Chaudhuri set about his task energetically and with dispatch, bringing to his job as Chief a wealth of experience of well-handled assignments both in command and staff, including his tenure as Adjutant-General and Chief of General Staff at Army Headquarters. The Western bloc, led by President Kennedy of the US, was prepared to equip and help train formations to meet the Chinese threat in the Himalayas, but in view of India’s relations with their staunch ally Pakistan they were not willing to provide all that India needed. In pursuance of this policy, the requirement of eight mountain divisions to meet the Chinese threat was mutually assessed and the military missions released the arms, ammunition, transport and other equipment required under conditions that expressly forbade their use against Pakistan.1
On the eve of the Chinese attack, India had reorganized loose brigades employed in Ladakh and eastern NEFA into full-fledged divisions with controlling headquarters, although short of supporting arms and administrative services. With the flow of aid, Chaudhuri converted five infantry divisions into mountain divisions and raised three new ones. The division in Ladakh, although designated infantry, received aided equipment as it was employed against the Chinese. To make up for the shortfall in the west created by moving divisions from there to the east three new infantry divisions were raised, making use of the equipment rendered surplus on converting three existing divisions into mountain formations.
Chaudhuri started refurbishing the Army systematically. He swept his headquarters clean of Kaul’s henchmen, who had proved their professional ineptness in the crisis. Since the Army was new to the mountains he designated 4 Infantry Division, which had borne the brunt of the Chinese onslaught in NEFA, an experimental formation with a charter to evolve tactical concepts, organisation and administrative backing for fighting in the Himalayas against a formidable adversary like China.
Gen Thimayya also felt the necessity to evolve a doctrine embracing concepts, techniques and drills to fight the Chinese in the Himalayas and proposed the issue of a training manual in this regard. Material was to be drawn from the British and American experience of fighting the Chinese in Korea. On learning of this project, Nehru intervened and stymied it.
The shortfall in formations which did not receive military aid was made up by indigenous production as well as procurement from abroad. Training methods were reviewed and modified to enhance their purposefulness. Various other steps were taken to build up the sagging morale of the soldier. Redeeming the Indian Army’s honour became the soldier’s watchword. On persistent demand by the nation, an inquiry was held under the chairmanship of IA Gen Henderson-Brooks to inquire into the causes of the sudden collapse against the Chinese, pinpoint responsibility and suggest remedies. The report he submitted was never made public except in very broad terms, but it is understood that Chaudhuri made full use of the lessons learnt in reshaping the Army.
Since the politician was as much involved in the debacle as the soldier, no witch-hunt followed. Thapar, Kaul and few other commanders either voluntarily bowed out or were eased out through posting to unimportant assignments, implying thereby that they were to blame. Junior ranks escaped displeasure on the ground that they were mere pawns in a bigger game. The competence of the higher command began to be discussed, the prevalent system of selection came under severe criticism, and political interference in promotions and appointment began to be resented.
Before the Chinese invasion, the Indian Army had a field force of an armoured division, an independent armoured brigade, an independent artillery brigade and nine infantry divisions. On the eve of the invasion, two more divisions were mustered by grouping some loose brigades and units, but these were below strength in supporting arms and administrative services. Out of the nine infantry divisions, five were under conversion, three were holding the precarious ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, and one was involved in counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland.
With the further raising of six new divisions, the nucleus of the officer and non-commissioned officer cadres was considerably diluted to man the new raisings. Fresh recruitment was resorted to, leading to the expansion of the recruiting organisation and training centres. The capacity of courses at Army Schools and staff college was increased to cope with the requirements of trained manpower. The opportunity offered by the US and Britain for training in their military establishments was fully used to gain knowledge of the latest concepts and the working of newly introduced weaponry and equipment.
Nehru was convinced that a Chinese threat in the Himalayan region was very remote, and he considered any anticipatory action on the part of India would be tantamount to provoking China, a situation he wanted to avoid at all costs.
The bulk of the Indian Army was undergoing a major reorganisation in early 1963,2 and would have needed another couple of years to take the field. Meanwhile, the development of roads in the Himalayan border regions was undertaken on a crash basis as part of a strategic road plan under the specially created Border Roads Organisation. This aimed at endowing the Indian Army with the capability of speedily inducting troops to hold the Himalayan passes and of effecting a quicker administrative build-up in the region. Industry in both the public and private sectors was fully geared to meet the increasing demands of the expanding Army. The procurement organisation were strengthened in India and abroad to meet the new demands.
In the meantime, the Chinese threat had receded, or at least did not appear as potent as before. Pakistan protested in Washington and other sympathetic capitals of the Western world against the arming of India, alleging that this was upsetting the military balance in the subcontinent. With the assassination of Kennedy and the pressure of Pakistan’s diplomatic campaign, American interest in building India as a bastion against the expansion of Chinese communism in Southeast Asia waned, and the pipeline of arms aid narrowed both as to quantity and quality of equipment. Despite the fanfare of publicity surrounding it, American aid was mainly confined to small arms, radio and signal communication equipment and special items of high-altitude clothing. Guns, tanks, bridging equipment and anti-tank weaponry were conspicuously absent. It was argued that heavy items of this nature were not required for fighting envisaged in the Himalayas.
As a result, the mountain units and formationd were perforce based on lighter weapons and equipment and were very short of transport. Besides, they hardly had any anti-tank potential. The artillery regiments of these formations were with a few exceptions equipped with antiquated 3.7-inch howitzers and imported 120-mm Tempela/Brandt mortars. Britain gifted a regiment’s worth of 105-mm Italian pack howitzers, and Yugoslavia equipped a couple of units with its 76-mm pack gun. Otherwise, the 3.7-inch pack howitzer held sway in the mountains and the World War ll-vintage 25-pounder in the plains. The indigenously developed 75/24 pack howitzer, based on a Canadian design, was underdevelopment and would take a long lead period to materialize. Till then the Army had to do its best with what was available.
Besides armour, Chaudhuri had a field force of some 15 divisions by the end of 1963. Eight of there were organized as mountain divisions, two were deployed in Jammu and Kashmir along the ceasefire line in a static holding role, one was engaged in a counterinsurgency role and another earmarked for action against East Pakistan, thus leaving about three to defend Punjab. Rajasthan had two brigade groups looking after two separate sectors independently. These forces were grossly inadequate to achieve any decision against Pakistan, which had a definite advantage in overall strength of one to two infantry divisions in the West.
- Asian Recorder, Vol VIII, No 50, “Assurance to Pakistan,” p. 4932.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 19, “Army Reorganisation,” p. 5189.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 20, “Total US Military Assistance to Pakistan,” p. 5310.
- Asian Recorder, Vol IX, No 42, “Possibility of Defence Pact with China–Mr Z.A. Bhutto’s View,” p. 5465.
Nehru died in May 1964, leaving the Indian political scene to successors who were virtual non-entities in terms of national and international prestige. Rendered cautious by accusations of interference in defence affairs, they preferred to be guided by the military experts. It was accepted that the defence build-up would not be held up for want of finances even if this meant giving the national five-year development plan a temporary holiday. Shastri, who succeeded Nehru, gave full rein to Chaudhuri, then Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Army Staff, to work out defence growth as the experts thought fit. Chaudhuri faced the problem of preparing to meet a joint threat from Pakistan and China. This meant fighting a war on three fronts, against West and East Pakistan and against China in the Himalayas.
The strategic movement of formations to reinforce a threatened sector or to create offensive strength at a chosen point could not be effected as the mountain formations were not equipped to fight in the plains without additional weapons and transport, which were badly lacking. Some other priorities became more demanding, to the extent that even India’s war reserves could not be maintained with the limited funds available. In fact, Chaudhuri had to dip into the reserve pool to raise new units and formations at the pace required to achieve a military balance in relation to Pakistan. Lack of equipment and the commitments in the mountains made the Indian Army unnecessarily infantry heavy without any intended design. This was an unbalanced growth, but Chaudhuri was so hemmed in by constraints that he was helpless.
Chaudhuri faced the problem of preparing to meet a joint threat from Pakistan and China. This meant fighting a war on three fronts, against West and East Pakistan and against China in the Himalayas.
Conditions were even less favourable in the plains. Armour, the combat arm of decision in mobile plain warfare, was sadly neglected both in quantity and quality. At the time of the Chinese attack, India had 15 firstline armoured regiments. Of these four, forming part of the Armoured Division, were equipped with British Centurions procured to match the American Pattons with Pakistan. Three regiments of Second World War vintage Shermans with 75-mm guns belonged to the Independent Armoured Brigade. The remaining four regiments were allocated to the infantry divisions required to operate in the western plains, and these had a mixture of French AMX-13s and Shermans, one of the Shermans being armed with 76-mm guns.
Two regiments equipped with light Stuart tanks were functioning as corps troops in the east, and for all intents and purposes were not available for fighting Pakistan. Thus, out of 13 regiments which could be brought into play against Pakistan, nine were outgunned and of doubtful mechanical reliability because of old age and heavy usage. The neglect of this prime arm could be attributed to the senior officers of the Armoured Corps, who had controlled Army decision-making in various responsible positions since independence, culminating in Chaudhuri becoming Chief, and had yet failed to improve its potential.
The main weakness lay in lack of equipment and obsolescence of holdings. Although the tank regiments of the Armoured Division had been equipped with Centurions, the infantry was carried in soft-skinned vehicles supported by self-propelled 25-pounder guns on Sexton chassis which could not match tank speed and cross-country performance, thus restricting tank mobility in combat. There were critical shortages of tank transporters, armoured recovery vehicles and essential assault engineering equipment required to negotiate minefields and antitank obstacles. Shortages apart, a common doctrine regarding the employment of armour was lacking. The Armoured Corps was divided into two camps, one belonging to armoured formations—the Armoured Division and the Independent Armoured Brigade and the other to Divisional Regiments Armoured Corps.
Because of equipment holdings, interchangeability of units was very limited. As a result, the tradition-bound regiments developed their narrow loyalties and their own method of working, mostly based on the whims and fancies of the personalities in command. Since the Armoured Corps as a whole had not been tried in battle because of its limited participation in the Jammu and Kashmir operations, its war potential was a doubtful commodity, more so as the exaggerated swank in the life style of its officer cadre alienated the simple infantrymen who had to spend years on mountain tops in the most primitive conditions.
The main weakness lay in lack of equipment and obsolescence of holdings.
The search for a tank to replace the existing Sherman fleet had been engaging the attention of our military planners for quite some time, but the Army hierarchy could not agree on a common choice and then convince the politician. Chaudhuri, the self-styled Indian Guderian, initially opted for a light, speedy tank with superior cross-country performance and a powerful gun. Of low bridge classification, it could use roads in an underdeveloped country. But as Pakistan started acquiring Pattons he veered towards medium tanks of the Chieftain and German Leopard type.
In his tenure as Chief, the priority of raising a large number of mountain and infantry formations prevented him from replacing the aging tank fleet to a significant degree or to procure armoured personnel carriers to enhance the mobility of the accompanying infantry, or better self-propelled guns besides other requirements. The Armoured Corps was relegated to second place in his time. Budding Rommels from this corps moved out to command infantry formations. The policymaker was wedded to indigenous production rather than depending on purchases abroad, partly because of the political strings attached to such arms supplies and partly because foreign exchange to enter the open arms market was lacking. Unlike Pakistan’s foreign policy India’s remained non-aligned, with the attendant advantage of freedom of action but lacking finances to exercise that freedom in its defence preparations.
Since the Armoured Corps as a whole had not been tried in battle because of its limited participation in the Jammu and Kashmir operations, its war potential was a doubtful commodity, more so as the exaggerated swank in the life style of its officer cadre alienated the simple infantrymen who had to spend years on mountain tops in the most primitive conditions.
The only other power which could help India in this regard was the Soviet Union, but at that time the Russians were not sure of the strength of India’s non-alignment. In their eyes India still suffered from a colonial hangover and was unsure of its political course. In this atmosphere. Chaudhuri opted for the indegenous production of a tank. A factory was set up at Avadi, near Madras, in collaboration with Vickers Armstrong of Britain to produce India’s first battle tank, Vijayanta. Its design was based on qualitative requirements projected by the Army General Staff, and Chaudhuri had a big hand in drafting them. The carriage was absolutely new and it carried a 105-mm gun.
The first Vijayanta came out of the factory in 1968,1 but the rate of production was not sufficient to meet the replacement requirements of the old tank regiments, especially with the continuous increase in the Orbat of the armoured units. With these constraints Chaudhuri could neither increase the strength of the Armoured Corps nor improve its qualitative war potential in his tenure.
The years 1963-64, when the Indian Army was undergoing a major reorganisation, mercifully passed without any disturbance from the hostile neighbours, thus enabling Chaudhuri a respite to carry out re-equipping, reorganizing and training his Army in peace. Bhutto later blamed President Ayub Khan for not exploiting this opportunity, when the Army was off balance, to settle scores with India. This period of tranquillity did not however last long as Pakistan, after engineering an incident involving an Indian border outpost in April 1965,2 in the Rann of Kutch, made a sizable intrusion in that region. Gen Tikka Khan, then commanding Pakistan 18 Infantry Division, was in charge of this operation.
The Pakistani advance into unmistakably Indian territory was spearheaded by tanks and supported by a large number of guns, thus requiring elaborate preparations. This spoke of evil intent on the part of Ayub Khan in dealing with Nehru’s successor as Prime Minister. Chaudhuri was caught unawares and he took some time to react to the threat, and that also in an indirect way. Troops were moved to the Punjab border to pose a threat to the sensitive Pakistani area of Lahore, and it was made known that India would not be content to localize the incident. Instead, it would reserve the option to strike wherever expedient should Pakistan violate Indian territory, including Jammu and Kashmir.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XIV, No 16, “Defence Ministry Report for 1967-68,” p. 8269.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No 18, “Pakistan Aggression on Kutch-Sind Border,” p. 6423.
By that time, the well-prepared Pakistani incursion would be an accomplished fact. Pakistan would thereby be able to demonstrate its superiority in arms. Ayub achieved these aims to some extent, but what he did not bargain for was the strong political reaction from an apparently weak, diminutive Shastri, who openly declared that any attack on Indian territory would be considered a violation of its territorial integrity, and that India would therefore reserve the right to retaliate when and where it suited its military means.1
The Rann of Kutch episode brought home some useful lessons to Chaudhuri. To redress the military imbalance in Kutch and Rajasthan, the region was further reinforced, and the location of the formation allocated to the region was changed to reduce the reaction time to meet further Pakistani intrusions in the area. To make up the quota of troops required to defend Punjab and the plain areas of Jammu it became necessary to use two to three mountain divisions originally meant for the Himalayan border. With the induction of heavier weaponry and transport it was possible for the mountain formations to fight in the plains. Depending upon the extent of Chinese collusion with Pakistan in aggression against India, Chaudhuri had ample flexibility to switch formations from one role to another.
The Armoured Corps was relegated to second place in his time. Budding Rommels from this corps moved out to command infantry formations.
Pakistan’s use of American weapons, as substantiated by serial photographs taken within Indian territory in Kutch,2 belied the guarantees the US Government had given New Delhi earlier that these weapons would not be used against India.3 It was therefore no longer obligatory for India to refrain from using weapons received as US aid against Pakistan. This afforded ample freedom and flexibility in the use of aided formations. The strategic and tactical imbalances in the overall defence of Indian territorial integrity became apparent, and as a result Chaudhuri was able to raise two infantry divisional headquarters to take over the operational control of sensitive but till then lightly defended regions.
In addition, he managed to create a strike corps of one armoured and two infantry divisions under his trusted friend Lt Gen PO Dunn for offensive action against Pakistan. But events were moving fast, much faster than remedial measures could be effective Ayub, instigated by his belligerent Foreign Minister Bhutto, had decided to settle the outstanding issue of Kashmir by resorting to arms. Infiltration by forces specially trained for this purpose had begun and Chaudhuri received news of its disruptive activities from August 1955,4 onwards. The fuse for a major conflagration had been ignited and it was only a question of time before open warfare between the two countries erupted.
As far back as 1962 Ayub Khan had openly threatened India with an Algerian type of guerilla war in Kashmir, but considering India’s firm hold on Kashmir politically nobody took him seriously. On sensing from the Rann of Kutch incursion in March 1965 that the Shastri Government was not prepared to go to war with Pakistan in a hurry, Ayub Khan put his plan for guerilla warfare into operation. An organisation named Gibraltar Force came into being in May under Maj Gen Akhtar Hussian Malik, then GoC of Pakistan 12 Infantry Division and operationally responsible for the Pakistan-occupied territory of Kashmir. Several camps were established along the ceasefire line and an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 guerillas were put through an intensive six-week training covering ambushes, raids, demolition of bridges and other acts of sabotage.
The years 1963-64, when the Indian Army was undergoing a major reorganisation, mercifully passed without any disturbance from the hostile neighbours, thus enabling Chaudhuri a respite to carry out re-equipping, reorganizing and training his Army in peace.
This force was a collection of rank and file from the socalled Azad Kashmir Forces, a military formation mainly recruited locally to man the ceasefire line, and Mujahids, a civilian adjunct augmented by regular army leaders and technical experts. The entire force was divided into ten groups, each consisting of six companies of 110 men each. Each group was put under a brigadier and assigned operational responsibility for sectorwise sabotage. The entire ceasefire line from Kargil in the north to Chhamb in the south was covered.
Sometime in the last week of July 1965 this force started infiltrating Indian territory.5 Infiltration was carried out in driblets through gaps inherent in the defensive crust of picquets the Indian Army held along the ceasefire line. The Indians generally held the hilltops in the form of fortified picquets, leaving the gullies uncovered, with little or no depth. As a result, once the crust was penetrated the infiltrator had complete freedom of action in the hollow of the interior.
Vulnerable targets were very lightly guarded by the civil police with negligible defence potential and could be easily overcome. In the first week of August, the presence of infiltrators in depth areas began to be felt through attacks on bridges, administrative installations and ammunition dumps all along the ceasefire line, particularly in Kashmir Valley.
A ghost radio broadcasting from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir hailed this sabotage as a “mass uprising” and appealed to the Kashmiris to rise against the “Indian occupation.” This activity was intensified around Srinagar to coincide with the celebration of the 12th anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest. Some 300 houses in a congested locality were destroyed by fire and the number of clashes with the Indian security forces increased along all the major lines of communications.
The Indian Army was slow to react. In fact, it had very limited reaction capability to meet such an unorthodox contingency. As a result it fumbled, at least for a while. Lacking immediate troop reserves, it had either to create such resources from the holding troops or move reinforcements from the hinterland, especially when the Karachi agreement had precluded stationing additional troops in Jammu and Kashmir. The local commanders initially frittered away their resources in meeting the infiltrators wherever their activities were reported in fire brigade fashion. Better sense prevailed later in some sectors in the valley and proper operations were launched to plug the infiltrators’ routes of withdrawal even at the risk of crossing the ceasefire line.
The Pakistanis came out better in this round. They shrewdly chose the Rann of Kutch to test the mettle of Indias new rulers.
As a result of these operations, India had by August captured some heights in Kargil,6 thus securing the line of communication to Ladakh, two crucial heights in the Tangdhar area, and the Haji Pir Pass in the Uri-Poonch bulge. But things had not gone so well in the Rajauri sector, where one of the groups under Brig Raza had established Pakistani administration deep in the interior at Budil and Kandi. Some of its elements were operating right up to the Ramban bridge on the Jammu-Srinagar highway. Raza held this area for almost a month after the ceasefire. His force received regular airdrops, and was further maintained by land convoys of about 300 pack animals a day without interruption. So ineffective were the units of the Indian Army then operating in the area that Raza was left alone till he decided to make his way back on his own.
The failure of the Pakistani guerilla operations can be attributed to lack of popular support in the valley. Indiscriminate Pakistani burning of houses further alienated the local population. The mass uprising envisaged by the planners of the guerilla campaign did not materialize. Obviously, the political preparations for it did not keep step with the military operations. In the face of non-cooperation by the locals, as also by the blocking of their exfiltration routes, the guerilla force in the valley disintegrated. Some were captured, some surrendered, and others made their way home in ones and twos. Significant gains in the Rajauri sector could not be consolidated as the land operations launched by the regular army in their support could not effect a linkup.
Frustrated by the failure of the covert guerilla operations, Ayub Khan decided to come out into the open. Exploiting the weakness and imbalance of the Indian defences in the Chhamb sector, he made a full-fledged attack with a couple of infantry brigades supported by an armoured regiment under the command of his favourite general Yahya Khan on 1 September 1965.7 This met with instant success as the Indian positions were thinly held with little depth and without the requisite artillery and tank backing. An Indian effort at reinforcing the sector piecemeal was not very successful and by 3 September Yahya Khan had taken Jaurian, while his leading elements were menacing the vital Akhnur bridge. To meet this threat the Indian Air Force was brought into play in the afternoon over the Chhamb sector, leading to clashes with Pakistani air units and some casualties to Yahya Khan’s armour.8 Yahya Khan did not prove enterprizing enough to capitalize his initial and rather easy success. He remained content with the capture of Jaurian, not making a serious attempt at securing the bridge.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No. 37, “India to Strike Back–Mr L.B Shastri’s Warning,” p. 6656.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No. 21, “Use of American Arms by Pakistan Photographic Evidence,” p. 6465.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No. 21, “US Stand,” p. 6465.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No. 37, “Kashmir War–Massive Infiltration,” p. 6651.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No. 37, “Kashmir War–Massive Infiltration,” p. 6651.
- Asian Reorder, Vol Xl, No 37, “Three Pakistani Posts in Kargil: Recaptured,” p. 6653.
- Asian Recorder, Vol XI, No 40, “Massive Pakistani Attack on Chhamb,” p. 6687.
- Ibid., p. 6687.