Tank Ace

LT COL N.A. KHAN SJ

Picture of Lt Col (now Brigadier (Retd)) Nisar Ahmed Khan SJ of 25th Cavalry, which was raised on 9 June 1962 with Lt Col Nisar Ahmed as its first CO. This regiment (25th cavalry) is now known as “Men of Steel”. (Source: Tank Aces, from Blitzkrieg to the Gulf War)

ltcolnisarThe Sitara-i-jurat is the Pakistani equivalent of the British Military Cross and the Tamgha-i-jurats at the equivalent of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The former is a silver pentagonal figure with a large five-pointed star superimposed; the ribbon is white, dark green and white in equal proportions. The latter is a circular metal in bronze, on the obverse of which there is a trophy of lances and pennons, swords and a field gun with in a wreath, with a small central disc bearing a crescent and a star. The ribbon is half dark green, half scarlet, with narrow white edges. 25th Cavalry won no fewer than five Sitara-i-jurats and nineteen Tamgha-i-jurats in the seventeen days of the 1965 war.

LT Col Nisar Ahmed Khan, who had carefully prepared the regiment in three years of training, took the 25th Cavalry into action. He had been commissioned into the Indian Army in March 1942, serving in both Palestine and Aden during the Second World War. At the time of partition he was arrested and spent nine months in custody for being a Muslim. He was commissioned in the Pakistani Army in August 1948. He took part in both the 1965 and 1971 wars, and retired in March 1972. In his regiment, two of his fighting squadrons were equipped with the 40-ton M-47 American-built Patton tank, which mounted a 90-mm gun and was crewed by five men. By the time the 25th Cavalry took over the tanks they had changed hands at least half a dozens times, most had run over 2,400 miles some 400 miles in excess of the normal engine life of the Continental AV 1790-5B 750-bhp petrol engine. The third squadron had the more modern M-48 Patton, which had replaced the M-47. The 44-ton M-48s were in much better condition, but were still armed with the 90-mm main gun. The regiment was the integral armoured regiment of an infantry division, being grouped for operations with an infantry brigade, which comprised two infantry battalions and a regiment of field artillery.

The brigade group’s task was to defend the area between Aik Nullah in the west and Deg Nadi in the east, with orders to expel and destroy any enemy entering Pakistani territory through this corridor. While it was preparing for the task, the brigade received clear indications that the enemy intended to attack in its area of responsibility; fortunately extensive reconnaissance of the area had been carried out and a plan of action carefully arranged. The brigade commander’s overall plan was to block the enemy advance with one tank squadron plus all the available anti-tank guns under command, while keeping the rest of the 25th Cavalry as a strike force, ready to swing round to the east of the blocking force and hit the enemy in the flank once it had been held up. By the morning of 7 September 1965, all was in position to accomplish the set task.

However, the best-laid schemes often go awry – especially on the battlefield! On the evening of 7 September fresh orders were received for the brigade to move with all speed to Jassar, some 30 miles away, to counter-attack an enemy bridgehead and then to stabilize the situation in that area. The regiment was on the move all through the night, using up precious track mileage, only to discover that the enemy move was merely a diversionary attack. More orders were then received to move back and concentrate at Pasrur, some 15 miles away from the original carefully prepared battle positions; the Indian attack came in on the brigade on the night of 7/8 September. The attack was in considerable strength – a complete armoured division and three infantry divisions and three infantry divisions being involved. Because of its abortive move to Jassar, the brigade’s original area of responsibility had become vulnerable and all the carefully thought out plans went by the board. The enemy took full advantage of the situation and occupied their objective with little resistance.

The regiment’s first news of the enemy’s real attack came at 0630 hrs on 8 September. There was no organized resistance left north of Chawinda and the brigade commander, who knew no more about the situation than Col Nisar, sent for him and gave him the following order: ‘Nisar! The enemy has come! Do something about it!’ Thus on the morning of 8 September, the 25th Cavalry embarked on a fresh mission in which it would be engaged in its first major tank battle with a numerically superior enemy over ideal tank country. Lt Col Khan’s plan was to contact the enemy with one squadron as far forward as possible and, once halted, to strike the enemy from the flank with the remaining two squadrons. Despite the fact that the regiment had been on the move throughout the previous night and that the tank crews had no rest at all, it went into action with true cavalry spirit of dash and courage, and achieved its initial objective – to halt the enemy and force them to withdraw, surrendering some of the ground which they had captured. Considerable losses were also inflicted on the Indian 1 Armd Div, particularly to the Poona Horse, which would lose its brave CO, Lt Col Adi Tarapore, just eight days later in the battle around Phillora. Undoubtedly, the 25th Cavalry blunted the enemy onslaught and despite being under constant severe shelling and other intense fire from enemy weapons, it remained a cohesive, competent and effective armoured unit, destroying many enemy tanks in the process.

It is interesting to record what Maj Gen Gurcharn Singh Sandhu has to say about this battle in his history if the IAC, The Indian Armour: ‘The Pakistani version of this battle is that “A” Squadron 25 Cavalry forced 16 Cavalry back to Gadgor. Then its “C” Squadron attacked the Poona Horse’s leading elements as well as 16 Cavalry and forced them out of Tharoh, Gadgor and Chobara. The Pakistani regiment claims to have destroyed 15 Centurion tanks this day. This regiments performance was certainly creditable because it alone stood between the Indian 1 Armd Div and its objective”.

For this courage and exemplary command of his regiment and his skill in handling his tanks, Lt Col Nisar Ahmed Khan was awarded the Sitara-i-jurat. The entire regiment performed with extraordinary courage and dash under continuous heavy shelling and handled their tanks with great skill. Lt Col Khan’s citation includes the words: It is because of his personal example, courage and inspiring leadership that his regiment fought as an excellent well-knit fighting machine and inflicted crippling losses on the enemy.’