Patton M-47 & 48

M47 & M48 Patton in Pakistani Service

The first real test of the Patton tank came in 1965 during the short Indo-Pakistan War. In the mid-1950s, Pakistan’s cavalry regiments began receiving some 230 M47s and 202 M48s, and many tank officers were sent to the US Army Training Centre at Ft. Knox. At the outbreak of war in 1965Pakistan had about 15 armoured cavalry regiments, each with about 45 tanks in three squadrons. Besides the Pattons, there were about 200 M4 Shermans re-armed with 76mm guns, 150 M24 Chaffee light tank and a few independent squadrons of M36B1 tank destroyers. Most of these regiments served in Pakistan’s two armoured divisions, the 1st and 6th Armoured divisions – the latter being in the process of formation.

The Indian Army of the time possessed 17 cavalry regiments, and in the 1950s had begun modernizing them by the acquisition of 164 AMX-13 light tanks and 188 Centurions. The remainder of the cavalry units were equipped with M4 Shermans and a small number of M3A3 Stuart light tanks. India had only a single armoured division, the 1st ‘Black Elephant’ Armoured Division, also called ‘Fakhr I Hind’ (‘Pride of India’), which consisted of the 17th cavalry Poona Horse, the 4th Hodson’s Horse, the 16th ‘Black Elephant’ Cavalry, the 7th Light Cavalry, the 2nd Royal Lancers, the 18th Cavalry and the 62nd Cavalry, the two first named being equipped with Centurions,. There was also the 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade, one of whose three regiments, the 3rd Cavalry, was also equipped with Centurions.

Objective assessment of the 1965 war are as yet largely unavailable, and what Indian and Pakistani accounts do exist are as often as not poisoned by propaganda and highly suspect. Particularly contentious are the various claims for enemy tanks destroyed and so forth. The ostensible cause of the war was continuing friction over the Jammu and Kashmir section of the north-east India. The Pakistani Army had been training and equipping Muslim guerrillas in the area, leading India to respond by probing attacks along the border. In late August 1965 India seized the strategic Haji Pir Pass, and the escalating border incidents reached a crescendo on 1 September when the Pakistani Army, including elements of the 6th Armoured Division, advanced into the Chhamb-Akhnur area. The Pakistanis hoped to lure the nearby Indian 1st Armoured Division into the region between the border and the Chenab River so that the Indians would have to fight with the mile-wide river to their back. The Indians had no intentions of accepting this fool’s errand, and decided instead to launch a series of blows against Pakistan; the main attacks being in the Lahore and Sialkot sectors.

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Although not successful on the Lahore front, M47s of the Pakistani 6th Armoured Division proved very effective in the fighting in Chhamb and in the Sialkot sector during the 1965 war. (Col. M.A. Durrani)

The thrust against Lahore consisted of the 1st Infantry Division supported by the three tank regiments of the 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade: they quickly advanced across the border, reaching the Ichhogil (BRB) Canal by 6 September. The Pakistani Army held the bridges over the canal or blew up those it could not hold, effectively stalling any further advance by the Indians on Lahore. Sensing an opportunity to envelop and destroy the Indian formations, the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division was sent to the area south of the main Indian incursion around Kasur with the aim of advancing along the rear of the Indian’s left flank, trapping them against the BRB Canal. The Pakistani advance was hampered by the necessity for elaborate bridging operations over the canal and the Rohi Nala River, with the lead elements of the division arriving at Khem Karan on 7 September. The Pakistanis immediately began probing attacks against the Indian positions, which were not executed with any particular vigour and were brushed back. A reconnaissance in force by Pattons and Chaffees towards Mahmudpura on 8 September was ambushed, and several were lost in a flooded plain. The scope of the probes made it clear to the Indians that a major attack was forth coming, but realising that the terrain favoured the defender, they withdrew under light pressure to prepare a trap.

The area north of Khem Karan consists of well-irrigated plains crossed by many waterways, dykes and other channels. The fields were high in sugar cane and other crops, and the plains could easily be flooded by breaching irrigation canals to render the terrain unsuitable foe mechanised advance. Four Centurion and Sherman squadrons were positioned to cover key roadways and approaches, forming a horseshoe into which the Indians expected the Pakistanis to march. The other squadrons were broken up into troops, with two troops assigned to the bridges over the Rohi Nala in the north in case the probes by the Pakistani 12th Cavalry should prove to be more than feints, and another troop allotted to the 4th Infantry Division, which formed the first line of defence in the village of Asal Uttar. The 4th Infantry Division was well equipped with jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles, bazookas and other close-range anti-tank weapons, and the area to the division’s rear was well covered by both artillery and the tank squadrons. The commander of the 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade, Brig. Thang Raj, issued strict instructions to his tank crew to wait until the Pakistani tanks had approached quite close to their hull-down positions before opening fire so as to take advantage of the concealment offered by the thick sugar cane crop.

Pakistani efforts until 9 September had been desultory and ineffective as the division awaited the arrival of the last of its troops. Indian air attacks failed to destroy many tanks, but succeeded in destroying a supply train which left most of the Pattons with only 30 rounds of ammunition and limited fuel for the forth coming offensive. On Friday 10 September 1965, Maj. Gen. Nasir Ahmed Khan ordered his 5th Armoured Brigade forward. Indian artillery and small arms fire clipped away what little infantry support the Pakistani Pattons had, leaving the tanks exposed to the Indian anti-tank teams. The Pattons were visible to Indian recoilless rifle and tank crews who could see the swaying of the cane as the enemy approached and the upperworks of the Pattons’ turrets. The Indians soon began to exact a heavy toll from the Pakistani tanks, striking them from the front and side. As casualties mounted, one Pakistani regiment tried to skirt the defences by attacking the town from the east, but soon found itself bogged down in a plain flooded by a breached nullah. What Pattons did fight their way through the village found themselves faced by a cordon of stationary, concealed tanks and artillery and were quickly decimated. By 1330hrs the 5th Armoured Brigade attack had petered out with terrible losses.

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The 4thh Armoured Brigade was ordered to attack the Indian right flank by a drive on Mahmudpura, but the Indians had foreseen this move and had flooded the area. The Pakistani attack bogged down and came under intense artillery and tank fire. The Indians intercepted the following communication between the brigade’s commander (BC) and the divisional commander (GOC):

BC: ‘It’s not possible for us to advance any further due to stiff resistance. Heavy enemy shelling has completely pinned us down.’
GOC: ‘It is most important that the advance is continued. Therefore, in the name of Islam, Pakistan and Hillale Jurat, I command you get up and go forward.’
BC: ‘I will do my best but as things are I do not know how the hell I am going to do that. This bloody enemy artillery is knocking the hell out of us and I am afraid at the moment that I can’t do any better then this.’
GOC: ‘Move forward to your objectives forthwith.’
BC: ‘I cannot move; Indians are ahead of me.’
GOC: ‘Come and see me immediately.’
BC: ‘Where do I come? I don’t know.’
GOC: ‘Move straight on and turn right.’
BC: ‘Do you know where I am? If I turn left the Indians get me, if I turn right the artillery gets me. Where do I come and how?’
GOC: ‘Turn right till you hit the road, follow it and you will find me at milpost 36.’

The brigadier never found him, but a pair of jeep mounted recoilless of the Indian Army did, destroying the tank of Maj. Gen. N. A. Khan and killing all its crew. By nightfall the ten squares miles around the Khem Karan-Asal Uttar battlefield were littered with 97 Pakistani tanks, more that 65 of which were M47 and M48 Pattons. The area became known as the ‘Patton Nagar’-‘Patton Graveyard’. Besides the heavy losses in equipment, the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division lost its commanding general, one brigadier and six regimental commanders either dead or captured. The Indians claim to have lost only 12 tanks during the fighting on 10 September 1965.

The crushing defeat of the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division and the he inability of the Indian Army to vault the BRB Canal stalemated the Lahore front. The Indians turned their attention to the main thrust, called Operation ‘Nepal’, in the Sialkot sector. The aim of the attack was to seize the key Grand Trunk Road around Wazirabad. The striking force of the Indian 1st Corps was the 1st Armoured Division supported by the 14th Infantry and 6thh Mountain divisions. The infantry seized the border area on 7 September: realising the threat, the Pakistani rushed two regiments of their 6th Armoured Division from Chhamb to the Sialkot sector to support the Pakistani 7th Infantry Division there. These units, plus an independent tank destroyer squadron, amounted to 135 tanks; 24 M47 and M48 Pattons, about 15 M36B1s and the remainder Shermans. The majority of the Pattons belonged to the new 25th Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Nisar, which was sent to the Chawinda area.

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The Indian plan was to drive a wedge between Sialkot and the 6th Armoured Division, which it believed was stationed around Chawinda. In fact there was only a single regiment there at the time. The Indian 1st Armoured Division’s drive quickly divided, with the 43rd Lorried Infantry Brigade supported by a tank regiment attacking Gat, while the main blow of the 1st Armoured Brigade was hurled against Phillaura. Pakistani air attacks caused moderate damage to the tank columns, but exacted a heavier toll on the lorry columns and infantry. The terrain features of the area were very different from those around Lahore, being quite dusty, and the approach of the Indian attack was evident to the 25th Cavalry by the rising dust columns on the Charwah-Phillaura road.

patton_2The lead elements of the Indian drive fought their way into Phillaura, but were pushed back out towards Gadgor for a loss of 15 tanks. Both sides licked their wounds for two days, engaging in sporadic infantry forays and artillery duels. The next attack on 11 September was spearheaded by the 17th Poona Horse commanded by Lt. Col. Tarapore. The Centurions were bought under fire by recoilless rifles and tanks, and he command tank was knocked out. The skirmished between the 25th Cavalry and the Poona Horse lasted 12 hours, and in the dust and chaos it became difficult to distinguish one side from the other. The Indians made the ludicrous claim of 67 Pakistani tanks destroyed, which was well in excess of the total number in the area at the time. The outnumbered Pakistani forces were obliged to withdraw to Chawinda, where they awaited the next attack. On 13 September, the Poona Horse and Hodson’s Horse began combined infantry-tank attacks against Jassoran. The engagements lasted for two days, with the climactic battle being fought on 16 September, when the Poona Horse supported a Gharwal Infantry Battalion attacking the small village of Butur Dograndi. The Indian attack was broken up by Maj. Raza Khan’s ‘C’ Sqn, 25th Cavalry supported by Pakistani anti-tank teams firing Cobra missiles. The commander of the 17th Poona Horse, Lt. Col. A.B. Tarapore, was killed when his second command tank was hit, and the attack faltered. Both sides had suffered heavy losses in the fighting, and confined their attacks to infantry and artillery barrages until the ceasefire on 23 September. Two British journalists who visited one of the Patton squadrons of the 25the Cavalry after the ceasefire counted 25 burned-out Centurions in a three-mile stretch near Chawinda even after the Indians had begun retrieving destroyed vehicles. Of these, 11 were in a field no more than 800 yards across – a grim testimony to the intensity of these encounters. The Pakistanis admitted losing 44 tanks in the Sialkot sector, but claimed 120 Indian tanks, and the British journalists saw no reason to doubt them.

Following the war India admitted losing 128 tanks, and this probably consisted of about a dozen in the Lahore sector, a similar number in the Chhamb area, and the remainder in the Sialkot sector. The Pakistanis admitted losing 165 tanks, more than half of which were knocked out in the debacle at Asal Uttar. These losses are probably on the low side, but many tanks damaged in combat were later retrieved and put back into action. Both sides claimed n excess of 400 tank kills on the ground and about 100 from the air attacks, which is clearly excessive.

The Patton emerged from the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 with a tarnished reputation. The fiasco at Asal Uttar was the source of the disparagement, though a contributory factor was the exaggerated esteem in which the Patton had been held by both the Indian and Pakistani soldier before the war. Yet no vehicle, whatever its technical merits, can survive the kind of gross tactical bungling which characterised the Pakistani charge into the tank trap at Asal Uttar. Much attention has been paid to the supposed advantages of the Centurion over the Patton in these encounters, ignoring the fact that the majority of Patton causalities were caused by recoilless rifles, artillery and anti-tank guns, and that a third of the Pattons lost were simply abandoned due to lack of fuel and ammunition. In the Sialkot sector outnumbered Pattons performed exceedingly well in the hands of the 25th Cavalry and other regiments of the 6th Armoured Division, which exacted a disproportionately heavy toll of Centurions from the Poona Horse and Hodson’s Horse. The Indian Army has made much of the fact that some of its Centurions survived repeated hits; yet have failed to point out that the majority of tanks in the Sialkot sector were Shermans whose guns were inadequate even in 1944. Neither the Indian nor Pakistani Army showed any great facility in the use of armoured formations in offensive operations, whether the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division at Asal Uttar or the Indian 1st Armoured Division at Chawinda. In contrast, both proved adept with smaller forces in a defensive role such a the 2nd Armoured Brigade at Asal Uttar and the 25th Cavalry at Chawinda, where they defeated their better equipped but clumsier foes. The M47 and M48 did not play a major role in the 1971 war.

(Source: The M47 and M48 Patton Tanks by Steven J. Zaloga)

Pakistani M47, 1st Armoured Division; Asal Uttar, 1965 According to the Pakistani tankers, armoured vehicles in the 1965 fighting were almost invariably finished in their original paint schemes. In the case of the M47 this would have been US Olive Drab 24807. On some occasions a rough application of sand paint was added, but more often mud was applied in irregular patterns, as here. The basic vehicle markings are a turret number on the sides and rear, in case ’39’, and a serial number on the hull front and ear s shown in detail in the inset drawing. This serial was sometimes also painted on the side of the hull stowage box. Bands were sometimes painted on the barrel to indicate company or platoon, but are obscured in case by the mud. The Urdu numbering system is shown in the inset drawings, running from one to ten. The insignia of the division, a mailed fist on a divided square, was not normally seen in combat but was reserved for peacetime use, usually on the fender. Some M47s had their turret numbers painted in yellow or red with a white trim, probably to indicate battalion, and on a few vehicles the Urdu tactical numbers were sometimes supplemented with an Arabic two-digit numeral further aft on the turret, which usually did not match the Urdu number. Its significance is not known.

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Pakistani M48, 6th Armoured Division; Sialkot Sector, 1965

The M48 shown in this illustration carries much the same style of markings as the M47 shown above. Here, the mud bands are somewhat more distinct, and the serial number is carried on the side stowage box as well as the hull front and rear. The three barrels bands probably indicate ‘C’ Squadron, and the tactical number ’12’ a tank of the 1st Platoon. Some Pakistani tanks carried a white band around the turret as a means of distinguishing them from Indian tanks. This practice did not become widespread until the 1971 war, when both sides were using much the same equipment. Though not evident in this view, this particular was fitted with the rear hull rack for carrying additional 55-gallon fuel drums.

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