September Special

Reflections on the 1965 WAR

One could spend a very long time going back over the ground of the 1965 war, because, as I have written elsewhere, the origins of the war, its conduct, and, its consequences are quite complex. Most books covering the period deal in the main with the outcome of the war rather than the reasons for it. This is understandable given that there appears to have been no national aim on the part of Pakistan for going to war in the first place. In 1965, the war aim of Pakistan was neither enunciated nor apparent. 'Survival' is not an aim, it is a pious desire, and although Pakistan's Armed Forces fought well during the 1965 war, they lacked the openly-declared Clausewitzian objective that they should fight to overcome the enemy, invest his territory, and, ensure his total defeat. India's forces had no inhibitions. They attacked Pakistan on 6 September with the aim of crushing it. Destruction of Pakistan was essential, according to India's leaders, if India was to be confident of supremacy in the sub-continent. But Pakistan fought back, and the war ended on 23 September. Both countries' economies were badly affected and their defence forces had suffered severe blows. There was no winner, but important military lessons had been learnt. Perhaps the following description of one engagement might give an idea of some of them. It covers part of what went on in the Sialkot Sector. Sialkot Sector is only six miles from the border with India and is not a 'good tank country' because there is little room for mass manoeuvre due to the extensive canal system's interlock with the main rivers. Further, the Chenab and Jhelum rivers would be (and still are) major obstacles to movement north-westwards towards Islamabad. ref1 1 There are differing accounts of the reasons for the Indian advance towards Sialkot. It may be that the objectives were imprecise at the time of orders being issued, which is unlikely given long-standing plans for war in the west, or that they were concealed afterwards in the interests of avoiding criticism of the failure to attain them. One incontrovertible fact is that a captured Indian Army order indicated the intention to cut the Grand Trunk Road and railway at Gujranwala, but this was probably a local tactical objective. The overall plan was and remains undefined, but reasonable conjecture may be made concerning its details based on examination of Indian, Pakistani, and neutral sources. Notwithstanding any territorial imperatives, it is apparent that the Indian aim was to defeat the Pakistan Army in the field, and, according to one analysis by a distinguished academic, their accounts concerning the advance in the Sialkot sector had 'a cluster of general objectives' aiming to: • pre-empt a Pakistani advance on Jammu planned for 10 September; • draw off Pakistani forces from the Chhamb sector, • prevent Pakistan reinforcing on the Lahore front; and • draw into battle, then destroy, Pakistani armour. There does not appear to be evidence that a Pakistani plan existed to attack Jammu on 10 September. Their advance on Akhnur, twenty miles north of Jammu, had been halted five days previously and it was obvious that they could go no further without substantial reinforcement in the Chhamb area. It may well be that there was an Indian plan to draw away Pakistani forces from Chhamb and Lahore but, if so, it is open to question why they should have committed an entire corps of more than three divisions, including the premier armoured formation, to an area in which a feint would have been enough to achieve these objectives. The possibility that one objective was the destruction of Pakistan's armour is difficult to substantiate as existing before the advance, although it might have become an aim after the Pakistani armour was committed. The Indians admit they were unaware of the existence of 6th Armoured Division, which was south-west of Sialkot. Even had its location and identity been known, the defeat of two tank units would hardly have represented 'destruction of Pakistani armour.' The argument that the thrust would draw in all other Pakistani armour from elsewhere to meet with destruction does not stand up, because there could be no guarantee that all other armour would move into the Sialkot sector, and even were there a desire to do so, Indian pressure on Lahore would militate against complete withdrawal of Pakistani tanks from that area. As it happened, three more armoured regiments were brought in, but even this was hardly the concentration that would meet an objective of annihilation. Accounts differ as to how many tanks were put out of action by both sides, but if it was India's intention to win a battle of attrition this did not succeed. The advance was blunted and the Pakistanis were able to hold their positions and prevent penetration of the vital ground between Sialkot and Lahore. It appears that the Indian aim was simply to attack where it considered the enemy was weak and to gain as much ground as possible while endeavouring to keep the enemy off balance. Exploitation would come later, when either the Lahore or the Sialkot offensive was successful. This is a perfectly understandable aim, and one that might just have been achieved had it not been for the stubborn resistance of numerically inferior Pakistani formations. The Indian invasion of Pakistan in the Sialkot sector began on the night of 7/8 September on two axes: the Jammu-Sialkot road, and a parallel route some twelve miles to the south-east. 1 (Indian) Corps was commanded by a steady and experienced officer, Lt-General P O Dunn, who had been given only a few days to move his HQ from Delhi to Jammu, where he arrived on 3 September. His corps consisted of: • 26 Infantry Division, which advanced on the axis of the Jammu-Sialkot road via the Indian border village of Suchetgarh. Gulzar Ahmed claims that the division had four infantry brigades and two armoured regiments, rather than the conventional three plus one, and it appears from other sources that this was so in at least the early stages of the advance. It is likely that the extra brigade and armoured regiment were corps' assets allocated for a specific phase of the operation – but whatever the arrangements, there was a powerful punch on this axis. • 6 Mountain Division, on the southern axis, crossed the border near the Pakistani village of Charwa. It is claimed by one source that this formation and 1st Armoured Division were understrength, but no yardstick is given. A mountain division, by definition, does not have an integral armoured regiment, and the analyst may have mistaken the division's order of battle at the beginning of conflict with the organization that applied on 10/11 September, when one of its brigades came temporarily under command of the armoured division. • 1 Armoured Division joined the advance at first light on 8 September, crossing the border near Charwa and moving south-west towards Chawinda. It had two armoured brigades each of two tank regiments and a lorried infantry battalion; and a lorried infantry brigade of two battalions. Its artillery included medium and heavy guns. It was a well-balanced formation, but the division had exchanged one, and possibly two, of its Centurion-equipped regiments with Sherman regiments of 2 Independent Armoured brigade, thus reducing its clout. • Elements of 14 Infantry Division were in the area but there are conflicting accounts of its role. One source states that, 7 Mountain Division, and 1 Armoured Division advanced 'on a front stretching from exclusive of Bajra Garhi to just east of the Degh Nadi, apparently with the initial task of cutting the Sialkot-Narowal-Lahore railway. Another analyst claims it 'rolled down across the wide stretch Charwa-Bajra Garhi.' But it appears that the division was not complete in the area of operations until some days after the initial Indian assault, and even then that it had the task of covering the left flank of 1 Armoured and 6 Infantry Divisions, and the right flank of 15 Corps, which was attacking on the Lahore front. During its move to the Jammu sector from Saugor (in central India) it had apparently 'received a pasting from the PAF' and was, as a result, 'in poor shape.' • '7 Mountain Division' is mentioned by one academic in his excellent analysis but, so far as can be determined, by nobody else who has written about the war. 7 Infantry Division fought on the Lahore front, but it is possible that a misidentification occurred, resulting in confusion of 7 Mountain Division with a brigade of the same number that belonged to 6 Mountain Division. If anyone reading this can enlighten me about the matter – or any other matter – I would be grateful. In the opening stages of the battles, Pakistan's 1 Corps covered the Sialkot sector with 15 Infantry Division consisting of seven battalions in four brigades (24, 101, 104, and 115), with 25 Cavalry as its armoured regiment, and a good allocation of artillery. But there were problems, not the least of which was that 115 Brigade was fighting in the Jassar area, where it was required to remain for the rest of the war. 101 Brigade (19 Punjab and 13 FF) was the only formation directly defending Sialkot, and was located astride the main road to Jammu where it faced the onslaught of the Indian 26 Division. 24 Brigade (2 Punjab and 3 FF, plus 25 Cavalry under command) was between the border and Chawinda, which lies due east of an almost right-angled bend in the Sialkot-Lahore railway. 104 Brigade, which consisted of a single battalion, 9 Baloch, was in reserve in the area of Uggoke/Raipur, about four miles west of Sialkot. It seemed that in the Jammu/Sialkot sector, the Indian Army might be able to bring sufficient force to bear to carry the day and even win the war. India's 1 Corps advanced with two infantry divisions and an armoured division against a Pakistani armoured brigade and a single infantry division that had fragmented and understrength fighting units, no cohesive defensive plan, and some leaders of dubious quality who were already under considerable pressure. India's 1st Armoured Division was ready to exploit the advantage won by the infantry force preceding it. The way to the west seemed open. 6 Armoured Division, consisting of the Guides Cavalry, 22nd Cavalry, 1st (SP) Regiment of 25 pounder guns on tracked chassis, and ‘4th Battalion The Frontier Force Regiment’ (in fact no more than a brigade of eighty tanks, 12 guns, and 700 infantry in lorries), was in leaguer around Kot Daska, 15 miles south-west of Sialkot and 30 miles west of the border. Chawinda, where it was to win its spurs, was twenty miles away. The units moved quickly when it became apparent that the Indian invasion was taking place. In the north, two battalions of India's 26 Division crossed the border astride the Jammu-Sialkot road at about midnight on 7 September. They quickly overcame the outposts of the Sutlej Rangers (light scouting forces) but were brought to a halt by 101 Brigade and the weight of Pakistan's artillery. According to one writer, the approaches to Sialkot 'bristled with pill-boxes, bunkers and gun emplacements,' the latter including 'three field and one medium artillery regiments, one heavy battery and one heavy mortar regiment.' A concentration of this number of guns and mortars would cover an area of about 500 meters by 150 meters in which the weight of shells and mortar bombs from one round of fire from each equipment would be approximately two tons. Not only this, but the artillery was well-handled and 'some senior Indian army officers who had served in World War II likened the scale of Pakistani artillery fire to heavy concentrations in the latter stages of that war. While this is not borne out by inspection of battlefields, it does indicate that Pakistan's artillery fire was substantial and effective.' 26 Division managed to reach the village of Kalarawanda, about three miles west of the border, by the time of the cease-fire on 23 September. There was a massive effort on the part of the Indian Army on the northern axis of the Sialkot front, but an advance of only three miles cannot be called satisfactory when one considers the numerical superiority of 26 Division. The defence of Sialkot by 19 Punjab and 13 FF and their supporting gunners was more dogged than glamorous, more indefatigable than dramatic; but, their courage and tenacity were unmatching.

The writer is a France based retired officer of Australian Army and is an expert on South Asian affairs. He is also author of different books, and contributes extensively in international media.

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