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India’s Failures In The War Of 1965

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Ahmad Faruqui writes about the 1965 Indo-Pak war and how the events unfolded on that fateful day.

In order to alleviate pressure on its forces in Kashmir, India mounted an all-out assault on Lahore on the 6th of September. While there are conflicting claims about India’s strategic objective, with some asserting that it was nothing less than the capture of Lahore, the fact is that the Pakistani infantry put in a superb performance in the Battle for Lahore in 1965, assisted ably by the Pakistani Air Force.

Here are some of the details about what happened on that fateful day. The Indian army launched Operation Riddle, a three-pronged attack across a 50-mile wide front towards Lahore at 0530 hours on September 6. The Indian XI Corps, comprising the 7th and 15th Infantry Divisions and the 4th Mountain Division, mounted the attack.

Within 24 hours, the sappers (civil engineers) of the Pakistani army had blown up all the bridges on the BRB irrigation canal that lies between Lahore and the border with India.

The Pakistani infantry put up a fierce resistance, and were ably assisted by the heavy and accurate fire of the Pakistani artillery. As a result, the Indian attack was halted within a few days.

An Indian analyst commented that in response to fierce shelling by the Pakistani gunners defending Lahore, Indian troops displayed “an explicably lethargic attitude to command.” The performance of 13 Punjab was judged to have been “depressing and deplorable.”

Expressing its displeasure with his performance, the Indian High Command relieved the General Officer Commanding of the 15th Division for his unwillingness to take risks. He would later be removed from service.

When the Pakistani forces mounted a counter attack, they caught the Indians totally by surprise. A senior Indian general officer noted that Pakistan’s 10th Division “reacted viciously…and it began to exert heavy pressure.” What truly surprised the Indians was that the Pakistanis managed to cross the BRB canal even though all the bridges had been destroyed.

The Indians began to imagine that Pakistani engineers had built underground tunnels under the canal. There is no evidence that such a feat of engineering had been completed prior to the war. In all probability, the Pakistani sappers had built temporary bridges over the canal.

The Pakistani counter attack sent shivers up India’s high command and they began to worry about the defense of Amritsar. Of course, Pakistan did not have enough troops to mount such an offensive and none was attempted. However, Pakistan’s repulsion of the full-throttled attack on Lahore served to raise morale among the troops and at GHQ in Rawalpindi.

Operation Riddle was halted within 48 hours of launch. Pakistan was able to hold off a much larger force. The reasons are manifold. One, there was poor leadership in the higher echelons of the Indian military. There was poor coordination between armor, artillery and infantry forces. In particular, Pakistani artillery proved far superior to its Indian counterpart.

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Dr. Farooq Bajwa, in his book “From Kutch to Tashkent,” notes that while Riddle achieved its objective of halting Pakistan’s capture of Akhnur, it exposed major weaknesses in India’s ability to launch an offensive operation.

Not willing to let go off Pakistan, within a couple of days the Indian army launched Operation Nepal, a full-scale attack with its 1st Corps directed towards the Pakistani town of Sialkot, in between Lahore and Kashmir. According to some Pakistani accounts, this attack was intended to inflict heavy damage on the Pakistan army, and possibly to cut the Grand Trunk Road between Lahore and Rawalpindi. Others think it was mounted to conquer Sialkot. According to some Indian accounts, the attack was merely intended to relieve pressure on Indian forces in Kashmir.

The Indian forces comprised the 1st Armored Division supported by the 14th  Infantry and 26th Infantry and 6th Mountain Divisions. Pakistan’s 6th Armored Division, equipped with US M 47/48 Patton tanks, ably assisted with infantry equipped with recoilless rifles and Cobra anti-tank missiles, halted this attack.

According to many analysts, the largest tank battles since the Second World War took place in Chawinda. According to an Indian general, the 1st Armored Division was supposed to turn the tide of war. But it failed. According to another Indian general, “it fumbled around ineffectively giving the enemy vital breathing space so essential for a quick rally round from the stunning impact of surprise.”

In this battle, the 25th Cavalry of the Pakistani army showed that the Patton tanks was very effective in combat against the Centurion tanks of the Indian army. The performance of the Patton in this battle was far superior to the performance exhibited by the Patton’s in Pakistan’s 1st Armored Division which had gotten bogged down in sugarcane fields near the Indian village of Asal Uttar.

Bajwa notes that the Indian 1st Armored Division was ironically making “almost exactly the same errors that Pakistan’s 1st Armored Division was making that day in Khem Karan—lack of co-ordination between infantry and armor, dissipation of force and breakdown of communication between the brigade commanders.”

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A British review of India’s performance in Operation Nepal said that the Indian operation failed to achieve its objectives and aims. An Indian general lamented that the performance of the 1st Armored Division was “a catalog of lost opportunities” and while it was defeated decisively, it only made some ‘meager gains’ and those too came about from ‘a fluke of a chance’, and not due to superior operational performance or outstanding leadership.

When hostilities ended on September 23, the Pakistanis admitted losing 44 tanks and claimed to have destroyed 120 Indian tanks. Two British journalists who visited the area after the cease-fire confirmed these estimates. India, implausibly, claimed that it had only lost six tanks and that it had destroyed 67 Pakistani tanks.

In the 1965 war, neither side displayed much skill or ingenuity in war-fighting. Offensive operations were launched with great expectations, but fizzled out in a few days. No blitzkrieg took place in the war even though many had been imagined by the commanders of the armored divisions on both sides.

The war failed to move the boundary between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. But it caused the loss of thousands of precious lives, maimed many more and traumatised the citizenry of both countries.

While other nations that were also born soon after the Second World War moved on to become Asian Tigers, the two largest countries in the South Asian subcontinent continued to be mired in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

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