INCENSED by India's intransigent attitude towards Kashmir and encouraged by victory in the Rann of Kutch, Field Marshal Ayub Khan felt that the time was ripe to wrest Kashmir from India. He planned to do this in two phases.
In the first phase, the Muslim population in occupied Kashmir would be incited to rise in revolt by infiltrators. In the second, the army would deliver the knockout blow by severing at Aknur the line of communication serving the Indian forces south of the Pir Panjal range — although Maj Gen Akhtar Malik planned the exploit towards Jammu to sever the road link to the valley.
In the first week of Aug 1965, 5,000 lightly armed men slipped across the ceasefire line. They were hastily trained civilians with a sprinkling of regular soldiers. They were the Gibraltar Force. While the surprise lasted, they conducted a series of spectacular raids and ambushes. Then the expected happened. Indian retribution against Muslim villages was swift and brutal.
As a result, the locals not only refused to cooperate with the raiders but also started assisting the Indian forces to flush them out. To make matters worse, Indian forces started capturing critical areas in Azad Kashmir and threatening Muzaffarabad. With its fate sealed, the Gibraltar Force disintegrated. Phase 1 of the plan had backfired. In order to release the pressure being applied on Azad Kashmir, the next phase was launched.
In the early hours of Sept 1, 1965, the sudden thunder of 100 artillery guns stunned the Indian troops in Chhamb and heralded the opening of Operation Grand Slam. As Pakistani armoured forces advanced rapidly towards Aknur the Indian defences crumbled and their troops fled in disarray. Instead of exploiting this, the operation was suddenly stopped to effect the infamous change of command.
In the process 36 precious hours were lost, enabling the Indians to reinforce the area. When it was finally resumed it was unable to develop momentum and was terminated when India opened up the Lahore front on Sept 6. Because of the field marshal's folly and Maj Gen Yahya's quest for glory, Phase 2 of the plan had backfired. Maj Gen Joginder Singh, then chief of staff of western command, in his book Behind the Scene writes, “The enemy came to our rescue.”
When the Indians opened up the Lahore front, the field marshal was surprised and when they opened up the Sialkot front on Sept 8, he panicked. He had been deluded into believing that Indian reactions would remain confined to Kashmir. As a field marshal he should have known better.Therefore, once he had decided to provoke India he should have provoked them all the way — by launching Grand Slam 24 hours after Gibraltar along with a complementary offensive in Ravi-Chenab corridor to sever India's road link with Jammu-Srinagar, while employing the SSG a night before to destroy Harike headworks and the bridges on River Beas, thus placing the Indian high command in an operational dilemma. Only then would severance of Kashmir have been achieved, and the Muslim population energised to support the Gibraltar Forces.
On the night of Sept 6, 1965, three C-130 planes took off from Peshawar and headed towards the Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara airbases. The passengers were SSC commandos who were to parachute into pre-selected areas in the vicinity of the bases, then move in and create havoc. At 2.30am (Indian time) they jumped out and in less than a minute hit the ground, most of them landing in settlements and water channels that were not supposed to be
there. The alarm was raised. With surprise, their main weapon lost, their mission was foredoomed to failure. The next 48 hours saw them fighting running battles with their pursuers until their ammunition ran out.
It was planned in haste on outdated intelligence and maps. SSG's request to delay the operation by 24 hours and advance the drop-time was denied. Thus even before the launch, the odds had been stacked against them. The cream of the army was wasted in a needless operation against targets that were subsequently taken out by the PAF many times over.
On Sept 6, 1965, India launched XI Corps against Lahore, and two days later, I Corps in Sialkot sector, both under Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, Commander Western Command. In spite of achieving complete surprise and enjoying numerical superiority, both offensives failed to accomplish their missions.
The reasons for their failure are best explained by the commander in his book War Despatches ... in XI Corps “there was a sickening repetition of command failures ... leadership at brigade and battalion levels left much to be desired”. “[In I Corps] the guiding hand of the corps commander was conspicuously absent — he hardly played a part in the battle” — leading to “a dismal disaster at lower levels”. True.
Like a bad workman Lt Gen Singh has blamed his tools (1 and XI Corps). He had blundered by committing 1 Corps when Pakistan's armoured division was yet to show its hand, a decision that could have led to disastrous consequences for his command. The fact is that neither his chief, nor he himself, nor his corps commanders, nor their division commanders, were mentally equipped to command their formations in battle, as clearly they had been promoted beyond their capacity. The Indian army had a surfeit of such generals.
On the morning of Sept 8, 1965, unknown to them that India's armoured division had been committed in Sialkot sector, Pakistan's strike-force consisting of I Armoured Division (Maj Gen Naseer Ahmed) and Infantry Division 11 (Maj Gen Abdul Hameed Khan), under the latter, was preparing to embark on a counter-offensive mission from the Khem Karan area, which if accomplished, would paralyse India's western command comprising I Corps, XI Corps and XV Corps (in Kashmir) as the logistic lines serving them would be severed. The mission was to secure the line of River Beas to a point beyond the bridges on GT road by the evening of Sept 9.
The counter-offensive got off to a flying start as the leading armoured units secured a line 12 miles away. Then the foul-ups began. As night fell, the infantry of Division 11 failed to move up to relieve the units to enable them to refuel. Instead of sending infantry and logistics forward, the armoured units were ordered to move back. This madness was repeated on Sept 9. On Sept 10, when the units moved forward again, they encountered heavy opposition, and in the meantime, the Indians had reinforced the area. Unable to make headway, the counter-offensive was terminated.
Gen Choudhry, Indian's army chief and Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh had given a great opportunity to Gens Naseer and Hameed to trap the western command and score a decisive victory. Instead of being driven by a relentless urge to get to River Beas soonest, they bungled it. The Indian and Pakistani generals in the war of 1965 were cast in the same mould. Only Akhtar Malik stood out as an imaginative and dynamic general.