Morning Tea that never reached Kasur

The Indian invasion of Kasur sector had been synchronized with that of Lahore sector. 11 Infantry Division raised, on an ad hoc basis, a few months earlier, had been assigned to defend this sector and to destroy any enemy break through either from Ferozpur, through Hussainiwala or via Bedian and Hem Karan, in an effort to outflank Lahore. The division having been raised during the emergency had not been brought up to full strength and apart from other shortages had only seven infantry battalions. The divisional commander, Major General Abdul Hamid, had decided to fight in front of the BRB canal and to carry the battle into the enemy territory as soon as opportunity arose.

The Indians had been seen carrying our reconnaissance of the border are a few days before the invasion. The suspicion of the GOC had been aroused and he had ordered the diggings of defensive positions on 4 September but, in order not to worsen the political situation, had taken care that all work on defensive positions was to be done during the hours of darkness only.

The position became weaker on 5 September when 21 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brig. Sahib Dad Khan, 13 Baluch and 5 FF, was moved out of the area. This left only five infantry battalions, with the division to defend a front of approximately 28 miles.

News came into Division Headquarters at about 345 hours on 6 September that Indian movement had been observed in front of the ranger post at Bedian. By 0500 hours, it was clear that the Ranger posts all along the border were under enemy attack. Soon the Indians decided to forego the element of surprise, which had already been lost, and opened up with mortars and artillery. The enemy had planned a two pronged attack, one aimed against Bedian Head Works and the other directly leading to Kasur along the road Patti-Khem-Karan-Kasur.

The two main enemy attacks were directed against Bedian, by 5 Guards battalion, and Kasur along Khem Karan axis by 9 J and K battalion. By 0900 hours both the attacks had come to standstill. Both attacks had been of a battalion strength each and supported by armour. Defending Bedian facing the enemy attack was a company of 1 East Bengal Regiment. They withstood the assault most admirably. The enemy received the proper reception. The senior Tigers, as the battalion was called, held their fire as seasoned troops are expected to do. They had a plucky young gunner Captain as F.O.O., who had his O.P. on top of a tree. He gave them an excellent supporting fire even though wounded during the early hours of the morning.

HQ 106 Infantry Brigade was shelled at about 0600 hours but the Indians did not achieve much. There was only one casualty as a result of it.

One Kasur – Khem Karan road, which appeared to be the main axis, the battalion holding up the Indians was 7 Punjab. The first attack having been held up, the right flank was attacked the second time. 7 Punjab forward platoon, on this flank, had to fall back in initial stages. This encouraged the Indians and 13 Dogra, came rushing on and took Rohiwala village, only to find themselves in a trap. 7 Punjab put in a well planned counter attack with one company and put the Dogras to flight. Their battalion 2nd in command Major Milkiat Singh with 14 others was taken prisoner and the rest managed to extricate themselves, leaving over 60 dead on the field.

There had been subsidiary attacks along the rest of the front also. They had been directed against village Punwan and Ballanwala with the idea of securing crossing BRB canal. These were not allowed to develop and were stopped efficiently.

1 East Bengal Regiment faced another battalion attack at 1000 hours in front of Bedian. This also was repulsed with heavy losses to the enemy.

Enemy 4 Indian Mountain Division, had the support of 2 Indian Independent Armoured Brigade and an unusually large compliment of Infantry and artillery. It had under it 17 infantry battalions. Opposing it were 5 battalions stretched out over a large front. As a result the point of Indian attack, selected at will due to the initiative being in their hands, gave to the Indians a superiority of 5 to 1 in addition to armour. The artillery support of 11 Division was also much less on 6 September as compared to what the Indians had.

The Indians continued to attack again and again throughout the day. An intercepted wireless message, earlier in the day had said, “Speed up”. The morning tea will be issued in Kasur.” That cup of tea was not to be tasted. Many tastes another kind of cup that day and to no purpose. The old says, “There is many slip a between the cup and the lip”, was said for precisely such occasions. The whole sector from Kasur to Bedian was under constant pressure, but the pattern was the same. The armour had been spread out over the whole front in the

most democratic fashion. The infantry all along could be seen advancing under cover of artillery fire and escorted by tanks. The moment the artillery barrage was lifted the infantry would get up, shout “Jai Hind” three times, as if asking the Pakistani soldiers to open fire. The moment the Pakistanis opened fire the Indians would fall to the ground, repeat the performance two or three times and then having sent the usual messages of being stopped by heavy fire, they would oblige by providing an excellent target when retreating.

The time had reached when the battle had, according to plan, to be carried into enemy territory. The enemy attack had been stopped, his armour blunted and the momentum of his advance broken. Now was the time to give him a little taste of his own prescription. The Indians continued attacking during the night, particularly on Bedian, Punwan, and Ballanwala but were thrown back in every place. Indian night attacks were no different from the day attacks. There may have been another difference from the point of view of enemy forward troops. They escaped, due to the observance of wireless silence, the nerve wrecking coaxing and unprintable language of their higher headquarters which must have been a great relief.

11 Division had been given 5 Armoured Brigade for the limited offensive operations planned for this sector. There could be no question of a major offensive. The Indians had not yet committed their 1 Indian Armoured Division and the infantry compliment of 1 Indian Corps. On 4 September the papers captured from one of the dispatch riders had confirmed the presence of 1 Indian Armoured Division in the vicinity of Samba and as a result Pakistan High Command, did not wish to tie up its armour in the relatively untankable country beyond Khem Karan and yet it was not desirable to completely ignore offensive operation from this direction, into East Punjab. While the Indian attack had not yet sufficiently developed against Sialkot, it was profitable to utilize the brief period and inflict as much casualties on the Indian Army as possible.

By mid day on 7 September, 21 Infantry Brigade had returned to 11 Division after being released by GHQ from the special task for which it had been detailed earlier.

The bridgehead necessary for launching 5 Armoured Brigade was ready by the evening of 7 September. It had necessitated the construction of the bridge on the Ruhi Nala. The bridge so close to the front and under constant enemy air attacks was a difficult task, but it proved what determined troops can do. Pakistan Engineers rose to the occasion and did a very good job of it. 1 FF less one coy and one squadron of 6 Lancers (Divisional Armoured Regiment) crossed over when the Indian Air Force was most active, but at the same time most inefficient. By the evening Khem Karan had been reached and the bridgehead established successfully. The enemy suffered heavily both in men and equipment and a number of Indian prisoners fell into the bag of 1 FF. The equal distribution of Indian armour to its various brigades and battalions may have sounded well as an exercise in simple arithmetic but in defending Khem Karan, it proved most disastrous to the Indians.

The next day 21 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brig. Sahib Dad and 5 Armoured brigade moved into the bridgehead. 4 Armoured brigade, the other formation of 1 Armoured Division was also to come into the bridgehead, the moment mopping up operation in Khem Karan had been completed. The Indians tried to divert the attention of Pakistanis from Khem Karan by an attack on Bedian and the adjacent villages. The brunt again, but they stood their ground firmly and threw back the Indians with very heavy casualties on both occasions.

C-in-C Pakistan Army Gen. Mohammad Musa visiting Khem Karan after its capture. Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan and Brig. Sahib Dad Khan are on his right and left.

The Indians were in desperate position. Khem Karan, a historical town, and a flourishing trade center, with a large population was threatened by Pakistan. The would be visitors who two days earlier had promised their men the morning cup of tea, their Chhota Hazri, in Kasur were Tank/Infantry combined attack. The din of battle, the artillery on both sides pounding the confined space on the Northern outskirts of the town and the cries of wounded and dying were beyond imagination. The orders were being shouted in clear by the Indian commanders. The language at times was unprintable, but this does happen with inexperienced small men in high positions. The Indian troops fought well on this day. The stakes were high and the fear of war being carried into their own home had shaken them out of the over confident attitude of the previous day. Inspite of the greater determination shown by the Indians and their overwhelming superiority, the Pakistani troops stood their ground. At about 0900 hours, 8 September, it appeared that the Indian attack had spent all its vigor but before the Indians could dig in where they stood, 6 Lancers and 5 FF, commanded by Lt. Col. M. Mumtaz Khan, on one axis and 1 FF less one Coy and a squadron of 15 Lancers under command on the other axis went into attack. The scene was superb. Never before had an army in spick and span uniforms, meant for the victory parade been disillusioned in such a manner. The well-coordinated attack of armour and infantry threw them back. The coordination of the defenses on 11 Infantry Division front had been meticulously gone into by the GOC and his staff. The GOC, who made full use of his helicopters, was always found to be near whichever sector the fighting was severest. This helped him in being ahead of the Indians at every step. The Indian Army had a good proportion of their best fighting material on this front but, they were pitched against men who were fighting for a cause. Once thrown back they were unable to reassemble and reorganize. They were however, lucky. The high sugar-cane and cotton crops gave them cover from the Pakistani pursuers. Khem Karan had fallen into Pakistani hands by 0900 hours and the advance continued.

The move of 6 Lancers was so brilliant an execution of advance forward that the infantry which was being impeded due to the need of clearing small pockets, snipers and odd MMG nests hidden in crops, could not keep pace with armour. 6 Lancers under Lt. Col. Shahzad Gul by 1700 hours had captured Valtoha Railway station at a distance of 12 miles from Khem Karan. It was magnificent piece if work. The enemy echelons, all along the route had been taken by surprise. The Indian contention that Major General Gurbakhsh Singh, 4 Indian Mountain Divisional Commander had pull back his men would be acceptable, if in the process the Indians had not lost over 1200 killed and a much larger number in wounded. The amount of equipment and stacks of ammunition left lying by the fleeing Indians belies this explanation of the Indian High Command. It was debacle of the worst type and should be accepted as such. If the pulling back had been according to plans the braver elements of the Indian Army would not have stayed behind in small pockets. These small groups deserve all the praise and recognition that can fall to the lot of brave soldiers. They stood their ground until eliminated. As Lt. General Kaul has said,

“The C-in-C got cold feet and decided, while the battle of Khem Karan was still in progress to take up an alternate position, several miles in the rear which would have meant giving up some well known and vital places and areas.” (Kaul op. Cit. P478)

The advance of 24 Cavalry in the center had also been successful, though not to be the same extent as the right hook by 6 Lancers. 24 Cavalry had crossed the line of Asal Utter , at a distance of 8 miles from Khem Karan. If the Indian contention of pulling back to trap Pakistanis was correct, then Chima and not Valtoha should have been allowed to fall and there would have been no talk of falling back to Beas.

The commander 5 Armoured brigade, appears to have made a mistake in gauging the extent to which the Indians had been beaten and demoralized. It did not occur to him that there was no fight left in the Indians opposite his two regiments. He ordered them to leaguer back in front of Khem Karan for the night. They had to come all the way from the territory they had captured, with the dint of their courage and in the face of very strong opposition. To fall back without adequate reasons is never acceptable to a soldier. We can only imagine the feelings of those officers and men who were being told to come back. They obeyed the order but with a feeling of disappointment.

The next day, 9 September, 5 Armoured brigade undertook the same task as on the previous day. In addition 4 Armoured Brigade got ready to out in an attack from the left with the task of cutting off Road Khem Karan-Bihikiwind at milestone 32, thus cutting off Chima from the left.

6 Lancers had much less opposition today than on the previous day and were able to advance up to Valtoha R.S. again. 24 Cavalry on their left went a little beyond the limit of previous day’s advance but were once again held up at Chima. The Indians in the mean time had made copious use of mines during the hours of undisturbed darkness and were in fact within well defended localities.

The brigade commander again for the second day in succession recalled both the Regiments for leaguer back to Khem Karan at sun set.

10 September dawned with another diversionary dawn attack on Bedian, but was repulsed, as usual with even heavier losses to the enemy.

4 Armoured Brigade was to put in the left hook today (10 September). 4 cavalry with Lt. Col. Mohammad Nazir in command was leading the unit. They put up an excellent performance. Brushing aside all oppositions. They put in left hook and reached their objective at 1700 hours, but in the meantime contact with 4 Armoured Brigade Headquarters and supporting infantry battalion, 10 FF had been lost. The regiment had lost a large number of tanks on the way due to soft nature of the ground. And enemy action. The high sugar crops gave excellent cover to RR and other small parties who had been unable to withdraw or had decided to fight to the last. It was only due to the dauntless spirit of the officers and men of 4 cavalry that they succeeded in reaching their objective. They had, however, run out of petrol and were very low on ammunition by then. Contact with the

rear having been lost, no one knew their exact location and no replenishment of fuel or ammunition could be considered. They stood their ground until 1100 hours on September 11, when those of them who could not fight back their way had to surrender. It was an excellent operation but due to misfortune full benefits could not be reaped out of it.

The time had come when 1 Armoured Division was scheduled to move out this sector. The main objective of stabilizing this front and inflicting casualties on the enemy, by carrying war into Indian territory had been achieved. There was never any intention of conquering India or any part of it and as such, except to throw back the Indians and punish them at every step, there was no point in upsetting plans elsewhere, for the sake of a few more square miles of enemy territory. The situation on this front having been established, arrangements had to be made to place the reserves in a sector where the enemy was likely to put in another offensive. This happened to be the Sialkot front.

The situation in Sialkot had started taking definite shape and 1 Armoured Division, less 5 Armoured Brigade could be needed there more than in this sector. It is a credit to Pakistan Western Railway the way they rose to the occasion and met the defense requirements in an exemplary manner. This performance throughout the war was of an excellent standard and the move if 1 Armoured Division from Kasur to Sialkot sector within full view of the enemy air was no mean feat.

The move of 1 Armoured Division out of the sector must have been reported by Indian Air. It raised Indian hopes of once again pushing forward in this sector. The question of prestige also must have weighed heavily on the Indian mind. So far the Indian High Command or may be the Government of India itself had been denying the loss of Khem Karan. Photographs, showing Khem Karan in Pakistani hands appearing in Pakistan press naturally could not have reached the Indian public and it was no difficult matter to label Pakistan radio news as pure fabrication, listening to which in any case was banned in Indian. In fact the Indians, as they had done in case of Lahore, had released to their press the fall of Kasur according to plan. They seem to have been so confident of their success that once they planned to take a place, they felt that they already had taken it and at once announced as having done so.

On 12 September, the Indians out in a brigade attack, on Khem Karan supported by a regiment of armour, 9 Deccan Horse. 4 Sikh Light Infantry, which tried to put in infiltration tactics had the worst of the day. They were nearly annihilated. Including their commanding officer Lt. Col. Anant Singh, 6 officers and over 250 prisoners fell in the bag. 4 Sikh Light Infantry, a good fighting battalion, ceased to exist from that day. The Indians lost heavily in tanks also.

Before this attack died out, a fresh infantry brigade was brought forward by the Indians. Air strikes and intense artillery fire supported the attack. The Indian tanks in this second attack that day were conspicuous for their shyness. This attack also cost the Indian heavily in men and material without any gain on the ground. During the night the Indians again switched on to Bedian and Jahman but without any success. The 1 EBR had got used to the mode of Indian advance and knew well how to keep them in their place. The Indians had exhausted their morale material strength and inspite of the prestige value of Khem Karan confined their activities to licking their wounds for the next few days. Good use of tanks had been made opposite Bedian. Tanks of 15 Lancers used to be sent across the canal every night with the result that the Indians feared attack on Khalra where the Indian Divisional H.Q. was located.

The GOC Maj. General Abdul Hamid Khan, however, did not wish to let them sit quiet for too long. He ordered small probing raids which helped a great deal in further lowering the Indian morale. Commander 106 Infantry Brigade, Brig. Nawazish Ali decided to put in a limited attack. Two companies of 7 Baluch pushed the enemy out of his positions around Sankhatra and established a firm base for further raids into the enemy territory. Based on Sankhatra A Squadron of 12 Cavalry was able to dominate the area up to Lakhan. This drew in the Indian armour and the squadron of 12 Cavalry had good shooting against Indian tanks including Centurions. A plucky young 2nd Lt. Abul Hassan made good use of Sankhatra base as FOO and managed to bring down well directed artillery fire, whenever the Indians out in hastily planned attack in this sub sector.

The enemy reacted as a result in much greater strength and on 17 September came out in force, but Sankhatra base was too strong for the Indians. A company of Infantry with a squadron of tanks supported by well directed artillery fire was too much for them to dislodge. The enemy air as usual came to the help of Indian ground troops but their shooting was too erratic and they were over respectful of small arms fire. They had suffered in the early stages of war more than they could afford. They, therefore always kept a respectful height. The Indian efforts to recapture Sankhatra were really earnest. Hand to hand fighting ensued on a number of occasions but defenders were determined to keep the Indians away from the village.

There were minor probing attacks until 21 September, when the Indians realizing the approach of cease fire got panicky about Khem Karan still being in Pakistani hands. Their biggest and most determined offensive in this sector as a result was launched on night 21/22 September. They mounted three major attacks in quick succession. In the first two attacks they adopted two brigade frontal attack while in the third attack there was only one brigade leading the attack. All the three attacks were preceded by heavy artillery shelling. It had become a habit with the Indians to time pre-attack bombardments to exactly two hours. This time it was much longer. Starting from 2230 hours lasted until 0430 hours. All three attacks against Khem Karan failed to dislodge the Pakistani defenders and the net result was the pile of Indian dead which could not be removed for days and polluted the atmosphere for miles around. All three attacks were well planned and showed determination. However Indian army fought well in this sector except the first day or two and very fact of their readiness to accept heavy casualties speaks highly of their courage and determination of their soldiers. If they failed to achieve their objective against an army much smaller in number it is only because they were pitched against men of higher moral qualities who were fighting for a just cause.

Not satisfied with having butchered the youth of India a day prior to the cease fire the Indians launched a fresh battalion against the rifle company of 7 Baluch at Sankhatra. This caused them further losses and they had once again to fall back without achieving success.

The Indian effort to capture Bedian Head Works was of no less intensity. The defenders however stood firm until the end and contributed a great deal in inflicting heavy casualties on the Indians.

The end had not yet come. India had asked for extension of time for the cease fire and had been granted it. There were still a few more hours left. A couple of brigades in the reserve had no blood letting. Why should they not be sacrificed to the whims of the politicians as Maj. General Narinjan Parshad had complained? They were brought forward, given tank support, and with all the artillery at General’s beck and call a final effort was made to recapture Khem Karan. It proved no better, although C-in-C Indian Army had ordered the recapture of Khem Karan at “All Cost”. All the cost available with them was not adequate to give them what had been taken from them in a fair and clean fight.