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.