The Eternal City, Data Ki Nagri

The threat of Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Prime Minister of India had come true. India had chosen and found the time and place of attack on Pakistan. In the time old Chanakian style the rulers of India had launched a full scale attack on Pakistan without either declaring war or giving an ultimatum. The secrecy with which preparations for the invasion of Pakistan were made was so great that the object of the forward movements was kept hidden even from the invading army until the last moment. The men had been told that they were going on a route march. Indian High Command was afraid of leakage of information and possibility of a few last minute desertions. The men were however, ordered to put on their best uniforms as there would be a ceremonial march at the end of the route march. The author of the Police Action in Hyderabad, general Chaudhuri C-in-C Indian Army, was hopeful of another lucky break. He had his first during the invasion of Hyderabad in September 1948, which India declared as it was just a Police Action. Lieut. General Kaul speaking of the command qualities of Indian C-in-C says,

“The largest tank formation he commanded was a division with which he never fought in any battle but only against ill armed and irregular razakars (volunteers) in a Police Action in Hyderabad.” (Kaul op. Cit., P 447)

He, therefore, had decided to march through the streets of Lahore in new uniforms. His advisers were confident that the mighty white elephant at his disposal would, through its sheer momentum, carry him towards Lahore Gymkhana by the same evening. The next few days were to be used in mopping up operations. He was impetuous enough to advice his senior commanders to keep their mess kits and medals handy and to issue invitations to senior civil officials to join him at a cocktail party at the famous Lahore Gymkhana the same evening.

The military Governor of Lahore had been nominated and administrative services earmarked. The police force, to enforce law and order of the type that India had practiced during the days of partition, aided by Jan Sangh mobs, was to follow the army. After all, the world at large was to be told, after a fair accompli, that it was no more than a Police Action.

The Indian High Command was confident of the unawareness of Pakistan to such an extent that they chose the assembly areas of their forward troops a few hundred yards from Pakistan border. Move to the assembly areas started at 10 p.m. on September 5, 1965 and by a little after midnight the mighty Indian Army was poised for the march into the dreamland which would, not only allay the land hunger of their rulers, but would also remove the hunger and starvation brought on to the land of Bharat by her warlords. The acquisition of Pakistan was also to be the first step towards the fulfillment of the dream of Greater India which the Indian demigods had hoped would stretch from Indonesia to the Dardanelles. The steel steeds of India started fuming and puffing from soon after midnight.

The checking and cross checking of formation and unit positions on the start lines was complete by 3 a.m. on September 6. The Zero hour was drawing near and with it was increasing the anxiety of the Indian commanders. They felt, as all commanders in their position should e able to feel, that their troops, who by now had been told the purpose of their presence on the border of Pakistan were a little jumpy and not as elated as the occasion demanded. This eventuality must have been foreseen. A good doze of Rum was administered to the men a few minutes before the order for advance was given.

At 3:30 a.m., 4 a.m. Indian standard time, the green light went up all along the front and the Indian Army rolled into Pakistan. The capture of Lahore being on the cards for the first day’s events, the press was told to publish its fall without any mental reservations. The Operation Order of 25 Indian Infantry Division for the attack on Pakistan had said, “The defenses of Lahore have not been prepared and are not manned.”

It is to the credit of the West Pakistan Rangers that they forced the enemy to deploy at the very outset and fight for every inch of Pakistan territory. They were neither trained nor equipped to fight a first rate enemy but they did. Unknown to the Indians the Rangers were expecting them. General headquarters Pakistan Army had issued a signal to the Army and HQ West Pakistan rangers on the evening of September 4, that an Indian attack appeared imminent and although efforts were to be made to avoid an escalation of fighting yet the defensive positions were to be occupied. The D. G. Rangers, Brigadier Khuda Dad Khan had issued an order on September 5th to be prepared to meet an Indian invasion. The Rangers, however, could not be everywhere and the Indian Army was able to roll on towards Lahore until they suddenly hit the forward positions of Pakistan Army in the early hours of the morning. Instead of surprising Pakistan Army there, Indians were themselves surprised. They had been allowed to march into Pakistan without much hindrance.

They were sure that fighting against Ranger Posts, which were nowhere in larger strength than a section and armed with rifles only had been localized and even if they had sent back information of Indian invasion it would not be possible for the garrison in Lahore and elsewhere to get ready, collect arms and ammunition and come out of their cantonments before the Indians were inside the town of Lahore itself.

The Indians were banking on the acute effect of such a severe blow to Pakistan. They probably felt that with the fall of Lahore the whole of Pakistan would be at their feet. They approached the BRB canal without much concern but their concentration and the resultant disorganization was beyond description when they suddenly came under heavy small arms and machine gun fire. By now it was first light. Figures could be been seen to have halted, flattered and fall down. Others came forward but met the same fate. The Indian advance had ended. A halt had been called. Not by those who held the initiative, superior strength and unlimited resources in men and equipment but by those who were fewer in numbers and could not boast of similar resources. They were few but they had faith in Allah.

The Indian commander, opposite Lahore had 2 Infantry Divisions and one Independent Brigade under him. He was so confident of the powerful force under his command being invincible that like a school child of eight learning arithmetic, he divided the figure of 2 by 2 which was the number of axis that he wished to advance on. The answer was 1, so he allotted one Division to each axis, Wagah and Burki and sat back. The Independent Infantry brigade could be kept in hand as reserve. The simple exercise in arithmetic was to continue down to battalion and company levels. His distribution of the Corps Artillery was very just and fair, giving equal number of the batteries and guns to each Infantry Division strictly according to the arithmetical formulae. It was so simple and yet people used to tell him that it needed brains to formulate a plan for attack.

The Pakistani commander opposing him was not so fortunate. Major General Mohammad Sarfraz Khan had in all seven infantry battalions and a front of 89,000 yards to defend.

He could not do the simple arithmetic exercise and sit back. He considered the likely axis and having allotted sectors to brigades kept a little reserve in hand. 103 Infantry Brigade was given the right sector, from including Hudiara Drain to exclusive of Railway line Lahore – Wagah. The left sector stretching upto Ravi was given to 114 Infantry Brigade. 22 Infantry Brigade with only four companies of Infantry and 23 Cavalry less one Squadron was kept as the striking force. The positions had been occupied after midnight on the night 5/6 September. Although it had earlier been planned to lay a mine field in front of BRB canal, there was no time to do so.

GOC 10 Infantry Division had placed a small screen of a platoon, on the main Wagah axis from R&S battalion under Major Arif Jan. This small force cost the Indians heavily. Major Arif allowed the Indian to come close and then opened fire at short range. In view of the inadequate light this was the only course open to him. This platoon not only held up the Indian advance along the main Wagah road but inflicted very heavy casualties on them. The Indians, however, on their flanks had managed to by pass them. Rather than surrender they put up a gallant fight. Major Arif and his small band of men will for ever be remembered as a force which fought to the last man and last round. No one left his post. Not one of them was taken prisoner. They all achieved the highest distinction that man can get.

The battalion astride the Lahore-Wagah road was 3rd Battalion of the Baluch regiment. A little after first light they saw the Indians advancing astride the road. In front of the advancing Indians were a large number of refugees, men, women and children, hurrying across as if driven by a pack of blood thirsty fiends. The Baluchis could not engage the enemy until the refugees had crossed the bridge. It was risky but they could not shoot their own people. The stout resistance put up by the small R&S section under Major Arif had upset the entire schedule of 54 Indian Infantry Brigade allotted to this sector.

The Indian commander had three approaches to this position and he had allotted a battalion to each one of these. 13 battalion of Indian Punjab Regiment, on the left of Indian flank was, as a result the first to gain contact with Pakistani defenders. This happened at 0600 hours opposite Jallo railway station. Heavy toll of the Indians were taken by the company in this position supported by its own artillery. In fact the artillery fire was so accurate that the enemy fell back never to venture forward again.

The next to approach the defensive position in this sector was 15 battalion of the Dogra Regiment, following the main Wagah axis. They reached the killing ground supported by tanks at 0645 hours and having lost two of its tanks in the first few minutes called it a day. The company of 3 Baluch in this part of the sector had the moral support of many senior officers being with them. The battalion commander Lt. Col. Tajammul Hussain Malik and the brigade commander , Brig. Aftab Ahmed Khan who with the Engineer officer Lt. Col. Suleman Khan and the gunner Lt. Col. Imdad Ali Khan were all present in their midst. They were watching the Indian advance from the road bridge at Batapur. It may not have been strictly according to the customs of service, but the presence of these senior officers on the main axis made a great deal of difference. They were in a position to see the situation all the time rather than get it at intervals.

The enemy got exasperated and instead of using his third battalion, 3 Jat as planned, Switched it also on the main road. This attack came in at 0800 hours and was again stopped but it was felt that the thin screen of the Dograi had successfully accomplished its task. This company of 3 Baluch was, therefore, pulled back at about 0900 hours. At about the same time Pakistan Air Force (PAF) joined in the shoot and came out of it with a heavy bag of tanks, trucks and large clusters of men. The place was in shambles. The front companies were running back, the rear companies were being pushed and goaded forward. The supply service and the engineers who had been kept unduly too far forward by the Indians with the hope of their being used for providing additional crossings over the river Ravi, provided excellent game to the gallant pilots of PAF. The Indians had permitted thousands of Jan Singhis to get into lorries and trucks commandeered in Amritsar, ant to follow the Army into Lahore, for shopping at will. Foreigners reaching Pakistan after the war have given a description of the traffic jams created as a result of these civilians trying to run back to safety, in their transport, when they saw the army in front being plastered by PAF.

The enemy realized the importance of Batapur bridge and inspite of the heavy losses that his forward troops had sustained he was putting in attack after attack on it. The artillery on both sides was pounding the area all around it. The bridge was still intact and was not blown until midnight 6/7 September. Enemy tanks were hardly six hundred yards away. A few vehicles from the Indian side strayed across and were all immobilized on the road. They proved very useful later on. They provided cover to the defenders in moving about in the vicinity of the bridge. The artillery and small arms dual continued throughout the major part of the day. The enemy had committed all the three battalions of the leading brigade. The night was spent by our troops in digging in and replenishing and by the enemy in reconnoitering for a likely crossing over BRB canal.

The new formation brought forward by the Indians was 50 Indian Para Brigade. It arrived on the evening of 7 September and went into attack against B company of 3 Baluch same night. This company had tenaciously kept the far bank of BRB under control and although it had hardly about 50 men on the other side, yet these devoted men kept the Para Brigade away from them. The Indian Infantry never came to grips with our men. They were the attackers. It was up to them to get into a dog fight and force the issue. The previous day’s experience of coming forward boldly and dampened their spirits. They invariably shelled the positions for two hours before every attack. The moment the barrage lifted the Indian army would get up, shout, “jai Hind” and “Charge” from a distance of 300 to 400 yards and immediately the Pakistan artillery opened up or the small arm fire was brought on them, they would hug the ground. The performance would be repeated and the wireless message could be intercepted saying “heavy casualties – falling back”. At the other end some commander could be heard shouting, “You ———- go forward”. The Indians on this front, however, did not relish going forward, little knowing that the move backwards would be equally costly. The Indians changed over to night attacks, on the next night, but even the cover of darkness did not provide enough security. Early in the morning on 8 September the enemy was seen with drawing and were hastened backwards by a few bursts of MMG and LMGs. One could not afford to waste ammunition on harmless enemy homeward bound.

The Indian commander, on this front, now calculated the economics of killing Pakistani soldiers in terms of rupees, and felt that considering the family pension and children’s allowances to be paid to the families of the dead it was cheaper to confine to artillery shelling. It was also safer method of passing the day. It kept both sides busy and helped in filling up the pages of situation reports giving laudatory details og imaginary counter attacks by Pakistani beaten back by the brave Sena. These, however, to their discomfort were not all to be imaginary. The GOC was instructed by the C-in-C to probe forward with the small striking force at his disposal. This he did on * September. It meant crossing the BRB canal.

The striking force, 22 Infantry Brigade composed of four companies of Infantry and 23 Cavalry less one squadron crossed over at Ravi Siphon early in the morning on * September. The force was being commanded by Brig. A Qayyum Sher. The infantry compliment consisted of 18 Baluch less two companies and 15 FF less two companies. After crossing over the force had to go along the East bank of BRB canal as the area on the other side was marshy for at least 6 miles. The move was most risky and precarious. The bridge over BRB canal having been blown up, there was no other approach to the enemy positions. Going along for miles . on the raised far bank of BRB, was like carrying a demonstration on the parade ground in full view of the enemy. The enemy could not have gotten a better target but knowing their inaccurate strafing and rocketing in the undertaking was worth the risk. The impossible also at time produces surprise and it did. The enemy succeeded in knocking out two of the leading tanks but only at the final stage just before the leading elements were getting into the open ground. The crew of both these tanks under the command of Risaldar Ghulam Ali, continued firing although their tanks were on fire. This helped the rear elements to push forward and fan out into the open. By 0839 hours the East bank of BRB canal up to Bhaini bridge had been cleared. The enemy, inspite of artillery and air support and well dug in positions, could not stand the forceful and determined attack of this small force and did not even stay long enough to face the bayonet charge. A few were helped by the cover afforded by high crops and were able to disappear behind them. The Indians who fought fairly stubbornly on other occasions appear to have been surprised by this very limited offensive of Pakistan at a time when they were still hopeful of entering Lahore triumphantly.

A little time was spent on consolidating the position opposite where once Bhaini bridge stood and soon the advance was resumed. D Coy 18 Baluch, again led the attack supported by A and B squadron of 23 Cavalry. By 13 hours the forward elements had cut the road Lahore-Wagah at mile stone 13 thus covering a distance of 12 miles in approximately 9 hours, a feat of no mean performance considering the amount of air attacks they had to face on the way and had the full blast of 15 Indian Divisional Artillery being directed against them all the time. The enemy withdrew in such a hurry that the jeep of 25 Indian Division Commander, Major General Narinjan Parshad was left behind with the flaf flying. The enemy did not halt until he was well beyond Wagah but there were not enough troops to pursue them and then establish new defensive position on an extended front. The operation of going up to Wagah was discussed but dropped with a heavy heart.

On the evening of 8 September, 16 Punjab less two companies and one company 8 Punjab, were placed under command 22 Infantry Brigade. The third company of 18 Baluch which was previously guarding various bridges elsewhere returned to the battalion as an addition to the force.

Limited operations were taken in hand on 10 September to clear up enemy positions in the vicinity of G.T. Road but except air activity and intense artillery fire from both sides nothing important took place on this day. As our troops had not followed up, the Indians started creeping back from 11 September onward.

On 12 September the enemy put in a counter attack against positions held by 16 Punjab and 18 Baluch, The attack was not allowed to build up and was repulsed by artillery concentration even before it could really start. The artillery was as usual brought down extremely accurate fire and dispersed the enemy when they had hardly left the start line.

Between 14 and 16 September the enemy put in a number of attacks, Most of these were against 16 Punjab and 18 Baluch but they were all repulsed. During these period 18 Baluch laid a very successful ambush in which apart from killing a good number of enemy they captured 10 prisoners who all belonged to the Garhwal Regiment. The enemy was in a better position from manpower point of view. These attacks used to be all of a battalion strength and in practically all these cases a fresh battalion was put in each time.

The C-in-C General Mohammad Musa visited the Lahore front on 16th and discussed the situation with GOC and other senior commanders. Incidentally he used the airport at Walton when the Indians were claiming they controlled the air space above Lahore.

16 Punjab and 18 Baluch positions were again attacked on night 18/19 September but both the attacks were successfully repulsed. A few prisoners were taken and then enemy left behind a large amount of arms and equipment before falling back to the original positions. On 20 September the men cheered Pakistan Air Force chasing Indian Air Force Hunters over the battle area. Two hinters were brought down by PAF on that day in that area.

16 Punjab and 18 Baluch had now been in the thick of battle for twelve consecutive days and subjected to about two attacks every day in addition to incessant artillery fire. The severest attack came on the night of 21/22 September.

The successive attacking echelons made it appear if it was one continuous attack. The attacks were however, repulsed continued during the day on 22 September also. The Indians put in a battalion on each side of the road in pre dawn attack. These two battalions were stopped but a third battalion had put in a right hook and managed to get to Dograi, through the gap between the left company of 16 Punjab and the right company of 12 Punjab. This fact was known to 16 Punjab which happened to be right in front of Dograi itself, and they happened to be cut off from the rear suffered heavy casualties including their CO Lt. Col Golwala who being severly wounded was taken prisoner. The cease fire next day intervened before a counter attack could be launched to recapture Dograi.