Military & Aerospace

The 1965 War with Pakistan-II
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Issue Book Excerpt: In the Line of Duty | Date : 15 Feb , 2011

After the altercation with General Officer Commanding 15 Division and the despatch of his Reserve Brigade to regain the ground lost, peace prevailed in the area. On the return journey, with General Dhillon sitting next to me in the Jonga, while I drove, I remember turning to him and remarking that it was the hand of God that had sorted out everything! And he agreed. Soon, we saw a vehicle proceeding towards Lahore with a European couple sitting in it. I thought it was odd that the vehicle had been allowed to cross the Divisional Barrier, put up just adjacent to the 15 Division Main Headquarters on the GT Road. So I turned my Jonga around and speeded behind this civilian car.

Eventually, I caught up with it, and pushing my Jonga ahead of the car, blocked its path. I then got down and asked the gentleman what he was doing there. He said he belonged to the Swiss Embassy in Delhi, and that he was going to Lahore to spend some time with his friends there. I told him firmly that he could not go by road, and that if he and his wife wished to spend some time with their friends in Lahore, they would have to go there by air. Seeing his hesitation, I pulled out my revolver and asked him to turn back and travel ahead of me. The couple was, indeed, puzzled, but all the same turned their vehicle back. On reaching the Divisional Headquarters barrier, I questioned the Police Havildar in charge as to why he had permitted a civilian vehicle to go through? He had no answer. The civilian vehicle, I noticed, was now well ahead of us.

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After crossing the Barrier, I turned into the 15 Division Main Headquarters, as the stupidity of the message I had received that morning from General Officer Commanding 15 Division was still rankling with me and I wished to warn the GSO 1 of the Division not to let such a senseless message go through. The statements made, namely, “Two Pakistani Divisions are attacking me”, “both my flanks are threatened” were totally inaccurate, as we had ascertained, while the belief that safety lay in “withdrawing behind the border” was simply ridiculous. There is no border behind which one can withdraw to safety in a war.

He said he was Captain Grover, a Gunner, who had been on leave and who had heard about the war with Pakistan over the radio, and was now rushing back to join his Artillery unit. He wanted to know where he could find it!

At Amritsar, we met crowds of people excited over the fighting that was going on in the air between our fighter 13.ircraft and those of the Pakistani side. I warned them not to let any civilian car go through to the Front, and mentioned that the war was going in our favour; which raised their enthusiasm even further. As I was telling General Dhillon about the Japanese motor cyclists, in the Second World War in Malaya, who would come hundreds of miles into your territory, undetected, by lowering their hats over their eyes and following one of our own vehicles, we suddenly spotted a motor-cyclist, in uniform, heading towards Beas. I decided to stop him and ask him for his identity. He said he was Captain Grover, a Gunner, who had been on leave and who had heard about the war with Pakistan over the radio, and was now rushing back to join his Artillery unit. He wanted to know where he could find it! I referred him to a Military Police-Post, a few miles ahead, which would help him locate his Unit.

I would like to mention here the case of a Commanding Officer of one of the Gorkha battalions, who, again on his own volition, returned to his Gorkha Battalion, deployed on the GT Axis, from leave which he was spending in the United Kingdom. He had heard of the War between India and Pakistan, and wanted to return to his Unit, to resume command. I still remember his name: Lt Col Tugnait. He, if I am not mistaken, was a heavyweight boxing champion of the Indian Army. His return had such a salutary effect on his battalion that not a single man deserted afterwards. I, as Army Commander, in the field at the time, owed him a debt of gratitude, for having acted as a true soldier. Yet another example of a patriotic son of India returning to his call of duty, without being asked to do so, was that of Captain Amarinder Singh, the son of the then Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavendra Singh. He returned, after having been discharged from the Army; on the advice of his father.

However, there were a good number of officers on leave, who upon being sent a telegram to return, did not do so. Also, during the early stages of the Operation, there were a substantial number of troops who deserted from battalions that had weak or officiating commanding officers. As a result, I had to give our tanks, which were already in the rear, orders to shoot at men trying to escape in twos and threes through the fields of cotton and fodder. This phenomenon was particularly common among the Gorkha battalions.

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But now to return to the further sequence of events. Travelling on, we saw a Jonga, with Sahib Singh Kalah in it, coming from the opposite direction. He had a very important message for us. The Brigade Commander at Dera Baba Nanak had rung up to say that a couple of squadrons of AMX tanks of the enemy, with some Infantry, had rushed through the bridge, which, incidentally, was supposed to have been in our hands since the morning. Raya, Corps Tactical Headquarters, was not very far from there, and we decided to deal with the situation on arrival. The final information, as it transpired, was that only a few AMX tanks had broken through, and without any Infantry! The Brigade was told to counter-attack and recapture the bridge. This was done during the night and the enemy left their tanks in our hands and escaped across the river. A foolish move indeed!

He had heard of the War between India and Pakistan, and wanted to return to his Unit, to resume command. I still remember his name: Lt Col Tugnait.

This was not, however, to be the end of a very eventful day. I had hardly returned to my Main Headquarters, at Ambala, at about 11 pm when I learnt that Pakistan .had played its ace card and dropped paratroopers. These were special service troops, with special equipment, supplied by America for the purpose of eliminating airfields. I must admit that we had not anticipated this. This was the ace card which Field Marshal Ayub Khan must have had up his sleeve and hoped to use, when he had declared that morning in his address to his countrymen that they would have a ‘cake-walk’ to Delhi.

The paratroopers, it seemed, had been launched in a hurry, without much preparation, as they all dropped far away from their targets. There was not much action required on our part as they were suitably dealt with by the villagers near where they dropped. They were unable to cause any damage, as intended, to our Forward Fighter airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. A little bit of shooting was reported in Halwara Airfield, between aircraft-pens, but that was a response out of sheer panic on the part of ‘Lashkars’, a civilian set-up, employed by the airfield for the protection of the parked aircraft.

There was no risk to the aeroplanes taking off from the airfield. And yet, out of fear, the Air Force authorities withdrew their Fighter Planes from the forward airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara, without my knowledge. I believe, that they got permission to do so from the Chief of the Army Staff, with the connivance of my Chief of Staff, Major General Joginder Singh. This greatly upset our communications and arrangements for close-air-support to the troops at the Front. Several calls from the Front had no effect on Major General Joginder Singh, who was supposed to be manning the Close­-Air-Support Organisation at my Main Headquarters, at Ambala.

Book_in_the_line_of_dutyAir support to our troops fighting on the ground, from our fighter planes, which were taking off from Agra, and beyond, without any briefing by the Air-Contact teams, which had been left behind at the Forward Airfields, was, at its best, only spasmodic and ephemeral. The troops on the Front, who had to bear the brunt of enemy attacks from the air, complained bitterly about the absence of our planes. A situation that I found very difficult to explain. I, of course, kept on asking my Chief of Shiff, through my ADC, the reason for this lack of air support, for I did not then know that our planes had been removed to Agra, and beyond, by the Air Force, without asking me. A most deplorable state of affairs, to say the least! The result was that during the critical period of early operations, the troops at the Front had no air-support, while Pakistani planes, taking off from Sargoda Airfield, pounded them mercilessly!In the early hours of the morning of the 8th of September, I received a very alarming report, in the form of a hand-written letter, through a special courier officer, from General Officer Commanding, XI Corps, who had visited 4 Division on the afternoon of the 7th of September, 1965. Following is the text of the original letter:

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HQ XI Corps

C/O 56 APO

07 Sep 65

My dear Harbakhsh,

I visited 4 Mtn Div this afternoon from 1415 to 1615 hrs & met the GOC at his HQ. Most of the officers in the HQ and the GOC were wearing long faces. The troops I saw on my way to the HQ appeared slack and generally uninterested. On enquiry I came to know the following:

The strength of the six infantry has been reduced to an overall strength of about three and a half bns in 24 hours of action commenc­ing 0400 hrs 6 Sep. This reduction was partially due to enemy action but mostly due to desertion.

The rot started with 13 Dogras, who without orders, left the posi­tion allotted to them without any enemy pressure except perhaps shelling. GOC 4 Mtn Div halted them as they were coming back. During night 6/7 Sep they all disappeared except the 5% and the CO's party. This rot quickly spread to other inf units.

4 Div have the following bns and units at present:

18 Raj Rif 4 Grenadiers 7 Grenadiers

1/9 GR 9 J &K]

13 Dogras

Of these only 4 Grenadiers & 1/9 GR are intact. I am told by the GOC that the CO of 9 J &K left his posn, without orders o~ the night of 6/7 Sep taking a coy of inf with him. 7 Grenadiers are bnly about two coy strong. 18 Raj Rif has about 10% deserters & the GOC thinks that this unit is cracking up. I am further given to understand by the GOC that deserters are restricted to inf units only & no other arm or service in the Div is affected.

Because of the above situation not a single task given to 4 Mtn Div in the current operations has been carried out. No bridge on the 1 GC in 4 Div sector has been blown. The GOC had to request the posn of the Div on the night of 6/7 Sep & again on the afternoon of 7 Sep. When I visited him today he was arranging the preparation of a def sector in the Asal Uttar .area.

The morale of the Div being what it is, it is my considered view that any defences held by the present inf units in 4 Mtn Div cannot withstand even slight enemy pressure. This is a most serious situation in the present stage of the Operations.

I recommend:

That 4 Mtn Div be immediately replaced by some other fmn for carrying out the orders given to them.

Except for 4 Grenadiers and 9 GR, the four inf units of 4 Mtn Div as given in para 4 above should be disbanded.

I request that you pay a visit to this formation at your earliest convenience to see at first hand its state of morale & the competence of its commander.

It was a privilege & an honour to have you here on the epoch making day - 6 Sep 65.

With warm regards

Yours ever


As can be seen’ from the letter, the General Officer Commanding XI Corps had recommended that the Division be replaced; and all its Infantry Units, except two, be disbanded. There was, of course, no question of doing this. And that’s when I felt the necessity of having some reserves, which could have been availed of if the Chief of Staff had agreed to my suggestion of crossing the river Ravi, in our own territory, at Nianakot. Because of the Chief of the Army Staff’s insistence, 1 Corps, the only reserve I could have counted on, had been deployed in the Sialkot area.

I, of course, kept on asking my Chief of Shiff, through my ADC, the reason for this lack of air support, for I did not then know that our planes had been removed to Agra, and beyond, by the Air Force, without asking me.

Upon receipt of this letter, the first ‘thing I did, in the morning, was to proceed to 4 Division area. On arrival, I found that although the situation was pretty serious, it did not call for recourse to the recommendation made by the General Officer Commanding XI Corps. In any case, the change over of the formation, in close contact with the enemy, was clearly out of the question. We had no reserves available for this purpose, nor was it sound tactics to break contact with the enemy at this stage. I told the General Officer Commanding 4 Division that these things happen in war, but that so long as he was holding the Asal Uttar road-junction, there was nothing to fear. I enjoined him to strengthen that position as much as he could, by sowing mines in the maize and cotton fields around it, and to get the troops dug-down in trenches.

If the Patton tanks were to attack at night, he had to just tell the men to keep their heads down in the trenches and let the tanks pass over them and then engage them from behind. He said he needed troop reinforcements; but there were none. I assured him that as long as he held the Asal Uttar road-junction the tanks could not stay for long in his position. He was to just not let their soft-vehicles, with petrol and ammunition, marry-up with them. I then visited Tactical Headquarters XI Corps, and told the General Officer Commanding, XI Corps, Lt Gen Dhillon, that I had visited 4 Division area, and that every thing was all right there, and that the General Officer Commanding there was sure that he was in control of the situation. I asked the General Officer Commanding XI Corps to flood the area in front of the Divisional dispositions, according to a plan already made by the Enginers, and suggested that 2 Armoured Brigade be made available to 4 Division at once. This was done the same night, and the Armoured Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Theog Raj, played a very distinguished role in defeating Pakistan’s Ace Division of Pattons in the battle west of Dibipura the next morning, the 9th of September.

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The reason for the 4 Division disaster was the fact that the leading Brigade, which had the Ichhogil Canal as its objective, stopped short of it, mistaking a small nullah, flowing short of the Canal, as its final objective and took up a defensive position on its near-bank. Through lack of knowledge, we did not know that the Pakistanis had built an under-canal passage (a siphon) for their tanks under the Ichhogil Canal. If the leading Brigade of 4 Division had reached its correct objective, the bridge on the Canal, they would have noticed the siphon, and would have had an opportunity to contest the passage of armour through it, and that of the Infantry and soft vehicles over the bridge. As it was, they stopped short of the Ichhogil Canal, and were, the same afternoon, attacked by an overwhelming force of Armour (Pattons) and Infantry, and dislodged from their position, resulting in panic and irregular retreat. It seems that the Pakistani forces used for this counter-attack, were also hustled into it, without the preliminaries so essential for such a counter-attack, and thus they met their Waterloo at Asal-Uttar.

Our offensive in the Sialkot Sector was launched on the evening of the 8th of September, and although it met with initial success, there was not enough time, before the cease-fire came into effect on midnight of the 22nd/23rd of September, for it to develop its operations fully. In the meanwhile, after having been battered in the Khem Karan Sector, Pakistan was able to transfer a major portion of what was left of it’s Ace Armoured Division (Pattons) to oppose our forces in the Sialkot Sector.

This reduction was partially due to enemy action but mostly due to desertion.

When the cease-fire came into effect we had a distinct advantage over the enemy, and I have no doubt that if the hostilities had gone on we would have certainly shown more worthwhile results, and Pakistan would have had to eat humble pie!

The first and foremost lesson we learnt, as a result of the infiltration campaign launched by Pakistan, was that our intelligence set up had failed to measure up, in so far as they had been unable to give us any warning of the impending events. I am sure, this lesson will have been well learnt, and that our intelligence will in future come up to the mark.

On the morning of the 9th of September, when I was sitting in my Operations Room, and ruminating in my mind as to how to reinforce 4 Mountain Division in the Asal Uttar area, where, I felt, they were rather thin, my ADC, Captain Amarinder Singh, came in to say that a Major from 17 Sikh wished to pay his respects to me (I being Colonel of the Sikh Regiment). As the officer was ushered in, I asked him what he was doing there? And he replied that he had come to Ambala with an Advance Party of 17 Sikh, as Ambala was going to be their next station. I felt this was a godsend! I then asked him about the strength of his Advance Party, and its composition. He answered that it had two Officers, three JCOs and about 80 NCOs and Other Ranks.

Book_in_the_line_of_dutyI welcomed the information and asked him to organise his personnel into a Company and to be ready to leave for the Front, to be under 4 Mountain Division at Asal Uttar. They were to be ready to leave by 1 pm in the mechanical transport that I was going to arrange. He saluted and left my office forthwith. The transport arrangements were finalised, and the 17 Sikh Company left for Asal Uttar punctually at. 1 pm as planned. I had, in the meanwhile, informed Major General Gurbaksh Singh, Commander 4 Mountain Division, that this Company of 17 Sikh had been despatched to reinforce his position at Asal Uttar. He welcomed their arrival and put them right in the middle of his forces defending the road-junction at Asal Uttar.

To be continued…

For the night of the 9th/10th of September, and the next day, when 4 Mountain Division was hard pressed by the Pakistani Ace Armoured Division (with Patton tanks, that had night-vision sight), the Sikh Company (17 Sikh) played a stellar role, against the Pakistan armour, in the defence of Asal Uttar road-junction. For this, their battalion (then 17 Sikh) won the Battle-Honour of Asal Uttar – a unique distinction! By the evening of 10th September, the leading Company Group of Pakistan’s Ace Armoured Division had been completely defeated, and some 26 officers and other ranks of Pakistan’s 4 Cavalry surrendered voluntarily during the night of 10th/11th, including six Majors and the Commanding Officer of 4 Cavalry. They were taken as prisoners-of-war.

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During this battle on the 10th of September, at about 2.30 pm, one of our Artillery Observation Posts picked up a wireless message from the enemy (it is to be remembered that Pakistan was using the same wireless sets as we had) to the effect that Pakistan’s Divisional Commander was coming ahead, along the road, to find out what was delaying the Armour advance. Our side got ready to receive the party, and the General Officer Commanding and other Officers with him in the jeep, which was completely smashed, were either killed or wounded. The wounded General Officer Commanding Pakistan Division was taken away by the Pakistan Armour, while we picked from the area the body of the gunner officer with him, his Commander Artillery Brigade, Brigadier AR Shammi, along with his cap and personal diary. The next day when I was present in the area, and at my instance, his dead body was given a military funeral in the field. This was the battle in which Havildar Abdul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers won his Param Vir Chakra.

For the night of the 9th/10th of September, and the next day, when 4 Mountain Division was hard pressed by the Pakistani Ace Armoured Division (with Patton tanks, that had night-vision sight), the Sikh Company (17 Sikh) played a stellar role, against the Pakistan armour, in the defence of Asal Uttar road-junction.

Late at night on the 9th of September, the Chief of the Army Staff, rang me up to say that he had read Corps Commander XI Corps’ letter sent to me, and that his advice was that to save the whole Army from being cut off by Pakistan’s Armour push, I should pull back to the line of the river Beas. I was aghast at this suggestion and said that since it was a tactical order, he had to come to the Frontwith me to give it, or else he had to issue an Operations Instruction, as is the custom in the Army. His reply was that I should stay put at my Headquarters till the next day as he was coming to see me. The next morning, at about 10 am, I went to meet the Chief at the airfield at Ambala, and was surprised to see that his -aircraft had a fighter escort. I remarked on this to the Air Force Station Commander, pointing out that our forward troops were crying out for these aircraft every day. The Chief and I went straight into my Operations Room, and we had a very heated discussion. He got so excited at one stage that I suggested that I get him a bottle of beer from the Mess – as he was going to have lunch with us, in any case. He welcomed. this, but I had already made it quite clear to him that if he wanted to give me a tactical order, then he would have to come to the Front with me, and only then would I decide whether I would carry it out or not. He left for Delhi by air after lunch and I left for my’ Operations Room, to follow the Divisional Battle with Pakistan’s Armour.

Early on the morning of the 11th, I left in a jeep for the 4 Division area. I had a camouflage coat on, over my uniform, and was driving the jeep myself. Just beyond Bikhiwind, I noticed a couple of artillery vehicles, standing nose to tail and camouflaged with a net. They were loaded with artillery ammunition, and were on fire, having been strafed by the Pakistani planes, which were still flying overhead. As the ammunition was on fire, shells were exploding all round. I observed a few Sikh peasants hoeing the cotton-crop near by al1ddecided to warn them of the danger they might face from exploding shells. After I delivered my warning, the eldest amongst them looked at me and said: “Sardar Sahib, you seem to be new to this place; for this happens every day here”. He then asked me if I was a farmer’s son. If I was, then I should know that the soil was just wet-enough for hoeing that day and that by tomorrow, it would be hard as stone, “Please do not worry about our safety; you do your work and we shall do ours,” was his parting shot. I was wonder-struck at their attitude, and felt a sense of awe.

I returned to my jeep, and a little further on saw a farmer pulling a 1000 lbs air-bomb (a dud it seemed) behind a pair of bullocks. Upon being questioned, he said that the Pakistanis had dropped this on his field, and since he needed to plough it, he was moving it near the road, where the Government, to whom the thing belonged, could take it away! As’! watched, he unhitched the bomb and left it near the side of the road! While entering the village of Dibipura, where the battle with the enemy arm our had taken place earlier, I noticed a few peasants sitting on charpoys in the courtyard of the village. I went up to them and they all stood up to receive me and offered me a seat, and would not sit down until I had. I asked them how they were still there considering the big battle that had been fought in their neighbourhood.

Late at night on the 9th of September, the Chief of the Army Staff, rang me up to say that he had read Corps Commander XI Corps letter sent to me, and that his advice was that to save the whole Army from being cut off by Pakistans Armour push, I should pull back to the line of the river Beas.

They answered in unison, “How could we leave our village; yes, of course, we sent our families and children away, but there was no danger for us while your troops were next door to us.” In fact, they had seen the entire battle that had been waged between opposing tanks from the roofs of their houses. There had been a lot of noise, but at no point had they felt personally threatened.

I bade farewell to them and went over to the Headquarters of the Cavalry Unit (Centurions) that had inflicted the most damage on the Patton tanks that had been ranged against them. I met their. Commanding Officer, Lt Col Calif. He showed me the Patton tanks that they had captured intact and brought over to our side. The Sikh Dafedar who was showing me the Patton tanks and who later offered to give me a ride in one of them, was like a child with a new toy. He could not stop talking about the computer, the range-finder, the electrically movable turret, and so on, in the Patton tank. When I jokingly asked him how he had beaten such a formidable machine with his old Centurion, his reply was, “It is true, this tank, the Patton, is a Rolls Royce and my tank is a T-Ford.

I might not have a computer or a range-finder in my tank, but my training in the Centurion has been such that I can hit a fly at a 1000 yards range, and these Pattons came out of a sugarcane field only at 500 yards range!” Consequently, he explained, he was able to put two shots into each one of the Patton tanks even before they could train their guns on him. And he was absolutely right. I have never seen so many tanks destroyed, lying there in the battlefield like abandoned toys. As I was walking through the fields and looking at these destroyed tanks, with Calif and many others behind me, a young man, dressed in civilian clothes – a pair of blue trousers, a blue-chequered shirt, with the top button open and a blue tie tied loosely around his neck (in the American style)-suddenly emerged from the crops, saluted me and said that as I seemed to be a very senior officer he had come to surrender as a prisoner-of-war. I asked him his name and he replied: Sawar Anwar-ul-Haq of 4 Horse, Pakistan Army. I then asked him why he was dressed as a civilian?

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He pointed to his tank standing near by and explained that since the leading tanks after being hit had caught fire, he had abandoned his tank fearing that the same fate awaited him. “And, as you know, Sir”, he .continued, “as a Muslim I did not want to burn to death, so I changed in the tank into civilian clothes hoping to escape. But since I find that I am surrounded on all sides, I have come to surrender.” He further mentioned that the Pakistanis believed that we (Indians) had a certain ‘Baba’ (holy man) who had ‘keeled’ (consecrated) the shells in our tanks in such a manner that when they hit steel they burned right through it.

Book_in_the_line_of_dutyThe ‘Baba’, of course, was Bhabha, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission! As I had no desire to change his belief, nor that of the rest of the Pakistanis, I kept this information to myself and instead all I said in reply was, “Oh, so this fact has also reached you?” On my return to Dibipura, after inspecting the battlefield, I saw that the Pakistani prisoner-of-war had become the centre of attention. There was a circle of men sitting around him and he was being fed with puries and tea. I pointed this out to Calif and asked: “Is this the way to treat a prisoner?” I asked that he be blind-folded and sent to the rear.

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