Just realized that there is no topic on Battle of Basantar on DFI, so here I'm posting about Battle of Basantar during 1971 Indo-Pak war during which India decisively broke the back of one Pakistani armoured tank division and one armoured tank brigade.
Summary of the Battle of Basantar
The Battle of Basantar or the Battle of Barapind (December 4–16, 1971) was one of the vital battles fought as part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 in the western sector of India. The Indian troops won a hard fought battle that secured this area in the Punjab/Jammu sector. The name Battle of Basantar actually encompasses the entire gamut of battles and skirmishes fought in the Shakargarh sector.
Location of battle
Basantar river is a tributary of the Ravi River that flows in the states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. This battle took place in the Shakargarh Sector or the Shakargarh Bulge that includes Jarpal and surrounding areas. The bulge is a protrusion of Pakistan boundary into Indian territory. It was a strategic area for both sides as it comprised road links to Jammu from Punjab, which could be cut off by Pakistan if it wished to launch an offensive. It was also economically vital for both sides as it straddled the fertile area of the Indus river belt.
Reasoning behind the battle
As the war began on the eastern front, Pakistan decided to open up the western sector to divert Indian troops from the Eastern front in Bangladesh and prolong the war. Shakargarh bulge was a key strategic area for India as it comprised road links between Jammu and Indian Punjab. Therefore, securing the region was crucial for India as Pakistan had a military base nearby in Sialkot and therefore could have easily launched a massive invasion of the Shakargarh region, cutting Jammu and Kashmir from the rest of India. The Indian Army maintained a base at Pathankot, couple of hundred miles away from Shakargarh and quickly mobilized forces to defend the region. In an attempt to gain advantage through the element of surprise, the Indian Army, though outnumbered, attacked Pakistani positions in Jarpal area, triggering the Battle of Basantar.
Columnist Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC makes an excellent presentation of one of the bloody and pointless battles of the 1971 war
The Battle of Barapind or Jarpal, fought on the northern border of the ShakarGarh Bulge, as the Pakistanis and Indians respectively call it, was one of the most bloody and pointless battles of the 1971 war as far as the Western Front was concerned. The battle has remained shrouded in a number of myths and controversies with one unit accusing another of cowardice and misreporting, further compounded by the artillery accusing armour as an arm and armour in turn blaming the infantry for all its tactical blunders! Around the 1980s some gentlemen particularly in the armoured corps rationalised the battle and the immense losses in men and material by claiming that had the counterattack not been launched, the Indians would have broken through and may have perhaps captured Zafarwal or Pasrur. Another school of thought in the armoured corps heaped the entire blame on the armoured brigade commander, while totally denying that the Barapind-Jarpal fiasco had any connection with faulty doctrine, organisational imbalances/deficiencies, battle procedure or with the command echelons higher than brigade level! Many rationalised the failure by insisting that the Indians enjoyed numerical superiority and the losses suffered by the armoured brigade were inevitable. Yet another school of thought, particularly in the armoured corps alleged that the fiasco occurred because of misreporting of enemy situation by an infantry battalion!
We will briefly analyse the battle and endeavour to arrive at conclusions which are realistic and free from negative biases like inter arm rivalry, personal likes and dislikes and a mistaken feeling of espirit de corps which propels many to regard forthright analysis as against regimental loyalty or as unpatriotic etc.
COMPARISON OF FORCES
Pakistan's I Corps (Lieutenant General Irshad Ahmad Khan) consisted of three infantry divisions, an armoured division and an armoured brigade. Two of its infantry divisions were deployed to defend the entire area from Marala Headworks in the north till the Narowal area where the Ravi river finally enters Pakistan. 8 Infantry Division (Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik)1 comprising four infantry brigades2 being responsible for defence of Shakargarh Bulge and 15 Division (Major General Abid Ali Zahid) for the defence of Sialkot. 8 Independent Armoured Brigade (Brigadier Mohammad Ahmad) comprising three tank regiments (13 Lancers, 27 Cavalry and 31 Cavalry), one self-propelled artillery regiment (15 Self- Propelled Regiment or simply 15 SP)3 and a mechanised infantry battalion (29 Frontier Force or simply 29 FF) was to assist both 8 and 15 Division in the defence of the Ravi-Chenab corridor by launching counterattacks or occupying counter penetration positions. 6 Armoured Division and 17 Infantry Division although theoretically under command 1 Corps were essentially the Pakistan Army's strategic reserve and were in concentration areas in general area Pasrur-Daska-Gujranwala. These were to be employed only as a last resort and as a matter of fact were not employed at all by the GHQ because of lack of resolution!
India's I Corps comprised three infantry divisions (36, 39 and 54 Divisions), two armoured brigades (2 and 16 Independent Armoured Brigades), two independent artillery brigades (31 and 41) less a medium regiment and approximately two engineer brigades. The Indian infantry divisions did not have any integral tank regiments. The independent artillery brigades were equivalent to what the Pakistanis called corps artillery, subdivided into two brigades for greater flexibility, keeping in view the large frontage of the area of operations. The infantry divisions however had their own respective divisional artillery brigades. The Indians enjoyed a significant, although not overwhelming superiority in infantry, having approximately 27 infantry battalions as against 8 Divisions 12 infantry battalions. I have used the word significant because the 17 Division although never employed by Pakistan was also available, at least potentially for use. In armour the Indians enjoyed qualitative but not quantitative superiority as was later fallaciously claimed by some in order to rationalise the blunders committed by Pakistan's I Corps. They had six tank regiments and two independent recce squadrons as against five tank regiments and one independent squadron of 8 Division and 8 Independent Armoured Brigade and four tank regiments of 6 Armoured Division4. It may be noted that 6 Armoured Division was reinforced by 11 Cavalry by the time the Barapind battle was fought and thus the total Pakistani potential tank strength which could be employed against the Indian I Corps (minus 15 Division, which was opposite Indian 15 Corps 26 Division) was nine tank regiments as against six Indian. The Indian qualitative superiority in tanks was also not applicable as far as Barapind-Jarpal battle was concerned.This was so because all the T-54/T-55 Indian tanks were concentrated in its 2 Armoured Brigade whose all three units were equipped with T series tanks, while the 16 Independent Armoured Brigade, which fought the Barapind Battle was equipped with the same Centurions which the Indians had in 1965 as against the same Pattons of Pakistan's 8 Armoured Brigade, which Pakistan had in 1965 war. The 6 Armoured Division was equipped with T-59 tanks which were at par with the Indian T-54/T-55 tanks and far superior to Centurions.
Credit: Gagan of BRF
AREA OF OPERATIONS AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
The Shakargarh Bulge by virtue of its location parallel to the only Indian road link to Kashmir for more than 54 miles was an area which the Indians could not ignore. Any Pakistani thrust launched from the bulge into Kashmir at any point along the entire 54 miles stretch from Kathua to Jammu could enable the Pakistan Army to sever the road link between India and Kashmir by advancing just five to fifteen miles inside Indian territory! This would have meant isolation of five infantry divisions; something which could have affected the whole outcome of war! It was for this reason that the Indians had selected the northwestern part of Shakargarh Bulge to launch their main attack in 1965.
Shakargarh was not as vital for Pakistan as for India, being one of the few areas north of Sutlej river where Pakistan could afford to trade space for time, at worst and launch a major thrust inside Indian territory to force the Indians to commit their reserves and even ease the pressure on the East wing, at best. It was a potential springboard for launching a significant thrust inside India, which had the ability to seriously limit Indian Army's freedom of manoeuvre, provided there was a Moltke or Manstein in the Pakistani GHQ! While having all the advantages of a springboard for offensive operations, Shakargarh was a defender's nightmare. There were no serious water obstacles, unlike the areas south of Ravi River, to restrict the freedom of manoeuvre of a force commanded by an imaginative and resolute commander. The area was flat, firm and free of the boggy patches found in plenty in the areas west of Pasrur or south of the MRL canal and Ravi River.
The area was bisected by a large number of water courses and their tributaries (see map) running in a general north east- south west direction from Indian held Kashmir into Pakistan.These were non-perennial and fordable with minor recce in winters. Fields of fire were limited between 600 to 1200 yards due to clumps villages and sugar cane crops and artificial plantations called 'Rakhs' or 'Reserve Forest'. The Pakistanis had constructed a number of embankments (bunds) and anti- tank ditches to restrict an attacker's freedom of manoeuvre. These obstacles were further strengthened by construction of concrete bunkers. In addition three lines of mines, each approximately 600 to 800 metres were laid before the commencement of the war.
PAKISTANI PLAN: - The Pakistani plan for employment of I Corps and defence of Shakargarh was an essentially reactive rather than proactive plan. As per Fazal Muqeem the Pakistani I Corps was tasked to eliminate the Indian enclave (Dharm Enclave) on the Pakistani side of the River Ravi in area Narowal on the south western border of the Shakargarh Bulge and simulate offensive actions in order to draw enemy forces into the Shakargarh area5. The defence was based on two strong points organised around the small towns of Shakargarh, Narowal and Zafarwal which were to be held by 14 Para Brigade and 24 Brigade respectively6. It was appreciated that the main Indian thrust would be launched in the area between Degh Nala and Bein Nala. An ad hoc covering troops force known as the 'Changez Force' under Brigadier Nisar (of Gadgor fame in 1965 war) consisting of two tank regiments (20 Lancers, the I Corps Recce Regiment and 33 Cavalry ex 8 Division) and 13 Punjab were to fight a delaying battle at each minefield belt between the two strong points i.e. Zafarwal on the east bank of Degh Nala and Shakargarh on the west bank of Bein Nala, 'with a view to causing maximum attrition on enemy armour and infantry, thereby creating an opportunity for effective counterattack by corps/division resources'7. One tank regiment (20 Lancers having 35 Sherman, M-36-B-2 Tanks) of this force was to delay the advancing enemy along the first minefield while the second tank regiment (33 Cavalry having 41 Patton M-47/M-48 Tanks)8 was to impose delay along the second minefield. 13 Punjab the foot infantry unit with Changez Force was to provide infantry support to the Changez Force. The road between Zafarwal and Shakargarh was designated as line of no penetration and any enemy thrust south of this line was to be eliminated by launching the corps armoured reserve i.e. 8 Independent Armoured Brigade. The 8 Armoured Brigade was not tasked to do anything to wrest initiative from the enemy and the 6 Armoured Division and 17 Infantry Division were also assigned no offensive roles and were in MODC role (Ministry of Defence Constabulary)10.
INDIAN PLAN:- The essence of Indian I Corps plan was to take offensive action and advance into Shakargarh Bulge from the north and east with an infantry division each spearheaded by an independent armoured brigade, with a view to ensure, the security of the Pathankot Base and also the corridor leading to Kashmir on which the 15 Indian Corps in Kashmir depended11 while also ensuring that Pakistani reserves were also committed in defence of Shakargarh Bulge and could not be used in an offensive role. The original Indian plan, keeping in view their comparative strength, was extremely ambitious and envisaged the capture of Pasrur followed by an advance to the MRL Canal12. This was revised following the Pakistani build up against Poonch. 197113.
The modified Indian plan involved a two prong advance by 54 and 39 Infantry Divisions supported by 16 and 2 Independent Armoured Brigades respectively with 54 Division with 16 Independent Armoured Brigade under command was to advance southwards in the area between Degh and Karir Nala and capture Zafarwal-Dhamtal complex. The 39 Division (with 72 Infantry Brigade consisting of four battalions and 2 Independent Armoured Brigade) was to advance from the north and capture Shakargarh.The 36 Infantry Division tasked to defend the most critical Pathankot-Kathua-Gurdaspur area was to initially stay on the defensive and to attack westwards towards Shakargarh in case the operational situation warranted (ie after ensuring that no Pakistani threat was imminent against Pathankot-Kathua-Gurdaspur complex). The Indian plan was extremely conservative. There were nine infantry brigades available to Lieutenant General K.K Singh (commander of 1 Armoured Brigade at Chawinda in 1965). He earmarked four of these (168, 323, 87 and 18) along with six tank squadrons ( complete 14 Scinde Horse and 16 Light Cavalry) for guarding the critical areas of the Indian border on both flanks against a likely Pakistani attack. These troops were deployed west of Degh Nala (two infantry brigades and a tank regiment less one squadron), opposite Nainakot (one infantry brigade and one tank squadron) and in area Dinanagar-Pathankot (one infantry brigade and one tank regiment). This left the Indian I Corps with four infantry brigades and two armoured brigades less one tank regiment each to advance inside Pakistani territory!
OPERATIONAL SITUATION FROM 4TH TO 16TH DECEMBER 1971
The Indians were as concerned about their security as the Pakistanis but superiority in infantry enabled them to assume an offensive role.Their relatively limited armoured resources vis-a-vis the total available Pakistani armour in the Ravi-Chenab Corridor however ensured that although Pakistani territory all along the eastern and northern boundary of Shakargarh Bulge was captured, no major strategic gain was made. The Indian because of the minefields and because of the skill with which Brigadier Nisar handled Changez Force was slow. Soon after the commencement of operations once they realised that no Pakistani threat was likely against Pathankot-Kathua or Samba the 36 Division was also given an offensive task on 8th December, to advance against Shakargarh from the east with an infantry brigade and a tank regiment. 39 Infantry Divisions rate of advance was extremely slow and on 12 December its only two advancing brigades i.e. 72 Brigade and the 2 Independent Armoured Brigade (less one tank regiment) were placed under command 54 Division (72 Brigade and one tank regiment) and 36 Division (2 Armoured Brigade and less two tank regiments). In addition 87 Brigade and one tank squadron of 39 Division which were in defensive role opposite Nainakot were also placed under command 36 Division and assigned an offensive role of advancing against Shakargarh along with 36 Divisions other brigades. 39 Infantry Division Headquarters was shifted to Samba area and made responsible for commanding the three infantry brigades and one tank regiment less one squadron in holding role in 'X Sector' on the right flank of the 1 Corps between Degh and Aik Nala.
The 54 Infantry Division and 16 Armoured Brigade with whom we are primarily concerned as far as the analysis of the 'Battle of Barapind-Jarpal' is concerned advanced cautiously and slowly but enough to unnerve the Pakistan Army's Chief of Staff General Hameed who despatched one of the infantry brigades (124 Brigade) of the reserve division 33 Division to I Corps on 9th December 1971 and alerting 11 Cavalry till then in Chamb for move to Shakargarh on 10th December14. The Pakistani defences opposite 54 Division followed an inverted 'L Shaped' alignment with a horizontal alignment along 'Sakror Bund', an anti-tank ditch and embankment which ran all the way between Degh and Basantar Nala and a vertical alignment along the west bank of Basantar Nala from a point a little north of Lalial village where the Sakror Bund joined the Basantar Nala, running in a north-south direction from this point. 54 Indian Division advanced two brigades up both supported by tanks from 16 Armoured Brigade with 47 Brigade on the right and 91 Brigade on the left while the third brigade ie 74 Brigade in reserve. 47 Brigade was assigned the mission of contacting Basantar Nala opposite general area Lagwal-Jarpal and establishing a bridgehead on the west bank of Basantar Nala through which 74 Brigade was to breakout towards Zafarwal. 91 Brigade was to move on the east flank of 54 Division. By 15th December the 47 Infantry Brigade (three infantry battalions) closed with Basantar Nala opposite Lagwal and made a successful assault across the minefield laid in the bed of Basantar Nala on night 15/16 December15. A tough infantry fight took place and one of Indian infantry battalion commanders was killed during this operation16. The 47 Indian Infantry Brigade was tasked to establish a bridgehead in general area Sikandarpur-Lalial-Barapind17. It captured Siraj Chak and Laleal Forest at 8.30 p.m and Jarpal at 11.30 p.m18. Stiff fighting took place at Jarpal; and Major Hoshiar Singh a hardy Sikh Jat from Sisana in Hissar district was awarded a Param Vir Chakra; India's highest gallantry award18a. The Indian infantry reported at 2.00 p.m. that they were being attacked by Pakistani tanks and sent an SOS for tank support.This forced Indian 47 Brigade Commander to ask 17 Poona Horse to move into the bridgehead at once. As per the Indian armoured corps historian, the situation was so desperate that one squadron of Poona Horse was rushed across part of the minefield even though a lane had not been cleared18b. A firefight followed and Indians claim that they destroyed a Pakistani Sherman despite having no night firing capability!
The forward extent of the bridgehead was east of the Lalial Reserve Forest and this forced the Poona Horse tanks to cross the forest at night and establish themselves on its western edge, so as to be able to effectively engage any counter attack force the next morning.The Lalial Reserve Forest was thus cleared by a night assault launched by 'C' Squadron 17 Poona Horse immediately followed by an APC mounted company of 18 Rajput. The CO of 17 Horse also joined C Squadron along with RHQ Troop. The rest of the regiment followed and by first light the whole 17 Poona Horse was deployed; 'C' Squadron opposite Lalial village and to the south of it on the forward edge of the forest, 'B' Squadron less two troops south of 'C' Squadron opposite Ghazipur and 'A' Squadron in reserve in area Siraj Chak a village east of Ghazipur on the eastern side of the reserve forest. Two tank troops of 'B' Squadron were deployed in Jarpal area in the defences of 3 Grenadiers. 16 Madras which was the right forward battalion in the assault was deployed in line with the tanks in the north, in area Lalial-Ghazipur, 6 Madras which was in reserve in the assault phase was also brought forward and deployed in the middle and 3 Grenadiers which had played a major role in the initial assault as the right forward battalion in Jarpal and east of Barapind. It is significant to note that the Indians were all praise for the Pakistani infantry defending Jarpal; unlike the Pakistani infantry on the north i.e. opposite 6 and 16 Madras18c.
THE 8 ARMOURED BRIGADE COUNTER ATTACK ON BARAPIND JARPAL -16 DECEMBER 1971
It appears that Headquarters 1 Corps did not seriously appreciate the gravity of 54 Indian Division's advance towards Zafarwal. 8 Armoured Brigade was concentrated in general area Qila Sobha Singh-Pasrur from 11th December onwards. On 15th December the brigade was told to be prepared for ' a brigade attack east of Bein Nala to recapture lost territory up to River Ravi'!19 It may be noted that no effort was made to impose caution on the advancing enemy who leisurely breached all three minefields from 5 to 15 December maintaining a rate of mile on an average one and a quarter mile per day. This was not because of paucity of reserves, but paucity of resolution and decisiveness in the 1 Corps Headquarters or in the GHQ to spur 1 Corps! General Fazal Muqeem very accurately described 1 Corps conduct of the defensive battle as 'passive defence of 1 Corps' 20.
8 Armoured Brigade was preparing for the grand counter attack that it was supposed to launch east of Bein Nala to recover all lost territory up to River Ravi which it was supposed to launch in Nainakot area when it was suddenly informed at 0430 hours 16th December by the infantry formation in defence that the enemy had breached the minefield on Basantar Nala at Lagwal21. At 0515 hours the armoured brigade headquarters issued a warning order assessing an enemy tank squadron and an infantry battalion which had crossed the Basantar Nala and was established in area Lalial Forest and was being 'contained by own infantry and an independent squadron'22. On the other hand the infantry brigade commander of the area i.e. Brigadier Sher Ali Baz (24 Brigade) assessed the enemy in Jarpal as one tank troop and one infantry company!23 Lieutenant General Irshad the 1 Corps Commander ordered 8 Independent Brigade Commander to 'Restore the situation with minimum force'24.
8 Armoured Brigade Commander earmarked 13 Lancers one of its three tank regiments to deal with the situation and gave the following instructions/orders:-
'Approximately squadron of tanks and infantry battalion in village Siraj Chak area on the west bank of Basantar. This penetration has been contained by own infantry/tanks...and directed 13 Lancers to establish a counter penetration position25 in area Pindi Channian west of village Jarpal immediately 26'
13 Lancers along with other 8 Brigade units was located a little south of Zafarwal. It concentrated in Jabal-Mehla area by 0745 hours along with its affiliated armoured infantry company. 'A' Squadron which was earmarked for the 'Counter Penetration' task was briefed by the CO 13 Lancers and crossed road Zafarwal-Shakargarh at 0800 hours. While on the move it was ordered on wireless by the CO to move towards area Sikandarpur and destroy a few enemy tanks which were breaking out from area Lalial. (It may be noted, that this must have been a false alarm, since no Indian account mentions any such offensive movement at eightish in the morning). This modification in plan resulted based on new orders from 8 Armoured Brigade Commander who had received these from 24 Infantry Brigade Commander. The brigade commander had asked CO 13 Lancers to 'send a squadron to contain enemy penetration' but the CO decided to 'attack north and destroy enemy tanks'27. 'A' Squadron moved to Sikandarpur and was fired at by enemy tanks/anti-tank guns from Ghazipur village. The squadron formed up and attacked losing in the process 8 tanks and two officers killed and wounded. The remaining six tanks withdrew and deployed along with Pakistani infantry holding defences at Sakror Bund. Meanwhile at 0830 hours while 'A' Squadron was moving towards Ghazipur CO 13 Lancers, entirely on his own judgement, also ordered 'C' Squadron to take a 'Counter Penetration Position' in Pindi Chanian area and while 'C' Squadron was preparing to do so changed his orders, ordering both 'B' and 'C' Squadrons to 'proceed to Barapind and attack six to seven enemy tanks and infantry company in Jarpal area'28.
All that followed was disastrous and both the squadrons were engaged by heavy enemy anti-tank and artillery fire, losing twenty tanks and in the process, three officers killed and two officers wounded. It was during this action that Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal a Punjabi Hindu from Sargodha exhibited extreme valour and saved the Indian position as per the Indian Armoured Corps historian; an action which was acknowledged by grant of a posthumous Param Vir Chakra; India's highest gallantry award. 13 Lancers claims that the enemy fell back from Barapind29 (which was of no consequence to both Indians and Pakistanis in any case) while the Indians claim that they had never occupied Barapind30 (again of no consequence even if they had done so).
We will briefly discuss the Indian position during this whole affair. The Indians were holding the bridgehead as we earlier discussed with two tank squadrons with a third in reserve (it has been erroneously claimed that there were two or three Indian tank regiments defending the bridgehead); 'C' Squadron Poona Horse on the right holding area Lalial and south , 'B' Squadron less two troops holding area Ghazipur and south and two troops of 'B' Squadron beefing up the defences of 3 Grenadier Battalion in village Jarpal. It was essentially 'C' Squadron Poona Horse which faced 'A' Squadron 13 Lancers and 'B' Squadron Poona Horse which faced 'B' and 'C' Squadrons of 13 Lancers. Once 13 Lancers brought in its two remaining squadrons the Indians reinforced Jarpal with half squadron of its 'A' Squadron which was in reserve in Siraj Chak area. Once 31 Cavalry attacked the Indians brought the remaining tanks of 'A' Squadron in Jarpal area.
By 1200 hours 13 Lancers which was praised by the Indians for its tremendous valour, keeping aside all the foolhardiness of their modus operandi,31 was written off from the order of battle of the 8 Armoured Brigade! The issue now was no longer containment since the Indians were also considerably shaken, having suffered a large number of tank and infantry casualties in the process. Such was the elan and dash of this attack that the Indian armoured corps historian admitted that 'the only occasion that a breakthrough could have occurred was when two squadrons of 13 Lancers (following Major Nasir's exhortation described in the previous sentence) attacked together in the afternoon, but a gallant last-ditch stand by three tanks of the Poona Horse averted the danger' But the Indian historian went further and instead of making ridiculous claims that the Indians were more martial frankly admitted that the Pakistani failure had a direct connection with incompetent leadership. Gurcharan Singh thus said: 'Pakistani armour suffered casualties because of bad use of ground and tactical ineptness'31a. 8 Armoured Brigade Headquarters now ordered its second tank regiment 31 Cavalry to attack the Indian bridgehead from the direction of Marara Wazirpur in the gap between the place where 'C' and 'B' Squadrons 13 Lancers had attacked. The Indians admitted that the attack of 31 Cavalry was more methodical and deliberate32 than 13 Lancers, with the regiment attacking as an entity; two squadrons providing static fire support and one assaulting. The deliberate manner in which the attack was launched could not compensate for the nominal artillery support and the frontal approach and the attacking squadron of 31 Cavalry was beaten back with a loss of ten out of fourteen tanks destroyed and a squadron commander and another officer killed. 31 Cavalry now did what 8 Armoured Brigade may have done at 8 O' Clock in the morning; ie it went into a counter penetration position around Marara Wazirpur at about 1400 hours.33
It was after this second attack of 31 Cavalry that the Indians reinforced the bridgehead with approximately 12 tanks from Brigade headquarters, and half squadron 4 Hodsons Horse. The situation now was well in control with 27 Cavalry and 35 FF of 124 Brigade in reserve and the Indian threat (that is if there was any despite Pakistani numerical tank superiority of three to one or three to two in Barapind-Jarpal area) was removed. Remnants of 'A' Squadron 13 Lancers remaining tanks were in counter penetration position opposite Ghazipur, 'B' and 'C' Squadrons in counter penetration position opposite Barapind and Jarpal and 31 Cavalry in the middle.
On night 16/17 December the 8 Brigade and 24 Brigade commander decided to attack the bridgehead which had been most disastrously contained with the third tank regiment 27 Cavalry and 35 FF, both of which were to attack and capture Jarpal (another mud village of no tactical consequence). The infantry battalion was delayed and the armoured brigade commander called off the planned attack34 which was originally scheduled to be launched at 0430 hours 17 December35. The infantry brigade commander who according to many officers of the 24 Brigade rarely left his headquarters however insisted that 35 FF, a newly raised but highly integrated and motivated foot infantry unit to launch a daylight attack without tank support on a bridgehead which two tank regiments had failed to dent ! Due to some phenomenal command blunder artillery fire support was not coordinated and 35 FF attacked without artillery fire support36 at 0530 hours. The commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Akram Raja led the senseless attack and it is best to quote the Indians who were all praise for the gallantry of this indomitable battalion and were shocked at the senselessness of the whole affair; 'At dawn 39th FF launched its attack for the recapture of Jarpal. The attack was doomed to failure. Launched in broad daylight as it was over open ground in full view of one tank squadron plus and one infantry battalion and covered by their combined weapons. Tanks and artillery opened fire when the Pakistanis emerged from cover from their forming up place.It was a foolhardy venture,the attackers were literally massacred but they persisted in their attempt to close until the few remnants fell only about 50 metres from tanks of 4 Hodsons Horse. At about that time the news of Pakistani acceptance of ceasefire was received. The whole of this gallant battalion was sacrificed to no purpose...ceasefire became effective at 8.00 p.m. and guns fell silent on both sides. The next day 80 dead bodies of the 39th Frontier Force including their commanding officer, second in commands and adjutants were handed over to the Pakistanis'37
'Hail Indomitable Heroes Hail! Despite of all your Generals and Brigadiers ye prevailed! The Indians rightly awarded two of their highest gallantry awards to their soldiers, but nothing beyond an SJ was granted to the brave men who died at Barapind-Jarpal! The Indians even awarded their highest award to Major Hoshiar Singh Cheema who survived the battle but many equally brave soldiers of 13 Lancers, 31 Cavalry or 35 FF were not considered worthy of being awarded a Nishan-i-Haidar. Perhaps there is something seriously wrong with the whole system of the award of gallantry in our army? What is the basis;is it that an officer has won the Sword of Honour or is from an old regiment, or that his citation was written well, or that he was liked by his brigade or divisional commander before the war?
Fazal-i-Muqeem well summed up at least 8 Division's performance when he said: 'The few counter attacks, which 8 Division tried during the war were most noticeable by their lack of planning. The units were hurled into battle without having been given enough time for planning and preparations'.38
Impact of Experiences of 1965 War on the Principal Decision Makers' Minds.
Most analysis of Barapind-Jarpal are unfortunately superficial because they concentrate on the superficial aspects of the whole affair. The principal reason for the failure at Barapind was neither the artillery factor, nor the assessment of situation, nor incompetence of the armoured brigade commander but something much deeper. This was the deep impact of experiences of 1965 war on the principal decision makers' mind.
First of all we will discuss Brigadier Ahmad the commander of 8 Armoured Brigade. Brigadier Ahmad, had distinguished himself as a squadron commander at Gadgor in 1965 war a few miles west of Degh Nala and had played a major role in the failure of the Indian 1st Armoured Division's failure to achieve a major breakthrough on 8th September. It appears that this experience at Gadgor shaped many of his actions in 1971. The Battle of Gadgor was a peculiar battle in which Pakistan's 25 Cavalry had clashed with two tank regiments of the Indian Army, with both units on the march and with both deploying in a line formation in a most impromptu manner without knowing the strength or composition of the enemy in front. The Indians had the potential to outflank 25 Cavalry by virtue of having nine tank squadrons against three of 25 Cavalry but failed because their armoured brigade commander (who ironically commanded 1 Indian Corps in 1971) was unnerved due to reports of a false alarm on his flank. The action at Gadgor was a glorious feat as far as 25 Cavalry and then Major Ahmad were concerned. But it was one of those unique incidents which rarely occur in military history!Both sides did not know, who was opposing them; 25 Cavalry having no clue that they were opposing the whole Indian armoured division and the Indian 1st Armoured Division thinking that they were opposed by an armoured brigade! Artillery was of no consequence in this action since both sides clashed by accident and artillery fire made a limited impact on the battle! At this time there were no armoured brigades in Pakistan 6 Armoured Division and the Battle of Chawinda was fought as a largely ad hoc battle with divisional headquarters directly telling units what to do. It appears that Gadgor experience influenced both Brigadier Ahmad and GOC 8 Division who at that time was commanding 24 Infantry Brigade at Gadgor. Later on artillery played a pivotal role in defeating deliberate Indian assaults opposite Chawinda from 12th to 21 September 1965. However these were downplayed because of the inter arm rivalry and Brigadier Amjad Ali Khan Choudhry the architect of artillery plan at Chawinda was sidelined and retired as a brigadier despite having had a brilliant career. Post 1965 propaganda in Pakistan painted the Battle of Chawinda as a triumph of armour and infantry; hardly ever admitting that artillery played any role in it! This was due to the British inherited legacy in which artillery was despised as an arm by infantry and armour officers!
Now we will discuss 13 Lancers.The experiences of this unit in 1965 war played a major role in conditioning its attitude in 1971. In 1971 this unit was launched in Chamb against an Indian Squadron equipped with AMX-13 tanks which had no potential to oppose the six to one tank superiority concentrated against them by Pakistan in Chamb during Operation Grand Slam. Even technically AMX-13 was a matchbox with extremely thin armour as compared to the Patton/Sherman tanks employed by Pakistan against it. 13 Lancers was conditioned by the Grand Slam experience when it was opposed by an enemy which was outnumbered, as well as surprised. This experience conditioned their behaviour in 1971 and they had faith in the tank charge which had succeeded in Grand Slam in front of AMX-13 but had no chance of success in front of Centurions of a tank regiment as illustrious as 13 Lancers!
DOCTRINAL AND OTHER TACTICAL FAILURES
The conduct of the two tank regiments clearly point towards doctrinal procedural and tactical failures particular to the armoured corps.Brigadier Jahangir Karamat (later General) who was from 13 Lancers categorically said that the armoured briagde commander asked both 13 Lancers and 31 Cavalry to attack as soon as possible implying that there was no need to cut short the batle procedure and there was no need to panic;but both the units and specially 13 Lancers cut through various parts of the battle procedure like liaision with infantry,preliminary recce etc leading to the phenomenal tank losses that it later suffered.Even the method of attack of both units was different;which proved that even at brigade level;tactical thinking was whimsical and differed from unit to unit;even in important things like basic drills of operations of war!
CRUX OF THE WHOLE ISSUE
There is one fact which is missed in most analysis’s of the Battle of Barapind and most other tank battles of Indo-Pak war.This refers to handling of units above regiment level.There is one striking parallel between Battle of Gadgor fought in 1965 where 25 Cavalry checked the 1st Indian Armoured Briagde(ie 1st Indian Armoured Div) and in Barapind where 16 Light Cavalry stopped the whole 8 Armoured Brigade. The fact that stands out is that handling of unit till regiment level was good in defence while handling of units beyond brigade level was extremely poor and especially in offensive operations! Even the Pakistani 6 Armoured Division which did well in Chawinda fought an essentially defensive battle. In Gadgor, 25 Cavalry did extremely well as a unit but the Indians failed miserably as a brigade at Gadgor;despite a four to one superiority; and the same happened at Barapind.The conclusion is that both the armies failed to function as dynamic entities beyond regimental level!The troops and the young leaders till squadron were equally brave and leaders beyond unit level almost equally weak in handling more than one unit!Even in Khem Karan Pakistani armour succeded till unit level but failed misearbly beyond in attack; which is a far more difficult operation to coordinate, execute and synchronise than attack. Thus Khem Karan was triumph of 6 Lancers and failure of 4 and 5 Armoured Brigades in attack!
The same tendency was present at the Corps level, althoughn the Indians improved over it since they had the system of corps in vogue earlier than Pakistan Army.They learnt it from 1965 when their 1 Corps had miserably failed to function as a Corps. Even in Shakargarh the Indians failed to concentrate more than one armoured regiment at any one place at a particular time. The Battle of Barapind was the triumph of one unit over a brigade in defence but proved that the Gadgor experience;ie inability of both armour commanders to handle more than one tank regiment was valid even in 1971!
The only man in the subcontinent who came close to succesful handling of more than one tank regiment in offence was an infantry general (like Rommel) ie General Eftikhar who despite near parity successfully handled an armoured force of more than two tank regiments. A small feat in western military terms but a big one in the Indo-Pak military scenario. Praval the Indian writer hit the nail on the head when he observed that in Shakargarh bulge the Indians failed to concentrate at any one time more than one tank regiment and that at no time was more than one tank regiment in action, or in contact with the enemy.
EMPLOYMENT OF RESERVES
Clausewitz clearly and repeatedly stated many times in his book 'On War' that a strategic reserve that had no bearing on the decisive battle was a negation of the whole idea of having a strategic reserve. Thus what was the use of 6 Armoured Division or 17 Division when they did nothing and had no bearing on the whole battle of Shakargarh! There is some truth in Iqbal's verse 'Man never suffers defeat, without perishing he goes into retreat'!
ROLE OF HEADQUARTER 1 CORPS
The only role of 1 Corps Headquarters was handling of Corps reserves but commander 1 Corps abdicated from this responsibility taking no interest in what 8 Armoured Brigade did or what it was supposed to do. 1 Corps Headquarters was as a matter of fact overtaken by the friction of war. The gears of whole higher command mechanism of 1 Corps were jammed and Commander 1 Corps did not have the powerful iron will to overcome this friction, nor did he have the coup d oeil or operational vision to supply the much needed oil to lubricate the gears of 1 Corps operational ability. 1 Corps possessed numerical superiority over the Indians in armour, the arm of decision and had the potential to make the Indians react to its moves rather than reacting to their moves. As Fazal Muqeem rightly described 1 Corps assumed a passive role and merely kept reacting instead of seizing the initiative; which was well within its capability; keeping in view the relative superiority in tanks. So disgusted were the officers with the army high command, that the revolt which finally resulted in the exit of Yahya Khan started from 6 Armoured Division, which was not utilised at all throughout the war. 1 Corps Headquarters was vacillating and indecisive, unable to even assess as to which was the most dangerous enemy threat, and till 15 December was thinking of employing 8 Armoured Brigade for a raid at Nainakot, more than 20 miles east of Barapind!
1 Corps Headquarters was also directly responsible for keeping the artillery out of the planning of operations. Shaukat Riza the official historian of Pakistan Army noted this anti- artillery bias of Headquarters 1 Corps in the following words: 'When Headquarters 1 Corps was established in Gujranwala, its artillery component was driven out nine miles away to Nadipur. Even for the capture of Dharam Enclave Headquarters Artillery I Corps was kept out of picture'39. Instead of ensuring that artillery, armour and all arms worked as a team, Commander 1 Corps established a precedence which aimed at increasing the inter arm rivalry which both Pakistan and Indian Armies had inherited from the British (but which had been reduced in Indian Army, by virtue of having an artillery C in C etc). Thus when commander 8 Armoured Brigade made his counterattack plans he did not consult the corps artillery Commander or any other infantry divisional artillery commander at all.40
ASSESSMENT OF SITUATION
Barapind-Jarpal was essentially a failure in assessing a situation correctly. There was no doubt from 5 December onwards that the principal threat to Pakistani 1 Corps was from the 54 Division which although very slowly was surely advancing towards Zafarwal-Pasrur complex, possession of which was vital for anyone who wanted to hold the initiative in Shakargarh Bulge. 1 Corps Headquarters failed to assess this simple fact and did not function at all as an operational headquarters except as a post office processing requests for reinforcements. The crossing of Basantar should not have come as a surprise at all on the morning of 16 December, but it appeared that the corps headquarters was not prepared for this eventuality. Instead the situations assessment was relegated to the holding infantry battalion and the infantry brigade commander made no serious attempt to keep a close liaison with either the armoured brigade headquarters. Even as late as the morning of 16 December he insisted that enemy strength across Basantar was no more than a tank troop and an infantry company. The armoured brigade commander also made no independent effort to confirm or disregard the assessment of the infantry commander and assumed that a tank regiment could deal with the situation without utilising divisional or corps artillery's fire support. The CO of 13 Lancers who should have been the most concerned person made no effort to assess the situation and was confident that one tank squadron could deal with the enemy! The engagement that followed was impromptu and 13 Lancers, was committed as a unit of sheer reflex action while conducting fire fights with individual Indian tanks.
ROLE OF 8 ARMOURED BRIGADE HEADQUARTER VIS-A-VIS ITS UNITS
8 Armoured Brigade Headquarters' failed in three counts; i.e. was the assessment of the situation, ability to employ the tank resources correctly and in incorporating artillery to support its offensive operations. The headquarters was formed in 1970 and the concept of an independent brigade fighting in the environment of a corps was new at least as far as the Pakistan Army was concerned. The operational situation in 1971, was far more complex than the one in 1965 when the 6 Armoured Division was fighting a battle on a twelve mile frontage with an enemy which was only attacking it frontally. In 1971 1 Corps was dealing with an operational situation in which Shakargarh Bulge was being attacked from three distinct directions over a frontage which was more than 60 miles wide with no clear cut operational plan to counter it. 8 Armoured Brigade had worked on about 25 contingencies and operated in an environment in which its corps headquarters was already paralysed by indecision and vacillation.
Later on it became fashionable to criticise Brigadier Ahmad and to state that it was a failure of one man. Brigadier Ahmad was one of the finest officers of the armoured corps and was therefore placed in an independent command. The failure of 8 Armoured Brigade was not failure of one individual but that of the whole Pakistan Armoured Corps! The blunders were committed at all levels and 13 Lancers lost most of its tanks, not because of Brigadier Ahmad but because of the erratic attitude of its CO who on his own decided to reap some glory by ordering an attack when he had been ordered by his brigade commander to go into counter penetration position. 8 Armoured Brigade Headquarter's major failure was in failure to utilise artillery; but we must remember that at that time and to some extent till even now at least in armoured corps, artillery was despised as an arm, and any other man in Ahmad's place would have acted no differently41.
It appears that 8 Armoured Brigade Headquarters was unnerved once 13 Lancers was decimated and ordered 31 Cavalry to attack at once without realising that the one tank regiment attacking at the same place where another had just failed was against all tactical principles! It is possible that Brigadier Ahmad was forced to bring in 31 Cavalry since the high losses of 13 Lancers had created a grave situation which could be remedied only by bringing in another tank regiment, to deter the Indians from exploiting their tremendous success against 13 Lancers. Even the contrast between 13 Lancers and 31 Cavalry's conduct was glaring. 31 Cavalry despite being a new unit conducted its attack in a far more deliberate manner than 13 Lancers; something which was noticed; as we have already discussed even by the Indian armoured corps historian. The unnecessary losses that 13 Lancers suffered were entirely avoidable had its CO followed the instructions he had received and went for a counter penetration position. The Indians fought well, but they did so out of sheer desperation!It is ironic that while armour was singled out as an arm for the Barapind failure,the disease which had led to it was not diagnosed.It was a disease born in the Ayub-Musa era and had a deep connection with the British military legacy afflicting the whole army. Brigadier Ahmad was not promoted after the war, but this had less to do with Barapind and more with personal likes and dislikes! GOC 8 Division whose conduct as we have discussed was complimented by Fazal Muqeem was promoted! Another Brigadier who did not have the moral courage to join his brigade in Chamb and evaded active service on the pretext of martial law duty, was promoted and became a full general!
GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION
The failure at Barapind was later rationalised by saying that the Indian threat was grave and that the blunders committed were a natural result of the confusion caused because of the gravity of the threat! We will examine this extremely fallacious assertion in brief. The principal decision makers as we have seen assessed that the enemy in front was a troop of tanks or a squadron and thought in a most cavalier manner that it could be swept aside by just sending a tank regiment without any deliberate corps artillery support! The corps commander specifically used the words restore the situation by use of minimum force, thus implying that the threat was not as grave as to merit the employment of maximum force!
Even keeping in view the relative strength the Indians were not capable of achieving much. What did they have; a tank regiment and two Madras and one Grenadier battalions against three Pakistani tank regiments and one infantry brigade immediately available and one tank division and infantry division within 20 miles of the bridgehead! And if the threat was so grave, how was it that 1 Corps realised its gravity only at 0430 hours on 16 December.
Two factors stand out in the whole affair. One was a vacillating and highly indecisive corps headquarters which had no clear grasp of the operational situation and viewed things in view of straight geometrical lines like a drill sergeant major! There was no cause for concern and 8 Armoured Brigade was leisurely being told to raid Nainakot till 15 December and suddenly the situation became grave when the enemy crossed the line of no penetration. What was the rationale in not accepting the gravity of threat from 5 December onwards and resorting to countermeasures to wrest the initiative from the enemy, when it was evident that the intention of this particular enemy division was to capture Zafarwal and to cross the so called line of no penetration! The second factor which stands out is that 8 Division Commander, 24 Brigade Commander and perhaps the armoured brigade commander wanted to achieve a local victory which they suddenly realised was much required keeping in view the drain on the morale of own troops due to the constant withdrawal through the various layers of minefields since 05 December. If this was the motivation then the modus operandi in which it was aimed at was extremely costly! The thirst for glory and honour are perfectly reasonable and honourable aspirations provided they are matched by equal willingness to share risks of battle and are accompanied by strength of intellect and ability and the resolution to execute a viable plan. These were sadly missing in all headquarters from brigade and onwards!
It appears that the prime motivation in all the principal decision makers mind at both brigade and regimental level in 8 Armoured Brigade was ''thirst for glory'' which they thought was cheaply purchasable by launching a squadron or two at a force estimated at six or seven tanks or a squadron at the most; not a grave threat, and something that could be dealt with by utilising, just one third of 8 Armoured Brigade's tank strength! It was only after 16 December when the outcome turned out to be disastrous; was a myth created that 8 Armoured Brigade despite suffering colossal losses had saved Shakargarh Bulge or Zafarwal! That the enemy in front was a tank brigade or two tank regiments; and certainly not a single tank regiment; which unfortunately was the actual case! Injustice to the brigade commander it must be admitted that he had asked 13 Lancers to contain the enemy by fire; but CO 13 Lancers on his own overzealous attitude decided to attack! Had he died like Akram Raja of 35 FF the trauma may have been much less!
At Chawinda just six years earlier the Pakistani 6 Armoured Division with a lesser strength in infantry but parity in tanks had stopped the whole Indian 1st Armoured Division aided by two infantry divisions from breaking out! Here at Chawinda; the Pakistani 6 Armoured Division had stopped the Indians not by charging without artillery support; but by making optimum use of tanks containing the Indians by fire and defeating Indian infantry attacks by artillery fire. At Barapind what was the gravity in containing an Indian infantry brigade with one tank regiment with three tank regiments and one foot infantry and one mechanised infantry battalion by fire as was done six years earlier with exactly the same Patton tanks in defence and the same Indian Centurion tanks seeking to breakthrough!!!!
Since I joined the armoured corps in 1981 I heard thousands of time that despite losses 8 Armoured Brigade had done a wonderful job! The fact remains that the only people who did a wonderful job despite all the tactical ineptness at regiment and above were the officers and men of 13 Lancers; men like Major Nasir41a who were praised by the Indians, or 35 FF who assaulted in face of certain destruction!
EMPLOYMENT OF AN ARMOUR
The battle of Bara Pind was not only a failure of Brigade and Corps level but also a failure at tactical level. It is unfortunate that while the armoured brigade commander was criticised, the fact that execution at regimental level played as much a part in failure as the higher headquarters was ignored.
The battle even without sufficient artillery support was not as potentially disastrous as made by the piecemeal and cavalier manner in which 13 Lancers was handled in particular by its CO. Instead of utilising the whole regiment to attack in depth he employed a squadron; ordering it into certain depth. The second attack involving two squadrons, however, came close to achieving a breakthrough; something which was admitted by the Indians and proves that a more deliberate attack by I Lancers could have led to a breakthrough. Gurcharan Singh thus said, 'Firstly it made no sense to attack with only one squadron at a time. The armour counter attack neither had the numerical advantage nor the depth to have a chance to succeed; the only occasion when a breakthrough could have occurred was when two squadrons of 13 Lancers attacked together in the afternoon, but a gallant last ditch stand by three tanks of Poona Horse averted the danger.' This proves that a regiment attack with all three squadrons could have succeeded and Bara Pind which has gone down in history as a childish blunder could have been a great battle if Commander 8 Brigade had insisted that 13 Lancers must attack as a regiment ... but then there were serious doctrinal and battle procedures in armoured corps as an arm and the fact that Bara Pind was a fiasco despite the fact that the best officer of the armoured corps was commanding the brigade; does not paint a bright picture about the armoured corps of that time! Later on the whole blame was heaped on the brigade commander and the fact that the failure had a lot to do with doctrine, poor tactics as taught and practised was ignored. This does not mean that the armoured corps did not have good brigadiers. Gurcharan Singh saw in Brigadier Nisar the commander of Changez Force a much better commander. He actually praised Changez Force saying; 'Pakistan 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 planned for', a tribute from an enemy to a brigadier who was not promoted for having done well!
It is instructive to note that the Indians have admitted that the day was saved by a 'last ditch stand by just one tank troop leader', which means that Bara Pind like Gadgor in 1965 was a fluke where the Indians were able to hang on by the sheer skin of their teeth, while in 1965 it was one tank squadron in particular and ironically Brigadier Ahmad's squadron with Brigadier Ahmed in lead which saved the day!
Perhaps there is a greater power which decides the fate of armies in which doctrine and tactics are taught in the manner of a novice and concentration is on polo; push and pull etc.
EMPLOYMENT OF ARTILLERY
There was nothing new in employing or not employing artillery at Barapind! The fact that no use was made of the six field, eight medium and two heavy artillery batteries42 which could have been potentially utilised by 8 Brigade or 24 Brigade or 8 Division proves the presence of a disease which was not presently merely in 8 Armoured Brigade but in the whole army! Poor employment of artillery had led to a serious British reverse at Chillianwala in January 1849. The British learnt their lesson and made full use of artillery at the final battle of Gujrat if the 2nd Sikh War as a result of which they won this battle with minimum casualties. One British writer was frank enough to admit that Gujrat was won because of 'the power of superior artillery and disciplined cooperation against a more numerous, equally brave, but less coherent enemy compelled to fight on open ground'43. In Pakistan at least at the army level the role of artillery in all our successes was not fully appreciated as well as incorporated in doctrine training and in operational methodology. Thus the concentration was on the macho image of the tankman or infantry man whereas in reality artillery had played a decisive role in many Indian failures opposite Lahore, in Chamb and at Chawinda! Those from infantry and armour who dominated the scene were not honest enough to admit it; and thus at Barapind despite all the martial and Islamic fervour and a clear cut three to one majority in tanks, but minus artillery support of something like 4 Corps Artillery Brigade; 8 Armoured Brigade; an elite fighting outfit ,was brought to grief; failing to dislodge one regiment of Centurions supported by three infantry units, out of which one was that of a mixed composition and two of those Madrasis despised as non-martial in Pakistan! Our soldiers were second to none in valour; but valour alone minus military talent, coup d oeil and artillery support is no guarantee of success. It was for this reason that G.G.O Number. 1277 of 1861 had laid down specifically:-
'Resolved henceforward, with such few exceptions as may be rendered necessary by local considerations, there shall be no native artillery'.44
ANALYSIS OF INDIAN CASUALTIES
I came across the assertion many times while in service that 1 Corps caused enormous casualties on the Indians in Shakargarh. This assertion is not proved by facts. The toughest battles of the 1971 war were fought opposite 54 Division and the following facts do not prove that 54 Division suffered high casualties45:-
Now compare the Pakistani losses of 35 FF at Jarpal ie 64 killed,75 wounded and 12 missing46 or that of 13 Lancers which exceeded the figure of 50 casualties. Were these necessary or justified and for what purpose? Just because one feather in someone's cap was wanted. Had there been an Eftikhar leading from the front these losses may have made some sense!
AN ALTERNATIVE OPERATIONAL REMEDY
It has frequently been asserted that 1 Corps had no other alternative but to resort to a passive defence. This is a totally false assertion, if we take into account the resources available to 1 Corps vis-a-vis the Indians. 1 Corps had nine tank regiments in all as against six Indian tank regiments in Shakargarh Bulge. Further 17 Division was not utilised at all to do anything throughout the war. In Chamb with just a slight numerical superiority and qualitative inferiority in tanks and parity in infantry General Eftikhar wrested the initiative from Indians in such a manner that by 10th December the Indians had withdrawn one battalion from 168 Brigade in the 'X Force Sector' opposite Charwa in 1 Corps area, and had placed the same brigade at few hours notice to move to Chamb in view of 23 Divisions attack at Pallanwala. The Pakistani GHQ's strategy in Shakargarh was reactive rather than proactive, and all initiative despite numerical superiority in armour was surrendered to the Indians. A strategy involving a more offensive posture would have definitely forced the overcautious Indians to resort to the defensive. It was here that we enter the realm of military talent. There was no general officer in 1 Corps with the operational talent or resolution of an Eftikhar; and this in the final analysis was the singular misfortune of Pakistan's 1 Corps. Till ceasefire five armoured regiments were kept on sentry duty in Pasrur area and were not utilised. The saying that a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity, can be exactly applied to 1 Corps conduct of battle in Shakargarh Bulge.
LEVEL OF STRATEGIC SUCCESS
The Indian 1 Corps Commander was able to impose his will in strategic terms on Pakistan's 1 Corps. With a slight relative superiority in infantry (if 17 Division is included) the Indian 1 Corps commander succeeded on two counts; firstly in ensuring that Pakistan's 6 Armoured Division and 17 Infantry Division remained fixed in Shakargarh and secondly by exerting such a pressure; despite his numerical inferiority in tanks that the Pakistani GHQ was enough unnerved to pull out 11 Cavalry from Chamb on 10 December; and bring it to Pasrur (also destroying Satrah Road on the way with their steel tracks!!!!); thereby reducing the pressure that Pakistan's 23 Division was exerting on the Indians and ultimately leading to 23 Divisions withdrawal to the west bank of Tawi.
The Indian Corps Commander was not brilliant but definitely more decisive and bold; at least as compared to 1 Corps Commander opposing him. So apprehensive was this man of Pakistani offensive capability that he initially assigned four out of his nine infantry brigades and two tank regiments out of six for a defensive role. Once he realised that the Pakistani commander opposite him was not like Abrar Akhtar or Eftikhar; he mustered greater resolution and used his troops more offensively.
FRONTAL ATTACK IN MILITARY HISTORY VERSUS IMAGINATIVE USE OF TANKS IN DEFENCE
A frontal attack against an enemy who has not been neutralised by artillery fire or surprised by following a stratagem has rarely succeed. In 1815 at New Orleans when the British Army was one of the finest armies of the world; a similar frontal attack had led to one of the most disastrous repulses in British military annals! Thus the British suffered 2037 casualties including their commanding general killed while the US defenders suffered just 61 casualties47!
It is interesting that to note that tank is such a versatile weapon system; that the worst possible tank in defence can play havoc with the best tank when it comes to firing at an advancing tank from a stationery defensive position. The Italians in North Africa had the technically speaking most pathetic tanks of WW Two. During the battle of 'Crusader' in November 1941 the British 22nd Armoured Brigade equipped with the technically overwhemingly superior 'Crusader' Tanks with 2 Pounder gun and 49mm frontal armour lost 40 out of 160 tanks when it gallantly but frontally charged the far inferior Italian Ariete Division equipped with M-13 tanks! Most of the tanks were destroyed by anti-tank guns which were closely integrated with Italian tanks! In July 1944 SS Obersturmfuehrer Michael Wittman was able to stop the British 7th Armoured Division with just four Tiger Tanks, annihilating their complete advance guard, knocking out 25 tanks, 14 carriers and 14 half tracks! Wittman did so without charging, but by conducting a highly imaginative defensive battle!48 n
Invading Shakargarh bulge was one of the most crucial components of Pakistan's war strategy in the western sector. Pakistan hoped that by occupying the bulge, the main link between Indian Army positions in Kashmir and Pathankot would be cut-off, following which, it could easily invade Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani military forces stationed in Sialkot base would keep Pathankot at bay, thwarting any Indian attempts to recapture Shakargarh. However, Pakistan's battle plans were jeopardized because of the ingenuity of a bold attack by the Indians. The Indian Army attacked Pakistani positions in the region within four days of the declaration of the state of war, catching the Pakistanis by complete surprise. After a few days of intense fighting, the Indians had not only pushed the Pakistanis back, but had also come close to capturing Sialkot.
Pakistan Army generally regards this as their most humbling defeat, next only to the Battle of Longewala despite some numerical and qualitative superiority over the opposing force. Apart from Battle of Chawinda were Pakistan defended against Indian onslaughts despite being outnumbered, the entire military campaign in the region was not successful for Pakistan. In this battle alone, India had destroyed close to 70 tanks losing only a few in the process. Pakistan's Hamoodur Rahman Commission recommended that the Commander 1 Corps, who "surrendered to the enemy without a fight" should "be tried for criminal and wilful neglect of duty" and poor conduct of operations, that "seriously jeopardized the Army offensive in the south. The Indian Army, on the other hand, was criticized for their somewhat timid handling of the attack on Sialkot. The army, however, in its defense stated that it was planning another assault on Sialkot with assistance from the Indian Air Force, when the cease-fire was declared.
This and other battles put paid to any hopes of bargaining for territory lost in East Pakistan, by capturing Indian territory; in fact Pakistan had lost sizeable portions of land on both sides of the border.
Khem Karan was scene of 1965 battle, where 45 to 50 of Pattan tanks of Pakistani army were captured.
Shakarlgarh is the battle of 1971. Two different era and two different battles.
On the serious note; watch out for AH Amin. He is an ex Major of the Pakistan Army reported injured in 1965 war at Khem Karan. He was forced into retirement. He pretends to be writing neutral type of historical accounts. Not ture. I have corresponded with him before he arrived in Washington and he has only Pakistani view, which is always an inflated and confusing account to give Pakistani sides an advantage, even if they lost the battle.