prasad had very close political connections with higher-ups in Delhi!
So, this time, sensing that I might remove him from command, General Niranjan Prasad had apparently already written out a representation against me in his note book which he kept in his brief case along with some other secret and confidential papers. I now state what was revealed in a Court of Inquiry which General Officer Commanding XI Corps ordered, to go into the circumstances that prevented General Niranjan Prasad from visiting his Reserve Brigade, under Brigadier Pathak, who had been, ordered by me to carry out a certain operation, which Niranjan Prasad had been ordered to supervise. The story goes, that on the morning of the 7th of September, Niranjan Prasad sent for an officer to lead him to the Brigade’s position, and set off towards it along the distributory, which was marked on the map. He was in the Jonga in front, with his\ADC, while two jeeps, with his escort in them, were following him. As he progressed along the distributory, he was fired at by a distant Medium Machine Gun. Both he and his ADC abandoned the Jonga and took cover in a field of crops nearby, as did the escorts.