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Pak 25 Cavalry Vs Indian 1st Armored Division

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Major Shamshad Ali Khan took part in the battle for Chawinda as a Troop Leader ( commander of 4 tanks) in C Squadron (consisting of 15 tanks) of 25 Cavalry ( total 44 tanks), the regiment which blunted the attack of the Indian First Armoured Division (266 tanks) plus 3 infantry Divisions . He gives a very reslistic account of the battle as it developed for their sub-unit.

During the 17 days of battle, his own tank was destroyed 4 times but he lived to record his day to day experiences as they unfolded. Hereunder are his memoirs from 1 Sept to 8th Sept 1965.

Major Shamshad Ali Khan Qaimkhani, IMTIZAI SANAD, is a third generation of Qaimkhani cavalrymen of Rajputana. One of his grandfathers was a honorary Captain in 1930s of Indian 17 Poona Horse, while another was a Risaldar in 16th Cavalry, the two tank regiments he faced during the 1965 tank battles at Chawinda.

He graduated from PMA in Sept 1962 and joined 25 Cavalry as the first original officer of the Regiment.

"""It was the 1st of Sept 1965 that the windows of our houses (in Sialkot Cantt) rattled when our guns opened up in support of troops which were crossing the Line of Control in Chamb-Jaurion sector. The ammunition was unpacked and stowed in tanks while in unit's lines.

The regiment moved out of the lines on 4th Sept 1965. The tanks travelled on tracks along Sialkot -Phillora and concentrated in a small forest in the vicinty of village Dogranwali / Mattha Harian, about 6 miles east of Chawinda, on track leading to Dugri (on Chawinda - Zafarwal track).

In Sialkot sector, the entire garrison was placed in battle locations well before the Indians attacked on night 7/8 September.

DEPLOYMENT OF OWN TROOPS

One (115) Brigade Group defended Zafarwal-Narowal sector. 33 TDU, now 33 Cavalry was under command. This unit had Sherman II Tanks. The crew was composed of ex-servicemen who were re-called to fight the war. The regiment was commanded by serving officer Lt Col Kardoza with a nucleus of regular staff.

A Brigade (101) was deployed astride Sialkot- Jammu Road with the primary task of defending Sialkot. 20 Lancers, the corps Reconnaissance regiment with M-24 Chaffe Light Tanks was under command.

24 Brigade Group commanded by Brig Abdul Ali Malik and comprising of 2 Punjab, 3 FF and 31 Field Regiment defended area between Shakargarh and a point where responsibilty of Sialkot brigade ended (Aik Nalla).

25 Cavalry was placed under command of this brigade. Elements of 13 FF R&S Battalion with 106 mm RRs and Cobra Missiles was also deployed in this area as advance guard / screen. The protective detachments of infantry battalions were deployed right on the border line along the area of responsibilty of 24 Brigade, which also had its supporting arms and affiliated units.

Hull down positions for tanks in static defensive role were prepared along the border, where A Squadron 25 Cavalry was detailed to take up positions on eleventh hour, in case of an attack. All said and done, 15 Division was holding Sialkot sector with Brig Sardar Ismail as its Commander.

OPERATIONS
In the earlier part of the night 7/ 8 Sept, the 25 Cavalry Regiment was ordered to move to Narowal immediately and stop the enemy which had crossed over Jassar Bridge and was moving to Pasrur on Narowal - Pasrur Road. I may mention here that being a Troop Leader, I had no access to Higher Headquarter. My communication was limited to my Squadron Commander Major Raza Khan and was mostly verbal, or on wireless when on move.

While moving on track to Chawinda, I looked right in direction of Charwa and could see flashes produced by artillery fire, which Indians were dropping on our advance positions. The quantum of fire was tremendous.

What had happened was that on the night of 7/8 Sept, Indians launched feint attacks at Zafarwal and Jassar and a real attack across the Working Boundary between Sialkot and Zafarwal area. These attacks were so timed that the feint were simultaneous in the earlier part of the night, while the real one started in the second half of the night.

The feint attacks at Jassar caused confusion and loss of nerve in higher HQ which triggered action like destruction of Jassar Bridge leaving few tanks and infantry across the bridge and uprooting 25 Cavalry from its defensive positions with disastrous result. The feint attacks created confusion because they were taken as real attack, and that happened on the basis of information provided by the front line units.

When I reached the rail level crossing at Pasrur, I noticed that A and B Echelon vehicles were moving towards Sialkot on Narowal- Pasrur- Sialkot Road. I did not go across but stopped on the level crossing, which is only 20/30 yards away from the Pasrur-Sialkot Road on Chawinda track.

I passed this information to my Squadron Commander through wireless, who came forward in no time and climbed my tank. After seeing the movement of A vehicles, he said in a disturbed tone that Indians had crossed the Jassar Bridge and were moving to Sialkot. It was a frightening statement. All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind. I ordered the gunner to load the main gun, but suddenly decided to walk up to the main road and see with naked eye what all was there.

I found that our heavy guns were moving towards Sialkot. Probably they were changing positions in anticiptation of an impending attack by Indians. I gave the good news to my Squadron Commander who heaved a sigh of relief. We than hit the road and turned left to reach Narowal in shortest possible time.

At about 0300 hours, 8th Sept the Squadron reached little short of Narowal when we were ordered to turn about and reach Pasrur at the earliest.

We were back to Pasrur much before first light 8 Sept and concentrated astride Road, opposite Shehzada Railway crossing under tall sheesham trees. Since we had kept running the whole night, bouzers were called to replenish fuel. There was also need to replenish our bellys. The tank crews prepared tea and offered us a cup as well.

When 25 Cavalry was moving from Concentration Area to Pasrur - Narowal, the Indians were busy establishing a bridgehead across the international / working boundary from where the Indian Armour Division was to break out in the morning of 8th September aimed at Chawinda- Pasrur and onwards to GT Road.

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. Due to excitement, I did not not realize that I was standing on Shehzada Level crossing and moved on track leading to Shehzada village after negotiating the level crossing. The Squadron followed.

It was only after covering quite a bit of distance that Major Raza realized that I was moving in the wrong direction. He ordered me to stop and turn left and hit Chawinda track. I flashed back "on my left are sugar cane fields, I cannot turn left". It was impossible to over run a sugarcane field in peace time. While making that transmission, it did not occour to me that war had started. Back came the reply from Major Raza "forget about the bloody sugarcane field, it is war, turn left". I immediately turned left and as the tank track crushed the four feet high sugarcane, it was confirmed to me that war had started.

After hitting Chawinda track, I turned and moved with full speed behind B squadron. While we were going in direction of Chawinda, civilian population was moving towards Pasrur, mostly on foot, men, women and children. It was a pathetic sight. Most of them so scared that when our tank approached them they went to ground or hid behind trees. Probably they took us as Indians.

Our advance positions were subjected to intense artillery fire throughout the night. It was only in the morning that the Indian armour crossed the border and moved unopposed in the absence of our anti tank weapons.

As we passed through Chawinda, I noticed that the inhabitants were greatly releived. Now they knew that the Indians would not be able reach their homes. They threw flowers on our moving tanks which gave us a feeling of strength and raised our spirits and morale.

On the outskirts of Chawinda I saw my CO, Lt Col Nisar Ahmed in his Jeep who had followed the leading B Squadron and was returning to Pasrur. He asked me about Major Raza. I informed him that he was following behind. The CO asked me to leave the track and move cross-country, keeping left of the track. My CO had followed the leading squadron which was now out of my sight. However, he knew the location of B squadron and the fact that enemy had been contacted and tank to tank battle had started. I acquired this information through a strange phenomenon. In tank warfare, eyes are more useful than ears. Suddenly I noticed that branches of trees were falling down. I ordered the driver to halt and picked up my binoculars. I noticed the little amount of dust which was raised when a tank shot hit the ground. I also noticed disturbances created in the sugarcane fields when a shot was fired, which otherwise was standing still. These observations indicated that I had reached very close to the enemy who was engaging our B squadron which was still out of my sight. Due to heavy vegetation, interspersed hutment, maize / sugarcane fields, observation was limited to 50 yards.

The squadron had advanced non-stop in line ahead formation to contact the enemy from Pasrur till such time we hit Sialkot - Phillora track. Thereafter I controlled the movement of my Troop by adopting leap frog battle formation and made extensive use of binoculars. The enemy had reached the area much before us and was engaged in a firefight with B Squadron.

It was the enemy which initiated the firefight with C squadron by firing a shot at my tank at about 8.00 am, which fell a few yards short of the tank. My instant reaction was to reverse my tank as I had not yet located the tank which had fired that shot. I took position behind a raised ground, probably a deserted kiln. I then passed message "hello 61, fired at from Gadgore side, I am safe, out". I tried to locate the enemy through binoculars but did not succeed.

The squadron commanders tank was not visible, but he had directed the squadron not to go ahead of my tank, but to spread left of my tank. And then the squadron got deployed in extended line formatiom, left of Phillora -Charwa track.

'A' Squadron, which was following us was directed toward right of track and eventually got deployed right of B squadron. And thus 25 Cavalry adopted three squadrons up battle formation. I cannot say what was the frontage covered by B and A squadrons, but I can say that C squadron did not cover more than a 1000 yards on the left of the track, On our left, it was all unprotected.

While my Troop was deployed between the track and village Joshun, it did not cover more than 500 yards frontage. The visibility was limited to 50 yards and I was more than satisfied if visual contact with one of my tanks could be maintained.

At about 10.00 am, I suddenly spotted a Troop of tanks approaching at full speed from the direction of village Jahr, west of point 40 R no-mans land. I was about to open fire when I realized that they were M-47 patton tanks and as they closed up, I could recogonize Naib Risaldar Akbar of B Squadron. He had advanced in the morning at such great speed that his Squadron Commander could not control his movement and went haywire.

It is now confirmed that only two troops of B squadron contacted the enemy, on the right of the track Philorra- Gadgore. C squadron, deployed left of the track, kept on inching forward but did not contact enemy infantry or armour. At this stage I got frustrated and climbed a tall tree and scanned the area with binoculars. I noticed an enemy tank concentration, plus squadron strength, in far distance in a depression near 40R, an area left of track between Gadgore and Chobara.

I came down from the tree and reported the matter to Major Raza whose tank was now nearby. He told me to forget about them as they were too far away. I insisted that we must do something or atleast report the matter to the Regimental HQ. He allowed me to do that and I passed the information to Captain Durrani who was our Adjutant. Back came the reply after a while " Hello 3, send a troop to attack the enemy tanks". Major Raza shouted at me and said " Now you go and attack, as you were keen to do something". I was completely shaken. I said that it was a squadron plus and how could a troop succeed. He must have noticed my colour going pale but he said "I dont care, you go". Half dead, I started walking towards my tank. Before, I could mount my tank, he called me back and said "pass the message that enemy tanks have left that location and have gone back". I did the needful.

By about midday, our squadron had reached half way between Phillora cross-roads junction and Gadgore. About this time, the enemy brought artillery fire for the first time. The elements of 2 Punjab, following us at a distance started running about in confusion. Probably it was their first artillery fire experience. For us also it was the first experience and we closed down our copulas. As time passed, we got used to the artillery fire. Thereafter we did not close the copulas throughout the war but merely ducked down just moments before the shells fell around. I never experienced air-burst shells through out the war.

At about mid-day, I saw our fighter planes diving on Sabzpir and Mastpur, firing rockets on enemy armour raising clouds of black smoke which was a proof that airforce was hitting targets accurately. I now feel that our airforce contributed greatly towards stopping the enemy advance on 8 Sept. However, I felt extremely depressed when our plane was hit by anti aircraft fire over Sabz Pir and went into flames in air.

While my troop was positioned in area west of Joshun village, I observed our infantry trickling backwards to Pasrur. Soldiers in twos and fours were moving on their own. The most pathetic sight was that of the civilians who were caught up between the opposing tanks. Most went to the ground when shots flew over their heads. Enemy tanks had taken up positions in the huts and rooms of mud houses. They had broken the walls only to the extent which allowed the tank gun to be traversed as required.

After about 1200 hours, the battle became stale and static. Since there was no activity on the left of the track, I gradually moved onto the Phillora - Gadgore track. From this position, I could see movement of tanks in clumps and huts which were located on the outer parameter of Gadgore. I fired 10 rounds from this position but can claim 1 or 2 direct hits. When a shot hits a tank, a flash is produced on the tank. In only 10 percent cases, the tank goes up in flames on a direct hit. Similarly, my tank was fired at many times, but the gunner proved to be a bad shot, except once when the shot hit the toolbox of my tank.

As B Squadron commanded by Major Mohammad Ahmed got deployed on the right of phillora- Gadgore track his left hand Troop Leader reported. “Tanks in front. Whose?”

Ahmad replied, “Enemy, engage them”

What happened in the next few hours is what legends are made of and the defence of Chawinda on 8th Sep 1965 by 25th Cavalry is a shining star in the history of the Pakistan Army and the armoured corps.

Ahmad hastened forward. He saw an Indian tank bogged down near Gadgor. Two Indian tanks were trying to recover it and he ordered the gunner to engage. The round went wild and the officer cursed the gunner. The man said casually. “Saab this gun has not been zeroed.” (The M48 had just returned from the workshop).

Ahmad changed his tank but was again unlucky. The gun misfired twice. The firing pin was broken. In the meantime two Indian Centurions with 105 mm guns cautiously approached Ahmad’s tanks. There was nothing that the officer could do, except charge. Ahmad’s luck turned, and the Indian tanks hastily withdrew. The tank was driven into a depression where the broken firing pin was replaced. Once again in the open, Ahmad saw six Centurions congregating in a Mango plantation. He could not resist the shoot and took over from the gunner. He indexed 600 yards on the range finder, checked from the loader if an HVAP round was loaded, and fired. The nearest Indian tank blew up. Three more were shot destroyed in quick succession.

The loader got so excited that he started clapping and his asbestos glove fell and stuck in between the breech ring and the recoil cylinder. The gun could not fire and the driver pushed the gun against a tree and inched the tank forward until the glove fell out. Ahmed then ordered the driver to move towards the burning Indian tanks. A shot ricocheted off the turret of his tank jamming the turret ring. A third shot set the tank on fire forcing Ahmad into yet another tank. While maneuvering towards Gadgor with his squadron, Ahmad encountered two Indian tanks directly in his path and shot one but his M48 was hit by the other and the ammunition started exploding. Ahmad was badly burnt and evacuated. His gallantry was rewarded with Sitara-e-Jurat but was modest about his action. He later acknowledged that he should have been more concerned about controlling the squadron battle than in a personal shoot out.

GADGORE ATTACK
At 1700 hours, C squadron received the orders to attack Gadgore. The attack on 8 September on Gadgore was planned two troops up. The inter-troop boundary was the track. My troop was to attack the right half of the village while Naib Risaldar Khaliq's troop was to attack the left half of the village. Naib Risaldar Sultan Bhadur's troop was to move on the track as reserve. The Squadron Commander was to move on the track and the elements of 2 Punjab walked on the track in a single file. No artillery support was available at that time.

I deployed my troop in a box formation keeping my tank closer to the track, and another tank about 100 yards to my right. Rest of my two tanks lined up 100 yards in the rear. The attack was to be executed by leap frog method within the troop. As we lined up, I looked through the binoculars but cold not locate the enemy. It was all quiet. I spotted a deserted Mandir on a raised ground in the center of the village and asked my gunner to lay the gun on that building.

We had formed up some 1500 yards away from the village. The area between my tank and Gadgore village was flat with maize field and devoid of cover. I ordered the gunner to fire at the Mandir. It was a direct hit. I had ordered the tank commanders that whenever the tank was static, they should fire a few shots on the village even if they did not see the enemy. After one or two leaps, all four tanks would rush on the village. Enroute they could stop for a while to fire a few shots on the village in quick time and move again.

As we started the attack, I was in a state of excitement and fear. Forgetting about my other tanks my eyes were fixed on the village. To be frank, I never expected to reach Gadgore. There were all the chances of getting hit in the absence of covering artillery fire. It is surprising that the enemy did not bring artillery fire on us, although we were forming-up under their nose.

In few minutes time my four tanks reached the outer parameter of the village and at this time I received a message from Dafadar Azam, the operator of my squardon commander " hello 61, Imam injured and has gone back, out". Immediately I went up on the air, " hello Charley 60, I take over command, advance, out". At this time my tank was passing two enemy burnt out Centurion tanks, a jeep and one or two dead Indian soldiers. These casualties we not inflicted by us during the attack but were the result of the tank to tank battle which was raging since morning.

The other two troops of C Squadron were not visibile to me. I could niether locate B Squadron which was suppose to be on the right of the Phillora - Gadgore track. The depth of this village was not more than 100 yards. It took us more time to negotiate the built up area than the time taken to cover the distance of 1500 yards from the Forming-Up-Place. The major diffence being that the former distance was covered in great fear and apprehension, while the later was covered in high spirits as we had reached our objective without any casualties, with not a shot being fired at us from the village.

After clearing village Gadgore, we continued to advance along the track till such time we were fired at from area Manronowali. This firefight continued for about half an hour after night fell. We were ordered to come back at Phillora Road crossing, which lies 300 meters north of Phillora village, on Phillora - Gadgore track.

The other two Squadrons of 25 Cavalry also converged on this cross-road junction north of Phillora village. The regiment leagured for the night behind the Phillora school / Resthouse building. The tank crews had remained mounted and on the move for more than 24 hours and had remained without sleep for 36 hours at a stretch before we switched off our tanks on the first Leauger of the war.

It was in the leauger that I came to know about Major Mohammad Ahmed, Officiating Commander, B Squadron. His tank was hit and he was badly injured and taken to hospital. He re-joined the regiment after the war. Apart from his tank, one or two other tanks were knocked out.

At the end of the day, the fighting strength of the regiment was reduced to two squadrons. And throught out the war, only two squadrons of 25 Cavalry remained in action. We were short by 12 to 14 tanks. The tank losses were mostly mechanical breakdowns except two to three tanks of B squadron which were hit by the enemy.

A maneuver by a squadron of Poona Horse ran into ‘A’ Squadron commanded by Effendi which had been brought up by Col Nisar and deployed to the right of Ahmad’s squadron. The maneuver encountered a troop that had been sent by Effendi to probe forward. In a sharp engagement, the troop destroyed four Centurions but lost a tank. An advance of the left forward regiment of the Indian division went smoothly till Poona Horse ran into an infantry company and lost a tank.

Resuming a more cautious advance it was checked by ‘A’ Squadron at Tharoh and Dugri. In an attempt to maneuver for a breakthrough, the squadrons of the two Indian regiments ran into each other and a shoot-out occurred. ‘Kaka’ Nisar was with the forward squadrons all the time and he was not quite yet finished with 16th Cavalry.

Though the attack could not make much progress, it forced the Indian armoured division to deploy its only reserve, Hodson’s Horse to protect its flank. Against heavy odds they could not make much progress but managed to destroy two more Centurions of 16th Cavalry before the regiment could disengage under cover of Hodson’s Horse.

The total losses to 16th Cavalry in a single day of fighting were 16 tanks against only four of 25th Cavalry. As a consequence of this aggressive defence by one armoured regiment on 8th Sep 1965, a blow to its artillery from a flank by a small but to the Indians very significant actions by two recce and support platoons of 13 Frontier Force Regiment, and ambiguous orders that resulted in a clash between a withdrawing Poona Horse and 2nd Lancers which was leading the advance of the Indian lorried brigade, the offensive of their armoured division stalled.

A general impression has developed that Major Mohammad Ahmed (later Brigadier) got involved in a battle as tank commander and his utility as Squadron Commander was reduced to nill.

This conception has to be viewed firstly in the light of battle conditions which Major Mohammad Ahmed faced alone and was the best person to select the course of action he decided to adopt. Under such stressing conditions, all actions are justified provided they do not constitute cowardice, and secondly in the light of results produced. The result of his action are laudable and turned the tide against the enemy.

But majority of people feel that had he directed the operation of the Squadron instead of getting involved himself as tank commander, results could have been much better. Such comments come only from persons who had not taken part in combat and have never faced bullets. I feel that if Major Mohammad Ahmed had not involved his tank in the battle, the result could have been worse. My views are based on following reasons.

One intelligent, quick, bold action oriented tank commander with an average crew is ten times more effetive, specifically in critical situation, than an average tank commander. Had Major Ahmed remained in the rear, the enemy tanks which he destroyed could have been active and there was every possibilty that those very tanks would have eliminated entire B Squadron.

Moreover, the presence of Squadron Commander on front line has an immense positive psychological effect on the squadron as a whole. In addition to engaging enemy tanks more effectively than an average tank commander, he can observe the battlefield with his own eyes and direct the tanks more effeciently. In the process there are more chances of his tank getting hit which should be taken as part of the game. It is not know as to for how many hours Major Ahmed was in action but it is certain that his action was a major factor in the operations of 25 Cavalry on 8th September. The other two squadrons and recce troop were on sidelines.

Looking realistically at the events of 8th September, I can say that B Squadron squarelly confronted the center of main thrust i.e 16 Light Cavalry and gave a severe jolt to that regiment which was mauled to the extent that it could not manouver to the right and reach Libbey which was within reach being only three miles away from Phillora crossing in the north west on Phillora - Sialkot track. This palce was unprotected and approach from 40 R was straight and without any hinderance. It appears that the command structure of the regiment was completely disrupted.

17 Poona Horse which was advancing on left of 16 Cavalry reached its objective Dugri Crossing much before our A Squadron reached there. 17 Poona Horse had no reason to stop at Dugri. Had they mintained the speed with which they had reached Dugri, they could have reached Shahzada and then cut Pasrur - Narowal Road by 1000 hours. Alternatively the Regiment could have turned right and hit Chawinda by 0900 hours.
 

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