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Hilal English

The Counterstrike on September 6, 1965: Saga of Pakistan Armed Forces' Response to Indian Attack

September 2023

This article delves into the events leading up to the conflict, shedding light on the origins of India's aggressive actions and Pakistan's unwavering response.

Fifty-eight years have passed since the fateful day of September 6, 1965, a date that Pakistan holds in solemn remembrance. It was on this day that unprovoked and simultaneous attacks were launched by Indian forces, aiming at the cities of Lahore and Sialkot. This marked the outset of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, a significant chapter indelibly imprinted upon the historical tapestry of the subcontinent.
The 1965 conflict, a watershed in regional history, spotlighted the indomitable spirit and gallantry of Pakistan Armed Forces. Concentrated on the Kashmir dispute, the war epitomized the unwavering commitment, unmatched valor, and strategic astuteness displayed by Pakistani soldiers, seamen, and airmen in the face of overwhelming odds. Bracing against the sheer numerical and material superiority of their Indian counterparts, Pakistan Armed Forces confronted the challenge across land, air, and sea, emerging as a formidable front.
Beyond the battlefield, the Indo-Pak War revealed an amalgamation of forces, with the military and civilian sectors rallying wholeheartedly. It was when Pakistan coalesced as a united nation, solidifying the people's unwavering support for the defense forces. Throughout the tumultuous conflict, the Pakistani military showcased unwavering bravery against an adversary wielding superior resources and numbers. This chapter in history is a tribute to the courage that fortified Pakistan's resilience, unity, and unwavering spirit against all odds.
Operations by Pakistan Army
The Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 witnessed Pakistan Army emerging as a pivotal force in safeguarding the nation's borders and orchestrating strategic counteroffensives against the Indian Army. The conflict, a tapestry of battles and strategic maneuvers, exemplified Pakistan Army's prowess and unwavering resolve. Pakistan Army was carrying out its routine duties. 25 percent of the strength was on leave cycles. The border defense was a routine peacetime defensive posture, with some army and mainly rangers manning the defensive positions, emplacements like border outposts and screen positions.

Throughout the tumultuous conflict, the Pakistani military showcased unwavering bravery against an adversary wielding superior resources and numbers. 

Defensive Excellence. Pakistan Army exhibited formidable defensive prowess across multiple sectors, including Sialkot, Lahore, Khem Karan, and the southern desert regions. Their staunch resistance thwarted Indian advances, dealing substantial blows to the opposing forces. The defense of Lahore, in particular, bore testament to Pakistan Army's tenacity against the Indian onslaught, reflecting their unyielding spirit, resilience in adversity, and strategic finesse in executing intricate defensive maneuvers.
Offensive Strikes and Counterattacks. Pakistan Army showcased its offensive capabilities through calculated counterattacks and strategic assaults against Indian positions. The Chhamb-Jaurian Sector witnessed a standout operation where Pakistan Army breached Indian defenses, claiming significant territory. Lieutenant (later Major) Shabir Sharif's audacious feat stands out—a daring assault on an Indian artillery battery, rendering three guns inoperative. In a remarkable display of resourcefulness, Major Shabir ingeniously managed to tow a 25-pounder gun back to Pakistani lines, employing an Indian truck (Shaktiman). This audacious feat underscored his tactical acumen and amplified the toll on the Indian side. Major Raza Shah Shaheed stood out for his bravery in the same battle while commanding a tank squadron of 11 Cavalry. Both were decorated with Sitara-e-Jurat. There are scores of other such episodes.
Armor Warfare Excellence. Pakistan Army's adept utilization of armored forces in tank battles showcased remarkable skill and valor. The Battle of Chawinda, nestled within the Sialkot Sector, epitomized Pakistani tank crew’s bravery in defending against a formidable Indian armored force, showcasing one of the fiercest tank battles post-World War II. The Pakistani armor showed its prowess elsewhere, too, particularly in Khem Karan Sector.  
Crucial Aerial Support. Pakistan Army received pivotal aerial backing from Pakistan Air Force (PAF), disrupting Indian supply lines and furnishing ground operations with cover. PAF's triumphs in aerial combat, notably against Indian Hunters and Vampires, significantly bolstered defense strategies. The skirmishes above Chhamb notably culminated in the Pakistani F-86 Sabres downing four Indian Vampire fighter jets, affirming their aerial dexterity.
Artillery and Infantry Excellence. Pakistan Army strategically employed artillery fire and infantry tactics, upholding strategic points and repelling Indian advances. The capture of Indian artillery and the adept use of artillery support underscored the Army's tactical finesse and seamless coordination.
Resilience and Determination. Pakistan Army's indomitable spirit stood firm against superior Indian might. In the face of adversity, they rallied their strength to launch resolute counterattacks and sustain their defense.

Exemplary Leadership. Pakistani Army's actions underlined their commitment to preserving national sovereignty and their adeptness in confronting a formidable adversary. The leadership, from top commanders to section-level officers, was exceptional. Notably, the Chhamb-Jaurian Sector served as a testament to their precision operations, shattering Indian defenses and extending their control from the Line of Control to the Akhnur Bridge. The ground battle for saving Lahore and allied strategic areas stands out. 
Operations in Brief: Pakistan Army
Kashmir Sector. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, Pakistan Army was involved in several military skirmishes in the Kashmir region. The escalation began on April 1, 1965, converted in to full-fledged war on September 6 and lasted until September 23, 1965. 

The Battle of Chawinda, nestled within the Sialkot Sector, epitomized Pakistani tank crew’s bravery in defending against a formidable Indian armored force, showcasing one of the fiercest tank battles post-World War II.

Sialkot Sector. The Indians drew first blood when they attacked Sialkot on September 6, 1965, when Pakistan Army was not even manning its main defensive positions. Sialkot Sector was one of the main theatres of conflict between the Indian and Pakistani forces. 
Pakistan Army launched a major counter-offensive in the Sialkot Sector to capture key areas and pressure the Indian defenses. The sector was strategically important due to its proximity to the city of Sialkot, which was a crucial transportation and communication hub.
One of the most prominent battles in the Sialkot Sector was the Battle of Chawinda. Pakistani forces launched an offensive to capture the town of Chawinda, located near the border with India. The battle lasted several days and saw intense fighting between the two sides. 
Another significant engagement in the Sialkot Sector was the Battle of Phillora. Pakistani forces attempted to capture the town of Phillora—the battle involved tank warfare and artillery exchanges, where heroic actions were witnessed at tactical levels. Pakistan Army could defend its territory and retake some lost territories. The operations in the Sialkot Sector were marked by intense fighting and heavy casualties on both sides. 
Lahore Sector. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, the Lahore Sector witnessed intense military operations between the Indian and Pakistani forces. It was the Indians who attacked Lahore on the morning of September 6, when Pakistan Army was on regular border watch and not in battle positions. By the time Pakistan Army entered its operational area, Indian Army had already penetrated the Pakistan defenses. It was here that the PAF saved the day not only for Pakistan Army but the whole nation because the advancing columns of the Indian Army were reduced to rubble by the PAF's No. 19 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Sajjad Haider and his team. The Indian historians have acknowledged this in different books. A monument dedicated to the heroic action of the 19th Squadron adorns the 4 Corps operational area in remembrance. 
One of the significant engagements in the Lahore Sector was the Battle of Burki. In this battle, Pakistani forces attacked the Indian positions near the village of Burki, located southeast of Lahore. The battle was fierce, with both sides suffering casualties. The war ended without major territorial changes. 
Sulaimanki Sector. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, the Sulaimanki Sector was a significant theatre of military operations between the Pakistani and Indian forces. The sector is located in the southern part of Punjab, near the international border between the two countries. Pakistan Army conducted several operations in the Sulaimanki Sector as part of its broader strategy to engage Indian forces and achieve tactical objectives. One of the key objectives for Pakistan was to capture territory, especially beyond Sulaimanki Headworks, to protect, provide more strategic depth to our defenses and put pressure on Indian defenses in this sector. The operations in the Sulaimanki Sector were marked by heavy fighting and casualties, where Pakistan Army achieved its objectives. 
Another notable operation in the Sulaimanki Sector was the Battle of Dograi and Bedian. Pakistani forces launched an offensive to capture the Indian-held town of Dograi and the nearby village of Bedian. These areas were strategically crucial due to their proximity to the Sutlej River and their potential impact on the Indian defense lines. The Battle of Dograi was particularly fierce, with intense fighting between the two sides. The events of the war, including the operations in the Sulaimanki Sector, continue to be studied and analyzed by historians and military experts to understand the strategies, tactics, and outcomes of the conflict.
Khem Karan Sector. This sector was a strategically significant theatre of operations during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. The sector is located in northwestern India, near the international border with Pakistan. The war was marked by intense battles and military engagements as both countries sought to achieve their objectives.

Pakistan Army conducted several operations in the Khem Karan Sector as part of its larger military strategy. The sector held importance due to its proximity to the town of Khem Karan and its strategic location in defense of Punjab.
One of the most notable battles in the Khem Karan Sector was the Battle of Asal Uttar. Pakistani forces launched an offensive to capture the Indian town of Khem Karan and advance deeper into Indian territory. The operations in the Khem Karan Sector were marked by heavy fighting and losses on both sides. 
Desert Sector. The Desert Sector, also known as the Rajasthan Sector, was a crucial theatre of operations during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. This sector encompassed the vast desert regions in the western part of India, near the international border with Pakistan. The war in this sector witnessed significant military engagements and strategic maneuvering.
Pakistan Army conducted several operations in the Desert Sector as part of its military strategy during the conflict. The operations in the Desert Sector were marked by fierce fighting and significant casualties on both sides. The battles in this sector were characterized by tank warfare, as India and Pakistan deployed armored units in the desert terrain.
Ceasefire and End of Operations. The war between India and Pakistan ended with a ceasefire on September 23, 1965. The ceasefire agreement halted all military operations and hostilities along the border, including the Desert Sector. In summary, the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 showcased Pakistan Army's unwavering dedication to safeguarding the nation, defying odds against a larger adversary. Amidst challenging circumstances, Pakistani soldiers demonstrated unparalleled courage, mirrored by their exceptional leadership. This conflict etched a defining chapter in history, underscoring Pakistan Army's strategic insight and valor.
Pakistan Navy
In March 1965, the Indian military conducted a joint exercise called "Arrow Head," a naval maneuver involving a brigade group along with INS Vikrant and a fleet of seven destroyers and frigates in the Gulf of Kutch operational area. During this exercise, the Indian forces engaged in a comprehensive array of naval operations, focusing on carrier-based activities. These encompassed anti-submarine measures, anti-aircraft defense, airstrikes, and reconnaissance missions. In April of the same year, clashes erupted between Indian and Pakistani forces in the Rann of Kutch region.
As tension escalated, Pakistan Navy (PN) initiated patrols of the approaches to Karachi, extending southeastwards from April 1965. PNS Babur, initially a training ship, underwent conversion into an operational cruiser. All operational units, including the submarine PNS Ghazi, were elevated to complete operational readiness during this period. The standoff persisted for four months until an international tribunal intervened and called for an end to hostilities. In response to intelligence gleaned from the Kutch operations, the PN Headquarters strategized to position PNS Ghazi off Bombay in early September 1965, a strategic move intended to provide advanced warning capabilities.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities and India's assaults on Lahore and Sialkot, the Navy was tasked with a mission to neutralize an Indian coastal radar base located in Dwarka, which was aiding Indian Air Force strikes on Karachi. A Task Group comprising seven PN vessels, including the cruiser Babur and destroyers Khaibar, Badr, Shahjahan, Alamgir, Jahangir, and Tipu Sultan, was dispatched for a midnight bombardment operation codenamed 'Operation Somnath' on September 7-8, 1965. The operation achieved its goals, and the PN ships promptly resumed their patrolling routines off Karachi. On September 18, 1965, two PN destroyers and the cruiser BABUR were assigned to protect the Pakistan merchant ship MV Bagh-e-Karachi in the Gulf of Aden. The merchant ship, laden with vital supplies for PAF, was escorted safely back to Karachi, marking another successful operation. In a separate engagement on September 22, 1965, PNS Ghazi, stationed off Bombay, identified two contacts later confirmed as Indian Navy frigates. After tracking them meticulously for a day, PNS Ghazi positioned itself, launching a precise attack at 1912 hours, resulting in direct hits after a full day of investigation and pursuit. These events underline the strategic acumen, resilience, and effectiveness of Pakistan Navy during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, as they adeptly carried out critical operations, safeguarding Pakistan's interests and assets.
Pakistan Air Force
PAF played a pivotal and transformative role during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965. Despite facing numerical and technological disadvantages compared to IAF, PAF's strategic acumen, daring tactics, and unwavering commitment reshaped the conflict dynamics. Here's an overview of the PAF's contributions during the war: 
Preemptive Strikes. PAF launched preemptive airstrikes on Indian air bases, particularly targeting the forward bases, to disrupt IAF's operational capabilities. These attacks, including strikes on Adampur, Halwara, and Pathankot, forced IAF to evacuate their advanced airfields, thereby gaining an initial air superiority in the conflict zone.
Air Superiority. PAF achieved air superiority over crucial battle areas despite being outnumbered and outgunned. This accomplishment was vital in safeguarding Pakistan's ground operations and preventing Indian air dominance, allowing the Pakistani ground forces to operate more effectively.
Aerial Combat. PAF engaged in numerous aerial dogfights with IAF, demonstrating remarkable skill and tenacity. The Pakistani pilots, flying American-built F-86 Sabre jets, showcased their proficiency in aerial combat against IAF's more modern aircraft. These encounters underscored PAF's competence and ability to hold their own against technologically advanced adversaries. The general public saw some of these battles over Sargodha, Lahore, Sialkot and Chhamb-Jaurian sectors. 
▪ Strategic Bombing. PAF conducted strategic bombing missions deep into Indian territory, targeting key military installations, industrial centers, and infrastructure. These attacks inflicted substantial damage and compelled the Indian military to divert resources from the frontline to protect their hinterland.
▪ Close Air Support. PAF provided crucial close air support to ground troops, aiding them in battles by suppressing enemy positions and facilitating advances. This support helped Pakistan Army break through Indian defenses and make strategic gains.
Innovative Tactics. PAF employed innovative tactics to maximize their impact with limited resources. Notably, they utilized B-57 bombers for night bombing missions, exploiting the cover of darkness to evade enemy defenses and cause significant disruption.

The writer is a military historian and biographer. 
E-mail: [email protected]