The Battle of Jahman Bridge is a display of courage and camaraderie, where not only soldiers but cooks and laundrymen also became the frontline defense against enemy’s aggression.
Jahman is a sleepy little village on the Indo-Pak border, about 10 km upstream of Bedian along the Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) link canal. In 1965, it was even smaller, with only a few brick houses. The population comprised barely a couple of hundred souls. The bridge on the BRB opposite the village was insignificant too, fit to take light traffic only. This bridge later earned some mention in the war diaries of the sub-unit that stoically stood in its defense in September 1965. But it was more than a quarter century later in 1991 that Jahman Bridge and the ‘battle of the bridge’ really came out of obscurity. The battle owes its recognition to a revelation by a senior Indian commander in his account of the 1965 War. More of it a little later.
C Company 15 FF (Reconnaissance and Support) was tasked to cover the gap between 10 and 11 Division. A platoon under Naib Subedar (N/Sub) Yusuf, had already been detached to reinforce defences in Ganda Singh Wala Sector. It was a wide gap, stretching over 6 km, from north of Bedian to just south of Burj, near Barki. It was sensitive enough so that a breakthrough could lead the enemy straight on to Lahore, turning the defences of both 10 and 11 Division and forcing them to fight on reverse fronts. Defending a vast frontage such as this, much beyond the outfit’s physical capability, was an uphill task. To crown it all, it had no dedicated artillery support. The company commander took up the daunting task and deployed his company (less a platoon) – some 80-odd bodies – along the BRB covering all major approaches towards Lahore. Jahman Bridge being the vital ground in his area of responsibility, the company commander decided to hold it in strength (See map below).
On September 6, 1965 when the war broke out, C Company was well poised to meet any eventuality. Heavy shelling and attacks along axes Wan-Bedian and Khalra-Barki had made the enemy’s intentions clear. The Jahman area served as a common, open flank to both the prongs of Indian 7 Infantry Division and, hence, some enemy penetration in the area was imminent. Enemy continued to strafe and shell the positions along the BRB intermittently but no major event took place up to September 8 except patrol clashes, wherein the Piffers had the better of the enemy. Hudiara and Barki in the north, however, were witnessing one of the fiercest battles of the war and a spillover was soon expected to Jahman area. And then dropped the bombshell!
A New Assignment
On September 8, the company commander was called to Brigade Headquarters for a conference. He felt relieved for he would be able to press for reversion of N/Sub Yusuf’s platoon, now that he faced a two-pronged threat. He would also request for patrolling of the area east of the BRB by 1 EB Regiment, his company being organically unsuited for the job.
It had been a prolonged conference; the company commander rejoining his company late in the evening. He was in a hurry, and could hardly hide his anger. The conference had been a disaster as far as he was concerned. None of his requests — reversion of his third platoon, foot-patrolling by 1 EB or dedicated artillery support — had been accepted. On the contrary, he had been assigned an additional task — an unusual one at that! He called his orders group and gave out brief orders. The company was to regroup into foot infantry, leave its recoilless rifles (RRs), transport and heavy baggage behind and launch attacks on villages Theh Charolian and Kirka, flushing the enemy that had intruded there out of the border (see map) — and all this to be done that very night (8th/9th September); operation commencing at 2000 hours. He barely had three hours to prepare and set off for the task. He ended the shortest orders of his career cryptically, “I shall not entertain any questions”. The rear party comprising heavy baggage, vehicles and RRs under Subedar Muhammad Sadiq, the company’s senior Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) would stay behind. However, the party — drivers, cooks and non-combatant administrative personnel — 30 in all, were to deploy along the BRB. He left Sadiq in no doubt as to his mission, “You will defend Jahman Bridge — last man, last round — until the company returns”.
The company departed on its ‘flushing operation’ on time and after clashes with enemy patrols, secured the two objectives and established itself along the UBDC inside the Pakistani border by 0230 hours (See map). The company commander’s ordeal was not yet over. Having accomplished his additional mission and much to his chagrin, he received fresh orders from the Brigade Headquarters to remain deployed at the present position in support of 1 EB, and prevent enemy penetration towards Bedian from northeast. He felt like drowning himself in UBDC. This operation, lasting up to September 13, merits separate treatment, but we will leave it here and revert to the Jahman Bridge — the subject of our story.
Subedar Sadiq re-deployed his troops astride Jahman Bridge; all the drivers manning an RR each under Havildar Fateh Khan in the middle, cooks on one flank and dhobis (laundrymen) and sweepers on the other. Sadiq sited his ‘command post’ right on the bridge. He even earmarked a ‘task force’ under Havildar Mir Samand to be prepared to launch a counterattack and retake the bridge on orders.
The night of 8th/9th September and the next day passed eventlessly except sporadic enemy artillery shelling. Radio communication with the main company had broken down during the night. However, the next afternoon, the company reestablished contact through runners. The night of 9th/10th September brought some action. A little after midnight, some shadows were seen approaching the bridge. Sepoy Ayub Khan, a driver-batman and now a sentry on the bridge, alerted his ‘section’. As the shadows drew nearer, he shouted, “Halt, hands up”. The shadows took to ground immediately. Meanwhile, Havildar Fateh Khan had also crawled up in the sentry post and was gazing in the dark. There was no movement for some time. The shadows lay still about 40 meters away. Sadiq was also watching the situation from his trench. After a tense pause which seemed like an eternity, two of the shadows started crawling forward. Ayub again challenged them and asked for the password. They continued creeping forward. On a signal from Fateh Khan, Ayub shot at the leading intruder. The other shadows lying in the rear opened fire indiscriminately towards the bridge. 10 to 12 weapon flashes could be counted. Fateh Khan ordered his men to engage the enemy. The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes. The enemy retreated and disappeared in the dark, leaving one dead and one injured behind. Interrogation of the Prisoners of War (POW) revealed that an attack was imminent in the following nights. Sadiq’s anxiety was understandable. The company had been away for three days too long. He could take care of enemy patrols but a major attack would be beyond his men to withstand. He had been sending situation reports to the company commander through the quartermaster havildar along with once-a-day meals.
On September 11, he was unusually tense. There had been an airstrike on his position in the morning. Enemy artillery was more active too. The shelling grew intense by the afternoon. Towards dusk, his Observation Post (OP), perched on a tall tree, sighted large enemy infantry advancing from the direction of Ghawind. This was it, he thought! He went from trench to trench and briefed the men personally, “Don’t open fire without orders; shoot to kill; a body a bullet”. The men were tense too. Sadiq looked up and prayed in silence. At about 2030 hours, his listening post of three men, placed about 800 meters away North-West of Jahman, withdrew. They had heard tank noises too in the far distance. He briefed Fateh Khan to only open his RRs when enemy tanks were within 600-800 meters range. At about 2100 hours, enemy artillery opened up. The bombardment was deafening. Most shells were landing short or plus of the canal. Luckily, there were no casualties. As the artillery fire lifted to the rear, enemy infantry assault began with tanks providing intimate supporting fire. Now they could hear Jai Hind shouts from a distance. On Sadiq’s shout of Allah-o-Akbar, his men opened up. Fateh Khan’s RRs also came into action, manned by a driver each, who would load the RR, then come and sit on the controls and then, on a ‘fixed line’ and on his own fire orders, in the direction of tank noises – one man doing the job of three. After half an hour, Sadiq ordered a ceasefire. Jai Hind cries and tank noises had died down. At dawn, Sadiq took out a patrol personally to search the area ahead. Most of the booty — some damaged radio sets with a bold marking of ‘5G’ (for 5 Guards), rifles, maps and a few binoculars and compasses were found about a thousand meters away. The enemy had shied away from closing up. Five dead bodies were counted, however, some blood stains and drag marks were noticed elsewhere. In his situation report to the company commander, Sadiq viewed it as a reconnaissance in force by one to two companies with a tank troop.
The Finest Hour
The next day, the enemy seemed to be building up right since the morning, as if with a vengeance. A light plane flew over the area for fresh aerial reconnaissance. Sadiq had devised a clever deception plan. He spread out his RRs and transport along the BRB and dug up some extra positions, half-covering them with camouflage nets and foliage. He also moved some of his vehicles up and down the canal bank raising clouds of dust. He hoped that the arrival of reinforcements would be noticed by the enemy.
The tree-top OP was reporting movement from the direction of Ghawind as well as Hudiara. The assembly in the far distance appeared much larger than that of the previous day. Throughout the afternoon, a few jeeps continued to move back and forth, perhaps carrying senior commanders.
Sadiq’s brave men, emboldened by their performance thus far, were fatigued nevertheless. The sense of isolation, with their main strength being away, was also beginning to take its toll. Their morale, ably raised by Sadiq’s dauntless personal conduct, however, remained high.
At dusk, he again concentrated the force in their battle position astride the bridge unobtrusively. The listening post was duly positioned. Enemy guns started ranging around dusk. Artillery shelling, commencing at about 2000 hours, was much heavier. All hell seemed to have been let loose. As the artillery fire lifted, enemy tanks started engaging the new positions on the flanks. Sadiq’s deception had worked! The Infantry assault began almost simultaneously. War cries of Jai Hind were far denser that day. Sadiq had no doubt that it was at least a battalion attack supported by a troop of tanks. He was worried by the volume of the attack. It seemed to press on, his men’s stubborn resistance regardless. After two hours or so, a fresh phase seemed to have been launched by the enemy. He ran from trench to trench, ordering his RRs and .30 Brownings to keep firing. He wanted to break the momentum of attack well away from the canal so that the enemy could not rush the defenses merely with the weight of the attack. He found Havildar Fateh Khan wounded, hit by a machine gun burst, blood gushing out from his right shoulder. Fateh refused to be evacuated, and after field dressing, carried on with his job. When the enemy tanks stopped firing, Sadiq felt partly relieved. He kept egging his men on. He could now sense victory. By 0300 hours, enemy attack seemed to have petered out. Enemy’s small arms and automatic fire was now sporadic, perhaps to cover evacuation of casualties, Sadiq presumed. Gradually but surely, enemy’s firing died down. Sadiq and his veterans had snatched another victory from the enemy. Havildar Mir Samand was excited and wished to ambush the retreating enemy with his task force. Sadiq calmed him down. He went to see Havildar Fateh Khan, only to find him fainted with excessive bleeding. Fateh was evacuated immediately. Sepoy Abdul Rehman, who claimed to have fired his RR the maximum the previous night, lay motionless in his position — his ammunition exhausted. Hit by a tank shell, he had embraced shahadat. When the day broke, Sadiq again led out a search patrol. He counted 19 enemy dead including a Major and two JCOs and collected a lot of weapons and other equipment bearing marking of 6/8 GR (Gorkha Rifles). Enemy also left behind six tanks bogged down, three of them partially damaged by RR fire. Two wounded enemy soldiers, hiding in a filed, were taken prisoner.
Meanwhile, two successive and fierce attacks on Jahman Bridge had finally convinced the Brigade Headquarters in identifying where the Indian 7 Infantry Division’s primary interest lay. While Bedian axis had only witnessed artillery duels since September 8, the enemy was desperate to breakthrough at Barki axis. Having failed at Barki, they were now attempting penetration through the thin gap astride Jahman Bridge. Sadiq’s LOBs (left out of battle) had performed a military miracle at Jahman Bridge — and twice! To expect more from them might be suicidal. The next morning, the company commander received clearance to return to Jahman Bridge.
When the company arrived around mid-day, there was jubilation all around. Luddi and Khattak dance followed a hot lunch. Defenses were reorganized and aggressive patrolling resumed. Two fighting patrols combed out the entire area for enemy stragglers and destroyed the bogged down tanks to prevent their recovery during the night. The enemy made a half-hearted attempt on September 14 but did not close up. He remained content with occupying the deserted village of Jahman. Sadiq and his handful of LOBs had wrested initiative from the enemy.
Enemy’s Own Truth
The war diary of 15 FF and other historical literature of Pakistan Army records enemy strength as mentioned above: one to two companies of 5 Guards and a tank troop on night September 11/12 and a battalion (6/8 Gorkha Rifles) with two troops on the night of September 12/13. In his book, War Despatches — Indo-Pak Conflict 1965, published in 1991, Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh, commander Western Command and in charge of land operations against (West) Pakistan, makes a startling disclosure. Describing the conduct of operation of 7 Infantry Division from September 11-18, he writes, “After the capture of Barki on night 9/10 September by 65 Infantry Brigade, 48 Infantry Brigade was given the task of mopping up enemy pockets on the Eastern Bank of Ichhogil Canal, including the capture and destruction of the bridge in the vicinity of Jahman SG 7882. 48 Infantry Brigade attacked the bridge on night 11/12 September with 5 Guards. The attack was not pressed home and on orders from the Brigade Commander, the battalion withdrew to the Brigade Defended Sector at Hudiara. A second attempt for the same objective was made the next night with two infantry battalions (6/8 Gorkha Rifles and 5 Guards) supported by two troops of Central India Horse and the whole of Divisional Artillery. Once again, due to poor leadership, the attack was a failure – six of the eight tanks were bogged down and brigade pulled back to its firm base. The enemy in the meantime reinforced its garrison on the bridge. The Divisional Commander attributed the failure of our attack to lack of guts and determination on the part of the Brigade Commander, Brigadier KJ Shahaney, and he was relieved of his command on September 14, 1965. The next day, September 15, Brigadier Piara Singh took charge of the formation. Meanwhile, appreciating that the opposition at the bridge was now clearly beyond the capacity of 48 Infantry Brigade, the formation’s task was modified to the clearance of only Jahman. This, 48 Infantry Brigade accomplished on September 18 employing 6/8 Gorkha Rifles and 19 Maratha supported by two troops of Central India Horse”. Another Indian military writer, Major General Jogindar Singh, corroborates Harbakhsh Singh’s account.
Sadiq and his thundering thirty had achieved much more than they had thought! They had vanquished an enemy thirty times (30:900) larger on the night of September 11/12 and over sixty times (30:1900) larger on the night of September 12/13. Their steadfastness had been rewarded far more than promised:
“So if there be of you
A steadfast hundred
They shall overcome two hundred,
And if there be of you
A thousand (steadfast),
They shall overcome two thousand
By permission of Allah, for
Allah is with steadfast.”
Havildar Fateh Khan and Sepoy Abdul Rahman (shaheed) were decorated with Tamgha-i-Jurat, the latter posthumously. Sepoy Ayub Khan earned an Imtiazi Sanad. Subedar Sadiq was cited for Sitara-i-Jurat but unfortunately did not receive one. His reward — recognition by the enemy — is unparalleled.
Subedar Muhammad Sadiq rose to be a Subedar Major of two Piffers battalions successively and retired as an Honorary Captain to his Village Lehri, Tehsil Kahuta, District Rawalpindi.
After a protracted struggle by his senior unit officers, Honorary Captain Sadiq was invited to General Headquarters (GHQ) on August 25, 2006 and on behalf of the COAS, was given a cash award of Rs. 2 lacs by the Adjutant General. On October 18, 2018 at the age of 94, Sadiq departed to his eternal abode and was buried in his village Lehri, Tehsil Kahuta.
May he rest in peace. Inna lillahe wa inna ilaihe rajeoon.
The writer is a former CI, NDC, DG ISPR and former ambassador to the UAE for over three years. He was honoured with High Order of Independence by His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
E-mail: [email protected]
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