Millennium Post

Of grit and glory

By early 1965, Pakistan’s army under its first tin-pot president, self-promoted Field Marshal Ayub Khan, was feeling very heady with a large package of arms doled out by the US. Along with this dole, Ayub and his coterie as well as the then very ambitious foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto drifted into delusions that after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Indian Army was weak, India’s then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was weak and that wresting Kashmir and reaching the Gates of Delhi would be cakewalk.

However, while Operation (Op) Desert Hawk in Rann of Kutch in April 1965 got them some useless territory, Op Gibraltar in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) failed. Finally Op Grand Slam was resort to in the plains of Punjab and J&K. In barely three weeks, from 28 August to 22 September 1965, following some fierce actions and large tank battles fought for the first time since World War II, Pakistan’s losses were 3800 personnel killed, over 400 tanks destroyed/captured, over 40 aircraft  shot down and a deep drop in the morale of its forces.

Indian Army captured Haji Pir, Dograi, Barki and reached Lahore. Two intense tank battles lead to the capture of Phillora and creation of Patton Nagar, a graveyard of almost 100 destroyed Pak army tanks following the Battle of Asal Utar. Months later, when Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri went to Tashkent for the peace talks, he ceded Haji Pir back to Pakistan. His return from Tashkent in a coffin is reportedly not a coincidence.
While the book lucidly brings out all the battles and actions of the 1965 war, some frank comments by senior Pak armed forces officers are noteworthy, as they brilliantly validate the accounts in the book. Pakistan’s leading English daily, The Dawn of 6 September 2005 carried a comment, “… the 1965 war also led to an embargo of US arms supplies to Pakistan. 

Islamabad’s use of American arms against India was against the assurances given by President Dwight Eisenhower to Jawaharlal Nehru that in case Pakistan used US-supplied arms against India, necessary corrective action would follow. Though the US bureaucracy and the Pentagon were prepared to look the other way if Pakistan had won the war, they found it difficult to overlook the miserable performance of Pakistani armour at Khem Karan”. 

In the same newspaper, Air Marshal (retd) Nur Khan, Chief of Pakistan Air Force during this war and one who was kept the dark about Operation Gibraltar, is quoted, “It was a wrong war. And they mislead the nation with a big lie that India provoked the war and that we were the victims of Indian aggression”.

Pak army’s Brigadier Shaukat Qadir (retd) who analysed Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam, explained why it failed.

“Operation Grand Slam was one of a number of contingency plans that had been prepared to support Gibraltar… Since Gibraltar’s failure was considered inconceivable, this plan intended to sever the road link between India and Indian held Kashmir once the valley was up in flames. Now that Gibraltar had not just failed but resulted in the loss of some key posts in Kashmir, the operation was undertaken to relieve pressure on the troops defending Kashmir.

Operation Grand Slam was four phased; the capture of Chamb, the crossing of river Tawi and consolidation, followed by the capture of Akhnur, and finally severing the Indian lines of communication and capturing Rajauri. Despite the difficulties of terrain, specially entailing a river crossing, the possibility for success lay in the bold audacity of the plan, which necessitated speed in execution, since if there was sufficient time permitted to the Indians, they would reinforce Akhnur and it would be impossible to capture… Perhaps if Akhnur had been captured and the Indian lines of communication severed, the Indian attack on Sialkot could never have occurred! Perhaps. But that we will never know. 

What we do know is that Akhnur was never captured and this led us into the attack on Lahore and later Sialkot in the wee hours of September 6 1965. It is a matter of historical record that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then foreign minister, convinced Ayub Khan, the president, that the Indian response to our incursions in Kashmir would not be across the international boundary and would be confined to Kashmir. Secondly, the undertaking of guerrilla operations necessitate special conditions, not only must the terrain be suitable, which it was, but there must be guaranteed local support, without which guerrilla operations are not sustainable. 

Preferably there should be a preliminary reconnaissance and liaison which sets the ground for such an operation. For some obscure reason, Pakistan undertook Operation Gibraltar, without preparing the grounds for it, or seeking guarantees of local support, or even attempting to assess the mood of the Kashmiri people. They only relied on the assessment offered by some adventurous element of Kashmiris from Azad Kashmir without verifying this assessment…. Far from rising up in arms, the local population denied any support and, in many instances handed over the infiltrators to Indian troops.  

The two intense tank battles of this war were, fought at Phillora (Punjab, Pakistan) by Hodson’s Horse (4 Horse) and Poona Horse (17 Horse) and at Asal Uttar (Punjab, India) fought by 3 Cavalry, 8 Cavalry, Deccan Horse (9 Horse) and Scinde Horse (14 Horse),  debilitated Pakistan’s armour and depressed its men’s morale. Pakistani tank crews began to avoid engaging Indian armoured units and even abandoned many of their fully functional tanks which were captured intact. 

The chapter on the Battle of Phillora excerpted from a detailed  personal account of then Commandant, Hodson’s Horse, Lt Col (later Brig) MMS Bakshi, awarded a MVC. One of the great ironies of this war was that the father of FM Ayub Khan, Risaldar Major Mir Dad Khan served in Hodson’s Horse, which alone accounted for Pak army’s 79 tanks and 17 recoilless guns in this war. As Ajit Singh, gunner of Bakshi’s tank, which destroyed four Patton tanks, commented, “their gunnery is very poor and scared of flames, they bail out after the first hit”. Maj Bhupinder Singh, MVC (posth), of this regiment and his tank crew bailed out after four hits. He was personally praised by PM Shastri, before he died of severe burns.       
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