In Focus

Bridge Too Far: The Battle of Jassar Enclave

The Battle of Jassar Enclave reflects the grit and resolve of Pakistani troops which displayed the highest degree of courage and steadfastness in the face of fierce enemy attacks.

On August 29, 1965, General Akhtar gave his verbal orders to the Brigade Commanders at his tactical headquarters established at Kharian. Three days later, from Munawer Gap, disaster fell on Indians in the form of bold thrust of Pakistani 12 Division. It was the night of September 1, around 0330 hours; the darkness that had enveloped Munawer Gap was suddenly lit by the bright flames emerging from the thundering muzzles of 110 artillery pieces of Pakistani IV Corps artillery. This flamboyant fanfare of artillery announced the commencement of Operation Grand Slam. Every inch of ground tasted the medicine of heavy pounding; for Indians it was just one step short of hell. By the first light of September 2, Chhamb was captured by 102 Brigade and green pennants were proudly fluttering on the captured town. Commander Indian Western Command, Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh writes1, “Pak offensive was to be carried out as a ‘blitzkrieg’ operation with the intention of capturing the strategic town of Akhnur. Depending on its success, the combat group was to penetrate deeper into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with a view of capturing the Jammu-Srinagar road. The operation was aptly named Grand Slam”. 
Far from the battlefields of Chhamb, the last golden glimmers of the dying sun were casting a hue on Garrison Camp, a peacetime accommodation for the unit deployed on border security duty at Jassar Enclave. The camp itself was resonating with tangent opinions of the comrades, those still in the spell of optimism, believed that India would not violate the sanctity of international border and war would remain confined to the disputed territory, and others thought otherwise. From the Indian perspective, she had two options, either to reinforce the sector under attack or open another front to release the pressure on Aknur. This bold maneuver of Pakistan had indeed created much anxiety in Indian camp or perhaps presented Indians a fait accompli in that sector. Subsequently, the then Indian Prime Minister, Shastri gave green signal to the Indian Army Chief, General Chaudhuri, to cross the Rubicon, permission to cross the international border. According to Bhupinder Singh2, “Indian Army Chief, General Chaudhuri appeared to be nervous about the situation and the idea of crossing the international border did not appeal to him”. Finally, under the pressure of Indian Prime Minister, comforting assurances by Corps Commanders and persuasion by Lieutenant General Kashmir Singh Katoch (Commander Indian XV Corps), Indian Army Chief decided to launch an offensive across the international border.
On September 6, 1965, the initial rays of the rising sun were yet to embrace the fields of Jassar Enclave when Indian artillery opened up. The calm that prevailed over the old colonial bridge and the Garrison Camp was broken by the sound of artillery shelling, which was pounding almost every square. Indian artillery arsenal constituting all calibers was engaging all anticipated targets inside the Jassar Enclave, around the bridge, flood embankments and the Garrison Camp of 3 Punjab. Troops in the trenches could make out that this prelude of shelling was a harbinger of impending Indian attack. Had the Indian offensive of I and XI corps (Sialkot and Lahore/Kasur sectors respectively) been one integrated operation, the attack on Jassar Enclave would have been a classic feint. But this was not the case; Indian offensive was more of a ‘self defense measure’. It was neither a feint nor any diversionary attack, as evident from the abstract from Bhupinder Singh’s book,3 1965 War: Role of Tanks in India-Pakistan War, which states, “Jassar bridge afforded Pakistan the advantage of bringing troops across the river to the Indian side of the river” which was considered as a real threat to Indian XI Corps’ offence in Lahore and Kasur sectors. It was more of a preemptive strike to ward off the threat from the right flank to Indian forces (15, 7 and 4 Division) which were to be launched in Lahore and Kasur sectors. To meet these ends, General J. S. Dhillon (Commander Indian XI Corps) launched 29 Infantry Brigade for capturing Jassar Enclave. This Brigade (constituting 2 Madras, 2 Rajputana Rifles, 1/5 Gurkha Rifles, 5 Field Regiment and Engineers Field Company) under Brigadier Pritam Singh was given the task of capturing the Pakistani enclave (referring to Jassar Enclave), east of River Ravi in Dera Baba Nanak area and capturing the bridge intact, if possible4.  This reflects that Indians were apprehensive, if not fearful, of Pakistan’s breakthrough across River Ravi through Jassar Enclave, a ready-made bridgehead, although Pakistan had no such grand designs. Interestingly, Pakistan was also anticipating Indian breakthrough from Jassar into Sialkot Sector and both armies wanted to hold Jassar from a defensive point of view – to seal off the other’s breakthrough. Nevertheless, these fears resonated much louder in Indian ears, whose remedy manifested itself in the form of an attack on Jassar Enclave. This attack on Jassar Enclave was synchronized with 7 and 15 Divisions’ attacks in Lahore Sector starting at 0400 hours (Indian standard time) on September 6, 1965. After the heavy dose of artillery fire, 1/5 Gorkha Rifles and 2 Madras were unleashed from the firm base, which was secured by 2 Rajputana Rifles. The south-eastern end of the bridge at the far bank which was held by two platoons of C Company of 3 Punjab was the objective of 1/5 Gurkha Rifles. The remaining platoons of the C Company were at the home bank of the bridge. These two Pakistani platoons on the far end of the bridge, despite being outnumbered, gave an impressive account of grit and valor. They kept on fighting till the Gurkhas reached at bayonets’ length. But in the end, the overwhelming numerical superiority of Gurkhas carried the day for them and they managed to capture the south-eastern exit of the bridge. On the right of Gurkhas, 2 Madras was to attack the flood embankments occupied by A Company of Pakistani 3 Punjab. The Madrassis launched their attack with requisite spirit and resolve, but the momentum of this spirited Indian attack was brought to a grinding halt by valiant men of A Company who managed to push the attackers back. After the first light, a few Indian aircraft, in all probabilities the Vampires and Dassaults also strafed the locations of Pakistani troops, but could not cause much damage neither in their morale, nor in men and material. At around 1100 hours, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Pakistan’s 15 Division, Brigadier Ismail also arrived at Battalion Headquarters (HQ) to assess the situation. Subsequently, a counterattack was ordered to evict the enemy on the far end of the bridge. The counterattack was to be launched at 1235 hours on September 6, constituting troops of tanks of 33 Tank Delivery Unit (TDU) and sixteen men of third platoon of C Company under the command of their brave Company Commander, Captain Asghar Ali.    
Before the designated time of counterattack, the engines of the old Pakistani tanks started, linear motion of worn out pistons was converted into rotatory motion by crank shaft, finally giving momentum to the sprockets of these WW-2 tanks. The metal tracks of the vintage Sherman tanks rolled over the vintage metal bridge, creating unnerving melodies for Gurkhas holding the far end of the bridge. This daring and sudden onslaught of a handful daring men of C Company and three tanks of 33 TDU expelled the well-determined Gurkhas. The possession of southern end of the bridge was again in the hands of Pakistan. As per 115 Brigade’s war account, Indians lost 200 men and 16 were taken prisoner. The war diary of 33 TDU records:
“No battle manual would have approved of tanks going over a long and narrow defile like Jassar bridge…... during broad daylight when the other end was strongly held by the enemy and heavily shelled and strafed, however, for troops with a high degree of determination, there are no fixed rules and regulations…. The task had to be done and was done successfully by the gallant troops of Naib Risaldar Abdul Aziz”.
When the Pakistani tanks emerged at the far end of the bridge, this sight created a surge in the morale of A Company, men stood up in their trenches and raised the war cries. C Company was now wholly across the bridge and was further reinforced by platoons of Bravo and Delta Companies. 3 Punjab was itself reinforced by D Company 4 FF. Meanwhile, Dharam Enclave (Indian enclave opposite Narowal and south of Jassar Enclave) was also cleared by 4 FF and A Squadron 33 TDU on the orders of Brigadier Muzafarudin, (Commander Pakistan 115 Brigade). On the night of September 6 and 7, 2 Madras Battalion made three more attempts to rush 3 Punjab’s positions in the enclave, but they met stiff resistance from the defenders. 
After the setback of losing the southern end of the bridge, Brigadier Pritam Singh decided to employ his third unit, 2 Rajputana Rifles, to recapture the southern end of the bridge, which by then had exchanged hands twice. To ensure success, Chief Engineer Indian XI Corps Brigadier Bhide and Lieutenant Colonel Chhaju Ram (G-1 Ops HQ XI Corps) were also sent to HQ 29 Brigade. This second attack was launched by 2 Rajputana Rifles along with a squadron of tanks at 0245 hours on the night of September 7 and 8, mainly directed towards the bridge. The Indian attack made a slow progress owing to stiff resistance by defenders. 2 Madras (on the right of 2 Rajputana Rifles), whose task was to capture the flood protection embankment held by A Company and B Company, also met stiff resistance and they started heading towards the bridge held by C Company, hence the weight of almost two Indian battalions and an armour squadron fell on C Company which was holding the southern exit of the bridge. Despite these odds, the Company remained firm on its feet till the end.  In the ensuing battle, Lieutenant Kaleem who was commanding one of the platoons of C Company embraced shahadat and Company Commander Captain Asghar received bayonet and a bullet wound. It was not before 0630 hours on September 7 that the southeastern end of the bridge was again in Indian hands after a fierce fight stretching over three hours. 
Demolition of Jassar Bridge
Coming back to September 6, as a result of the success of the first Indian attack and the likelihood of subsequent Indian attacks, Pakistani 15 Brigade was naturally apprehensive of Indian breakthrough in this sector. Therefore, a Field Platoon of 7 Engineers (which had reached Jassar enclave on the night of September 5 and 6) was given the daunting task of preparing the bridge for demolition. Lieutenant Muhammad Javed of 7 Engineers who was commanding the platoon of a handful sappers was to carry out this arduous and challenging task of destroying the bridge. On his arrival in the enclave on the night of September 5 and 6, he, on his own initiative, placed his platoon on the home bank of the bridge (northwestern exit of the bridge) along with the depth platoons of C Company of 3 Punjab (the remaining two platoons of C Company were on the far end of the bridge). As mentioned earlier, the first Indian attack of 1/5 Gurkha Rifles which commenced around 0400 hours on September 6 (Indian standard time) fell on two forward platoons of 3 Punjab at the far end of the bridge (southeastern exit of the bridge), after putting up a brave fight, infantry platoons fell back on the home bank. Being with the platoons of the C Company of 3 Punjab on the home bank, this sapper platoon also faced the brunt of the Indian attack just after a few hours of their arrival in the enclave. In the face of the Indian attack, Lieutenant Javed immediately went into defense in conjunction with platoons of C Company, 3 Punjab. He and his platoon put up a gallant fight and kept the enemy at bay which by now had captured the far bank (southeastern exit). Lieutenant Javed, putting his life in danger, went around coordinating their fires amidst the intense enemy shelling. Enemy’s 3 inch mortars which were fiercely pounding the Pakistani side of the bridge were detected by Lieutenant Javed. He directed effective automatic fire of his platoon on the enemy positions, which silenced the enemy mortars. Owing to the professional prowess and acumen of this team of courageous sappers, the process of preparing the bridge for demolition started within two hours of the first Indian attack dated September 65. This was incontrovertibly an uphill task, taking into account the quantum and panoply of enemy shelling and automatic fires which was continuously directed towards the bridge. Lieutenant Javed fought through the night and up to 1600 hours on September 6 till the time counterattack on the far bank of the bridge by tanks of 33 TDU and platoon of 3 Punjab met success. After the successful conclusion of the counterattack, Lieutenant Javed of 7 Engineers resumed the preparation of the bridge for demolition. The bridge was still under Indian artillery and small arms fire, but the officer along with Naib Subedar Mirza Khan of 7 Engineers supervised the task of fixing charges and connecting up the firing circuit. Even after the bridge was ready for demolition, he personally went to inspect the firing circuits and sent the repair team to the locations where the break had occurred. On September 7, home bank of the bridge was attacked by a party of the enemy, Lieutenant Javed along with Naik Abdul Aziz fought off the party and prevented them from breaking the firing circuit and overrunning the firing point. Due to undaunted resolve and steadfastness of the sappers, demolition was completed by 0130 hours on September 7.6
On September 7, at 0750 hours, Brigadier Ismael, GOC 15 Division gave the verdict for demolition of Jassar bridge which was materialized at 0800 hours the same day, unveiling itself with the sound of tremendous explosion. A and B Companies of 3 Punjab which were entrenched across the bridge at the far end, after discarding their non-essential stores, wadded across the river to the home bank. Alpha Company reached home bank without much trouble. Whereas, in B Company, non-swimmers were divided into small groups and escorted across the water channel by those who could swim. Their weapons and other equipment were ferried across by the swimmers. Considering the intensity of fighting during the first two days (September 6 and 7) and the ordeal of crossing River Ravi under shelling, casualties of 3 Punjab were amazingly low. The unit had 12 shuhada (six on each day) and fifteen wounded (seven on September 6). 33 TDU suffered 2 fatal casualties and 17 were wounded7
On September 18, 29 Indian Brigade was placed under 4 Mountain Division and subsequently launched futile Indian attacks to capture Khem Keran on September 22. Shortly after the commencement of Indian offensive at the Sialkot front, Pakistan’s 115 Brigade’s units were moved north. 115 Brigade was left with 3 Punjab and 33 TDU less its A and B Squadrons. During the remaining days of the war, Jassar Enclave witnessed only artillery duels and a few airstrikes.
The Battle of Jassar Enclave reflects the grit and resolve of Pakistani troops which displayed the highest degree of courage and steadfastness in the face of fierce enemy attacks. It’s an anecdote of audacity and fearlessness of our brave officers and men, written with their blood.

1. Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, “War Despatches: Indo Pak Conflict 1965”, Lancers International, B-3 Gulmohar Park, New Dehli, 1991, p 57.
2. Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed (retired)."History of Indo-Pak War-1965”, Oxford University Press, 2006, p 141.
3. Bhupinder Singh, Lt Col (retd), “1965 War: Role of Tanks in India-Pakistan War”, BC Publishers, Patiala India, April 1982, p 175.
4. “History of Indo-Pak War-1965”, p 343.
5. Ibid, p 347.
6. Ibid, p 349 and 350.
7. Harbaksh Singh, Lt Gen, “War Despatches: Indo Pak Conflict 1965”.

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