|A Soldier's Diary||
Sunday, December 27, 1998
by Kuldip Singh Bajwa
IN the planning and conduct of military operations, the enemy is perhaps the most significant imponderable. The enemys strength, capabilities, intentions and his course of action have a vital bearing on our own plans, their formulation and execution. Consequently, during peace time, one of the primary intelligence thrusts of any country is to build up an accurate assessment of the military capability of all potential enemies. This is not particularly difficult in respect of those countries which import the bulk of their armaments and equipment. Despite this, serious flaws often creep into our assessments. For instance, in the period before the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965, the potential of the US-supplied weapon systems with the Pakistan armed forces was inclined to be over-rated. The Sabre and the Patton were invested with an exaggerated mystique. Maybe this was based on the well-advertised capability of these weapon systems, but what we overlooked in our assessment was whether in the hands of the Pakistan armed forces and in the environment of their employment, this could be fully developed. An aura of awe was created in the minds of our fighting men, which nearly led to a disaster in September, 1965.
In the Sialkot sector, our armoured thrust had achieved complete surprise. In the first 24 hours, the advance elements of the armoured division had reached the outskirts of Sialkot city. Reported presence of Pakistani Pattons precipitated a hasty pull-back. When we evaluate the overall achievements of this sizeable offensive, the conclusion that our rather limited gains were due to a Sabre-Patton engendered caution is manifestly logical.
It was in the Amritsar sector that the myth of Pakistani weapon superiority was exploded. A well-handled combination of good gun power and superior training of the Centurion crews decisively humbled the power of the Pakistan armoured forces. Perhaps an astute combination of our shaky Shermans and the dour Centurions in the Sialkot sector would have produced more gratifying results.
The wide and often one-sided exposure given to the sophisticated arms that Pakistan expected to get from the USA, held the elements of an inducement of paralysing awe. It might have served our diplomatic initiatives to paint the F-16 in the blackest of colours, but we lost sight of the adverse impact inside and outside the armed forces. A more balanced evaluation and exposure was needed.
Our major weakness has been in the sphere of assessment of enemy intentions and his design of battle. In 1971, we had failed to adequately gauge the effect of the freedom struggle in Bangladesh on the battle effectiveness of Pakistani formations. A sizeable portion of the infantry formations not committed to border defence in the western sector had been sucked into Bangladesh, leaving the two Pakistani strategic reserves, each of an armoured and an infantry division, in a state of imbalance and a considerably impaired capability. Despite this not too far-fetched a conclusion, our defensive as well as offensive operations were handicapped by a paralysing calculation of the various possible courses open to the launching of Pakistani reserves. Caution, led to lack of economy of force and in turn to a failure to achieve decisive concentrations, prevented us from achieving results, which could have been spectacular. For instance, in the Amritsar sector a whole armoured brigade was kept tied down behind a fairly strong defensive posture, based on a well-developed and closely integrated obstacle system, in anticipation of a major Pakistani counter-offensive (for which its capability had been seriously impaired), while its employment in the Shakargarh sector would have better achieved both the defensive and the offensive objectives. Similarly, our only armoured division had stayed out of battle to counter a possible threat from the enemy armour-infantry reserve located in the Multan-Montgomery-Okara area. Interrogations of East Pakistan defectors had established that this formation was not really in a fit state for battle. Ordered to move to the Rajasthan border, the leading elements had not reached the designated area due to poor management of the movement, when ceasefire was declared. For us, it was a colossal waste of our major punch (and a very expensive one at that).
In war, battle-induced fears, uncertainties and confusion may often lead to faulty conclusions. In 1971, a major thrust was launched into the Shakargarh area from Road Kathua-Sambha directed onto Zafarwal on the night December 4/5. On the night December 8/9, a division mounted a complementary thrust towards Shakargarh from the Lasian Enclave, our territory across the Ravi. For this attack a brigade of the division was holding a firm base on the home bank of the river, west of Dinanagar. The bulk of the artillery, supporting the initial phases of the operation, was deployed within or close to this firm base. The medium regiments equipped with 130 MM guns with a range of over 29 km (a very effective weapon against armour) were dug down in pits and so could engage targets in a limited arc astride the axis of the thrust. All the planned objectives were captured at night and the advance made good progress on December 9. By the evening, Nainakot was almost enveloped and the road to Shakargarh lay wide open. No enemy armour was encountered. The artillery air observation post, which had been flying over the area throughout the day, also reported no sign of hostile armour. In the evening, a report was received at the Divisional Headquarters that enemy armour had crossed the Ravi in strength south of Nainakot and was advancing towards the firm base. We had no fixed defences in the reported line of enemy advance which lay outside the arc of fire of the medium guns.
This report induced a state of total alarm and a "flap" ensued in the Divisional Headquarters (In military parlance, a state of confusion and directionless cross-purpose activity). Switching of troops was ordered. Orders and counter-orders flowed out in bewildering succession. Fortunately, elements with cooler and more logically calculating reflection were able to prevail. It was successfully argued that it was impossible (and also out of character) for the Pakistanis to conceal such a large armoured force and its inevitable support and logistic back-up in the Shakargah Salient, and even more so, launch it through the Ravi. It was well nigh impossible for armour to ford the Ravi without extensive engineer assistance and preparations, which had been amply confirmed by our own experience when we inducted our armour into the Lasian Enclave across the river before launching our operation into the Shakargarh Salient. It took a determined effort by a saner brigade commander to establish the reported thrust to be merely a fog of war before the "flap" could be laid to rest.
It is absolutely vital
that commanders are trained to make realistic assessments
and update them continuously so that the most productive
use is made of limited resources of men and material. It
is equally vital for commanders to think ahead coolly and
logically so that the imponderables of war can be
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