The battle of Chamb!
Many military experts say that the ceasefire in 1971 was premature… but nevertheless Indian soldiers fought it out in their trademark style in this battle over what the media then called it as a Ghost town!
By: M S Nazki
Well we are very proud of surgical strikes but wonder how many have read this one by General Jasbir Singh in Pallanwala which left Musharraf flustered, That was in 2000 when Indian troops launched Operation Zalim Khanjar in Pallanwala-Chhamb sector of Jammu and Kashmir in continuation with Operation Vijay that made sure that India regained parts of Kargil it had lost to Pakistan. This was entirely at the initiative of the local brigade commander without prior clearance from higher authorities. It was a follow-up to other offensive operations that the brigade had launched against a belligerent enemy. That time, Pakistani post Tower-12 (Pak name: Akbar post) was raided and held for more than two hours, while sappers laid charges and blew up the field fortifications. The garrison of the post from the elite 24th Battalion of the Baluch Regiment, was badly mauled. One officer and 13 jawans were killed while the rest of the platoon abandoned the post in panic and fled to rear areas. The raid took place immediately after Pakistan’s defeat in Kargil and was another severe blow to the morale of the over enthusiastic Pakistan army. The Pakistani Brigade Commander in charge of the sector was sacked. The Pakistani officer who was killed was the son of a general officer, who was a close friend of Musharraf, who attended the funeral. India’s message had got home. You mess around, the reply would be given and that to a heavy duty one. Pakistani forces were badly shaken by this daring offensive action and thereafter, kept a low profile in the sector. Interestingly, a precursor to the raid was the physical exchange that took place on August 14, 2000. India’s own company commander and some troops met the Pakistan Company Commander and his party at the line of control and handed them over some bottles of whiskey and rum as gifts. Alcohol is banned in Pakistan but is a very desirable commodity which the Pakistani troops were very happy to receive. This gift of alcohol was seen as a sign of goodwill and caught the Pakistanis off guard. Little did they realize that Brig Jasbir Singh of Pallanwallah Brigade was preparing another gift for them. Everything is fair in love and war! If Musharraf played the devilish game in Kargil, the reciprocation had to come in! Stories are many but the biggest of them is the 1971 war.
It was Pakistan that invaded the Chamb town which had been abandoned by the people and the reasons are all well known as to what happens when war breaks out especially so to the towns that are on the borders. The people knew as to what had happened in 1965. The abandoned city, in recumbent serenity, soaked in the moment. Chamb had become a war ravaged town. The town, from the golden rock to the blacktop streets, was calling out for a return of heartbeats and feet but for that it was impossible because the jarring noises of the tank wheels on chains and the massive eardrum shattering thuds. Chamb town sat upon the top of the land, serene with perfect view, as if it were the ideal model designed by God’s own architect. But at that time in 1971 it was the humans fighting it out with their military hardware.
I. The battle in brief:
- The Battle of Chambwas a battle in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The Pakistan Army invaded Chamb on the same principle as the Battle of Chamb (1965).
*The Pakistan Army’s primary objective was to capture the town of Chamb and surrounding areas which had strategic importance for both Pakistan and India.
*Before the capture of Chamb by Pakistan forces, this western sector was under India’s control. Similar to 1965, plans were made to capture this strategic town.
*The reason behind this plan was to deter Indians from attacking the crucial north-south line of communications passing via Gujrat. The 23 Division of Pakistan was given the task of protecting this sector and later attacking the Chamb-Dewa sectors.
- On the Indian side, the 10th Division was given the task of defense of Chamb; the Indian army believed that by attacking Gujrat and Tanda, they could guarantee the defense of Chamb. In comparison to 1965, the Indians were better prepared in terms of defenses and now had realized the importance of the town and sector.
*Brigadier Amar Cheema of the Indian Army, while comparing the strength of two countries during the battle, claimed that the Indian Armed Forces had superior tanks such as T-55 and T-54 who were equipped with 100 mm guns. They were said to be far superior to those of the Pakistani Type 59 tank. The T-55 Tanks also possessed pad ammunition firing capability which the Type 59 tank did not have. The T-55 had a far superior stabilization system.
- Cheema also claims that there was near parity in terms of artillery but when it came to infantry Pakistan army had less soldiers than the Indian army during the battle.
- Under the Simla Agreement, signed between India and Pakistan on 2 July 1972; Pakistan retained the territory it captured in the Chamb sector whereas India retained the territory it captured on the Pakistani side of the ceasefire line opposite the Kargil sector.
II. ‘Battle Ground Chhamb’ General AJS Sandhu’s book:
The book asks several questions like, did former prime minister Indira Gandhi jump the gun by declaring unilateral ceasefire in the western sector in 1971? Shouldn’t she have allowed her troops to recapture the lost territory of Chhamb that continues to be with Pakistan even now? This is the question Maj Gen AJS Sandhu (retd) mulls as he sets about bringing to life the Battle of Chamb in his book Battleground Chhamb: The Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
- The battle is the story of raw courage and tactical hits and misses.
*The 14 days saw a heavy loss of life with Pakistan losing 45% of its strength in the West.
*Sandhu was a young captain in the eastern sector during the 1971 Indo-Pak war when his father, then Maj Gen Jaswant Singh, was the general officer commanding of 10 Division in Kashmir, which fought the Battle of Chamb.
*Interestingly, Jaswant’s three brothers were also fighting the war, two in the eastern theatre and one in the west.
*The Chhamb Salient provided India a God-given launchpad to strike at the Northern Plains of Pak Punjab from our Jammu region, and disrupt movement of vital Offensive Formations from the Jhelum – Kharian – Gujrat Concentration Areas.
- For Pakistan, the development of offensive operations through Chhamb and capture of Akhnoor on the Indian side, would cut the main Indian logistics axis to Rajouri and Poonch.
*Sandhu also approached Pakistani army officers who had fought this battle. A chapter titled ‘View from the Other Side of the Hill’, carries the uncensored first-hand accounts of the battle by four Pakistani officers. Interestingly, one of them is an officer who shot down the plane of Air Marshal Denzil Keelor. Keelor was flying support missions in Chhamb when his plane was shot down by the Pakistani army, says Sandhu. He managed to bail out and landed in the no-man’s land. Luckily, Indians managed to evacuate him.
- Chhamb, says Sandhu, saw Pakistan’s biggest land offensive as Maj Gen Yahya Khan wanted to capture the only connecting bridge on the Chenab as that would make it possible for them to make further progress on their plans.
*Sandhu says initially, the Indian Army planned to launch an offensive on Pakistan in the western sector but the plan was aborted at the last minute. Indira Gandhi felt she could defend her attack on the East Pakistan to the world following 1 million Bangla refugees and her tours to the US and Canada seeking a solution to this problem. But she didn’t want to hazard an adverse world reaction to an attack on West Pakistan, says Sandhu.
- The 10 Division was in the process of reorienting itself when Pakistan caught it off guard with a massive offensive backed by heavy artillery support. The battle, which began on the evening of December 3 with air strikes by Pakistan, ended with Indira Gandhi announcing a unilateral ceasefire that took effect on December 17.
- The 14 days saw a heavy loss of life with Pakistan losing 45% of its strength in the West. Pakistan’s Maj Gen Ifthikar Khan Janjua became the highest ranked officer to have died in combat during this offensive. The Indians also captured Col Basharat Raja, the senior-most Pakistani commanding officer in the western theatre.
- Sandhu says later Indira, when being introduced to Jaswant Singh as the general who fought a tough battle in Chhamb, intervened to describe it as not tough, but the toughest battle in the western sector.
- The battle, Sandhu says, holds many lessons even for the present day warfare. But clearly, what rankles him the most is the loss of Chhamb. ‘we had 90,000 prisoners of war with us. Shouldn’t we have negotiated the return of our territory in the Simla Agreement? he questioned.
III. Remembering the heroes every year!
- The heroes of the Indo-Pak Chamb battle of 1971 are remembered in a simple yet befitting ceremony at Pannu war memorial in Akhnoor sector. The event happens year after year.
- During the 1971 war, a company of 5 Sikh, under the leadership of Maj D S Pannu, was entrusted with the vital role of defending important routes to the Chamb sector.
*Despite all odds, over a period of four days, the company successfully repulsed as many as 14 attacks launched by the Pakistan army, many brave soldiers, including Maj D S Pannu, sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
- This year the Swarnim Vijay Varsh, Commemoration of 50 years of victory in 1971 Indo-Pak is taking place.
- To commemorate 50 years of a decisive victory in the Indo- Pak war of 1971 as Swarnim Vijay Varsh and pay tributes to the selfless supreme sacrifices of bravehearts, the eternal Victory Flame, ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ is now traversing the sector which witnessed some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in the war.
- The victory flame was received by Brigadier Rajeev Kaul in Pallanwala.
*The Swarnim Vijay Mashaal was carried to the Selanwali village, the residence of Veer Nari Smt Puspa Devi, wife of Late Lance Naik Gullu Ram who sacrificed his life fighting bravely for the Nation in 1971 war.
- As a mark of respect on behalf of Crossed Sword Division, the Brigade Commander presented a souvenir to the Veer Nari. *In a series of functions, a solemn wreath laying ceremony was organized at Brigade Headquarters.
- This was an occasion which made the chests of those watching the celebrations swell with pride.
- The Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’s journey through villages in and around Pallanwala formed a positive impact on the youth of the area and motivated them to join Indian Army to serve the Nation.
*The local populace including veterans of the area expressed their gratitude to the Indian Army for this initiative.
*The bridge across Mawa river, with its ends lopped off, symbolizes the gulf between India and Pakistan. Once a busy trade route in the Chhamb-Pallanwala sector, all that remains of the bridge after 30 years of hostilities between the neighbours is the centre span and its two pillars.
- Built in the early 1900s by the then ruling Dogras, the Mawa bridge was a busy link between Chhamb and Pallanwala. After a trading centre was set up at Ranbir Singh Pura, the bridge also became the main transport link between Sialkot and Akhnoor.
- Before the 1965 war, the Mawa bridge continued to unite the two parts of Chhamb. But when Pakistan captured the Chhamb border belt after the 1971 war, its troops destroyed their side of the bridge to prevent Indian troops from moving to Sialkot.
- However, the Simla Agreement restored a substantial portion of Chamb up the river to India. Today, the bridge stands have witnessed exchange of shells and medium-to-heavy firing along the IB.
*The bridge, when it existed, was strategically important for both Pakistan and India and had to be destroyed. While the Pakistani soldiers destroyed their portion, we ensured that the span linking our area, too, had to go as per the army .
*What remains now is the just one span in the middle of the river and that was being used for target practice by soldiers from both countries.
*The bridge falls in the area now known as the ‘weak’ Chicken Neck where Indian forces are surrounded by the Pakistani army on three sides.
The place has a great military history. There are high pedigreed stories of great battle field commanders who fought. We will be bringing them for the readers as and when required. So to finally conclude, the place is golden in the light of eventide, as if it is nurturing some happy memory of times passed. It applauds the new brave souls that entered by opening shutters all at once, right on cue. Finally, it was awake and had good reason to remain so. The place is a home to nature, providing shelter for other members of creation. Indian Army makes it absolutely magnificent!