Battle of Asal Uttar (1965)— Part 2
ORDER OF BATTLE : PAKISTAN
1st Armored Division (Maj. Gen. N.A.Khan)
12th Cavalry (Division reconnaissance regiment, Chaffees)
3 (SP) Field Regiment
15 (SP) Field Regiment
16 (SP) Field Regiment
21 Medium Regiment
19 (SP) Light Anti Aircraft Regiment
1 Engineer Battalion
3rd Armored Brigade
19th Lancers (Pattons)
7th Frontier Force (Armored Infantry)
4th Armored Brigade
4th Cavalry (Pattons)
5th Horse(Pattons )
10th Frontier Force (Armored Infantry)
5th Armored Brigade
6th Lancers Pattons
24th Cavalry Pattons
1st Frontier Force (Armored Infantry)
11th Infantry Division (Maj Gen.A.H.Khan)
15th Lancers I Corps Reconnaissance Regiment
32nd Tank Delivery Unit (Sherman)
26 Field Regiment
38 Field Regiment
12 Medium Regiment
9 Medium Regiment
35 Heavy Regiment
Troop/88 Mortar Battery
37 Corps Locating Regiment
3 Engineer Battalion
25 Signals Battalion
21st Infantry Brigade
5th Frontier Force
52nd Brigade(deployed from Kasur-Khem Karan Road to Kasur-Ferozepur Road)
2nd Frontier Force
106th Infantry Brigade
1st East Bengal
ORDER OF BATTLE : INDIA
2nd Independent Armored Brigade (Brig. T.K. Theograj)
3rd Cavalry (Lt. Col. S. Caleb) Centurions
8th Lancers (Lt. Cpl. P.C. Mehta) AMX-13
(Third regiment was away in another sector)
1st (SP) Field Regiment (Sextons)
4th Mountain Division [Maj. Gen. Gurbaksh Singh]
9th (Deccan) Horse( Lt. Col. A.S. Vaidya ) Shermans
7th Mountain Brigade (Brig. Sidhu)
9th Jammu and Kashmir Regiment
62nd Mountain Brigade(H.Guhilaut)
1/9th Gorkha Rifles
18th Rajputana Rifles
(33rd Mountain Brigade was away in another sector)
The original Pakistani plan envisaged a dawn breakout in strength on the 8th,but a combination of poor engineering preparation and disruptive Indian artillery fire this was delayed by hours.Meanwhile the 4th Mtn breached the rohi nalla to swamp the terrain south and south west of the divisional defended sector to hinder armour operations,strengthened their defences as Gurbaksh Singh rallied his men to prepare to face the coming onslaught.His infantry battalions occupied the centre supported by the divisions anti-tank elements and divisional artillery to the rear with 2 squadrons of deccan horse in support on the flanks.
The Pakistanis launched their offensive at 0830 hours on September 08 with a reconnaissance in force with two squadrons of Chaffees and one squadron of Pattons. Under cover of artillery fire, the advancing columns moved within 900 m of the Indian defences. At this point, they were engaged by tanks of Deccan Horse -hull down shermans hidden in the sugarcane fields. The Pakistani armour broke up into smaller groups and tried to infiltrate into the Indian defences.The Pattons were visible to Indian recoilless rifle and tank crews who could see the swaying of the cane as the enemy approached and the upperworks of the Pattons’ turrets,while they themselves remained largely hidden.Opening fire close ranges A.Vaidya’s shermans held firm and destroyed 11 tanks for the loss of 4 of their own,after which the pakistani armour withdrew.
Frontal Assault on 4th Mtn Div :
Pakistan’s 5th Armoured Brigade then mounted a frontal assault on 4th Mountain Division .The attack was led by a regiment of Pattons, a squadron of Chaffees and a mechanized battalion .The attack made initial progress in the 1/9 Gorkha rifles sector but was eventually contained.The 4 Grenadiers faced repeated heavy attacks at 12:00 am and from 2:00 PM.Despite some of their trenches being overrun, the battalion with its anti-tank gunners comprising Subedar M.Chand and Havildar A. Hamid
knocked out four tanks and stopped the advance.
Maj.Gen Rajendra Nath writes about the Pakistani tactics(which showed american influence) -
‘’The way Pakistan was using its armour to assault our defended areas came as a great surprise to us, for we had never used our armour in peace time exercises or in war in such a bold and audacious manner. The Pakistani method of attack on our defended areas needs to be described in some detail. A typical tank assault would commence with the approach of light tanks boosted by Shermans or Patton tanks. They would feel for the gaps in our defended areas and probe our flanks to find out the extent of our defences while their artillery would keep our suspected positions engaged so that our anti-tank guns were not very effective. After this reconnaissance, some of their tanks would move to a flank partly to lure our tanks and partly to divert our artillery fire. Then Pakistan’s armour would assault our positions followed by their infantry in armoured personnel carriers. The tanks would assault with six to eight abreast firing their secondary and main armament and would be followed by the Infantry who would dismount from their armoured personnel carriers and attack our positions. All this time, their artillery would be neutralising our positions. Another method of assault was that Pakistan’s assaulting tanks, normally six to eight abreast well spread out, would charge our positions firing their guns but stop short of our positions, just outside the range of our anti-tank guns. Meanwhile, other follow up tanks would come up and try to envelop the defences and over run them from right or left flank. Their aim was generally to frighten our infantry and over run our positions.
A combination of above tactics had been tried by Pakistani forces against both 62 and 7 Brigade units who had gone on offensive on 6th September and captured Pakistan’s forward positions. Before these units could dig in, the Pakistan had used their armour and infantry boldly in assault which had unnerved some of our troops, for we had not taught or practised such tactics in our army till 1965. However, our troops had discovered that Pakistan’s armour assaults would fizzle out whenever our infantry stood its ground using its anti-tank guns and was supported by our artillery. The units of 4 Division were now getting accustomed to Pakistan’s pattern of armour and infantry assaults and so were giving a good account of themselves.’’
First Blood for Centurions
This phase is shown in last map.Around 2:30 pm pattons of 6Lancers sought to envelop the Indians with a flank attack along the western axis aimed at Chima to roll up the defences of 4thMtn from the rear and get into its artillery area.Here they were confronted by the centurions of B squadron of 3rd cavalry under maj Belvalkar.In a fluid meeting engagement at close ranges the centurion proved its mettle knocking out 5 pattons and 1 chafee.Daffadar Wasan singh’s lead centurion drew first blood with 2 patton kills.After this setback the pakistani armour withdrew .
Further North Pakistani tanks had reached Valtoha Railway station by 5:00 PM but were unable to consolidate their hold.They were overextended having left behind their infantry support which had been pinned down by indian artillery and machine gun fire,and snipers in the sugarcane fields.A move eastwards towards chima was blocked by B squadron and 3rd Cavalry’s A squadron was now moving in block to any forward movement.At this point Brigadier Bashir withdrew both his regiments(24c and 6L) to leaguer(reform,restock,refuel) at Khem karan -a controversial decision that has been criticized but was nonetheless consistent with british ww2 armoured practice.Indian sources claim the withdrawal was also precipitated by the movement of A squadron’s Centurions towards 6L and the deployment of C squadron on the open flank of 24C by Lt.Col Caleb.commander of 3 Cavalry.(A squadron however found the ground in front too soft and boggy for armour movement and withdrew back into the centre behind B squadron as a reserve ).These movements are shown in the map below.Overall the day had been a good one for the Indian defenders who had held firm despite some nervous moments,and every unit had played its part.The myth of the invincibility of the Patton had been shattered which raised the morale of the indian tank crews.
9 SEPTEMBER :
Night attack on Rajputana Rifles -
At about 2:00 am after midnight,Pakistani pattons utilizing their infra-red equipment supported by mechanized infantry made a heavy assault on 18RajRif defended battalion sector.Brigadier Guhilaut,commander of 62nd Mtn Brigade had ordered the battalion to hold on even if forward trenches were overrun.The Pakistani tanks had to pass through mines and endure concentrated fire of five artillery regiments, which were firing on the unit’s frontage. This fire was supplemented by unit mortars and recoiless guns.Lt.Col Raghuvir Singh.commanding officer of 18RajRif set a personal example — when Pakistani tanks overran the positions defended by the forward deployed companies,leaving his command post and heedless of his personal safety he moved past 3 enemy tanks and under intense artillery bombardment reached the forward companies and reestablished contact with them.By 0330hrs Pakistani infantry advanced in APCs, but during their probing they encountered a minefield and withdrew.The Pakistani attack fizzled out as they failed to dislodge the determined defenders.
At dawn the PAF tried to soften up indian positions along with heavy artillery bombardment,but this didn’t have the desired effect on the well-dug in defenders.The IAF was also subdued and failed to cause any appreciable physical destruction of the enemy armour,but one interdiction strike on a supply train destroyed ammunition stocks and reduced the ammunition of the pattons to 30 rounds per tank causing logistical strain.
All- Day Attacks on 4th Mtn Division -
After dawn heavy attacks fell on 4 Grenadiers which fought back spiritedly under Lt.Col Bhatti.Two tanks were blown up on the minefield and another was destroyed by the recoiless guns of 4 Grenadiers.In the afternoon tanks and infantry again assaulted 18RajRif which fought back supported by divisional artillery and the tanks of Deccan Horse.Several pakistani tanks were lost,many tank commanders directing their vehicle with their head and torso exposed above the cupola fell victim to accurate small arms fire.Finally by 10:00 pm the pakistani armour withdrew.Casualities were heavy on both sides..The pakistani armour was facing steady heavy attrition,while the indian infantry too was being depleted.XI corps ordered 4 battalions to be broken up for the time being into smaller units to hold the line.
On the Flanks — Calm before the storm
On the flanks ,the day had been relatively quiet.6L attempted a broad flanking move along the Eastern axis but found out as A squadron had the previous day,the ground too boggy.Several tanks became immobilized and easy targets .Nonetheless some elements of its vanguard again reached Valtoha but later withdrew,there was no serious fighting -the day being characterized by cautious probes.
Meanwhile Brigadier Theograj,commander of 2nd Ind.Arm Brigade had arrived with his other regiment 8 Cavalry with AMX (minus 1 sq) and assigned it to flank protection.A massed pakistani armoured attack was now expected as by now its all its armoured regiments were accross the bridgehead.Since the centre was stoutly held by the infantry and Deccan Horse and the Eastern axis too boggy for large scale armour movement it left only the western axis from Bhura Karimpur towards mahmudpura as the most probable route for such an attack.Theograj and Caleb prepared the centurions of 3 Cavalry to meet such an attack with an elaborate ambush meant to catch the advancing Pak armour in a crossfire.But the attack didn’t come on 9th september,possibly due to insufficient preparation on the pakistani side.It would come the next day.
The pakistani plan was to pin down 4th mtn and Deccan Horse with 5th Arm.Brigade(24c,6L,1FF) and launch a sweeping envelopment on the Bhura Karimpur — Mahmudpura Axis with 4th Armoured Brigade(4C,5H,10FF) with 3rd Armoured brigade(1 armoured regiment,1 mechanized infantry battalion) in reserve (along with 11th division infantry) for expolitation and mopping up after the breakthrough.Brig .Theograj deployed the 2 AMX squadrons of 8C on the flanks . Theograj and Lt Col Caleb positioned the centurion squadrons in 2 concentric horseshoe shaped semi circles designed to bring the firepower of the entire regiment to bear on the incoming enemy armour in a devastating crossfire,while also providing defense in depth.B and C squadrons formed the first semicircle from dholan to chima with mahmudpura in the centre.The A squadron formed the 2nd semicircle.Areas were flooded on the approach routes to further bog down the pattons.
Final attacks on 4th Mtn Division
5th armoured brigade with Pattons and Mechanized infantry in 4 Grenadiers sector in the morning and managed to break through the forward positions.Havildar Hamid who had already destroyed 4 tanks on 8th september stood his ground as pattons charged charged his defended locality and managed to knock out 3 more before being killed by a 4rth tank in a feat of heroics for which he posthumously recieved the Param Vir Chakra -India’s highest gallantry award.6Lancers made a final attack on 7 Grenadiers in the afternoon but this too was halted.
The Trap is sprung -
The main pakistani armoured attack began at around 8:30 am when lead elements of Pakistan 4 cavalry approached Dholan,but were engaged by camouflaged centurions of C squadron which quickly knocked out 4 pattons. Maj. Sandhu,commander of C squadron positioned himself at Lakhna on one of the rooftops from where he tracked the movements of enemy armour and was able to provide a continous stream of information to HQ on enemy movements,and they acted accordingly.
Few tanks approaching Madar were shot at by A squadron deployed in the 2nd semicircle and a patton and APCs were destroyed.
‘’Whoever remains cooler under stress for a longer time will win.Identify,take good aim and shoot’.God be with you.’’ -Lt.Col Caleb over radio
The 2nd Squadron of 4 cavalry charged Mahmudpura but were caught in an ambush from the flank by 2nd Lt R.P.Joshi’s troop of centurions and were decimated losing 9 pattons and 2 Recoiless guns in minutes.The pattons were helpless,most of them couldn’t detect the centurions or never even got a shot off before falling to the centurions 3 round technique.Based on the information provided by Maj Sandhu,A Squadron readjusted its position and set up an ambush for the incoming 3rd Squadron of 4Cavalry which was battered in the crossfire.A troop of AMX from 8C also joined the fray from the flank.Naib Risaldar Jagdeo Singh destroyed 3 pattons in his centurion here.
4 Cavalry was in desperate straits.It was squeezed on all sides by A and C squadron and had taken devastating losses.Its sister regiment in the 4rth Arm Brigade — 5th Horse was held upby the centurions of B squadron and a troop of AMX supported by massed artillery fire.Petrol and ammunition was low,it could neither move forward nor back.The infantry had been left behind as usual and had been pinned down by Indian artillery fire.The devastating impact of the concentrated fire of the Indian artillery particularly the sextons and 140mm guns commanded by P.C.Jesus can be gauged from an intercepted communication .Maj Gen.Nasir Ahmed Khan,Commander of 1 Armoured Division (GOC) watching the disintegration of his division from the air in a helicopter spoke directly to the 4th armoured Brigade Commander (BC)-
BC: ‘It’s not possible for us to advance any further due to stiff resistance. Heavy enemy shelling has completely pinned us down.’
GOC: ‘It is most important that the advance is continued. Therefore, in the name of Islam, Pakistan and Hillale Jurat, I command you get up and go forward.’
BC: ‘I will do my best but as things are I do not know how the hell I am going to do that. This bloody enemy artillery is knocking the hell out of us and I am afraid at the moment that I can’t do any better then this.’
GOC: ‘Move forward to your objectives forthwith.’
BC: ‘I cannot move; Indians are ahead of me.’
GOC: ‘Come and see me immediately.’
BC: ‘Where do I come? I don’t know.’
GOC: ‘Move straight on and turn right.’
BC: ‘Do you know where I am? If I turn left the Indians get me, if I turn right the artillery gets me. Where do I come and how?’
GOC: ‘Turn right till you hit the road, follow it and you will find me at milpost 36.’
In a desperate attempt to galvanize his men Maj.Gen Nasir attempted to meet up with his beleagured subordinates physically.But his Command troop was ambushed by 4 Grenadiers with recoiless guns.Brigadier Shammi,the divisional artillery commander was killed and Nasir Khan seriously wounded.The pakistani attack now rudderless,came to a standstill and collapsed after this.After dusk all Indian guns opened up in heavy bombardment of the trapped pakistani armour shattering the morale of the survivors completely,and desertion became common.Cut off,unable to retreat due to no petrol ,having lost physical communications with HQ and being steadily decimated 4 cavalry Regimental commander informed HQ barring relief he would surrender on the next morning.
11 SEPTEMBER :
In the morning of 11th the Indian centurions closed in from all sides,under fire pakistani crewmen and infantry broke, abandoned their vehicles and fled.A squadron commander Maj Vadera was able to capture 9 Pattons in perfect working condition and an APC.A few hours later regimental commander of 4cavalry surrendered with his surviving squadron commanders and ranks,found hiding in a sugarcane field.
Pakistani 3rd armoured brigade withdrew,being transferred to sialkot sector where Indian pressure was becoming serious.The remnants of 4rth armoured brigade also withdrew.Themauled 5th armoured Brigade was left behind as a covering force.The battle was over.
AFTERMATH AND ANALYSIS
In the debacle at Asal uttar Pakistan lost 97 tanks including 75 of the latest pattons.The Indians lost 14 tanks(10 of Deccan horse,4 of 3 cavalry) and some damaged.Equivalent of 2 armoured regiments were wiped off the Pakistani order of battle -with 4 cavalry being physically wiped out as a formation.The Pakistani dream of capturing Punjab with a Fourth Panipat was shattered ,rather in a reverse Panipat its elite strike formation was defeated and Pakistan lost the initiative in the war .And it came at a place fittingly called Asal Uttar (The befitting reply).For the rest of the war the Pakistan Army would be busy mounting a desperate defense to save Lahore from the Indian Army which now had the momentum.Never again would Pakistan be in a position to achieve a decisive victory over India,after 1965 the disparity of forces would grow rapidly and would culminate in the defeat of Pakistan in 1971 and birth of Bangladesh.In this regard Asal Uttar may be regarded as one of the most ,if not the most decisive battle in the history of the Indian Republic.
On top the 5 MVC recipients — From Left to right(top to bottom) — Maj.Gen Gurbaksh Singh (CO -4th Mtn Div),Lt.col Raghuvir Singh(CO — 18RajRif Battalion),Lt.Col A.Vaidya(CO — 9 Deccan Horse Regiment),Brigadier T.K.Theograj (CO — 2nd Ind Arm Brigade),Lt.col S.Caleb(CO — 3rd Cavalry Regiment)
Nearly a hundred pakistani tanks were assembled after the war near the battle site which came to be known as ‘Patton Nagar.’Foreign military attaches were invited to the display.While American military attaches were shocked at the destruction of so many of the new pattons,the british attache was admittedly delighted at the performance of the Centurion.The German military attache remarked that the ‘’Pakistani army’s plan had been bold,but perhaps only the German army could execute such a plan’’.
The defenders at Asal Uttar were hailed as the ‘Saviours of Punjab’ and 3rd Cavalry added to its name the sobriquet ‘Patton Wreckers’.5 Maha Vir Chakra and 1 Param Vir chakras were awarded as well as many gallantry medals .The local civilian population too rallied behind the army providing shelter in their homes,food and often acting as scouts in which capacity there were fatalities.
Going into the battle Pakistan had all the advantages — it had enormous numerical superiority in armour and artillery,and advantage in quality as well.They had armoured infantry,night fighting equipment and helicopters available to the commander to observe the battle.Despite this the attack failed conclusively.
CONCENTRATION OF FORCE :
The pakistani armour was for the greater part of the battle used piecemeal,which retreated after taking losses.Never in the battle were all the Pakistani armoured regiments committed to the battle simultaneously,though the constricted nature of the bridgehead may have been a cause of this.The Indians repeatedly brought the full concentration of their artillery on needed sectors and in the final tank ambush centurion regiment achieved the most desired result-being able to bring nearly the entire firepower of the regiment on an advancing enemy through excellent deployment.
CO-OPERATION :LACK OF INFANTRY SUPPORT
This was probably one of the biggest reasons.The 11th Mtn divisions infantry brigades never entered the fight in a serious capacity which should have been used to try and clear the indian infantry after the armour failed repeatedly in its frontal charges.The infantry-armour co-operation between the mechanized infantry and the pattons was worse,with the former being left behind and getting pinned down with regularity leaving the latter isolated and even if the tanks made a gain,they were unable to consolidate it due to lack of infantry.Here i think the structure of the Pakistani armoured division was also faulty.It had 5 patton (and another chafee recon regiment) regiments in 3 brigades but this was only supported by 3 mechanized infantry battalions .That is just 1 infantry battalion to support 2 whole armoured regiments.The proportion of infantry was just too low to succesfully carry on the momentum of a penetration,and due to very low numbers were easily pinned down repeatedly.Here an example of the German Panzer Divisions can be taken.They began the war with a very large proportion of tanks ratio over 2:1.As the war wore on and more powerful anti tank defences were encountered in russia by mid-war the proportion had become 1:1 and by late war reversed to 2:1 in some cases.In the Panzer divisions of the post-war Bundeswehr we can see armoured brigades themselves have a ratio of 1:1 in them,but the armoured division also has an integral Panzergrenadier brigade too.German experience showed them the necessity of increased amount supporting infantry when the tanks were faced with dogged infantry supported by tanks,anti-tank weapons and artillery as at Asal Uttar.
COMMAND FAILURE :
Pakistani Staff planning for the operation was quite poor.The engineering preparations were insufficient causing delays in areas which were within pakistani territory and should have been pre planned given the long standing offensive plan.Logistics was shabby,with tanks often running out of petrol.Squadron commanders usually retreated after facing any heavy resistance.Brig Bashir withdrew his regiments from forward areas to leaguer on succesive days.Towards the end of the battle there was widescale desertion and surrender.There was no intermediate Corps HQ between Division and Army HQ which led to poor co-ordination between 1st Armoured Division and 11th Infantry Division.Towards the end of the battle — Chief of Army Staff Muhammad Musa arrived to personally micromanage the battle.As a result despite a brilliant strategic plan there was dismal execution.Indians were lucky ,they had been outfought as far as strategic concentration was concerned but when it came to executing the plan on the ground,the brave ranks and junior officers of the Indian army performed extremely well in foiling the Pakistani offensive despite huge odds.
DILUTION IN TRAINING :
Agha amin,a retired pakistani officer and analyst noted that the rapid expansion of the Pakistani armoured corps from 1958 may have affected the individual crew standards where not all the lessons may have been fully absorbed.The Indians who had not begun serious expansion after 1962 were still in the process of just expanding the armoured corps when the war broke out and thus the armour regiments were more cohesive.
USE OF TERRAIN :
Another key factor in the battle.The Indians contained the Pakistani bridgehead with a forward defense at Asal Uttar ensuring the short frontage of the battlefield would mean a frontal battle against a prepared indian defense,and the pattons would be unable to break out into the open plains where their mobility would be decisive.They also purposedly breached the canals in several areas to bog down pakistani armour and channel them into killzones. Finally excellent use was made of the sugarcane fields to hide the Indian armour and recoiless gun teams in ambush positions which prevented the Pattons from engaging in long range duels where they would have an advantage.At close ranges the patton’s advantage in rangefinding equipment and heavy armour were nullified.
Written by Austerlitz on indian defence forum