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As Brig Nisar passes away, read how he led Pak artillery to break Indian attack in Chawinda

India ignored an elementary principle – it is not enough to neutralise defenders on the objective without, at the same time, rendering impotent the guns supporting them.

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The 6 Mountain Division attack was launched at 0100 hours on 19 September, preceded by an artillery bombardment of eighty minutes. 58 Infantry Brigade to the north and 35 Infantry Brigade to the south of the railway line began their attack on Chawinda. There were only two attacking battalions with each brigade; 14 Rajput to the north of 4 J&K Rifles in 58 Infantry Brigade; and 5 J&K Rifles to the north and 6 Marathas to the south in 35 Infantry Brigade. The railway line would assist in keeping direction.

South of the railway line, 5 J&K came up against D Company of 3 FF and 6 Marathas went through the abandoned positions of the rest of 3 FF. Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed says,

35 Infantry Brigade attacked both battalions abreast, 6 Maratha on the right and 5 J& K on the left. 3 FF once again wilted under intense bombardment followed by the Indian onslaught. According to 3 FF’s account, “Under enemy pressure preceded by artillery barrage, B and C companies withdrew to the area of the railway line south of Chawinda railway station. Thus, these three companies, A, B and C were in one line whereas D Company was in Janewal.” 5 J&K rifles, coming along the railway line, found themselves opposed by 3 FF’s D Company while 6 Maratha advanced unhindered except by artillery fire which fell around them.

Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed continues,

The Maratha attack was eventually halted east of the railway line with the help of fire from a tank troop of C Squadron 25 cavalry, depth elements of 14 Baluch which had readjusted their positions to face west, and the company of 2 Punjab (presumably D Company) which had been readjusted towards the south – western side of Chawinda on 16 September.

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Another eyewitness to the attack who was in a trench because his troop had been destroyed on 16 and 17 September, Major Shamshad Kaimkhani, tells his story, ‘The final effort to capture Chawinda was made by the Indians on night 18/19 Sept. It was purely an infantry night attack with its focal point at MS 5 south of Chawinda. The area was held by 3 FF. In spite of heavy preparatory bombardment they stuck to their guns and opened up when the enemy reached close to railway line between railway station and Naugaza.’ He was unaware that A, B and C Companies of 3 FF had abandoned their defended localities and come behind the railway line.

This time we were in trenches and the enemy was moving in open. Illuminating ammunition was used and we inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Very effective role was played by our two tanks, which had come from workshop after repairs. These tanks were parked on MS5 and were to join the regiment in the morning. The tanks moved on to railway line and engaged the enemy with machine guns and main guns at point blank range. It may be mentioned here that our Patton tanks were fitted with infrared night vision device. The attack was halted and eventually petered out. The enemy fell back to Jassoran. Keeping in view the quantum of troops used by the Indians and the opposition they faced in this engagement, their performance does not appear to be impressive.

Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh writing on the attack of 35 Infantry Brigade says,

However, 35 Infantry Brigade did achieve partial success in its assault; 6 Maratha were able to capture their objective by 0400 hours whereas 5 J&K Rifles met with heavy enemy resistance. By first light, enemy tanks opened up from Chawinda… Heavy casualties were sustained and the troops were compelled to fall back to Jassoran. Two companies of this unit which had fought their way to Chawinda Railway Station had to be extricated with the assistance of 4 Horse.

As the attack by 35 Infantry Brigade was going well, at about 0045 hours, firing broke out in the area of Wazirwali that was the position occupied by C Squadron 2 Lancers and A Company 5 Jat who suddenly found they were under attack. The Jats returned fire and a few tanks also opened up. Tank Commanders in 2 Lancers and Captain M.P. Singh, Company Commander, A Company, on hearing the familiar Rajput battle cry stood up on top of a tank in an effort to indicate to the attackers that they were attacking friendly troops. Captain M.P. Singh was hit and killed on the spot; Major R. Sharma, the Squadron Commander, was wounded in a similar effort to avoid unnecessary casualties. Disoriented by enemy shelling, 14 Rajput had swerved off their line of attack. Lieutenant General Harbakhsh Singh explains further,

5 Jat, taken completely by surprise abandoned their positions. 14 Rajput equally stunned by the unexpected opposition enroute to their objective dispersed in confusion. Next morning 5 Jat reoccupied their positions -14 Rajput was still out in the blue. Two companies of 4 J&K Rifles (the other assaulting battalion) which had managed to reach Chawinda by the enemy’s combined infantry and tank fire. By that stage all control at battalion and brigade level was lost and the formation ceased to be a cohesive force.

Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed says of this attack:

North of the railway line, 58 Brigade also attacked two battalions up with 4 J&K Rifles right and 14 Rajput on their left. On the Pakistani side the railway line was the dividing line between 3 FF and 14 Baluch. As the Indian attack began, the extreme left (eastern) platoon of 14 Baluch closed ranks with the Piffers D Company and offered a united front which 5 J&K Rifles (35 Infantry Brigade) and 4 J&K Rifles found hard to breach; nothing was known of 14 Rajput, the fourth enemy battalion…

To a large extent it was the Pakistani artillery that disoriented and broke up the attacks of 35 Infantry brigade and 58 Infantry Brigade. Curiously I Corps had not given orders for counter bombardment of enemy artillery interfering with the attack. The History of the Regiment of Artillery Indian Army states, ‘Entire corps artillery including 1 Artillery Brigade supported attack. No Counter Bombardment was however in the corps artillery plan. 73 Composite Battery and 20 Locating Regiment had reported to 24 Medium Regiment on 16 September, but it was not employed to locate hostile gun positions in support of Chawinda. Artillery timed programme fired over 80 minutes. Pakistan Counter Bombardment located the artillery positions soon after the timed programme commenced at 0015 hours on 19 September. ‘An elementary principle was ignored, that is, it is not enough to neutralize the defenders on the objective without, at the same time, rendering impotent the guns supporting the defenders.’ It is perhaps for this reason that 8 Garhwal and 17 Horse were under intense shelling by enemy artillery on 16 and 17 September.

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Excerpted with permission from The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce 1965 India–Pakistan War by Amarinder Singh and Lt. Gen. Tajinder Shergill, Roli Books.

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