By Brig Samson S Sharaf
The early birds had not yet begun to chirp. The church bells were ringing at the Catholic Cathedral Lawrence Road Lahore and the Voice of the Moazzin echoing through the speakers of Al Shams Mosque next door. It was the early morning of 6 September 1965. Suddenly there was an interruption in the mosque public address system. India had attacked and Pakistan was at war. We boarders of St. Anthony’s were the first group of Lahoris to be wide awake as India crossed into Pakistan; their destination; a victory gala at Gymkhana the same evening with champagne and whisky. The party never came to pass and the Indian invasion was halted and rolled back by the blood of martyrs that soiled Pakistan. This is how I kept describing the war in 1965 in my articles as a 12 years old child.
Heroism, valour and calls beyond the call of duty were what moulded our young minds to become combaters in Pakistan’s armed forces. But as we grew, trained, read and learnt, romanticism gave way to the philosophy of war as an extension of state policy. We could now research and write commentaries on the conduct and lessons thereof. But one point always stood out. The Pakistani Nation gave an excellent account of itself to the last sinew. It fought the war in its own dimension whilst rubbing shoulders with its brave shoulders and some inept generals.
The attack on Lahore was followed by an Indian diversionary attack in the Jassar Sector where hurriedly deployed protective detachments of Pakistan Army were positioned either side of the river. The quickness and intensity of the Indian offensive with a brigade strength unnerved the Pakistani commanders who blew up the bridge and immediately shifted the bias of the entire defence from the Chowinda Corridor to Jassar.
On 7th September, Indians launched their major offensive astride MAHARAJKE, CHARWA and CHOBARA (Chowinda Corridor) a void left open by shifting of troops to Jassar Sector. Early morning 8 September Captain Niazi (Later Lt. Gen) and Maj Mehmud (later Brigadier) flew successively in the area to report a long column of Indian armoured vehicles and infantry moving astride axis GADGOR-CHARWA-CHOBARA- PHILLARAUH. What remained between Indians and Sialkot was 13 FF and a squadron of 25 Cavalry on move. They called for air support from PAF. Soon a flight of 4 F86 Sabres led by Flight Lieutenant Cecil Chaudary was over the area wreaking hell over the advancing Indian formations. For the time being Indian offensive had been halted and delayed for two hours by PAF and taken over by Artillery.
Once Indians resumed the advance, they mistook a C Squadron of 25 Cavalry with 14 tanks as an armoured division and went into retreat. This squadron engaged Indian Tanks frontally. Incidentally the remaining regiment moving back to Chowinda hit the Indians from the flanks of GADGOR. This came to be called the biggest battle of tanks. Allah, Airforce, Armour, Artillery and Army Aviation had saved the day of 8-16 September for Pakistan. The Indians were rolled back to Chohbara. Brigadier Mahmud a Military Historian writes, “The spirit of 25 Cavalry is hard to capture. But I watched it, sensed it and emotionally shared with those, who fought so gallantly, bravely and doggedly on the ground. I think the annals of Military History have no parallel to it. I record this for posterity to remember”.
Indians had massed 3 Infantry Divisions, and more than an armoured division to secure a firm base by 8th Sep. Beyond that, they had been beaten back. By 17th Sep, they could only make limited penetrations to a maximum depth of 10 miles at BUTUR DOGRAN DI. Pakistani armoured units including 11 Cavalry fought bravely to halt this juggernaut. Indian offensive formations had petered out and lost the heart to fight. The morale was low and Pakistan could have taken the battle into Indian Territory, had they counter attacked followed by a counter offensive. A fleeting advantage gained by troops in the battle field was surrendered to the unprofessionalism of the general staff through delay for four days followed by acceptance of the cease fire.
Similarly excellent field manoeuvres by Pakistani armoured and infantry units at Khem Karan also became victims to poor general staff and generals. Lieutenant General Altaf Qadir the nominated force commander had negative observations about GOC 1 Armoured Division Nasir Ahmed Khan. Yet Altaf was moved to Ankara and Nasir given the dishonour to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But all this was preceded by the Kashmir war of 1965.
The Rann of Katch conflict between India and Pakistan in April-May 1965 was a precursor to September 1965. Following a series of diplomatic failures, India had occupied Pakistani areas surrounding BIAR BHET. Pakistan reacted with a surgical and quick coup de grace confronted by little or no resistance. The facile victory emboldened Pakistan’s policy planners who were ironically also tied to the CENTCOM strings.
Operation Grand Slam in Kashmir was preceded by the launching of the Gibraltar Force in the Valley of Kashmir. It was based on the premise that the actions of Gibralter Force will ignite a general rebellion in IHK, that the international reaction will be favourable and that the war will not spill to the Easter Border with India. All three assumptions proved wrong. Launched on 1 September 1965, Major General Akhtar Malik envisaged the capture of Akhnur Bridge by the third. It was a mission that could be accomplished. Yet Major General Yahya Khan was pre-positioned to take over on 2nd September, 1965. This self imposed delay of 24 Hours ensured that Akhnur could not be captured. A strong inference is that General Ayub Khan, either himself or under pressure from CENTCOM chose to peter out the operation.
The conduct and execution of war are two different disciplines. In 1965, the field formations of Pakistan army gave an excellent account of themselves in the battlefield. Unfortunately, the conduct of war by the general staff and some generals lacked the mettle to match the tenacious Men of Steel.