Columnist AH AMIN analyses the Western theatre in the 1971 War.
The Western Front in 1971 War has not received the due attention that it deserved from the point of view of lessons learnt and generalship in action. The obvious reasons for this reason lie in the fact that the East Pakistan crisis was the focus of attention and the surrender a Dacca was too large an historical event!
The war on the Western Front is an invaluable study in terms of strategy, operational leadership and battle tactics. The future reorganisation of Pakistan and Indian Army was done based on the experiences of 1971.
The 1965 War produced a major change in both Indo-Pak armies. In Pakistan Army the two key lessons derived from 1965 War were to have more infantry and to have intermediate higher commands between units and brigades based on the corps rather than the division command concept. Till 1965 Pakistani GHQ had naively hoped that division headquarter was a suitable level of operation command. Thus in 1965 Pakistan Army had just one corps headquarter and all other formations were divisional headquarters which functioned under higher command of the GHQ.This concept of organisation had broken down in Khem Karn where the main Pakistani attack of the war was launched. Further there had been lack of cooperation between the armoured and infantry division in this battle since no higher corps headquarter was controlling both the divisions and the infantry and armoured division commander had a personality clash. The Pakistani GHQ now firmly decided to iron out these contradictions and created three more corps headquarters i.e Headquarter 2 Corps to control/coordinate Pakistan’s 1st Armoured Division and its sister infantry formation, Headquarter 4 Corps to control operations of the 10 and 11 Division in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor and Eastern Command to command the troops stationed in East Pakistan. Organisationally the Pakistan Army was now on a sound footing, but this process was soon derailed since political developments, threw the entire post-1965 reorganisation to winds. Developments in East Pakistan in 1971 forced the Pakistani GHQ to move its strategic reserves i.e 9 and 16 Divisions to East Pakistan.These divisions had been raised in 1966-68 soon after 1965 War. This necessitated the raising of two more divisions to take the place of the reserve divisions sent to East Pakistan i.e the 33 and 37 Divisions. The 23 Division was raised at Jhelum in June-July 1971 to look after the Chamb-Dewa area thus reducing the 12 Division of the burden of looking after a 200 mile plus area of responsibility.
18 Division was raised at Hyderabad to look after the 560 mile stretch between Rahimyar Khan and Rann of Katch.
The Indians also drew significant lessons from 1965
War and increased the number of formations protecting their line of
communication between Pathankot and Jammu and in giving greater importance
to the hitherto neglected area south of Sutlej starting from Sulaimanke.
In addition the Indian High Command keeping the political developments in
East Pakistan changed its 1965 Strategy of attacking West Pakistan in
strength and decided to launch their major attack on East Pakistan from
early 1971.To do this Indians had to use three corps i.e 2,4 and 33 Corps.
Pakistani Forces and Plans-Western Theatre
Till 1965 Pakistan Army keeping in view its equipment and training was relatively superior to the Indian Army. India under Nehru was a peaceful country but the Sino-Indian Conflict of 1962 transformed the whole scenario. Thus while Indian Army had by and large registered no major expansion since 1947 after 1962 the Indians embarked on a highly ambitious expansion programme.It was Pakistan’s good luck that in 1965 this process was at a very rudimentary stage, however by 1971 the whole strategic scenario had changed from 1965.Indian Army as it stood in 1971 was much stronger vis-a-vis Pakistan Army as compared with the situation of 1965. Fazal Muqeem was thus not wrong when he stated that “with the almost daily expansion of the Indian Armed Forces since the 1965 war, it had become economically impossible for Pakistan to keep pace with her. The policy of matching Indian strength with even 1/3 or 1/4 in numbers had gradually gone overboard. Under these circumstances all that Pakistan could do was to avoid war with India and to strive to resolve her disputes through political and diplomatic means”.1 The only problem with this quote is the fact that, at that time i.e. the period 1965-71 no one at the helm of affairs was ready to think so realistically and rationally! Fazal’s wisdom is the wisdom of hindsight, expressed some two years after Pakistan Army had fought the disaster and humiliating war in its history and Pakistan was dismembered into two countries.
Major General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan took over as the army’s Chief of General Staff and thus Principal Staff Officer to the C in C soon after the 1965 war. In words of Fazal Muqeem a sharp observer and one who was not lavish in praising anyone “planning had taken a turn for the better when Major General Yaqub Khan became the Chief of General Staff”.2 However, Muqeem adds that the army’s war plans in the post-1965 era were still vague about “what action should be taken in West Pakistan if an attack was mounted against East Pakistan”.3 The two statements somewhat contradictory prove that although planning improved Yaqub did not give a concrete answer or plan to solve Pakistan’s strategic dilemma.
Although no archives have been declassified Fazal Muqeem who had access to various highly classified documents by virtue of being secretary defence armed with semi-official mandate from the then prime minister to write a book on 1971 war states that the plan of mounting a counter-offensive from the Western Theatre centred around “a corps with an armoured division and two infantry divisions” ......while “remainder of the army was to perform mainly a holding role”.4 The most significant aspect of the army’s main plan of attack i.e when to launch the attack as per the then Chief of General Staff of the Pakistan Army,General Gul Hassan Khan was left undecided.5 Muqeem states that “There appears to have been a heated discussion on the timing of launching a counter-offensive”. There were two schools of thought here i.e one who favoured an immediate counter-offensive in relation to any Indian invasion of East Pakistan while the second a procrastinating one maintained that counter offensive should commence only after completion of preliminary operations to fix and divert the attention of the enemy.6
Pakistani plan in the Western Front was as
a. 12 Infantry Division at Opposite Poonch.The aim was to force the Indians to reinforce Poonch thus weakening their other formations in 15 Corps and 1 Corps areas of responsibility,thus improving chances of success of 23 Division in Chamb and a possible counter attack by 6 Armoured Division in Shakargarh-Sialkot area.
b. 23 Infantry Division in Chamb Sector.Not allowing the Indians to exploit a jumping area opposite Pakistan’s soft underbelly and crucial North-South line of communications passing via Gujrat. This division was allotted two additional infantry brigades (111 and 66) an independent armoured brigade
(2 Armoured Brigade) for the task.111 Brigade was a reserve brigade while 66 Brigade originally belonged to 17 Division.
b. 18 Division Opposite Jaisalmer-Longanewala. It was hypothesised that this attack would attack Indian armour southwards thus making Pakistan’s 1st Armoured Divisions task in Ganganagar area easier. Another aim of this attack was to protect the vulnerable Pakistani North-South road link which was just about 65 kilometres from the border in this area.
c. 105 Independent Infantry Brigade Group opposite
Fazilka. This was essential to ensure the safety of the most crucial
Sulaimanke Headworks which was just about 1500 metres from the
Main Attack-Counter Offensive
a. Attack with 1st Armoured Division and two infantry divisions (7 and 33) opposite Ganganagar-Anupnagar.
b. This force after crossing the Bikaner Canal (Gong
Canal) opposite Bahawalnagar was to capture Bhatinda and then swing north
to possibly threaten Ludhiana. Candeth the Indian C in C Western Command
was of the opinion that the
main objective of this Pakistani attack was to cut the road
Ferozpur-Ludhiana and then isolate/eliminate Indian garrison at Ferozpur.7
The Pakistani official historian Shaukat Riza in line with the pedantic
sub continental tradition of hiding what is no longer relevant even two
decades after an event states nothing about aims/objectives of this grand
counter offensive in his monumental “The Pakistan Army-1966-71”.
Formations in Holding Role
a. 12 Division in Kashmir except in Poonch Sector.
b. 23 Division in Hill Sector North of Dewa.
c. 8 and 15 Division in Sialkot and Shakargarh Bulge.
d. 10 and 11 Division in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor.
e. 18 Division in all sectors except Reti-Ubauro.
Northern Area Scouts in Northern Areas.
Formations tasked for Counter Penetration or Counter attack Role
a. 6 Armoured Division less two armoured regiments detached to command 2 Independent Armoured Brigade Group under command 23 Division in Chamb and 17 Infantry Division less one infantry brigade detached under command 23 Division in Chamb to counter attack in Ravi-Chenab Corridor when ordered. Both formations were under command Headquarter 1 Corps and were also army reserves. 2 Independent Armoured Brigade Headquarter was given two units of the 6 Armoured Division i.e 11 Cavalry and the newly raised 28 Cavalry.
2 Independent Armoured Brigade Headquarter had been raised following a wargame held in August 1970 which had concluded that “Pakistan had insufficient reserves for a reasonable counter offensive”.8
b. 8 Independent Armoured Brigade stationed in general area Pasrur and tasked to carry out various contingency counter-attack or counter penetration tasks when ordered by Headquarter 1 Corps.
8 Armoured Brigade had been raised based on findings of a wargame held in August 1970 by withdrawing integral armoured regiments from some infantry divisions.
3rd Independent Armoured Brigade stationed in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor
under command Headquarter 4 Corps was tasked with various contingency
counter attack plans of counter attack/counter penetration.15 Lancers one
of the units of this brigade was assigned the responsibility of looking
after the line of Sutlej River from Kasur till north of
Sulaimanke.Recently in a book published in 1998 Brigadier Z.A Khan stated
that this brigade was also to perform duties of flank protection with the
2 Corps counter offensive force.9
Indian Forces and Plans-Western Theatre
Indian strategy in the Western Theatre was basically
to stay on the defensive while its Eastern Command conducted an all out
offensive campaign aimed at reducing East Pakistan. The prime aim in words
of Gurcharan Singh Sandhu being “to prevent Pakistan from being any
sizeable inroads into Indian territory”10 while the Eastern Command was
busy in the creation of Bangladesh Indian Forces
a. Western Command:—Commanded by Lieutenant General K.P Candeth consisting of 15 Corps (Lieut General Sartaj Singh) deployed in Kashmir,1 Corps (Lieut Gen K.K Singh) was tasked with the defence of the area from Aik Nala in Kashmir till and excluding Dera Baba Nanak Enclave on the Ravi River north of Amritsar and 11 Corps (Lieut Gen N.C Rawlley) holding area from Dera Baba Nanak Enclave in the North till a point on the Rajhastan border south of Anupgarh.
b. Southern Command:—Commanded by Lieut General G.G Bewoor this command was responsible for the defence of area starting from Bikanir Sector in the North till the Arabian Sea in the south.This area of responsibility of this command was divided in four sectors i.e Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Katch. This command had two divisons i.e 12 Division in the north and 11 Division holding Barmer and Katch Sectors.In addition it was supported by an armoured regiment, two independent armoured squadrons and one missile squadron.
Army Reserves:—1st Armoured Division was stationed in Muktsar
area against the expected Pakistani 2 Corps Counteroffensive in Ganganagar
area.14 Infantry Division was stationed with Headquarters in Faridkot
area.This division was also
given some defensive responsibilities by Headquarter 11 Corps in Ferozpur
and Fazilka Sectors.
a. 15 Corps :—This corps consisted of five infantry divisions (3,19,25,10 and 26) and one independent armoured brigade.3rd Infantry Division was tasked to hold Ladakh Sector bordering Chinese Held Tibet and till Fortu La Pass. Since no threat was expected in this sector one of the infantry brigades of this division was stationed at Suratgarh area. The other two brigades of the 3rd Mountain Division were in their divisional area while the independent brigade holding Kargil Sector (Fortu La Pass to Zoji La Pass) was also placed under command 3rd Division. The Partapur Sector opposite Shyok River Gorge was held by Ladakh Scouts.19 Division was looking after the Kashmir Valley Sector from Zojila Pass till Hajipir Bulge in the Pir Panjal Range.25 Division was in charge of the Rajauri Sector comprising Rajauri,Poonch and Nowshera areas. 10 Division was looking after the Hill Sub Sector and Chamb.15 Corps was given the defensive tasks in all areas except 10 Division in Chamb Sector. 10 Division was tasked to attack towards Gujrat-Tanda area based on the assumption that an offensive posture in this area was the best guarantee for the defence of Chamb. The Corps Headquarter of this corps was at Udhampur.
b. 1 Corps:—This corps consisted of three infantry divisions (36,39 and 54) and two independent armoured brigades (2 and 16). This corps was assigned an offensive task of attacking Pakistan’s Shakargarh Bulge with a view to commit Pakistan’s 1 Corps into defensive tasks thus ensuring that Pakistan could not launch any offensive adventure in Indian territory specially against the Indian line of communication from Punjab to Kashmir i.e the Gurdaspur-Pathankot-Samba-Jammu Road. This corps move to the area was carried out as a direct reaction to the movement of the strike elements of Pakistan’s 1 Corps i.e 6 Armoured Division and 17 Infantry Divisions into the Ravi-Chenab Corridor. The reader may note that the Shakargarh Bulge by virtue of its close proximity to Pathankot-Samba-Jammu Road, was a great source of mental tension to the Indian High Command.11 The Indians saw the bulge as a great natural threat and 1 Corps prime task was to ensure that Pakistan’s 1 Corps could not use this bulge as a diving board to launch a lightning thrust against the Indian line of communication from Indian Punjab into Kashmir. Thus 1 Corps was given various offensive tasks in Shakargarh like capture of Shakargarh and Zafarwal. 1 Corps was tasked to first contain any Pakistani advance in Indian territory frontally and to then deliver a riposte against Pakistani line of communications so as to force them back.12
c. 11 Corps:—11 Corps consisted of three infantry divisions i.e 15 Division, 7 Division and Foxtrot Sector (ad hoc) and an independent armoured brigade (14 Armoured Brigade). 14 Armoured Brigade theoretically consisted of five armoured regiments (18 Cavalry, 62 Cavalry, 64 Cavalry, 70 Armoured Regiment, 71st Armoured Regiment,) one independent recce tank squadron and one mechanised infantry battalion. Practically most of its units were dished out to 86 Brigade in Dera Baba Nanak Enclave ,F Sector and Mike Force and it only retained one tank regiment i.e 64 Cavalry (T-54). The area of responsibility of the corps was from Dera Baba Nanak Enclave in the north till a point near Anupgarh in Bikaner area. No major fighting took place in this corps area, however, the vast bulk of Indian armour units were stationed in this corps area of responsibility during the war.15 Division (Four infantry brigades and two armoured regiments)was responsible for defence of area from Dera Baba Nanak Enclave till and including Lahore-Amritsar Road. In addition 11 Corps had a reserve brigade taken from 14 Infantry Division in Ajnala area.
7 Infantry Division (Three brigades and an armoured regiment)was responsible for axis Khalra-Lahore,Khem Karan-Kasur and Ferozpur-Kasur till and including Jalalabad South of Ferozpur.
“F Sector” (three infantry brigades and approx
seven tank squadrons) was responsible for area from excluding Jalalabad
till a point south of Anupgarh.Mike Force
was a reserve held by Western Command.This force consisted of
62nd Cavalry (T-55),18TH Cavalry less B Squadron (T-54), one
Mechanised Infantry Company and a medium artillery regiment.Its
headquarter was at Abohar and the units were located east of Ganganagar.
In addition 11 Corps had a reserve brigade taken from 14 Infantry Division
in Ajnala area. Before 1965 both sides had hardly any troops in the area
south of Sutlej less Fazilka which was held by a brigade each. After 1965
both sides constructed extensive obstacles in the entire area from Chamb
till Sutlej making the area literally extremely expensive to trespass !
Thus the emphasis after 1965 shifted to area south of Sutlej River and
both sides knew that any major attack would come in the area south of
Sutlej. Thus the area south of Sutlej in 11 Corps area of responsibility
was accorded great importance.Thus the Foxtrot Sector backed by an
armoured division to its immediate rear.
a. 1st Armoured Division:— (Four Tank Regiments) .
b. 14 Division:— Three infantry brigades.
c. These Indian Army Reserves stationed in 11 Corps
area of responsibility. The 11 Corps and Western Command in consonance
with the tradition of bullying lower headquarters wrested two brigades
(one placed at Ajnala and one to Hussainiwala) from 14 Infantry Division.
However 1st Armoured Division commander successfully resisted these
attempts from both higher headquarters.13 Both these divisions were tasked
to counter any attack by Pakistan’s 2 Corps in the area south of Sutlej.
The Indian GHQ had positioned 1st Armoured Division at Muktsar North of
Fazilka and East of Bikanir Canal thus in case the Pakistani 1 Corps
attack had been launched the Pakistanis would have had a free run till the
Bikanir Canal. However it appears that the Indian plan in this area was to
subject any Pakistani thrust to stiff resistance on the line of Bikanir
Canal.Candeth the Indian Army Commander Western Command states that the
reason for placing 1st Armoured Division North of Fazilka was to deny
Pakistan’s 1st Armoured Division the opportunity to threaten Ferozpur or
Southern Command:— The Southern Command had two
divisions deployed along Pakistan’s southern border i.e the 11th and
12th Infantry Divisions. There were four sectors in this command i.e
Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Barmer and Kutch. Fighting took place only in the
Jaisalmer and Barmer Sectors while the other two sectors saw negligible
activity because of absence of communications. Indian deployment/plans
were as following:—
a. 12 Division:— This division was deployed in the Jaisalmer sector and was commanded by Major General Khambata with headquarters at Tanot 120 Kilometres north of Jaisalmer. This division had three infantry brigades,a tank regiment consisting of AMX-13 tanks, an independent tank squadron (T-55) and an engineer battalion. The division was tasked to advance on Axis Kishengarh-Rahimyarkhan towards the Pakistani communication centre Rahimyarkhan located on the main Pakistani north-south Lahore-Karachi Highway with a strength of one infantry battalion, light artillery regiment, one tank regiment (20 Lancers) and an independent tank squadron consisting of T-55 Tanks.Another holding brigade of the same division was to launch a diversionary attack by attacking and capturing Islamgarh. The third brigade was to hold a firm base.
b. 11 Division:— This division was deployed in Barmer Sector and was commanded by an armoured corps officer Major General R.D.R Anand. It was concentrated in Barmer area by October 1971. The division had two brigades and a tank squadron
(T-55). It was tasked to capture Naya Chor by
advancing along axis Gadra Road-Munabao.Subsidiary attacks were to be made
on Khinsar and Chacchro.
1971 War Western Theatre
12 Division Operations
The Pakistani plan to capture Poonch was a bold gamble undertaken with insufficient resources. The essential idea being to outflank main Indian defences at Poonch by an attack by infiltration capturing dominating features of Thanpir and Chandak to the east and rear of Poonch garrison thus threatening Indian line of communication going north to south over Poonch River thus forcing them to abandon Poonch. The Indian garrison at Poonch consisted of an infantry brigade (93 Brigade) while 12 Division had planned to infiltrate with two infantry brigades. The plan was sound in conception but failed because of irresolution at divisional level,loss of surprise, poor logistic arrangements and refusal of Indian brigade commander at Poonch to panic.Surprise was lost before the operation was launched since Indian intelligence gave their higher headquarters about the impending operation. Thus the Indians reinforced the area before war had begun (on 25 November )15 with another brigade i.e the 33 Infantry Brigade from the 39 Division of 1 Corps tasked to attack Shakargarh Bulge. This move certainly caused imbalance to the Indian 1 Corps plans against Shakargarh but saved Poonch. Pakistan’s 2 AK Brigade and 26 Brigade were to execute the plan. The attack initially went very smoothly and the Thanpir and Chandak Ridges were captured by Pakistan Army. However, Danna on the deep right flank of the Pakistani infiltrating brigade was strongly defended and resisted capture. The troops who had captured the Thanpir and Chandak Ridges were not adequately supplied, as per Fazal Muqeem the divisional commander Major General Akbar Khan (later a candidate for post of chief in 1976) did not lead from the front “to give the required push” and “there was a lack of a necessary push and drive at brigade and battalion level”.16 Finally the infiltrating force had to withdraw. There was no General Wolfe here to lead the infiltrating Pakistan Brigade onto the narrow path to victory.But then Wolfe died and Quebec was captured by his troops. At Poonch no Pakistani officer beyond colonel rank was killed and Poonch stayed in Indian hands! It may be added that the Northern Areas were given very low priority by the Pakistani GHQ. This enabled the Indians to capture important posts overlooking Kargil-Leh Road and in Paratpur Sector. Later these posts became the stepping ground for Indian infiltration into Siachen.
23 Division Operations
Pakistan’s 23 Division was facing a larger division in Chamb yet it captured Chamb despite determined Indian opposition. After this the division established a bridgehead opposite Pallanwala across the Tawi to conduct further operations against Jaurian.The whole process came to a full stop on 10th December when Major General Eftikhar the indomitable GOC of the division was killed from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash. At this stage the Indian 10 Division had strong reserves which were uncommitted i.e an infantry brigade which was free after capturing the Phulkean Salient and the 3rd Armoured Brigade comprising 8th Light Cavalry (Vijayanta) and Central India Horse (T-55).However in case Pakistan’s 23 Division had captured a foothold across Tawi.These Indian reserves would have become committed.
1 Corps Operations
Pakistan’s 1 Corps was responsible for defence of Shakargarh Bulge and Sialkot.The Shakargarh Bulge offered many jumping areas for Pakistan’s 6th Armoured Division to sever the Indian line of communication from Pathankot to Jammu.The Pakistanis had three excellent minefields protecting the bulge apart from the Ravi River on the south and adequate reserves to launch an attack into Indian held Kashmir while the attacking Indians were caught in the three minefields.The Pakistani GHQ was, however, already dominated by a defensive mindset and the 1 Corps Commander was one known for procrastination,indecision and vacillation. A man of few words whose professionalism ended at checking arcs of fire of all infantry trenches of all infantry battalions holding the forward defended localities.
Lieutenant General Irshad viewed his task as that of a sentry who had to react only when threatened and would do nothing else ! Thus the 6th Armoured Division remained on rear sentry duty around Pasrur and Daska while the 17 Division was deployed to defend the Marala-Ravi Link many miles in the rear and at no stage under any Indian threat.The Indian Corps Commander K.K Singh was another similarly typical sub continental corps commander,mediocre in operational outlook,immensely concerned about security,timid in offensive operations.He was the same man because of whose irresolution and poor handling of armour the Indians failed to win the 1965 War within few hours at Gadgor on 8th September! K.K Singh had two armoured brigades and a comfortable superiority in infantry. However he was more concerned about security just like his Pakistani counter part and had deployed half of his corps in holding roles,divided his armour, dishing it out to holding infantry formations leaving two weak armoured brigades to lead infantry division advances at infantry pace at many points.The result in words of an Indian analyst was “pathetic”......”there was total lack of offensive spirit at any level”!17 However, by 15th December one Indian Division whose advance was spearheaded by a tank regiment had breached all three minefields! Now comes the reaction of Pakistan’s 1 Corps Commander like an NCO drilling a platoon of recruits! 8 Armoured Brigade is told to launch a counter attack to restore the situation with minimum force. No artillery beyond the obsolete 105 MM Priest Self-Propelled Guns was used to support the attack and the result was an Indian tank regiment contained with three Pakistani Tank Regiments two of which lost almost half of their tanks! One of the most unfortunate incidents of 1971 War was the 35 FF attack on Barapind-Jarpal. The Indian Armoured Corps historian called it “an attack doomed to failure” and one in which “a heroic battalion was sacrificed to no purpose”!18 Even Pakistani historian Fazal Muqeem found nothing correct in this attack and thus concluded “The few counter attacks which 8 Division (Major General Abdul Ali Malik) tried during the war were noticeable by their lack of planning...The worst example of this attack was on December 17”.19 The hallmark of higher commanders in both Pakistani and Indian 1 Corps was phenomenal incompetence. The Indians captured some large size mud villages of no strategic consequence which were returned at Simla Talks. Pakistan’s 6th Armoured Division and 17th Division remained unemployed and no effort was made by Pakistan’s 1 Corp Commander to wrest the initiative from the Indians or to make the Indian Corps Commander to his offensive moves! Mediocrity was the common factor on both sides in 1 Corps battle. The Indian 1 Corps Commander advanced because he was told to do so and the Pakistani 1 Corps Commander did not advance because no one told him to do so!
4 Corps Battle Operations
4 Corps of Pakistan was in holding role in the Ravi Sutlej Corridor and facing about two Indian divisions with two of its own.Certain minor actions like capture of Indian Enclave opposite Hussainiwala Headworks took place in 4 Corps operational area. Hussainiwala was an enclave west of Sutlej and difficult to hold. The Indian battalion 15 Punjab fought well and this was acknowledged by Fazl Muqeem20 but was betrayed by its commanding officer who had pitched his headquarter in the safety of Sutlej River on the East bank.Most notable here was the conduct of Pakistan’s Lt Col Ghulam Hussain Chaudhry of 3rd Punjab who led his battalion from the front and was killed in action. One of the very few commanding officers to get killed in action on the Western Front. No road in any major cantonment is named after this brave man in Pakistan! Hussainiwala was a small affair in terms of casualties. The Indians who were well entrenched suffered a total of 19 Killed 21 casualties.
105 Independent Brigade
Pakistan’s 105 Brigade carried out a small scale
but highly aggressive operation in Sulaimanke area opposite Indian town of
Fazilka. The strength here was in Indian favour but Indian brigade
commander S.S Chowdry was highly incompetent in placing his forward
battalion 10 kilometre ahead of his other two battalions. This enabled
Pakistan’s 105 Brigade to capture the Bund ahead of Sabuna Distributary
thus ensuring the safety of Pakistan’s most crucial Sulaimanke Canal
Headworks which was just 1,500 metres from the border. 105 Brigade’s
determined counter attack severely depressed Indian Higher Commanders and
11 Corps Commander expressed a desire to abandon the area and withdraw to
Fazilka Fortress and to replace 67 Brigade which was defending the area.22
Such was the state of Indian demoralisation that Western Command Army
Commander finally sacked 67 Brigade Commander on 11th December.23 S.S
Chowdhry was replaced by Brigadier Piara Singh. At this stage the Indian
brigade commander was so demoralised that he overestimated the Pakistani
strength opposite him to be two infantry brigades supported by an armoured
regiment24 while in reality
the Pakistani strength on east bank of Sabuna was only an infantry
battalion (6 FF) supported by a depleted tank squadron of
WW Two vintage tanks. The Indians suffered heavy casualties at
Sulaimanke.Some 190 Killed, 196 Missing most of whom were killed or
prisoners and 425 wounded.25 These casualties were far heavier than those
suffered by 54 Division which fought battles like those around Bara Pind
Jarpal which suffered a total of some 76 Killed and 272 wounded.26
18 Division plan to capture Longanewala was brilliant in conception. It failed because of poor logistic planning and lack of air cover. There was hardly anything in front of the 18 Division attacking force heading for Longanewala and Jaisalmer, however, since there was no air support just two Indian Hunters neutralised Pakistani armour! This attack has been much criticised by arm chair strategists in Pakistan. However, the situation was saved by the fact that Indians opposing 18 Division were equally incompetent and hesitated from attacking the withdrawing Pakistani troops from Longanewala. One positive aspect of the whole affair despite all Pakistani imperial blunders was the fact that the attack even in its failure caused such mental discomfort to Indian Higher commanders that the Indian plans to attack Rahimyar Khan were dropped.27 Thus Indian Southern Command Army Commander Lieutenant General Bewoor requested Manekshaw for a change in task with the plea that resources placed at his disposal were insufficient for capture of Rahimyarkhan.28 The Indians decided to call off all offensive operations of 12 Division against Rahimyar Khan and transferred one of the three brigades of 12 Division to Kutch Sector on the 12th December for the planned attack on New Chhor.29 This reinforcement was a sugar coated bullet for 11 Indian Division since it only further compounded the logistic nightmare of 11 Indian Division.30 Indian Armoured Corps historian was intellectually honest enough to admit that “main toll was taken by the terrain,the IAF destroyed a sizeable number of tanks and vehicles” while the 12 Division itself did little.31
The Pakistani GHQ was perturbed by the failure of 18 Division and was forced to break up their strategic reserve infantry division sending one brigade to Chhor and another to Shakargarh on 7th December.32 While the move of a brigade to Chhor was most necessary that of sending one to Shakargarh was avoidable.
Indian 11 Division was assigned the task of capturing New Chhor held by a Pakistani brigade supported by a tank squadron. A force comprising 85 Infantry Brigade and an independent tank squadron
(T-55) was earmarked. This force contaced the outer defences of New Chhor at Parbat Ali on 8th December. The Indians wanted to mount a divisional attack on New Chhor but were delayed due to administrative reasons. By 11th December the second Indian brigade also reached the area. On 13th December the Indians launched a brigade plus attack capturing Parbat Ali. However, their time and space was by now totally off balance. The area had been reinforced by another brigade of 33 Division and on 15th December as per their own admission a probing force of the Indians opposite New Chhor was severely mauled.33 This was done by 60 Brigade consisting of three fine infantry units i.e 44 Punjab, 45 Punjab and 46 Baluch. 44 Punjab in particular distinguished itself at 199 and 200 r! The Brigade in actual fact was commanded in the field by Lt Col (later Brig) Muhammad Taj SJ & Bar, who was CO 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh). 44 Punjab was the hub for the defence of Naya Chhor, the Indians actually withdrew in the face of aggressive patrolling. This fact was acknowledged by Indian GOC 11 Division in his flag meeting with Major General Iqbal (later CJCSC) after the war.34 There is a Nicholson Memorial at Taxila but no memorial in Chhor for Pakistan Army soldiers who saved Sindh in 1971! It is an irony of Pakistani military history that Major General Shaukat Riza has not mentioned this incident at all while it was Major K.C Praval an Indian military historian who acknowledged this fact. On the other hand Fazal Muqeem criticises the decision of sending 60 Brigade to Sindh. Had 60 Brigade not come to New Chhor the Indians may not have stopped before reaching Mirpur Khas! Fazal Muqeem thus did not mention 60 Brigade at all in his book. Perhaps doing so would have contradicted his brilliant criticism of dividing 33 Division! The Indian brigade operating in Umerkot-Nagarparkar area captured many thousand square miles but all these consisted of empty desert. Another aspect of military history writing in Pakistan is regimental bias and personal likes and dislikes. It is significant that all the three units of 60 Brigade were new units and thus not worthy of being mentioned by stalwarts from old units. The same was the case with Bara Pind where 31 Cavalry and 27 Cavalry were praised by Indians for better planning and good battle procedures but were not praised by any Pakistani military historian!
At one stage during the war the Indian GHQ wanted Southern Command to capture Badin with a brigade group from Kutch side but this idea was dropped because of administrative/logistic problems.35
Quality of Strategic Orientation
Both sides were equally barren in terms of strategic insight. Thus one Indian army officer who occuped a senior position in 1971 noted “At the time of the Bangladesh War no institution of Indian Army taught or studied strategy”. Thus as per Jacob “no realistic ,overall estimate of war situations by the Army Headquarters was made”. There was in fact no strategic or political definition of policy,nor an appropriate higher command organisation to plan or direct the war”.36 Jacob states that Manekshaws handling of senior officers was not conducive to creating confidence.37
Intellectually speaking the Pakistani higher command was an equal negation of two nation theory at least in terms of mediocrity in higher ranks. Starting from what East Pakistan the Pakistani GHQ had a naively simplistic attitude towards Bengali separatism. They did not realise that political problems could seriously compromise the strategic equilibrium of the army. This dawned upon them only once the army’s reserve 9 and 16 Divisions were airlifted to East Pakistan in March-April 1971. If two divisions were raised to replace 9 and 17 Divisions in 1971 two divisions could have been raised to serve in East Pakistan in the period 1965-66!
The much trumpeted phrase defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan was an oversimplified and highly vague statement.Thus the admission of Fazal Muqeem that as earlier discussed no one knew what action would be taken in West Pakistan if an attack was mounted against East Pakistan. This was not because Yahya or his junta was intellectually inferior in any manner than the Ayub-Musa duo but simply because by 1971 the strategic balance had overwhelmingly tilted in favour of India! As a matter of fact Pakistan Army improved in the positive direction after 1965 and Yahya relatively speaking was a far better professional than Musa. He was, however, only an individual and could not alter the movement of historical forces which were far stronger than any individual actor. He was the product of an age and a military system which wanted to produce Indian officers who could command companies but not brigades or divisions what to talk of a corps or an army.
The only answer to Pakistan’s strategic dilemma was
to mount a pre-emptive attack on India in Monsoon season before the Indian
Army had fully mobilised and the Himalayan Passes had not become snow
bound. This did not happen because Indira Gandhi conducted skilful
diplomacy and also because Pakistan’s military junta lacked strategic
insight. Indian Western Command C in C Candeth admitted the fact that all
Indian plans to attack Pakistan would have gone to winds had Pakistan
attacked in October 1971.38 Thus Candeth’s remark that “Yahya Khan had
tarried too long and had missed the boat”.
Degree of Success of Diversionary attacks
The Pakistani GHQ had a difficult task as far as
balancing means availabale and ends sought were concerned. Despite inept
execution diversionary attacks did overthrow Indian plans off balance.
Thus the Poonch operation affected Indian 1 Corps plans in
Sialkot-Shakargarh because of despatch of 33 Brigade from 1 Corps to 15
Corps area opposite Poonch. Similarly the ill-fated Longanewala-Jaisalmer
operation made the Indians abandon their plans to conduct offensive
operations against Rahimyarkhan. The 105 Brigade operation against
Sulaimanke came very close to strategic success and both the local brigade
commander and the corps commander wanted to withdraw to Fazilka 15
Kilometres to the rear. This was only stopped once Candeth stepped in.
Timidity at Operational Level
While the lower levels of command were in relatively high spirits timidity at operational level severely retarded conduct of operations.Glaring among all was conduct of 1 Corps Commander in Ravi-Chenab Corridor who was overcome by inertia and indecision from day one. Throughout the war he reacted to Indian moves rather than making any attempt to make the opposing Indian commander react to his moves despite the fact that he had sufficient reserves to do so.Compare his conduct with that of GOC 23 Division General Eftikhar who achieved a breakthrough despite having no superiority at all. On the other hand 1 Corps Headquarter functioned like a glorified post office simply processing reinforcement requests and waiting for the enemy to breach the last Pakistani minefield.
Indian 1 Corps Commander also proceeded with equal
caution but was forced to attack since he had been ordered to attack. Even
then he did so in a fairly bureaucratic manner, neatly dividing his armour
so that all divisional
attacks made progress but no major breakthrough was achieved. The average
sub continental corps commander’s first priority was security and safety
rather than speed and dynamism in the conduct of operations. In words of
an Indian observer 1 Corps advance in Shakargarh was “pathetic”...
“the plan was not designed for a quick advance but was merely to
play safe”!39 This was despite the fact that this illustrious career
officer had fought the 1965 War in the same sector (pathetically at Gadgor),
had served as Director Military Operations and then risen to three star
rank to command India’s elite strike corps on the Western Front! Praval
described this illustrious three stars corps battle as one “smitten with
indecision”, a corps whose
offensive failed “without the capture of its initial objectives”
...one which advanced just 13 kilometres in 12 days.40
I would say that this man was no different from any of the top
brass I saw in my 13 years service ! Ones who have an immense sense of
timing , not in matters operational or strategic but in personal career
planning and getting the right ACR from the right man at the right time !
It is consoling to hear from General Jacob that the same state of affairs
plagues the Indian High Command to date! 41
There were certain missed opportunities in the war in
the sense that the wrong men were at the right places.Thus Major General
Eftikhar a highly operationally gifted commander was given a limited
offensive role and limited resources.Had this man been given one more
infantry brigade and an armoured brigade he could conveniently have forced
the Indians to shift brigades from 1 Corps area into Chamb. As a matter of
fact at one stage in battle one of the brigades in 1 Corps area was
alerted to move to Chamb. Similarly had this man been the Pakistani Corps
Commander in 1 Corps the whole story of conduct of operations may have
been different. Similarly in 105 Brigade area with just another armoured
regiment Amir Hamza could have achieved a breakthrough and gone right till
Bikanir Canal. It is a credit to this indomitable leader of men that
despite no superiority in resources he almost made the Indians abandon
Sabuna Line and advocate withdrawal to Fazilka and Gong Canal. But then
Hamza was packed off as a major general and Pakistan Army was gifted with
four stars who had not been seen by the FOOs of their divisional artillery
throughout the war!
Chances of Success of the Counter Offensive
There has been too much rhetoric about the Pakistani Counter Offensive that was never launched.In the first place once the war started the counter offensive was already late by one month as Candeth stated. Secondly the objectives of the counter offensive i.e Bhatinda or some say even Ludhiana were unrealistic if we keep in mind the pathetic performance of Pakistani armour in 1965 despite having achieved total strategic surprise and having relatively better equipment. Thirdly while in 1965 Pakistan’s armoured division was only opposed by a weak infantry division and later by a weak tank brigade, here was a situation where the Indian armoured division was already well poised and waiting for the attack. The result would have been a clash of armour in almost equal strength with both sides getting bloody noses and achieving nothing on the strategic plane. True that the Pakistanis may have had a free run till Gong Canal or even a little to its east but East Pakistan was already lost and by the time Pakistan Army was across the Gong Canal it would have been facing the first additional Indian corps arriving from East Pakistan. That is if the counter attack was to be launched on 16 December as planned.There was a chance of achieving some success in case the counter offensive had been launched on 4th or 5th December, but then Pakistani Higher Command was against it.No tribute to their strategic acumen!
Analysis of Casualties
An analysis of casualties prove that the bulk of the
fighting was done firstly by 23 Division at Chamb which suffered almost
half of the casualties sustained in the Western Theatre. Similarly this
division inflicted the heaviest number of casualties on the Indians.Second
as per this scale was 105 Brigade at Sulaimanke which suffered second
highest casualties on Indians
despite having no superiority in numbers. Third position may be assigned
to the forces opposite Poonch. The Indians opposite 105
Brigade lost more men than opposite 8 Division at Sialkot. The
magnitude may be imagined from the fact that while the Indians lost some
67 Killed and 90 wounded at Hilli
from 23rd November to 11 December, 39 at Sulaimanke they lost something
like 190 Killed and 196
Missing most of whom were killed or prisoners and 425 wounded.42
The following table showing Indian casualties on the entire Western Front in 1971 is self explanatory:—43
Almost half of the casualties sustained by the
Pakistan Army in the Western Theatre were sustained by the valiant 23
Division.Thus while total army casualties in the western Theatre were
4,958 those of 23 Division alone were 2,216.44
Defence as the stronger form of war
The lessons of 1971 War were not digested by Asian countries.Indian Army on the Western Front had failed throughout the war to achieve any breakthrough on the Western Theatre.Similarly the Indian efforts to attack positions in East Pakistan mostly failed. This lesson was convincingly once again proved in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 when both sides failed to achieve any breakthrough.East Pakistan where the Indian Army did achieve a breakthrough was an exceptional case where conditions were highly unnatural and where superiority was overwhelming. Thus the validity of Indian analyst Brigadier Sodhi’s conclusion that “the success of the army in Bangladesh was mainly due to peculiar conditions prevailing there,which are difficult to imagine obtaining in any future war” and that “the true performance of the army was in the Western Theatre”45 whereas per Sodhi the Indian Army failed to overcome any main enemy position. I am not implying that things would have remained the same if all three corps committed in East Pakistan had arrived. However, even then the cost would have been high. One which Indira Gandhi was not willing to pay. Thus the unilateral Indian ceasefire of 17th December 1971!
No attack succeeded anywhere except in Chamb where the general officer commanding was of an exceptionally high calibre. The defender was stronger and the Chawinda experience of smaller forces defeating larger forces when smaller forces was convincingly proved when three Pakistani tank regiments miserably failed to make a dent against one Indian tank regiment. All battles where any side did well were battles in which the side which performed better was in defence. This was because of the immense lethality of modern weapons and increased ground friction. Thus 6 FF inflicted maximum casualties on Indians while it was defending Sabuna Drain rather than when it attacked it. Shakargarh again was triumph of defence.
Use of Reserves
The decision to divide 33 Division after failure of the 18 Division Operation opposite Longanewala was subjected to much criticism by Fazal Muqeem. While sending one brigade might sound unnecessary there is no doubt that the decision to send 60 Brigade and a tank regiment (Guides Cavalry) to 18 Division area was a sound operational decision. The situation after the Longanewala fiasco was serious, had the Indians exploited it. Even the Indian historian noted that 12 Division missed a rare opportunity.46 In this case Yahya and his team reacted correctly.
At the strategic level both sides showed a remarkable hesitation in use of reserves which illustrates that generalship at higher level was barren. What is the use of a strategic reserve that is never used. Thus both sides armoured divisions were not committed and both sides at the highest level were happy that these were not committed.Yahya stated unofficially in private conversations that the armour commanders particularly Gul Hassan and some other generals had lost the will to fight. Gul claims in his memoirs that it was Yahya who was delaying the counter offensive.47 An engineer battalion commander who this scribe interviewed stated that 1st Armoured Division staff and commanders less than lieutenant colonel Shah Rafi Alam showed no interest in bridging plans across Gong Canal ! Perhaps by December 1971 some had lost the will to fight.
There was perhaps a deeper philosophical explanation.
Long ago Carl Von Clausewitz beautifully summed up Yahya Khan’s dilemma
once he said ‘There are two considerations which as motives may
practically take the place of inability to continue the contest. The first
is the improbable, the second is the excessive price of success’!48
Perhaps Yahya was more concerned about saving West Pakistan which
would have come under heavy attack once three Indian corps free from the
Eastern Theatre were to be shifted to the Western Theatre! The decision
which Yahya took was based on a rationale and was not an act of a drunkard
as was later claimed in cheap polemics!
Use of ad hoc forces and minefields
If desert delayed Indians in 11 and 12 Division
areas, minefields and Changez Force played a major role in delaying the
Indians in 8 Division area. Changez Force was an ad hoc force raised under
Brigadier Nisar of Gadgor fame who had by a rare exercise of coup d oeil
blocked the Indian 1st Armoured Division in 1965. Changez Force operated
in between the three layers of minefields in Shakargarh Bulge. Even the
Indian Armoured Corps historian acknowledged its role when he stated
“Pak armour functioned well in the role of covering troops.It managed to
delay a superior armour force for a longer period than it could have been
planned for”.49 Praval acknowledged the effect of minefields when he
said “1 Corps commenced operations in an area which was very heavily
defended by minefields”.50
Influence of Generalship on Operations in the Field
In most of the formations on both sides general
officers preferred conducting the battle by wireless and telephone. Moltke
the Elder correctly stated “It is a delusion, when one believes that one
can plan an entire campaign and carry out its planned end ... the first
battle will determine a new situation through which much of the original
plan will become inapplicable”.51 Moltke went further and said
“Everything comes to this; To be able to recognise the changed situation
and order the foreseeable course and prepare it energetically”.52 John
Keegan described the German definition of operational strategy in the
following words:- “Even higher in the German army’s scale of values
than the nature of the warrior spirit in its conscripts stood the
cultivation of operational talent in their leaders. Operative is an
adjective which does not translate exactly into English military
vocabulary. Lying somewhere between “Strategic” and “tactical”, it
describes the process of transforming paper plans into battlefield
practice, against the tactical pressures of time which the strategist does
not know, and has been regarded by the German army as the most difficult
of the commanders art since it was isolated by the great Moltke in the
1860s. Taught in so far as it can be taught, in his famous staff college
courses, its traits were eagerly looked for in the performance of general
staff candidates and its manifestation in practice. In war time it was
rewarded by swift promotion”.53
In 1 Corps area on both Indian and Pakistani side general officers
fought the battle from their headquarters. A young officer then serving as
a liaison officer described the siting of the headquarter of one infantry
brigade commander near Zafarwal with immense care to ensure that nothing
in the Indian armoury could have even a dent on this great field
commanders headquarter.54 The battles in this area were fought by troops
who fought well but were not led by dynamic commanders.What was Bara Pind?
A battle in which Indian position was saved by the skin of its teeth55
because of the last ditch stand by a troop leader who was a subaltern ! No
tribute to Vaidya the brigade commander or the 54 Division Commander! What
was glorious about Jarpal and Barapind apart from the stoical bravery of
13 Lancers,31 Cavalry and 35 FF ! It was only in Chamb in Pakistan’s 23
Division that operational leadership in its true dimension was exhibited !
General Eftikhar was a dynamic leader of men praised by Indian military
historian Praval as one who exhibited “commendable flexibility” .....
“one who showed skill and determination in carrying out his
mission”.56 In the true Clausewitzian definition of a military genius he
spread light around with the spark of his breast, exhorting men to drive
on, exposing himself countless times to fire ! If he expected too much
then there is no doubt that he gave too much and to this day his name is
remembered with great respect by old veterans of 11 Cavalry (Frontier
Force) who was lucky to serve under his command!57 His photograph hangs in
the officers mess and every second lieutenant from the military academy is
told about his exploits. The tragedy is that Eftikhar was a piece of rock
in empty space,a lone lighthouse in a sea of mediocrity! The Eftikhar way
of command was never institutionalised! Thus General Eftikhar was able to
pierce the veil of darkness with his rapier like operational vision;
overcoming all the stumbling blocks in his way; facing the barrage of
conflicting information passed on through the subjective process of
distortion of informaiton; as it is passed from the lower to the higher
echelons in crisis situation. In Clausewitzian terms General Eftikhar
whose generalship and personality comes closest to the Clausewitzian frame
of the ideal military commander as far as Indo-Pak sub-continent is
concerned he “stood like a rock against which the sea breaks its fury in
vain”.58 A battle was fought by a general officer at the true
operational level in 1971 only by Pakistan’s Major General Eftikhar. It
is an irony of Pakistani military history that many of our so-called
military heroes at the general level had nothing to do with any
operational strategy in any war! It is a strange fact that this man’s
generalship in 1971 was not given the space of a line by Pakistan Army’s
last C in C in his voluminous memoirs despite the fact that Gul claimed
that Eftikhar was his friend!59
Artillery as a factor in success or failure
Artillery had played a major role in many Pakistani
successes. On the other hand where artillery factor was missing invariably
failures occurred. The Bara Pind Counter attack apart from other factors
was a glaring example of failure in absence of artillery. Absence of
sufficient artillery played a major role in many of Pakistani failures in
East Pakistan. Even the Indian bypassing of Pakistani defences had a link
with absence of sufficient artillery with Pakistani forces.
Strategic ineptness and phenomenal operational
incompetence triumphed on both sides of the Radcliffe Line in 1971.
Bravery at junior level compensated things to some extent. What did India
achieve apart from simplifying Pakistan’s strategic problems is for
Indians to ponder. They did inflict a severe psychological defeat on
Pakistan which in turn has given birth to a dangerous kind of extremism in
the post-1971 politics. When the student attending the armed forces war
course at the prestigious National Defence College writing a paper on 1971
War claims with pride that all major Pakistani garrisons had survived
surrender in 1971 till the fall of Dacca,he is stating a truism which even
a student at infantry school knows. What is the glory in holding
individual garrisons when higher headquarters lost the will to fight and
an army of brave men was condemned to incarceration in prisoner of war
camps for two years! On the other hand there is little comfort in the fact
that we were strategically inept and saved from total elimination simply
because our enemy is equally inept at the strategic level. Vajpayee is too
late in trying to solve the Pakistan problem in the post-Pokhran stage.
What could have been achieved by dishing out a few ministries to Indian
Muslims by Nehru in 1937 cannot be today accomplished by an Indian with a
fine nuclear arsenal! The finest compliment to Indian political leadership
was paid by General Jacob when he stated “At the negotiating table at
Simla we were unable to obtain a permanent settlement of outstanding
issues with Pakistan. The advantages gained on the battlefield were
frittered away at the Simla Conference”!60
In 1971 this army fought a war albeit half heartedly and had many
heroes who did well and are remembered. An uncertain future faces us. This
century has seen great armies,once considered impregnable collapsing
without fighting a battle simply because their highest political
leadership betrayed them! Thus the suicide note of Marshal Akhromyev of USSR, “Everything I have devoted my
whole life to building is collapsing”. Armies are defeated but survive
defeats. They are only destroyed once their leaders betray them like Tejh
Singh and Lal Singh betrayed the Khalsa in 1845-46!