Athar Osama September 15th, 2007
By: Athar Osama
In the first of this three part episode, we looked at the War in Kashmir that began as a precursor to the broader conflict between India and Pakistan. Hostilities began on August 5th and 6th 1965 when Pakistan army regulars infiltrated the Cease Fire Line (CFL) in Kashmir. On August 7th 1965, Pakistani forces carried out a raid in the Kargil area to cut off the road links between Srinagar and Ladakh. Between August 12th and 16th, Pakistan continued its attack on an Indian Army post in Kargil accompanied by shelling in the Chhamb sector. Increasingly, both countries were employing their regular forces in these operations and a low-intensity localized war was already underway.
(Figure: A Map of Pakistan-India War of 1965: The Ground Battles created by the author is on the next page. Please click below.)
Brian Cloughley, in his “A History of Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections”, notes:
“There were statements in the respective parliaments, letters to the UN, and briefings of international media, but there was sense of buying time. On the Pakistan sided, it was still hoped that the actions of the Mujahids would persuade the population of the valley to rise up, whereafter the Pakistani regular troops could be deployed with a semblance of legality. The Indians were not averse to escalation of the conflict as it would, in their view, provide an opportunity to make up for the humiliation in the Runn of Kutch and settle things once and for all with their recalcitrant neighnour. They wanted to “get at and smash the Pakistani war machine’” (Cloughley, 1999, p. 63)
Here are a few videos of the 1965 War. The first of these is a typical motivational video (with a Pakistani-bent) that puts together a collage of pictures from the war itself. The second video (next page) is an Indian video of similar nature. The difference between how same events are potrayed by the popular press and public in the two countries couldn’t have been more stark. The third video (next page) is a brief actual clip of the War, perhaps taken from a Pakistani news report. (Courtesy: YouTube.com)
Heavy exchanges of shellfire continued across the CFL during the last two weeks of August. Indians captured posts near Tithwal and Haji Pir Pass. By the end of the month, Indians had captured most of the infiltrators into the valley (ibid, p. 63). Pakistan attacked from Bhimber on Sept 1, 1965 following a 90-minute artillery bombardment. The advance included seven infantry battalions, two armored regiments, some cavalry and artillery cover. By mid-afternoon Pakistanis had advanced as far as Chhamb. As this advance was moving forwards its ultimate goal of capturing Akhnur, the unfortunate change in command from Maj General Akhtar Hussein Malik (12 Division) to Yahya Khan (7th Division) occurred. A lull of 24-36 hours gave the Indians ample opportunity to regroup its defenses. Despite this, Jurian fell on 5th September, 1965.
On the 6th September, 1965 India, with an aim to release pressure from the northern axis (in Kashmir), opened the war on the central axis (near Lahore-Multan) with an attack on Lahore. Within a few hours, Pakistani troops started thinning out (Cloughley, 1999, p. 69). This was precisely in line with a 1949 defense plan approved by the Indian Cabinet. It read:
“…In the event of such actions Indian troops in Kashmir would seek to contain the opposing forces while the main Indian field army made a determined and rapid advance towards Lahore and Sialkot, with a possible diversionary actions towards Rawalpindi or Karachi to prevent a concentration of Pakistani forces in the major operational theatre in the West Punjab. The primary aim of this strategy was to inflict a decisive defeat on Pakistan’s field army at the earliest possible time and, along with the possible occupation of Lahore, to compel the Pakistan government to seek peace.” (ibid, p. 75)
Pakistan Army Order of Battle:
Top Army Leadership:
Supreme Commander: Field Marshall Mohammad Ayub Khan
Commander in Chief: General Mohammad Musa
Chief of General Staff: Maj. General Malik Sher Bahadur
Director of Military Ops. Maj. General Sahibzada Mohammad Yaqub Khan
Commander I Corps: Lt. General Bakhtiar Rana
1 Armd Division: Maj General Nasir Ahmed Khan
6 Armd Division: Maj General Abrar Hussein
7 Inf. Division: Maj General A. M. Yahya Khan
10 Inf. Division: Maj General Sarfraz Khan
11 Inf. Division: Maj General Abdul Hamid Khan
12 Inf. Division: Maj General Akhtar Hussein Malik
15 Inf. Division: Brig. Sardar M. Ismail Khan
8 Inf. Division: Maj. General Tikka Khan
Indian Army Order of Battle:
Top Army Leadership:
Supreme Commander: Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri (?)
Chief of Army Staff: General J. N. Chaudhari
Commander Western Comd: Lt. General Harbaksh Singh
Commander I Corps: Lt. General P. O. Dunn
Commander XI Corps: Lt. General J. S. Dhillon
Commander XV Corps: Lt. General K. S. Katoch
Srinagar Operations Maj General Umrao Singh
1 Armd Division: Maj General Rajinder Singh
4 Mtn Division: Maj General Gurbaksh Singh
6 Mtn Division: Maj General S. K. Korla
7 Inf. Division: Maj General H. K. Sibal
10 Inf. Division: Maj General D. B. Chopra
11 Inf. Division: Maj General N. C. Rawlley
14 Inf. Division: Maj General R. K. Ranjit Singh
15 Inf. Division: Maj General Mohinder Singh
19 Inf. Division: Maj General S. K. Kalaan
25 Inf. Division: Maj General Amreek Singh
26 Inf. Division: Maj General M L. Thapan
2 Armd Brigade: Brig. T K. Theogaraj
68 Ind. Inf. Brigade: Brig. Z. C. Bakshi
121 Ind. Inf. Brigade: Brig. V. K. Ghai (Source: Cloughley, 1999)
Attack on Lahore
The first Indian attack came onto the city of Lahore. India’s XI Corps carried out a three-pronged attack on the city with 15 Division (from Amritsar along the Grand Trunk Road), 7 Division (from north-west via Burki), and 4 Mountain Division (from Kasur through the Ferozepore-Kasur Road). The attack on Sialkot was carried out by 26 Division through the Jammu Sailkot Road and 6 Division and 1 Armored Division that moved all the way to Chawinda.
Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian-Dibalpur (BRBD) Canal that runs north to south for about sixty miles from Upper Chanab Canal to Sutlej River became a formidable asset in the defense of Lahore. By the time the news of the Indian attack on Lahore had reached Pakistan army’s forward positions and a defense strategy put into effect on this side of the BRBD Canal, Indian army had already reached the opposite banks. In a frantic effort to contain the enemy advance all 8 bridges on the canal were blown up. This attack was ultimately blunted through the intense efforts of Pakistan’s 10 Division (17 Baluch) aided by PAF that ran sorties on India’s 15th Division with considerable effect (ibid, 78).
Severe fighting ensued over the next several days for each and every inch of the ground. The commander of India’s 15 Division was replaced “for failure to reinforce success in crossing the canal and for withdrawing under pressure” (ibid, 80). Even under the New GOC, Indian forces continued to attack and counter attack until Sept 23rd without really making any headway. Both armies suffered heavy casualties—over five hundred men on both sides combined—died for a few square miles of ground.
On the central axis of the attack on Lahore, Indian army advanced through Burki—a lightly defended population on the east of the BRBD canal. This town was defended by 17th Punjab and it saw the heroism of Major Raja Aziz Bhatti who, along with his men, fought bravely and earned Pakistan’s Highest Military Award—the Nishan-e-Haider—for his efforts. This small group of men held on for several days before Burki was ultimately captured on September 10. By that time, the bridge on BRBD canal near Burki had already been blown thus blunting Indian attack on that axis.
The third and final axis of the attack on Lahore was through the South from Kasur. Pakistan’s 11th Infantry Division was allocated to defending Lahore from the Kasur front. The 11th Inf. Division’s mission, as per Lt. General Gul Hassan, was to:
- Seal off the Beas-Sutlej corridor by seizing the bridge over the Beas River to cut off Indian forces threatening Lahore
- Thwart the enemy’s advance through Kasur to Lahore
An Indian author (Manekar, 1967) quoted in Cloughley (1999), however, ascribes a much broader objective to the 11th Division, namely, a thrust into Delhi to realize “Ayub’s dream of strolling up to Delhi”. This claim, however, does not seem to hold ground when looked into. Also operating in this sector was the 1st Armored Division of the Pakistan Army. This two-division force created considerable challenges vis-à-vis the command and control as Pakistani division commanders were not used to thinking in “joint” operations. In addition, there was no Corps headquarters to command these two divisions that made the task all the more confusing. Ultimately, the command of this two-division operation was taken over by GHQ which was far from an ideal option.
Despite these challenges, however, the 11th Infantry division, working with only five infantry battalions (instead of the usual strength of nine) in the early days of the battle blunted the Indian attack on the Kasur sector. Moving east, it captured Khem Karan to establish a secure base of operations in the Indian territory. Once Khem Karan was secure, 6 Lancers continued to roll forward for seven miles capturing the railway station at Voltoha. From here, the continually attacked forward positions and were withdrawn to replenish on the nights of 8th and 9th. The Indian 4th Mountain Division that was attacking Pakistan on this southern axis, however, suffered some heavy blows as a result of this counter-offence and had to retreat.
The 1st Armored Division, however, failed to make its mark on the battle. Lt. General Gul Hassan and others such as Brigadier Shoukat Riza have blamed the top leadership for the “atrocious performance”. Failing to capitalize on the advances made by 11th Inf. Division, 1st Armd was ordered by GHQ on 8 Sept to “overrun maximum enemy territory”. By this time, the Indian 2nd Independent Armored Brigade had joined the battle at this front. Now in a defensive posture and carefully dug-in on familiar territory, the Indians made a rout of Pakistan’s attack on Asal Uttar (English: “Real Answer”). According to one independent account, Pakistan lost forty tanks that day. Wikipedia (2007) counts these losses to around 100 tanks. So complete was the devastation that the area has since come to be known as “Patton Nagar” named after the Pakistani Patton tanks that saw destruction here. Subsequent to this, Pakistan’s further advance in this sector stopped. It also had to withdraw bulk of the 1st Armored Division to Sialkot sector where another Indian attack was underway.
The infantry battles continued in this sector and Indian attempts to regain Khem Karan failed repeatedly—the last one being on the 21/22nd September—and Pakistan was left holding about 50 square miles of Indian territory here. Cloughley sums up the battle for Lahore in the following words:
“Had Pakistan maintained its offensive on the 9 and 10 September, it is likely that they would have covered the twenty miles to Amritsar by the night of the 10th and got behind the Indian 15th Division at a time when it was in a disarray…Whether Pakistanis could have held on to what they might have gained is, however, another matter. The Indians had considerable reserves, and in spite of the PAF’s qualitative ascendancy over the IAF, it did not have the numbers of aircrafts necessary to achieve air superiority while concurrently giving close support to the troops…Whatever the ifs and might-have-beens about the Lahore sector battles, there were some lessons learnt the hard way. It was obvious that outstanding leadership at the junior level as well as gallantry…did not compensate for…lack on press-on spirit in commanders…[and] shockingly bad command at higher levels.” (Cloughley, 1999, p. 96)
Attack on Sialkot
Sialkot is closer (merely six miles) to the Indian border than Lahore and only twenty five miles from Jammu—the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir. However, it is strategically not a good target in that it is not a “good tank country” (Cloughley, 1999, p. 101) and two major rivers make further advance towards Islamabad quite difficult. It is not quite clear what India’s overall objectives for attack on Sialkot were, but educated guesses have been made.
Cloughley (1999, p. 102) draws from several sources to suggest that India at least had a series of general objectives in Sialkot including, but not limited to, pre-empting Pakistani attack on Jammu, draw off Pakistani forces from Chhamb, prevent reinforcements to Lahore, and draw into battle and destroy Pakistani armor. He then analyses each of these claims and finds them quite faulty on several counts noting instead that “it appears that the Indian aim was to simply attack where it considered the enemy was weak and to gain as much ground as possible while endeavoring to keep the enemy off-balance” (ibid, p.103).
The Indian attack on Sialkot was carried out between 7th and 8th September on two axes, namely, Jammu-Sialkot Road axis and a parallel route some 12 miles to the southeast. The Indian attack was spearheaded by India’s I-Corps which comprised primarily of 26th Inf. Division, 6 Mountain Division, and 1st Armored Division. On the Pakistan’s side, Sialkot was defended by Pakistan’s I-Corps comprising 15th Inf. Division and 25 Cavalry. This mismatch of resources (2 infantry Divisions and 1 Armd Division vs. 1 Infantry Division and 1 Armd. Brigade) presented some challenges to the Pakistanis.
As soon as the Indian 26th Division crossed the border along the Jammu-Sialkot road, its advance has halted by heavy artillery fire. Over the next two weeks, until the cease fire went into effect on 23rd September, the Indian 26th Division could only advance three miles into the Pakistani territory. Cloughley describes the performance of Pakistani gunners in the words: “The defense of Sialkot by 19 Punjab and 13 FF and their supporting gunners was more dogged than glamorous and indefatigable than dramatic”. Their effort effectively blunted the enemy advance in this area and deprive India of whatever objectives it had charted for itself.
The more “glamorous” (perhaps) of the action on this front came in the famous tank battle in Chawinda. The 6 Indian Mountain Division had crossed the border further south and had quickly captured area inside Pakistan clearing way for the 1st Armd. Division to move in. The latter advancing forward quickly reached the line of Sialkot-Lahore railway by 0900 hours on Sept 8th. Pakistan’s counter-offense, under the command of the Corps-I, repulsed the attack on Sept 8th pushing the Indians back to border where they remained for another two days before regrouping and advancing again. Pakistan also, desperate in its attempts to defend this sector and overstretched in its men and machines, called in whatever support it could from all other sectors to prepare for the second offensive.
India’s assault began on Sept 11th, advancing on two axis but their advance to blunted by Pakistani defenses in a series of infantry maneuvers and tank battles. The Indians knew that it was essential for them to take Chawinda. Pakistanis knew that if they did, the entire front between Lahore and Sialkot would be a walkover for India. Several battles ensued and despite deteriorating supplies and ammunition for US-provided Patton tanks, Pakistanis fought to the end and managed to regain some of the ground lost in the initial assault. Later, Pakistan planned an Operation Wind Up which never got going because of weather conditions. On Sept 23rd, when the ceasefire was called, the two armies were in a virtual stalemate on the Sialkot sector.
Pakistan’s Advance in the South
While the main battles were fought in Punjab, some minor ones also took place further south. Pakistan’s 105 Infantry Brigade advanced into Indian territory near Fazilka, 90 miles south-west of Lahore. About 120 miles East of Hyderabad, Indian force moved across the border but was repulsed by Pakistan’s 51 Infantry Brigade which counter-attacked and advanced to Munobao railway station on the Indian side. Pakistan held substantial desert territory in the east of Sindh during the course of the war.
In all, irrespective of counter claims, the ground battles between India and Pakistan were a draw. In the north (Kashmir), Pakistan had initiated the attack and had failed to achieve its objectives (either of Operation Gibralter or Grand Slam). In the Central Sectors, The battle for Lahore and Sialkot had been a military standstill with India having initiated the attack and failed to achieve its objectives. In the South, Pakistan had gained some inconsequential territory in opposite Sindhd desert. Accounts of casualties and equipment damage vary the origin of the source from the claim is being made. General K. M. Arif, in his book Khaki Shadows, puts the figures claimed by Pakistan as follows:
Pakistan’s Claims in 1965 War
Killed 1,033 9,500
Wounded 2,171 11,000
Missing 630 1,700
Tanks lost/damaged 165 475
Aircrafts 14 110
Land Area Won 1600 Sq. miles 450 Sq. miles
These figures are clearly exaggerated. Wikipedia (2007) tries to provide a more “independent” assessment—albeit still subject to questions—as:
Wikipedia’s Claims of 1965 War
Indian Claims Pakistan Claims Independent Claims
Casualties 2763 (Ind), 3800 (Pak)
Aircraft Lost 71 IAF, 43 PAF 19 PAF, 104 IAF 20 PAF
Aerial Victories 17 30
Tanks Destroyed 128 Indian, ~500 Pak 165 Pakistani tanks 200 Pakistani tanks
Land Area Won 1500 sq-miles 2000 sq-miles India held 710 Sq-miles
Pakistan held 210 Sqm.
Definitive and independent accounts of the 1965 war are quite rare. Cloughley quotes the following passage from another author:
“Indian and Pakistani accounts not only contradict each other but are sometimes also internally inconsistent; neither government has published or assisted in the publication of a balanced study of the war. Instead, semi-official, selective accounts have been put out which play up successes and gloss over failures.” (Cloughley, 1999, p.77)
This has indeed been one of the major challenges of writing about and learning from the 1965 War between India and Pakistan. Despite my efforts to be unbiased, this account probably also suffers from some of these issues. Writing of the military history of Pakistan is an ongoing endeavor that has only made progress slowly over time.