Battle Lore – On Breakthrough in Chamb

By Lt. Col. Muhammad Usman Hassan, S.J.

General

On D’ day a brigade group was ordered to resume the offensive against the enemy. This article describes the battle fought by an infantry battalion supported by armour, within the framework of a brigade group plan. Whilst reading the article, the reader must bear in mind that very sketchy information about the terrain and the enemy was available during the planning stage, as normally happens in war.

Terrain

The ground in general was broken and interspersed with dry nullahs. At places there were mango groves and wild orchards which provided adequate cover. The area was quite fertile and fields had four feet high crops of millet and maize. In certain areas there were pools of water which was difficult tank going. Soft vehicles were restricted to movement on marked tracks only. The area including village Moel and North of it was comparatively open and provided sufficient room for cross-country manoeuvre.

The ground was gradually rising from West to East and immediately North of village Sakrana there was a sharp rise in the gradient. The condition of the roads was as follows.

-         Chamb-Munawar Road: This was a two way shingle road which joined village Chamb with the enemy out posts in South. The road was adequately guarded and well protected.

-         Chamb-Diwa Road: It was also a double way shingle road proceeding North-West and led to the enemy main positions in that area.

-         Chamb-Mandiala Road: This was also a two way shingle road and led towards the enemy position in the North. It passed through the hills, and immediately North of village Sakrana it was covered by strong enemy positions.

Pattern of Enemy Defences

According to his deployment pattern, it seemed that the enemy was expecting the main thrust along the roads Chamb-Diva and Chamb-Mandiala with a subsidiary effort from the West. Accordingly he had sited his main defences about 6 miles north of village Chamb and strong points around villages Moel, Dingawali, Paur, Khairowal, Tutanwali and Paghla. The strength of these two points varied from one to two rifle companies of the Civil Armed Forces reinforced by some regular troops. Strong points had well sited weapon pits protected by barbed wire and mines. These defended localities were located in the depth and were mutually supporting. At certain places there were Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) with well planned task tables and adequate telephone and wireless communications. Sufficient anti-tank weapons were provided to these posts, and where the fields of fire were available, 106 mm anti-tank guns were sited with proper overhead cover. The use of corrugated iron sheets for overhead cover and reinforced concrete for making bunkers was lavish. The civil population had been removed from the area about 15 days earlier.

The enemy administrative area was situated around village Chamb and Sakrana. A squadron plus of light tanks was initially located in the vicinity. The administrative area was protected by more than an infantry battalion reinforced by elements of the Civil Armed Forces.

Defence of Village Chamb

The battalion headquarters along with two rifle companies of the Civil Armed Forces were deployed south of the village. The anti-tank defence consisted of 4 anti-tank guns and two dug-in tanks. There were about 120 vehicles parked east of this position. The task assigned to this force was to cover the roads Chamb-Munawar and Chamb-Diva. The positions were suitable for looking after any advance from the South but as regards to Chamb-Diva road the field of fire was restricted to 300 yards due to the miller crops which were about 4 to 5 feet high. The position was very compact and great care had been taken in the deployment of machine guns and anti-tank guns. However the slit trenches were sited haphazardly. The tanks were in defiladed positions with covered routes of withdrawal.

The positions north of village Chamb consisted of a rifle company and more than a company of ancillary troops. This position also had dug-in positions for tanks, recoilless rifles and machine guns. There were no mines or barbed wire. Although the positions were sited using comparatively higher ground, they were not mutually supporting due to the built-up area in-between, which the enemy failed to utilize. To the East was the River Tawi, about 200 yards wide with 2 to 3 feet of water. There was no bridge over the river and during the rains the width of the river increased to a thousand yards. There were no defences east of this river.

Defence of Village Sakrana

This was a small village where the enemy had his ammunition dump inside a permanent building, and defended by a platoon. About 300 yards north of the village on high ground approximately two enemy rifle companies were deployed facing north along Chamb-Mandiala road. These companies were in compact defencive positions with recoilless rifles and machine guns mutually supporting each other. Enemy field artillery was deployed between villages Chamb and Sakrana and an Advance Dressing Station was nearby.

Defence of Village Mandiala

The enemy had about a company strength in this area. The rest of the battalion was deployed about 4 miles away, to the North West. The company probably had the following tasks.

  • To protect the guns.

  • To keep open the crossing place east of this village.

Information About the Enemy

The information available about the enemy was very scanty. It was believed that very little opposition would be encountered en route to Sakrana and Chamb positions, where it was estimated that the enemy would be of approximately a battalion strength.

The terrain was very boggy and whenever the tanks tried to manoeuvre in the fields, they were bogged down.

Plan of the Attack

The battalion was assigned the task of capturing the village Chamb and Sakrana, and to be prepared to exploit further to the East along the Chamb-Jaurian road on orders. The task was to be accomplished in two phases:-

  • Phase I. Capture line villages Paghla and Khairowal.

  • Phase II. Capture lines villages Sakrana and Chamb.

An armoured regiment less squadron was to operate on the left flank and secure the same line as given to the infantry units. A field battery was placed in direct support, and the divisional artillery on call.

Battalion Commander’s Plan

The Battalion Commander’s plan was to lead the advance with A and C companies, with in depth B and D companies. The armour was to remain in the center initially and then advance independently on the left flank.

Some Problems

Firstly, the armours and the infantry commander were unable to marry up, as the armoured regiment arrived in the concentration area few hours before the H hour. Secondly, the tanks were equipped with American wireless sets, whereas the infantry had British equipment. Finally, when the operation started, only the two commanding officers were in communication with each other, whilst the rest of the sub-units were not.

Conduct of Operations

The infantry and armour formed up and after the artillery fire was lifted, started moving on different axes. En route to their objectives, the infantry and armour encountered light enemy positions and, after fighting independent actions, were able to link up at villages Chamb and Skarana. The subsequent paragraphs give the details of actions fought by each sub-unit.

A Company

The company crossed the start line at 0530 hours. It came under small arms fire about 600 yards short of village Dingawali. The FOO bought down artillery fire and a right flanking attack was successfully launched. The position was held by elements of the Civil Armed Forces. Six prisoners were taken and the rest of the enemy abandoned the position and withdrew.

When the company resumed its advance, it came under small arms fire from Khairowal position. ‘C’ Company advancing on the right flank engaged this position. Since the enemy fire was not effective, the company commander decided to by-pass Khairowal position and continue the advance. At this stage the company had no communications with the battalion headquarters and other companies, due to the screening effect of the think growth and undulating ground. Since he had lost both wireless and visual contact, the company commander, instead of waiting for the completion of the first phase, decided to go straight for Sakrana.

As the company advanced in two up formation, observation became more and more restricted and enemy fire increased in intensity, and the objective was still one and half miles ahead. The right forward platoon reported that the enemy was holding a building to their front, and that the platoon had gone to the ground and was engaging the position. The company commander joined the platoon commander in order to assess the enemy’s strength and dispositions. Fortunately there was a troop of own tanks a few hundred yards away, so he signaled them to come up. The Troop Commander responded to his call and engaged the building. It was a critical moment. The Company Commander ordered the Platoons to make a dash for the objective. It was all over in ten minutes. 10 prisoners and an ammunition dump were captured. The company tried to exploit further but came under heavy fire from some high ground to the North. Over joyed by the success the Company Commander and the troop leader decided to attack the next position without delay. The troop leader moved one tank into a nullah, while the rest of the troop covered its advance. The tank had barely gone 200 yards when it was engaged by a well camouflaged recoilless rifle and knocked out. However the other two tanks engaged and destroyed the gun. The troop leader now carefully scanned the slopes through his glasses and started speculative fire, which proved very effective, and as a result of this, the Company Commander and troop leader estimated the strength of the enemy as two companies. Since the company was not in communication with the rest of the battalion and did not know the progress of the battle, it was decided to occupy a hasty defence, with the tanks well forward in order to beat back a likely enemy counter-attack.

While the tanks engaged suitable targets, the FOO kept the enemy’s head down. The situation remained tense and uncertain, and there was sporadic firing and noise of tanks and vehicles movement. During the night, enemy launched counter-attack which was beaten back. At dawn out troops which had captured Chamb started firing on us, but the company commander saved the situation by waiving his handkerchief.

D Company

D Company was on the left of A Company, but as the advance progressed they lost contact with the A Company because of the thick crops. Wireless communications with battalion headquarters was also disrupted. The company commander however decided to continue his advance towards Sakrana. While approaching Tutan Wali, they were fired at, and a quick attack was launched. The enemy withdrew and 8 prisoners were captured. The company also saw own tanks advancing on their left flank which further boosted up their morale.

The advance continued and when the objective came in sight, the enemy seemed to be in a panic and preparing for withdrawal. So without wasting any time, the company charged, and the enemy fled and a few prisoners were captured.

Since night was approaching, the company commander decided to take up a defence and wail till morning. In the night the company was ordered to attack Mandiala along with B Company. Under cover of artillery fire the company launched a quick and very successful attack, and captured large quantities of automatic weapons, ammunition and a few vehicles. The booty also included some field guns, which had been left loaded and intact by the enemy.

C Company

The company crossed the start line at 0530 hours. When it had reached about 1500 yards short of Paur position, it was engaged by enemy machine guns. Since it was not possible to by-pass, as the enemy occupied a dominating position with good fields of fire, the company commander ordered the leading platoon to form a fire base and the other two platoons to launch a left flanking attack. The Forward Observation Officer (FOO) brought in effective artillery fire and the manouvre was successful.

The advance was resumed but was slow due to the thick undergrowth and non-existence of tracks. An enemy machine gun was heard engaging a distant target. Expecting enemy in the vicinity the company commander joined the forward section for taking prompt decision. Suddenly he noticed two enemy tanks and two recoilless rifles engaging A Company in the North. The company commander was in a predicament as he had there no tank support and his own anti-tank detachments had been left behind. The situation demanded a quick and bold action. The company commander ordered the crew of the machine guns and rocket launchers to engage the enemy and the platoons to charge the tanks and recoilless rifles. As the infantry charged, the enemy fled in panic leaving behind their guns and tanks.

The advance was once again resumed, and when the company had advanced 2000 yards it came under machine gun fire. Soon after some enemy tanks were seen advancing towards the company so the company commander ordered the FOO to engage the advancing tanks. In the meantime, the company commander was able to contact his commanding officer on the wireless and apprised him of the situation. The commanding officer promised him some tanks and in a short while a squadron commander arrived with two tanks. Immediately the enemy tanks were engaged and after a short tank to tank battle the enemy tanks withdrew.

At this stage the battalion commander was wounded and had to be evacuated. B Company also arrived and the two companies resumed the advance led by the two tanks, which were shortly joined by the rest of the squadron. When this force reached in the vicinity of Chamb, a message was received that village Chamb had already been captured.

The company was now given the task of exploiting East of Chamb. While moving forward the company observed the enemy waiving white flags. Thinking that the enemy was anxious to surrender the company moved forward and instead were greeted by heavy small arms fire. The FOO had no wireless communication because his set had been damaged, instead he ran back and brought forward a tank which engaged the enemy and enabled the infantry to extricate itself. Soon after the FOO observed a large number of enemy vehicles parked near a cutting. He dashed back to the squadron headquarters and met another artillery observer who was also not in communication with the guns. However, using the tank wireless set the message was passed to the Regimental Commander, who in turn through the gunner’s net relayed it to the guns. Initially the target was engaged by a medium regiment, and later on by the divisional artillery. It was a sight worth seeing. Most of the vehicles were destroyed and the enemy suffered heavy personnel casualties.

A confused situation prevailed west of village Chamb. B Squadron had reached north of the village and was ordered to exploit eastwards. The squadron commander planned to by-pass the village, cross the Tawi to cut off the enemy line of retreat. The strength of the squadron had been depleted due to bad going and nearly half of its tanks were strung out in the rear. The squadron commander therefore asked permission to delay the advance till the infantry had joined him. Due to the time factor he was ordered to resume his advance. As the tanks approached the village from the West, the came across a thick millet field. The leading tank moved forward and crossed the field followed by the rest of the leading troop. As they crossed the field, they were engaged by some recoilless rifles and a tank at a range of 300 yards, and four tanks were hit in quick succession, and the squadron withdrew.

C and B companies remained in defence till next morning, and spent an uncomfortable night. Throughout the night they heard the incessant noises of enemy vehicles and tanks in the North. It was difficult to assess the enemy’s intentions, as to whether he was preparing for a counter-attack or a withdrawal.

B Company

This company followed the C Company at a distance of 500 to 1000 yards. Whenever C Company was engaged by enemy and by the time B Company arrived, the fighting had ended. As mentioned earlier B and C companies along with the tanks advanced towards village Chamb and arrived West of it without encounter. Whilst exploiting, B Company captured enemy field guns and a Mobile Advance Dressing Station. In the morning the company was ordered to attack village Mandiala along with D Company. By the time they reached the village it was all over, as D Company had already done the job.

Lessons

Need for Good Junior Leadership

Successful execution of a battle plan primarily depends on the ability and courage of junior leaders. Most often during combat, junior leaders face difficulties which in peacetime appear insurmountable. With experience one can easily infer that there is hardly any problem that a junior leader cannot solve through ingenuity, courage and initiative. A good leader will always try to overcome difficulties with determination and courage. This had been adequately illustrated in the above narrative.

Need for Short and Quick Actions

An attack is a combination of the following:-

-         Covering Fire. Its primary purpose is to neutralize the combat power of the enemy. Effective fire (which may be a combination of artillery and fire of integral weapons of infantry or one of them) forces the enemy to take cover, weakens him by inflicting casualties and permits the attacking force to manoeuvre.

-         Manoeuvre. It implies the advance of the assault echelon to a position from where it can close with and destroy the enemy.

-         Shock Action. It is the actual closing of the assault echelon with the enemy, resulting in his destruction, capture or withdrawal. The impact of shock is greatly increased, if the element of surprise is added to it. At lower levels, surprise is attained by doing something for which enemy is not prepared.

In a mobile battle at lower level, quite often the above actions need to be carried out with the shortest delay.

Need for Aggressiveness

During advance, speed and aggressiveness is vital. On meeting opposition covering fire must immediately be brought to bear on the enemy and as fair as possible it should be a combination of both infantry weapons and artillery. The fire should be accurate and effective. Never hesitate in using the maximum fire power at your disposal but keep in mind – use only those weapons whose fire is effective. In all actions described above, it was effective and accurate covering fire, which demoralized the enemy. The FOO is a very useful person with the infantry. He should be aggressive and quick to appreciate the situation and bring effective file to bear on the enemy.

It is not always necessary to either wait for or call for artillery file. If you are near the enemy and have attained surprise, it is betted to go in. For instance C Company charged the tanks and D company went in for attack supported only by tanks.

Need for Alertness and Correct Battle Drills

During battle one should try to remain mentally alert. Minor drills which are taught during training must be observed. For instance village Chamb was reported clear of the enemy and own tanks tried to manoeuvre round it. As they crossed and tried to form up they were ambushed – wrong information caused the damage. The squadron commander failed to appreciate enemy’s presence in the village. After the war he told me that before forming up, he should have carried out speculative fire on likely enemy positions and then fanned out. This is the normal drill for the tanks in such a situation. Similarly when the enemy showed white flags and C Company dashed forward to accept the surrender, they were lucky in that the enemy opened up from a longer range and the company suffered no casualties. Under such circumstances the enemy should be made to advance towards you with their arms in the air.

Information About the Enemy

During peacetime training elaborate information about the enemy is provided and it is easy to make plans. However, in was, seldom will enough information be available. Similarly, will orders be so exacting and detailed. Therefore you should be prepared to execute plans with little information being available.

“It is not so much numbers and elaborate equipment that count in tough places, but training and morale.” F.M. Slim.

Published in ‘Soldiers Speak, Selected Articles from Pakistan Army Journal 1956-1981′, published by Army Education Press, GHQ, Rawalpindi