September 1965 – III: The Land – Air War (Punjab Area)

We continue with our series on September 1965. References are and will be made to an article by Ajai Shukla in the Business Standard (BS) of 02 Sep titled “The day nothing happened“. For convenience we will also refer to the Official History (OH) as also the portion pertaining to the Air War and some others as we proceed.

Continuing from where we left off in the previous blog, we move South to events in Punjab.

The article in the Business Standard makes a reference to events in the Amritsar Sector on 06 Sep:

‘Sep 6 was also when Indian troops crossed the border at Amritsar and, taking the Pakistan Army by surprise, reached Lahore’s outskirts. The official history recounts that this was achieved without IAF support, a devastating accusation endorsed by noted historian, John Fricker. In his authoritative work, “Battle for Pakistan: The Air War of 1965”, Fricker writes: “Incredibly, the Indian offensive struggled on without any form of air support, and the IAF did not challenge the repeated ground attack sorties flown without loss by the PAF throughout the day…” That evening, battered by the PAF and without a clear plan, Indian troops pulled back from the brink of a war-winning victory — the capture of Lahore.’ 

  • I think we can by-pass for now the ‘devastating accusation endorsed by noted historian Fricker’ in his ‘authoritative work‘. His credibility is the issue here and is discussed later. Ajai Shukla is right, there was no air support provided on the first day to the ground forces moving in towards the Lahore area.
  • Why was there no air support on the 6th to the ground forces? A little digging would have brought out the same answer as at Chhamb. No one at the local level in the IAF was kept in the picture. Between 01 and 06 Sep there may have been exchanges at the top leadership of the Services. Did it trickle down?
  • Ask those who were there. No one had a clue regarding the type of operations being undertaken, the kind of support required, the time-frame and the forces deployed on the other side – nothing!
  • Air Cmde Jasjit Singh has also commented on this very issue:

“But what became the real source of lament about air support was the Indian counter-offensive on September 6, 1965, into Pakistan.

The Indian Army’s 15 Division was launched on the offensive at daylight, along a major highway, without informing the air force! The army commander has been scathing in his criticism of the divisional commander on this count and for not providing the command leadership required. Our division exposed itself to enemy air strikes while the IAF practically knew nothing of the advance and continued carrying out extensive close air support and battlefield interdiction on the other axis of advance to the north and south of the 15 Division thrust.”

  • Sadly, the bitter truth is that we were just not communicating with each other. Was it lack of trust or was it that nobody thought of it? Either way, something was very wrong in our system.

That evening, battered by the PAF and without a clear plan, Indian troops pulled back from the brink of a war-winning victory — the capture of Lahore.’

  • Whats with the war winning victory and the capture of Lahore?
  • Again we come across a half opened curtain. The complete stage is missing. If it doesn’t suit the pre-determined conclusion – chop it.
  • The aim of the Indian retaliatory plan was not to capture cities but to destroy Pakistan’s war making potential. The dual objective of the offensive was to safeguard Punjab by shifting the Indian Defense Line to the Ichogil Canal and capture Pakistani territory to serve as a bargaining point for subsequent parleys when the war ended. Paraphrased from page 141 of the Official History. ‘The capture  of Lahore’ was not a military aim and was never envisaged. Nor was any ‘war-winning victory.’
  • Sounds convenient to prove a point, but far removed from facts. There seems a concerted effort to keep portraying  the IAF in a bad light and keep doing it over and over again. Evidence to the contrary – best ignored. This continues to baffle me no end.
  • An Army veteran who served with 60 Heavy Regiment, has also confirmed that they provided arty support to our troops from 0400 hrs on 06 Sep and continued thereafter. He was there through out the see saw battle for Dograi, which finally fell to Lt Col Hayde MVC and his 3 Jat on practically the last day of the war.
  • A word on Lt Col Hyde’s 3 Jat battalion. It was the only battalion which was addressed directly on the battlefield by PM Lal Bahadur Shastri at Dograi itself. It was during this address that the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan” was coined.
  • My Army veteran friend has also referred to another tragedy. A Mystere from Pathankot, attacked own gun positions and was shot down by our ground forces. The pilot ejected, was rescued by the Army and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital at Amritsar on 26 Sep. He mentioned to his rescuers that the bombline given to him was wrong.
  • This was a truly poignant incident. He was shot down, on the last day over Dograi, the morning after it fell to 3 Jat. It was apparently a pre-planned mission and over night the picture had changed. The mission should have been cancelled but  wasn’t. Mistakes have happened before and will continue to happen. One doesn’t hold a whole Service to blame.
  • The way the article mentions it, it gives the impression that lack of air support on 06 Sep forced the Army to pull back from Lahore. The Indian Army never withdrew from that sector. In fact it was there right to the very end through a series of attacks and counter attacks. More glory to them.
  • The author  has penned many articles. A recent piece by him on the need to look afresh at AFSPA in Kashmir, is rationally presented. One may agree or disagree with him, yet the argument is rational. In contrast, this is a diatribe.

Interestingly, it would appear that problems regarding air support would appear to have been smoothened to some extent over the next two days. However, it may never have matched army expectations, perhaps not without reason. More so at the unit level and at the level of field formations slugging it out on the ground. They are the ones who faced the music day in and day out.

However, further up the staff chain, to pass the blame on to the IAF is akin to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Air support or no support, certainly the credit for dislodging the enemy whether in Chhamb, Burki, Assal Uttar, Dograi and many others, is to the resounding credit of the Indian Army. No one, but no one, has any doubts on that score and we are all proud of it.

The OH records that on 06 Sep the IAF flew 31 Mystere and 16 Hunter sorties from Pathankot and Halwara in support of ground forces in Chhamb and XI Corps area. Recce sorties were also conducted by 6 Canberras from Agra, (OH page 254). Had there been inter-service co-ordiantion this effort could have been provided to the Amritsar Sector.

Again on 08 Sep, As paraphrased from the book The India Pakistan Air War of 1965, four Hunter aircraft led by Flt Lt CKK Menon were on a search and destroy mission in the Raiwind area. On reaching Raiwind railway yard they spotted a goods train and attacked it. They were in return greeted by extensive ground fire from the ack ack. As soon as the leader and his number 2 finished their first attack, they were thrilled to see exploding wagons. The other two Hunters then attacked the rear of the train and the whole train just exploded besides blowing up the track as well. They were credited with destroying an ammunition train carrying tank shells for the Kasur – Khem Kharan sector.

On 09 Sep Wg Cdr Goodman leading a Mystere strike over Raiwind spotted, a tank transporting train and destroyed and damaged around 26 tanks. In the Sialkot Sector, Flt Lt Trilochan Singh distinguished himself when he led a raid that accounted for eight tanks.

There was decent air activity on 10 Sep too. It also saw the start to the historic battle for Assal Uttar, where late Havildar Abdul Hamid was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his ultimate sacrifice.

  • Mysteres, Hunters and even Canberras were used for the first time in a tactical role.
  • The operation of Canberras during the day time could be indicative of the fact that the PAF was not a significant factor in the battlefield area, as was the case over the first few days. The IAF was wrenching back the initiative.
  • The army did also sent a message to the IAF appreciating their timely intervention as also for delivering a significant blow to enemy armour, (OH page 260)

“….. PAF got the better of the IAF in raid after raid, dogfight after dogfight.”  Baffling.  To each his own.

Note: Those who wish to, please feel free to comment. The first time a person comments, it will be held up for approval, which may take a few hours. Thereafter subsequent comments by that individual will get posted directly. Rules here are very simple on this blog – please don’t get personal and respect others in your comment. Disrespect to anyone will not be permitted.

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3 Responses to September 1965 – III: The Land – Air War (Punjab Area)

  1. Parry Bindra says:

    Lack of joint planning and jointmanship of the desired order and at the desired level has been the bane of large – scale operations , right through 50s and 60s . The situation was corrected , to an extent , during 1971 operations . complete lack of trust and covert effort towards one – upmanship further aggravated the problem .

    It is relevant to mention Kargil Operations , in contrast ; where despite initial hiccups and comparatively low scale of operations , everything moved with a clockwork precision from the time we got the green signal . It is high time we learnt to move on , rather than remaining struck in the quagmire of a bygone era .

    • Dara says:

      Thank you Gen Bindra,

      Have been following your perceptive comments. Couldn’t agree more about the problem of lack of joint planning – truly has been at times disastrous. Hopefully we have learnt our lessons.

      Have made a brief mention of the initial hiccups, as you term it, in the next part.

      Dara

  2. Dara says:

    Received from a revered veteran, Wg Cdr IM Chopra – on email

    1.It is the prerogative of the IAF to commemorate such an event.
    Necessary permission from Government if required would be taken by Air
    HQs.

    2. The attack by Indian Army across the International border at Wagah
    was primarily to make Pakistan reduce the intensity of their attack
    in the Chamb-Jaurian Sector and avoiding their advance towards
    Akhnoor. This attack was also to thwart plans for thrust from Sailkot
    to seize Jammu. The bold move by India had the desired effect.The
    Pakistanis were rattled and feared take over of Lahore. It is common
    knowledge that operational plan of COAS Gen. Chaudri did not include
    occupation of Lahore. Securing such a large city requires substantial
    troop deployment and there were other important sectors of War. John
    Fricker’s quote in your blog …” ‘That evening, battered by the PAF
    and without a clear plan, Indian troops pulled back from the brink of
    a war-winning victory — the capture of Lahore.’ This statement can
    only be termed as his imagination.It is probably true about no air
    support to the Indian troops due to lack of co-ordination.

    3. Your analysis of losses based on percentage of missions is
    absolutely correct. Finite numbers have little meaning when the
    missions flown are substantially unequal. If missions flown are more
    losses in numbers could probably be more but percentage in respect of missions could be less. It is simple arithmetic.

    4. Pakistan did not succeed in its plans.

    Regards,

    Wg. Cdr. I M Chopra

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