The Battle for Ravi-Sutlej Corridor 1965

A Strategic and Operational Analysis

Columnist A H Amin analyses this axis as a focal point of battle between India and Pakistan.

The Indian attack on Lahore in particular and Ravi-Sutlej Corridor in general has remained the subject of too much propaganda and too little analysis. On Pakistani side the Battle for Lahore was seen as a superhuman effort while on the Indian side it exposed many glaring weaknesses in the Indian Army at unit, brigade, divisional and corps level.

On the other hand the total failure of the main Pakistani attack in Khem Karan was ignored or forgotten in the smoke screen of glory created by official propagandists who successfully shifted the entire public attention on laurels of Aziz Bhatti etc. Thus, many glaring failures like surrender of an entire tank regiment on Pakistani side in Khem Karan were overlooked. If Niranjan Parshad was sacked on the Indian side no one realized that the Pakistani GOC 1st  Armoured Division survived unceremonious dismissal simply because he was close to the then army chief.

Unfortunately, instead of dispassionate analysis the Battle for Lahore or Ravi-Sutlej Corridor  as one may call it was overclouded by tales of heroism at individual and unit level on the Pakistani side.On the Indian side, it led to various drastic changes in high command and re-thinking about unit employment. After the war, Indian High Command spent a very large fortune on increasing terrain friction by construction of spurs, bunds, drains etc to ensure that something like a tank thrust against their strategic line of communication to Kashmir and Amritsar  may never again take place. In 1971, thus little activity took place in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor and the emphasis shifted to area south of Sutlej.

We will analyse the corps level battle in this article in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor in 1965 which involved a total force of some five infantry divisions and one armoured division and an independent armoured brigade.

Orientation withthe battle area

The Ravi-Sutlej Corridor from the point where the River Ravi finally enters Pakistan near BRB Syphon north of Lahore till Kasur measures roughly 160,000 yards in frontage. The main Pakistani town Lahore, a place which had immense strategic, political as well as psychological significance for Pakistan was located just 29 kilometres from the border while the main Indian town Amritsar was about 28 kilometres from the border. Khem-Karan, a small Indian town which made many headlines in the first four days of the war was located about 60 kilometres south west of Amritsar and 5 kilometres to the border. Ravi, the river comprising the northern boundary of the corridor was relatively smaller than Sutlej, the river which formed the southern boundary of the corridor and entered Pakistan in the Sejhra Bulge, going into India again for a few miles into Hussainiwala Headworks before re-entering Pakistan again a few miles south of Kasur, a small Pakistani town 5 kilometres from the border. Since there was no natural boundary between India or Pakistan in this corridor, Pakistan had constructed the BRBL (Bambanwalla Ravi Bedian Link) Canal which the Indians referred to as Ichhogil Canal. The BRBL canal ran from north to south from Ravi in the north till Sutlej in the south, after it entered the corridor passing through a siphon on the Ravi from Sialkot District. The canal was constructed in the 1950s with the express purpose of serving as a defence obstacle  against a  possible Indian attack on Lahore. Its western banks were higher than its eastern banks to provide good fields of fire and observation  for the defender and lined with bunkers. It was approximately five metres deep and 45 metres wide and was a “complete water obstacle”, formidable in subcontinental terms where attack across water obstacles was regarded as a formidable and extremely difficult operation!1 The BRB running in a nearly ninety degree direction flows 5 to 14 kilometres from the Indian border. It has various branches which run from east to west like the Lahore Branch, Kasur Branch. All these branches ran from northeast to southwest  and thus no cause of any ground friction for any attacker advancing from east to west. The BRB crossed the GT Road at Dograi a village located on its east bank. The other obstacles in the corridor were the Hudiara Drain, Rohi Nala and the Nikasu Nala. The first two could be crossed with minor engineer effort or recce while the third required greater engineer effort. Both Ravi and Sutlej were complete water obstacles with width varying from 150 to 350 metres and were in near full flow  in the season. The fields of fire in the area were limited from 300 yards to 1200 yards and the area near the canals, their branches and the nalas were boggy, limiting tank movement and requiring careful reconnaissance. The main roads in the area were the GT Road linking Lahore with Amritsar and onwards to Jullundhur and Ludhiana. Lahore-Harike Road linking Lahore with Ferozepur-Ludhiana  Road  and the Ferozpur Road linking Lahore with Ferozpur, after passing through Kasur and crossing the Sutlej over the Hussainiwala Headworks near Ferozpur. The major bridges from where the BRB could be crossed were at Dograi on the GT Road, Bhaini, Malikpur, Bedian, Barki, Kasur etc. In addition, there were various aquaducts and viaducts on the BRB. The area had thick vegetation trees etc and various crops specially sugar cane severely limited fields of observation and fire.

Indian Plan

The Indian war plan was finalized on 9th August 1965.2 The plan envisaged a major attack in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor employing 11 Corps (4 Mountain Division, 7 Infantry Division and 15 Infantry Division) along three axis i.e 15 Infantry Division on Amritsar-Lahore axis, 7 Infantry Division on Khalra-Barki-Lahore  axis and 4 Mountain Division on Khem Karan-Kasur axis. Each division had two brigades while their third brigade was held by the 11 Corps as reserve or for other tasks. 29 Brigade (ex-7 Division)  was directly under corps headquarter and tasked to defend the area opposite the Dera Baba Nanak Enclave, Dharm Enclave and the Jassar Bridge. The corps boundary of the 11 Corps extended from  Dera Baba Nanak (Included) some 56 Kilometre North of Amritsar in the north till the north bank of Sutlej River in the south and onwards till Ganganagar which was defended by 67 Infantry Brigade (three battalions) supported by 4 Independent Squadron (Sherman-75mm). The 2 Independent Armoured Brigade was the corps reserve of 11 Corps. It consisted of 3rd Cavalry (Centurions) and 8th Light Cavalry (AMX-13). 15 Infantry Division had 14 Scinde Horse (Shermans-76 mm), and 1st Skinners Horse (Shermans) an additional regiment which was on move on 6th September 1965 from Benares to the frontline. This unit joined the 15 Division only on 11th September. The 7th Division’s integral armour unit was the 21 Central India Horse (Sherman-75mm) while the 4th Mountain Division (less 33 Mountain Brigade deployed on Chinese border)   had the 9 Deccan Horse (Sherman-76 mm). In addition after 6th September the 7th Light Cavalry (PT-76) equipped with fully amphibious PT-76 tanks was moved to the corps area with restrictions placed on the unit for utilization in only highly sensitive missions because of conversion and armour vulnerability reasons since the PT-76  was newly inducted and had very thin armour plates. This brigade also had 1 Field Regiment (SP) and 1 Dogra (Lorry borne). In addition the corps also had a reserve infantry brigade i.e 96 Infantry Brigade (three infantry units) (ex-15 Division) initially placed at Tarn Taran.

The reader may note that Joginder Singh claims that at one point General Harbaksh Singh had agreed to transfer 7 Division to 1 Indian Corps involved in Operation Nepal opposite Chawinda but the decision was changed on Joginder’s remonstrances to the Indian  Army chief. This if done would have left a big gap in between Indian 15 and 4 Mountain Division.3

Each Indian division had an organic artillery brigade known as divisional artillery in Pakistan. In addition there was the 21 Independent Artillery  Brigade consisting of one medium and one heavy regiment.

In addition the 11 Corps was also given three other formations which were not in its area of operations on 6th September 1965.These were 41 Mountain Brigade (forced to move to Akhnur after Grand Slam), 50 Para Brigade which was on move from Agra to 11 Corps area on 6th September and the 23 Mountain Division which was initially Indian Army Reserve and did not arrive in the battle area and had no influence on the conduct of operations till end of the war. The reader may note that this formation was last ordered to concentrate in area Dera Baba Nanak by 26th September 19654 while ceasefire took place on night 22/23rd September 1965.

In the strategic sense the prime Indian aim in 11 Corps area was to launch a thrust at Pakistani vital centre of Lahore which would compel Pakistan to “retain large portion of her reserves in that Sector”.5

Another major strategic benefit that the Indians visualised to derive from 11 Corps attack was ensuring defence of Indian territory in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor by utilising the BRB as a water obstacle. The Indian planners had assessed that with all territory from the border till BRBL in Indian hands the Indian territory in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor was secure against any Pakistani attack. This was so since no water obstacle like BRB was available with the Indians for the defence of their side of the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor.

The reader may note that before the war if Joginder Singh the Chief of Staff Western Command is to be believed some people (Harbaksh Singh) in the Indian Higher Command regarded the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor as indefensible and were in favour of taking a defensive position on the Beas River.6

In classical strategic terms the Indian 11 Corps attack was a “Thrust” defined by Andre Beaufre as  “Reach  a vulnerable point in spite of opposition of the enemy” and aimed at “Depriving the enemy of his freedom of action by wearing him down”.7

In pure operational order terminology 11 Corps tasks were:—8

Advance to the Ichogil Canal (BRBL) along the axes GT Road, Bhikiwind-Khalra and Bhikiwind-Khem Karan to capture Pakistani territory from opposite Ranian inclusive to its junction with Dipalpur Canal opposite Hussainiwala inclusive and capture intact:—

a. GT Road Bridge over Ichogil Canal.

b. GT/Jallo Link Road Bridge. Barki Bridge over Ichogil Canal.

c. Destroy any enemy which may enter the Punjab and Ganga Nagar Sector in Rajhastan.

d. Simultaneously with point “a” above eliminate Bridgehead in the area Dera Baba Nanak, and if possible        capture the bridge intact.

e. Finally on completion of task “a”, be prepared to continue the advance to Lahore.

15 Division Plan

Translated into tangible terminology the above mentioned objectives were to be acomplished by commencing the advance of 15 Infantry Division in two phases. In Phase One commencing on night 5/6 September with two brigades and one task force. 54 Infantry Brigade (three battalions) of this divison supported by a tank squadron (14 Scinde Horse)  and engineer field company was to advance along GT Road after crossing the international border at 0400 Hours 6th September and capture two bridges on BRB at Jallo and Dograi. Simultaneously, a battalion group task force i.e 1 Jat (ex-38 Infantry Brigade) half  tank squadron (14 Scinde Horse), engineer field company,  under direct command of HQ 15 Division were to capture road bridge in area Bhaini-Dhilwal. In the second phase not before six hours  after 0400 Hours 38 Infantry Brigade was to capture area Bhasin and Dograich.

7 Division Plan

The 7 Infantry Division was also given a two phase plan. In Phase one, it was to advance with one infantry brigade (48 Brigade) supported by tank squadron less one troop (21 Central India Horse) advancing along axis Khalra-Barki capturing Barki and securing the adjacent bridge over the Ichogil Canal (BRBL) by last light 6th September. Simultaneously and independent task force directly under 7 Division Headquarter comprising 17 Rajput and one tank troop (21 Central India Horse), supported by a regiment strength of artillery and a field company of engineers was to cross the border at axis Wan-Bedian and secure Bedian by last light 6th September. In Phase two, 65 Infantry Brigade was to carry out mopping up operations along BRBL and also destroy all bridges on BRBL within 7 Division area of responsibility.

4 Mountain Division Plan

4 Mountain Division comprising two infantry brigades and one tank regiment (9 Deccan Horse) was the southern most division of the advancing force. It was tasked to secure Pakistani territory upto Ichhogil Canal which in this area was just about 4 kilometres from the Indian border, destroying bridge over Ichhogil Canal over road Khem Karan-Kasur and to occupy a defensive sector to contain possible Pakistani offensive consisting of an armoured division and two infantry brigades. This division was also assigned the support of 2 Indian Independent Armoured Brigade on priority.

The reader may note that initially the Indian planners had correctly assessed that Pakistani 1st Armoured Division may be employed in this sector. However, once Pakistan’s 7th Infantry Division the sister division of the 1st Armoured Division had moved into Gujrat area the Indian Intelligence equally incompetent  like their Pakistani counterparts had by September assessed that the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division was in  Wazirabad area!9

Thus the 11 Corps was in a relaxed mood and had no clue that the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division was dispersed in Changa Manga Forest area about to commence an attack which in leading Indian military analyst Ravi Rikhyes word had the potential to be India’s Fourth Battle of Panipat.

Pakistani Plan 10 Division Plan

The Pakistani plan in this corridor had two different dimensions. One was the defence of Lahore the prime Pakistani defensive consideration. The second was the main Pakistani attack originating from Kasur aimed at severing the entire Indian 11 Corps line of communication. There were three Pakistani divisions in the corridor. The 10 Division responsible for defence of Lahore from BRB Syphon till Bedian in the south a frontage of approximately 60,000 yards.10 The newly raised 11 Division responsible for defence of the area from Bedian till and including Hussainiwala Headworks, a total frontage of some  100,000 yards11  in gunner terminology!

The 10 Division had three infantry brigades, two of which were deployed in defensive role and one along with a tank regiment (23 Cavalry), two infantry battalions, a field artillery regiment in direct support  and an R & S Company was designated as the  Division Strike Force responsible for counterattacks.Before the war this brigade had been trained to carry out counterattacks to destroy any enemy penetration west of BRBL. The reader may note that 23 Cavalry had one M-47 Squadron while the remaining two squadrons were equipped with Shermans.12 The TDU regiments were also equipped with Shermans.

114 Brigade was responsible for defence of Ravi Syphon through Bhaini Bridge till and including the main GT Road at Wagah. It had three infantry battalions, an R & S Company less one platoon, a TDU tank squadron (30 TDU) and was directly supported by a field artillery regiment. The main defensive positions of the brigade were on the BRBL.

103 Brigade was responsible for defence of area excluding GT Road till Bedian. It had two infantry battalions, a TDU tank squadron (30 TDU), an R & S Company less a platoon, and a field artillery regiment in direct support.

The 10 Divisional artillery’s strong point and one which gave it a marked advantage over the Indians, was in possession of 30 Heavy Regiment consisting of latest US  eight 155 mm guns and four 8 inch Howitzers. In addition, the division had three medium regiments supporting three infantry brigades, a medium regiment and two locating batteries.

11 Division Plan

The 11 Division was raised in 1965 around May 1965.13 It consisted of three infantry brigades i.e 21 Brigade, (two battalions), 52 Brigade (three battalions) and 106 Brigade

(two battalions). In addition it had two tank regiments (15 Lancers and 32 TDU). The division had two roles i.e defending the line of BRB and also providing a bridgehead to the main Pakistani attack force i.e the 1st Armoured Division. Its artillery consisted of three field regiments, one mortar troop,one medium regiment, one heavy regiment (eight  8 inch Howitzers and four 115 mm guns) and most valuable a corps locating regiment.

The dual operational task of the 11 Division was defence of Kasur, destroy enemy advance on axis Ferozpur-Kasur and Khem Karan-Kasur, capture Pakistani side of Hussainiwala enclave and destroy all enemy likely water crossings in the divisional area. Its offensive role was to be prepared to secure a bridgehead across the Rohi Nala for the 1st Armoured Division. In this task the division was to secure general line Patti-Harike inclusive of bridge over Harike and Bhikkiwind on axis Lahore-Harike. In the Phase two, the division was to get the 5 Armoured Brigade to capture Jandiala Guru Bridge over the Beas River.14

Conversely, if the GHQ decided to launch the whole of 1st Armoured Division in conjunction with 11 Division, 11 Division was then to provide a firm base to facilitate operations of 1st Armoured Division. In this eventuality the 5 Armoured Brigade was to revert to under command 1st Armoured Division.15

Lately, Major General Naseerullah Babar in an interview conducted by this scribe for the Defence Journal claimed that the originator of this offensive plan was  Major General Altaf Qadir.16

1st Armored Division Plan

As per the initial war plans of the Pakistani GHQ  Headquarter, 1 Corps was supposed to control the operations of  8 Division, 15 Division, 10 Division, 11 Division and 1st Armoured Division. Humanly speaking, this was an impossible task and a tribute to Ayub and Musa’s  grasp of strategic and organisational depth or lack of it! Even the officially sponsored historian Shaukat Riza admitted “nothing could be farther away from intention or capability of HQ 1 Corps” .17

The reader may, note that the 1st Armoured Divisions prime task was to function as a  reserve for the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor along with 7 Infantry Division. However, later on the 7 Division was diverted to Operation Grand Slam North of Chenab River.18

The first armoured division as it stood in 1965 was one of the finest armoured formations that the sub continent had seen till 1965. To be precise in the words of  Gul Hassan the last C-in-C of the Pakistan Army and the then Director Military Operations in 1965,  the 1st Armoured Division was the “best equipped division that we fielded and far superior to any armour formation the Indians had”19

In September 1965, the 1st Armoured Division consisted of three armoured brigades (3rd, 4th and 5th) each with two tank regiments and one APC borne (Armoured Personnel Carrier) mechanised infantry battalions. In addition the division had a recce regiment and the normal divisional artillery component of three self propelled (tracked) artillery regiments, one medium regiment, one self-propelled (tracked) Light Anti Aircraft Regiment. In addition there was the usual component of engineer signal and other supporting arm and service battalions.

On 1st September 1965, Headquarter 1 Corps still in command of 1st Armoured Division and still retaining some mental equilibrium which it was soon to lose from 6th September 1965 issued its grand operational instruction to the 1st Armoured Division:—

“1st Armoured Division on orders from GHQ was required to debouch from a bridgehead provided  by 11 Division and to cut Grand Trunk Road in area Jullundhur”!20

In other words, 1 Corps Headquarter was assigning the 1st Armoured Division an objective some 100 miles inside India and one which required crossing of one major river !

As per this instruction the 5 Armoured Brigade was initially placed under command 11 Division for establishment of bridgehead.21

The initial 1st Armoured Division plan is illustrated on the adjoining map. It envisaged an advance by 3rd Armoured Brigade along Sobraon Branch to secure the Beas Bridge, a distance of  60 miles, an advance by the 4 Armoured Brigade along Kasur Branch to Jandiala Guru on Grand Trunk Road east of Amritsar, a distance of some 50 miles. 5 Armoured Brigade was to revert to command of 1st Armoured Division in the breakout phase and act as reserve.22

If 1st Armoured Division succeeded in accomplishing the above mentioned tasks this would have meant that complete Indian 11 Corps was encircled and forced to either surrender or withdraw northwards towards Pathankot. In the process the Indians would have forced to sue for ceasefire and would have lost all territory including crucial cities like Amritsar till the Beas River. This is why Ravi Rikhye called it a possible fourth battle of Panipat for India.

Conduct of Battle

On  4th September at precisely 2230 Hours the Pakistani GHQ sent a signal to all formations which asked them to take “necessary defensive measures” against India. War had not yet broken out but Pakistan had already launched an infantry division/armoured brigade size attack in Indian Held Kashmir from 1st September. The signal whose language was described by Shaukat Riza as “not peremptory”23 read as following:

Pak Army   DTE    Sept   042230    E                                                  

Latest Intelligence reports indicate Indian concentration on both East and West Pakistan  and such flash announcements on All India Radio as QUOTE Pakistanis  attacking Jammu etc. UNQUOTE indicate their aggressive intention, formations will take necessary defensive measures (.) All Informed

Gul Hassan states that there was no ambiguity in this signal and that all formations took immediate action on it barring 10 Division in Lahore. This in view of Gul Hassan was a clear case of complacency.24

10 Division area

All that 10 Division did on receipt of the above mentioned signal was to  warn forward troops to exercise greater vigilance and ordered troops to move into defensive positions on night 5th and 6th September.25 Gul’s assertion is confirmed by Shaukat Riza who states that GOC 10 Division on 4th September brushed aside Commander 114 Brigades suggestion to move into defences but later relented and ordered move to defensive positions during night 5/6 September 1965 on the morning of 5th September.26 Shaukat did not give any reason in his book in which he repeatedly praised Ayub and Musa as to why the Pakistan Army had so non-military in the language of it signals while stating that the 10 Division was not in full deployment because of the GHQ!27 Even the Indian armour historian noted that “for some unaccountable reason the 114 Brigade was not in its defences when the Indian attack came on the morning of 6th September “.28

The two forward brigades of the 10 Division were occupying their positions when the Indian attack commenced at 0400 Hours 6th September 1965. 3 Jat the leading battalion of the 54 Indian Brigade reached the BRB bridge near Dograi which had been destroyed by the Pakistani defenders. The Indians claim that two companies of this battalion crossed the BRB walking over the partially destroyed debris of the bridge and occupied Batapur for sometime but were forced to withdraw since the Indian 54 Brigade/15 Division did not reinforce it.29 The reader may note that in this case the weakest link in the whole affair was not the Indian soldier or 3 Jat but the Indian 54 Brigade Commander and GOC 15 Division who did not respond to CO 3 Jat’s repeated requests for reinforcements! The claim of 3 Jat having crossed the BRBL, however, is denied by Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik who was then defending that area as Commanding Officer 3rd Baluch.30 In the final analysis 54 Brigade accomplished little except 3 Jat’s singular accomplishment of contacting the BRBL opposite Batapur.

1 Jat Group similarly performed miserably. It failed to reach the BRBL  and was repulsed by the combined effect of artillery fire and left forward battalion of the 114 Brigade. It panicked and dispersed back to the Indian side of the border by mid-day.31 It was replaced by 6 Kumaon along with two tank troops which deployed at Ranian.32

The 38 Infantry Brigade of the 15 Division also advanced very slowly  at H + 6 and according to Harbaksh’s narrative had just advanced within 2000 yards of the BRBL by 2200 Hours 6th September.33

By 1300 Hours 6th September GOC 15 Indian Division Niranjan Parshad reported that the situation in his sector was serious  on account of high casualties and no further offensive action was possible! On hearing this report, Harbaksh Singh accompanied by Commander 11 Corps personally visited 15 Division battle area and found that “the situation had been grossly exaggerated  and the fighting potential of the formation were in no way impaired — only the GOC had failed to measure upto certain local reverses, inevitable in any battle”. Harbaksh  found the GOC 15 Division “drained of all will and vision ...his attitude was passively negative and there was the unmistakable air of the defeatist about him. He stated his inability to undertake any further offensive action on the plea that his formation had lost all capacity for operations”.34

On 7th September afternoon GOC 15 Division while on the way to visit 38 Brigade towards Bhasin was ambushed35 by 18 Baluch. The GOC escaped but his jeep was captured and is still retained by 18 Baluch (now 3 Sind) as  a war trophy.

Harbaksh Singh sacked GOC 15 Division on 7th September and  Major General Mohinder Singh succeeded Niranjan Parshad as the new GOC 15 Division on night 7/8 September 1965.36

On night 7/8 September 38 Brigade based in Pul Kanjri area attempted to capture Bhasin but failed. 54 Brigade on Jallo and Dograi villages with a battalion each also failed on night 7/8 September.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani GOC 10 Division ordered a counterattack to put 15 Division on the defensive. The Divisional Strike Force 22 Brigade was given orders to attack Indians east of BRB, something which they had not practiced in pre-war training manoeuvres. The 22 Brigade crossed the BRB at Maqboolpur Syphon with 23 Cavalry leading, Brigadier Qayyum Sher37, captured area Bhaini by 0830 Hours 8th September and had cut the GT Road at Milestone 13 in Dograi area by 1330 Hours. This audacious counterattack threw the Indian 15 Division into utter confusion. Harbaksh Singh states that two Indian units 13 Punjab and 15 Dogra in Dograi area broke the line and abandoned their defences.38 The battalions were later goaded, rallied and brought back to the defences. This forced 11 Indian Corps to reinforce the area with their reserve brigade i.e 96 Infantry Brigade which was now deployed immediately behind 54 Brigade in depth in the Hudiara Drain area.

The 22 Brigade Force was too weak to stay in Dograi area. Therefore, it withdrew back to the west bank of the BRB after executing their counter-attack.

On 10th September 1965, 1 Jat and 6 Kumaon again abandoned Ranian area39 in face of alleged heavy artillery, tank and infantry small arms fire. This produced another crisis in the 11 Corps. The right flank of the Indian 11 Corps was exposed and Amritsar could be threatened from this direction. This produced an operational crisis of magnanimous proportions in the 11 Indian Corps Headquarter. To plug this gap, 96 Infantry Brigade was rushed forward to Ranian area and its position at the Hudiara Drain as the reserve brigade was taken over by the 50 Para Brigade.

Meanwhile, the 7 Indian Division  performed better. It crossed the international border at  0530 Hours 6th September  with 48 Brigade in lead  and secured the Hudiara Drain defended by a company size advanced position by an outflanking manoeuvre from the left. 65 Brigade commenced the advance from Hudiara Drain onwards towards Barki and contaced the BRB opposite Barki which was held in strength by elements of  a unit of 103 Brigade. Barki defended by a company of 17 Punjab and a company of 12 Punjab was captured by the 7 Division employing one battalion (4 Sikh) supported by Central India Horse less two squadrons on night 10th/11th September. Major Aziz Bhatti who was later awarded the Nishan-I-Haidar was the 17 Punjab Company Commander at Barki and survived this action. He was killed by enemy shelling on 11th September on the west bank of the BRBL the next day.40 The Indian Commanding Officer of Central India Horse Lt Col Joshi who was leading from the front was mortally wounded once his jeep was blown up by an anti-tank mine and died on 12th September.41

17 Rajput advanced successfully till the BRBL on 6th September 1965 but failed to capture the Bedian bridge since the Pakistani battalion defending the area inundated the area. Nothing significant took place in this sector till ceasefire.

The last significant event which took place in the 10 Division area was the recapture of Dograi by the Indians. Dograi on the east bank of the BRBL was defended by the 16 Punjab. It was attacked by two infantry battalions supported by a squadron plus of tanks and captured by a multi-directional night attack on night 21/22 September 1965. The village had little strategic significance specially when compared with the casualties suffered by both the attackers and defenders who were involved in the Dograi battle.

11 Division area

4 Mountain Division attacked the 11 Division area on 6th September 1965. The attack was on too wide a front and too diluted to make any impact. The Indians were overconfident in this sector since they thought that Pakistan’s 1st Armoured Division was in Wazeirabad as earlier discussed. Ballanwalla a small village and securing all area upto the east bank of the BRBL from area opposite Rajoke till opposite Kasur was   the main Indian objective in the area. The Indians had planned a two brigade attack (they only had two brigades in this division)  with 7 Mountain Brigade (two battalions supported by a tank squadron) going in the north and 62 Mountain Brigade (three battalions and a company supported by a tank squadron), in the South while 1/9 Gurkha along with Deccan Horse less two squadrons was the Divisional Reserve.

At mid-day Pakistan’s 52 Brigade mainly 7 Punjab supported by tanks and well directed artillery fire  launched a determined counterattack on the 62 Brigade. Harbaksh Singh notes that “the 13 Dogra gave away and broke the line”.42 13 Dogra  was the left forward attacking battalion of the 62 Brigade and its bolting away disoriented the whole Indian attack. Similarly, the 7 Mountain Brigade opposite Ballanwalla was thrown back by artillery fire and the small arms fire of the 106 Brigade units. The Indian Armour historian claims that “Pattons unexpectedly appeared east of the canal through a  viaduct located 500 metres south of the road bridge”43 (Khem Karan-Kasur on the BRBL). However, Shaukat Riza has made no mention about this either because of anti-armour bias or because he wanted to unduly project the 52 Brigade.

K.C Praval notes that 9 Jammu and Kashmir right forward attacking battalion of the 62 Mountain Brigade became so demoralized by the combined effect of 52 Brigade attack and artillery/tank fire that it retreated as far back as Valtoha !

Another significant affair in the 11 Division battle area was the moverment of the 21 Brigade its reserve brigade. Initially, on 5th September the brigade was ordered to be ready to move north and moved north towards Bhimbhar at 0430 Hours 6th September. Later  the move was countermanded and the brigade reverted to command 11 Division whose area it reached on around 0200 Hours 7th September!44

1st Armoured Division/11 Division Attack

Since this article is devoted to the overall battle in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor the 1st Armoured Division attack will be covered in brief.

At 1430 Hours 6th September, 2 FF (reserve battalion of  52 Brigade) was ordered by  11 Division Headquarter to capture a bridgehead across the Rohi Nala by first light 7th September. Similarly the 5 Armoured Brigade which was placed  under command 11 Division on 5th September was ordered on 5th September to secure “line Bhikkiwind-Patti as soon as possible”.45

The 2 FF launched its attack astride road Khem Karan-Kasur across the Rohi Nala at 1930 Hours 6th September 1965 and by 2130 Hours secured a  bridgehead across the Rohi Nala.46  6 Lancers the leading regiment of 5 Armoured Brigade was to cross the Rohi Nala. The bridge over Rohi Nala was completed by 1130 Hours but since its exit ramp was too steep the first tank of 6 Lancers crossed it at 1300 Hours 7th September.47 After one squadron of 6 Lancers had crossed the Rohi Nala at 1600 hours one tank got stuck and blocked the Rohi Nala bridge. At this time there were ten tanks across the Rohi Nala and about a company strength of 1 FF. Colonel Sahibzad Gul, CO 6 Lancers made some forward movement putting some Indians in front on the run shooting three Indian tanks and capturing about 25 prisoners.

1st ArmouredDivision Attack

The 1st Armoured Division was involved in the main battle from 6th September when 5 Armoured Brigade was placed under command 11 Division. The 5 Armoured Brigade attack was to commence at 0500 Hours on 7th September, however, it was delayed to 1130 Hours because of delay in bridge construction on Rohi Nala which was within Pakistani territory. Gul  Hassan the then DMO later claimed in his memoirs that a bridge was not required since the Rohi Nala was fordable but did not explain what he had done as DMO to bring this point in any pre-war planning discussion ! By evening 1600 Hours only about a tank squadron strength of the 6 Lancers leading unit of 5 Armoured Brigade had crossed the Rohi Nala since one of its tanks had got stuck on the Rohi  Nala Bridge. Thus 7th September was lost with just ten tanks across the Rohi Nala. All this was happening at a time when the situation in 4 Mountain Division as per Harbaksh Singh was so serious that ‘out of six battalions two and half had left the line and the remaining three and half were under severe enemy pressure”. Harbaksh states that it was under these circumstances that GOC 4 Mountain Division sought permission from GOC 11 Corps to withdraw and take a position at Assal Uttar in the rear.48

Harbaksh states that early in the morning of 8th September he received  a handwritten letter from GOC 11 Corps recommending that four infantry units i.e 18  Rajputana, 7 Grenadier, 9 J & K, AND 13  Dogra be disbanded and that another infantry division should replace 4  Mountain Division.49

At this stage Harbaksh had no reserves and exhorted GOC 4 Mountain Division and GOC 11 Corps to be more resolute.

While all this was happening Brig Bashir commander 5 Armoured Brigade was throwing to winds Pakistan’s Armour superiority by dividing his brigade into two directions with 24 Cavalry to advance along axis Khem Karan-Bhikiwind and 6 Lancers towards Valtoha Railway Station. 24 Cavalry contacted defences of 4 Mountain Division and tried to develop the situation from the west but failed because of lack of infantry support and timely arrival of 3rd Cavalry (Centurions) which reached the 4 Mountain Division area after mid-day. 6 Lancers reached Valtoha Railway Station but was recalled after last light back to Khem Karan by Brigadier Bashir to leaguer in line with the old British practice which in this scenario was not required.50

By 9th September when the Pakistani armour once again commenced advance the Indian armour was well poistioned with 3rd Cavalry Centurions plugging flanks which could have enabled 5 Armoured Brigade to get into rear of 4 Mountain  Divisioon 8th September. The critical time span was over. The ancient Greeks used to say that the Goddess of Victory favours those who are bold. Boldness was sadly missing in 5 Armoured Brigade less Sahibzad Gul the only tank commander who wanted to lead and fight from the front.

Thus once 5 Armoured Brigade recommenced advance from its leaguers near Khem Karan, 6 Lancers was greeted by Centurion fire of 3rd Cavalry while 24 Cavalry also made nominal progress. To compound things further Sahibzad Gul the only man in the whole senior lot was killed on 9th September near Valtoha.This indomitable man was only given an SJ since he was not from the more pampered regiments of the then Pakistan Army!

By 10th September the Indians were well poised to meet any outflanking attack.They had taken a horse shoe position with  about three tank regiments, one in 4 Mountain Division defences, another less one squadron in Valtoha area and the third and the most formidable in technical terms i.e the 3rd Cavalry covering the western deep flank of the  4 Mountain Division.

Naseer now launched 4 Cavalry into this valley of death. The result was catastrophic. 4 Cavalry got bogged down and was forced to surrender. The Indians claimed that they captured all tanks of the unit, the Commanding Officer and 12 officers including six majors and several other ranks.51 Shaukat Riza states that “some tank crew of 4 Cavalry trickled into HQ 4 Armoured Brigade.They reported that the regiment had been taken prisoner...at the end of the day 4 Cavalry reported 4 Officers and 25 Other Ranks missing and a total of ten killed. Almost all the tanks had been lost”.52 The layman reader should not get shocked.In tank warfare such things happen. In WW two an illustrious British tank unit 8th Hussars along with 4 Armoured Brigade was captured by the Germans.53 The fault in 4 Cavalry fiasco was not of the unit but its CO and GOC 1st Armoured Division.

Indian armour historian admits that 4 Cavalry fought well but ran out of fuel because of poor planning and was caught in a well laid ambush.

Thus ended an offensive which had the potential to knock the Indian Army out of the war. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was never employed and from 11th September the 1st Armoured Division less 5 Armoured Brigade and 4 Cavalry which was totally written off was despatched to Chawinda.

The Indians launched some very fool hardy frontal attacks on 11 Division from 11th September till 22nd September. All were repulsed since surprise had been lost and defence keeping in view terrain and relative strength was the superior form of war.


Level of strategic success

On the strategic level the Indians failed in their prime aim i.e  in compelling Pakistan to “retain large portion of her reserves in that Sector” i.e Ravi-Sutlej Corridor. The Pakistani 1st Armoured Division successfully disengaged from  Khem Karan and was redeployed opposite Chawinda. The Pakistanis thus defended Lahore successfully with existing formations except 5 Armoured Brigade whose one tank regiment (4 Cavalry) was completely lost, having been captured by Indians while two (6 Lancers and 24 Cavalry) suffered serious losses. Thus at ceasefire in strategic terms the Pakistani position opposite Chawinda was far superior. It is another thing that Ayub and Musa lacked strategic resolution to launch Operation Wind Up which had the potential of bagging two Indian Infantry divisions in Chawinda area.

Element of Surprise

Both the sides started with the element of surprise, the Indians having achieved surprise opposite Lahore and Pakistan having achieved complete strategic surprise opposite Khem Karan. Ironically the Intelligence agencies of both sides were a complete negation of the “Two Nation Theory” in terms of  comparative levels of ‘grey matter’, keeping in view the fact that both miserably failed to detect the location of each other’s armoured division till the last minute!

Employment of Armour

The conduct of 5 Armoured Brigade on 7th, 8th and 9th September was the most crucial aspect of the battle. Commander 5 Armoured Brigade totally failed in his job. His initial orders divided his brigade into three directions, with 6 Lancers going towards the right and 24 Cavalry going in the centre and left. Had he kept his two tank regiments concentrated in any one direction with a squadron on the main Khem Karan-Bhikiwind  axis the Pakistanis would have outflanked the 4th Mountain Division on the 8th September. This would have enabled GOC 1st Armoured Division to pump in the 4th Armoured Brigade to reinforce the success of the 5th Armoured Brigade with the 4th Armoured Brigade  while still retaining 3rd Armoured Brigade for the final push to the Beas River Bridge. By 9th September the Indians were well poised to defeat any outflanking move and the “critical time span” i.e  had run out for the Pakistanis.

In every battle, campaign and a war there are/is one or more period/s when one side is greatly exposed to the risk of being decisively defeated, due to material factors or psychological factors like perception of the opposing commander that his cause is doomed,  with the other side being possibly aware of it or not.54 Superior decision making means the ability or talent to identify the critical time span and seize it relentlessly! Brigadier Basheer failed in it on 7th, 8th and 9th September! Alas, the truth in Schillers saying “what is lost in a moment is lost for eternity”. The current of history now started moving in the reverse direction and Pakistan Army paid a very heavy price for the failure at Khem Karan six years later in 1971!

Chances ofStrategic Success

At the strategic level the plan was excellent. It was in planning and at operational level that it failed. Even Indian military writers like K.C Praval admitted that the plan was “well conceived”...”that the advance throughout would be along the grain of the country and no water obstacles would have to be crossed”...and that “Pakistani armour had the capability for the thrust but the plan failed due to inept execution”.55  Harbaksh Singh admitted that “it was a simple but foolproof plan” and that “only the 4 Mountain Division stood in its way”. Gurcharan Singh Sandhu the tank corps historian also admitted that “The loss of any bridge over the Beas was expected to pose such a serious threat to Delhi that the rest of the Indian Army would be forced to contain it rather than make an attempt to rescue the stranded XI Corps”.56

In Clausewitzian terms the strategic plan decides “when, where and with what forces” the battle is to be delivered.57 Again in the light of Clausewitz’s teachings, one of the principal objects of strategy is “always to be strong, first generally and then at the decisive point”.58 In this regard, strategy placed at Naseer’s disposal an initial superiority at the decisive point of about 7 to 1 but he failed to translate it into success because he and his 5 Armoured Brigade Commander were incompetent and the men who handpicked them based on personal likes were worse! After all Naseer was Musa’s handpicked choice. The fault was not that he was a non-armour officer as Gul Hassan fallaciously alleges but simply that Naseer was incompetent! After all, Ibrar who did far better was also an infantry man. Rommel was an infantry man. Macarthur, Lee and Meade were from Corps of Engineers!

The greatness of the German General Staff as this scribe stated in an article written in 1994 was not that it produced a Manstein but that it discovered a Manstein and allowed a Manstein to reach the highest ranks!59 It was here that the Indo-Pak Armies failed. They are simply a conspiracy against originality and boldness!

If successful the 1st Armoured Division attack had great chances of success.Indian GOC Western Command Harbaksh Singh frankly admitted that  “A Blitzkrieg deep into our territory towards the GT Road or the Beas Bridge would have found us in a helpless position of a commander paralysed into inaction for want of readily available reserves while the enemy was inexorably pushing deep into his vitals.It is a nightmarish feeling even when considered into retrospect at this stage.”  60

The BRB as thekey to the battle

It may sound unheroic and unromantic but the BRBL proved the English Channel that saved Pakistan’s strategic position in the crucial Ravi-Sutlej Corridor. This man made obstacle severely restricted the Indian freedom of manoeuvre and nullified their relative superiority in infantry. The canal acted as the anvil vis-a-vis Pakistani artillery fire, tank fire and infantry small arms fire which played the role of hammer which crushed the Indians inflicting heavy casualties on them. Without BRB there is no doubt that nothing could have stopped the indians from entering Lahore on 6th September. Similarly, without BRB the 1st Armoured Division could not have as easily disengaged from the Khem Karan battle as it did. Conversely, the BRB also slowed down the induction of the 1st Armoured Division into the bridgehead but this was less because of the BRB and more due to incompetence in Pakistani planners at GHQ (DMO), corps and divisional level.

Musa admitted BRBL’s role, once he stated that Pakistani plan was based on making use of the BRB canal which to a great extent compensated for disparity in resources and enabled Pakistani formations in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor to deploy on “very extended frontages”. 61

Indecision,Vaccillation and Procrastination inthe GHQ

The Pakistani GHQ particularly the Military Operations Directorate acted as catalysts towards increased confusion. Their contradictory orders to a certain extent retarded the pace of advance of the 1st Armoured Division. Twice the GHQ gave orders which created great doubt and confusion in the 1st Armoured Division. See the case of 3rd Armoured Brigade. On 6th September it was told to concentrate east of Zafarke by first light 7th September. The brigade carried out the move successfully by 0600 Hours 7th September. The same day at 1400 Hours it was told to move to Lahore and at 1500 hours on the same day these orders were cancelled!62 Imagine the state of mind of the brigade commander and his commanding officers. On the second occasion, the 4 Armoured Brigade was ordered by the DMO to move to Daska in Ravi-Chenab Corridor at 1300 Hours 7th September. While the brigade was preparing for the move it was cancelled the same day at 1600 Hours. Naturally, GOC 1st Armoured Division Naseer could not have ordered these moves on his own. There were men higher up in the chain of command who were not clear about many things connected with operational  strategy and generalship! 63

Lack of initiative atbattalion, brigade and divisional level

There was a marked lack of initiative at the battalion, brigade and divisional level. Lieutenant Colonel Ihsan ul Haq Malik who later rose to the rank of major general and participated in the Khem Karan operations as the CO of the indomitable 15 SP (it was a privilege for this scribe to have served in the “Romeo Battery” of  this fine unit after a disciplinary problem in 11 Cavalry from 9th August 1984 till 10th October 1984) states that  “senior officers were conspicuously absent from the frontline in war. I saw a command post of one of them in the rear areas. The bunker was a massive job.Only a direct hit by a  5 KT would disturb it!”64

Barring exceptions like Qayyum Sher who as earlier discussed led from the front. GOC 1st Armoured Division and Commander 5  Armoured Brigade preferred staying many miles away from the line of action! Brigadier Shami the Artillery Commander was killed simply because in confusion of battle he was disoriented and travelled too forward under the assumption that he was in territory held by own troops. On the decisive 8th of September when the 1st Armoured Division could have achieved a breakthrough no officer of colonel level except Sahibzad  Gul was anywhere within 1000 yards of action! In  a personal conversation with this scribe Brigadier (then captain Asmat Beg Humayun) then GSO-3 of the 5 Armoured Brigade stated that Brigadier Bashir had pitched his headquarter in a rest house many miles behind the actual scene of action.

Triumph of defenceover offence

All battles were triumph of defence over offence. The attacker was stopped whether it was the Indian opposite BRB or the Pakistani opposite Assal Uttar or Valtoha. If one Pakistani tank unit stopped the Indian Armoured Division opposite Gadgor, one Indian tank unit and later one brigade stopped the Pakistani Armoured Division at Assal Uttar. If there was a Harbaksh Singh at Assal Uttar prodding 4 Mountain Division to hold on there was an Abrar at Chawinda reviving the spirits of the 6 Armoured Division. There were historic reasons for triumph of defence.The pre-1947 Indian Army was primarily used by the Britisher as a  shield rather than a spear. While Indian Infantry dug in, the main manoeuvres in North Africa were performed by the purely British armoured divisions. Burma was a  different case altogether since in Burma the Indian tank brigades overwhelmed the Japanese with a ratio of 100 to 10 in qualitative and quantitative terms. Offensive action required initiative,independent judgement, swiftness in decision making, all of which were sadly missing in both the armies beyond tank troop level. Men like Sahibzad Gul or Tarapur were solitary exceptions and that is why once they were killed in action there was no one who could replace them. Excellence in decision-making had not been institutionalised in both the armies and I dare say this is the state till to date. A convincing proof being the latest Kargil affair!

Role of Artillery

Artillery played a decisive role in breaking many Indian attacks opposite Lahore and Kasur, however, it lost its effectiveness when Pakistani armour was distributed in too wide an area on the 8th of  September. In the case of 1st  Armoured Division offensive its role was severely mauled due to overemphasis on secrecy. Ehsan then an artillery CO thus noted “In peace we had not even seen the maps of this area.Nobody had ever thought that we could be committed in this area for an ofensive task”.65 Ehsan further noted that such was the confusion that “another artillery unit in our formation moved by rail. Understandably, it  never got to the required place in time”. Artillery was even ignored in award of gallantry awards.Thus while infantry officers particularly belonging to Ayub’s Punjab Regiment Group got the Lion’s  share of  gallantry awards artillery and armour were the underdogs in receipt of gallantry awards.Thus Shaukat Riza caustically albeit realistically noted “Three of our observers were killed while bringing fire on the enemy. One captain stood up in his post to engage enemy tanks with better effect.He was killed with a bullet in his right eye. After ceasefire we recommended them for gallantry awards. None of them got anything.” 66

Organisational failures

One of the most serious failures which laid the foundation of Pakistani 1st Armoured Division’s failure was failure to have a higher command organisation to control and coordinate the operations of the Pakistani infantry and armoured divisions. On the Indian side on the other hand the situation was to a great extent since all Indian divisions in the corridor were controlled by a corps headquarter. The responsibility for this failure can be laid squarely on the shoulders of Ayub and Musa and to some extent on the then CGS and DMO.

Staff and Planning Failures

Ironically while all the blame for failure was heaped on the shoulders of GOC 1st Armoured Division and Commander 5 Armoured Brigade, the underlying  and some more serious failures were ignored. Starting from the top, the prime culprit in the planning was the Military Operations Directorate. Planning for attacks which decides the fate of a war at the strategic level cannot be relegated to divisional headquarters. The Khem Karan Offensive plan was prepared many years before the war started. Obstacles like Rohi Nala and the Nikasu Nala were pre-partition obstacles, the Nikasu Nala being so prominent that it was even prominently marked on the maps of the Radclife Award Boundary Commission maps. The fault lay not in the fact that the 1st Armoured Division was launched in bad terrain but in the fact that adequate preparations in planning were not made to ensure that ground friction was reduced. Compare this with another similar operation i.e the Inchon landing. The terrain and amphibious factors at Inchon were formidable. Macarthur’s own Chief of Staff Major General Almond described Inchon as the worst possible place to land!67 The reader may note that the water channel from where the amphibious force of Macarthur had to approach could be conveniently mined or simply blocked by  a sunken or disabled vehicle. Thus, at Inchon terrain did not favour a landing but the advantage of strategic surprise were far greater than terrain odds.The important fact which differentiated Inchon and Khem Karan was that the planners at Inchon took terrain as well as movement factors into account, thereby reducing terrain friction and the time and space required to concentrate while at Khem Karan the Pakistani planners starting from the Military Operations Directorate,1 Corps Headquarter, 1st Armoured Division Headquarter down till brigade headquarters of the 1st Armoured Division did not plan meticulously for the move into bridgehead and for getting out of the gap between Rohi Nala and Nikasu Nala as soon as they could. The governing element in this whole situation was getting out of the Nikasu-Rohi bottleneck so as to gain complete freedom of manoeuvre where Pakistani superiority of nine to three in tank regiments could be fully exploited. If BRB saved the Pakistani position in this corridor then the Rohi Nala and the Nikasu Nala to a great extent saved the Indian position. Nothing in the instructions passed to 1st Armoured Division indicated that the Pakistani GHQ was even aware of closeness of two obstacles within Pakistani territory i.e the Rohi Nala and the BRB which could and did produce traffic jams which severely delayed the induction of the 1st Armoured Division into the bridgehead and enabled the Indians to bring their independent armoured brigade into the battle area before the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division had crossed the crucial Rohi-Nikasu Corridor which was a serious operational bottleneck. It was not Nasir or Bashir who failed but the whole staff system inherited from the British. Nasir and  Bashir were just tips of the iceberg! The British staff college at Cambrai in words of Montgommery’s biographer Nigel Hamilton was an institution  preoccupied with “hunting and socialising”! 68 A British officer who rose to considerable height in the British Army in WW Two “ frankly ascribed his selection for staff duty to having played golf  regularly with a senior commander”!69

It was a failure of command as well as staff system where even the staff officers on both sides were too slow for armoured warfare and worked on yards and furlongs rather than miles. Their orientation was position oriented rather than mobility oriented and their idea of a battlefield was a typical linear battlefield. Their Burma or North African experience where the Japanese and Germans frequently appeared in their rear had made them extra sensitive about their flanks. These were men who thought in terms of security rather than speed. Conformity rather than unorthodox dynamism, having been trained in the slavish colonial orders oriented. British Indian Army was the cardinal script of their life. It was this British system in which every senior commander was more interested in doing the job of those one step junior to him that led to the lack of dash and initiative at brigade and battalion level. They were trained that way and their behaviour as far as the timidity at brigade and divisional level has to be taken in this context.

Analysis of Casualties

Contrary to popular imagination created by the propaganda that Chawinda was the greatest battle since WW II it was in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor that the Indians suffered the maximum casualties.Thus, while the 1 Indian Corps which fought the Battle of Chawinda suffered a total of 575 killed casualties, the Indian 15 Division opposite Lahore  alone suffered some 486 killed casualties.70 Thus if the casualties of all three Indian divisions and the independent brigade in 11 Corps area are combined, these far exceed those suffered by the 1 Corps which fought the Battle of Chawinda.

Influence of Higher Headquarters on lower headquarters

In the case of Indian 4 Mountain Division the GOC 4 Mountain Division lost the will to carry on as proved by Harbaksh’s narrative. In this case the situation was restored by Harbaksh’s personal visit and exhortations to carry on. In the final analysis 4 Mountain Division gradually regained its spirit and functioned effectively in the defensive role.

Comparative Differences in the two armies

Many  ridiculous myths were propagated in Pakistan about differences in the two armies. Racially by and large both the armies were of the same stock. The Pakistan Army bulk of which some 65% to 75% being Punjabis who were converted to Islam in the period 1000-1600 or Pathans or Ranghars who were of Hindu Rajput origin. On the other hand  the bulk of the  Indian Army was  Punjabi or North Indian again with Sikhs who were converted to Sikhism in the period from 1500-1800. The remaining larger portion of the Indian Army was Dogra (Punjabi Hindu Rajput), Punjabi Hindu Jat, and some Madrasis, Kumaonis and Gurkhas. Racially by and large the armies were alike. Where a unit did not do well had a deeper connection with poor leadership at battalion, brigade or divisional level. Units panicked on both sides, artillery fire had the same effect on both sides and if one side had better guns it definitely gave it an advantage. Thus, there was no major differences in both the armies at soldier to soldier level.

This fact was noted by some officers soon after 1965 but the majority were victims of the psychosis of Islamic Martial Military superiority that overwhelmed the West Pakistani psyche during the period 1966-1971! Brigadier A.R Siddiqi in his book on the Pakistan Army’s press image thus narrated a  thought-provoking incident soon after the war. Siddiqi met Brigadier Qayyum Sher who as just discussed had distinguished himself as an infantry brigade commander in the battle opposite Lahore.  Qayyum Sher was unhappy about the unrealistic expectations and myths that were being created as a result of the official propaganda. Qayyum Sher told Siddiqi, “Miracles he mused, ‘may indeed have happened, but they happen only once. Let me tell you that your press chaps are doing a lot of harm to the soldier psychologically by publishing all those foolish stories. I wonder what they are really trying to tell the world. That the Pakistani soldier can fight his war only with the help of his celestial allies. That he is facing an enemy inferior to him in all respects. I admit God’s help is of the utmost importance but it’s no substitute for one’s own performance. It would be quite stupid to forget that the Indian soldier is as much of a professional as his Pakistani counterpart. He has been trained in similar military systems and institutions and fights like hell when he has to. The only reason why the Pakistani soldier put up a comparatively better performance in this war was that he fought largely on his own home ground as a defender”. Siddiqi further noted that “The Pakistani image makers, however, had little use for such sterile talk. They had their own mental picture of the war and regarded it as the only correct one. Anybody who dared to speak of the war more realistically simply betrayed a ‘diffident and defeatist mentality’ ...The merest suggestion of the criticism of the military performance became a taboo”.71   Sher was not alone in entertaining these views. Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik who very ably commanded the 3rd Baluch opposite Lahore on the BRB states in his memoirs that the Indian superiority opposite Lahore was not as overwhelming as later portrayed in the Pakistani official propaganda. Tajammul thus stated, “We had Patton Tanks whereas Indians had mostly Sherman Tanks which were comparatively much inferior. Similarly our artillery guns out ranged the Indian artillery guns. They had an overall superiority of infantry, perhaps of about 1 to 2 but most of their divisions were comparatively ill-equipped and untrained and they had to guard a much bigger frontier”. 72


The battles fought in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor are fit to be subject of a Shakespearian comedy of errors. On a more serious note Pakistan Army lost its last chance to force a military solution on the Indians. It failed not because failure was inevitable but because seeds of failure were sown once soldiering was mixed with politics, merit was sidelined and men of limited grey matter were elevated to the highest ranks. After 1965 the current of history started flowing against Pakistan and its full results came into light only in December 1971. There was logic in Bhutto and his hawk’s position that Pakistan had the potential to knock India out in a swift war like the Israelis did in 1956 and 1967. Unfortunately, Pakistan failed not because of material reasons but because of qualitative reasons. The finest steel goes through the hottest fire. This unfortunately was not the case with the Pakistan Army of 1965 in terms of higher leadership.                                                        


1 Gul Hassan the then Pakistani Director Military Operations (DMO) from 1961 to 1965 stated in his memoirs that  all Pakistani planning was based on the fact  that “both sides would refrain from undertaking a crossing over a major water obstacle at the outset of operations”. See Page-173-Memoirs of General Gul Hassan Khan-Oxford University Press-Karachi-1993. The Indians similarly were equally timid and Harbaksh Singh the GOC Western Command noted that the Indian GHQ was also hesitant in attempting to cross a major water obstacle even within Indian territory which was close to the border. See Page-16 & 17-War Despatches-Lieut Gen Harbaksh Singh-Lancer International-New Delhi-1991. The reason for this was hesitation in taking any risk and in being unconventional, the cardinal common trait in both Indian and Pakistan Army’s higher leadership since the Indians commissioned in the pre-1947 British Indian Army in any case were not trained to go beyond company or platoon commander level. The WW II changed everything and speeded up the process of transfer of power!
2Page-18-War Despatches-Op Cit.
3Page-132 & 133- Behind the Scene-An Analysis of India’s Military Operations-1947-71- Major General Joginder Singh-Lancer International-New Delhi-1993.
4Pages-122 & 127-Ibid.
5Page-15-War Despatches-Op Cit. Harbaksh Singh had visualised that a major attack in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor with 11 Corps would force Pakistan to retain a large proportion of her reserves in Lahore Sector and resultantly minimise the opposition againt the Main Indian Attack in Ravi-Chenab Corridor opposite Chawinda.
6Page-134-Joginder Singh-Op Cit- The reader is advised to read Joginder’s book with a pinch of salt. It was published after publication of Harbaksh’s War Despatches and was more of a rejoinder than a detached analysis of the war. Joginder was Harbaksh’s Chief of Staff in the war and it appears that Harbaksh  was tough with Joginder. Joginder retired in the same rank soon after the war while Harbaksh the most deserving candidate for Indian Army Chief was not promoted since he was a Punjabi Sikh. It is hard to believe Joginder’s unsubstantiated assertion that Harbaksh a staunch Sikh would advocate taking position behind the Beas abandoning holy places like the Sikh Vatican City i.e Amritsar.
7Page-38-An Introduction to Strategy-General Andre Beaufre-Faber and Faber-London-1965.
8Page-18-War Despatches-Op Cit.
9Page-365-The Indian Armoured Corps-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-1940-71-Major General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu-Vision Books-New Delhi-1991.
10Page-189-The Pakistan Army-War-1965-Major General Shaukat Riza-Army Education Press-1984.
14Pages-213 and 214 -Ibid.
16Page-10-” Remembering our Warriors” series-Interview of Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar (Retired), SJ and Bar conducted by A.H Amin - Defence Journal-April 2001 Issue-Pathfinder Fountain -Clifton Karachi-2001. The reader may note that General Babar avoids self- publicity and propaganda.He agreed to an interview on the personal request of Mr Ikram Sehgal who had served with him in the Corps of Aviation in the period 1968-71.
18Page-76-Gul Hassan Khan -Op Cit.
19Page-200-Gul Hassan Khan-Op Cit.
20Page-235-Shaukat Raza-Op Cit.
22Pages 235 & 236-Ibid.
23Page-135 & 135-Ibid.
24Page-189-Gul Hassan Khan-Op Cit.
26Pages-192 & 193-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.
27Pages-191 & 192-Ibid.
28Page-355-History of The Indian Armoured Corps -Op Cit.
29 Page-90-War Despatches-Op Cit and Page-268-The Indian Army Since Independence-Major K.C Praval-Lancer International-New Delhi-1993.
30Pages-52, 53 & 54-Story of My Struggle-Major General  Tajammul Hussain Malik-`Jang Publishers-Lahore-1991.
31Page-356-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Op Cit.
32 Ibid.
33Page-92-War Despatches-Op Cit.
35Page-356-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Op Cit.
36 Page-92 -War Despatches-Op Cit.
37 Page-203-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.
38 Page-94-War Despatches-Op Cit.
39 Ibid.
40Page-202-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.Harbaksh claims that Bhatti was killed on the east bank of BRB (page-96-War Despatches-Op Cit) but Shaukat states that Bhatti was killed by  enemy tanks shooting from across the BRB Canal (Page-202-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit).
41Page-362-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Op Cit.
42 Page-99-War Despatches-Op Cit.
43Page-366-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Op Cit.
44Pages-218 and 219-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.
46Pages-221 & 222-Ibid.
48Page-100-Harbaksh Singh-Op Cit.
49Pages-100 & 101-Ibid.
50We shall discuss the leaguer concept which seriously jeopardised the success of Pakistani armour operations in Khem Karan. The British, mostly withdrew from the final battle positions in North Africa because they feared the German 88 Anti-Tank Guns and wanted to have a peaceful next morning. In any case the operational situation in North Africa was not area oriented, as in Punjab, but mobility oriented since any outflanked force could easily move in any direction and regain its equilibrium. In Punjab where defence was a relatively far more superior type of warfare than in the desert and holding every inch of captured territory was important, the operational situation was totally different from North Africa. Here every locality once captured had to be held since manoeuvre was far more difficult due to heavy terrain, friction and large number of artificial and natural obstacles and bottlenecks. This was a serious doctrinal failing which should have been resolved in the School of Armour. No one gave it a serious thought since it was thought that the Pattons were invincible. These pedants failed to realise that the British repeatedly failed to defeat Rommel despite possessing numerical and qualitative superiority as was admitted by Captain B.H Liddell Hart.
51Page-109-Harbaksh Singh-Op Cit.
52Page-245-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.
53Page-220- The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941- J.A.I Agar Hamilton and L.F.C Turner-0xford University Press-Cape Town-1957
54Page-33- Plain as well as Subtle aspects of Military Decision-Making- A.H Amin-Citadel Magazine-Issue-1/94-Command and Staff College Quetta-1994-Term coined and defined by this scribe.
55Page-278 & 279-Maj K.C Praval-Op Cit.
56Page-371-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Op Cit.
57Page-174-On War-Carl Von Clausewitz-Edited by Anatol Rapoport-Pelican Books-London-1974.
59Page-35-Plain as well as Subtle Aspects of Military Decision Making-Op Cit.
60Page-161-Harbaksh Singh-Op Cit.
61Page-23-My Version-Indo Pakistan War 1965-General Musa-Wajid Alis-Lahore-1983.
62Page-237-Shaukat Riza-Op Cit.
64Page-24-Observations of an Artillery Commander-Major General Ihsan ul Haq Malik (Retired)-Defence Journal-Volume One-Number -8-1975-Karachi.
66Page-20-Article-Back to Square One-Major General Shaukat Riza- Defence Journal-Volume One-Number -8-1975-Karachi.
67Page-24-Hell or High Water-MacArthurs landing at Inchon-Walt Sheldon-Macmillan and Company-Newyork-1968 and Pages 19 to 23 and Pages-186 & 187-Victory at High Tide-The Inchon Seoul Campaign-Robert.D.Heinl Junior-J.B Lippincott Co-Philadelphia-1968.
68Page-151-Monty-The Making of a General-1887-1942-London-Hamilton Books-1981.
69Footnote-25-Page-87-Op Cit-Sidi Rezeg Battles-Op Cit.
70Page-404,405  &  409-Major K.C Praval-Op Cit .
71Pages-108 & 109-The Military in Pakistan-Myth and Reality-Brig A.R Siddiqi-Vanguard-Lahore-1996.
72Footnote on page-78-General Tajammul-Op Cit.