September Special

1965 War Reminiscence

The genesis of the 1965 War laid in the Indian effort to take over Kashmir soon after independence by inducing the Maharaja of Kashmir to accede to India rather than to Pakistan, contrary to the spirit of the independence agreement. This perfidy was seemingly planned by the British Viceroy of India Lord Louis Mountbatten (and after independence the Governor-General of India) by dishonestly awarding the contiguous Muslim majority district of Gurdaspur to India which provided her access to Kashmir. But more likely Mountbatten’s action was part of the Great Game that had been going on since early nineteenth century in Central Asia between Great Britain and the Soviet Union in addition of the certitude in 1947 of an early emergence of Communist China (which finally happened in 1949). It was done with a view to deny the then Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China a land access to the Indian Ocean by providing India direct access to Afghanistan via Kashmir and thus blocking it. To put this in to perspective, Afghanistan was the only country in the world to oppose Pakistan’s entry in to the United Nations. Presently, for the same reason of denying China and Russia a land route to the Indian Ocean; America, NATO and India are trying their level best to prevent the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from being built and coming into operation. 
Because of the Kashmir dispute there have been a few military actions between the two countries but all remained confined to that state with no spillover either to the international border or the sea, thereby leaving the Navy out of them. In the earliest such action, when most fighting elements of Army Units earmarked for Pakistan after independence were still abroad performing United Nations’ duties in Southeast Asia, Pakistan feared an Indian invasion of Kashmir. Lashkars from Tribal Areas of Pakistan and freedom fighters from Kashmir fought gallantly but after initial victories, could not maintain the momentum.

This allowed India to land and reinforce its troops in Srinagar and push the Lashkar back till the limited available Pakistani troops entered Kashmir on instruction of the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah against the wish and decision of the then British Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army and stabilized the situation there. Meanwhile, the Muslim elements of the Maharaja’s forces revolted and occupied the Northern Areas of Kashmir. Though the Kashmir dispute still remains to be resolved yet these Pakistani actions in the long run have provided Pakistan a strategic victory which not only saved Pakistan from an Indo-Afghan pincer but has allowed the two “All-weather Friends” Pakistan and China to build the world changing CPEC. 

Even earlier than India’s invasion of Kashmir, according to a file in the Pakistan Navy History Cell – a file in early 1990s that contained a letter from the Governor-General Quaid-i-Azam’s Office to the Flag Officer Commanding the Royal Pakistan Navy (as the Commander-in-Chief was then called) – enquiring what force would be required to prevent any Indian Naval invasion of Junagadh, Munavadar and Mongrol states in Kutch which had acceded to Pakistan. At that time because of shortage of Pakistani senior officers all the senior appointments at the Naval Headquarters were filled by British Naval Officers on loan from the Royal Navy and it seems that, as per the British policy given to these officers on loan, nothing was done and there was no copy of any reply if sent in that file. At that time Mr. Jinnah had become too weak because of a throat and lung disease he had been carrying secretly from before independence and was moved to Quetta to recuperate, never to recover again. In the meantime everyone at the Governor-General’s Office appeared to have forgotten about the letter to the Navy. Had the Royal Pakistan Navy been adequately prepared as the Quaid wished, the first naval action at sea by the Pakistan Navy in the defence of the country would have taken place in 1948 when an Indian naval force invaded the three states from the sea and occupied them. 

Another important military event took place in March and April 1965 when India occupied our outpost at Biar Bet in the Rann of Kutch. They were given a sound drubbing and were evicted from there by the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Air Force. At that time the Indian Prime Minister Shastri threatened Pakistan of a response at a place and time of India’s choosing. Possibly the grand success at Biar Bet had buoyed up the participants of the May 1965 meeting at Murree when they persuaded General Musa to prepare for Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir.

Thereafter, it was to the credit of Pakistan’s diplomacy, civil as well as military, that the country was not only able to secure military supplies from China and Indonesia when the situation escalated in Kashmir. China even started moving a whole Corps of its troops from Northern China to Tibet’s border with India. Indonesia went even further and sent Indonesian manned Missile Boats and Submarines to Karachi. This clearly showed the two countries’ readiness to help Pakistan physically if required. The strategic implications of the Chinese and Indonesian decisions should require no elucidation.

Naval Engagement in 1965
The consequence of Rann of Kutch Emergency (March/April 1965) and Indian PM’s threat was to galvanize Pakistan Navy Flotilla under Commodore SB Salimi to train itself into a well-knit and highly efficient strike force capable of performing a wide variety of missions at sea, both offensive and defensive, near or far from Pakistan’s shores. For the Navy Flotilla and for submarine GHAZI there was no letup in exercises at sea even after ceasefire in the Rann of Kutch. Thus the Flotilla was at the peak of readiness and efficiency when the Indians launched their dastardly attack on Lahore in the early hours of September 6, 1965. 

I was in command of destroyer ALAMGIR at that time. 
With the launch of Operation Gibraltar in July 1965, fighting escalated in Kashmir and in late August Vice Admiral AR Khan ordered the PN Flotilla and submarine GHAZI to be ready for any Indian surprise attack. Nonetheless in the mid-August Naval Headquarters sent me to Quetta with two other officers senior to me for a war game at the Army War Course. With situation in Kashmir heating up I requested NHQ for permission to return to my ship but was told to complete the task in Quetta. Consequently, I could not return till September 3 to find all ships in final stages of ammunitioning and stocking up stores for war. Submarine GHAZI was notably missing. NHQ had not given me any inkling of what was going on and told my Second-in-Command Lt Cdr Chowdhry, a very able Bengali officer, not to inform me about the preparations for war, in case telephone lines were tapped and the information got leaked out. 

While at Quetta, in our spare time we used to discuss the increasingly volatile situation in IOK where the unprepared local population perhaps remembering the 1947 Lashkar’s doings was less than friendly towards the infiltrators. India itself reacted by occupying certain strategic terrain across the Ceasefire Line leading Pakistan to launch Operation Grand Slam towards Akhnur on the only road connecting Jammu and Kashmir to India. Simultaneously, news arrived that the Indian Armored Division had debouched from Jhansi heading north and no further information was available about its whereabouts or destination. The Commandant Major General Sahibzada Yakub and his Senior Staff Officer Colonel SG Mehdi estimated the Division was heading to Kashmir for an attack on the Grand Trunk Road via Sialkot. They passed the same estimation to the General Headquarters (GHQ) and were told to concentrate on their task and leave such assessments to the staff at GHQ.  

On September 6, the Flotilla was preparing to leave harbor at 8 a.m. for the Weekly Sea Exercise Program when around 6:45 a.m.; COMPAK (now Commodore SM Anwar) signaled news of an Indian attack on Lahore front and ordered ships to come to immediate readiness for war and report readiness to proceed to sea. ALAMGIR was the first to report readiness and                      


It was then ordered to slip at 7:30 a.m. leading others out of harbor and proceed to designated patrolling stations on a fifty mile arc from Southeast to West of Karachi such that no ship could approach Karachi undetected and unidentified. At night the patrolling distance from Karachi was increased to seventy five miles to allow more time for identification of any approaching ship.

Furthermore, this disposition ensured sufficient warning of any approaching Indian air strike from seaward towards Karachi. In the event of Indian surface attack it allowed for sufficient time for the Pakistan Navy ships to reform into an offensive or defensive formation as required. The Flotilla had really been fine-tuned for war. In fact, we were full of emotions and rearing to go, sure in our belief that we would give a fine valorous account of ourselves despite the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier, shore based reconnaissance and attack aircraft, two cruisers with much bigger eight inch guns compared to our cruiser BABAR’s 5.25 inch guns, having many times the number of destroyers and frigates than with the Pakistan Navy and having additional air support from Jamnagar, a major Indian Air Force Base. 

At sea tension onboard ships was further intensified by reports on Radio Pakistan of intensive glorious land and air battles. One cannot imagine the strong feeling of being let down by the absence of Indian Navy – waiting impatiently for action. By the morning of the September 7, just 24 hours into war, tensions were reaching high. Just then a signal arrived from Naval Headquarters ordering the Flotilla to bombard a Radio Beacon at Dwarka at midnight. The beacon was directing Indian air strikes on Karachi from Jamnagar. The strain vanished from our minds. At last there was something to do, that too right in the lair of the lion itself.

Soon the force consisting of BABAR (Captain Lodhi), KHAIBAR (Captain Hanif), BADR (Commander AH Mallick), TIPPU SULTAN (Commander Amir Aslam), JAHANGIR (Commander KM Hussain), SHAH JAHAN (Commander SZ Shamsie) and ALAMGIR (Commander Iqbal F. Quadir) was on the way to the initial position (IP) off Dwarka for bombardment. Initial course was set for Bombay (now Mumbai) not to give away the target (Dwarka) in case the force was discovered by any Indian recce aircraft. It was only after sunset that course was altered for the IP for bombardment and I announced the new mission to the Ship’s Company and possibility of air reaction from the major Indian Air Base at Jamnagar about forty miles away. Immediately the ship resounded with shouts of Allah-o-Akbar and everyone propelled into action, taking their places with the sound of Action Stations.

By twenty-five minutes past midnight, the ships had reached the IP, steaming in single line ahead parallel to the coast seven miles off Dwarka. Firing was ordered and completed within four minutes. Shells were observed bursting all over the target area. Some ships reported gunfire from the shore as the bombardment started but nothing fell near the ships. Whatever fire was observed from shore was soon silenced. The target was the Air Beacon, it being mobile, the coordinates were not certain. I, therefore, decided to target the Railway Marshaling Yard and I am happy to report that the Indian records show damage to a building and railway stocks in the Marshaling Yard. This shows the accuracy of fire but also the accuracy of the navigation charts prepared by our Hydrographic Department. 

On completion of bombardment, anticipating reaction from Jamnagar Air Base forty miles away, the force assumed an air defense formation and sure enough, things happened in quick succession. Throughout the evening a full moon brightened the sky but no sooner than the bombardment was completed, low clouds appeared over the ships from the West just as three ships: BABAR, BADR and ALAMGIR picked up aircraft on radar approaching from the East. According to what I personally observed on the radar, the aircraft echoes crossed over the ships three times but because of the low cloud base failed to do anything and returned. I returned to my cabin for a cup of coffee before saying my prayers and taking a nap but heard one of my ship’s heavy guns going off. In an instant I was on the bridge and saw a white light low in the sky travelling towards the ship. Before I could say anything that gun fired again and there appeared a burst near the light whereafter it was no longer visible. Soon BABUR reported tall splashes from falling debris on her starboard bow. Sadly this kill was not accepted even though it was soon reported by the Indian media and is on Indian records that the local Governor’s plane was missing in that general area at that time. God only knows best. Full credit must be given to the gun crew and their Petty Officer in Charge Ghulam Hussain who showed great initiative in engaging the approaching aircraft and shooting it down with the second round. Meantime the Indians, peeved by the audacious bombardment and failure of Indian air effort against the attacking force, carried the battle into the air waves. Soon after 10 a.m., while racing back to Karachi, the ship’s Wireless Office reported an Indian Radio station broadcasting that the Indian Air Force has heavily attacked the Pakistan Navy Force that bombarded Dwarka and sunk ALAMGIR and damaged another two. The next Indian news broadcast was relayed on the ship’s Broadcast System and soon shouts of Allah-o-Akbar resounded in the air again as ALAMGIR was mentioned in Indian dispatches.
The excellent performance of the ship’s Chief Radio Radar and Electronics Artificer whose name I regretfully forgot, must also be extolled. He tuned both the S Band (combined surface and air warning radar) radar such that it regularly picked up other ships over twice the normal ranges and of other ships’ similar radars. He further modified the S Band radar such that when not transmitting it could be used as Search Receiver to identify similar enemy radars upto almost fifty percent greater ranges. Thus on the forenoon of September 18 the Flotilla on patrol about 60 miles South West of Karachi was heading towards Kutch when ALAMGIR picked up radar transmissions from right ahead. A little later, echoes appeared on the radar at 56 miles distance. At 52 miles they were confirmed as five definite ship contacts. The two forces were heading directly towards each other at a combined speed of thirty knots. COMPAK (then on BABUR) was continuously kept informed by flag and light signals. With the cruiser’s gun range of about thirty thousand yards, action was possible in about one hour. At the range of forty nautical miles ALAMGIR picked up Indian ships’ ultra-high frequency radio nets, both tactical, on which the senior officer issues his command, and Information Net, on which a variety of information is exchanged. For wartime, surprisingly, the Indians were chatting away like it was a marriage function.  

However, at thirty two miles both the Indian cruiser MYSORE and Pakistani BABUR picked up each other on radar and the Indians immediately reversed course towards Kutch. With almost identical maximum speeds a successful chase was not possible and we (Pakistan Navy) were cheated of an opportunity to test our mettle. Soon thereafter a ceasefire was announced but Fotilla ships continued patrolling at sea for another fortnight before returning to harbor and reverting to the peacetime state. 
About ten days after ceasefire, listening to an All India Radio program a panel of three Indian economists were discussing the effect the Pakistan Navy Raid at Dwarka on September 8. The following was brought out by them:

•    The first reaction was that an amphibious landing is likely.
•   Some land and air forces needed elsewhere were moved to Kutch.
•    Sudden mass migration of people took place from Kutch coast causing transportation and social problems.
•    Merchant ships coming to India from America and Europe via Suez Canal were diverted to the Cape of Good Hope route – causing delays in arrival of ships by one to two weeks.
•    With delayed arrival of raw materials many factories closed down, causing workers to be discharged resulting in social and economic dislocation as well as law and order problems.
•   Reduced production and sales meant reduced tax income for the government.
Consequently, the overall effect of bombardment was much greater than mere psychological and according to Admiral Kohli, an ex Indian Navy chief, in his book We Dared the senior Indian naval officers felt so ashamed that they could not hold their heads high. A British author described the operation as daring and executed in a classical fashion.

The writer is a former diplomat and defence analyst.
E-mail: [email protected] 

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