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Showing bravery when it mattered

chandigarh Updated: Sep 10, 2012 23:32 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Showing bravery when it mattered

Over time the tank battle fought at Asal Uttar-Chima-Valtoha in Tarn Taran district between 7th and 10th September 1965 has become more than a mere struggle, it is more akin to an emotion. The battle symbolises all that is best about the Indian soldier and people, forever snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

The Indian offensive plan was for 4 Mountain Division, the famous Red Eagles of World War 2 fame, to advance into Pakistan and secure territory up to the BRB Canal.

The strategic idea was to use the BRB Canal as a reverse defence, and by threatening the Pakistani vital areas of Lahore and Kasur apply pressure to withdraw it's reserves from the threatened Chhamb-Jaurian sector. The attack failed in spectacular fashion. What was imagined to be a brigade of Pakistani troops was actually a full division with an armoured division in reserve. 4 Division was thrown back suffering heavy casualties and with half its infantry left reeling.

It was now the turn of the Pakistanis to go on the offensive. Their plan ambitious in concept was to have their 11 Division establish a bridgehead north-east of Khem Karan. 1 Armoured Division was then to break out on three axes. 4 Armoured Brigade was to move along road Khem Karan-Valtoha-Patti-Nabipur, get astride the Sobraon Branch of the UBDC and advance and capture Rayya and the bridges at Beas and Harike.

3 Armoured Brigade was to move get astride the Kasur Branch of the UBDC, advance and capture Jandiala Guru and bottle up Indian forces west of Amritsar. 5 Armoured Brigade, after helping establish the bridgehead was to move along the road Khem Karan-Amritsar to isolate 7 Indian Division as well as protect the left flank of the offensive.

The proposed thrust lines matched the grain of the country hoping to exploit the terrain in this sector where the irrigation canals run generally in the direction of north-east to south-west. The plan was bold, impressive and with a bit of luck could have succeeded. The only thing standing between them and a grand victory was a weak, under-strength Indian division trained and equipped for mountain warfare, already reeling under a defeat and with many desertions within it's infantry.

In support were a regiment each of main battle, medium and light tanks. No match for the Pakistanis' five regiments of US-supplied M47 Patton tanks.

4 Division however disengaged cleanly helped by a stupendous artillery effort, it's gunners firing over 10,000 rounds on the enemy bridgehead and the bridges over the BRB Canal and Rohi Nala. The Indians occupied a defensive position in the shape of a sickle at the Chima-Asal Uttar-Valtoha line with the gun area close by and the armour in depth, protecting the flanks.

The period 8th to 10th September saw massive Pakistani tank assaults on the defended localities occupied by 4 Division's two truncated brigades. The Indian defenders however held fast. Good use was made of the camouflage afforded by standing crops of sugar cane. Significantly distributaries and minor canals in the area were breached flooding the area making some places no-go for armour and bogging down the enemy's tanks in others.

The Pakistanis switched directions of attack, tried to outflank the Indian positions and launched frontal attacks. All in vain. The combined fire of Indian armour, artillery and the infantry's anti-tank weapons took a heavy toll of their tanks.

Some 97 were knocked out with the CO and many of his tank crews from 4th Cavalry the vanguard regiment forced to surrender. Faced with heavy attrition and stiff Indian resistance the Pakistanis called off their attack and remained on the defensive for the rest of the war. It was a famous victory for 4 Division and 2 (Independent)Armoured Brigade!

What were the reasons for the Indian victory and the Pakistani failure? Faced with impending rout Indian leadership at every level stood firm and resolute. All arms and services played their role superbly. Even the much maligned IAF, according to Pakistani sources caused a lot of disruption in their supply and follow on echelons. Indian armour's accent on gunnery was rewarded with a huge toll of enemy tanks.

Their unit and sub-unit leadership was first rate. Excellent use was made of pre-prepared positions to pick off Pakistan's famed Pattons with deadly accuracy.

The infantry stood firm knocking out many tanks with their 106mm anti-tank recoilless guns. Even when some localities were overrun the line still held. In truth they were superb! Indian artillery not only saved 4 Division from annihilation on the 7th and 8th but their effective fire kept the enemy at bay.

Their dedication and devotion to duty were exemplary. The engineers at their efficient best under pressure laid effective minefields in double quick time.

The Pakistanis had only themselves to blame for their poor performance. Their approach to battle was very sluggish. Poor leadership at unit and formation level played a major part in their defeat. Mediocre training and weak inter-arm drills let them down. Most of all the Pakistanis lacked the determination displayed by 4 Division.

In the end it was the undying spirit of the Indian soldier, unyielding, undeterred by impossible odds, unwilling to let his countrymen once again come under the yoke of those who projected themselves as the successors of the Central Asian conquerors of old. To him go the glory and all the tributes. The nation owes a great deal to the valiant Red Eagles and the Fleur de Lis Brigade.