The Battle of Chawinda

India/Pakistan War 6 September–23 September 1965

The Battle of Chawinda was a part of the Sialkot Campaign in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. It was one of the largest tank battles since the Battle of Kursk in World War II. The initial clashes at Chawinda coincided with the tank battle near Phillora and the fighting intensified once the Pakistani forces at Phillora retreated. However, the advancing Indian 1st Armored Division was stopped at Chawinda. The battle finally ended due to the UN ceasefire

AREA

Location N32.384; E74.724

 

IMG_1974

Pakistan, Kashmir, India (The Pathankot -Jammu Road straddles the border near the Sialkot salient)

The terrain in the Sialkot area is particularly suited for armour operations, being generally flat and rising gently to the north-east, interspersed with small gullies or ‘nullahs’ that flow from north-east to south-southwest.

 

Select

Chawinda is marked by the pin

ARMED FORCES

Belligerents

 Pakistan

 India

Commanders and leaders
 Maj Gen Abrar Hussain
 Lt Col Nisar Ahmed Khan
 Brig. Sardar M.Ismail Khan
 Brig. S. M. Hussain
 Brig. Abdul Ali Malik
 Brig. Muzzafaruddin
Later:
 Maj Gen Tikka Khan
 Lt Gen Bakhtiyar M.Rana
 Maj Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan
 Brg. Amjad Chaudhry
General Harbaksh Singh: C-in-C Western Command

Lt Gen Pat Dunn
Lt Col Ardeshir Tarapore

 

Strength
30,000-50,000 infantry

22nd cavalry (44x M48)

10th Cavalry (44x Patton)

25th Cavalry (44x Patton)

33th TDU sqn (15x Shermans)

19th Lancers (44x Patton)

11th Cavalry (44x Patton)

Total: 132

+150 (tank reinforcements)

80,000–150,000 infantry

4th Horse (45 x Centurion)

16th Cavalry (45x Centurions)

17th Poona (45x Centurion)

2nd Lancers (45x Sherman)

62nd Cavalry (45x Sherman)

Total 225 tanks[

Casualties and losses
44 tanks (Pakistani claim)

Over 518 km2 (218 mi2) of territory lost

29 tanks lost (Indian claim)

120 tanks (Pakistani claim)

 Pakistan: The Army’s 15th Division had to control a front of some  113 miles approximately, aided by the 6th Armoured Division which had seven armoured regiments. It shared defensive duties with the 8th Division comprising four infantry brigades and four supporting armoured regiments. An Artillery Brigade of IV Corps’  was also moved to this sector from Chhamb.

  • General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Armoured Division: Abrar Husain
  • Director Military Operations (GHQ) Major General Gul Hassan
  • Officiating GOC 15th Division: Brigadier Sattar Ismail
  • Commander 24th Brigade: Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik
  •  Commander Artillery 4th Corps: Brigadier A.A.K. Chaudhry
  • Commander 115 Brigade: Brigadier Muzaffaruddin
  • 24th Brigade Armour Regiment Commander: Lt. Colonel Nisar Ahmed
  • 24th  Brigade, 2nd Punjab, Infantry Commanding Officer: Lt. Col. Jamshed
  • 4 Corps Artillery: Brigadier Amjad Ali Chaudhry
  • Farouk Adam, (Sitara-e-Jurat)
  • 15th Division Commander (new): Major General Tikka Khan
  • 2nd Punjab supporting 25th Cavalry attack: Major Mohammad Hussain Malik

India, Indian I Corps

  • 1st Armoured Division
  • 6th Mountain Division
  • 26th Infantry Division
  • 14th Infantry Division

INDIAN PLAN

IMG_1975

The area of operations is the from the centre of the map toward 2 – 3 o’clock 

  • Indian 1 Corps with its 1st Armoured Division and three infantry divisions had orders to secure the Pathankot–Jammu road by launching a riposte to an anticipated move by Pakistan against Jammu; the private plan of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik that his superiors had thwarted. The aim of the Indian attack was to seize the key Grand Trunk Road around Wazirabad and to capture Jassaran, which would enable the domination of Sialkot–Pasrur railway, thus completely cutting off Pakistani supply line.
  • The Indian 1st Armoured Division would  establish a bridgehead across the international boundary in Pakistani territory, capture Phillora; proceed towards Pagowal and Chawinda to the Marala-Ravi link canal. Meanwhile in a complimentary action, the 14th Infantry Division was to capture Zafarwal and proceed in a north-westerly direction towards Chawinda.
  • The Indian plan was to drive a wedge between Sialkot and the Pakistan’s 6th Armoured Division.

The Pakistani GHQ had ordered all formations to move to their defensive positions on 4th September. The 6th Armoured Division, under General Abrar Husain, complied. When news of the Indian attack came, he was told to move his troops to Pasrur on the night of 6/7 September as a reserve for 1 Corps. The move occurred during the night. Then at midnight, the division’s staff was told to return to their previous position around Gujranwala by 0500 hours on 7 September! This was confirmed by the GOC Abrar Husain who said that the DMO Gul Hassan had given him this order on the telephone. GHQ seemed to be making decisions quite arbitrarily.

But general confusion seemed to reign on the battlefield too. In the Sialkot sector, the 15th Division, apparently based on feeds from the 115th  Brigade, reported that the Indians had broken through in the Jassar area, an improbable feat that would have demanded crossing the River Ravi and then its tributary that was on the Pakistani side of the border. Based on this report, HQ 1 Corps requested the GHQ to give it permission to blow up the bridge at Jassar.

Meanwhile HQ 1 Corps ordered 15th Division, under Brigadier Sardar Ismail,

whom Pakistan military historians were to refer derisively as ‘a Service Corps’ officer, and not someone who belonged to a fighting arm,

to provide assistance to the 115th Brigade. Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, commander 24th Brigade and Brigadier A.A.K. Chaudhry commander 4 Corps Artillery had been moved from Chhamb to help protect the Sialkot sector.

Gul Hassan credits Abdul Ali Malik’s intuition that prevented him from hurriedly inserting his forces into the confused situation. This allowed Abdul Ali Malik’s 24th Brigade and Brigade Chaudhry’s artillery to remain in their defensive positions around Chawinda for what would eventually become the celebrated defence of Chawinda against the Indian 1st Armoured Division. Abdul Ali Malik recalls getting a call on 7 September from the officiating GOC of 15 Division to say that:

A critical situation had arisen in Jassar area where the enemy had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead on Pakistan’s side of the river. . . He wanted me to move to Narowal and stabilize the situation there by counterattack. I pointed out that a large enemy force with armour was concentrated on the other side of the border opposite my brigade, and could attack at any time.

Such a move Malik said would be ‘quite unsound and dangerous.’ Despite this protest, at 1800 hours he was ordered to move to Narowal. He chose not to do so with his entire brigade, and instead took only his small operations group. On arrival, Malik learned from Brigadier Muzaffaruddin, commander 115th Brigade, that Jassar bridge had been blown up that morning. The Indian enclave on the Pakistan side of the Ravi River had been cleared by the 115 Brigade. Malik’s armour regiment commander, Lt. Colonel Nisar Ahmed warned him that should his regiment be moved to Jassar,

 ‘please do not expect a regiment from me when we get back to Chawinda.’

So, Malik told him to bring only one squadron ‘in case it was required.’ He then asked to speak ‘to somebody who had actually seen the Indians on the Pakistan side of the river.’ No one came forward.

The whole picture was one of confusion and uncertainty,’

writes Malik. His infantry commander, Lt. Col. Jamshed, whose battalion would have to launch the attack, was of the view that:

 ‘due to the uncertainty of the situation about the enemy, it would be suicidal to commit the battalion in a night attack in an unknown area without any daylight recce of enemy dispositions.’

Malik concurred.

A commander carries a heavy burden of responsibility in war for the safety of his men. I was not fully convinced myself that a large enemy force could have come across the river without a bridge to support it. If the Indians had really intended to make a breakthrough in this area, they could have easily used their large Dharam enclave for initial concentration, where they already had a boat bridge over Ravi. But they had easily abandoned that enclave under slight pressure,’ recalled Malik.

While discussions were going on about this with the officiating GOC of 15th Division, Sardar Ismail, an urgent message arrived from Sialkot reporting Indian shelling in Suchetgarh and that an attack appeared imminent.

That settled it’ recalls Malik. ‘I took the GOC aside and told him that Jassar was a mere flap and we were both at the wrong place. I pleaded with him to go back to his headquarters, get our orders reversed, and to move us back to our original positions. He agreed and left for Sialkot.’

On his way back during the night, Malik saw a convoy of guns belonging to Brigadier Amjad Ali Chaudhry’s 4 Corps Artillery heading towards Jassar. He stopped them and told them to return. Lucky for them, they managed to get back before daylight when they could have been sitting ducks for the Indian Air Force.

Even the official Indian historian of the war acknowledges that ‘the picture of false Indian pressure at DBN (Dera Baba Nanak), as painted by Brigadier Muzaffaruddin, the brigade commander before his superiors, led to the initial orders for the move of Pak 24 Brigade from the threatened Chawinda sector.

Had the mistake not been rectified, and had the 24 Infantry Brigade not re-occupied its original position, the Pakistanis could have lost the crucial Chawinda battle. Indeed, India expected Pakistan to take advantage of the Dera Baba Nanak bridge and the Pakistan enclave on the Indian side of the Ravi to launch an attack towards Gurdaspur and Pathankot. But having blown up the bridge because of Brigadier Muzaffaruddin and his division commander’s panicky reporting, Pakistan lost that capability of a counter attack.

One of Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik’s officers, Farouk Adam, (himself a winner of the Sitara-e-Jurat), recalls how Malik first heard about the Indian forces opposite Chawinda from a

‘thoroughly shaken engineer Havildar’

who told the CO 2 Punjab, Lt Col. Jamshed, that

the Indians had attacked and taken all our positions ahead of Chawinda.

Wikipedia: The striking force of the Indian 1st Corps was the 1st Armoured Division supported by the 14th Infantry and 6th Mountain divisions and the Indian infantry seized the border area on 7 September. This was followed by a short engagement at Jassoran in which Pakistan lost 10 tanks and it ensured complete Indian domination of Sialkot-Pasrur railway. The Indian 1st Armoured Division’s drive quickly divided, with the 43rd Lorried Infantry Brigade supported by a tank regiment attacking Gat, while the main blow of the 1st Armoured Brigade was hurled against Phillaura. Pakistani air attacks caused moderate damage to the tank columns, but exacted a heavier toll on the truck columns and infantry. The terrain features of the area were very different from those around Lahore, being quite dusty, and the approach of the Indian attack was evident to the 25th Cavalry by the rising dust columns on the Charwah-Phillaura road.

Brigadier Malik immediately ordered his staff to cut all communications with higher headquarters

‘lest they sow any more confusion in the already confused state of affairs and ordered the brigade straight to Chawinda.’

He was later to confirm his move in a wireless exchange with the new division commander, Major General Tikka Khan. 2nd Punjab, he was informed, would join him as soon as it reached there

This was thus, the solitary infantry brigade at Chawinda, bolstered by an armoured regiment. Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, on return to Chawinda, took the extraordinary decision to order the 25 Cavalry with its two squadrons of tanks to attack the oncoming Indian armoured division in extended line formation.

Nisar was ordered to put his two squadron in extended line and go over to the offensive…two squadrons of tanks and one infantry company blunted and beat back what was one armoured division and three of infantry! The sheer momentum of such a massive Indian force should have allowed them to do better. But then who could have predicted that an infantry Brigadier would react in quite the manner that Brigadier Ali had done under the circumstances?

The audacity of this move was more than matched by the performance of the Pakistani armour in that encounter. No one would have blamed him if he had put all available troops in defensive positions around Chawinda. But he did not do this. And for the first time in the history of tank warfare two squadrons took on an armoured division. This momentous decision, not recommended in any text book, was to save Pakistan from total defeat.

We advanced all day in short bursts, from cover to cover. The Indians were retreating by the afternoon. We reoccupied Phillaurah, then Godgore, then Chobara. And Major Mohammad Hussain Malik (of 2 Punjab that was supporting the 25 Cavalry attack) asked half in jest, if the Brigadier (Abdul Ali Malik) would have us take Delhi the same day.’ By nightfall, the troops were overextended and fell back from Chobara. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. But then it was dusk, and the tanks withdrew to leaguer for the night

 Wikipedia: “Realising the threat, the Pakistanis rushed two regiments of their 6th Armoured Division from Chhamb to the Sialkot sector to support the Pakistani 8th Infantry Division there. These units, plus an independent tank destroyer squadron, amounted to 135 tanks; 24 M47 and M48 Pattons, about 15 M36B1s and the remainder Shermans. The majority of the Pattons belonged to the new 25th Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Nisar, which was sent to the Chawinda area. Fighting around the Godgore village between the Indian 1 Armoured division and the Pakistani 25th Cavalry Regiment resulted in the Indian advance being stopped.”

The next day, the puny Pakistani attacking force found a marked map in an abandoned Indian jeep that showed they had been up against the 1st Armoured Division, 6 Mountain Division, 26 Infantry Division, and the 14 Infantry Division!

The Pakistani high command apparently had not anticipated the Indian moves in this sector despite the capture of the dispatch rider on 4/5 September which yielded valuable information about Indian formations and plans. Malik recalls that ‘this lucky find was such an important piece of intelligence that I closed the bag immediately and sent it on to 15 Division for onward dispatch to GHQ . . . However, I was disappointed to learn later that GHQ staff did not consider this intelligence to be genuine. People had read too much military history and considered this to be a plant by the enemy.’ It was only because of the later capture of an operational order in a knocked-out Indian tank that Pakistan’s GHQ could find out the disposition of Indian forces in this sector and their intent. The next day, as Brigadier Malik assessed the situation with his senior commanders, they came under artillery fire. He knew his paltry troops could not hold the territory against a concentrated counter attack. So, he chose to go on the offensive once more, reoccupying Chobara but only to abandon it yet again under a fierce Indian assault.

It took GHQ ‘nearly forty-eight hours to decide upon their next move. Our operational plans had perhaps not taken into consideration all the options open to the aggressor,’ wrote Brigadier Chaudhry, the commander of the Pakistani artillery. The Pakistani artillery meanwhile continued to do enormous damage to the Indian armour and infantry attacks, concentrating fire with speed and accuracy on Indian artillery positions with great effect, forcing the latter to keep well behind the front. Pakistan’s US supplied 155mm long-range guns were especially effective in this regard.

The Indians resumed their attacks on 10 September with multiple corps sized assaults and succeeded in pushing the Pakistani forces back to their base at Chawinda, where they were stopped. A Pakistani counterattack at Phillora was repulsed with heavy damage, and the Pakistanis settled in defensive positions. The Pakistani position at this point was highly perilous, the Indians outnumbered them by ten to one.

Farouk Adam recalls:

We were overextended and so had to abandon Chobara and take up defence around Godgore. The next morning, we discovered a marked map in an abandoned Indian jeep. This showed their entire order of battle… We were stunned by our achievements of the previous day, and made urgently conscious of how pitifully thin we were not the ground. The Indians broke through the position that we had taken back from them and routed our replacement. The signs of defeat were all over—stragglers moving back, some without weapons, some without their helmets and web equipment, without a resemblance of discipline or any sign of cohesion – demoralized troops, defeated. We dug in around Chawinda.

On 11 September, the Indians broke through the Pakistani defences, and Chawinda was threatened again.  But Brigadier Malik stood his ground, indeed moving his own headquarters into the forward lines. ‘Oh my God,’ thought Farouk Adam,

the Old Man is really determined to stake himself out like the Indian Chiefs!’…he assessed that by this time the Indians had come to know exactly what stood against them. They threw everything at us. They often came close to success. Many times, it seemed that our defense had disintegrated, only to be rallied round again…The Pakistani position at this point was highly perilous, the Indians outnumbered them by ten to one…. We held on to Chawinda till the guns fell silent — The News February 11, 1992 By Farouk Adam SJ

However, the Pakistani situation improved as reinforcements arrived, consisting of two independent brigades from Kashmir, 8 Infantry Division, and most crucially, their 1 Armoured Division. For the next several days, Pakistani forces repulsed Indian attacks on Chawinda.

The Indian 1st armoured division managed to capture some territory, but then the armour that was to take part in a pincer movement to reduce Chawinda on 14 September ran into a strong anti-tank screen and a fierce battle occurred with a regiment of Pakistani Pattons. In the words of the C-in-C western command, General Harbaksh Singh:

 ‘The progress of the battle fell far short of expectations. The armour having failed to create the tactical pre-condition for an infantry assault on Chawinda, the attack . . . was called off.

Thus, ended the first battle of Chawinda. In the words of Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik:

This battle . . .  enabled Pakistan to seize the initiative from the Indians and blunted the edge of the massive attack of the powerful Indian armoured division, forcing it to retreat. ‘

The Indian commanders did not give up their aim to capture Chawinda and thus contain Sialkot, and they spent the 15 and 16 September planning afresh. The corps commander reviewed the plans on 16 September along with the commanders of the 1st Armoured Division and 6 Mountain Division, with the 6 Mountain Division being given the job of capturing Chawinda while the 1st Armoured Division and 14 Infantry Division would attempt to get Badiana and Zafarwal. In the runup to the final attack on Chawinda, India got into fierce battles with Pakistani armour and artillery, losing, among others, Lt. Col. A.B. Tarapore of 17 Horse, who was given the highest Indian military honour of the Param Vir Chakra. After that, general confusion took over on the Indian side as misunderstandings arose about the timing of the 35 Infantry Brigade’s move.

  • The Brigade took off on 16/17 September, earlier than planned and was recalled.
  • The attack, originally planned for 17/18 September was thus postponed by twenty-four hours, by when, due to further confusion, the Armoured Division withdrew some troops before the 6 Mountain Division could mount its attack.
  • A large Indian assault on 18 September involving India’s 1st Armoured and 6th Mountain Divisions was repelled, with the Indian 1st Armoured and 6th Mountain divisions taking heavy losses.
  • On 21 September, the Indians withdrew to a defensive position near their original bridgehead, with the retreat of Indian first armoured division, all their offensives were ceased on that front. Pakistani General vetoed the proposed counterattack “Operation Windup.”

By then, the element of surprise had been lost. Pakistan started shelling the forming-up places (FUPs) while the troops were being marshalled for the attack. The operation was in consequence, dislocated from the very beginning. Pakistan’s artillery pounding unnerved the Indian troops, who ended up firing on each other in the confused fog of battle. The two companies of the 4 J& K Rifles that had managed to reach Chawinda were thrown back by Pakistani infantry and armour fire. About 500 J& K Riflemen ‘deserted due to Pakistan’s armour threat, and the remnants of the Gorkhas were found near Lebbe (close to Phillora, already in Indian hands).’The failure to capture Chawinda led to the abandonment of plans to capture Zafarwal and Badiana.

In a stinging indictment of the Indian operations, the Indian C-in-C western command wrote:

The battle is a classic study in command failure and poor execution. Lack of control at Corps level paved the way to defeat—an indifferent leadership at lower levels made disaster inevitable. The depressing combination decided the fate of the battle of Chawinda and foredoomed the outcome of the entire campaign.

Chawinda was a critical battle of the 1965 war, for had it fallen to the Indian attack, Sialkot’s right flank was open and, as Gul Hassan states, India would have forced a fight with Pakistan’s 6 Armoured Division in the closed space on the eastern bank of the Marala –Ravi link canal, depriving the Pakistani armour freedom of movement.

The normally taciturn and modest Abdul Ali Malik writes in his unpublished memoirs that:

If I had not acted as I did on my own initiative on 8 September, to advance and intercept the enemy attack without orders, and perhaps, technically against my orders to stay put at Pasrur, there would have been no battle of Chawinda to talk about. The enemy would have gone beyond Chawinda and Badiana before 1 Corps or GHQ could intervene in the battle. Thus, there might have been battles of Pasrur, Sialkot or Daska, but no battle of Chawinda.’
As it turned out, the Indian attack on a narrow front led to the biggest tank battle since the Second World War. But India’s poor generalship came to Pakistan’s rescue. India kept attacking Chawinda head-on instead of bypassing it. That, combined with the spirited defence of Chawinda under Major General Abrar Husain, commander 6 Armoured Division, the concentrated use of Artillery by Brigadier Chaudhry (according to a fire plan developed by his Brigade Major Aleem Afridi), and the troops of 24 Brigade under Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, was to save Sialkot from the Indian onslaught. But it was a close call.

Captured_Indian_Centurion_tank_in_1965_War_near_Chawinda,_Sep_1965

Captured Indian Centurion tank in 1965 War near Chawinda,_Sept. 1965

According to the Pakistani C in C the operation was cancelled since “both sides had suffered heavy tank losses……would have been of no strategic importance….” and above all “the decision…was politically motivated as by then the Government of Pakistan had made up their mind to accept cease fire and foreign sponsored proposals”.

Wikipedia: On 22 September, the United Nations Security Councilunanimously passed a resolution that called for an unconditional ceasefire from both nations. The war ended the following day. The military and economic assistance to both the countries had been stopped when the war started. Pakistan had suffered attrition to its military might and serious reverses in the battle at Khemkaran and Chawinda which made way for the acceptance the UN Resolution.

Wikipedia: At the end of hostilities on 23 September 1965, India held about 200 square miles (518 square kilometres) of Pakistani territory in the Sialkot sector including the towns and villages of Phillora, Deoli, Bajragarhi, Suchetgarh, Pagowal, Chaprar, Muhadpur, Tilakpur south east and east of Sialkot city, which were returned to Pakistan after the Tashkent Declarationin January 1966

The CGS at GHQ in Rawalpindi, General Sher Bahadur, was reported by General Gul Hassan to have wanted to distribute the artillery in pockets throughout the front. This would have dissipated its effectiveness. The director artillery at GHQ Brigadier Reilly, and Brigadier Amjad Chaudhry persuaded Gul Hassan not to follow this advice. At the field command level, the hesitancy and panicked responses of the acting GOC 15 Division coupled with the reported suggestion of Brigadier Hisham El-Effendi (who had been posted by GHQ as an advisor to General Husain) to withdraw the 6 Armoured Division from Chawinda could have doomed Pakistan’s defences. It was evident that Pakistan’s senior commanders had been elevated too rapidly to senior levels, without adequate preparation in strategy or even tactics involving large formations. The little training, they had dealt with historical campaigns and the Second World War—on a scale that did not fit the canvas of either India or Pakistan. The 1965 war was more of a slug fest between two equally matched amateur boxers.

Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik: “He had fought in the World War II and won the MBE due to his bravery as a young army lieutenant. Later in the 1965 War, he was awarded the gallantry award, Hilal-i-Jurat, for leading an infantry brigade as part of the 6th Armoured Division that fought the famous tank battle with the Indian Army at Chawinda in Sialkot and halted the advance of the invading Indian troops in Pakistan’s territory.”

1965_War_the_Australian_Newspaper

Courtesy of: Excerpts from Crossed Swords by Shuja Nawaz Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York 2010; Wikipedia.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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