They won the war, died in hordes, bodies left to rot on ledg
Lt Gen MM Lakhera, a former Governor of Mizoram, had taken part in the 1965 war with Pakistan. He in an interaction with Ishwar Dhyani shares his choicest memories of the war.
The 1965 war was started by Pakistan. In the first phase, they infiltrated a number of groups from across the Line of Control (LoC) from Kargil into the3 Naushera area. The main aim of the infiltrators was to disrupt civil and military control within Jammu and Kashmir. Secondly, they were to encourage, assist and direct an armed revolt by people of Jammu and Kashmir with the an aim to achieve independence and subsequent merger of the Kashmir valley with Pakistan. Infiltrators managed to cross the LoC undetected in the first week of August. In the initial stages, the Indian Army was taken by surprise and most of our actions were retaliatory. However, the situation was brought under control by about the third week of August and a large number of infiltrators were either killed or captured and the balance became ineffective. Towards August end, Pakistan launched their operation "Grand Slam". As part of this operation, they launched a major attack in the Chham–Jaurian Sector and made some gains posing a threat to the Akhnoor bridge, which was the the only road link between Poonch and Rajouri and the rest of the country. In a bold move, the the Prime Minister Lal Bahadhur Shastri ordered Indian armed forces to launch an offensive against Pakistan across the international border. This took the Pakistan army by surprise and as is well known that they lost most of their latest tanks at the battle of Assal Uttar. I was then serving with 42 Field Regiment at Poonch.
Senior officers ignored ground reports
Observation post (OP) officers were deployed in all areas defended by infantry battalions. One such OP Officer was deployed on a feature called Doda, which provided a good view of approaches from the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to the Gulmarg sector in the Kashmir Valley. The summer period was utilised by both sides to carry out advance winter stocking at posts located in high altitude areas. One of the important tasks of the OP Officers was to observe and report the movement of porters and animals being used for dumping of stocks by the Pakistan troops. The OP Officer at a feature called Doda would sincerely count the number of mules and personnel moving on these approaches either way and report to the unit headquarters, which would then submit a daily consolidated report to the higher authorities. In a few days, it emerged that this movement had almost doubled compared to observed during the same period last year. The officers at the higher headquarters would get upset at much larger movement being reported and would question the ability of the OP Officers to count correctly. Alas, had the higher headquarters taken the ground reports seriously, the armed forces would have been better prepared to face the events which unfolded subsequently. Later, it transpired that the Pakistan troops used these additional porters and mules for dumping ammunition, stores and ration in advance for use by infiltrating columns subsequently.
No support to moving convoy
On August 6 morning, I learnt about the reports of infiltration from the Pakistan side from across the LoC. The Military Hospital, Poonch, where I was admitted for treatment of an eye injury was requested for my immediate discharge. On August 7, I was appointed the Officer-in-Charge of the convoy that was to move from Rajouri to Poonch. The convoy comprised of 106 vehicles, personnel, equipment and vehicles of one Light Battery, besides a signal vehicle carrying a secret phone called "ulta phone" for the Poonch brigade headquarters. The previous day, the infiltrators had ambushed a convoy between Bhimber Galli and Surankot and an infantry unit was already engaged in clearing the road. The convoy was to move beyond Bhimber Galli after receiving confirmation of road clearance from the Commanding Officer (CO) of the unit. It reached Bhimber Galli around 3 pm. The road clearance report was received. The road between Bhimber Galli and Surankot passes through a thick jungle. The convoy had hardly travelled about 5 km through the thick jungle area when the leading vehicle suddenly halted. I got down from my vehicle and noticed that a tonne vehicle was lying on its side blocking the road. Normally, such an activity is a sign that the enemy could have laid an ambush around the area. I immediately deployed troops for clearance of the area of any enemy and providing security to the convoy. The availability of personnel of Light Battery came in very handy to execute the plan. It was now planned to remove the vehicle from the road and move the convoy out of the area as quickly as possible. As the possibility of the vehicle being a booby trap was high, no one was prepared to approach it. I, along with a few men of Light Battery, moved towards the vehicle, took position a few yards away and fired at it to ensure that it was not a booby trap. We then remove it off the road. However, precious time was lost. By the time the leading vehicles approached Surankot, it was pitch dark and I thought of halting the convoy at the post located there. At Surankot, the Post Commander informed me that the brigade Major was upset with me and wanted to speak to me immediately. During the initial phase of these operations, no dedicated communication network was provided to the convoys and one was at God’s mercy. The Brigade Major was unhappy at the delayed arrival of the convoy and blamed it on my inefficiency. I narrated the sequence of events to him and told him that we were lucky to have arrived safely.The brigade headquarters then issued orders for additional protection for the convoy moving to Poonch during night.
Pak''s false propaganda to demoralise forces
During August, infiltrators were active all over the brigade sector, which resulted in unplanned movement of troops. A heavy exchange of fire also continued all along the LoC. Around August 11 and 12, the infiltrators occupied a portion of the Poonch road between Bhimber Galli and Surankot. Pakistan''s false propaganda was in full swing. on August 15, their radio reported that freedom fighters had captured the strategic town of Poonch and the Pakistan flag was flying over it. BBC news also announced that, according to Radio Pakistan, Poonch town was under the control of freedom fighters. All these claims were being made despite the fact that the Poonch Brigade with 8 infantry battalions and supporting arms and services was in full control of not only Poonch town, but also the entire LoC in the brigade sector. Telephonic communications were very poor those days. We were worried that our families, after hearing such false news, would be worried about our safety. In a few days, the Poonch road was reopened, and the Poonch garrison was reinforced. The brigade strength went up to 11 infantry battalions, one Field Regiment, one Light Battery and one Mountain Battery. Normally, one Artillery Battery supports one Infantry Battalion. However, in this situation one Battery was supporting two to three battalions.
7 Sikh battalion commanded by Lt Col Bhagat Singh was deployed in the Mandi area, which was the worst affected by infiltration, and some of their posts were cut off. Around August 7, the Gali Post came under intense firing from infiltrators and was subsequently cut off. Our troops gradually ran out of ration and were living on local produce of maize. On August 14, the post ran out of ammunition and was on the verge of being captured by the enemy. Moreover, the post was also out of the range of guns. I was the direct support Battery Commander with the unit. The CO and I discussed the prevailing situation and were desperately trying to figure out a way to provide relief to the besieged post. Suddenly, I remembered that at the School of Artillery we were taught that in high altitude areas, because of rarified atmosphere, guns tend to achieve additional range. However, there was a fair chance of shells landing ahead of the post, while odd rounds landing on own troops could not be ruled out. As the situation was desperate and the chances of infiltrators capturing the post were very high, we decided to take the risk. Artillery Officer Capt Harbax Singh, deployed at Dhana Heights, from where the Galli Post area could observed, was directed to engage the area ahead of the Galli Post. He ranged one gun and thereafter ordered 30 rounds of gunfire. Everyone was aghast by this order since it meant that the three guns allotted to the battalion would fire 90 rounds. However, the order turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since after communicating the order the radio set of the officer conked off. The unexpected firing of guns saved the situation and the enemy, after suffering casualties, withdrew in haste from the area.
In the last week of August, another Infantry Battalion was moved to the Mandi sector to relieve 7 Sikh battalion, which had been under continuous sporadic attacks by the enemy for a long time. While moving out of the Mandi sector, the men of the unit passed by the guns, paying respect to it by bowing their heads. The Subedar Major, when asked about this unusual act, stated that "Sahib, if we are alive today, it was because of the fire support of these guns. Else, the enemy would have overrun us and most of us would have either been killed or taken prisoner of war.
Pritam Post used to shell Poonch town
The Poonch airfield and town were under direct observation of the Pritam Post of Pakistan and the day time movement in this area would draw their artillery fire. Our unit was equipped with 25 powder guns of the Second World War vintage. Their shells were not heavy enough to cause damage to the fortified bunkers on the Pritam Post. The heavier 5.5 medium guns held by the Army could not be moved to Poonch as the bridges en route could not take their load. In the last week of August, it was decided to dismantle one medium gun and carry its parts to Poonch at night. At Poonch, the gun was reassembled and deployed by the side of the Poonch river. Next morning, the gun engaged the Pritam Post by direct fire though the range to the post was around 6,000 yards. The post was damaged. Thereafter, the Pakistan troops were very cautious in engaging Poonch town. This gun now became our master weapon to engage various enemy posts which would interfere with our movement.
The Poonch, Hajipir Pass and Uri road was opened to vehicular traffic, thanks to Lt Col Dayal, who was awarded Mahaveer Chakra for his feat. However, a portion of the road was being dominated by fire by Pakistan troops deployed on the eastern spur of the Pritam Post, including Knoll, Ring Counter and Point 6160.
It was decided to capture this ridge and remove the direct threat to the road. 7 Sikh at this juncture was deployed in the Rakh valley, west of Betar Nullah. On September 19, the battalion was ordered to return to their Poonch base, and on September 19 and 20 night sent for an impending task. It rained at night and Betar Nullah was flooded. This coupled with intermittent shelling by Pakistan troops delayed the move of the unit and the battalion was able to converge on Poonch by first light only. As the talks for ceasefire were in the final stages, a hurried decision was taken to launch an attack to capture this spur. The Operation was code named “Operation Faneshah”. 7 Sikh battalion less one company was tasked with capturing the above areas before first light on September 22. Due to monsoon rains and flooding of Betar Nullah, the movement of the patrols was hindered and they were unable to obtain any worthwhile information about enemy deployment in recce . Meanwhile, it was planned to move from Poonch after last light, cross Betar Nullah and then move up the steep slopes to the vicinity of the objectives and secure the area up to Point 6162 by first light on September 22. The three objectives were on three ledges, each one higher than the other. As we moved out of Poonch, it rained heavily and Betar Nullah got flooded and could not be crossed. Floodwaters later subsided. The troops crossed the nullah and started climbing steep slopes which had become very slippery due to rain. There were no tracks and most of the time we had to climb up using all four limbs. This was time consuming. En route, suddenly we realized that the CO’s party had got detached from rest of the unit. The Second in Command, Major Belliappa, decided to halt the battalion and look for the CO’s party. Meanwhile, the enemy appeared to have sensed some movement up the ridge and started engaging the slopes with mortar fire. We had already lost a lot of time and any further delay would prove disastrous. We tried to convince Major Belliappa that a few troops be left to make contact with the CO’s party and the rest of the unit continue to move forward as planned. Major Belliappa would not budge. The situation was getting critical, and any further delay would result in the unit being unable to achieve the allotted task, as also suffering heavy casualties. Finally, I, along with a few Company Commanders, made it clear to Major Belliappa that in case orders to commence the move were not issued immediately, the next senior-most officer would assume the command of the unit would continue the forward movement. I happened to be the next senior-most officer. This had the desired effect and orders were issued for the forward movement of the unit. Luckily, a little later the CO’s party rejoined the battalion. The above confusion led to further delay and by first light the unit could only capture Ring Contour, which turned out to be the enemy’s listening post and withdrew without a fight. By first light, instead of capturing the three tasked objectives, as planned, the unit could only capture Ring Contour. The enemy was holding higher heights and there was hardly any cover between Ring Contour and other objectives. Under such circumstances, it would have been suicidal to attack Ring Contour and Point 6160 during daytime. It was decided to defer capture of Knoll and Point 6160 to next night. The battalion had three companies and the CO ordered their deployment on the captured ground, which had an approximate area of about 100 yards by 300 yards sloping downwards. The density of troops in this restricted area was very high. To compound the problem further, the unit failed to carry out proper reorganization activities in the hope of early enforcement of ceasefire. The enemy was occupying the area earlier and was well aware of its layout. They fired mortars at our position at random intervals. Because of a high density of troops in the area, each mortar bomb caused casualties. This continued throughout the day. We were busy motivating troops, taking stock of the casualties and evacuating them. Medical Officer Captain AK Singh and his medical team was busy looking after a large number of wounded, with some of them seriously. This tended to demoralise our troops.
Destiny willed otherwise
I am reminded of an incident which proves how destiny plays its part. The Medical Officer was attending to a wounded soldier on lower slopes when his nursing assistant came running and told him that an officer was wounded on upper slopes. He asked the Medical Officer to go and look after the injured officer while he would take care of the wounded soldier there. The doctor had hardly moved a few yards when a mortar bomb landed where the nursing assistant was attending the wounded soldier, killing both of them. The doctor then told us that he was destined to be saved, hence the destiny created a condition to pull him out and the death of the nursing assistant drew him to that location.
Enemy at vantage ledges
The enemy was holding the two higher ledges, which were of narrow width. The layout of the ledges was such that their steep side was towards the line of gunfire. Three 25 pounder guns were allotted to us for the support of the battalion. Besides, the only available medium gun in the Poonch sector was also allotted to us when it was not engaged in other tasks. The layout of the enemy posts was such that the fire of these guns was not very effective and most of the shells would either land short of the targeted posts or go over them. We had to mainly retaliate with small arms and infantry mortar. These weapons had a very limited quantity of ammunition. The Anchor Observation Post (OP) Officer, Captain Harbax Singh, lost an eye after he was hit by a splinter of an enemy mortar bomb. He was immediately evacuated to the depth area for treatment. Since it took time to position another OP Officer at a suitable location to direct the artillery fire, in the interim period, I took a few shots.
Taking into account heavy casualties suffered by the battalion and the possibility of a UN-sponsored ceasefire coming into force at any time, the plan to capture the rest of the objectives next night was abandoned. On the intervening night of September 22 and 23, some of the troops were redeployed at lower ridges to reduce their density at the present location and defenses were fully re-coordinated. Next day, the enemy continued pounding our location with mortar fire. Due to paucity of ammunition, the retaliatory fire had to be restricted. Unfortunately, replenishment of ammunition and other administrative build up had not been planned adequately. The unit was lucky that the enemy did not press home their counterattack, else with the state of the unit defenses and low availability of ammunition, it would have suffered very heavy casualties and could have even lost the captured area. Among the killed was Captain Surjit Singh, Adjutant of the unit. As the enemy was dominating the captured area by observation and fire and our unit had suffered a large number of casualties without achieving any major tactical advantage, around 5.30 pm, permission was granted to abandon the location after last light on September 23 and return to Poonch. It was sad that, in the confusion of the battle, the unit could neither cremate their dead nor bring their bodies along. In this operation, the unit lost 15 soldiers while 65 were injured. It was a hurriedly planned operation that was launched without adequate recce and preparation and thus the unit suffered high casualties without achieving any significant gains.
Destiny willed otherwise
I am reminded of an incident which proves how destiny plays its part. Medical Officer Captain AK Singh was attending to a wounded soldier on lower slopes when his nursing assistant came running and told him that an officer was wounded on upper slopes. He asked the Medical Officer to go and look after the injured officer while he would take care of the wounded soldier there. The doctor had hardly moved a few yards when a mortar bomb landed where the nursing assistant was attending the wounded soldier, killing both of them. The doctor then told us that he was destined to be saved, hence destiny created a condition to pull him out and the death of the nursing assistant drew him to that location. — Lt Gen MM Lakhera (retd)
Enemy at vantage ledges
The enemy was holding the two higher ledges, which were of narrow width. The layout of the ledges was such that their steep side was towards the line of gunfire. Three 25 pounder guns were allotted to us for the support of the battalion, besides a medium gun when it was not engaged in other tasks. The layout of the enemy posts was such that the fire of these guns was not very effective and most of the shells would miss the target. We had to mainly retaliate with small arms and infantry mortars, which were in a very limited quantity. Anchor Observation Post Officer Captain Harbax Singh was hit by a splinter of an enemy mortar bomb and he lost an eye. Taking into account heavy casualties suffered by the battalion and the possibility of a UN-sponsored ceasefire coming into force at any time, the plan to capture the rest of the objectives next night was abandoned. On the intervening night of September 22 and 23, some of the troops were redeployed at lower ridges to reduce their density at the present location and defenses were fully re-coordinated. Next day, the enemy continued pounding our location with mortar fire. Due to paucity of ammunition, the retaliatory fire had to be restricted. Unfortunately, replenishment of ammunition and other administrative build up had not been planned adequately. The unit was lucky that the enemy did not press home their counterattack, else there would have been very heavy casualties. We could have even lost the captured area. Captain Surjit Singh, Adjutant of the unit, was among those killed. As the enemy was dominating the captured area and our unit had suffered a large number of casualties without achieving any major tactical advantage, around 5.30 pm, permission was granted to abandon the location after last light on September 23 and return to Poonch. It was sad that, in the confusion of the battle, the unit could neither cremate their dead nor bring their bodies along. In this operation, the unit lost 15 soldiers while 65 were injured. It was a hurriedly planned operation that was launched without adequate recce and preparation and thus the unit suffered high casualties without achieving any significant gains.