Saleem Akhtar Malik |
In this sector Pakistan’s 15 Division, consisting of four infantry brigades (24,101,104, and 115) and 6 Armoured Division, faced Indian I Corps, comprising 1 Armoured Division, 6 Mountain Division, 14 Division, and 26 Division. Pakistan’s 6 Armoured Division was actually 100 Independent Armoured Brigade re- designated as armored division.
It was not a full strength division and consisted of divisional headquarters, two armored regiments; 10 Cavalry, and 22 Cavalry (11 Cavalry was detached to command 7 division for the Chamb operation), two artillery regiments, two mechanized infantry battalions, and had no brigade headquarters. However, in the Sialkot sector, Pakistan Army also had four armor regiments under command 15 Division; 33 TDU, 25 Cavalry, 31 TDU, and 20 Lancers.
After 9th September when the Pakistani 6 Armoured Division, and later the 1 Armoured Division, beefed up Pakistani strength, it was no longer a question of valor or superior generalship
Indian 1 Armoured Division comprised 1 Armoured Brigade (17 Horse, 16 Cavalry, and squadron, ex 62 Cavalry), 43 Lorried Brigade (2 Lancers, 62 Cavalry, less squadron, and 2x lorried infantry battalions), and Divisional Reserves (4 Horse and 2x lorried infantry battalions). Besides 1 Armoured Division, India also had the 3 Independent Armoured Brigade (2x armor regiments) located in Jammu, and an armor regiment each under 14 Division and 26 Division. It is said that the main malady with which the Indians suffered was having too much infantry and not knowing how to use it, while the Pakistani problem seems to have been having too many tanks and not knowing how to use them.
Notwithstanding the imbalances in 6 Armoured Division, if we combine its 2x armor regiments with 4x armor regiments under command 15 Division ( 31 TDU and 33 TDU though had second line tanks), we may roughly assign it the combat power of a fully fledged armored division, i.e. a combat power value of 3. We also assign a combat power value of 1 to the 15 Division, a total value of 4.
We courted a serious setback through the faulty decision and immature handling of armor which the enemy was not slow to exploit
Assigning Indian 1 Armoured Division a value of 3, 3 independent Armoured Brigade a value of 2, and 6 Mountain Division, 14 Division, and 26 Division a combat value of 1 each, India gets a total combat power value of 8. Responding to the Indian assertion that the Pattons were superior to the Shermans (though the superiority had not been translated into physical gains in Kasur sector), instead of 8, lower the total Indian combat power to 7 (this would also take into account the fact that the Indian armoured division had a lorried brigade and a reserve comprising just one armour regiment with two lorried infantry battalions). Using Lanchester’s equation, we square each side’s combat power and get 49 for India and 16 for Pakistan or a 3 to 1 Indian superiority in Sialkot sector.
Pakistan’s 15 Division had deployed 101 Brigade covering the approach astride road Jammu-Sialkot. Ramnagar-Phillora-Chawinda approach was covered with 24 Brigade. Further east, 115 Brigade was to defend the area along River Ravi, with special emphasis on Jassar Bridge. On 6th September, 6 Armoured Division was in dispersal in Gujranwala-Nandipur area.
This was a grave error of judgment as 4 Horse which by this time had been released to the Brigade by GOC 1 Armoured Division, could have been used to meet any flank threat posed by the enemy armor
The aim of the Indian I Corps was to attack through Sialkot- Jassar approach along axis Ramnagar –Phillora –Chawinda – MR Link with 1 Armoured Division with a view to cut off Grand Trunk road north of Gujranwala and create a wedge between Lahore and Sialkot. For 1 Armoured Division’s breakout, the bridgehead, extending to line Bhagowal-Phillorah, was to be secured by 6 Mountain Division (presumably this mountain division was also to follow in the zone). The initial objectives of this attack were capturing Phillora-Chawinda-Pagowal areas.
26 Infantry Division (19 Brigade, 162 Brigade, and 168 Brigade), with under command 18 Cavalry was the fixing force assigned the mission of containing Pakistani forces at Sialkot so that these could not create any problem on the northern flank of 1 Armoured Division’s line of advance. The reserve (19 Brigade), it appears, was brought particularly against the Pakistani Marala salient.
The Fixing Force Attack
Indian 26 Division attack commenced two brigades up against the border villages of Niwe Wains, Bajragarhi, etc. from 2330 hours on night 7th /8th September. Both the brigades captured their insignificant objectives. In any case, the troops opposite Sialkot were too weak to interfere with the advance of the Indian attack. The Indians, however, remained obsessed with the defense of Jammu and, on 11th September brought a fourth brigade (52 Mountain Brigade).
The Main Attack
At 0600 hours, 8th September, Indian 1 Armoured Division broke out from the bridgehead established by 6 Mountain Division in general area Charwa. At about the same time, Pakistan’s 24 Brigade, which had just returned to Pasrur from Jassar, received information that 3 FF, which was left at Charwa and deployed as a screen, was overrun by the leading brigades of 6 Mountain Division (69 Brigade and 99 Brigade). Commander 24 Brigade had no idea of the quantum of the troops opposite him. Knowing little about tank warfare, he asked CO 25 Cavalry to do something.
Finally, the second squadron was also held up, having lost its squadron commander and unable to maneuver due to limited visibility and lack of maneuvering space
CO 25 Cavalry sent one of his squadrons to advance in line abreast formation towards Charwa, the reported point of enemy breakthrough. Meanwhile, he also alerted the remaining two squadrons to move towards Chawinda. By 1200 hours the whole of 25 Cavalry was deployed three squadrons up in line abreast formation opposite 1 Armoured Brigade leading the advance of Indian 1 Armoured Division.
1 Armoured Brigade was advancing two regiments up, with an inter-regiment gap of 3500 to 4000 meters. Each regiment was advancing one squadron up. Both the tank regiments had a clean run during the first 15 kilometers (6-7 kilometers according to Harbaksh Singh, sic) of their advance inside Pakistan. According to the Indian accounts, PAF attacked the leading Indian armor regiments at about 0840 hours at Chobara but was unable to hit any tank. 25 Cavalry tanks came in contact with Indian 16 Light Cavalry tanks, without a clue that they were up against Indian 1 Armoured Division.
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Commander 24 Brigade had no idea of the quantum of the troops opposite him. Knowing little about tank warfare, he asked CO 25 Cavalry to do something
A confused firefight followed in which both sides lost tanks. Both the Indian leading tank troop leaders were killed, thus leaving the leading squadron commander of 16 Light Cavalry clueless. CO 16 Light Cavalry tried to bring up another squadron, to outflank the Pakistani position in front from the east. Finally, the second squadron was also held up, having lost its squadron commander and unable to maneuver due to limited visibility and lack of maneuvering space. As per General Gurcharan Singh, once the second squadron was held up, CO 16 Light Cavalry passed “exaggerated” reports to 1 Armoured Brigade commander, who in turn ordered 16 Light Cavalry not to advance any further.
In brief, 16 Light Cavalry’s advance was checked at Gadgor by 1000 hours, 8th September.
Major General Gurcharan Singh Sandhu (1994) wrote:
‘The first day’s battle could not have got off to the worst start. The armored brigade had been blocked by two squadrons of Patton’s and in the first encounter, the brigade had lost more tanks than the enemy had…. Whole of 1corps had gained a few kilometers… The worst consequence of the day’s battle was its paralyzing effect on the minds of the higher commanders. It took them another 48 hours to contemplate the next offensive move. This interval gave the Pakistanis time to move up and deploy their 6 Armoured Division with five additional armored regiments. In fact, the golden opportunity that fate had offered to the 1st Armoured Division to make worthwhile gains had been irretrievably lost’.
Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh (2012) also accurately summed up the Indian failure:
‘both 16 Cavalry and 17 Horse failed to determine the strength of the opposing armor and displayed little skill in out maneuvering it… the Brigade Commander made the unfortunate decision to withdraw 17 Horse from Tharoah for countering an alleged serious tank threat on the Left flank. This was a grave error of judgment as 4 Horse which by this time had been released to the Brigade by GOC 1 Armoured Division, could have been used to meet any flank threat posed by the enemy armor. The blunder cost us dearly.
We made an advance of only four miles beyond the bridgehead when a much deeper penetration could have been achieved. The fleeting chance that could have been exploited to gain a striking success, was lost forever…. and while we were fumbling about ineffectively in a chaotic situation of our own creation, the enemy had that vital breathing space so essential for a quick rally round from the stunning impact of surprise.
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We courted a serious setback through the faulty decision and immature handling of armor which the enemy was not slow to exploit. From now onwards, the thrust intended to keep the enemy off balance and reeling until the final blow by the sheer speed of advance, turned into a slow slogging match—a series of battering-ram actions’.
After 9th September when the Pakistani 6 Armoured Division, and later the 1 Armoured Division, beefed up Pakistani strength, it was no longer a question of valor or superior generalship, but simple, unimaginative frontal battle with both sides having an equal number of tanks.
Saleem Akhtar Malik was a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army. He holds an honors degree in War Studies, an MBA and an M.Phil in Management Sciences. He is the author of the book Borrowed Power. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.