(D S SARAO)
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
1 It was a captured Pakistan Survey map, one inch to a mile -1964 edition, an American Field Telephone TA-1/PT serial No 15838, a water bottle, a pair of binoculars and an American bayonet, alongwith a couple of B&W photographs of the ‘65 operations taken by my father that finally persuaded me to do some research about the battle of Barki, which almost saw the Indian Army knocking (unsucessfully) at the gates of Lahore. I had just come back home on the annual term break from BCS Simla to Ferozepur, where my father, Lt Col (then Maj) H S Sarao, SM was posted as a Battery Commander in 165 Field Regiment (7Artillery Brigade /7Infantry Division). It did help that after the cease-fire, when Barki village was declared ‘open’ for civilians, media, politicians and families, I too had managed a ‘conducted’ tour of Barki. Years later, as the second – in – command of a medium regiment when I was posted to the same formation in Ferozepur, I had an excellent opportunity to go through some pretty accurate war records of the ‘65 operations as available in the Divisional and Artillery Brigade archives.
2 The operations of 7 Infantry Division in the Barki area are well recorded and a vast amount of material is available in various war diaries, newspaper clippings, magazines as also on the net, but I decided to add a personal note by recounting the experiences of some of the dramatis personae who actually fought the battle. A tremendous amount of information of the battle as it unfolded was provided by my father. I also interviewed Maj Gen J S Bhullar, AVSM, VSM a close friend of my father and the CO 16 Punjab in 1965, now leading a retired life in Chandigarh. I had also met late Brig Desmond Hayde, MVC who was the CO 3 Jat (Batapur and Dograi fame) during the ‘65 operations. Brig Hayde , a fearless soldier passed away in 2013. He had come for a Jat Regimental re-union to Barielly in 2009 and I had obtained first hand information from him of his experiences of the ‘65 and ‘71 wars.
3 I did manage to get a lot of historical data, specially anecdotes pertaining to the other side of the hill , from Naveed Tajammal Hussain Malik, son of the much respected Major Gen Tajammul Hussian Malik of the Pak Army. Gen Tajammal (then Lt Col) was the CO 3 Baluch opposite the Indian 15 Infantry Division sector in 1965. Later , during the ’71 war, as a Brigade Commander (Pak 205 Infantry Brigade at Bogra.– Eastern sector) he held the singular distinction of not surrendering with some of his units which continued fighting even after Pak forces formally surrendered to Indian forces in Dhaka. Gen Lacchman Singh who was Gen Tajammals opposing commander in the Hilli-Bogra sector(1971 war) has written about this in his book, ‘Indian sword strikes in East Pakistan’. Interestingly, Gen Tajammal had been commissioned from OTS Bangalore and had joined the 7 Rajput Regt in Feb1946. The two officers from 7 Rajput who were transferred to the Pak Army after partition were Tajammal and his senior, Nawaz Malik, both posted to 3rd/8th Punjab which later became 3 Baluch in 1957. Both officers rose to the rank of General officers in the Pak Army.
4 The Gen was indicted and imprisoned for a coup attempt against Gen Zia-ul-Haq in 1980 along with his son Naveed Malik who had also been commissioned in 3 Baluch and was the Adjutant of the Battalion at that time. It is not common knowledge that there were two earlier coup attempts, the first in Feb1976 and the second on 26 June 1977 which went undetected, till the third one in which Gen Tajammal and Naveed were implicated in March 1980 .Both were tried by a FGCM on a joint – single Charge Sheet,with nine different charges. Gen Tajammal was given life imprisonment and Naveed got 10 years RI. It was in the jail that the Gen dictated Naveed his book,’The Story of My Struggle‘, later published by Jhang publishers. Gen Tajammal was released in 1988 after Zia’s mysterious plane crash and passed away in 2003. His book covers certain aspects of both the ‘65 and ‘71 wars.
5 I found it strange that though in all the material authored by Indian writers and in various records available on the Indian side, the commencement of the Indo-Pak hostilities was squarely attributed to Pakistan whereas a large number of books and research papers/commentaries by Pak authors claim that the ’65 war was started by India, when it launched its counter offensive by crossing the IB. As far as a true military commentary on the operations in the Punjab sector are concerned, Maj (retd) A H Amin, 11 PAVO Cavalry, Pakistan, in his article (‘The Battle for Ravi-Sutlej Corridor 1965 – A Strategic and Operational Analysis’) gives perhaps one of the most truthful and dispassionate analysis of the happenings specially in the Ravi-Satluj corridor. On the other extreme are various papers/write-ups/commentaries of not much military/historical significance. A lot of writers (Yasin Khan for one) also tend to gravitate more towards hype, romanticism and mythology.
How The War Started-Some Myths and SomeTruths
6 Who started the war or to put it more palatably – how did the war start ?? Just as it would be naïve for the Indians to keep repeating that the ‘71 war was started by Pakistan it would be extremely myopic to continue haranguing now, almost half a century after that war, that India was the aggressor in 1965. In 1971 Indian regular troops were already making forays across the IB in what was then East Pakistan. All that happened was that Pakistan pre-empted the planned Indian offensive by commencing hostilities along the Western front on 03 December whereas the Indians had planned to launch their offensive for 04 December.
7 Emboldened by the rather timid and weak response of the Indian politico-military leadership during the Kutch crisis , Operation Gibraltar was conceived to get back the Indian part of Kashmir through a covert operation. A plan which almost all Pakistani and neutral analysts have maintained was ‘a clumsy attempt’ to wrest control of ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir’ and was doomed to collapse. It is interesting that the Pak columnist Lt Col (retd) Mukhtar Ahmad Gilani (‘Panoramic Analysis —Senior and Junior Leaders —Aug 1947 to Dec 1971‘ calls the Pak foray into J&K as a ‘counter-offensive’. He states that ‘’After launching the counter offensive (sic) in Chamb-Jaurian Sector the Pakistan high command (the President, the C-in-C and the CGS) had failed to foresee the strategic counter action of the Indian Army against Sialkot, Lahore and Kasur, in view of the foreign office assurance, that India would confine its retaliation to the territorial limits of Kashmir’’. It is a known fact that the Indian thrust across the IB was infact a counter offensive in retaliation to ‘Gibraltor / Grand Slam’.
8 According to then Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Nur Khan, there was little coordination amongst the military services on the impending operation. In any case the plan went completely awry in execution . The infiltrating troops and a large number of irregular and ‘volunteers’ known as the ‘Gibraltar Force’ were organized and commanded by GOC 12 Infantry Division , Major General Akhtar Malik, subsequently awarded the Hilal-i-Jurat for his role in the planning and execution of Gibraltar. In one of the biggest mysteries and blunders related to the inept Pak handling and lack of higher direction of war (not that the Indians did any better, in this war atleast), he was in-explicably replaced by Maj Gen Yahya Khan (later Chief) just when Akhnur was within the grasp of the Pak Army !
9 Ahmad Faruqui, the well known defense analyst and economist (‘Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan’) says that when he asked Sajjad Haider, a retired Air Commodore (author of the book,’ Flight of the Falcon – Demolishing myths of Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971‘, to name the aggressor, ’ Nosy’ Haider, a PAF fighter pilot (‘jaunty-angled cap, silk scarves, special boots, and even the way they stand’), known for his rather controversial but no holds barred comments, not mincing any words said very unequivocally, ‘Ayub perpetrated the war.’
10 Any how, be that as it may , Gibraltar was launched and India after an initial phase of set backs , in a series of retaliatory operations, managed to eliminate the saboteurs and capture some tactically advantageous Pak posts across the Cease Fire Line. The loss of Hajipir Pass in August ’65 along with Indian successes in the Neelam Valley and opposite Uri unnerved the Pakistani GHQ which assumed that Muzaffarabad was about to be addressed next . It was under these circumstances that the Pak GHQ ordered launch of Operation Grand Slam on 01 September 1965 to cut off the Indian supply lines to J& K. So was Grand Slam initiated as a result of Indian aggression or was it a continuum of the already initiated but now precariously poised Pakistani plan to whip up the local Kashmiri population to a frenzy, so that the larger plan to integrate the state of J & K to Pakistan could be fructified??
11 Brig (retd) Shaukat Qadir, an impartial and independent analyst clearly mentions that Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam was ‘one of a number of contingency plans that had been prepared to support Gibraltar’. Operation Grand Slam basically intended to sever the road link between India and Indian held Kashmir once the valley was up in flames. Operation Grand Slam was four phased says Shaukat Qadir ( ‘The 1965 War-A Comedy of Errors)’: the capture of Chamb, the crossing of river Tawi and consolidation, followed by the capture of Akhnur, and finally severing the Indian lines of communication and capturing Rajauri. As mentioned earlier , the failure of Gibraltar resulted in the loss of some key Pak posts in Kashmir, and it was then that Operation Grand Slam was undertaken to relieve pressure on the Pak troops in Kashmir.
12 Maj (Retd) Agha Humayun Amin (‘Grand Slam-A Battle of Lost Opportunities’) mentions that on being briefed by Major General Akhtar Malik (GOC 12 Infantry Division) on the Gibraltar plan, Ayub suggested that 12 Infantry Division should also capture Akhnur. This attack was codenamed ‘Operation Grand Slam’ and was planned as a sequel to ‘Gibraltar’. Similarly Shaukat Riza, the official historian (Pak) of the 1965 War has admitted that by 31 August once the Indians had ruptured 12 Infantry Division’s defences across the cease fire line, the Pak GHQ decided to launch Grand Slam to ease pressure on the Division by capturing Chamb and threatening Akhnur. In an extremely aggressive, well planned and confident move, Pak infantry units backed by armour overran the Indian outpost in Chamb in the initial phase itself, crossed the Tawi river and were headed towards Akhnur in order to cut off India’s line of communication with Srinagar.
13 The Indians were now under tremendous pressure and the military situation was getting precarious in the Kashmir sector. Ahmad Faruqui puts it on record ‘’ that the Indian response on Sept 06 across the international border at Lahore was a natural counter-response, not an act of aggression.’’ To relieve forces almost cut off in their part of Kashmir, the Indian Government took the momentous decision, as advised by Gen J N Chaudhuri, to open another front across the IB. The aim was to relieve the pressure in J&K where the situation was getting uncomfortable for the Indian Army.
The Western Front –The Indian Riposte
14 Following this, the Indian Army then counterattacked by crossing the international border thus opening the Western front in Pakistan Punjab to force the Pakistan Army to relocate troops and distract the Pak Army’s attention and resources away from Operation Grand Slam. And thus started the second Indo – Pak war of 1965. Yes, there were no declarations of war made by the adversaries, either when the Pak troops crossed over in J&K nor later when the Indian troops crossed over in the Punjab. Circumstances and perceptions may differ on warring sides, but historical facts cannot be changed or misrepresented for partisan reasons. In this article, to be fair, events as they unfolded have been recorded as viewed from both sides.
The XI Corps Plan (India)
15 Coming on now to the Indian counter-offensive which entailed the opening of the second front. This study is being restricted to the operations of XI Corps ( Lt Gen J S Dhillon who later rose to be Central Army Commander ) in so far as 7 Infantry Div and the Barki battle are concerned. The Indian plan envisaged a major attack in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor employing XI Corps with its three Divisions , 4 Mountain Division (Maj Gen Gurbaksh Singh), 7 Infantry Division (Maj Gen S K Sibbal) and 15 Infantry Division (Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad , later sacked), along the three axis with15 Infantry Division on the Amritsar-Lahore axis, 7 Infantry Division on the Khalra-Barki-Lahore axis and 4 Mountain Division on the Khem Karan-Kasur axis. Each division had two brigades while their third brigade was held by 11 Corps as reserve, for other tasks. The Divisions had their organic artillery brigades( mainly 25 Pdrs). 21 Independent Artillery Brigade consisting of one medium 5.5’’and one heavy regiment (7.2’’ howitzer ) was also part of 11 Corps. Pradeep Barua in his book ,’The State At War In South Asia’ (Chapter 10 ,The Second Indo Pakistan War) gives a fairly good over-view of XI Corps operations on the Lahore front. The only factual error made here is when he mentions that , ‘’ The Pakistani’s had blown up the bridge (Hudiara), which meant that Indian Army engineers had to construct a Bailey bridge that afternoon under air and artillery attack.’’ There was no air activity by, either PAF or the IAF and neither did the bridging site come under artillery fire.
Pak 1 Corps
16 On the Pak side in this sector was 1 Corps (Khariyan) under Lt Gen Bukhtiar Rana, MC, the Corps Commander with 10 Division (Major General Sarfaraz Khan) and 11 Division (Maj Gen Abdul Hamid Khan). 10 Division had seven infantry battalions, 23 Cavalry, 30 TDU and some Rangers and was defending Lahore and Bedian area with its three Brigades (22,103 and 114). 103 Brigade with two battalions and a squadron of 30 TDU had about 20,000 yards of front with the Burki Road and Hudiara Siphon crossings of the BRBL. 11 Infantry Division with two Brigades (21 and 106) was deployed southwards up to Kasur. Noteworthy here is the strong artillery complement which the Pak formations enjoyed at the time , an advantage they were to permanently lose in subsequent years. Pak 10 Division artillery included 30 Heavy Regiment consisting of eight 155 mm guns (American) and four 8’’ Howitzers (American). In addition, the Division had three medium regiments supporting its three infantry Brigades plus one more medium regiment and two locating batteries. Pak 11 Infantry Division had three field regiments, one mortar troop, one medium regiment, one heavy regiment (eight 8‘’ Howitzers and four 155 mm guns) and a corps locating regiment.
Khalra-Barki-Lahore Axis-7 Div Operations
17 In accordance with the plan , on the night of 05/06 September 1965, the Indian XI Corps began its operations by advancing towards Lahore along three axis : Amritsar-Lahore, Khalra-Burki- Lahore and Khem Karan-Kasur roads. For operations along Khalra –Burki-Lahore axis , 7 Infantry Division was given a two phase plan for the capture of Barki and the advance upto the Ichogil Canal. In Phase One, it was to advance with 48 Infantry Brigade (Brig KJS Shahane) supported by a tank squadron less one troop Central India Horse ( CO Lt Col SC Joshi later KIA , Sep 12) along axis Khalra-Barki capturing Barki and securing the adjacent bridge over the Ichogil Canal (BRBL) by last light 06 September. Simultaneously, 17 Rajput (Lt Col AS Gill) of 48 Inf Bde was independently tasked to block any Pak ingress from Bedian .
18 The Division plan envisaged establishment of a firm base by 65 Infantry Brigade (Brig. L. Farras) and then an advance along axis Wan – Bedian to secure Bedian by the evening of 06 Sep. 65 Infantry Brigade was thereafter to send one battalion to secure and destroy the bridge over Ichhogil Canal near village Hira. Subsequently in Phase Two, 65 Infantry Brigade was to carry out mopping up operations up to the Eastern bank of Ichhogil Canal. To put things in the right perspective Hudiara was about 4 Kms from the IB , Barki 9.5 Kms and Lahore about 33.5 Kms from the IB.
19 In addition to its integral artillery , the Division had a Battery of 40 Medium Regiment in support. Simultaneously an independent task force directly under 7 Division HQ comprising 17 Rajput and one tank troop (Central India Horse), supported by a regiment strength of artillery and a field company of engineers was to cross the border at axis Wan-Bedian and secure Bedian by last light 06 Sep. In Phase Two, 65 Infantry Brigade was to carry out mopping up operations along BRBL and also destroy all bridges on BRBL within 7 Division area of responsibility.
The Indian Advance Upto Hudiara
20 Accordingly, 48 Infantry Brigade concentrated at Sidhwan – Mughal Chak and 65 Infantry Brigade at Marimegha with one of its battalions (17 Rajput) at Marikamboke. On 06 Sep ’65 morning, 7 Indian Infantry Division crossed the IB at about 0430 hours and headed for Ichhogil Canal, along the Khalra-Burki-Lahore axis. 4 Sikh (65 Infantry Brigade) and 6/8 Gorkha Rifles (48 Infantry Brigade) captured the assigned Pakistani Border Out Posts (BOPs) overcoming minor opposition of the Pak Sutlej Rangers and the Customs Check Post near Bedian. The Rangers posts at Theh Sarja Marja and Rakh Hardit Singh were cleared by 4 Sikh and the post at Ghawindi Barrier by 6/8 GR. It was at Ghawindi Barrier that an incident (not many are aware of it, neither is it recorded anywhere) took place which deserves mention. Once the Barrier was captured and the Pak Rangers were being disarmed , one of the Pak Rangers bayoneted an Indian officer (6/8 GR) , there is only conjecture as to the provocation but with adrenalin running high on both sides, the response of the Gurkha soldiers was swift and angry. Further details are lost in the mists of time.
21 6/8 GR (Lt Col GA Nagle) now leading reached the Hudiara Drain by about 07 00 hours where the advance , till now almost unopposed, stalled because of Pak artillery fire and opposition by a Pak advance position.The Indian troops drew fire from Hudiara village, Hudiara Bridge area and Nurpur village. By 1000 hours Hudiara village was secured. Nurpur village, Hudiara Drain and the area around was finally captured by 6/8 GR and 5 Guards (Lt Col FS Sondhi) with Squadron CIH by late evening by an outflanking manoeuvre, though the planned timings and the progress of operations had already gone awry to some extent. But there is a story here related to 48 Infantry Brigade’s advance and subsequent capture of the Hudiara Bridge, as from this point onwards the Commander 48 Infantry Brigade was ’relieved’.
22 On the other side , Major Shafqat Baloch , Company Commander , Delta Company 17 Punjab Regiment (Haidris) though wounded in the action here, had opposed the Indian advance valiantly and was later awarded the “Sitara-e-Jurrat” for his action. His citation reads, “But for this officer’s gallant, bold and inspiring leadership the whole defence of Lahore would have been jeopardized’’. Interestingly, there was no major battle here though the well lead Pak troops (probably less than a platoon) did manage to delay the leading elements of 48 Infantry Brigade and unnerve the Brigade Commander. A number of Pakistani civilians from bordering towns and villages were taken as POWs and both sides did suffer a few casualities. It therefore is inconsistent with the facts on ground when Lt Col (retd) Syed Shahid Abbas (‘Nine Crucial Hours – When Courage Outmaneuvered Strength’) writes that ‘‘after the declaration of ceasefire on 23 September as per the information received from across the border, the Indians had suffered 400 casualities’’. Equally incongruous is that Gen Harbaksh in his book ‘War Despatches’ (Para 43,Page 49 ) mentions —‘’General Officer Commanding 7 Division appreciating that 48 Infantry Brigade had suffered fairly heavy casualities in the battle for Hudiara Drain, switched 65 Infantry Brigade Group into the lead—‘’ . This was certainly not the case as we shall see later on. Infact the same can be verified from 48 Infantry Brigade records and from the casuality returns of 7 Infantry Division even today.
No move, No Provocative Action !!
23 Let us go back for a moment now and see what was happening on the Pak side as the Indian Army was approaching its jump off positions to open a second front. Maj (retd) A H Amin says that on 04 Sep night the Pakistani GHQ had sent a signal to all formations asking them to take “necessary defensive measures” against India. War had not yet broken out but Pakistan had already launched an infantry division/armored brigade size attack in Indian Held Kashmir on 01 Sep. The signal read ——-
‘‘ PakArmy DTE Sept 042230:Latest Intelligence reports indicate Indian concentration on both East and West Pakistan and such flash announcements on All India Radio as QUOTE Pakistanis attacking Jammu etc. UNQUOTE indicate their aggressive intention, formations will take necessary defensive measures (.) All Informed.’’
24 This signal from the Pak GHQ appears to be a classic case of what is known in Army parlance as ‘keeping one’s tail clear’. It is on record that on the night of Sep 05/06, HQ 10 Infantry Division (Pak) checked with the Military Operations Directorate regarding move of troops to their operational positions on the border. They were told that “the Foreign Ministry had not yet given clearance for such a move, therefore, the GHQ cannot order this move in writing. However, the local Garrison Commander can of course, use his own discretion.” One of the reasons contributing to many such indecisions and lack of clarity as well as inability to exploit fleeting windows of opportunity in the absence of a broader combat picture was, as Brig(retd) Shaukat Qadir (Why Pakistan lost Akhnur-Operation Grand Slam) has pointed out , because the Pak Army at that time did not have the concept of a Corps HQ between the Div and the GHQ!! During the 65’ war there was only one Corps HQ in the Pak Army and only two officers of Lt Gen rank, Bakhtir Rana and Altaf Qadir, one of them on secondment to CENTO). In this case the Brigade Commander (Brig Aftab) responsible for the defence of this sector did take up the matter, unsuccessfully, with Gen Sarfraz, GOC 10 Infantry Division that if the troops were not permitted to take up battle positions ‘’the Indian tanks would obviously have a free run.’’
25 With the instructions being what they were ( no move, no provocative action), the matter was not taken up with either the Corps Commander Gen Bukhtiar Rana at Khariyan or the Army Chief, Gen Musa, none the less, ‘’some younger battalion commanders used their discretion and moved out by 6 pm from the cantonment reaching the BRB by midnight” (Some anecdotes of 1965 war-Ikramullah). In any case , none of the troops which moved to their defensive locations were in a position to either dig their defensive positions or lay any mines due to paucity of time. In fact Maj Shafqat Baloch with some troops had reached Hudiara Drain by 0200 hours on September 06 while the Indian advancing elements reached Hudiara drain around 0730 hours. It was a very close call but for the initiative shown by some young Pak company and battalion commanders in both 10 and 11 Division sectors.
A Brigade Commander Is Sacked
26 Coming back to the advance of 48 Infantry Brigade, where after the capture of Hudiara, an interesting development was taking place. The advance of 48 Infantry Brigade had been slow mainly because of the spirited opposition and caution imposed by Maj Shaquat and his Company though ultimately Hudiara village was taken by 1030 hours and Hudiara Drain and Nurpur village were cleared by late afternoon. 48 Infantry Brigade had suffered some losses, certainly not alarming or as debilitating as the Commander made out to be during its advance and subsequent capture of the Hudiara Bridge and Nurpur village. The Brigade was then ordered to firm-in astride the axis along Hudiara Drain while the Engineers were ordered to construct a Bailey bridge over Hudiara Drain not far from the original site. It was sometime in the afternoon of 07 Sep that the Army Commander ( Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh , VrC ), the Corps Commander ( Lt Gen J S Dhillon ) and the GOC 7 Inf Div ( Maj Gen H K Sibal ) arrived in the area to review the situation. Not happy with the progress of operations and noting a discernible reluctance and lack of an aggressive mind set on part of the Commander 48 Infantry Brigade to further progress the operations, ‘because of casualities suffered’, (which at that point of time were neither large nor alarming in respect of both the adversaries), the Commander was sacked on the spot with – ‘report to Army HQ , they will find a suitable job for you’, or words to that effect. His replacement, the new Commander, Brig Piara Singh MC,VrC later took over the Brigade on 16 Sep.
Onwards To Barki
27 By 06 Sep Barki village was held by a platoon of 17 Punjab under Major Aziz Bhatti (Company Commander Alpha Company) reinforced with another platoon of 12 Punjab along with some elements which had fallen back from Hudiara. Two companies 17 Punjab were also reportedly on the West bank of Ichhogil Canal and the bridge area on the Eastern side. The canal itself was a formidable obstacle 112 feet wide, 30 feet deep with water depth of about 20 feet. The Western bank was higher having bunkers and defence works. In addition there were elements of Reconnaissance & Support Battalion in the area. A few tanks were also reported on the West of the Canal. Thus, to secure the bridge it was imperative to capture Barki village. Duncan Mcleod in his book (‘India and Pakistan: Friends, Rivals Or Enemies?’) mentions that it was this irrigation canal, part of the Punjab’s elaborate irrigation system which stopped the Indian forces from reaching Lahore.
28 Barki village is situated on the East bank of Ichhogil Canal. Eleven concrete pill-boxes with good fields of fire dominated the approaches to the village. Each pill-box was 15 feet square, with 3 feet thick walls and roof made of reinforced cement concrete. Three of the four walls had each a steel-shuttered aperture for weapons, while the fourth side had the entrance door. Each pill-box was a formidable nest manned by three men with automatic weapons and was stocked with ample ammunition.
29 On 07 Sep the advance by 65 Infantry Brigade, 4 Sikh leading commenced from Hudiara with CIH (less Alpha squadron) under command. 165 Field Regiment was in direct support with balance 7Artillery Brigade plus one Battery each of 66 Field Regiment and 82 Light Regiment in support. As the advance progressed artillery fire was being constantly provided to the infantry with Pak positions in and around Barki being engaged. Most of Sep 07, 08 and 09 were taken to complete certain preliminary operations and in cleaning up the area of Pak snipers and stragglers. In between there was a false alarm when the advancing Indian troops, now consolidating their positions ahead of Hudiara and preparing for the assault on Barki were ordered ro pull back to Bhikiwind, perhaps to reinforce the Khemkaran sector where an armour threat had developed. It was entirely due to the confusion and uncertainity which exists during battle that the Pak forces had not got wind of this withdrawal. The fog of war had helped the Indians and quietly 65 Infantry Brigade retraced its steps and the troops were back in the positions they had vacated just sometime back. Maj Gen Bhullar (then Lt Col , CO 16 Punjab) confirmed to me that unfortunately the IAF was not active in the Barki sector and by 07 Sep even the FAC with the Brigade was withdrawn. No air support was thus available. But fortunately even the PAF was not seen in this sector though the adjoining Indian 15 Infantry Division suffered a number of air strikes during their advance.
30 4 Sikh was tasked for the capture of Barki alongwith CIH less a Squadron , 7Arty Brigade plus 66 Field Regiment, 82 Light Regiment and 5 Field Regiment (less a Battery). Armour was to lead the assault of 4 Sikh along the main axis . The Battalion was then to move to the east of the village and reorganise after capture of the objective. A company of 4 Sikh was also tasked to assist tanks in crossing the Barki Drain as exploitation, once the main objective was captured.
31 As part of the preliminary operations it was necessary to secure certain villages and strongpoints outlying Barki village itself. 9 Madras (Lt Col B.K. Satyan) secured Barka Kalan on 07 Sep and 4 Sikh secured Barka Khurd on 08 Sep. 16 Punjab secured Brahmanabad and completed the extension of the firm base for attack on Barki by the evening of 09 Sep. Since accurate and observed fire was continuously being directed on the Indian troops from Barki village, Maj H S Sarao , the Battery Commander with 16 Punjab was asked to engage Pak positions in and around the village. A three storey house in the village, suspected by the officer to be a Pak observation post came under special attention and heavy Indian artillery fire. It is confirmed from the records maintained by Gen Tajammul that, ‘’Maj Aziz Bhatti and Capt Mahmood Anwar Shiekh of(Pak) 24 Medium Regiment had positioned themselves on the roof top of a house in village Barki’’. Captain Mehmood Anwar was the Pak artillery observer with Maj Bhatti’s platoon. After the capture of Barki, CO 16 Punjab Lt Col Bhullar and his Artillery Battery Commander Maj Sarao had gone and searched this very house on 11 Sep.
32 It was decided to put in a night attack to capture Barki. The attack on Barki began on the night 10 Sep 1965. From 1930 to 2000 hours there was an exceptionally heavy barrage let lose by the Indian artillery on Barki and the East bank of Ichhogil. After two hours of fighting, Barki was ultimately in Indian hands. 4 Sikh lived up to its reputation and added the Battle Honour Barki to their list of battle honours. Subedar Ajit Singh of the Battalion was posthumously awarded Maha Vir Chakra. The Battalion also earned three Vir Chakras, three Sena Medals and four COAS Commendation Cards. Naib Risaldar Jagdish Singh of the CIH was also awarded Vir Chakra.
33 There were casualities on both sides but nothing like the four truckloads of corpses including the dead body of Maj Aziz Bhati—‘’ lifted from the battle field by the Pakistanis after permission was given for collection of their dead.’’ This excerpt as mentioned in Para 47 Page 53 by Gen Harbaksh in his book ‘War Despatches’ needs to be corrected. Maj Bhatti died the next day ie 11 Sep because of Indian artillery shelling while directing Pak artillery fire in support of Maj Abdul Habib Khan. The Maj was from the same 12 Punjab Company which was with the Pak 17 Punjab Company earlier in Hudiara and Barki areas. Major Habib Khan and seven soldiers of Pak 12 Punjab were killed by machine gun fire in an operation on 11 Sep while trying to evict the Indian (16 Punjab) lodgement on the West bank. Maj Bhatti too was mortally wounded by Indian artillery shelling in the same operation at almost the same time. It has been incorrectly written at a number of places that Maj Bhatti was hit by a tank shell or that he died in action on 10 Sep (or even 12 Sep as mentioned elsewhere). Maj A H Amin (‘The Battle for Ravi-Sutlej Corridor 1965- A Strategic and Operational Analysis’) also confirms that, ’’ Major Aziz Bhatti who was later awarded the Nishan-I-Haidar was the 17 Punjab Company Commander at Barki and survived this action. He was killed by enemy shelling on 11th September on the West bank of the BRBL the next day .’’ More details of this episode follow later.
34 Once Barki was in Indian hands and with sporadic firing and Pak Artillery shelling still continuing, 16 Punjab along with tanks of the CIH started moving towards Ichhogil Canal to secure the East bank . Intense artillery, machine gun, RCL and missile fire was brought down on the advancing Indian troops. During the move from the forming up place (FUP) to the objective the forward observation officer (FOO lost contact with the attacking Company and also the guns. Once again the Battery Commander with 16 Punjab though now wounded because of Pak shelling, retrieved the situation by moving up ahead with the assaulting troops and controlling the fire plan as well as engaging targets. The Battalion reached the East bank by 2145 hours but the retreating Pak forces were successful in blowing up the bridge. Lance Naik Balam Ram, 16 Punjab, was awarded the Vir Chakra in this operation.
35 The next day , 11 September ,once the Indian troops were day-lighted , heavy artillery fire was again brought down a number of times by the Indian Battery Commander, Maj H S Sarao on Pak positions on the far bank as 16 Punjab re-organised and consolidated its positions. As per the war diary maintained by Gen Tajammal (then CO 3 Baluch and who was in the adjoining sector), it was on 11 Sep that Maj Bhatti who was a taking a shoot in support of an attack on one of the Indian positions was mortally wounded. Lt Col Sial , the CO 24 Medium Regiment (Pak) had earlier replaced the OP officer Captain Mahmood Anwar Shiekh by a JCO OP, Sub Sher Dil . The JCO had lost communications with his guns and not being effective, Maj Bhatti, after his stand at Barki, took over the task of directing artillery fire at a crucial moment.
36 As per my interaction with Naveed Tajammal -‘‘Maj Aiziz Bhatti was hit by splinters of a stray shell while he was sitting on a branch of large tree [tah’li] on the home bank of BRB canal watching,through his binoculars, the action of Major Habib’s Company of 12 Punjab’’. Maj Bhatti was infact directing artillery fire to support Maj Habib who was leading a frontal attack on an Indian post (16 Punjab) and died along with seven other soldiers in a hail of Indian machine gun fire. There is a mention of this action in the Generals book,’ The Story Of My Struggle’. Major Raja Aziz Bhatti, the saviour of Lahore, was awarded the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military award for gallantry, for the exemplary courage he displayed till his death in stemming the Indian advance from Hudiara onwards. It is a twist of fate that since 12 Punjab and its Commanding Officer were under a cloud for poor battlefield performance elsewhere, the equally heroic action of Maj Habib Khan and the seven Pak soldiers was to go unsung and unwept.
37 Meanwhile as 4 Sikh and 16 Punjab were consolidating their gains in Barki and the East bank of the canal , the same night ie 10 September, 48 Infantry Brigade was given the task of capturing and demolishing the bridge on the Ichhogil Canal West of Jahman. The task was to be carried out by 5 Guards supported by two troops of CIH. This operation did not meet with success.
38 Subsequently, on 15 September Brig Piara Singh took over command of 48 Infantry Brigade and was tasked to capture Jahman village latest by 19 September 1965. Supported by approximately a squadron of armour, 6/8 Gorkha Rifles launched the attack from the South and 19 Maratha Light Infantry from the North. Pak troops withdrew from Jahman, when the two battalions converged on their objectives. Thus, Jahman was captured but not without losses. Captain RC Bakshi of 6/8 Gorkha Rifles, who had led the assault on Jahman sacrificed his life and was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously for bravery in severe hand-to-hand fighting. Except for one more sharp engagement undertaken by 9 Madras on night 22/23 Sep at the time of the ceasefire, this sector then generally remained dormant.
Epilogue—Verbatim Extract From The Citation Of IC 9926 Maj H S Sarao
39 ‘’—-On 10 Sep 1965 an Infantry Brigade Group launched a two phase night attack. The second phase of the attack was launched by 16 Punjab with the area of the Brigade on the ICHOGIL canal near the village of BARKI as their objective.
As the battalion was forming up preparatory to the assault on the objective, it came under heavy concentration of enemy field, medium and heavy guns. During this period the forward observation officer with the advancing Infantry lost his way. Major HS SARAO, without a moment’s hesitation went up to the leading company to act as the forward observation officer. He was at this time hit by a splinter in the leg but with utter disregard to the injury he accompanied the leading company and was with them till the objective was captured.
On reaching the objective, the wireless set of the officer stopped functioning. The officer returned to the firm base at BARKI in spite of heavy enemy shelling to get another set from 4 SIKH , the battalion which had captured the village of BARKI in the first phase earlier. With his communication now restored , he effectively engaged possible defensive fire tasks on the WEST of ICHOGIL canal in order to foil any counter attack by the enemy. Phase two of the attack was then successfully completed and the battalion consolidated its gains.
On 11 Sep 65 , after engaging targets on the Ichogil canal bank , Major HS SARAO went and searched a house in BARKI village where he had, on the afternoon of 10 Sep 65, suspected an enemy observation post and had also engaged the same from his previous location at BARKA KHURD. To his surprise and satisfaction he found that an enemy OP had in fact been occupying the house on 10 Sep 65. Major HS SARAO recovered from the house the enemy Artillery Task Tables and PAKISTANI maps which were of great assistance in avoiding the areas on our side which the enemy had registered as defensive fire tasks. He saw a pool of blood at the spot and reckoned the enemy observation post officer must have either been killed or wounded and evacuated—-’’
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?
Thomas B. Macaulay
MAJ RAJA AZIZ BHATTI,Nishan-e-Haider
He was born in Hong Kong in 1928. He moved to Pakistan before it became independent in 1947, living in the village of Ladian, in the district of Gujrat. There he enlisted with the newly formed Pakistani Army and was commissioned to the Punjab Regiment in 1950. Throughout his career, he was a brilliant officer and stood out in his class. He did very well at the Academy and was awarded the Sword of Honour best in his year’s batch of 300 officers, and the Norman Medal. He received his honours from Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.