One of the great battles fought by the Indian army with all the actions synchronized with surprise, speed, solidity and sublimity!
-‘ In our younger days during the training in academies to become men later we are taught that the strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about. The Indian army showed that to the world with a spectacular strike at Hajipir the tip of the bulge protruding into the skies that looked too far but wasn’t the case when the Indian army stormed the Pak citadel’!
-‘All battles are fought and won by one furious active thing and that is behind your forehead always on the wobble either in the situation’s room where the plans are hatched or on the ground where they are put into action. But one thing is certain the face off is going to be brutal with two sets of soldiers at each other’s guts with many in the bullet fury falling never to see the next tomorrow. Battle of Hajipir 1965 was one such bloody face off which was won in the mountains but then something happened on the tables at Tashkent but definitely the part one of the action fought with gun barrels exploding was stupendous but part two no so and that was discussed by the mouth pieces of the leaders with ultimately the pen closing the file but with a cliché’, if you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you’re allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind.’
-’ Whenever 1965 will be talked about one name will always shine out and the name is Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh, VrC who was a senior General Officer in the Indian Army. As the Western Army Commander, Singh commanded the Indian Army forces and played a key role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. For his role in the war, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1966. Moreover he has written the Military classic ‘War Dispatches’ which does give a comprehensive account of what happened in those times. After reading it I came to a conclusion that you don’t win battles with hate. Anger and hate can make you brave, make you strong, but they also make you stupid. You end up tripping over your own two feet. Pakistan launched the ambitious project in form Op Gibraltar, Pakistan’s leadership specifically chose this name to draw a parallel to the Muslim conquest of Portugal/Spain that was launched from the port of Gibraltar. This was the past but what happened in 1965 was the present in 1965, when the ambitious plan turned out to be a mega flop show in the end’!
-‘ This was yet another war for Kashmir that Pakistan initiated and threw all its might in achieving an aim which to begin with was an impossibility by all means as it proved ultimately when the war ended where Pakistani leadership and the Generals were left to thinking the second time that time doesn’t heal all wounds, only distance can lessen the sting of them. 1947 was the first time they did so but faltered again’!
-‘ Post Hajipir action Raja-Rani, the twin pickets were gained by India in the 1965 war but were later returned to Pakistan, revealing so much more than it concealed. The return of the Raja-Rani along with the much spoken about Haji-Pir-Pass under the Tashkent agreement was to circumvent the Chamb-Jourian insertion by Pakistan in the Jammu sector in 1965. Had the same not been returned we would have been dominating the Poonch-Uri axis but it was not to be. That was diplomacy in the post war scenario keeping the international relations in mind but when it was action time India clearly out gunned Pakistan at Haji Pir Pass’!
` A great battle is a terrible thing, said an old soldier who had seen it all, but added that in the midst of blood and carnage, there was sometimes beauty also, beauty that could break your heart.’
As Pakistan began to execute their mega plan that began with a series of infiltrations all along the LOC and International border, the possibilities were endless. The Indian leadership and the command structure knew that battles would be fought. Wonders were going to be revealed. Many journeys were to be undertaken. Many lands would be won or lost (it happens in all the wars as has been proved by the military. Many joys in victories. Many sorrows for the comrades lost. But all become immortal stories and Hajipir produced one of the best in the annals of military history of India which has evolved into one of the most illustrious one as the years changed one after the another since 1947.
In the borderland district of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir, the return of the twin Raja-Rani-pickets is still seen as an unfortunate event, especially for those who had witnessed the 1965 war. The reason is that much blood had to be spilled in gaining these forward positions at Raja-Rani, which were also crucial for the Poonch-Uri link up. The tales of bravery of Lt. Col N.N. Khanna who laid down his life fighting is known to many in the district. The bravery of the 2 Sikh platoon and its commander Lt. Col. Khanna, who was singlehandedly responsible for the victory over Raja post is still a much talked about affair especially by those locals who saw the live action in Poonch in those days. The bravery, the courage and the spirit shown by the Indian soldiers are still related as and when 1965 chapter comes up for discussions. Then there are those mystical stories, unbelievable when you hear for the first time but true to the hilt as the locals say and they recite them with all the passion, tales of a couple of revered saints/Pir’s who stood on the hillocks catching/plucking shells/bullets from air and helping the people out by saying that nothing would happen and they would be safe. It is all so fascinating but the real and hard core ones, I mean the stories have come from the men who did it for the Nation. So here we go and check out how things unfolded at Hajipir in 1965.
I The beginning:
Peaceful disputes are maintained when men sincerely believe that they are morally, logically correct about the issues at hand. Ever since Pakistan came into existence in 1947 it has never believed in peace. They still do not though the ceasefire still holds on. The country has believed in instigating wars and in 1965 they did it for the second time in eighteen years after they got independence and saw their best laid plans splattered apart by the resolute Indian Army!
In 1964, he was promoted to Army Commander and took over as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Western Command whose area of responsibility spanned from Ladakh to Punjab. He led the Western Command successfully against the Pakistan Army along the entire border in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Around May 12, 1965, Brigade Commander, Vijey Ghai in Kargil convened a conference at HQ. The agenda was not revealed but it started with him reading out the contents of Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh GOC-in-C Western Command, DO (demi official note) to the forces. The Army Commander had reviewed recent skirmishes in Rann of Kutch and commented that the Pakis were continuing with their belligerent attitude and spoke about cultivating a more aggressive spirit in our troops. He also remarked pointedly has the martial blood in the veins of the Indian Army soldiers dried up or words to the similar effect. The operations that followed including the Taking of Point 13620 and Black Rocks was a major boost for the Indian forces. Per the official account of the War, this was the first counter-offensive undertaken by Indian troops in years. Its success had a good effect on the morale of the troops in J&K and the Army as a whole. Politically it bolstered the image of the country. The outstanding leadership of Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh had played a key role in boosting the morale of a defeated army turning it into a striking force within just three years of the Chinese aggression in 1962.
The capture of Haji Pir pass in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is a storied battle written about by many military historians, but who better than the all-time military great, the late Lt Gen. Harbakhsh Singh, who led the Western Command in the 1965 war. In April 1965, there were a number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan and in May, Pakistani forces occupied three hill features overlooking the Srinagar – Leh Highway and commenced accurate artillery fire on the highway. In early August 1965, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar with the aim of clandestinely infiltrating a large number of guerrillas into Kashmir to destabilise the region through subversive activities including inciting the local population to rebellion and guerrilla attacks to destroy infrastructure, followed by overthrowing the administration and installing a puppet government. However, Operation Gibraltar failed because the local population did not revolt as expected and also on finding out Pakistan’s plans, India launched a counter operation against the infiltrators who were identified, engaged and liquidated.
In response to Pakistan’s repeated infiltrations and attempts to destabilise Kashmir, the then Prime Minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri made a statement ‘India cannot go on pushing the Pakistanis off its territory. If infiltration continues, we will have to carry the fight to the other side.’ It was done with precision. On 15 August 1965, the Indian Army crossed the Ceasefire line (CFL) and recaptured the three hill positions that had been earlier occupied by Pakistan and were being used to disrupt traffic on the Srinagar – Leh Highway. A decision was also taken to capture the Haji Pir Bulge, which was a key hub and ingress route for infiltrations into India. The plan of attack was a pincer movement, to avoid a frontal assault in order to minimise casualties. The movement from the west was codenamed Operation Bakshi, and the 19th Infantry Division was tasked with capturing Haji Pir pass and the bulge and 68 Infantry Brigade was placed under the 19th Infantry Division. D-Day for the operation was set as 26 August.
The capture of Hajipir was preceded by many battles before the final assault and all were meticulously planned to the minutest of details. There were many operations launched around the Haji Pir bulge, the main route for Pakistani infiltrators, beginning with Operation Faulad, which was to clear approaches to Haji Pir. The final operation, the assault on Haji Pir, which is widely described as India’s capture of its Golan Heights, was called Operation Bakshi.
The first in the series was The Sank approach: First Para commenced their attack on the Sank feature at 2130 hours on Night 26th/27th August. The climb was steep, made worse by incessant heavy rain. The battalion however pressed on relentlessly for it was a race against time: to achieve surprise the troops had to reach the top before first light. The enemy was taken completely unawares and fled in panic, leaving behind two medium machine guns and three light machine guns. Exploiting their success, the battalion rushed on to the next feature, Sar which was captured by 0930 hours 27th August. Two hours later the unit added Leidi Wali Gali to their list of successes that day.
Then entered Major Ranjit Singh Dayal and later on Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dayal, PVSM, MVC. A soldier of great virtues, (Ranjit Singh led the capture of the Haji Pir pass by the Indian army during the 1965 war with Pakistan. He also drew up the plans for Operation Blue Star, and served as the General-Officer-Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Command. Later, he served as Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) the hero of this operation sought permission to strike for the Hajipir pass. The permission was given and the march began. The approach involved a climb of over 4000 feet and it had to be done during the hours of darkness. Again a continuous heavy rain made the hill-side slushy and slippery. But First Para, defying physical exhaustion continued to scramble up doggedly, often on all fours and reached the vicinity of the pass on 28th August. The much sought after objective was in sight and after a brief pause the battalion stormed the pass. The enemy fled in confusion. By August 1 the battalion was in complete control of the objective.
The enemy mounted a furious counter-attack on 29th August in a desperate bid to recapture this prestige area. The attack was repulsed. To consolidate their positions the battalion captured Ring Contour and on 30 August and point a day later.
(b) The next was the Bedori Approach: 19 Punjab after securing Ring Contour (this feature was different) and Pathara, were pitching themselves against the formidable Bedori feature. The battalion made a determined assault on the position but the defenders held on tenaciously to their ground and flung the Punjabis back to their firm base. 7 Bihar were next called in to attack the post but the feature once again defied capture. An attempt by 4 Rajput from the North on 27 August was also foiled. Officer Commanding 19 Punjab then volunteered to make another try. Incensed by their previous failure the Punjabis stormed the feature from the South and this time nothing could stop them. Bedori and Kuthnar Di Gali both fell on 28th August 1965.
The battle of Bisali was another memorable battle. With the capture of the Bedori feature, the Eastern flank of the HAJIPIR Pass Area was secured. The Western flank, however, still remained exposed and vulnerable. It was, therefore, decided that it should be captured for ensuring the security of the Hajipir pass Pass from that direction. 4 Rajput was detailed to capture Bisali attacked the post on night 4th/5th September and by early morning theywere in possession of the objective. The enemy however, launched three vicious counter attacks the last of which proved too strong for Rajputs and the battalion withdrew to Sank. After this change of hands, the feature remained with the enemy.
In comparatively minor actions, 6 Bihar captured Mehndi Gali on 26th August and Jarni Gali three days later, on 29th August 1965.
II. Consolidation of positions:
It was a hard battle to fight. More than 48 hours of relentless toil, There were many brave officers and men who fought like lions for supremacy on the pass, their strength put Pak legions to rout. The target in the fray had been captured but what was required now was consolidation. To consolidate the brigade defenses the following actions were taken:
First Para was given the task of capturing Ring Contour on Night 7th/ 8th September. The battalion made four attempts on the feature without any success.
6 Dogra to capture Point 7720 on 9th September 1965. On the same day, 19 Punjab secured Point 9270 and Ziarat.
A composite force of eight platoons from 6 and 7 Bihar raided Hillan on Night 13th /14th September. Own troops came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire. The enemy however fled when fire was returned.
6 Dogra and one company 19 Punjab captured Gitian on 21st September. The enemy launched a number of counter attacks, all of which were repulsed.
19 Punjab made several attempts without success to capture Point 8777 (All this information has been procured from the book ‘War Dispatches by the great General mentioned above)
India’s capture of the entire Haji Pir bulge and Haji Pir pass was a major strategic victory as it neutralized the logistical set up and plugged the ingress routes of infiltrators as well as brought the Poonch – Uri road under Indian control, thus reducing the road distance between these 2 towns from 282 km to 56 km. It was a major achievement for the units involved, who had conducted assaults in extremely difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions against well entrenched Pakistani defenses to capture the objectives given.
III. The officers and men who mattered:
Exemplary bravery, courage and determination had been shown by the men from various units of the Indian Army. They were steadfast and tempted to do what they knew was right. They stood firm in the colors of manhood as if this was the battle of their lifetime and now everyone knows who were the heroes, in fact all of them! Brigadier Bakshi and Major Dyal were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. First Para was awarded the Battle Honour Hajipir and Theatre Honour Jammu and Kashmir (1965). Others got the battle honors.
Brigadier Zorawar Chand Bakshi (Later Lt. General) was commander of 68 infantry Brigade in Aug-Sept 1965 employed on the difficult task of capturing Basali, Haji Pir Pass and Kahuta, which was vital for the Uri-Poonch link-up. The road connecting Uri and Poonch via Haji Pir had deteriorated due to disuse and some places had disintegrated. There was no direct route for an approach to Haji Pir except over the mountain ranges. Haji Pir at an altitude of 9,000 feet had strong enemy defensive positions forward of it and flanking it. Throughout, Brigadier Bakshi remained foremost. As soon as an objective was captured, he was there personally to guide and help in the reorganization. Many a time, though enemy shelling was intense and continuous, he remained in the forefront without regard for his personal safety. After the capture of Haji Pir, he moved forward his tactical headquarters immediately, though he knew that the enemy would most certainly counter-attack it viciously. Throughout this operation, Brigadier Bakshi displayed a high standard of planning and tactical skill, combined with outstanding leadership, determination and camaraderie in sharing the hardships of his troops, which were in the highest traditions of our Army. He is popularly known as ‘Zoru’ in the Indian Army.
Lt Col Narendra Nath Khanna MVC: By 1965, Lt Col Khanna had put in about seventeen years of service in the army and had worked in various operational areas facing challenging conditions. He went on to become the Commanding Officer of 2 Sikh and played a key role in the Uri sector during the 1965 war. During 1965, Lt Col Khanna’s unit 2 Sikh was deployed in the Uri sector of J & K. As part of an operation plan to link up in the Uri-Poonch bulge, 2 Sikh battalions were tasked to attack the Raja picket across the cease-fire line on 5 Sep 1965. The approach to the given objective was very difficult and had a steep gradient for the last 200 meters. The picket was heavily mined and was strongly held by the enemy troops. Having assessed the ground situation, Lt Col Khanna made an aggressive plan using his three companies. As planned Lt Col Khanna and his soldiers launched the attack on the picket on 6 Sep 1965. The troops of 2 Sikh came under devastating fire as soon as they crossed the start line. Unnerved, the companies still managed to reach the wire obstacle, but the further advance was difficult. The two assaulting companies faced stiff resistance from the enemy forces and were pushed back. Meanwhile, Lt Col Khanna was injured in the right shoulder by a grenade splinter but Lt Col Khanna, a battle-hardened soldier and an inspiring Commanding Officer decided to move up along with his men. He encouraged the two assault companies to move on and led the attack himself with grenades in his hand. During this assault, Lt Col Khanna got a browning burst in his stomach and was seriously injured. Lt Col Khanna’s troops, however inspired by their Commanding Officer, moved forward bravely and captured the objective. Lt Col Khanna later succumbed to his injuries and attained martyrdom.
Major Ranjit Dayal and exploits of First Para: First Para (Punjab), one of its reinforced companies under the command of Major (later Lt Gen) Ranjit Singh Dyal, captured the famous Haji Pir Pass on August 29, after a heroic battle. Ranjit Singh’s unit was tasked with capturing Sank, Sar and Ledwali Gali to stop the enemy infiltration. However, the attack on Sank on the night of 25/26 August was unsuccessful. Ranjit Singh’s paratroopers captured Sank on the night of 26/27 August, and Point 1033 the next day. Meanwhile, four attacks on Rustan and Badori by other battalions had proved unsuccessful. Ranjit Singh then volunteered to capture the Haji Pir pass, and his battalion took over the operation on 27 August. Apart from winning the Battle Honour of ‘Hajipir’, this unit also earned one MVC, one Vir Chakra (VrC), two Sena Medals (SMs) and four Mentioned-in-Despatches. The Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) was awarded to Major Dyal. In the same Sector that very day, the capture of Bedori feature near Hajipir became possible due to determined efforts of all ranks of 19 Punjab under the command Lt Col Sampuran Singh. He was the proud recipient of both MVC and VrC respectively. The unit also won the Battle Honors of Bedori and Hajipir.
If there was any great lesson in warfare drawn from the battle of Hajipir, it was that no battle was ever won with silence. The fight had to be carried to the enemy and it was with some great stealth maneuvers and fury rdden onslaughts on the enemy as I tried to describe above. All the officers and men who took part were strong human beings. Their exploits simply can amaze anyone even now as they were all from a different world altogether. If only you knew what they had been up against, the heights, the weather and the enemy fire were all their foes and that too in unison but yet they did it. Indeed they were real life superheroes. They went into the battle with heads erect, proud and resolute bearing, flashing eyes, and high courage, determined to bear aloft the Indian banner and to crown it with victory, even though it cost them their lives as many became casualties and attained martyrdom. Such was the menacing mien that soldiers of all those brave and legendary units mentioned above put across a show that will be remembered for infinite times each year on the same date 28 Aug 1965, christened as the Hajipir day!