1965 War — Their Finest Hour By Dr Raashid Wali Janjua

1965 War — Their Finest Hour By Dr Raashid Wali Janjua

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ is an apt phrase that personifies the indomitable spirit of those doughty warriors whose steel nerves and intrepidity saved the day for Pakistan in 1965. The first-hand account of those epic battles in Chawinda and Chamb was recounted by a 95-year-old veteran of 1965 War, Brigadier Mian Mehmud, who is still lucid and full of verve. His wizened old wiry frame belies the fire that animated his actions as Commanding Officer of 1 Army Aviation squadron comprising L19 fixed wing aircraft and H13 helicopters that acted as eyes and ears of army as well as PAF in war zone.

Operation Gibraltar and Grand Slam in 1965 were conceived to be executed across Ceasefire Line in disputed territory and it was assumed that the international border would not be violated keeping the operations limited to the Ceasefire Line. Brigadier Mehmud picked up the thread of his memoirs from Jalalpur Jattan near Gujrat where he was placed under command of GOC 7 Infantry Division i.e. Major General Yahya Khan. The Operation Gibraltar had run into trouble with Indian counter-attacks on the 12 Division front making worrisome gains. To alleviate pressure on 12 Division Operation Grand Slam was launched by the GOC 12 Division Major General Akhter Husain Malik on 1st September to capture Akhnur.

Brig Mehmud recalls Akhter Husain Malik saying that he planned to capture Akhnur by D+3 i.e. three days after launch of operation. The objective was to capture the River Chenab Bridge on Main Supply Route to Indian troops north of Akhnur to cut the main logistics supply line in order to effect a recoil on the Indian forces making ingress in 12 Division area, especially the strategic Hajipir Bulge. Major General Akhter Malik had also planned to attack Jammu after capturing Akhnur blocking any access from Jammu to Pathankot. The Indian troops opposing three Pakistani infantry brigades, two armour regiments (with M47 & M48 Patton tanks) and 1 Corps Artillery comprised one infantry brigade i.e. 191 Brigade and an armour squadron having AMX 13 tanks. The attack proceeded well with commanders like Brigadier Iftikhar Janjua leading from the front and Akhter Husain Malik in full control of the situation.

Chamb was captured on 1st September and while the 12 Division was planning the next phase towards Akhnur, the command of the operation was assigned to GOC 7 Division Yahya Khan. Brig Mehmud remembers a dejected Akhter Hussain Malik coming out of the command post bunker at 102 brigade’s location after meeting with CinC General Musa Khan and VCGS Brigadier Abid Bilgrami. He heard Akhter Malik say, “I even told them that I was ready to serve under Yahya Khan but I should be allowed to proceed with this operation.” The change of command slowed the momentum of attack and a waste of vital 24 hours. Mehmud remembers carrying out reconnaissance on the orders of Yahya Khan ahead of Chamb to see the progress on ground. He saw Indians badly mauled by own artillery with entire area covered in flames and smoke due to fire of 100 Pakistani guns. He landed at several positions and conveyed the real picture to the field commanders.

The advance to Akhnur continued after capture/bypass of Jaurian and Troti and the troops stopped 2km short of Chenab Bridge on the evening of 5th September when Indians had bolted across the river. Yahya however failed to take the bridge which he later rued as his greatest mistake in front of Brig Mehmud. The gilt edged opportunity was lost and the Indians opened another front at Lahore on 6th September. 1 Army Aviation Squadron was told to move to Sialkot under command of 15 Division on 6th September. 15 Division was being commanded by Brigadier Ismail and one of his Brigade Commanders near Narowal had created panic by sending information of capture of Jassar Bridge by Indians. Major General Yahya Khan told Mehmud the Indian main attack would never come from Jassar but from Charwa-Phillorah Chawinda axis. He was proven correct when the Indians opened up their attack with one armoured division and three infantry divisions on that axis.

The false alarm at Jassar had forced 15 Division to move 24 Brigade and 25 Cavalry defending Phillorah-Chawinda approach towards Jassar leaving 3 FF and elements of 13 FF R&S to defend Charwah-Phillorah-Chawinda approach. Mehmud recalls watching the whole action on 8th September when he flew and saw Chawinda and Phillorah positions without any Pakistani troops to oppose Indian tanks advancing towards Chawinda. A major offensive by Indian Armoured Division was progressing unopposed towards Chawinda and MRL Canal. It was a moment of utter helplessness until a miracle happened when Mehmud saw four PAF jets emerging out of horizon and attacking the Indian tanks. The PAF attacks stopped Indian tanks in their tracks which ran to hide in mud houses. A vital one hour was gained by PAF until from nowhere emerged the Bravo squadron of 25 Cavalry that had gone to Jassar due to false alarm. Mehmud observed 14 tanks of 25 Cavalry under their daredevil squadron commander Major Ahmed attacking Indian Centurions and pushing them back. The daring action of 25 Cavalry stopped the Indian armored juggernaut and pushed them back as far as Gadgor.

The second major offensive came on 11th September when Indians advanced on three axes towards Chawinda-Phillorah-Badian with a view to breaking through the Pakistani defences. While 11 Cavalry and 9 FF were under great pressure at Gadgor-Phillorah, the CO 9FF Lt Col Abdul Majeed called CO Guide’s Cavalry on wireless asking for relief. Guide’s Cavalry’s two squadrons formed up in line abreast pattern and attacked in classic horse cavalry charge manner. The attack was witnessed first-hand by Mehmud from air which reminded him of the Charge of the Light Brigade. The attack on the depth positions of Indian 1 Armoured Division so unhinged the enemy that it abandoned its attack any further. A daring Army Aviation pilot Captain Hidayatullah Niazi flew North West of Deg Nadi across working boundary on 14th September and saw a heavy concentration of Indian 14 Division. The information was relayed to PAF that pummeled 14 Division so much that it ceased to be a fighting formation.

On the eve of the ceasefire the much-vaunted Indian armoured division lay mauled having lost 181 tanks, as opposed to 61 Pakistani tanks. For all veterans these numbers and the eyes of 95-year-old Mehmud bear witness that this was their finest hour.

1965 War — Their Finest Hour By Dr Raashid Wali Janjua

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2023.

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