The Battle of Qaiser-i-Hind is an account of gallantry and bravery against all odds. Despite having old tanks, Pakistan Armed Forces were able to push the enemy behind the lines at Qaiser-i-Hind.
Kasur, September 16, 1965 – While the Kiribati rays of the dawn were yet to reach and embrace the barren battlefield, the crankshafts of obsolete Sherman tanks were stirred to awaken the sleeping giants resting in their den. After a few attempts, black smoke emerged from the exhausts of the tanks, and engines roared like a pack of old lions. It was indeed not less than an achievement to keep the wheels of these vintage tanks rolling. September War was in its waning phase and these old tanks had traversed enough mileage in spite of their weak engines, and had fired enough rounds from their obsolescent barrels to keep the enemy at bay. These impediments and constraints were still way short of dampening the resolve of this clan of volunteer reservists. These were the tanks of Alpha Squadron 32 Tank Delivery Unit (TDU), a nascent Cavalry Regiment which had given a daring account of itself in the previous encounters with the Indian units. In all probabilities, that is why the Indian intelligence had named this regiment as ‘Tank Destroying Regiment’.
Just a few moments before the cracking sounds of the engine and sweet smell of partially burned diesel, Squadron Commander Major Akram was taking a nap on the improvised bed over the engine compartment of his tank. He was a reservist officer in his early forties, a fair, tall and stout man, who, to assuage his appetite of patriotism, had voluntarily reported to Armoured Corps Center, Nowshera on the commencement of the war. He wanted to offer his services against the aggression of Indian onslaught, and here he was at Kasur Sector commanding a squadron of a newly raised Cavalry Regiment. While he had just gone in the laps of sweet sleep, he felt sudden jolts, on opening his eyes he could see the face of his operator looming over his head, “Sir Adjutant sahab ki call hay, keh rahay hain Commanding Officer (CO) sahab zaroori baat karna chahte hain” (Sir, there is a call from the Adjudant. He’s saying the CO wants to talk urgently), said the operator who was manning the set in his absence. Major Akram could sense the urgency in the voice of his operator, so he lifted himself from the improvised bedding made up of hardly one thin ground sheet, placed over the grill of an engine compartment, in a futile attempt to abate the hardness of the protruding metal fins of the grill. Nevertheless, Squadron Commander got through to the Adjutant, Captain Zulfiqar, who told him that CO wanted to talk to him. Amidst the mesh came a crisp and firm voice of the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel SHA Bukhari, “Hello 1, Message Over”, “Hellow 1, send your message over”, replied the Squadron Commander in the same firm tone. Lt Col SHA Bukhari instructed the Squadron Commander to dispatch one of his troops to the location of 12 Baloch at Mianwala to participate in an attack on the Indian positions. He further told him that details of employment would be informed by the CO 12 Baloch when troops report there. Squadron Commander immediately summoned all his troop leaders and informed them about the CO’s orders. After relaying the CO’s instructions, Major Akram asked his troop leaders in a firm, confident voice, “Any troop leader who would like to volunteer for this task shall take one step forward”. Not to his surprise, he found all the troop leaders taking a leap forward. While exercising his discretion as the Squadron Commander, Major Akram nominated Naib Risaldar Ahmed Sher Khan who was troop leader of the 2nd Troop.
A few days back, the Squadron was in its concentration area at Lahore. It was placed under the command of 52 Brigade of 11 Division and moved to Kasur. On reaching Kasur, it received a welcoming note by Indian Dassault Mystère aircraft which fiercely raided the tank positions. But owing to firm retaliation by tank crews who timely unleashed the effective fire from their anti-aircraft guns, the Indian jets thought it wise to leave the raid as a bad job, the cocky hunter narrowly evaded being hunted. This air raid and subsequent withdrawal of Indian jets had boosted the morale of the men of 32 TDU. Incontrovertibly, it was the outpour of this high morale that all troop leaders of Alpha Squadron stepped forward when asked for volunteering. This state of high spirit was also clearly reflected in their body language when the 2nd Troop was busy in preparations for their subsequent move to 12 Baloch’s location at Mianwala.
The thunder of the falling artillery rounds and melody of the splinters hitting their turrets was creating a peculiar metallic sound whose resonance could not only be heard, but also be felt by the crew sitting tight in the iron capsule.
After being entrusted with the task, the Troop Leader instructed his tank commanders to mount on the tanks; this is when the silence of the dawn was shrewdly broken by the cranking sound of the engines, followed by the black smoke, a harbinger of hope – hope that there were still a few breaths left in the old beasts of WW-2. After a few moments, the old beasts were rolling on the ground towards Mianwala. On their way, the troop came under enemy’s artillery fire. The fire was quite intense; the tank commanders could hardly see anything ahead due to mushrooms of dust and smoke created by the falling artillery rounds. Although there was very little to see, there was indeed much to hear. The thunder of the falling artillery rounds and melody of the splinters hitting their turrets was creating a peculiar metallic sound whose resonance could not only be heard, but also be felt by the crew sitting tight in the iron capsule. Amidst these odds, the crew helmets of the tank commanders echoed with a crisp voice of the Troop Leader, “Hello, all stations 21 Alpha, keep on moving”. In line with the orders of the Troop Leader, both Alpha and Bravo tanks kept on moving. During this move, one of the artillery rounds fell near Bravo tank, whose splinters pierced through the metal track of the tank. The crew heard a grinding sound and the tank came to a halt. Crew of Bravo Tank knew exactly what the ‘grinding sound’ meant; the metal track was off the wheels. Out of the crew of five, assistant driver and loader of the damaged tank exited from the bottom emergency exit plate and landed on the ground under the tank’s belly. Amidst the shredding sounds of artillery fire, they crawled towards the damaged track to assess the degree of damage and fix it, if possible, while the Tank Commander, driver and the gunner remained in the tank, manning the main gun. During the quick appreciation, damage was assessed to be beyond quick recovery. Amidst the artillery shelling, perhaps it was not the best idea to fix the track. Therefore, both crew members crawled back towards the emergency exit plate attached to the belly of the tank and entered the safety of the iron capsule. After a few minutes, Indian artillery fire ended and it was revealed that the track and .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun (M2HB) of Bravo tank were badly damaged. Therefore, Troop Leader decided to leave the immobilized tank and resumed his advance with only two tanks. The damaged tank was later recovered by the Squadron Commander himself. The remaining two tanks under the command of its troop leader, Naib Risaldar (N/Ris) Ahmed Sher, joined Alpha Company.
On September 17, 1965, 12 Baloch was ordered to eliminate the Indian salient west of River Satluj, near Ganda Singh Wala. The area of operation (Hussainiwala salient) was infested with a number of high protective bunds in a crisscross manner. Two of these bunds were ascribed as Tekona and Thera bund, which ran close to each other towards Qaisar-i-Hind. Qaisar-i-Hind was a tall tower, a massive double storied construction of 5 feet thick solid brick wall, reinforced by iron and steel work, which had a tunnel in the basement for the train to pass through. The tower was located on the western side of a dismantled railway bridge crossing over River Satluj. After detailed reconnaissance and planning by Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Akhter (Commanding Officer, CO 12 Baloch), the attack was planned in three phases at 2200 hours on the night of September 18-19.
Phase 1: Capture of Tekona Bund by Charlie Company.
Phase 2: Capture of Thera Bund and 10r by Alpha Company with 2nd troop Alpha Squadron 32 TDU.
Phase 3: Capture of Gol Bund by Bravo Company with 2nd troop Alpha Squadron 32 TDU.
Phase 1: At 2200 hours, Charlie Company under the command of Captain Muhammad Akram Qureshi crossed the start line. They traversed through tall grass and reached the vicinity of their objective. The enemy, after observing Pakistani troops almost 100 yards away, left their positions. Charlie Company captured its objective without any casualty.
Phase 2: The Battalion insisted to use the remaining two tanks in a pair. Luckily, the Squadron Commander had already placed two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) in this troop. A rifle platoon of the Battalion from Delta Company and composite reconnaissance and support platoon were grouped under the command of Captain Saeed, and tasked to move along the left bank of Dipalpur Canal for flank protection. The attack was led by a troop of tanks closely followed by infantry. The troop was subjected to heavy doses of artillery, augmented by accurate anti-tank fire from well-concealed positions. Despite all odds, the valiant troops resorted to fire and move, and kept advancing. On reaching 500 yards short of Qaisar-i-Hind, it was a battle for “every inch”. The defenders were committed to fight till the hilt and resist the invaders to their best. It was incontrovertibly a “duel of wills” as both antagonists were contesting for every inch of the battleground. Owing to unflinching resolve and indomitable determination, the tank troop kept on inching forward and reached almost 300 yards from Qaisar-i-Hind, which was protected by anti-tank mine field. While moving ahead, one tank under N/Ris Ahmed Sher, came across an anti-tank mine and was damaged just 200 yards short of impregnable Qaisar-i-Hind Tower. Instead of bailing out, the courageous crew chose to stay in the tank and kept on manning the main and Browning guns. The other tank in cover of supporting fire of the damaged tank kept on pushing ahead under intense enemy fire. The Company under its valiant commander, Major Salamat Ullah Qureshi, kept advancing to its objective. The second tank under the command of N/Ris Jamal Uddin, despite intense fire, made considerable headway and reached within 150 yards of Qaisar-i-Hind. While the tank was pushing ahead, being a vintage Shermen, its engine stalled. The crew under their brave tank commander stayed inside the tank and kept on manning the main and Browning gun to support the infantry platoon which was being subjected to enemy’s heavy and small arms’ fire from all three sides, resulting in the halt of the advance.
Qaisar-i-Hind was a tall tower, a massive double storied construction of 5 feet thick solid brick wall, reinforced by iron and steel work, which had a tunnel in the basement for the train to pass through.
The platoon of Bravo Company (originally earmarked for phase 3; capture of Gol Bund) was sent to capture 10r through a difficult swampy ground. This platoon advanced in cover of the fire support of damaged tanks and charged on the 10r position. In turn, these tanks and infantry were subjected to intense enemy fire from 15r and Gol Bund (which was behind Thera bund, but higher). The Platoon under the fire support of tanks managed to capture the major portion of 10r reaching within 100-150 yards of Qaisar-i-Hind. Fighting during phase 2 continued until 0330 hours in the form of fire exchange. Enemy reinforcements were pouring in; their tanks from Gol Bund and 15r were continuously firing at Thera Bund. While first light was around the corner, the CO decided to consolidate the gains. The Company immediately went into reorganization phase and the tanks kept on supporting them. By September 20, 1965, reorganized positions were well consolidated. The war diary of 32 TDU maintains that “The remaining days of the war were spent in comparative lull, only occasionally broken by enemy air attacks but those were taken generally as a day to day routine”.
The following valiant and gallant sons of Alpha Squadron of 32 TDU laid down their lives for the embellishment of proud pennants, some even long after the ceasefire:
No. 1016808, Swr Fazal Karim.
No. 1023192, Swr Muhammad Habib.
No. 1003259, LD Muhammad Zakir.
No. 1001401, Swr Muhammad Khan.
“Our religion teaches us to be always prepared for death. We should face it bravely to save the honor of Pakistan and Islam.”
This adage of the founding father is incontrovertibly a beacon for the Armed Forces of Pakistan, who have measured up to it, by facing the odds with dignity and giving sacrifices for the honor of the motherland.
E-mail: [email protected]
Sources: Interview of Brig Zulfiqar, the then Adjutant 32 TDU.
War diary of 12 Baloch.
War diary of 32 TDU.
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