The massive book on warfare between Pakistan Patton tanks blitz and a recoilless gun specialist was written at Assal Uttar and the author was CHQM Abdul Hamid!
-‘Pak commanders that day had swilled a Scotch each and taken stupor giving pills, something you don’t normally do and tried to move through with their Patton tanks. And, yes, the Indian’s knew and wanted to teach the enemy the lesson that you’re not supposed to combine sedatives with alcohol and you’re also not supposed to flaunt the massive machines against the grit and determination of human walls manning the defenses. Decimation of the enemy had to be the only outcome. It was’. That was the day when one man stood apart like a chivalrous knight and he was none other than Abdul Hamid on his fire ejaculating jeep mounted RCL gun from both rear and the front’!
-‘When ever tank warfare would be talked about, two men will always find themselves in the center of discussions and every military officer in the Indian Army knows that they were Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian: The Legendary Tank Commanders. On the 28th of February 1918, Guderian began to work for the German General Staff, and while he studied to become a staff officer, British inventors were creating a machine that would transform his career. In 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, a new weapon, the armored tank, made its debut. In the Indo-Pak wars it was in 1965 when the tanks roared.’
-‘The blitzkrieg is one of the best-known examples of a military technical revolution and was perhaps one of the most misunderstood by the Pak generals perhaps in 1965. It is commonly assumed, based on the ease with which German armies overran Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, and France, that they possessed a big technological and numerical edge over their adversaries. Nothing could be further from the truth; Hitler actually fielded fewer tanks and aircraft than the British and French, and the quality of the Allied weapons was in many cases higher than the Germans. The German edge lay in their superior ability to coordinate their forces, and in their high quality of leadership, training, and morale. They figured out how to make the best use of the technology of the day; the Allies did not. Indian Army knew what had to be done with the Pak sudden blitz in Assal Uttar in the Khem Karan sector. The simply with their superior tactical skills subdued and later on decimated the Pak advance. That is the reason why I said that the Pak tank commanders had no idea as to what they were up and against’!
-‘The military history of modern day warfare is laced with riveting tank battles and one of the greatest ever was in World War-II christened as the Battle of Kursk. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive Operation Citadel, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. After the German offensive stalled on the northern side of the salient, the Soviets commenced their Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation with the launch of Operation Kutuzov against the rear of the German forces on the same side. The Germans hoped to weaken the Soviet offensive potential for the summer of 1943 by cutting off and enveloping the forces that they anticipated would be in the Kursk salient. Hitler believed that a victory here would reassert German strength and improve his prestige with his allies, whom he thought were considering withdrawing from the war. It was also hoped that large numbers of Soviet prisoners would be captured to be used as slave labor in the German armaments industry. But that never happened and the German army was defeated.’
-‘This battle of Asal Uttar is compared with the Battle of Kursk in the Second World War for how it changed the course of the India Pakistan war of 1965 in India’s favor. War historians regard the Indian resistance near Khem Karan as one of the key turning points of the war, one which tilted the balance of the war in favor of India. Another historian states that the defeat of Pakistan Army in the battle of Asal Uttar was one of the greatest defeats suffered by Pakistan forces in the course of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965.’
-‘Actions speak louder than words. In the days to come the Goddess of Victory will bestow her laurels only on those who prepared to act with daring, who else than the great Panzer Commander Charles Heinz Guderian would have said it and for sure the Indian Army action was absolutely superlative in this great battle at Assal Uttar’!
‘Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide and don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning. (Erwin Rommel)
I The prelude to the battle:
On 7 April 1965, Pakistan overran two posts on the Indian border in Rann of Kutch. On 23 April, Pakistan again struck four border posts and captured Vigokot and Biar Bet. The hostilities ended on 1 July 1965, at the intervention of the British prime minister. Though no major gains accrued to either side, Pakistan felt elated by this adventure. That was just a temporary stop since Pakistan had bigger plans.
After what Pakistan thought was success in the Rann of Kutch, Pakistan put into action her plan to grab the valley of Kashmir by infiltration and sabotage. The Pakistani army sent in thousands of soldiers into Kashmir. Pakistan had assumed that the people of Kashmir would help the infiltrators launch a popular uprising against Indian rule.
The plan as we all know was code named Operation Gibraltar. But it failed miserably because the local people, far from helping them, helped the Indian Army to locate and capture the infiltrators. The Indian troops took some quick measures and was able to contain the infiltrators within 15 days. But to remove the threat completely it was necessary to seal the entry points of the infiltrators.
* These too were familiar and thus the Indian Army attacked Kargil (in Leh sector), Tangdhar (Tithwal sector) and Haji Pir (in Uri sector) with this intent.
To relieve pressure on their forces in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the Pakistan army launched an all-out attack on 1 September against the Indian forces in the Chhamb–Jaurian region. The aim of Operation Grand Slam was to capture the Akhnoor bridge on the fast-flowing river Chenab, which would lead to cutting off the Indian Army’s formations stationed in western Jammu-Kashmir.
The Indian troops held on to Akhnoor, tenaciously at first, but with increasing confidence with every passing day. It was then that the Indian troops were asked to take a defensive position in the Punjab town of Asal Uttar.
II. The ambitious project of the Pakistani commanders:
Perhaps that day or could be night also when the Pakistani commanders were planning the advance of their First Armored Division into Punjab the officers in the situations room must be all yes men who had never read the following maxim in the armed forces all over the world. The soldier must say yes when he thinks yes. But when many say yes and think no, when they feel forced to say yes, though they think no, or when they say yes for the sake of their careers, their own comfort or self-interest while their consciences tell them no, the point has been reached where true soldiering dies out altogether. And not only soldiering. This is death’s great triumph. For when conscience dies, mankind dies with it. The debacle is a certainty. It was definitely the case in the Battle of Asal Uttar for the Pak Commanders!
The Opposing Forces:
India:3rd Cavalry (45 Centurion tanks), 9th Deccan Horse (45 M4 Sherman tanks), 8th Light Cavalry (45 AMX-13 tanks): Total: 135 Tanks.
Pakistan: 4th Cavalry (44 Patton tanks), 5th Horse (44 Patton tanks), 6th Lancers (44 Patton tanks), 24th Cavalry (44 Patton tanks), 12th Cavalry (44 M24 Chaffee tanks), 19th Lancers (44 Patton tanks): Total: 264 tanks
India: Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh, Lt. Gen. J. S. Dhillon, Maj. Gen. Gurbaksh Singh, India Brig. Thomas K. Theogaraj.
Pakistan: Maj. Gen. Nasir Khan, Brig. A.R.Shami
Boosted up with the acquisition of sophisticated military hardware from the United States of America, Pakistan, under the military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan (who styled himself as president of the country) launched a misadventure against India that culminated into a full-fledged war known in history as the Indo-Pakistan War-1965.
The main among the tank battles were the Battle of Asal Uttar, Battle of Phillora, Battle of Burki and Battle of Chawinda. The Battle of Asal Uttar fought in the Khem Karan sector of Punjab from 8 September to 10 September, 1965, is regarded as the war winning engagement for the Indian Army and the Indian nation.
The battle started with an offensive maneuver of the Pakistan army. The Pakistani 1 Armoured Division, with its brand new and state- of-the-art M-47 and M-48 (Patton) tanks and supported by 11 Infantry Division thrust into India.
It out-flanked the Indian township of Khem Karan, located about five kms from the International border with Pakistan and moved north into the India plains.
On September 10, 1965, the Indian Army launched its riposte upon the advancing Pakistan tank columns with troops of 4 Mountain Division under Major General Gurbaksh Singh and a brigade level strength of three Armored Regiments.
Two Armored Regiments were a part of 2 Independent Armored Brigade whose one regiment was deployed in some other sector; the third Armored Regiment was integral to 4 Infantry Division.
The Armored element was under command of Brigadier Thomas K. Theograj. The Indian Armored Regiments were equipped with outdated American M4 Sherman tanks, AMX-13 light tanks of French origin and British-built Centurion Tanks.
These tanks were technology wise no match for the 46-Ton Patton Tanks with their 90 mm main guns and sophisticated fire control systems as against the 75mm main guns of the Indian tanks.
Pattons also had better speed and Armour protection. The numbers were also vastly in favor of the Pakistanis who moved in with and Armoured Division tank strength of 300 tanks as compared to about 135 deployed by India with its three regiment having 45 tanks each.
The two forces faced each other at Asal Uttar, a village North east of Khem Karan that, if captured, would have opened for the enemy the axis to Amritsar to the north and Harike to the east.
The aim of the attack was to capture Indian towns of Raya and Beas on the GT Road and thus cause a major chunk of Indian Punjab to be cut off from the rest of the country by securing the bridge over the River Beas.
In the night, the Indian troops flooded the sugar cane field, and the next morning, the Pakistani tanks of the 1st Armoured Division, consisting mainly of M47 and M48 Patton tanks (which according to the Americans were unbeatable), were lured inside the horse-shoe trap. The swampy ground slowed the advance of the Pakistani tanks and many of them could not move because of the muddy slush.
The swampy ground slowed down the advance of the Pakistani tanks and many of them could not move because of the muddy slush. The Indian Gunners were superbly trained while the Pakistanis were not even familiar with the new equipment; Indians, therefore, were able to fire three rounds for each one fired by the Pakistanis.
The smaller Indian tanks were able to penetrate the Pakistani Pattons from all angles and shortly set dozens on fire. The Pakistanis fled in disarray, leaving almost a hundred tanks behind. 99 Pakistani tanks, mostly Pattons, and a few Shermans and Chaffees, were destroyed or captured while the Indians lost only 10 tanks in the battle.
The commander of Pakistani forces Maj. Gen. Nasir Ahmed Khan was killed in action. Despite the initial thrust of the Pakistani Army into Indian territory, the battle ended in a decisive victory for India.
The Battle then took place from September 8 to 10, with the result being the decimation of the Pakistani attack and total rout till Khemkaran. However, the town itself remained under Pakistani occupation till after ceasefire and it was exchanged back for Indian-occupied areas in Pakistan.
The Pak plan failed miserably because the Pakistan army, though better equipped, was ill trained, de-motivated and badly led. Factors that contributed to Indian success were the fierce fighting ability of the troops, high morale, a better understanding of warfare in the plains, better coordination between all formations, excellent junior leadership, better tactics and a successful strategy.
Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, who had also fought in the 1965 war, had once said that if the Indian Army hadn’t stopped the Pakistani advance at Asal Uttar, Amritsar would have fallen and it would have been all over for India.
III. One man who created history in this battle:
‘It is my experience that bold decisions give the best promise of success. But one must differentiate between strategic and tactical boldness and a military gamble. A bold operation is one in which success is not a certainty but which in case of failure leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to cope with whatever situation may arise. A gamble, on the other hand, is an operation which can lead either to victory or to the complete destruction of one’s force. (Erwin Rommel)
There was one man who opted for the bold approach and was ready to gamble with his life as a stake. Both ways he created history and gained immortality as far as displaying raw courage under fire goes
The grave of the man and a war memorial to the Battle of Asal Uttar is located at the outskirts of Chima Village on Khemkaran-Bhikhiwind road in Tarn Taran district of Punjab. This was the area in which the Pakistan Army had launched an offensive with an armored division and had over-run Indian positions to make an attempt to capture large swathes of territory.
It was here that the Indian Army made a decisive stand which blunted the Pakistani attack, forcing them back and capturing a large number of their Patton tanks and taking equally large numbers of Pakistani officers and soldiers as prisoners of war.
Incidentally, the name of the village as pronounced in Punjabi is ‘Aasal Utaad’ but it has changed to Asal Uttar (meaning real reply in Hindi) over the years after the riposte delivered to the enemy by the Indian Army.
Abdul Hamid was leading a detachment of Recoilless Guns mounted on a jeep which were essentially hunting enemy tanks in the fields of the villages surrounding Asal Uttar.
In the afternoon of September 10, a well-placed group of soldiers of 4 Grenadiers, now the site is part of the Abdul Hamid war memorial, opened fire on a convoy of Pakistani Commanders who were coming down the Khemkaran-Bhikhiwind road for reconnaissance. The Pakistani Artillery Commander, Brig AR Shami, was killed in this shootout and his body was buried on the battlefield by Indian troops with full military honors.
On September 9 and 10, Abdul Hamid was also hunting down Patton tanks in the same area. On September 10, he came upon four Pakistani tanks in the sugarcane fields and fired at them from near point-blank range, destroying four Patton tanks and disabling another.
However, he also came under fire from an enemy tank and was blown to death after a direct hit on his jeep. For this supreme act of gallantry, CQMH Abdul Hamid was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the nation’s highest gallantry award. Incidentally, his grave is not more than 100 metres away from the dense grove from where he had taken aim at Pakistani tanks and shot them down before getting killed himself.
A captured Pakistani Patton tank stands guard at the entrance of the memorial, with its turret down, as a tribute to the brave Indian soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of Asal Uttar.
IV. Creation of Patton Nagar:
The battle at Asal Uttar led to the creation of Patton Nagar (near Bhikhiwind), which is also known as the graveyard of Patton tanks after more than a hundred tanks were either destroyed or captured here. According to military historians Pakistan admitted that it lost 165 tanks during the 1965 war, more than half of which were knocked out during the debacle of Asal Uttar.
V. Battle Honors:
The honor Asal Uttar was awarded for the period 9 to 11 September to the following units. Deccan Horse, 3 Cavalry, 91 Mountain Regiment, 40 Medium Regiment, 4 Grenadiers, 18 Rajputana Rifles (now 11th Mechanised Infantry Regiment), 1 Dogra (now 7th Mechanised Infantry Regiment), 2 Mahar and 9 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.
When the war ends, when all is said and all is done it’s time to rejoice as well as getting drowned in emotions. On the day of victory, no man is tired but certainly he thinks, ‘wish it would not have happened!’ But do the Pakistani commanders ever realize it or rather I would say realized it? They never did and so far have not done it despite the fact that every misadventure of theirs has met a dead end! Assal Uttar was one amongst many!