Later, the same morning I moved to Headquarters 4 Division. As it was quite obvious that the enemy’s Ace Armoured Division had received a real bashing, I wished to exploit the situation by pursuing the defeated forces, by encircling Khem Karan. But Commander 4 Division had no fresh troops to do the job. I, therefore, asked General Officer Commanding 7 Division to spare 4 Sikh, which had the previous night captured Barki, and so 4 Sikh were placed under the command of 4 Division for these operations. I left it to the General Officer Commanding 4 Division to plan the Qperation. What was not realised at the time was the fact that 4 Sikh had, for the capture of Barki, spent the previous two nights without any sleep, and had, besides, suffered heavy casualties during the operation.
But their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Anant Singh, whom I had sent for to ask if he could undertake this hazardous operation, was such a fine soldier that not even once did he raise the question of fatigue among his men, nor of the number of casualties that his battalion had already suffered. He, on the other hand, undertook the night operation planned by General Officer Commanding 4 Division on the same night, that is the 11th of September. As luck would have it, the next morning, while it was still dark, he and his battalion walked into enemy armour, taking .it to be their own. There was, naturally, no news from the battalion, and General Officer Commanding 4 Division got worried and informed me. I rushed forthwith to 4 Division area, trying to get some news of the battalion.
I, however, rang him up in Delhi, and mentioned the dire straits-in which 4 Sikh found themselves, and asked if he felt fit enough to take over command in the field. His reply was: “Of course!”
Eventually, in the afternoon, Captain Dalip Singh of the battalion appeared with some 40 men, who had managed to slip out of the enemy’s grip. I gave these men assurances that nothing untoward had happened, as these situations often occur in a war, and cited examples from the Second World War to prove my point. I asked Dalip to take his men, along with other details that were left behind and concentrate at Bikhiwind, and re-raise 4 Sikh.
I was concerned about the re-raising of 4 Sikh Battalion, as I was Colonel of the Sikh Regiment. Therefore, on return to my Headquarters, rather late that evening, I rang up the Sikh Centre Commandant, at Meerut, and asked him to send as many reinforcements to 4 Sikh at Bikhiwind as he could, describing the situation there to him. As to who would be their Commanding Officer, my mind went to Lt Col Karnail Singh Sidhu, who, I knew, had once commanded 4 Sikh. Col Sidhu was at the time commanding our TA Battalion at Delhi, as he had suffered an injury to one of his legs, and had been categorised, by a Medical Board, as Category E, that is unfit for active service. I, however, rang him up in Delhi, and mentioned the dire straits-in which 4 Sikh found themselves, and asked if he felt fit enough to take over command in the field. His reply was: “Of course!”
So, I instructed him to take a jeep from his unit and take command of 4 Sikh at Bikhiwind, as soon as he could, and report to me directly, within 48 hours, as to whether 4 Sikh were ready for war again in every respect. I mentioned to him that I had already spoken to the Commandant of the Centre, and that he would be receiving reinforcements soon. Within two days, I received a call from Col Sidhu that 4 Sikh were ready for operations in all respects! I must mention here the name of Captain Shamsher Singh Minhas, who had been wounded in his thigh as Adjutant, 4 Sikh, in the Battle of Barki, but being the good Regimental soldier he was, had refused to be evacuated beyond the battalion Air-Post, as he wished to stay with the battalion. I asked Col Sidhu to appoint him (Captain Minhas) as his Second-in-Command in the battalion, in the rank of a Major.
I pointed out to the Chief that this was war, and that I had found the officer fit- in every way for the command of a brigade in the field. I added, that if he felt it was necessary; he could re-assemble the Promotion Board, and upon my recommendation from the field, pass him fit for a Brigadiers rank.
There is an aside to this. When the Chief of Army Staff came to know of this appointment made by me, he rang me up to object and said that I could promote him, but that he would not get the pay of a Major. My rejoinder was, “Over my dead body! Since he will be doing the job of a Major in the field, he must get his pay.” I am happy to report that Major Minhas did get the pay of a Major.
While on this subject, I might mention, that at one stage in the War, a vacancy for the appointment of a Brigadier arose, and I asked Colonel Karnail Singh Sidhu, of 4 Sikh, to put on the badges of rank of a Brigadier, as I felt he was fit for the job in all respects, and ordered him to take over the Brigade. Once again the Chief of Army Staff raised an objection to this promotion, as the Selection Board had already rejected his case for promotion to the rank of Brigadier thrice. I pointed out to the Chief that this was war, and that I had found the officer fit- in every way for the command of a brigade in the field. I added, that if he felt it was necessary; he could re-assemble the Promotion Board, and upon my recommendation from the field, pass him fit for a Brigadier’s rank. I did not hear anything further about this.
What was particularly heartening about this War was the way in which the people of the country, especially the Punjabis, had risen as one. The whole province was electrified to a man. There were no reservations in offering help for the cause. On the second night of the War, the Pakistanis had, quite unexpectedly, dropped paratroopers to eliminate the forward airbases at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. Luckily for us, the paratroopers landed away from the airfields, and were thus unable to cause any damage to the aircraft. We did use limited force to deal with them, but the fact is that they were mostly dealt with by the local peasants, who went to the extent of bulldozing their ripening crops so as to weed them out.
Bridges and culverts on the GT Road were guarded by villagers, and I remember, being stopped on the road, for purposes of identification, by NCC cadets at all odd hours. While the peasants did not give up performing their chores right up to the international border; boys and girls’ from the Punjab had set up stalls of milk, lassi, prasad and puries at every crossroad and would force troops going to the. Front, or returning, to partake of their wares. If a vehicle carrying troops was in a hurry and could not stop, they would throw biscuits and fruit into it. Normally, I was always in a hurry and did not stop.
But none of them wanted to leave the troops, and continued to stay, saying that if the troops could bear the bullets of the enemy, why couldnt they?
Once, however when I was returning from the front, the girls formed a chain across the road by holding hands and forced me to stop my jeep. They insisted on serving my party and I puries and prasad on ‘patals’ (made of leaves). As I was eating, I saw a bus standing by, with some Pakistanis in uniform in it, they were being fed by the girls like everyone else. The Pakistanis, the girls told me, were prisoners-of-war being taken back. I saw a JCO, with some men, obviously their escort, standing nearby. I signalled to the JCO to come and see me and asked him why the prisoners-of-war had not been blind-folded. He said that they had been, but that the girls had demanded that the bandages over their eyes be removed so that they could eat comfortably. I reminded the JCO of his responsibility and asked him to blind-fold them again before moving off. Such was the hospitality and fair-mindedness of the Punjabis!
Ambala, as my Main Headquarters, I felt, was too far behind from the Front, to enable me to control the battle as well as attend to my Headquarters. I had no choice but to leave the management of ‘the Main Headquarters entirely in the hands of my Chief of Staff, Major General Joginder Singh, including the management of the Air-Support, as I was mostly busy conducting the battle from the front:
During the war, whenever I was in my Main Headquarters, at Ambala, I used to ring up my family who were in Simla. One day my wife mentioned that air-alarms had begun to sound very often in Simla, and with two school-going girls (my daughters) with her, what was she to do? I told her not to bother about these alarms as there was no danger of Simla being bombed by the Pakistanis, and asked her to let this be known to friends, should they ask. Once I visited my family in Simla, and there was a message waiting for me from the Loretto Convent (my children’s school) that the ‘Sister-General’ wished to see me and would come to the house whenever I happened to come to Simla. My reply was, “Surely, ‘Sister-General’ cannot come to a I Lieutenant General’s house, I must go to her.” So I rang up the Loretto Convent and fixed a visit with the ‘Sister-General’ at the Convent. When I arrived, tea had been arranged in the Convent parlour for me, and how beautifully clean every thing was – the room, the rug and the linen. The ‘Sister-General’ (an Irish woman) met me and wished to know if she should close down the school, because, or the War with Pakistan, and send the girls home? I replied: “Nothing., of the sort; there is no danger to the Convent, or Simla for that matter, from the Pakistanis. The school should continue as normal.”
As I was eating, I saw a bus standing by, with some Pakistanis in uniform in it, they were being fed by the girls like everyone else.
I Corps was launched early on the morning of the 8th of September in the Sialkot Sector. The idea was to establish a ‘bridge-head’, by a Brigade of 14 Infantry Division, to serve as a spring-board for launching our main strike element – the 1st Armoured Division – with the object of capturing the bridge on the spill-channel (which supplied water to the Ichhogil Canal), behind Sialkot, as soon as possible. Simultaneously, 26 Infantry Division were to attack Sialkot town frontally, so as to engage the Sialkot defences, and protect the right flank of the Armoured Division’s advances, while 14 Infantry Division were to capture Zafarwal. 1 Armoured Division broke-out of the bridge-head punctually at 6 am on the 8th of September, but the 43 Lorried Infantry Brigade Group was grounded to a halt in a vast quagmire created by a heavy shower of rain the previous day. After a couple of miles advance, 1 Armoured Division came across some armour and an anti-tank nest, and having cleared them, got involved in some internecine encounters and’ soon limped to a dead-halt with the mishandling of armour both at Brigade and Divisional levels. The Armoured Division which was supposed to penetrate deep and to the rear of Sialkot, through mistakes on their part, had only advanced 4 miles after break-out from the bridge-head, when there was very scanty armour opposition ranged against them. There was no doubt that due to incompetence of command a great opportunity had been lost!
Having suffered a rebuff in the Khem Karan Sector, the enemy’s Ace Armoured Division of Pattons was able to transfer, by railway, two regiments of Pattons, through the plains of Lahore, without any interference from our Air Force (you would recall that the fighter planes had been withdrawn from the forward airfields of the Punjab, without my knowledge, to rear bases). They inducted these into the Sialkot Sector. The result was that our 1 Armoured Division was now faced by Pattons.
Major Megh Singh. This officer had been commanding a battalion, in the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel, when something happened and he was court-martialled and brought down to Major. He was removed from the command of the battalion and posted to the Training Branch in Headquarters Western Command, at Simla. About a month before the War started with Pakistan, in August, 1965, I was sitting in my office, at Simla, and ruminating over the increasing incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir caused by Pakistani personnel who had infiltrated behind the line, when Megh Singh appeared in my office with a request.
He mentioned the dare-devil escapades for which he was known in the past, and asked whether, before retiring from the Army, he could offer his services as an infiltrator behind Pakistani lines. I decided there and then that I would send him to the Corps Commander, Jammu and Kashmir, Lieutenant General Kashmir Katoch, to organise a force of volunteers of his choice with the intention of infiltrating behind the Pakistani Line and carrying out some raids, as a counter to their infiltration, behind our Line. He was very happy with the assignment, and I promised him that if he was successful and shqwed good results, I would be the first to pin the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel on his shoulders. He left very happy, and after I spoke to Kashmir Katoch he was asked to report to him. Before he left, I told Megh that I wanted to keep in touch with him, and that, with the permission of his Corps Commander, to whom I had already spoken, he could contact me directly on the telephone if he needed any help in collecting personnel of his choice.
He was very happy with the assignment, and I promised him that if he was successful and shqwed good results, I would be the first to pin the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel on his shoulders.
Within a few days, I received a telephonl call from him saying that he wanted my permission to enrol Major Bbawani Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur, in his force. Apparently Bhawani Singh had already signified his willingness to do so. I, however, thought that becoming a member of the infiltration Force, under Megh Singh, was too great a risk for the Maharaja of Jaipur to undertake and so lover-ruled Megh Singh. Incidentally, till date, I have never mentioned this to Lt Col Bhawani Singh, who is now retired from the Army and back in his State.
The ‘Megh Force’, as it came to be called, performed many daring feats behind the enemy lines, which pleased the Corps Commander, Kashmir Katoch. So, when the latter accompanied me to Akhnoor, on the morning of the 4th of September, 1965, and Megh Singh had just returned there, with a bullet in his thigh, from one of his many escapades behind enemy lines, in the presence of his Corps Commander, I pinned the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel on his shoulders.
Brigadier Pritam Singh. He was under a cloud and was lined up to be brought down to Lieutenant Colonel. This was just before the War. I was worried about who would replace the Brigadier in-charge of Dera Baba Nanak, who during a local Exercise had stumbled into one of our own bunkers and broken his back.. I recalled my meeting with Pritam Singh at Dera Baba Nanak, way back in the 1950s, when I was Brigadier General Staff Western Command and he was commanding a Gvards battalion there. He had at the time explained the layout of the sector of Dera Baba N anak to me. So, I sent for him and explained that I was willing to keep him in his present rank of Brigadier if he would go and take over the Dera Baba Nanak bridge. He was only too happy to do so. And though, he did not particularly distinguish himself there, and retired from the Army as a Brigadier, I had the satisfaction of having helped an acquaintance.
Colonel Bharat Singh. He was Colonel A at my Headquarters at Simla. It was thlYfirst day of the War with Pakistan, when I got a report that the 90mmander, 1 Horse, with 15 Infantry Division had not been well and as a result, he had issued an order to his Tank Regiment ill writing, not to take their tanks nearer than 2000 yards up to the Ichhogil Canal. He warned that the Pakistanis had Patton tanks, which had better range and a better calibre of gun compared to the Shermans which 1 Horse possessed. I intended to replace this officer, when Colonel Bharat Singh trooped into my office and volunteered to go and take over 1 Horse, which he had commanded once. I considered his rank of a full Colonel, and also thought of the five AMX Tanks (brand new) which had been left behind by the Pakistanis, in their foolish dash over the Dera Baba Nanak bridge. I offered to send him as a Force Commander, of the armour in the area of the GT Axis, including 1 Horse and the 5 AMX tanks belonging to the enemy, provided he found the crew for them from 1 Horse. He was to lead his tanks himself right up to the Ichhogil Canal!
I appeared on the scene and asked Shamsher Singh to put on the badges of rank of a Major, as Secondin-Command of the battalion, and to assemble as many of his men as he could at Bhikhiwind, until I had thought of a new Commanding Officer.
Captain Shamsher Singh Minhas. He was Adjutant of 4 Sikh during their attack on Barki, and was wounded in his thigh by a bullet, during that action, but had refused to be evacuated beyond his Battalion Aid Post. Within two days the battalion had a mishap in the Khem Karan Sector and most of them, including the Commanding Officer, were taken prisoners-of-war. I appeared on the scene and asked Shamsher Singh to put on the badges of rank of a Major, as Secondin-Command of the battalion, and to assemble as many of his men as he could at Bhikhiwind, until I had thought of a new Commanding Officer. I did this as I was Colonel of the Sikh Regiment at the time.
Lt Col Karnail Singh Sidhu. In an attempt to find a new Commanding Officer for 4 Sikh, after their mishap in the Khem Karan Sector, on my return to my Headquarters that night, I rang up the Commandant of the Sikh Regimental Centre, at Meerut. Putting him in the picture, I requested him to send as many reinforcements as he could, of officers, JCOs, NCOs and men, from any battalion, to Bikhiwind, post haste. At the same time, I also rang up Lt Col Karnail Singh Sidhu, at that time commanding the Sikh TA Battalion in Delhi, who I knew had commanded 4 Sikh before, and asked him if he was ready to take over 4 Sikh.
And although categorised by the Army Medicos as Category ‘E’, he said, he was feeling well enough to take over the battalion. So, I asked him to take a jeep and reach Bhikhiwind as soon as possible, and report to me direct, on telephone, within 48 hours, that 4 Sikh were ready for action. And he did so. Within a month a vacancy occurred in one of the Brigades in the Akhnoor area, and I asked Karnail Singh Sidhu to put on the badges of rank of a Brigadier and take over that Brigade. And he did.