It may be recalled that the Battle of Dograi is amongst the bloodiest battles fought during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict in which 3 Jat created history by decisively defeating a numerically superior and well-entrenched enemy, and emerged as the highest decorated Battalion of this war. So, it’s but natural that even more than five and a half decades later, Col Jha’s eyes still light up whenever the word “Dograi” is mentioned, and despite the passage of time, memories of this epic battle are still fresh in the octogenarian’s mind.
The Battle Area
Col Jha recalls that in 1965, Dograi was a medium sized village with a mix of single and double storeyed houses with a labyrinth of narrow bye lanes and alleys. Located on the Eastern side of Ichogil Canal, it straddled the Amritsar-Lahore Grand Trunk [GT] Road and was just a stone’s throw from Lahore. Due to its locational advantage and dense built-up area, Dograi had a very good potential of being converted into an unassailable defensive position-and that’s exactly what the Pakistan army did.
By constructing concrete bunkers, pillboxes, laying extensive mine fields and barbed wire obstacles, Dograi was converted into what the Pakistan army believed was an invincible fortress. On 6th September, 1965, Dograi defences were held by Pakistan’s 3 Baluch [infantry] and complemented with tanks of 23 Cavalry. As an additional security measure, the bridge over Ichogil Canal at Dograi was rigged with explosives to facilitate its immediate demolition so that even if Dograi fell, the attacking Indian forces could not cross Ichogil Canal and threaten Lahore.
First Victory at Dograi-6th September
In the early morning of 6th September, when 3 Jat led the Indian advance into Pakistan along the Grand Trunk Road axis, Pakistan’s 3 Baluch was occupying defences at Dograi and to its East. One company was deployed in the Gosal-Dial group of villages near the border to enhance defensibility of the Dograi defences. Commonly referred to as a ‘screen’ in military parlance, its aim was to delay and disrupt any attack on Dograi defences. Col Jha recalls that this position had been reinforced with additional medium machine gun [MMG] and anti-Tank recoilless gun [RCL] detachments from the firepower-intensive Reconnaissance and Support [R&S] battalion [15 Frontier Force] headquartered at Lahore Cantonment.
Tasked to clear the Gosal-Dial ‘screen’ position, 3 Jat commenced its advance on foot across the border at 4 AM on 6 September 1965. Swiftly advancing Westwards and keeping G T road to its South, 3 Jatunlea shed its full fury on the Gosal-Dial ‘screen’ position and succeeded in capturing it by 7 AM. Col Jha recalls how he for the first time realised the import of the old military saying that ‘there’s nothing more intoxicating than victory on the battle field’. Even though the engagement at Gosal-Dial was intense and the troops were exhausted as well as 3 Jat had suffered casualties, the unit morale remained “sky high.” So, on receiving orders to continue advancing and capture Dograi, 3 Jat did so immediately with its indomitable Commanding Officer Lt Col [Later Brig] Desmond Eugene Hayde [like always], in the lead.
This blitzkrieg of 3 Jat took the enemy by surprise and the brave Jats not only captured Dograi, but two of its companies even crossed Ichogil Canal by making their way over remnants of the demolished bridge and seized the localities of Batapore and Attoke Awan on the West Bank by noon- something that the Pakistan army leadership had considered to be unachievable!
Rattled by this spectacular success and the potential threat to Lahore, the enemy targeted 3 Jat with everything it had at its disposal. In spite of Pakistani artillery bringing down a heavy and unending barrage of bombardment and tanks also joining in while Pakistan Air Force made continuous strafing runs against the unprotected rank and file of the unit, 3 Jat steadfastly held on to its Batapore bridgehead under the inspiring battle leadership of Lt Col Hayde.
Col Jha recounts that by 2 PM, due to non-arrival of reinforcements, 3 Jat’s situation across the Canal was becoming extremely precarious with every passing moment. The Unit’s vehicles, carrying ammunition for immediate replenishment as well as four out of six anti-tank RCL guns were also damaged due to strafing by PAF F-86 fighter jets and hence not unavailable to the unit. Lack of reinforcements, inadequate air and artillery support plus breakdown in communications further aggravated the situation. Yet, despite all odds being against the unit, 3 Jat firmly stood its ground and only withdrew to Gosal-Dial- Santpura area when ordered to do so by the higher Headquarters.
Second Victory at Dograi-22nd September
Though a wonderful tactical opportunity had been lost, the high morale of 3 Jat remained intact. This was the key factor that helped the unit in achieving another historic victory of unprecedented proportions just 16 days after it was ordered to withdraw from the Canal. This time it was even a more daunting task than before since the Pakistan army had taken a lot of pains to further bolster the defensibility of the Dograi locality.
Col Jha remembers that after capturing Dograi for the second time, Pakistan army officers taken POW had revealed that on 10 September, the then Pakistan Army Chief, General Muhammad Musa Khan, had inspected the Dograi defences which had been further reinforced with additional troops and interlaced with extensive mine fields and wire obstacles. Expressing full satisfaction with the stats of defence preparedness, he has declared that this position was now “fully impregnable” against any Indian attack! Just 11 days after Gen Musa Khan’s visit, Dograi had another visitor, albeit a dreaded and unwelcome one-the brave rank and file of 3 Jat led by Lt Col Hayde.
The night of September 21/22 saw brutal hand-to-hand fighting that continued non-stop for 27 hours mostly in Dograi’s narrow streets and dense built-up area. The sheer force of 3 Jat’s multi-pronged attack, with each of its four Rifle Companies simultaneously capturing the four corners of Dograi on the night of 21/22 September unnerved the enemy. In a desperate bid to recapture their “impregnable” Dograi citadel, Pakistan army launched three counter attacks on the night of 22/23 September, supported by tanks and heavy artillery fire of US made 155mm guns, but these were beaten back by the determined Jats, with heavy casualties to the enemy. By 5AM on 22nd September, the defenders had been virtually annihilated. While commanding officer of Pakistan army’s 16 Punjab, Lt Col G.F. Golewala, along with his Battery Commander, Major Beg, two more officers, five JCOs and 103 Other Ranks were taken Prisoners of War (POW), bodies of more than 400 Pakistani soldiers lay strewn across the battle field.
However, this stupendous victory came at a heavy cost. In this 17-day long conflict, out of 17 officers and 550 men that fought these battles, 3 Jat had lost 5 officers, while nine [including Lt Col Hayde] were wounded. One Junior Commissioned Officer was killed while eight others were wounded. 89 Other Ranks embraced martyrdom and 219 Other Ranks were wounded. This accounts for nearly 50 percent of the total force that had participated in this battle and this gives a clear indication of how intense the engagements were. It was due to the blood and sweat shed by the rank and file of 3 Jat that enabled the unit to decisively [and repeatedly] defeat a numerically far superior and much better equipped enemy, and thereby create history in the annals of warfare.
Episodes From the Battle
There are some scenes and incidents that Col Jha says he can never forget. Describing the intensity of enemy bombardment and firing on 22-23 September, Col Jha recalls “There was hardly a pause in the enemy artillery barrage that continued to blast Dograi throughout the night. The shelling was so intense that by next morning, most of the trees in and around Dograi were virtually leafless, all with broken branches… The enemy shelling had not even spared their Mosque in Dograi and its minarets were pitted with holes and the complete edifice was in tatters.”
He also vividly remembers the conversation between Lt Col Golewala, CO 16 Punjab [Pak army] and Lt Col Hayde after the former was taken POW. “Clutching his injured left eye and visibly upset, Lt Col Golwala said to him, “Now that we have accepted defeat and surrendered to you, we’ll do as you say, but please protect us. I must thank you for your courtesies to me and my men after our capture. Honestly, I never expected it. We thought you were attacking last night from Lakhanke side with Brigade strength. Your attacking frontage appeared so wide and from different directions! That was misleading and had disturbed us a bit.”
Hayde replied, “We strictly follow Geneva conventions. We have nothing personal against you and your men. Now that you have surrendered, I want you and your boys now to strictly follow our directions and not create any further problems for yourself. The War is still on. Tell all your boys in the lanes and houses to surrender immediately otherwise we would come down heavily on them.”
Golewala pleaded: “My command has crumbled after our defeat. I am not in communication with anybody. You do what you like, just spare us! You see, I am bleeding from my left eye- something or someone has hit me this morning. I understand, the Ceasefire is also around the corner. Can you please arrange to send a word to my wife in Lahore cantonment that I am safe?”
Hayde grinned and quipped, “Cheer up, damn it! Why the hell are you worried about your family only? Your letter recovered from your pocket [now preserved in the Jat Regimental Centre Museum at Bareilly] from your wife already says they are fine but there was panic among the people at Lahore who had started vacating the city. We are sending you all behind as POWs. Just follow our instructions and no mischief please!”
Col Jha also recounts the interaction of CO 3 Baluch Lt Col [later Maj Gen] Tajammul Hussain Malik with Lt Col Hayde when they met at Dograi in November to resolve a ceasefire violation incident. Lt Col Malik said, “We have to accept hard facts. Even 16 Punjab [Pak army], which later fought so well here at Dograi on 22nd September against your final assault just before the ceasefire, also lost to your attack. I can tell you that our two Battalions were one of the best ones in our Army but yet we lost to you! Of course, I cannot deny that your boys also fought so well and treated our boys well everywhere after their capture. We have to concede that.” After coordinating steps to be taken by both sides to maintain peace across the Ichogil Canal and in keeping with military traditions both the victor and vanquished shook hands and thereafter parted.
Most poignant is Col Jha’s account regarding an injured Pakistani soldier at Dograi. He recalls- “At about midnight of 22/23 September, while under intense ear deafening bombardment, I heard a feeble voice, apparently in great pain, calling out “Ya Khudaa, raham kar” [Oh God, have mercy] from the dark shadows nearby. Due to the intermittent flashes of exploding munition and flares intermittently illuminating the night sky, I could make out his khaki uniform and it didn’t take me long to realise that he was an injured Pakistani soldier.
“Naam?” [your name] I shouted, and he managed to blurt out “Mirbat Khan”. I dragged him to safety beside a house and saw that one of his legs was severed, apparently from an artillery shrapnel, and he was bleeding profusely. He kept asking for water repeatedly and I quenched his thirst from my water bottle, which was by now only half-filled.”
Col Jha goes on to recall that “in the short talk we had, he recounted having evaded capture by hiding in a house during our ‘mopping up’ operations and was trying to escape after nightfall when he was apparently hit by a Pakistani artillery shell shrapnel. We both lay under the intense canopy of Pakistani MMG fire and blasts sweeping the GT road at Dograi from across the Western bank of the Cana, till 0330 hours next morning when firing from both sides ceased with the UN sponsored ceasefire coming into force all along our Western front. Along with many others injured in that battle, Mirbat too was also evacuated that morning to the Military Hospital at Amritsar for treatment and care.”
Though he lost track of the injured Pakistani soldier with whom he had spent the night under fire, Col Jha is sanguine that with medical attention that he would have received in Military Hospital Amritsar and his dogged determination to live, Morbit would have survived and rejoined his family after the exchange of prisoners, consequent to Tashkent Peace Agreement signed between India and Pakistan on 10th January, 1966.
In retrospect, while Col Jha is saddened by the humongous loss of lives due to Pakistan army’s unprovoked aggression in 1965, he’s immensely proud of having participated in the epic Battle of Dograi, which shall forever remain a source of inspiration for men in uniform, the world over. While the entire rank and file of 3 Jat that fought at Dograi are heroes for him, Col Jha has a special word of praise and deep respect for CO 3 Jat late Lt Col Hayde, for having made this spectacular victory possible despite overwhelming odds through his innate tactical acumen, exceptional leadership qualities and most importantly, immaculate personal example.
They say that a true leader is one “who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way,” and Lt Col Hayde perfectly fits this bill!