The Indian Elephant comes to a Grinding halt at Chawinda

Sialkot sector had always been upper most in the minds of Pakistan. Across it, lays the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which in addition to the outright injustice of the case and India usurping it forcefully, it posed a direct threat to the innermost areas of Pakistan. Any threat based on Kashmir would come at right angles to the threat from India itself there by weakening defenses facing India and could not be anything but a source of great anxiety to Pakistan. As far as India was concerned, Kashmir was ideally suited as a jumping ground to attack Pakistan. The military build up during the last few years under the assumed threat from China had given India a good excuse, if she needed one, to build up the strength in Kashmir to unusually large six divisions. Indian infantry brigades in Kashmir have the habit of having up to seven infantry battalions as a measure of solace and over insurance.

Pakistan could not afford to keep more than one medium size infantry division in this sector. 15 Infantry Division containing 7 Infantry Battalion only was placed in Sialkot. Its armour compliment consisted of 25 cavalry and two tank delivery units. The division was commanded by Brig. Sardar Mohammad Ismail Khan.

The Indian garrison opposite to this small force was 26 Indian Division with four oversize brigades and two armoured regiments. It had been anticipated that the enemy could launch a three pronged attack from the following directions; Dera Baba Nanak, Samba and Jammu. The areas of responsibility of the brigades of 15 Infantry Division were as a result as follows:

  • 101 Infantry Brigade (2 battalions) astride Sialkot Jammu Road under the command of Brig. S. M. Hussain
  • 104 Infantry Brigade (One infantry battalion only) Area Uggoki as Divisional Strike Force
  • 24 Infantry Brigade (Two infantry battalions plus one Armoured Regiment) Area Chawinda under the command of Brig. Malik Abdul Ali Khan
  • 115 Infantry Brigade (Two infantry battalions) Area: Jassar under the command of Brig. Muzzafaruddin
  • 6 Armoured Division commanded by Maj. General Abrar Hussain, which in fact was no more than an Armoured Brigade, was placed in Daska area to be used as required. It had under it, two Armoured Regiments and one Infantry Battalion. The Guides Cavalry, 22 Cavalry and 14 FF with proportionate supporting arms and services.

    The Indian build up in early September opposite 15 Division was substantial. The Indians had brought in three infantry divisions including one oversize mountain division and their crack 1 Indian Armoured Division. The details of these were to be known as fighting developed. The Indian plan in this sector unfolded itself gradually and was most unrealistic. It had neither taken the capabilities of the Indian soldiers into account not had been fair in assessing the fighting qualities of Pakistan Army. It smelt of Hyderabad Police Station. General Chaudhuri had decided to attack with one strong division at Suchetgarh and a brigade at Jassar. He knew the strength of both 15 Infantry Division and 6 Armoured Division and expected the armoured division with its armoured regiments to be equally divided between the two garrisons at Jassar and Sialkot. The attack having been launched on 6 September would in the opinion of Indian C-in-C, draw the whole Pakistan Army in this sector of these two corner points. When Pakistan garrison was fully sucked into these two extreme corners and was committed completely the main attack from Samba would roll down the plains lead by Indian Armoured Division. According to General Chaudhuri there would be nothing to stop this mighty force, not even a section of infantry. The garrisons at Jassar and Sialkot would be too committed to extricate themselves and even if they tried to fall back to interfere in the main attack they would be only following the Indian divisions and would never be permitted to re-establish any worthwhile defensive line. General Chaudhuri’s optimism was really infectious. It permeated down to the brigade commanders’ level but no further. The lower levels have to be more realistic. They are too far near the ground and they are the ones who have to capture ground and hold it or give it away. To them higher planning and lines across the map mean little. When it came to that level the situation looked different but more of that later.

    As planned by India, the first place that took the brunt of Indian attack in this sector was Jassar. 3 Punjab was holding the brigade and a part of it was across it, in the little Pakistani enclave across the river Ravi. The Indians started shelling at 0315 hours, a quarter of an hour earlier than they crossed the border in other places. An hour later the attack came in, led by one infantry battalion and the Indians succeeded in securing foothold in the enclave. 3 Punjab put in a counter attack at 1000 hours on 6 September and had thrown back the Indians by 1200 hours. Simultaneously 4 FF cleared the Indian enclave on West bank of the river. There does not appear to have been much resistance to this action. The lack of enthusiasm on the part of Indians to defend their position on the right bank of Ravi was a clear indication that the Indian attack against Jassar was merely a feint. If they had meant to invade Pakistan from this direction in earnest, it would have been easier for them to build up across the river, by making use of the enclave as initial brigade head.

    The artillery compliments of 15 Infantry Division, which had earlier helped 10 Infantry Brigade, in Chhamb and Jurian also returned during night 6/7 September and the position, became more reassuring.

    The Indians were to continue giving the impression that the attack on Jassar was in real earnest. Between 0300 and 0630 hours on 7 September, but put in three attacks supported by massive artillery support and tanks. They succeeded in capturing the far end of the bridge eventually. The bridge as a result was blown up at 0800 hours the same day. The troops on the far end were ordered to swim to home side as it was not considered advisable to leave a few unsupported companies across the river. The Indians throughout the day, continued to try to enlarge their gains along the bridge but all their attempts were foiled.

    26 Indian Division advancing along the main Sialkot-Jammu road did not make any headway on 6 and 7 September.

    14 Indian Infantry Division rolled down across the wide stretch Charwah-Bajra Garhi on the night of 7/8 September. The attack started at 2330 hours. 3 FF fought delaying action and gradually fell back to the main defensive line around Phillorah. 3 FF was holding area Gadgor and adjoining villages. Although vastly outnumbered the battalion stood the most intense shelling and kept to its positions. A few platoon localities exchanged hands once but were immediately recaptured. The fight for every inch of the territory had started. It was like a cyclone. Waves clashing with waves and creating an uproar in the dark but few Pakistani soldiers stood steadfast. Attack after attack was coming and yet the thin line stood firm like a wall of steel.

    The unit was ordered to fall back to Chawinda early in the morning on 8 September. By then, they were in danger of being cut off. They did so at first light. By the morning of 8 September the enemy with elements of 1 Indian Armoured Division had captured Maharajke, Charwa, Chobara, Gadgor and Phillorah villages.

    The advance of 26 Indian Division along the main road to Sialkot had also been checked and the enemy was hardly able to throw back the screens pushed forward by 19 Punjab and 13 FF on the main road Sialkot-Jammu.

    6 Armoured Division, commanded by Major General Abrar Hussain was now moved forward and given the responsibility of stopping the main enemy advance opposite Chawinda in conjunction with 24 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik already in position. The brigade had under it, 2 Punjab, 3 FF and 25 cavalry. In fact, what it amounted to was that an infantry and an armoured brigade, were defending against this very strong Indian offensive.

    8 September gives the image of a series of hammer blows on a small size but ultra strong anvil. Each blow produces blinding flashes. It is the test of strength and quality of metal between the anvil and the hammer. After a little it starts becoming evident that the hammer blows have started losing their vigor and frequency and the metal of the hammer started cracking.

    The Indians had occupied Phillorah during the earlt hours of the morning but the appearance of 24 Infantry Brigade opposite them in the morning, in an offensive mood, made them fall back. Bajrah and Garhi had four enemy tanks. The moment one was hit by Pakistani armour, 25 cavalry, the other three disappeared. The enemy was gradually pushed out of Chobara also by 24 Infantry Brigade and 25 Cavalry.

    On the morning of 9 September, 10 Infantry Brigade commanded by brigadier Azmat Hayat Khan also joined in and had taken up positions along side 24 Infantry Brigade.

    9 September again was a busy day. The enemy tried to edge towards our left and making use of a road Maharajke-Sialkot and road Bajra-Garhi-Sialkot to put in a right hook.

    This move was foiled immediately it became apparent and the enemy withdrew in haste. The enemy operation order had laid down the main axis as Ramgarh, Chobara and Phillorah. One Centurian regiment was to push through along it while the other, a Sherman regiment was to be on the right. This regiment appears to have attempted the right hook but could not sustain it. The other Centurian regiment plus a squadron was to be on the enemy left in area Daigi. 4 Horse had been kept by the Indians in reserve.

    The enemy put in a counter-attack on Chobara with an armoured regiment and an infantry battalion. This was successfully beaten back. The enemy had used his air on a number of occasions but the Pakistan Air Force had every time appeared on the scene and chased them away, before they could contribute much to the battle.

    15 Infantry Division headquarters itself were attacked by enemy aircraft on the morning of 10 September but there were no casualties. The GOC Major General Tikka Khan who had taken the command from brigadier Sardar Mohammad Ismail, had organized tank hunting parties who were successful in destroying a number of tanks during the night of 9/10 September. This put a stop on the night movement of Indian tanks opposite Sialkot.

    On 10 September, the Indians subjected the Jassar positions to very heavy shelling but did not try to advance forward. They seemed to have been given large quantities of artillery ammunition merely to expend while sitting at a distance from Pakistani troops.

    The Indians, opposite 24 Infantry Brigade, in the area of Gadgor tried to make a flanking move from the left but failed to make any headway.

    A great deal of enemy movement was observed during 10 September behind the enemy lines. It was evident the regrouping and reallocation of tasks was being undertaken by the Indians. The original plan had failed. They hoped to succeed with the changed plan if ……….. But, they were soon to know that the “ifs” do not turn out to be in favor of mighty hordes all the time.

    Sialkot and Jassar received their share of shelling again on 11 September. Enemy tried to advance along the main axis but failed. Khaira village fell to the Indians but was counter attacked and retaken. Shelling by the Indians along their main axis of advance was very intense. It lasted from 0200 to 0800 hours. The Indians also used air which, however failed to do any damage. At 1100 hours, the main enemy attack, mainly armour came against Gador and Phillorah. 11 Cavalry Guides and 25 Cavalry took the brunt and stopped the enemy. It was a magnificent battle; tank against tank reminded of the armour battles of Second World War. There was determination on both sides, in fact it was a test of stamina and determination. There were fairly heavy casualties on both sides.

    The only gain to the Indians that day was the Phillorah village. This also lost because the Indians were pushing across thousand of refugees from the villages occupied by them on the first day. To have advanced under the cover of refugees was the most unsoldierly act on the part of Indians but then there it was and not much could be done about it. For three days they had kept them confined without food and water and now on 11 September they had used them as human shield. Pundit Kautilya had come to their aid but even this guile was short lived. It could not be repeated day after day. There were no more left to be used after the 11th. PAF brought about successful air strikes that day, against Chobara and Charwa.

    A certain amount of regrouping and reallocation of areas was carried out on 11 September by Pakistan also. 1 Armoured Division less 5 Armoured Brigade had also arrived in the area and could be used as and when found necessary. The attack against Phillorah had cost Indians heavy losses. 25 Cavalry had been successfully engaging the enemy armour throughout this period. They had been able to account for 29 tanks against a loss of only 4 of their own. As a result of the re-organization our own locations were as follows on 12 September.

    Chawinda Area 24 Infantry Brigade
    2 Punjab
    3 FF
    14 Baluch
    25 Cavalry
    Badiana Area 10 Infantry Brigade
    Guides Cavalry plus Squadron 11 Cavalry
    22 cavalry less one Squadron
    Pasrur Area 14 (P) Brigade
    11 Cavalry less one Squadron
    9 FF
    Sialkot Area 15 Infantry Division
    101 Infantry Brigade
    2 Baluch
    19 Punjab
    104 Infantry Brigade
    9 Baluch
    20 Lancers less one squadron
    Jassar Area No Change

    Khairi and Chak Phulra posts and high ground in the vicinity were captured on the morning of 12 September in Sialkot Sector.

    The Indians sent a company of Gurkhas towards Zafarwal, who posing as Chinese to the villagers started digging trenches. On approach of our patrol they retreated leaving behind one prisoner from 5/5 Gurkha Battalion belonging to 196 Indian Infantry Brigade, a part of Indian Mountain Division.

    On 13 September, the first enemy move of tanks took place in the area of village Dogri and was immediately stopped. At 0700 hours the Indians tried to probe with a strong contingent of tanks, 25 or more from Gadgor and Chobara but were effectively stopped by our forces. Chawinda then became the center of Indian attacks. That day, over 20 enemy tanks were destroyed and the enemy advance was effectively halted. There was no relaxing of effort by the enemy on 14 September either. Enemy tried to advance on Chawinda on two axis, each with one infantry brigade and one regiment of armour. These two axis were Road Phillorah-Chawinda and railway line Sialkot-Chawinda. Pakistani troops had formed a sort of crescent with Chawinda itself jutting out as the star poised between the two tips of the crescent. Sitara-e-Hilal dispositions worked. The Indians battered against Chawinda from the front and from the left but, made no headway. Every little move meant more and more casualties. The air on both sides remained active and Pakistan Air Force as usual, had the upper hand. On 15 September the tank to tank battle was further intensified.

    1 Armoured Division was waiting behind 6 Armoured Division to wind up this clash of steel, the moment the initial fury of Indian onslaught subsided. Lieut. General Bakhtiar Mohammad Rana SPk, SQA., M.C., the Corps Commander and Major General General Sahibzada Mohammad Yaqoob Khan who had just taken over the command of 1 Armoured Division had also located the forces in this sector as to deliver crushing blows to the Indians once they entered the killing ground. The Indians had been lured inside the crescent and surprisingly, they had not been able to push aside even the farthest point held by 24 Infantry Brigade.

    At 1430 hours, the Indians launched the third of their abortive attacks that day. By the evening the enemy had lost about 30 tanks and had started withdrawing. It appears that this was either meant to be a ruse or a withdrawal without sanction from higher headquarters as immedeately after last light the Indians started coming forward again. This again was infantry-tank combined attack. Pakistani troops fought back heroically and the enemy attack was repulsed once again. The GOC had, during the day, asked the Corps Commander to be given 4 Armoured Brigade but the latter was confident that the existing troops wold be able to stop all enemy efforts to break through. He intended using the 1 Armoured Division for the offensive operations the moment it was clear that the Indians had committed all their reserve formations in this sector. After this battle, the GOC in consultation with the Corps Commander, carried out a certain amount of reorganization of the forces on the following lines:

    19 Lancers and 10 (SP) Field regiment were deployed to cover the gap between Chawinda and Jassoran.

    Locating battery was moved to 15 Division area.

    1 FF and 7 FF were placed under command of 1 Armoured Division for offensive operations.

    16 September proved the correctness of the forecast that enemy will try to push his armour through the gap Chawinda-Jassoran. He had not realized that behind this gap, he would meet stiff opposition and was likely to be sandwiched in this narrow gap.

    The enemy attack came opposite the gap formed by the triangle Bhagowal-Badiana-Chawinda.

    15 infantry Division was ordered by the corps commander to exert pressure towards Bhagowal and 4 Armoured Brigade was warned to be ready to move into battle area when the situation demanded. In the meantime the battle progressed in an extremely fierce manner in the area around jassoran and badiana. The triangular formation had helped in luring the enemy forward and Chawinda defenders, the men of 24 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier Malik Abdul Ali rose to the occasion. The enemy was allowed to bypass even the town of Chawinda from the North-West and reach Chawinda railway Station. Such havoc was caused to the Indian armour and Infantry in this narrow triangle as has rarely happened since the battles of Flanders in the First World War. The ground was literally piled with dead bodies. Three Indian battalion commanders lost their lives in trying to reach Mile Stone 5 behind Chawinda. It must be said to the credit of the Indian Army theat they fought with commendable courage and determination on this day. The W/T message to the first battalion commander who pushed his way upto within a few hundred yards of the road was rather interesting. It had said, “Get Mile Stone 5 and Maha Vir chakra is at your feet.” This brave soldier died within a few hundred yards of the Mile Stone in question and was decorated posthumously.

    Two more battalion commanders followed in his footsteps and gave their lives a little to his rear. The battle raged. The Indians coming in wave after wave and Pakistani determined to shoot to kill inspite of devastating artillery fire directed at their hasty dug in positions. The commanders in the rear at GHQ and Corps H.Q., must be given due credit for the correct evaluation of the position. There was no panic. They did not deploy any unit or any formation unnecessarily. They had confidence in their men and their commanders in the field. They knew that material superiority and large numbers do not always decide the outcome of the battle. Inspite of all determination shown by Indian troops it was throughout clear that they would have to be far better men, then they were to overcome the spirit of Pakistani soldiers. As one Pakistani Company Commander said, “It was a sight to remember all one’s life and to get inspiration for it always”. By the afternoon, the battle was over. Chawinda stood where it was with the same men in control of it. The Indians left behind them over two thousand dead and a large number of prisoners.

    17 September should have been used by the Indians for licking their wounds but it appears that they still had fresh troops to push into the furnace that Chawinda was. It had become a matter of prestige with them. They attacked Chawinda at first light but failed to make any headway. The place was too hot for them. They tried to get into the gap between Butar Dograndi and Janewal and gave to 19 Lancers a good opportunity to do some good shooting. Then two squadrons of enemy armour tried to attack Chawinda from due west. This move was halted by 25 Cavalry and the artillery. The Indians withdrew, leaving a Centurian intact, 5 destroyed and 5 POWs behind, belonging to 17 Horse. 1 Indian Armoured Division had by now been completely disorganized and its morale was at the lowest ebb. The shortage of infantry in this sector has been felt acutely by Pakistani Commanders. 20 Baluch was as a result placed under command 6 Armoured Division and 6 FF which had arrived in Daska was also ordered forward.

    The Indians changed their tactics on 19 September. Instead of putting in concentrated heavy attacks, they started attacking scattered village localities with small integrated groups and at the same time, continued shelling the whole area throughout the day. These small groups however, did not achieve anything. In actual fact, this piecemeal use of troops cost them greater losses, both in men and in the area already under their control. 6 Armoured Division launched a limited attack and cleared the enemy out of Batur Dograndi, Sadreke, Mundeke Berian, Jassoran and Fatehpur. Chawinda was also attacked by the Indians but its defenses withstood the onslaught as usual. The whole area south of railway line was also cleared of the Indians.

    The Indians turned to infiltration tactics during the night 18/19 September and met a certain amount of success in the initial stages. They managed to recapture Jassoran and infiltrated through a number of gaps under the cover of darkness. This in the end, cost the Indians very heavy losses. Early next morning these isolated groups were surrounded heavy casualties inflicted on them. In addition 4 officers, 4 JCOs and 54 other ranks were taken prisoner. The Indian High Command had spread a false propaganda that Pakistanis did not take prisoners. This proved very costly to them in manpower. Their men as a result of this propaganda were reluctant to put up their hands but once the fact became known that Pakistanis had no intention of undertaking the impossible task of killing the million strong army, they started coming forward to be taken as prisoners of war, not only willingly but at times with keenness.

    The artillery, throughout the battle on this front had taken heavy toll of enemy infantry and armour and many times Indian concentration had been broken up merely by well directed artillery fire.

    Jassoran, which had been taken by the Indians during the night was attacked and captured by 1800 hours by a Coy of 7 FF under Major Abdul Rabb Niazi. In this action along 4 enemy tanks were captured intact and 13 were destroyed. Heavy casualties had also been inflicted on the enemy. In addition to dead and wounded, the Indians lost 35 men as prisoners of war in this action. Enemy air was fairly active during 19 September and so was Pakistan Air Force chasing them away every time they had appeared on the scene.

    Early morning on 20 September the Indians launched a half-hearted attack. It appeared later that this was merely to cover their withdrawal from positions badly threatened by our forces. They suffered casualties as a result of this attack and 8 prisoners were taken. The Indians launched an attack on this day on the front of 15 Infantry Division also but they were successfully repulsed.

    The Indians carried out a limited attack on 21 September against fatehpur, held by 20 Baluch but withdrew leaving behind six destroyed tanks and a few prisoners. The enemy air strafed our forward positions causing a few casualties. Efforts were made to clear Alhar of enemy early in the morning but did not succeed. Th place was fairly heavily held.

    On 22 September, activity was confined to artillery dual. The Indians withdrew from few villages after burning them. 19 Lancers destroyed a few enemy tanks in Alhar but no large scale move was undertaken.

    The C-in-C visited this front and decorated some of the officers and other ranks who had earlier distinguished themselves during the fighting in this area.

    The cease fire talks had made any counter attack a matter of untimely wasted effort. 23 September, as a result was also a quiet day. The Indians confined their activities to heavy shelling but made no move forward. One enemy patrol fell into our hands abd was captured with its officer.