Military & Aerospace

The pitfalls in evolution of Indian Army-III
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The Indian opening of a second front in Punjab on 6 September forced Ayub Khan to pull troops out of the Chhamb-Jaurian sector to reinforce the Lahore and Sialkot sectors. Despite thinning out, Pakistan continued to occupy the captured territory till the settlement after the ceasefire.

Chaudhuri opened the second front with a corps of three divisions, supported by the Independent Armoured Brigade, advancing along three major axes leading to Lahore with a view to securing the line of the Ichhogil Canal. Fearful of the intended offensive in Punjab by Pakistan 1 Armoured Division, Chaudhuri aimed at achieving greater defence potential in the area by leaning on a recognized anti-tank obstacle in the canal, which lay deep in Pakistani territory. Chaudhuri launched his own offensive on 9 September in the Sialkot sector1 with the newly created 1 Corps comprizing 1 Armoured Division and two infantry divisions.

Also read: The pitfalls in evolution of Indian Army-I

The Pakistani offensive in the Khemkaran sector was stoutly held by the Indians when a truncated Mountain Division destroyed about 107 Pakistani tanks, thus writing off about two armoured regiments. This attrition as well as the Indian offensive forced Ayub Khan to cut his losses at Khemkaran and withdraw his Armoured Division to reinforce Lahore and Sialkot. The Indian offensive was barely able to penetrate about six to seven miles deep on widely separated thrust lines.

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The head on battle between the armoured formations of the two sides in the Sialkot sector, ding-dong defensive battles in Punjab and a sideshow offensive in Rajasthan had created a stalemate over a period of three weeks. The troops on both sides were tired of continuous engagement, their commanders were weary of fruitless struggle, and the administrators feared that reserves would touch rockbottom. All awaited the ceasefire expectantly and were glad when it became effective.

As far back as 1962 Ayub Khan had openly threatened India with an Algerian type of guerilla war in Kashmir, but considering Indias firm hold on Kashmir politically nobody took him seriously.

Nonetheless, both sides claimed a decisive victory. The truth lay somewhere in the middle, for neither side had won or lost. They had fought each other without achieving any definite war aims. It is apparent that they lacked a clearcut war strategy, and as a result their field commanders were uncertain about their missions. Lacking certainty about the outcome and without a strategic master plan, both armies just slugged it out. In planning and conduct of operations they adhered to standard British World War 11 practice, never deviating from the orthodox methods of fighting by textbook. The result was that their planning was conservative, where all moves could be predicted and countered with orthodox moves by the opposite side. In this regard, the Indo-Pakistani conflict of 1965 was an amateurish affair in which two professional armies fought each other like novices.

Since nothing substantial was achieved in either the political, economic or military spheres, Chaudhuri, with his characteristic gift of the gab, sought to justify turning the conflict into a war of attrition. He emphasized at a special news conference on 24 September that “India had essentially fought a war of attrition in which territorial gains or losses were comparatively of little consequence.”2 What really mattered was the extent of damage inflicted by India on Pakistan’s armed forces. The casualty figure quoted was 4,802 Pakistani soldiers, including 22 officers, killed and 457, including 20 officers, taken prisoner against Indian casualties of 1,333 troops, including 80 officers, killed.

Chaudhuri further claimed the loss of 471 Pakistani tanks, including 38 captured. These figures included 236 Pattons destroyed and 26 captured, 60 Chaffees destroyed and one captured, and 26 Sherman destroyed and 11 captured. Another 111 were claimed to have been destroyed in Pakistani territory, where identification was not feasible.3 Against this India was said to have lost only 128 tanks in all these battles. Chaudhuri’s figures of Pakistani tank casualties appear to be exaggerated.

Pakistans use of American weapons, as substantiated by serial photographs taken within Indian territory in Kutch, belied the guarantees the US Government had given New Delhi earlier that these weapons would not be used against India.

Pakistan employed a total of 11 armoured and three reconnaisance regiments in the conflict with approximate tank holdings of 620. It is inconceivable that it lost more than three-fourths of its tank strength in this minor war. At least the post-conflict war potential of the Pakistani armoured formations, as estimated by foreign military observers, belied Chaudhuri’s claims. It would seem that Chaudhuri’s explanation that the war was one of attrition of Pakistan’s armed forces was an afterthought, more in a spirit of self-justification than a genuine belief. Attrition is meant to clear the way to achieve the ultimate war aims. Since no aim seemed to have been achieved in the end attrition by itself was meaningless.

For the layman Chaudhuri counted India’s war gains in terms of loss or gain of territory. He claimed that India was at the time of the ceasefire in occupation of nearly 700 square miles of Pakistani territory against a loss of 210 square miles of Indian territory. The breakdown was 20 square miles in the Tithwal sector, 200 square miles in the Uri-Poonch bulge, 180 square miles in the Sialkot region, 140 square miles in the Lahore-Kasur sector, and about 150 square miles across the Rajasthan border in Sind.4

When these figures were added up they looked very impressive, but they did not confer any military, economic or psychological advantage. The measurement of military gains in terms of square miles of barren sands or empty waste had no meaning, but since nothing tangible was otherwise achieved it became a convenient yardstick for a comparative assessment of winning or losing in war. Pakistan celebrated its day of victory, and India felt equally jubilant at its performance. But irrespective of the claims of propaganda media, the fact remained that the Indo-Pakistani conflict had ended in a stalemate. It was nevertheless a major engagement for both, involving participation on the national plane.

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The Tashkent Agreement nullified these territorial gains as both sides has to vacate the occupied areas to restore the status quo ante.5 After the withdrawal of both armies it was time to take stock of the conduct of the war, analysing the weakness as well the strength of tactical concepts, organisations and weaponry. Chaudhuri accordingly asked for after-action reports from the formations which had participated, down to the level of division and independent brigade. These reports were submitted two to three months later. This time-lag gave ample opportunity to the parties concerned to change their stories to suit the image of the formations and their commanders the propaganda media had built up earlier. Some formations even reconstructed their war diaries to fit the new version of what took place.

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