The Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (of East Pakistan) secured an absolute majority in the general elections held in December 1970. This entitled the League to form a Government in Pakistan. The military rulers of Pakistan, however, denied this democratic right to the Awami League. Consequently, the people of East Pakistan rose in revolt. The Government responded with a military crackdown and repression, and the Pak army unleashed a reign of terror and massacred thousands of Bengalis. People started fleeing their homes to save their lives. By November 1971, some 10 million people of East Pakistan had taken refuge in India. Hard-pressed by the burden of refugees, India asked Pakistan to create conditions for their safe return. But Pakistan sought to internationalize the issue by attacking India on 3 December 1971.
The Indo-Pak War of 1971 was the first war when the Indian Government engaged all three arms on a large scale. The War was fought on two fronts, the Eastern and the Western. On the Eastern side, Pakistan adopted the defensive strategy to delay the ingress of Indian troops, while on the Western side, it adopted the aggressive policy to occupy some Indian territory. In contrast, India adopted a defensive strategy on the Western front and an offensive strategy on the Eastern front.
In Eastern theatre, three Indian Corps and 101 Communication Zone Area participated in the War. XXXIII Corps conducted operations between the Jamuna and Padma rivers in the north-western sectors of East Pakistan. It captured Rangpur and Bogra and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The II Corps carried out the operations in the south-western sector of East Pakistan. The Corps fought its way through Jibannagar, Katochandpur, Suadih, Jhendia, and Magura, encountering tough resistance by the enemy. While advance on the Garibpur-Jessore-Khulna axis, Indian troops captured Burinda and Jessore and then moved on to Khulna. The Pak Brigade Commander surrendered here with thousands of his troops. Another thrust into East Pakistan was made from the north by 101 Communication Zone Area. Its Brigade marching on the Kamalpur-Jamalpur-Madhopur axis broke the enemy stronghold at Kamalpur and Jamalpur with massive air and artillery power. Indian troops captured Mymensingh and Madhopur forcing the Pak defending battalions to retreat. It was the FJ Force of 101 Communication Zone Area, which finally made to Decca on 16 December.
Indian IV Corps carried another vital thrust into East Pakistan. Its area of operation stretched from Sylhet in the north to Chittagong in the South. Two Pak divisions defended the sector. The Corps mounted an offensive in the Sylhet area and captured it on 14 December, forcing the enemy to surrender. One of its Divisions operated on the Agartala-Akhura-Ashuganj axis. During an attack on Gangasagar near Akhura on 3 December, Lance Naik Albert Ekka of 14 Guards displayed extraordinary gallantry and won Param Vir Chakra. While advancing through the Himatnagar-Loksham-Chandpur axis, Indian troops further crossed Meghna and reached Decca on 16 December. The precise rocket attack by IAF aircrafts on the Governor’s Secretariat in Decca hastened the Pak decision to surrender.
On the Western front, India maintained a defensive posture to start with. The main battles were fought in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, and Rajasthan. In Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan launched a fierce attack in Chhamb Sector on 3 December. Indian troops repulsed the Pak attack. Subsequently, during the Munnawar Tawi battle, the 191 Indian Brigade deployed in the area decided to pull back. Pak 111 Infantry Brigade, well supported by tanks, advanced over the Indian position of Darh and Raipur crossing. But this adventure proved costly and they had to pull back after suffering heavy losses. The 10 Indian Division regained the lost positions, and it was the end of the Pak misadventure in the Chhamb Sector. Pakistani aggression in the Punch sector also proved unsuccessful. After the initial loss of some areas, the Indian 93 Brigade repulsed the Pakistani attack and recaptured the lost positions. In the Kargil sector, the Indian 121 Brigade captured some important outposts after fierce fighting.
In Punjab Sector, I Indian Corps launched an offensive between Basantar and Ravi rivers to break enemy concentration in the area. The Corps made a double thrust into the Shakargarh bulge, one from the north and other from the east on 5 December. The northern thrust between Basantar and Bein rivers was carried by 54 and 39 Divisions. Indian troops penetrated well inside the Pakistani territory encountering heavy minefields and stiff enemy resistance. Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal of Poona Horse distinguished himself in a fierce tank battle here and was decorated with the Param Vir Chakra. In Shakargarh Sector, another feat of conspicuous courage and leadership was displayed by Major Hoshiar Singh of 3 Grenadiers, and he was also decorated with the Param Vir Chakra. Further, the 36 Division captured Nainakot and Narkot on the Gurdaspur axis. The XI Corps, operating between Dera Baba Nanak and Ganga Nagar, also made some substantial gains. The capture of Dera Baba Nanak by 15 Division was indeed a notable achievement. The Corps made significant territorial gains.
In Rajasthan Sector, 11 and 12 Divisions were deployed to carry a double thrust on the Barmer-Naya Chor axis and Longewala-Rahim Yar Khan axis, respectively. On 3 December, the Pak attack on Longewala was blunted with tactical air support, which cost them 24 tanks and 150 vehicles. 11 Infantry Division overran Pak border posts on the 4 December and advanced 45 km into Pak territory by 11 December. Its attack on Naya Chor could not materialise because of the ceasefire. Further, in the South, Kutch Sector, Indian paramilitary forces made some significant thrusts and captured Vingoor and Chhad Bet Complex.
The Indian Navy performed exceptionally well in both the theatres. The Indian Naval offensive started on December 4, when INS Vikrant based aircraft and ships of the Eastern Fleet struck military targets in East Pakistan. Round the clock attack by the naval aircraft caused extensive damage to Pak military installations and harbours. Cox’s Bazar airfield was damaged, and fourteen Pak ships/coasters and six gunboats were destroyed. The Pak submarine Ghazi was sunk off the coast of Vishakhapatnam. On the Western side, dashing attack by the Indian Naval Task Group on the night of 4 and 8 December on Karachi caused much consternation to the enemy and colossal damage to the Karachi harbor. Indian Navy lost anti-submarine frigate Khukri during the naval operations in the Arabian Sea. Indian Navy indeed achieved its primary objective by establishing effective supremacy over the Arabian Sea. Pakistan Navy remained bottled up in the sanctuary of Karachi harbor for the entire duration of War. Besides securing the safety of Indian merchant ships, the Indian Navy also enforced Contraband Control over the merchant ships approaching Pakistani harbours.
Indian Air Force
Indian Air Force also gave a good account of itself. In a major aerial battle on 22 November, Indian Gnats shot down three of the four Pakistani Sabres, which were on their offensive missions over Boyra on Eastern front. In total, IAF deployed twenty-eight fighter/bomber squadrons on the Western front and ten squadrons on the Eastern front during the War. Since Pakistani pre-emptive strikes on Indian airbases on 3 December, both India and Pakistani air forces conducted several attacks and counterattacks on the adversary to gain air superiority. IAF in all carried some 4300 offensive missions, counter-air and interdiction operations, close air support missions, and recces. Besides containing the Pak Air Force offensive, the primary objective of the IAF was to destroy and disrupt their communication systems, destruct fuel dumps, and ammunition reserves, and contain her ground forces. IAF well achieved these objectives. Its performance, particularly on the Eastern front, was decisive as it achieved total air superiority over the enemy. The IAF supported the army resolutely in the crucial battles of Chhamb and Longewala. Fg Offr Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon distinguished himself in an air battle against Pak sabers at Srinagar on 14 December 1971. He was decorated with Param Vir Chakra.
The War of 1971 lasted for fourteen days. On December 16 at 1630 hrs, Lt Gen AAK Niazi surrendered to Lt Gen JS Arora with 93,000 of his men. Pak forces in East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh) were convincingly defeated in this War. In the West, a large area of Pak territory was occupied by Indian troops. Over 600 officers and men of the Indian Army were decorated with gallantry awards. Of these, 4 earned the Param Vir Chakra, 76 the Mahavir Chakra, and 513 the Vir Chakra. Bangla Desh (East Pakistan) became an independent country after this War.
India-Pakistan War of 1965 was culmination of a series of border skirmishes that punctuated the escalating tension between India and Pakistan. The result of Sino-Indian Conflict 1962 encouraged Pakistan to seek a military solution of the Kashmir issue. A modernised armed force to which USA had contributed substantially by supplying armour, guns and air-craft added to their ambition. Pakistan planned a three phased programme. It first engineered the conflict in Rann of Kutch in April 1965, then carried it over to Kashmir with the launch of ‘Operation Gibraltar’ in August and finally launched ‘Operation Grand Slam’ in September 1965. The War witnessed the largest tank deployment after World War II.
First, Pakistan engineered a dispute in Rann of Kutch. On April 7, they attacked the Indian border at Sradar post, Kanjarkot, Vigokot, Biar Bet, etc., in brigade strength and even overran the first two posts. India moved 50 Para Brigade to check the Pakistani intrusion. Pakistan on its part strengthened her brigade with a tank regiment. On April 23, Pakistan again struck on four border posts and captured Vigokot and Biar Bet. The hostilities however eased on July 1, after the intervention of the British Prime Minister. Though no major gains accrued to either side, Pakistan felt elated by this adventure.
In the second phase, Pakistan tried to grab the valley of Kashmir by infiltration and sabotage. The conspiracy was code named ‘Operation Gibraltar’. 30,000 raiders (Mujahids) with the support of Pakistan army organised in groups infiltrated into Kashmir between August 1 and 5. The Indian XV Corps was deployed to contain the infiltration and it achieved the objective in two weeks time. Further to seal the entry points of infiltrators, 93 Indian Brigade affected the link up to Punch. Mirpur area on river Kihsanganga was taken care by 104 Brigade. The Brigade fought many fierce battles to acquire complete domination over the area. Thus a timely action by Indian Army (19 Division) turned ‘Gibraltar’ into disaster. Meanwhile, Haji Pir Pass was captured in a daring attack by 1 Para regiment.
Pakistan finally launched the operation ‘Grand Slam’ in Chhamb-Jurian sector in Jammu on 1 September 1965 with the aim to capture strategic town of Akhnur and also to cut off the line of communication to western Kashmir. Indian Brigade defending the area could not stop the Pakistani offensive and was overwhelmed. India retaliated by launching diversionary attacks on Pakistan in Lahore, Sialkot and Rajasthan sectors.
Indian XI Corps mounted an attack in Lahore sector across the area extending from Pathankot to Suratgarh. The area along the GT Road axis was assigned to 15 Division, the central sector along the Khalra-Barki axis to 7 Division, and southern sector along Khem Karan-Kasur axis to 4 Mountain Division. Necessary armour and artillery support was also provided to each Division. On the 6 September, 15 Division launched an attack to capture Ichhogil Canal. The troops captured Dograi in first sweep, established a bridgehead over Ichhogil and even reached Batapore on the outskirts of Lahore. They could not, however capitalise on the gains and withdrew when Pakistan retaliated with heavy armour shelling. The second attempt initiated on 10 September brought success when 3 Jat captured Dograi at midnight on 21 September inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
In the central sector, 7 Infantry Division advanced on Khalra-Barki axis with great dash and completed its assignment. The most difficult action during the advance was fought at Barki where 4 Sikh broke all enemy resistance and captured it on 10 September.
In the southern sector, 4 Indian Division had two fold responsibility- capture Pak territory east of Ichhogil and contain the possible enemy attack on Kasur-Khem Karan axis. In fact, Pakistan had planned a powerful offensive in this area. The Indian advance to Khem Karan was thus blunted by Pak counter offensive and 4 Division was forced to withdraw to Asal Uttar. On the night of 8 September, Pakistan tried to outflank the Indian position on the right with a brigade of Patton tanks, but 4 Grenadiers stood like a rock to beat the Pattons back. Havildar Abdul Hamid displayed outstanding courage and destroyed two Patton tanks and damaged one in the battle. He was awarded Param Vir Chakra for bravery of highest order. Another outflanking attempt from left side on Mahmoodpura-Dibbipura axis was foiled by well sited Indian armour regiments trapping Pakistanis from three sides. Pakistan lost 97 tanks including 72 Pattons in the battle of Asal Uttar.
On the right flank 29 Infantry Brigade captured Dera Baba Nanak on 7 September. Indian XI Corps thus generally succeeded in its mission to capture areas east of Ichhogil Canal except in the Khem Karam sector.
In Sialkot sector, 26 Infantry Division (1 Corps) made a diversionary move in the north towards Sialkot. 6 Mountain Division attacked Charwa-Maharajake area and captured it after some fighting. 14 Infantry Division established a bridgehead in Ikhnal area. This set the stage for the advance of tanks. Armour Brigade engaged the Pak armour while 43 Lorried Brigade captured Phillora in a well spirited action on 11 September. Pakistan lost nearly 61 tanks in this battle. 1 Armour Division then proceeded towards Chawinda and succeeded in capturing Jassoran and Batur Digrandi on 16 September. In one of the actions here, Lt Col AB Tarapore, Commanding Officer of Poona Horse, displayed exceptional leadership in a fierce tank battle, and was decorated with Param Vir Chakra. In this sector, 1 Corps destroyed or captured about 180 Pakistani tanks. Meanwhile, in Rajasthan sector, 11 Infantry Division carried operations on Barmer-Hyderabad axis and occupied Gadra in first sweep on 8 September.
Indian Air Force struck heavy blows on Pak formations and air bases during this War. IAF Vampires and Mysteres raided Pak armour advancing on Chhamb-Jurian axis on the very first day of operations. Subsequently, IAF Canberras raided major Pak air bases at Sargodha and Chaklala. Pakistani bases at Akwal, Peshawar, Kohat, Chak Jhumra and Risalwala were also raided. The Mysteres were employed primarily in the ground attack role while Hunters were used for counter interdiction and close support missions. Indian Gnats shot down many Pak F-86 aircraft and this earned it the appellation ‘Sabre Slayer’. The Indian Navy ensured the safety of Indian coastline throughout the War.
The War lasted twenty two days and, the cease-fire was finally agreed upon with effect from 23 September 1965 with the UN intervention. Indian forces occupied 1,920 sq. km. of Pakistani territory. Indian soldiers earned 2 PVC, 37 Mahavir Chakra and 171 Vir Chakra for gallantry during the operations.
Soon after Independence, Pakistan made an attempt to grab the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir by force. It launched an offensive codenamed ‘Operation Gulmarg’ on 22 October 1947. Thousands of armed raiders led by Pakistan Army crossed into the State. They captured Muzaffarabad, Domel, and Uri in quick succession. The State Forces tried to defend the State but were heavily outnumbered and perished to the last man. The raiders entered Baramula on 26 October and subjected the city to indiscriminate killing, loot, and rape. In the circumstances, the Maharaja signed an Instrument of Accession with India on 26 October 1947.
On the morning of 27 October, Indian troops were flown to Srinagar to defend the State. 1 Sikh, which landed first, made a daunting effort to stop the raiders but in the effort lost its commanding officer. The Battalion, however, delayed the raiders’ movement which proved crucial. Soon India inducted more troops in the valley with HQ 161 Infantry Brigade at Srinagar and 50 Para Brigade at Jammu. Subsequently, more soldiers were deployed in Jammu and Kashmir.
On 3 November, an important battle was fought at Badgam, a village adjacent to Srinagar airfield. Major Somnath Sharma of 4 Kumaon displayed outstanding bravery and leadership in this battle and earned the highest gallantry award, the ‘Param Vir Chakra’. Subsequently, the enemy was defeated at Shalateng, about six km from Srinagar. Chasing the enemy, the Indian troops advanced further on to Baramula on 8 November and then captured Uri on 13 November 1947. A relief column of Indian troops from Uri, negotiating inhospitable terrain, managed to reinforce Punch successfully but the seize of Punch by Pakistani forces could be cleared much later.
Meanwhile, situation in Jammu and Punch sectors turned serious and 50 Para Brigade set out to relieve the State Force garrisons at Mirpur, Kotli, Punch, Jhangar, Naushahra, Bhimber, and Rajauri from Pakistani encirclement. But the raiders, some 5,000 in strength, attacked Jhangar on the night of 23/24 December and threatened Naushahra. However, Indian forces beat back attack on Naushahra. Subsequently, Jhangar was also cleared in March 1948. Meanwhile, 268 Brigade was deployed to protect the line of communication. Air Force aircraft did yeomen service by blunting the edge of enemy attack and ensured regular supplies to the beleaguered garrison of Punch until the seize was lifted on 23 November 1948.
In May 1948, Indian forces in J&K were reorganized in Northern and Western sectors. The northern sector was placed under Sri Division (later 19 Division) commanded by Maj Gen KS Thimayya while Western sector placed under Jammu Division (later 26 Division) led by Maj Gen Atma Singh. The Divisions comprised some eight brigades. Lt Gen KM Cariappa, GOC-in-C Western Command, held the overall charge. In September 1948, a Corps HQs (later 5 Corps) was set up under Lt Gen Srinagesh, and two more brigades were moved into Jammu and Kashmir.
During the summer offensive, 161 Brigade advanced on Uri-Domel road while 163 Brigade achieved remarkable success in the Tithwal sector. Pakistanis were so unnerved that they inducted regular army units in support of the raiders. Meanwhile, some raiders approached the valley from the Gilgit area in the north. The Indian forces captured Keran and Gurais and thwarted successive Pakistani attacks on Tithwal.
The situation, however, became critical in Leh when raiders attacked the outposts. Meanwhile, Skardu, defended by Lt Col Sher Jung Thapa for months against all odds, also fell to the raiders. This added to the pressure on Leh. At this critical juncture, RIAF came to rescue as Air Cmde Mehar Singh landed a Dakota on an improvised airstrip ther. IAF thus made an air bridge to reinforce the troops and transport the supplies to Leh.
Meanwhile, Pakistanis had occupied Zoji La and infiltrated into Sonamarg. In November 1948, 77 Para Brigade supported by 7 Cavalry cleverly carried some tanks to Zoji La heights, thus forcind raiders to flee. This paved the way for capturing Dras and linking up the road to Leh. Incidentally, in the recorded history of warfare, Zoji La is the highest altitude on which tanks have ever been deployed.
Tithwal sector remained the most contested area. Pak troops launched repeated counter-attacks to regain some vital features. After intense fighting, the enemy was forced to fall back. Company Havildar Major Piru Singh of Rajputana Rifles and Lance Naik Karam Singh of 1 Sikh were awarded Param Vir Chakra for exceptional gallantry in this sector.
After fourteen months of War, a cease-fire was declared on 1 January 1949. Unfortunately it left one-third of the State territory under Pakistani occupation. An uneasy peace has since prevailed along the Cease Fire Line, now known as Line of Actual Control. During Jammu and Kashmir operations, Indian forces won 5 Param Vir Chakra, 53 Mahavir Chakra, and 317 Vir Chakra for bravery.