DEFENCE NOTES

The Battle of Chamb-1971

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN makes a very well researched and informative study of the Battle of Chamb in 1971

The Battle of Chamb of 1971 stands out as the finest display of an offensive battle in the Indo-Pak operational scenario. Symbolically speaking it was this battle which sustained the morale of the army in West Pakistan and provided much needed credibility to sustain and preserve the army’s image in the wake of the traumatic events of December 1971. The Indians justly described it as “the most serious reverse suffered in the 1971 war”. (refers page.488-the Indian armour history of the Indian Armoured Corps -1941-1971-Major General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu-Vision Books-Delhi). It is ironic that Third World countries study Napoleon and Slim when they have great military commanders like Eftikhar, Akhtar and Abrar. The Battle of Chamb of 1971 was an epic feat of arms. Even today it stands out as one of the most instructive battles of all three Indo-Pak wars in terms of operational strategy, small unit actions, handling of armour and above all as a supreme example of the power of personality and leadership in war.

Any student of the art of war who wishes to understand the Indo-Pak way of war will find the battle complete in terms of valuable insights and thought-provoking lessons connected with leadership, strategy and tactics. Above all the Battle of Chamb convincingly proves that the major part of pitfalls and drawbacks which inhibit many Third World armies are more connected with leadership morale and conceptual hangovers and have little connection with material factors like equipment or simple numerical inferiority or superiority.

THE ESSENTIAL FACTS

THE BATTLE GROUND

Chamb had become a household name in Pakistan in 1965, thanks to the famous Operation Grand Slam and General Akhtar Hussain Malik’s lightning advance towards Akhnur. In 1965, however, it was a much easier place to enter since its importance had been realised by the Indians only shortly before the war started. Thus in 1965 Chamb was held only by an independent Infantry Brigade while in 1971 it was held by an Infantry Division which had been heavily fortifying and improving its defences since 1965, keeping in view the lightning Pakistani advance in this sector in 1965.

The sector is bounded by the ceasefire line/international border in the west and south while a range of hills constitutes its northern portion running roughly in an east west line. Some ridges, however, jut downwards from this range of hills and run along a north south alignment, most prominent of these being the Phagla Sakrana Bridge which perpendicularly cuts the main road/approach to Chamb from west and provides good defensive positions like Point 994 etc. Average relative height of Phagla Sakrana Ridge was 60 to 70 feet and it ran south till a place called Jhanda. The most prominent and tactically most important ground in the entire sector were two ridges known as Mandiala North and South. These two ridges dominated Chamb and the bridge over River Tawi 2 miles north of Chamb. No attacker advancing towards Chamb or planning to attack the bridge or to bypass Chamb from the north and cross River Tawi could be successful unless these two ridges were captured. Both the ridges ran in a roughly north west-south west direction and were parallel to each other. Both were 60 to 70 feet high. Mandiala North ran along southern bank of Sukh Tao Nullah from its bend near village Kahni till a round hill near 200 R. The southern ridge dominated the town of Chamb and the Tawi bridge. River Tawi and Sukhtao Nullah were the two main water courses running from north to south. Sukhtao Nullah was a tributary of Tawi and joined it a little north of the Tawi bridge. In the summers River Tawi was a partial tank obstacle with a wide bed steep banks with crossing places at Chhanni Chamb and Mandiala. In the winters, however, tanks could cross the river after recce. There were, however, boggy patches on both sides of the river south of Chamb. (Refers-page. 498-Indian Army after Independence-Major K.C. Praval-Lancer International-New Delhi-1987 and the Indian Armour-Maj Gen. Gurcharan Singh-earlier quoted-page 488).The Tawi was spanned by a bridge built after the 1965 war about 2 km north of Chamb. Average width of Tawi was 150-300 yards (Refers-discussion of the author with various participants of the 1971 operation from 11 Cavalry, 28 Cavalry and 19 Baluch) and was roughly 7 to 8 kilometers east of the ceasefire line/international border. The area from the border in the west till Akhnur may be described as a funnel which is wide at its western entrance and gets progressively narrower by virtue of closer successive proximity of lines of hill on the north and the River Chenab to the south. Thus the defenders’ task became easier as an attacker advanced eastwards from Koil to Jaurian and to Akhnur making any outflanking operation more and more impracticable by virtue of high hills on the north and the unfordable River Chenab to the south. All the ridges in the area followed a north south alignment with a ridge and a nullah (dry water course) alternating each other approximately every 1000 to 2000 metres all the way from the international border till River Tawi making the defenders task easier and the attackers task extremely arduous and time consuming. Most of the area was covered by 8 to 10 feet high grass and wild shrubs and was sparsely populated. The continuous line of hills on the north, however, made the gunners task very easy and this was true specially for area around Chamb Mandiala and Kamali Chappar. Thus a large proportion of casualties were caused by artillery fire. The most dominating and high features in the sector were however in the north i.e. the red hill lalaea etc. These were however away from Chamb and were of local significance. Their loss or possession had no connection with the advance towards Chamb or Palanwala in direct terms. The main metaleed roads in the area were road Koil-Chamb running from Koil on the border till Chamb and two metalled roads east of Tawi i.e., Akhnur-Jaurian) Chamb and Akhnur-Kalit Mandiala which were parallel the former being south of the latter.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF OPPOSING FORCES

In 1965 Pakistan enjoyed technical superiority over the Indian armour by virtue of having technically superior US Patton tanks. In 1971 this was no longer the case since the Indian army possessed the Russian T-54/55 tanks and the Patton was no longer the best tank in the subcontinent. In 1965 the Indians had a squadron of French AMX-13 tanks in Chamb as compared to two Pakistani armoured regiments in the initial phase. Thus the situation in 1971 was radically different from 1965. The Indian 10 Infantry Division had been deployed in Chamb since 1965. The Indian units in Chamb knew the area like the palm of their hand and had made extremely thorough preparations for its defence. In 1965 the newly raised headquarters 10 Indian Infantry Division had arrived in Akhnur from the south on 28 August 1965. It is ironic that today the common man is not aware that the odds in Chamb in 1971 were much more tough against a successful attack than in 1965. It is ironic that today the common man is not aware that the odds in Chamb in 1971 were much more tough against a successful attack than in 1965. The Indian Military Historian exhibited great intellectual honesty when he rightly said “In 1965 the Pakistanis had succeeded in capturing Chamb with a surprise attack. There should have been no surprise in 1971 but they succeeded again). (Refers-page 494 the Indian Army after independence -Major K. C. Praval-earlier quoted).

The Indian 10 Infantry Division had four Infantry Brigades (14 battalions, two regiments of armour i.e. 9 Deccan Horse (T54) 72 Armoured Regiment (T-55), 2 independent armoured squadron ex-Central India Horse (AMX-13), two engineer battalions, six regiments of artillery (two medium, three field, one light). The division also had a para-company and a company of ATGM of entac ATGMs. Two BSF battalions manning the border were also under command 10 Division. The Pakistani 23 Division was a five Infantry Brigade Division, however, its fifth Infantry Brigade i.e. 7 AK Brigade (three battalions) was facing largely the 25 Indian Infantry Division deployed north of 10 Indian Division. Thus against 10 Indian Division the Pakistan 23 Division could field four infantry brigades (13 battalions). The Pakistani artillery consisted of four field regiments, one field battery, two mountain batteries, one medium battery, a section of heavy guns. The most formidable force multiplier for the Pakistan Artillery, however, was Brigadier Naseerullah Khan Babar who compensated for lack of sophisticated Russian guns on part of the Pakistani artillery. The 23 Division had two armoured regiments i.e. 26 Cavalry which was its integral armoured regiment (Sherman 11) 11 Cavalry which was placed under command in October 1971 (T-59) was also placed under command. In addition Headquarters 2 Armoured Brigade was also placed under command in end October 1971.

Outwardly it appears from the above mentioned information that 23 Division was superior only in terms of armour vis-a-vis the 10 Indian Division. However in actual fact it was vice versa. All Indian tanks in both the armoured regiments were T-54/55 which were slightly superior to T-59; whereas only 11 Cavalry and 28 Cavalry possessed T-59 while the 26 Cavalry and 12 independent squadron were equipped with the obsolete Sherman 11/M-36/B-2 tanks of world war vintage. Further 28 Cavalry had just 31 tanks. In total 23 division had 129 tanks out of which 55 Sherman 11/M-36/B2 were largely ineffective in operational terms; leaving some 74 T-59 against some 90 T-54/T-55 tanks. Thus though slightly numerically inferior in numbers i.e. 129 versus 104; the Indians were qualitatively superior as far as armour was concerned. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb- Lt. Col Saeed- (GSO-I 23 Div in 1971- P.13 Army Education Press-1979). In addition the Indian T-54/55 tanks possessed pads ammunition firing capability which was not available as far as the Pakistani T-59 tanks were concerned. The T-54/55 gun had a far superior stabilisation system.

In artillery there was relative parity; Pakistan having 130 guns of all calibres while the Indians possessed 126 guns which could have possibly been increased to 144 guns if 19 Brigade Artillery of the neighbouring Indian 26 Division also extended fire support to the 10 Infantry Division.

Three Pakistani battalions i.e. 42 Punjab, 47 Punjab and 33 FF were only 8 to 9 months old. The AK regiments were also not as well trained as the regular infantry. (Refers-the Battle of Chamb-earlier quoted-page.2). On the Indian side the 72 Armoured Regiment was a newly raised regiment having been raised in Ahmad Nagar in July 1971. (Refers-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted-page. 412)

It is significant to note that even General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu has acknowledged the fact that T-59 and M-36 Shermans were far inferior to Indian tanks technically in his history of Indian Armoured Corps. Thus General Gurcharan stated “A major weakness in the Pakistan army at the time was the state of its armour ... The Americans had stopped military aid after 1965 war to both India and Pakistan. The step did not materially affect India’s capability but Pak armour was seriously handicapped ... she had to resort to alternative sources and imported 225 T-59 tanks from China but the number was not large enough to replace her aging fleet ... Sherman tank destroyers etc. were by 1971 becoming obsolescent. Even Chinese T-59, the latest in the Pak inventory were a Chinese version of the Russian T-54 which the Soviets had discarded and replaced by a much improved T-55 version. (Refers-page 425-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted).

SIGNIFICANCE OF CHAMB SECTOR

The area of Chamb was regarded as territory of crucial significance by both India and Pakistan. For the Indians its defence was of paramount significance since it was the direct approach to the Indian jugular vein of Akhnur Bridge which lay on the main Indian line of communication to the Indian 25 Division holding Poonch and all area west of Pir Punjal Range in Kashmir. Capture of Akhnur by Pakistan could lead to an easy advance towards the Jammu Srinagar Road at least theoretically, although in 1971 the Pakistan army was in no position to carry out such an ambitious offensive. The Indians based on their harsh experience in 1965 i.e. the lightning Pakistani offensive towards Akhnur were firmly resolved to pre-empt any Pakistani move towards Chamb by resorting to an offensive operation into Pakistan territory from Chamb.

The Pakistani military planners on the other hand perceived the Indian position of Chamb as a springboard from which the Indians could launch a swift counterstroke into the soft underbelly of Pakistan and sever the main Pakistani line of communication i.e. the Grand Trunk Road; which was just 35 to 40 miles from the Indian held territory of Chamb. The Pakistani fears about Indian designs were further compounded by the fact that unlike the area south of River Chenab there was no water obstacle in between Chamb and the main Pakistani line of communication i.e. the Grand Trunk Road running north to south though the towns of Kharian, Lalamusa and Gujrat; all three of which were within striking range of Chamb.

THE BATTLE PLANS

THE INDIAN PLAN

There was some difference of opinion among the various Indian commanders at various levels regarding the proposed Indian design of battle in Chamb. The GOC Western Command General Candeth wanted to initially fight a governing troops withdrawal battle from the border till River Tawi to wear down and exhaust the expected Pakistani attack on Chamb; followed by a change of posture and a deliberate Indian counter attack which would push the attacking Pakistani troops backwards. The Indian counter attack was based on employment of a complete Independent Armoured Brigade with three armoured regiments (8th Light Cavalry, Central India Horse, 72 Armoured Regiment) one mechanised infantry regiment (7th Grenadiers) and a fourth Integral Armoured Regiment of 10 Division i.e. the Deccan Horse. The plan visualised having just one infantry battalion west of Tawi assisted by a tank squadron. The plan was based on the assumption that complete surprise would be achieved by rafting all three armoured regiments of the 3rd Armoured Brigade across the Chenab. (Refers-the western front- Lt. Gen. K. P Candeth-Allied Publishers Delhi 1984-page-75). (refers-history of the Indian armoured corps earlier quoted page-483). It appears that by November 1971 the Indian General Headquarters lost the nerve to launch this formidable plan which keeping in view the great Indian numerical superiority in tanks; had the potential to seriously jeopardise 23 Division’s operational position at worst and at best ensure that Chamb stayed in Indian hands. However by November 1971 the Indian GHQ prevailed upon Candeth to not to resort to the initial unorthodox and bold plan and instead follow a typical Indo-Pak compromise plan of holding territory west of Tawi in strength. It appears that both the GOC Western Command Candeth and the Corps Commander 15 Corps General Sirtaj Singh were obsessed with launching an attack and did not take the Indian GHQ’s orders to stand on defensive till ordered otherwise. According to Major K. C. Praval this information reached the HQ 10 Indian Division only on the evening of 01 December; primarily because of lethargy in passing down information (refers-the Indian Army after Independence earlier quoted-page. 495). There is an apparent divergence in the accounts of Candeth and Praval and it is obvious that it was not lethargy in passing down orders but overconfidence in the impregnability of their position on account of superior numbers which led the Indian command to underestimate the offensive potential of the 23rd Division.

THE INDIAN PLAN WAS AS FOLLOWING:

1. Area west of Tawi to be initially held by two brigades i.e. the 28 Brigade holding the hill sub-sector i.e. area Dewa Red Hill Laleal etc. The 191 Brigade to hold area west of Tawi and to the south of 28 Brigade in strength with three battalions holding area west of Tawi and one battalion east of Tawi supported by a tank squadron ex-Deccan Horse and ATGM company with the following dispositions:-

a. 5 Sikh holding area south of Laleali-Dewa and Mandiala.

b. 4/I Gurkha Rifle in the middle holding area Mole and Phagla.

c. 5 Assam defending area Barsala-Jhanda-Munawar and the Darh crossings over Tawi.

d. 10 Garhwal east of Tawi in area Chhati-Tahli Hamirpur.

(Refers: The Western Front:- Page 76 and History of the Indian Armoured Corps-Page. 483)

2. 52 Infantry Brigade east of Tawi in area Kalit Troti with be prepared orders to occupy defences on East Bank of Tawi in case of a Pakistani attack and defend the southern approach i.e. Line Hamir Pur-Chati-Tali which was at the moment thinly held on extended frontage by 10 Garhwal. This brigade was also designated to advance into Pakistan territory along with 68 Indian Brigade in case of an Indian offensive mounted inside Pakistan territory from Chamb.

3. 68 Brigade was not deployed fully/partially unlike the other infantry brigades and was held in reserve along with 72 Armoured Regiment to either defend Chamb or Akhnur area as a reserve force or to be prepared to launch the projected Indian offensive inside Pakistan territory.

4. According to K.C Praval the 15 Corps plan was to use 10 Infantry Division to advance along the north bank of Chenab river towards Tanda-Gujrat while 26 Infantry Division was to advance south of River Chenab towards Sialkot. (Refers the Indian Army after Independence-earlier quoted-page. 493). It appears that Candeth did have grandiose plans of advancing inside Pakistan as amply seen from Praval’s previously quoted account of 15 Corps plans. However, since Candeth wrote his book more than a decade later he wisely disassociated with his earlier plan and we don’t find any of what Praval stated in his book about 15 Corps plans in Candeth’s book.

5. The RHQ of Deccan Horse was located east of Tawi at Kachreal. It’s a squadron was tasked to cover the approaches to Chamb from the south and west and was located west of Tawi River under command 191 Brigade. B squadron was located at Kachreal along with the RHQ, C Squadron was tasked to cover the southern approach and was located in the 10 Garhwal area east of Tawi river. The regiment’s CO was wounded in an accident and the regiment was commanded by its 2/IC during the entire operation. (Refers-The History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted-page.483)

6. The Indians had full intentions of launching an offensive and for this reason had left a gap in between the area Barsala- Jhanda which was only covered by a dummy minefield. They had also left a similar gap in the area south west of the southern crossing places near the 20 Pakistan Brigade area. Later on this gap in between Barsala and Jhanda greatly facilitated the advance of the armoured brigade towards Chak Pandit. (Refers - the History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted-page-483).

THE PAKISTANI PLAN

The Pakistani GHQ had given GOC 23 Division the primary task of clearing the enemy held territory up to River Tawi. (Refers-Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership-Major General Fazal -i- Muqueem Khan, National Book Foundation - Islamabad-1973-page-197.)

We have seen that terrain in the northern part of the sector was more hilly and broken than in the south. Before the war started there was a school of thought that the ideal line of advance into Chamb was from the south i.e. from north of Tanda. However, according to General Fazal-i-Muqeem, General Eftikhar had rejected this idea. The General’s rationale for doing so was that although in the north terrain was bad; this fact was balanced by the fact that in the south the enemy was much stronger and there was a greater chance to surprise the enemy. (Refers-Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership-earlier quoted-page.197).

The key idea of General Eftikhar’s plan was that once Mandiala bridge was captured; the Indians would be forced to abandon Chamb and all area west of Tawi; since the loss of the bridge would outflank their entire position west of Tawi and render it untenable. In brief 23 Division plan was as following:-

1. 66 Brigade and 111 Brigade to secure lodgement in the area between Mungawali-Khalabat Jhil in the north and Ghogi in the south. This lodgement would result in the breakup of the main line of Indian forward defended localities and provide own armour with a firm base for breakout at first light. This operation was to commence at 2100 hours 03 Dec and the lodgement established by first light on 04 December 1971.

2. 11 Cavalry Group comprised 11 Cavalry, a squadron of 26 Cavalry,

4 Punjab, one company 19 Baluch (Recce & Support), 24 field company engineers were to breakout from area Manawanwali in the northern part of the lodgement and advance towards Mandiala cutting road Dewa Mandiala at Kamali Chappar and to secure the home bank of Tawi in Mandiala area on night 4/5 December 1971. (Refers-Battle of Chamb-earlier quoted-page-15). 11 Cavalry Group was theoretically under Command 66 Brigade but practically speaking as we shall see later 66 Brigade HQ had little control if any on the battle fought at Mandiala.

3. 111 Brigade to carry out offensive probe towards Chamb and Chak Pandit and draw enemy reserves. On 05 December 111 Brigade was to advance and capture Chamb.

4. Following the capture of Chamb; the 66 Brigade and the 111Brigade were to clear the entire salient up to west bank of Tawi.

5. Operations across Tawi were planned but no fixed plan was made and the future plan to do so was to be in relation to the operational situation later. (Refers-Battle of Chamb-earlier quoted— page-15).

6. 20 Brigade in the south was to hold ground in the south, to make attack demonstrations in area Burjeal-Manawar and Nadala enclave. According to the division’s GSO-I the primary task of the 20 Brigade was to hold ground against a possible counter offensive of the enemy in the southern half of the salient. (Refers-Ibid-Page-15). Later on once the main attack of 66 and 111Brigade in the north had succeeded; the Brigade was to advance northward as far as possible capturing Jhanda Manawar etc.

7. In the north opposite what the Indians called hill sub-sector there were two Pakistani brigades i.e. 4 AK Brigade and 7 AK Brigade. The GOC correctly appreciated that no major fighting would take place in this area.

8. The HQ 2 Armoured Brigade was assigned 12 Independent Armoured Squadron, 13 AK Battalion, 28 Cavalry (A surprise arrival which joined the division after last light 04 Dec), and a company R & S. It may be noted that 13 AK was Reserve Battalion of 7 AK Brigade but had been ordered to march south on 02 December to be part of the main attack in the south as part of 2 Armoured Brigade.

CONDUCT OF BATTLE

THE INITIAL ATTACK AND THE BATTLE OF MANDIALA

The initial two days of the Battle of Chamb proved Moltkes famous saying that no plan survives on contact with the enemy. 66 Brigade started its attack after the preparatory bombardment which had commenced at 2020 hours 03 December and by 0200 accomplished its task of capturing an area of 3000 yards depth. Thus a lodgement area wide enough for 11 Cavalry Group to break out was secured. 111 Brigade, however, failed to accomplish its assigned task to capture a similar 3000 yards deep objective south of 66 Brigade. It was held up by an enemy company in Moel area.

Meanwhile the Indians who had been alerted by the preparatory bombardment took the following counter measures:-

a. Deployed three tank troops of “A” Squadron Deccan Horse in areas Barsala, Jhanda and Munawar respectively in order to cover the southern approach to Darh crossings on the Tawi.

b. The fourth troop of the A/M Squadron was kept as reserve in depth.

c. The RHQ of Deccan Horse moved to Chamb close to 191 Brigade Headquarters from Kachreal. Two troops from “B” Squadron Deccan Horse previously east of Tawi were sent to border posts at Moel Add Paur where Pakistani tanks had been reported on the evening and night of 03 December. Squadron Headquarters of “B” Squadron was deployed along with two troops in depth at Barsala.

d. One troop of “C” Squadron which was supporting 52 Brigade was detached and sent to defend the Mandiala crossing. (Refers-History of Indian Armour-Page-484)

These counter measures taken on night 03 December illustrated that the Indians expected the attack in the south, since no armour was sent to cover the Dewa Mandiala approach.

Meanwhile 11 Cavalry Group had commenced its advance towards Mandiala and by mid-day was reported by Indians in area Gurha on track Mandiala-Dewa. HQ Indian 191 Brigade correctly sensed the threat posed by 11 Cavalry tanks to Mandiala and at 0900 hours ordered Deccan Horse to reinforce the northern axis. Thus two tank troops of Deccan Horse’s “B” Squadron were sent to Phagla and Mandiala ridge respectively. The remaining two RHQ Deccan Horse were sent to take position at Gurha north west of Mandiala. The sheer Indian desperation may be gauged from the fact that the two RHQ tanks were sent to engage the main enemy attack. At mid-day 11 Cavalry appeared in area Gurha and was immediately engaged by the RHQ Tanks Deccan Horse and B Squadron Deccan Horse tanks at Mandiala. The Indian tanks were deployed in extremely dominating positions and within few minutes 11 Cavalry lost 7 tanks. It is best in a battle account to quote the enemy and this is how the Indian historian of the Indian armoured corps described the traumatic but epic battle of Mandiala:-

“About mid-day 11 Cavalry made its appearance in area Gurha ... RHQ tanks had selected their position well and within a few minutes knocked out 7 T-59 tanks and two recoilless guns ... 11 Cavalry less a squadron had, however, followed a route further north along the bed of Sukhtao Nullah. 191 Brigade must have been unaware of this thrust. Enemy tanks appeared behind Mandiala north and Gujha ridge along the Nala bed and destroyed a “B” Squadron tank in Mandiala. They also shot up the squadrons’ echelons dispersed in the foothills. By three P.M. 11 Cavalry had captured Mandiala north but could not secure the crossing held by a troop of tanks from “C” Squadron, Deccan Horse”. (Refers: History of Indian Armoured Corps-Page-485)

11 Cavalry had suffered heavy casualties on 04 December i.e. 5 tanks destroyed and 9 men killed and 7 wounded. In total 11 tanks were hit.4 Punjab occupied Mandiala north.

Meanwhile 28 Cavalry had been assigned to 23 Division and had reached area Assar on the evening of 03 December. 66 Brigade which was supposed to overall control 11 Cavalry operations was stuck up at Phagla and was in no position to provide any infantry support to 11 Cavalry or to control its operations.

The 111 Brigade which was supposed to have captured Chamb by 05 December was still near the border many miles from Chamb. A situation entirely unexpected had thus developed. General Eftikhar, however, remained unruffled and resolute and adopted the following modified plan:-

a. 11 Cavalry to go into Leaguer behind Gura and to rest, replenish and recuperate. Resume attack on Mandiala after replenishment.

b. HQ 4 AK Brigade along with 6 AK and 13 AK to establish a bridgehead east of Tawi after last light 04 December capturing high ground east of Sahamwan.

c. 28 Cavalry to breakout from the Bridgehead secured by 4 AK Brigade at first light 05 December to capture Pallanwala and advance as eastwards as possible.

d. 11 Cavalry to stay in reserve on 05 December 1971.

e. 66 Brigade to move forward, and follow 11 Cavalry groups advance and close up to River Tawi.

f. 111 Brigade and 20 Brigade to continue as per initial battle plan.

Meanwhile by mid-day 04 December the Indian commander was clear about the main direction of Pakistani attack. Thus the Deccan Horse was reinforced by one squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment which joined Deccan Horse by the evening of 04 December. In addition one squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment and 7 Kumaon (68 Brigade) were despatched from Akhnur to launch a counter attack to recapture Mandiala north. The regiment along with C Squadron 72 Armoured Regiment, however, reached the east bank of Tawi after last light 04 December and immediately lost its Commanding Officer due to Pakistani artillery shelling along with 4 other officers of 7 Kumaon’s O Group. Thus the battalion being rendered leaderless could not be immediately deployed. Since it had reached Tawi after last light its mission was changed to take up positions on the east bank overlooking Mandiala crossing. On 04 December only the para company of 9 Commando was guarding Mandiala crossing and Mandiala crossing was only saved, thanks to the tenacious courage of the 5 Sikh and the tank troops of Deccan Horse which were holding Mandiala south.

It may be noted that by the evening of 04 December the B Squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment which had been placed under Command Deccan Horse was deployed west of Tawi; two troops on the Phagla ridge facing west and north west and the Squadron Headquarters and two troops in reserve at Chak Pandit.

THE 4 AK BRIGADE ATTACK ACROSS TAWI 04/05 DECEMBER 1971

4 AK Brigade was assigned 13 AK and 47 Punjab minus a company for the attack across Tawi. One squadron of 26 Cavalry and 12 Independent Squadron which had only 4 tanks available was also under command 4 AK Brigade. The 4 AK Brigade’s attack plan was as following:-

a. 6 AK and 13 AK to launch night attack across Tawi; 6 AK on the left and 13 AK on the right. Both the battalions were to capture Spur Feature.

b. Two companies of 47 Punjab and one squadron 26 Cavalry under command RHQ 26 Cavalry and one company 47 Punjab were to be held in reserve.

It may be noted that there was literally no enemy in front of 4 AK Brigade, 7 Kumaon still lost due to loss of its CO and O Group and just one Indian para company holding the Chamb Mandiala bridge. At night it appeared that only a miracle could save the Indians.

4 AK Brigade had been alerted to launch the attack from 1000 hours 04 December. Later the subject attack was postponed from 1800 hours 04 December to 05 December 0400 hours. Both the 6 AK and 13 AK were well aware about their tasks in the planned attack. However, somehow at the appointed time the CO of 6 AK failed to join the unit to lead it into the approach march to the forming up place since he had lost his battalion. (Refers-the Battle of Chamb Col Saeed-pages 42 and 43). 13 AK, however, launched the planned attack at 0300 hours 05 December. 13 AK ran into the Indian unit 9 Jat and dispersed it and advanced forward to capture its objective i.e. Spur Feature. However, no unit was supporting it and the Indians in its rear reorganised themselves and surrounded the brave battalion in the morning. Elements of 5 Sikh, 9 Jat now surrounded 13 AK organised a breakout back to own lines but lost heavily losing 26 men killed and 50 wounded including its brave CO Col. Basharat Raja who was taken prisoner.

During this whole confusion 4 AK Brigade HQ passed back the information that both its battalions had captured the Spur Feature and ordered its reserve i.e. elements of 26 Cavalry and companies of 47 Punjab to move forward and consolidate the bridgehead. When these moved forward the Indians who had by now reoccupied their defensive positions.

Candeth the Indian GOC western command acknowledged 13 AK’s performance in the following words:-

Pakistan’s 13 AK Battalion had by then succeeded in capturing the bridge (Mandiala) but their attempts to get their tanks across was thwarted by 9 Horse ... Taking advantage of the gap caused by absence of 7 Kumaon 13 AK Battalion got through to the gun positions of 39 medium and 216 medium regiments”.

Refers-The Western Front-Candeth-Page-79

As per the Indian account the situation of utter panic caused by 13 AK attack was only checked by personal intervention of Commander Indian 68 Brigade who in words of Praval “reached the scene on the morning of December 5 with a company of 9 Jat mounted on two troops of tanks from 72 Regiment 5 (Refers-Indian Army after Independence-page-497). Absence or presence of commanders can be decisive in crisis situations. The previously mentioned Indian accounts prove that 4 AK Brigade attack across Chamb had the potential to cause a major crisis in the Indian position, provided 4 AK Brigade Headquarters had exercised control on the battle like fighting from the front like Commander 68 Brigade who joined the battle all the way from Akhnur. Once compared with General Shaukat Raza’s account of the 4 AK Brigade the Indians sound very different; Shaukat Raza had the following to say about 4 AK Brigade:-

“By first light 5 December Brigade Major 4 AK Brigade confirmed capture of Bridgehead over River Tawi. The information was premature. Enemy positions had been reinforced. As our troops neared Tawi the Indians counter attacked with tanks, our troops hurriedly withdrew”. (Refers-the History of the Pakistan Army-Shaukat Raza Services Book Club-1990-page-182).

Once the actual situation was discovered by 4 AK Brigade early in the morning of 05 December; a feeble attempt was made to retrieve the situation by sending forward a squadron of 26 Cavalry and parts of 47 Punjab; but by now the Indians had firmly regained their composure and 26 Cavalry Squadron failed to advance suffering three tank casualties in the process. (Refers-Battle of Chamb-Page-45) in the meantime Headquarters 23 Division discovered that 66 Brigade was still in the lodgement area and had not closed on to River Tawi as earlier ordered. (Refers-Battle of Chamb-Page-42). Had 66 Brigade been at Tawi’s west bank near Mandiala 4 AK Brigade’s position could have been saved. It may be noted that HQ 66 Brigade had been ordered on 04 December 1971 to move forward and relieve 11 Cavalry Group i.e. 4 Punjab which was holding Mandiala north. (Refers-Battle of Chamb-Page-46). These orders had been passed at 0900 hours 04 December 1971.

MODIFIED PLAN TO CAPTURE CHAMB-05/06 DECEMBER AND ITS EXECUTION

The operational situation on the morning of 05 December was as following:

a. 13 AK was back on west bank of Tawi having failed to hold the Bridgehead due to absence of 6 AK.

b. 66 Brigade was still in lodgement area west of Phagla.

c. 111 Brigade had failed to capture Point 994 the crucial feature dominating the approach to Chamb. The Point was captured once by 10 Baluch but lost soon as a result of a resolute Indian counter attack.

d. 20 Brigade had made no worthwhile progress.

e. 11 Cavalry had failed to succeed in its probing efforts in Sukh Tao and Tawi river area due to heavy fire from east of Tawi and Mandiala south which dominated the approach to Tawi bridge.

It was something like failure of 4 Armoured Brigade attack in 1965 in Khem Karan. The whole atmosphere was grim and gloomy. General Eftikhar, however, retained his mental equilibrium and was not unnerved by the reverses of 04/05 December. He immediately adopted the following modified plan to carry on the battle:-

a. Bulk of the armour to be pulled out from area north of Chamb and regrouped in area east of Jaimal Kot for launching a fresh attack on Chamb Salient from the south aimed at Area Chak Pandit south of Chamb with HQ 2 Armoured Brigade comprising 28 Cavalry, one Squadron 11 Cavalry, one Squadron 26 Cavalry, 23 Baluch, one Company R & S.

b. Pressure to be kept on the Indian position north of Chamb by continuing the attack on Mandiala south using 11 Cavalry minus one squadron, and 4 AK Brigade.

c. 111Brigade to continue its attack on Chamb. One squadron 26 Cavalry also assigned to 111Brigade for this attack.

d. 66 Brigade to continue its attack towards Mandiala south.

2 Armoured Brigade units started moving towards the forward assembly area east of Jaimal Kot starting from evening of 05 December and the movement continued throughout the night 05/06 December 1971. By 0445 hours the infantry units arrived in the forward assembly area. 23 Baluch commenced the attack at 0530 hours and soon captured Bakan and Paur its objectives. There was hardly any opposition since no attack was expected by the Indians in this area. At 0800 hours 2 Armoured Brigade commenced its advance towards Chak Pandit. Opposition was nil since by 05 December the Indians were convinced that the main Pakistani attack was coming from the north. The intentionally left Indian gap in their minefield between Barsala and Jhanda proved a blessing in disguise for the 2 Armoured Brigade. A few tanks were, however, damaged on the outer fringes of the dummy minefield. The tanks of 2 Armoured Brigade captured Chak Pandit at 1730 hours, in the evening 2 Armoured Brigade captured Pallanwala.

It may be noted that once 2 Armoured Brigade had first encountered the dummy minefield between Barsala and Jhanda on its way to Chak Pandit; the progress of their advance had become very slow since they had started probing to find a gap in the minefield. It was at this juncture that the GOC flew in his helicopter to Chanir where he met Commander 2 Armoured Brigade and exhorted him to make a frontal rush and cross the minefield. Once this was done the Brigade made an almost clean sweep with the exception of three tanks damaged. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb-page-58 and page.59) Colonel Saeed in his book surprisingly noted about this incident that surprisingly very few tanks ran over mines” (Refers-Battle of Chamb-page-59). It was so because the minefield was dummy and left to enable the Indians to launch their planned offence inside Pakistan!

Meanwhile Mandiala South was captured by 4 AK Brigade by the evening of 06 December 1971. What the Indians had refused to abandon in three days hard fighting was lost in one evening by means of a brilliant indirect approach as a result of the modified plan of 23 Division i.e. the advance to Chak Pandit. At 1930 hours in the evening of 06 December GOC 10 Indian Division Major General Jaswant Singh decided to give up the western bank of Tawi. (Refers-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted -page. 487). Orders were given to Headquarters 191 Indian Brigade to withdraw to the eastern bank of Tawi at 1930 hours 06 December 1971. The Indian withdrawal was completed by midnight 06/07 December and the hotly contested bridge at Mandiala was blown up at midnight.

It is significant here to describe that it was 5 Sikh which was the real obstacle holding 66 Brigade and 4 AK Brigade from capturing Mandiala south. This fact was well acknowledged by GSO-I of 23 Division Lt Col. Saeed in the following words once he described 5 Sikhs crucial role on the two days i.e. 04 and 05 December in the following words:-

“If the Indian Commander now knows full details of what was coming for him on the morning of 05 December he can rightly congratulate the Commanding Officer of 5 Sikh and the Squadron Commander who held Mandiala south that day with so much grit and determination. They both saved a sad day for him”. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb-Page.51)

THE FINAL BID FOR PALLANWALA

While 2 Armoured Brigade was moving towards Chak Pandit the indomitable General Eftikhar had made up his mind to use 2 Armoured Brigade to attack Pallanwala across Tawi from Chak Pandit. Whatever historians may think the Indians have acknowledged the fact that it was well within 23 Divison’s capability to capture Pallanwala. (Refers the Indian Army after Independence K.C. Praval-earlier quoted-page 498).

Chamb was captured by 2 Armoured Brigade by the morning of 07 December. This was a foregone conclusion since the Indians had already abandoned it on night 06/07 December 1971.

General Eftikhar gave his orders for capture of Pallanwala at 1430 hours on 07 December. 2 Armoured Brigade was to cross Tawi east of Nageal. General Eftikhar correctly appreciated that Pallanwala could be captured if an immediate attack was made. A fact which has been acknowledged much later with the benefit of hindsight by Indian historians (Refers-KC Praval Indian Army after Independence page. 498). Thus General Eftikhar wanted that the attack across Tawi on Pallanwala should commence by late evening. When the GOC told Commander 2 Armoured Brigade about his plan. Commander 2 Armoured Brigade felt that the timings were too tight but was firmly ordered by the GOC to carry out these orders. The order to establish the bridgehead could not be implemented since the two battalions who were supposed to establish the bridgehead could not be located by Commander 2 Armoured Brigade as per General Shaukat Raza. (Refers-History of Pakistan Army-1966-71 page.185). Col Saeed the GSO-I of the Division, however, categorically states in his book that 23 Baluch which was supposed to launch the attack and knew about Commander 2 Armoured Brigades O Group for the subject attack did not send any officer to attend the O Group. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb-page 67). Whatever the actual reason the fact is indisputable that 23 Division lost a golden opportunity to capture Pallanwala while the Indians were disorganised and no battalion was holding the area opposite Tawi across Chak Pandit. Commander 2 Armoured Brigade had to cancel the crucial attack till 0100 hours 08 December. Till six the next morning HQ 2 Armoured Brigade failed to locate 4 Punjab or 23 Baluch and no attack was launched! (Refers-Battle of Chamb-page-68 and 69). Finally at six in the morning of 08 December Commander 2 Armoured Brigade informed the GOC that it had not been possible to launch the attack. (Refers-IBID Page.69)

Finally the proposed task of attack was given to 111Brigade. The subject attack was to be launched on the night of 08/09 December by 4 Punjab of Mandiala fame and 10 Baluch. By now, however, the Indians were well established. Failure to make use of the critical time span on 07/08 December had doomed the likelihood of success of 23 Division’s bid for Pallanwala. The Indians in the two precious days had brought their complete 68 Brigade forward and had organised their defences as following.

a. 68 Brigade to hold northern half of the east bank of Tawi; while 52 Brigade was to hold the southern half of the east bank of Tawi.

b. 72 Armoured Regiment under Command 68 Infantry Brigade was to cover the Mandiala and Chamb crossings.

c. Deccan Horse under Command 52 Brigade was to cover all crossing places south of Chamb in the 52 Brigade area of responsibility. Squadron Deccan Horse was in reserve in area Khaur near Pallanwala.

Meanwhile on 09 and 10 December GHQ placed restriction on use of 11 Cavalry east of Tawi since they wanted to move 11 Cavalry to Sialkot. Thus practically the only Armoured Regiment left for the Divison was 28 Cavalry which had just 28 tanks left. On the evening of 09 December, General Eftikhar’s helicopter crashed and the general who was mortally wounded was evacuated to Kharian. Officiating command of the division was assumed by Brig Kamal Matin. The planned attack on Palanwala was launched by 111 Brigade and 28 Cavalry. The infantry attack commenced at 0100 hours on night 09/10 December opposite Darh and Raipur ferries. By the afternoon of 1.0 December a Bridgehead which was 4,000 yards wide and 1,000 yards deep (Refers-The Western Front Candeth-page 82). The Indians speedily launched a counter attack employing elements of 7 Kumaon, 5/8 Kurkha, 10 Garhwal and 3/4 Gurkha supported by a squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment under the direct supervision of General Sartaj Singh the Commander 15 Indian Corps. The Bridgehead was contained. As per Lt Colonel Saeed there was misreporting on part of BM 111 Brigade Major Nazar Hussain also; thus the BM gave an incorrect report that 28 Cavalry was down to 4 tanks. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb-page 80). Meanwhile the new GOC General Umar had arrived. At 1400 hours on 10 December HQ 23 Division ordered withdrawal of 111Brigade. The Battle of Chamb was a battle of lost opportunities. But these opportunities came because the indomitable spirit of General Eftikhar who had the burning desire to beat the enemy and commanded his division from the front. Even today he lives in the hearts of many ex-servicemen who saw him from close quarters, always rushing towards the sound of gun fire; in search for the leading tank troop or the first wave of infantry. Alas, had he lived, many cowards may not have prospered.

ANALYSIS

HANDLING OF ARMOUR

The Battle of Chamb 1971 stands out as the most significant battle in the history of Pakistan armoured corps as a battle in which armour was used in a successful manner in an offensive role. Later on with the benefit of hindsight General Eftikhar’s handling of armour was criticised. The criticism that armour was distributed on too wide a front is often made about 23 Division employment of armour. As a matter of fact armour was used in a concentrated manner and all the reverses suffered by the division were because of lack of infantry at the correct place. Like 11 Cavalry successfully captured Mandiala north and following this complete 4 Punjab was absorbed in holding Mandiala north. The Squadrons of 26 Cavalry were allotted to the 66 and 111Brigade because there was Indian armour supporting 5 Sikh, 4/I Gurkha and 5 Assam. In any case there was hardly any room for manoeuvre in the Mandiala area where the first main attack was launched.

Later on once 28 Cavalry arrived on 04 December armour was used in a concentrated manner. The decision to leave regiment minus of 11 Cavalry in the north of Chamb when 2 Armoured Brigade was a brilliant case of deception rather than dispersal of armour; because presence of tanks opposite Mandiala on 05/06 December convinced the Indians that main effort of 23 Division was still in the north. This led to the successful grand surprise at Chak Pandit which forced the Indian commander to abandon what three brigades of infantry had failed to achieve in three days of fighting.

On the Indian side, however, tanks were under employed. Initially only one squadron was deployed west of Tawi and this squadron was further sub-divided into parts; one troop each in Jhanda Barsala and Munawar and one in reserve. When the artillery shelling started on evening of 03 December two more tank troops of B Squadron Deccan Horse were sent towards Moel but the Mewa Mandiala approach was totally ignored providing 11 Cavalry a clean sweep to Mandiala. This was an entirely avoidable and inexcusable blunder since firstly the Indians had seven tank Squadrons and secondly the Dewa Mandiala approach had already been used by Pakistani armour in 1965. Four tank troops on this approach in well sited positions were enough to stop 11 Cavalry Group well short of Mandiala. However, when 11 Cavalry was approaching Mandiala there was no Indian armour on this approach and only at 9 O’clock in the morning was the Indian commander 191 Brigade sufficiently alerted to hastily despatch two tank troops of B Squadron Deccan Horse. One of these tank troops was already deployed opposite Koel Moel while the second was in reserve east of Barsala. In additon in sheer desperation the two RHQ tanks of Deccan Horse were also deployed on Mandiala south to defend the ridge. However, three tank troops were no consolation and 11 Cavalry was easily able to outflank the Indian position by outflanking it by approaching through the bed of Sukhtao Nullah.

By evening of 04 December B Squadron 7 Armoured Regiment was also placed under Command Deccan Horse but Mandiala north had been lost and a dangerous imbalance in the Indian 10 Division position which was entirely avoidable had been created by virtue of 23 Divisions successful capture of Mandiala north.

The Indian commander employed armour in penny packets and to act as a stationary retaining wall rather than a dynamic element which could be swiftly made to change its role as per particular dynamics of a tactical situation. Thus C Squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment which was given to 191 Brigade was relegated to stationary observation duties on the east bank of Tawi opposite Mandiala and the Sukhtao Nala-Tawi junction. Similarly “A” Squadron of 72 Armoured Regiment which crossed the Tawi at 1100 hours on 06 December when 2 Armoured Brigade was in the process of launching its fateful and decisive attack on Chak Pandit was aimlessly divided into two parts; two troops being sent to Jhanda in the south opposite the Pakistani 20 Brigade and two troops being sent to reinforce Point 994 opposite the 111Brigade front, the three reserve tank troops at Chak Pandit were moved to Chamb to act as a reserve. The third squadron of Deccan Horse never crossed the Tawi and stayed to guard the Darh crossings and the area in south. The independent squadron was never moved and guarded the Akhnur Bridge on the Chenab till end of the war.

The Indians can be accused of under employing the armour justly but nothing in 23 Division’s employment of armour warrants the unjust criticism levelled by writers writing books 20 years after the war. It was the balanced distribution of armour by 23 Division which confused the Indians and forced them to divide their armour. The Indians broke the integrity of tank squadrons and grouped tank troops of one regiment with another. This was not done by 23 Division at any stage. The opinion of Indian Armoured Corps historian about employment of armour is worth quoting:-

“Armour available to 10 Division was not properly employed. The inherent flexibility and mobility of armour enables it to switch roles at short notice. Neither the Divisional Commander nor his Armour Advisor appreciated this characteristic of armour. On the first day only two Squadrons out of seven available were employed. One Squadron was left unemployed throughout the war because it was earmarked for the defence of Akhnur Bridge/town which the remotest threat disappeared after our attack on ‘chickens’ neck’. The second armoured regiment was not inducted even after the enemy’s intention became quite clear. When employed its Squadrons were brought in one by one merely to make up losses suffered by the Deccan Horse. The 10 Division’s appreciation of the armour threat from Pakistan and the consequent employment of the Deccan Horse was faulty. Pakistan had used the northern approach in 1965. What justification could be there six years later to ignore this approach and to allot no armour for its defence? It is said that the commanders concerned did not want to employ armour earmarked for the offensive for defensive purposes. But this is not a valid justification because the flexibility of armour enables it to switch roles at short notice; in any case it would appear that there were adequate resources available centainly in armour after 10 December to regain lost territory but no attempt was made: (Refers-History of the Indian Armoured Corps-earlier quoted-page 489)

AREA TANK TROOPS
INDIAN PAKISTANI
MANDIALA AND EAST OF TAWI NEAR MANDIALA 12 8
PHAGLA GURHA 4 4
CHAK PANDIT 1 17
JHANDA-MUNAWAR 4 4
DARH-EAST TAWI 3 -
AKHNUR-EAST OF TAWI 4 -
  28 33*
* Troops does not mean all three tanks since many tanks were distributed/inoperational

MODIFICATION OF PLANS IN CRISIS SITUATION KEY TO THE ISSUE

It is regarded as an impossibility in our tactical exercises that plans can fail at divisional and corps level; whereas in actual fact it is at divisional and corps level that plans succeed or fail. Moltke correctly stated that: “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”. (Refers-Military Works-Berlin-E. S. Mitter Und Sohn-1892-1912- Volume Four-pages 70 to 117). 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”. (Refers- Military Works-Moltke-earlier quoted-Volume Four-pages 1, 71-73). The position of 23 Division after the failure in the north on 04 and 05 December was similar to that confronted by the Indian Armour GOC opposite Chawinda in 1965 and the Pakistani Armour GOC opposite Valtoha after failure of 4 Armoured Brigade attack. GOC 23 Divison had much less resources than both of the commanders just mentioned. Yet he remained calm, resolute and optimistic and brilliantly modified his plan to once again attack in the south at Chak Pandit.

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 “stood like a rock against which the sea breaks. Its fury in vain”. (Refers-On War-Clausewitz-Anatol Rapoport-National Book Foundation-page-163).

John Keegan describes 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”. (Refers-Six Armies in Normandy-John Keegan-Fontana Books-Reprint-1985-Page.238)

LEADING FROM THE FRONT

It was leading from the front for which General Eftikhar is remembered even today by the troops who served in 23 Division during the Battle of Chamb. It was this quality which enabled him to arrive at a realisttic appraisal of the actual situation without undue reliance on exaggerated reports from lower echelons.

Absence of this doctrine or system of command due to the British heritage at brigade and divisional level, however, led to certain command failures at the Brigade level. The Pakistan and Indian armies are basically the continuation of the old British Indian army steeped in a system of command in which the GOC and Brigade Commanders rarely left their headquarters; placing full trust in the fighting ability of the battalion commanders fighting the main battle. Eftikhar’s approach was more close to the German way of war. Thus while he himself was leading from the front; others like the brigade commanders were not doing so. On the other hand the staff officer in the British/Indo-Pak system had a lesser mission oriented and independent role than the German General Staff which led to breakdown in command. Staff officers trained in the British way of war were not trained to think independently; thus there were no Westphals or Mellenthin to keep the things rolling while the Pakistani Rommel was moving with the leading tank troop. Similarly there were no Neumann, Silkows and Suemermann among the Brigade Commanders who fought from the front. Thus 4 AK Brigade and 66 Brigade Commanders were not accustomed to the system of exercising command from the front and in turn the Headquarters of 23 Division was unable on 05 and 06 December to make a correct assessment of the situation. Similarly this was the reason why 2 Armoured Brigade Headquarters could not find its infantry units on night 06/07 December to launch the planned attack across Tawi. The flaw was both doctrinal as well as organisational. The executive weakness of the staffs and subordinate headquarters was the principal obstacle and reason for 23 Division failure to capture Pallanwala. The troops fought magnificently, the GOC was a great military commander. But somewhere in the middle there was a gap; created as a result of the colonial legacy of an army which followed an operational philosophy which was orders oriented rather than mission oriented.

It may noted that according to the German doctrine: “A Divisional Commander’s place is with his troops ... During encounters with the enemy seeing for oneself is best ... Commanders are to live with the troops and share with them danger deprivation, happiness and suffering”. (Refers-Truppenfuhrung- Commnd of Troops-Berlin-E.S Mittler und Sohn 1936-page-2-4, 33-34). The spectacular German successes of World War 11 were the direct result of the fact that the German General Officer multiplied the combat effectiveness of his Division by leading from the front. Thus on the average during Second World War one German Corps Commander was killed per three months and one Divisional Commander was killed every three weeks. This calculation is based on the facts that 3 Army Commanders, 23 Corps Commanders and 110 Divisional Commanders were killed in the German army fighting World War 11. (Refers-Die Generale Des Heeres-Friedburg-Frg-Podzun-Pallas Verlag-1983 — This work contains bio notes on all German General Officers of WW 11 and has been translated by US army into English).

THE POWER OF DEFENCE IS A RELATIVE AND COMPLEX FACTOR

The Battle of Chamb was a convincing proof that keeping in view comparative equipment resources etc tanks in defence were a much more formidable weapon than in offence. A tank advance even with artillery support was near suicidal when the enemy in front was well entrenched and had sited its defence well. Thus while 11 Cavalry swiftly advanced till Mandiala because no tanks were covering this approach; armour failed to achieve a breakthrough on 04 and 05 December. Some critics condemned this employment of armour; however it was unavoidable. In the first phase wherever tanks were launched there were bound to be casualties and in Chamb due to the dominating ridges the defender was ideally placed. To cause dislocation some attrition in terms of tank casualties was thus inevitable. The Indian commander on the other hand underestimated the power of defence. Thus in the initial discussions before the war General Candeth in his own words advanced the mistaken viewpoint that “Positions west of Tawi were not tactically sound (Refers-Candeth-The Western Front-earlier quoted-page-75). Tactically there was nothing wrong with the Indian positions as amply demonstrated by the performance of Indian 191 Brigade in blocking the advance of four infantry brigades in the first four days of the war. The Indian failure in losing Chamb was entirely a command failure at divisional level and Chamb was not lost by I91 Indian brigade but by 10 Indian Divisional Commander. The tank casualties of 1971 merely hint at a trend in favour of Defence as the stronger form of warfare as witnessed in the limited success of armour attacks even in the 1973 war and in the Iran-Iraq war. The Kuwait war cannot be cited as an example of success of tanks in attack since the contest was one sided.

The dilemma which faced General Eftikhar was that casualties were unavoidable. Someone with some tank squadrons had to move forward and create a dislocation in the Indian defensive posture so as to fix the enemy commanders attention and create conditions which would lead to commitment of reserves finally leading to a situation which offered a vulnerable area through which own armour could breakthrough and paralyse the will of the enemy. The frontal attack on Mandiala and the high tank casualties around Phagla Gurha and Sukhtao Nullah were a pre-requisite for the success later on achieved at Chak Pandit. The relentless attacks of 23 Division in Mandiala area on 04 and 05 December convinced the Indians that the Pakistanis would continue banging their heads against Mandiala. Just like the Indian Armoured Division had done at Chawinda. Thus the sudden appearance of armour at Chak Pandit caused a mental paralysis and the Indians lost the will to fight. General Eftikhar in words of Clausewitz “By strategem made the Indians commit the errors of understanding which at last, flowing into one result, suddenly change the nature of things in his eyes” (Refers-On War earlier quoted-page.274).

Defence is the stronger form of war and it is extremely difficult to dislodge well entrenched soldiers with similar equipment and weapon systems. The only remedy in such a case is dislocating the enemy commanders mental equilibrium by surprise in terms of force ratio and time and space.

The defender lays down the first laws of war, in words of an author he forces the attacker to establish his plan ... But defence is the weaker form of warfare in short conflicts like Indo-Pak wars where resources are few and it is a nearly impossible task to change posture from defence to offence as was the Indian plan/thus after 10 December though 23 Division was greatly exhausted the Indians could not regain what they had lost. Had they taken their main defence on Tawi rather than west of Tawi as Candeth wanted; they may even have lost Pallanwala. Much more strength of will, intellect and courage is required to fight a successful offensive battle. 10 Indian Division’s initial defensive battle was a masterpiece effort in terms of 191 Indian Brigades conduct in facing four advancing Brigades. Where the Indians failed was in terms of the conduct of battle at the divisional level; placing of reserves; launching of timely counterattacks etc etc.

THE TERM FLANK

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the term flank. In the Indo-Pak way of warfare the term “Vulnerable Point” is better than the term “Flank”. Flanks may not necessarily be the best place to attack. In any case ‘Flanks’ are created only after breakthroughs are made. The 11 Cavalry advance to Mandiala was, however, a peculiar operation because it was made in a situation in which no real breakthrough had been achieved; but a penetration had captured the Mandiala north ridge 191 Indian Brigade was outflanked. If this advantage had been immediately exploited a serious defeat would have been inflicted on the Indians. However, since the Indians got one day the gap north of Mandiala and the vulnerable flank created as a result of capture of Mandiala north was undone and a continuous line was once again established once Indians brought 68 Brigade units opposite Mandiala crossing on 05 December.

The Indian Commanders mental fixation with Mandiala led to weakening of Indian defences in the middle. This was well exploited by General Eftikhar vide his Chak Pandit thrust of 06 December, which created another exposed flank for the Indians. There are thus no flanks initially but flanks are created as a result of own offensive action or as a result of enemy’s attention being fixed on one part of the front. There is a great deal of truth in General Wetzell who was General Ludendorf’s Chief of Operations saying that :-The enemy is not necessarily the weakest on his flanks, nor will he make most of his mistakes on the wings, his weakness and his efforts may occur at other places. The main condition of success is to discover weaknesses and errors wherever they are and to attack the enemy wherever he is weak and wherever he has committed an error. “(Refers-Surprise-General Waldemar Erfurth-First Translation-1943-Military Service Publishing Company-Stackpole Books-1974 — page.2 and 3)

It may be noted that the above mentioned quotation exactly describes the Indian position at Chamb. Initially they were strong in the centre south; while in the later part they became the strongest on the northern flank and the weakest in the centre opposite Barsala; it was General Eftikhar’s greatness as a General that he correctly perceived this Indian vulnerability and exploited it by launching the 2 Armoured Brigade opposite Chak Pandit.

Another flank was created on 06/07 December opposite Nageal but since 23 Division could not exploit it; the same vulnerable point was strengthened by 08/09 December when finally the 111Brigade attack was launched.

THE SUSPENSION OF ACTION FACTOR

“Suspension of Action” which means a state of action in which an army or any military entity is inactive due to one reason or another is one of the most brilliant and often neglected concept of Clausewitz. The Battle of Chamb offers some very fine instances of application of this concept.

According to Clausewitz; there were three reasons for “Suspension of Action” in a war or a battle. Firstly, “Naturally timidity and want of resolution in the human mind, a kind of inertia in the moral world produced by dread of danger and responsibility” (Refers-On War-Clausewitz-edited by Rapport-National Book Foundation-page.292); Secondly, “The imperfection of human perception and judgment, because a person hardly knows his own position from one moment to another, and can conjecture only on slight grounds that of the enemy” (Refers-ibid-page 292); Thirdly, the “Greater strength of the defensive form” (Refers-ibid-page.292).

Like all other armies in the world 23 Division also at various times went into a state of suspension of action. The foremost reason for this was the third reason, ie, “Greater strength of the defence” and this was true for the various battles at Mandiala, Phagla and Point 994. The other two reasons certainly played a role on 05 and 06 December and golden opportunities were lost to inflict a crushing defeat on the Indians. In an article published in Citadel issue I/91 titled “Do we lack aggressiveness” The Battle of Chamb was cited as an instance; where “The momentum of attack dissipated after the General Officer Commanding embraced Shahadat” (Refers-Citadel-issue I/91-page.56). The question raised by this learned author was answered by Clausewitz long ago when he identified suspension of action as an important reality of war. The problem was common to all armies in the world including the great Prussian army to which Clausewitz belonged. But Clausewitz suggested an antidote to “Natural timidity and want of resolution”; it was “The will of the commander ... by the spark in his breast, by the light of his spirit, the spark of purpose, the light of hope, must be kindled afresh in others ... whenever that influence ceases, and his own spirit is no longer strong enough to revive the spirit of all others ... the spirit of all others sink into the lower region of animal nature, which shrink from danger and knows not shame”. (Refers Clausewitz-On War-page.I45). There is no doubt that General Eftikhar possessed tremendous personal courage both physical courage which enabled himself to expose him-self to fire and thereby act as an example for all under command; and moral courage which enabled him to take sound operational decisions. His appearance at Mandiala while 11 Cavalry was engaged in a life and death struggle with the Indians played a significant role in reducing the suspension of action or inactivity period at Mandiala; similarly his landing at Chanair and spurring of 2 Armoured Brigade to quickly cross the minefield (which later on was proved to be a dummy minefield) played significant role on the fateful 06 December when 2 Armoured Brigade was advancing towards Chak Pandit. (Refers-The Battle of Chamb-Lt Colonel Saeed-page 59).

As regards the factor of imperfect human perception; here too the 23 Division enjoyed tremendous advantage by virtue of having the General’s penetrating perception; his penetrating coup de oeil which enabled him to finally switch to the south on 06 December.

In short all armies suffer from the suspension of action paradox; however, it can be countered by resolute leadership. The conclusion is simple; to firstly recognise suspension of action as an important reality in military training and secondly to select resolute commanders who can spur and goad their formations in actual battle by leading from the front.

PERFORMANCE OF 23 DIVISION

The 23 Division was the only formation whose performance was appreciated even by the enemy. Thus the following was the opinion of various Indians about the war performance of 23 Division and General Eftikhar:-

“Major General Iftikhar Khan, the Divisional Commander, showed skill and determination in carrying out his misison.”

(K.C Praval- “ Indian Army after Independence” - Page.496)

“The enemy commander showed commendable flexibility. Having achieved surprise by using the northern approach, he switched to the south when he found himself firmly checked at Mandiala crossings”

(Ibid. page.499)

“The permanent loss of tactically and economically valuable territory on the west bank of Munawar Tawi was the most serious reverse suffered in the 1971 war”

The History of the Indian Armoure Corps-1941-1971-Major General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu-Page.488)

In the Second World War one percent of the pilots of the US Air Force were responsible for shooting down in air fights some 40% of enemy war planes. (Refers-The Professional Soldier-Moris Janowitz-The Free Press of Glencoe-USA-1960-page-41). During the decisive battle of Assaye the British Infantry Regiment 74th Foot did bulk of the fighting and its casualties amounted to 501 whereas the other European casualties of all other units were just 143. (Refers-Wellington’s Campaigns in India Intelligence Branch Indian Army-page-176). In 1857 the British casualties at the siege of Delhi exceeded British casualties at all other battles in 1857 totalled by some 200 additional casualties. (Refers-The Indian Mutiny-G.W. Forest-Volume One-page-150 and 151) it is a fact of history that very often bulk of the fighting is done by a qualitatively superior force; as we have seen in the above mentioned instances. For 1971 war also strictly keeping the facts in mind almost half of casualties sustained by the army on the western front were borne by the valiant 23 Division. Thus while the total army casualties on the western front were 4958 (Refers-Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership-earlier quoted-page.280) those of 23 Division alone were 2216 (Refers-Battle of Chamb-earlier quoted-page-87).

On the other hand at times it has been stated that 23 Division could not have captured Palllanwala since the Indians were too strong east of Tawi. These are writers about whom Clausewitz warned us long go when he said:- “Not to be led astray and intimidated by the danger of which thirty years later people still wrote and spoke”. (On War- earlier quoted-page.245). There is simply no doubt that 23 Division could have captured Pallanwala on 07 or even 08 December had the 2 Armoured Brigade and 111Brigade been handled with resolution. The Indian writer K.C. Praval admitted this fact when he said:-

“Iftikhar Khan did not pursue 191 Brigade across the Munawwar Tawi straight away. This gave Indian troops the time to strengthen their defences and the enemy lost the chance of establishing itself east of Tawi.” (Refers-Indian Army after Independence-page-498).

It was not General Eftikhar who paused but the Brigade Headquarters who were not led by individuals like General Eftikhar who fought from the front.

THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEFENCE VERSUS OFFENSIVE PLANS

The Indian plan lacked integrity and this compromised their dispositions. Their commanders were so obsessed with launching the offensive that they disregarded their prime task of defence of Chamb till an attack was launched. Glaring among these planning errors was disregard for the security of the Mandiala Dewa approach, leaving of the large minefield gap in Barsala Jhanda area.

The Indian commanders assumption that commencement of offensive in Chamb would by itself ensure the defence of Akhnur Chamb sector was a highly erroneous assumption. Thus the bulk of 10 Indian Division troops were not in their defences when the Pakistani attack was launched since they were in concentration areas preparing for the offensive. (Refers KC Praval-page-495)

PSYCHOLOGICAL DISLOCATION OF HIGHER COMMANDER

It was psychological dislocation of the Indian Commander which was the crucial factor in the final analysis. In this regard an interview of a senior Indian Staff Officer is highly thought-provoking:-

“Fascinating indeed! you had almost done it. It was a matter of just touch and go. We really did not know what happened to you after you took the spur and did not pursue. We did not have much to stop you at all (Reference to 13 AK attack). God alone knows where you would have stopped that evening if only you had got going. Our situation was really bad”. (Refers: Opinion of Indian Col General Staff Colonel Rege immediately after the war-quoted by Colonel Saeed-Battle of Chamb-page-85)

The Indians were simply psychologically dislocated. With no superiority in troops, on the whole it was superior leadership of General Eftikhar which was 23 Division’s principal asset. It is absence or presence of great leaders which is decisive in the final reckoning.

When General Eftikhar switched south following failure in the north the Indian Commander was simply overwhelmed by complete surprise. The brilliant manner in which Eftikhar shifted the entire Schwerpunkt of the battle from north to south within one night has no parallel at least in the history of Indo-Pak wars. Thus by 5th December once the Indians were finally feeling secure; convinced that the situation had been stabilised; the shocking report received on 6th December that a large tank force was advancing at Barsala on 6th December was traumatic at least for the Indian commander! A counterstroke which in the Indo-Pak scenario may be compared to achievement of a Manstein or Sharon.

Later on elements started destroying talent in our army; Eftikhar’s achievements were down played and Shaukat Raza who was hardly an independent historian writing what the officials in GHQ wanted downplayed Chamb. It is shocking that he did not even mention 13 AK attack or the criminal delay by 2 Armoured Brigade or 111 Brigade on 07 and 08 December. Today the civilians hardly know Eftikhar and all the glory that Chamb was. Instead we are being repeatedly told about soldiers who were warriors more known for dexterity in handling CIA dollars of Afghan wars than guns. Logically these men should not even have been mentioned after they met an accidental end which ended their unsoldierly pursuits in August 1988 by divine design.

The men who led us in 1971 were not as outwardly wise with NDCs and AFWCs as today’s officiers; but they were a finer lot. Inshallah the next war will prove to be the final audit of mediocrity instilled in our army in the period 1977-88.

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