New Delhi: “Nisar, the enemy has come, do something!”
It was early September 1965, during India and Pakistan’s second war, when Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik spat out this order to the then Lt Col Nisar Ahmed Khan of Pakistan Army’s Armoured Corps.
In carrying out his brigadier’s order, Khan went on to script a piece of wartime history.
Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, Lt Col Khan and his 25 Cavalry, armed with about 44 Patton tanks, was able to pull off the unbelievable — stopping the progress of the Indian Army’s 1 Armoured Division in Sialkot.
The Lt Col, who went on to become brigadier, cleverly used three squadrons (about 14 tanks each) across the front and misled the Indian 1 Armoured Brigade (about 135 tanks) into believing they faced two Patton regiments (45 each).
This quick thinking on part of the officer gave Pakistan two days to beef up in what is known as the Battle of Chawinda, one of the largest tank battles since the Battle of Kursk in World War II, before the war was ended by a ceasefire.
They may have been enemies on the frontlines, but Brigadier Nisar has enjoyed the admiration and respect of his peers in the Indian Army. Nisar passed away on 29 July in the US, but his exploits live on in the words of fellow soldiers.
Here, ThePrint reprints excerpts from the 2015 book The Monsoon War — authored by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (Retd) and Lt Gen Tajinder Singh Shergill (Retd), a 1965 veteran whose father Maj Gen R.S. Sparrow led the 1 Armoured Division against Nisar — for a retelling of the battle fought 54 years ago.
A battle retold
The book quotes from the unpublished memoirs of Lieutenant Colonel Nisar to recollect how he stepped in for the Sialkot operation.
According to the book, it was around 6 am when Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, Commander of 24 Brigade, summoned Nisar. They met on the Pasrur-Chawinda road and the brigadier said, “Nisar, the enemy has come, do something!”
“A straggler from the front had apparently reported that the Indians had attacked Maharajke and Charwa with infantry and armour and that perhaps, 3 FF (Frontier Force) and the gun area had been overrun.
“Brigadier Malik’s plea to Colonel Nisar seems far removed from his confident comments to Shuja Nawaz, who has recorded the incident in his book Crossed Swords.
“Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed reacted quickly and decided he would employ B Squadron, equipped with M47 Patton tanks, to block the advancing Indian force and strike with the rest of the regiment. The regiment was moving into a well-known and reconnoitred area that would be an advantage to them against the advancing Indian force that they had no information about.
“Passing orders accordingly, he moved with B Squadron and finding no opposition even beyond Phillora village, B Squadron took up position in the Phillora cross-roads area.”
“Lt Col Nisar intended employing A and C Squadrons to strike from the west of Phillora, leaving the recce troop of A Squadron at the bridge on the Phillora-Durgo road.
“Meanwhile, C Squadron 25 Cavalry also moved quickly. Major Shamshad Kaimkhani writes, ‘We had barely finished our tea, when the Technical Officer of the Regiment, Captain Farrukh Khan (later CGS) appeared on the scene and passed the following message — Indian tanks have crossed the border at Charwa. Advance immediately on Pasrur-Chawinda-Charwa track, behind B squadron, and stop the enemy where ever contacted — The Squadron Commander ordered me to lead and move with full speed’.”
“Pakistani troops and civilians moving to rear areas had built up a picture for Lt Col Nisar that the Indians were advancing with Sherman tanks on the Chobara-Chawinda axis.
“While returning towards Chawinda to direct the remainder regiment, C Squadron led by Second Lieutenant Shamshad Kaimkhani, met him and he ordered the squadron to go forward cross-country and deploy to the left of B Squadron.
“Lt Col Lieutenant Nisar had also met an NCO (non-commissioned officer) of 19 Baluch who had returned from a task across the IB (international border), who told him that he had seen three Indian tanks moving towards Dugri, north-east of Chawinda.
“Apprehending a threat to Chawinda from another axis, Lt Col Nisar decided to personally lead A Squadron towards Dugri-Tharoo while C Squadron of 25 Cavalry moved up to Phillora.”
The Monsoon War then goes on to talk about the various deployment patterns, also detailing an Indo-Pak engagement that took place at a distance of 50 to 200 yards.
“Lt Col Nisar writes that during the firefight he identified Centurion tanks while all the time he had been expecting Shermans.
“Lt Col Nisar Ahmed was not to know at the time that 17 Horse was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Adi Tarapore, his old comrade at arms from Aden during the World War II; both had been posted at Aden as a part of Indian Imperial Service Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Tarapore from the Hyderabad Cavalry and Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed from the Patiala Lancers.
“While the battle was on in the other sector, the squadron deployed north of Tharoh continued to engage the enemy. Four enemy tanks were seen pulling out towards Chawinda.
“This was probably A Squadron 25 Cavalry on instructions of their commanding officer, Lt Col Nisar, deploying along the Hasri Nullah to prevent a threat to Chawinda. The Patton tanks engaged were identified as M47s. The squadron could clearly see the flash of the guns of 16 Cavalry in the battle raging around Gadgor.
“Across the tributary, south and west of Josar, some Patton tanks were engaged by B Squadron and three were seen to be burning. With the two regiments coming so close together, there was a problem of identifying friend from foe (IFF) further exacerbated by restricted visibility caused by sugarcane fields.
“Lt Col Nisar Ahmed in his unpublished memoirs writes: ‘The position was secured by 1800 hours. It was well after dark the squadron returned to leaguer… in the search for souvenirs we recovered Indian Operational Orders and learnt what we were up against… Three infantry divisions and an armoured division… By about 1900 hours firing from both sides subsided and troops from both sides withdrew to their night leaguer to lick their wounds. There were a number of Indian tanks, some of them with their engine still running located in the Gadgor area.
“‘I ordered NCO in charge recovery team to evacuate all our tank casualties and then pull back Indian tank runners, [and the next day] I organised the regiment into two squadrons only. C Sqn of M48 tanks remained intact but all available tanks of A and B squadrons were put together in the form of B Squadron’.”
The authors of The Monsoon War say the actions of Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed and 25 Cavalry were both brave and professional.
“Major Shamshad Ali Khan Kaimkhani has written that his CO preferred commanding the battle from his jeep and not his tank. This personal choice of Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed seemed to serve him very well. Much has been written by several authors of how he lined up his three squadrons across the front and thus fooled the Indian 1 Armoured Brigade into believing there were two Patton regiments against them. In fact, Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik has also claimed that he told Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed to do so! Both Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik and Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed had no idea that they were up against 1 Armoured Brigade till they found an Indian Operational Order in one of the 16 Cavalry tanks at about 1900 hours on 8 September.
“Lieutenant Colonel Nisar was a professional and although he had intended to hold the Indian armour at Gadgor with B Squadron that came into contact with B Squadron 16 Cavalry and strike with the rest of his regiment from the west of Gadgor, events dictated otherwise.”