It was August 1965. India was in a precarious situation. The army was recovering after a bruising in the 1962 Indo-China War. It had got the worse of the border skirmishes against a well-armed and equipped Pakistani army in Kutch in April 65. Pakistani invaders had entered Kashmir Valley since June and the Indian army had launched an audacious attack inside Pak Occupied Kashmir to seize the vital Haji Pir Pass – the main route of Pakistani infiltrators - in end Aug. (To read the full story of the capture of Haji Pir see http://olivechats.com/t/hajipir-captured-on-ground-lost-on-the-table/772 ) This army was just savoring this success when the Pakistanis launched a full-fledged attack in the Chhamb sector (near Jammu) that would cut off Kashmir from the rest of India. (To read the full story of the Indo-Pak War see http://olivechats.com/t/bloody-september-the-story-of-the-1965-indo-pak-war/770 )
This was the point of decision. The Army Chief Gen J N Chaudhari went up to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri and said that there was no way to hold back the Pakistani attack unless permission was given to launch their own offensive in Pakistani Punjab. Prime Minister Shashtri – all 5 feet 1 inch of pure steel and mettle – simply said, ‘General Saab, agar attack karna hain to ki jiye’ – an instantaneous decision that changed the course of the war.
The Indian Offensives
Given a carte blanche, the Indian army launched its counter offensive in Pakistani Punjab on 06 September 65. 11 Corps was launched towards Lahore, and to the North 1 Corps moved towards Sialkot. In the Lahore Sector, three divisions – 15 Division in the North, 7 Division in the center and 4 Division in the South moved Eastward towards Lahore. 15 Division crossed the Icchogil Canal on the morning of 06 September itself, thanks to a splendid action by 3 JAT which secured a crossing near Dograi. Yet his success was not exploited and in the face of heavy enemy counter attacks, the division was pulled back across the canal and gave up its hard won gains.
Indian troops Across the Ichhogil Canal : Capture of Barki
7 Division to its south approached Lahore from the South East and captured the vital township of Barki in a major success that got it within artillery range of Lahore. It was all set to move ahead when a critical situation developed with 4 Division (the same division that had seen the brunt of the fighting in the 1962 Indo-China War) . The division had moved from Shimla (where it was reorganizing) directly to the International Border one night before the attack and was launched within just a few hours of its arrival. It had not got adequate information or reconnaissance and its advance brought it straight towards Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division (A newly formed formation with brand new Patton tanks and guns) which was lurking in the area.)which counter attacked it and forced it to withdraw back to India.
The Pakistani Capture of Khem Karan was the highlight of their offensive
It was now the turn of the Pakis to attack. Using 1 Armoured Division and an infantry division they advanced into India. As they began their move an artillery round struck a bridge over which their tanks were crossing causing a delay of 24 hours till a new bridge was erected. These 24 hours gave the Indians time to recover and prepare their defences. They crossed the International Boundary, captured the township of Khem Karan and fanned out into Indian territory hoping to capture the bridge on the Beas River which would cut off all Indian troops in Punjab. The capture of Khem Karan was a huge success but after that the offensive literally ran aground. The Indians had developed strong points and their Centurion tanks and Anti-Tank guns hidden in the sugar cane fields inflicted heavy casualties on the Pakistani tanks. Centurion tanks of 3CAV had formed a horse shoe shaped defensive tier within which enemy tanks were funneled and ruthlessly destroyed. Anti-tank jeeps also took a heavy toll. CHM Abdul Hamid of the Grenadiers destroyed 4 Patton tanks with his Recoilless gun, before being killed by a round from another tank.
CQMH Abdul Hamid, PVC : A Recoilless Anti Tank gun on a jeep
Also, unknown to the Pakistanis, the Indians had breached the banks of the distributaries and canals and flooded the area. In the boggy earth, the tanks sank axle deep and were unable to move in. Immobilised, they were easy pickings and many were abandoned by their crew. By 11 September, the offensive had ground to a halt and 97 tanks – included 72 of their prized Pattons – were lost, including 32 captured in mint condition. These tanks are on display in war memorials and monuments even today.
Captured Pakistani tanks ; Villagers survey bogged down tanks
Watch the battle of Asal Uttar at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHSVJNNsQ4U
In the North, 1 Corps , a formation raised just in April that year, crossed the International Boundary on 06 Sep heading towards Sialkot. The advance was too slow and cautious, when speed was the need of the hour but by 10 Sep they had captured Phillaura, Jassoran and Butur Dograndi. The attack moved towards Chawinda, but by then, the Pakis had been well entrenched and prepared. The bitter fighting in the area saw the largest tank battle since World War II when over 225 Indian and Pakistan tanks battled in an area just around 40 kilometers wide. Positions were captured, counter-attacked, recaptured and changed hands often and acts of great courage were recorded on both sides. Lt Col A B Tarapore, Commandant of 17 HORSE was awarded a posthumous Param Vir Chakra for his leadership and personal courage. He fell on the field of battle and was cremated on the battlefield itself – like so many other brave soldiers.
Lt Col A B Tarapore PVC
You can watch the Battle of Phillaura at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZJMOSgfMNQ
When the cease fire came about on 22 Sep, losses were high on both sides. Over 130 Pakistani tanks and over 100 Indian were destroyed or damaged, with over 700 killed on both sides – just in the area of the offensive alone. Yet India held on to around 540 square kilometers of prime territory. Unfortunately the victories were handed back after the Tashkent Agreement and both sides went back to their original positions. Yet this offensive, set the stage for a larger one – this time in the 1971 Indo-Pak War which would cut apart Pakistan and create a new nation. This time the gains would be for keeps
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