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.
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.
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.
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.