Rann of Kutch Conflict
Battle Of Sardar Post
Usman Khan Yousafzai
Battle Of Sardar Post
Usman Khan Yousafzai
The history of conflicts between Pakistan and India has been a hotly documented affair with both sides providing their versions of the story and both sides making sure that solely their narrative survives the test of time. In the list of conflicts, the Rann of Kutch conflict often takes a backseat due to the subsequent events of 1965 however what most military historians fail to understand that this conflict created the domino effect that led to the 1965 conflict as the result of the conflict provided Pakistan army with a victory that would make the army overconfident of its prowess whereas India discovered the chinks in its armor and looked to bring appropriate changes to it. The confrontation was not something of a ‘spur of a moment as is often believed. In fact records from both sides hold that they were well aware of a flashpoint developing and there were diplomatic and military exchanges beforehand. The conflict contained small versions of blunders and tactics that would become the hallmark of the two armies and would be displayed in the 1965 conflict. This, often ignored conflict, thus deserves proper study and this is what this article looks to do. It would be impossible to record all of the happenings within just one article and nor would it do justice. This article shall be divided into four separate pieces. The first shall contain the events leading to the conflict. Second shall include the Battle of Sardar Post the first engagement on Rann. The third article shall contain the Battle of bets where the most fighting happened and the last article shall contain the subsequent result, military results, and impacts along with the diplomatic solution. With that said let us first understand the history of the conflict.
For centuries there has been a dispute between the rulers of Sindh and Kutch about the territory of Rann, an area composed of salt marsh with little to no resource with only coarse grass to show. The region was home to wild asses, gazelles and seasonal grazing livestock. The geography of the region was composed of flatlands with only small elevated hills called ‘Bets’ ranging from a few yards to several mile-long elevations. It remained largely dry except for the monsoon season when the area would be submerged and the ‘bets’ would become islands. The state of Kutch was surrounded in the north by the Great Rann, east by Little Rann, south by the Gulf of Kutch and west by the Arabian Sea. The Raos of Kutch always desired of annexing the region to their small state and in 1904 Maharaja Rao Khenjraji pressed on the claim over Rann but he died in 1908 and in 1924 the state of Kutch acceded to the British Empire and became a Princely State however the claim on Rann remained. The British formed a boundary commission in 1938 but with the beginning of the world war, the commission was abandoned. The region in its entirety, including Kutch, was under the governance of the governor of Sindh. The state of Kutch acceded to India and with that, the age-old dispute arose as India claimed all of Rann whereas Pakistan claimed the northern part of the Great Rann above the 24th Parallel which was above the head of Kori Creek and Lakhpat and crossed Mori Bet and included Dharamsala. Pakistan is recorded to have established some posts in the region but abandoned them in 1953 most likely due to economic factors and the inability of Pakistan to patrol the region. The Pakistani side was patrolled by the Indus Rangers whereas the Indian side was patrolled by the Special Reserve Police (SRP). Since 1947, both sides had looked to solve the dispute peacefully and in the 1950s several diplomatic notes were exchanged detailing the dispute and the claims made by both sides. The terrain itself favored those that held the Bets since the flatland meant that no troop movements could be disguised and the element of surprise was extremely hard to take however if we are to look at logistics and communication then Pakistan held the advantage.
The area of Rann of Kutch can be divided into three major zones. The Great Rann, Kutch, and little Rann. This salt desert, unlike other regions of the Indo-Pak border, remained without any demarcation at the time of the partition. This "...bed of arm of the sea, raised by some natural convulsion above its original level'" was a disputed territory between the States of Sind and Kutch. "But the Rann is now chiefly dry land—a salt. Barren, blinding waste of sand, where only the wild ass can thrive. ...". According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India,
"The area of the (Kutch) state (exclusive of the Rann) is 7,616 square miles. ...The whole territory of Kutch is almost entirely cut off from the continent of India; north by the Great Rann. East by the Little Rann, south of the Gulf of Kutch, and west by the Arabian Sea.”
The Raos of Kutch had long cherished the desire of annexing the Rann to their small state. In 1904. Maharaja Rao KhenjatJi, ruler of Kutch since 1876, laid claims on the Rann but he died in 1908 with his dream of annexation unfulfilled.' In 1924. The State of Kutch acceded to British India and consequent to the territorial adjustments for administration. The control of the Rann passed to the Governor of Sind. The question of demarcation of boundaries between Sind and Kutch then seemed unimportant, because both now formed part of the British Empire. British acting upon their characteristic policy of 'divide and rule' generated a territorial dispute in the Rann between the Mirs of Sind and the Raos of Bhuj and then kept it dormant or alive as it suited their policy."
In 1938. A survey commission was mutually appointed by the States of Sind and Kutch to resolve the issue but the outbreak of the Second World War precluded the settlement of the dispute. When the war ended the British knew that they could no longer keep their hold over the subcontinent as the hostile population and the dwindling economy along with the international calls for decolonization, the end of the century-long rule finally came to end.
At the time of partition, India laid claim over the whole Rann while Pakistan claimed only the northern part. Consequently, the Sind Police Rangers (later designated Indus Rangers) established posts along the Pakistani side of the Rann and patrolled along a track ten miles south of the Customs Track. In 1953, perhaps for reasons of economy, some of the ranger posts were abandoned and patrolling was discontinued by Pakistan. India lost no time in establishing its claim over the entire territory of the Rann. Despite such the two nations did not look to seek a military solution to the problem and relied on diplomacy. The tactic had worked with Pakistan securing the Indus Water Treaty and also demarcating the border with China through the Sino-Pak Agreement 1963 thus there was a sincere feeling that diplomacy can work here. The region itself was barren apart from shepherds and border patrols from check posts and whenever these border patrols were rarely challenged. In MAP 1 it can be seen how the great Rann, where the conflict takes place, is flat saline land.
Cubit and Montfort (1991) defined Rann of Kachchh as "a desolate area of unrelieved, sun-baked saline clay desert, shimmering with the images of a perpetual mirage". The monotonous flatness, salinity, and unusual inundation have rendered the Rann as a place of mysterious ground. This flatness of the region made sure that surprise would be very difficult to accomplish in any military engagement and large-scale buildups could be noticed by a keen eye and responsible le scouting and intelligence missions.
Pakistan did hold a strong advantage that was denied to the Indian military and that was connectivity. If you would notice that in MAP 2, you would see that the Indian region of Kutch, Great Rann and Little Rann, is largely a desert and has little connectivity whereas the Pakistani region is home to multiple connected roads and railways especially to major cities such as Hyderabad, Umerkot and Sukkur. The railway and road link with Badin allows for quick reinforcements to be sent in no time in contrast to India where the reinforcement would have to be gathered in Bhuj before they could be sent forward. Pakistan was also blessed with a long road that connected Badin to Kadhan to Rahim ka Bazar and Diplo in case a retreat was in order. In fact if I were to go in more detail it would be that the railway connection at Badin was only 26 miles north of the Indian claim line and only 113 miles east of Karachi, where Pakistan's 8 Division was based. There was also a bridge over the river Indus at the Pakistani city of Hyderabad, north of Badin, which meant by way of a ferry crossing Pakistan could quietly and easily move troops from Badin along the Kutch border while other routes would allow for deployment southward into the disputed area. The approaches to the Rann of Kutch from the Indian side were much more difficult than those from Pakistan, as the nearest Indian regular military formation was the 3 Infantry Brigade which was stationed in Ahmedabad, 180 miles east of the railway station at a small town located in the Rann but 110 miles from the disputed border. There was a road from Bhuj to the town of Khavda, approximately 44 miles away from Bhuj, and although Khavda was closer to the Rann/Sindh border, the road from Bhuj was almost impassable in the monsoon season. The road and rail links from India into the Rann, therefore, followed long routes and India's military posts inside Kutch were dependent on vulnerable lines of communication and supplies. Logistics were with Pakistan in this conflict and it would be seen as the conflict would begin
Pakistan held a railway connection to Badin only 26 miles north of the disputed line and only 113 miles away from Karachi where the 8th division was based. There was also a bridge on the Indus River in Hyderabad which meant that while there was a 186-mile long railway link from Karachi to Rann, there existed a shorter land route of 130 miles. Badin was forward well connected to Khadhan and Rahim ka Bazar which was along the Custom Track where patrolling was done. India on the other hand was disadvantaged with connectivity due to the large desert terrain. The 31st Infantry Brigade was located in Dhangadhra and Ahmedabad which was 180 miles east of the railway station at Bhuj, located 110 miles from the border. From there was the road to Khavda 44 miles away and while it was closer to the dispute, the road between Khavda and Bhuj would be submerged during monsoon season. The 31st Infantry included the 1st Mahar, the 2nd Sikh Light Infantry and the 17th Rajputana Rifles. With this, we can understand the terrain and the advantages held by both sides. By 1964 a flashpoint was starting to emerge as diplomatic measures were failing. On 12th May 1964, an Indian patrol arrested 3 Pakistani Nationals near the abandoned Kanjarkot fort, a strategic location that connected to areas like Rahim Ka Bazar, Mara, Ding, and Sutiar along the road. India claimed the fort as a territory 1500 yards south of their claim line whereas Pakistan saw it 300 meters above the disputed border. The three nationals were returned on the basis that they had strayed there. This incident displays two very important things. That the treatment of the nationals was different as to their treatment on the Ceasefire Line which displays that there was a concentrated effort by both sides to solve this diplomatically and its recording which shows that this was a rare incident and its happening was a display of the deteriorating situation.
On 25th January 1965, the SRP noticed a fresh track to Kanjarkot fort which linked to Ding and Sutiar with Ding 4 miles northwest of Kanjarkot fort and Sutiar 11 miles west. The Indian side responded vigorously with the district magistrate sent to inspect the region and the SRP was ordered to patrol even more vigorously. Pakistan was not blind to what they saw as an incursion to their side and on 30th January an Indian patrol was challenged by the Rangers. On 3rd February the same happened and India launched a diplomatic protest and on 5th February the Indian patrol consisting of four jeeps, 2 of SRP and 2 of regular units was met by a large contingent of Indus Rangers and after a heated exchange, the Indian patrol returned to their post at Chad Bet. The Pakistani commander of the Rangers was assured that Kanjarkot fort would be a flashpoint and the Indian patrols needed to be held back. He cordoned off the fort and when this was discovered by the Indian patrol, a diplomatic note was sent on 12th February where India protested the action.
A meeting was held between Deputy Inspector General Ranjkot Range and Lieutenant Colonel Aftab Ali of the Indus Rangers on 15th February. Both sides claimed the fort as both claimed the area around the fort as their own and showed evidences of patrols thus the meeting brought no solution. The problem was that due to the history of the border, there was no proper demarcation and both sides used the local ground rules to try to decide a working boundary. Both sides claimed that they had patrolled the area for years and held regular patrols in the surrounding area and the Kanjarkot fort thus ensuring defector rule. Pakistan claimed that it had always patrolled the Ding-Surai Track and India claimed that even before Pakistan moved, India would always patrol the area however in the notes, neither side claimed the date of the patrols nor when they began nor could they bring forth any evidence that would give proper dates and tracks of the patrol and if both sides were telling the truth, then it is very interesting that neither side encountered each other in all these years and their encounters only happened when they started to show exact dates of patrols On 18th February another note was sent and on 19th February the same was reiterated by the Indian High commissioner to Bhutto.
General Tikka Khan, who was the GOC of the 8th division, ordered the Rangers to Occupy the fort before the SRP could and this was done on 22nd February.
India countered by reinforcing Chad Bet and established a strong presence, posts and supplies at Suigam, Bela, Vigiokot Karim Shahi and a place that would be called Sardar Post.
“India countered the move by reinforcing Chad Bet and established strong police posts at Suigam, Bela, Vigiokot, Karim Shahi and a place that would be known as Sardar post. At the same time, the 31st light infantry brigade, consisting of 17th Rajputana Rifles, 2bd Sikh Light Infantry and 1st Mahar, was ordered to move from Dhrangadhra to Bhuj. The brigade’s task was to prevent any major thrust from Pakistan, it was not to establish any posts on the border.”
The Indian GHQ authorized Operation Kabbadi, which was meant to remove the Pakistani presence from Kanjarkot fort but by now the fort was heavily fortified and the Pakistan I presence of the 51st Brigade, comprising of three battalions of which 2 of those, 18th Punjab and 6th Baluch were located at Malir and 8th FF (Frontier Force) was at Hyderabad. The 31st Brigade of the Indian army was led by S.M. Pahalajani and this brigade was tasked to take the fort and in case of any thrust, move even across the international border however no action of such was taken nor any offensive against the fort mounted. The patrolling did get more aggressive and it seemed the situation was escalating. The most interesting thing to notice is that the Pakistani record of 22nd February as the date of occupation whereas the Indian diplomatic notes place occupation before it. It is most likely that the previous occupation was largely done by small groups of rangers who would challenge Indian patrols causing incidents and on 22nd February the area was taken with full force and reinforced. Either way, if Pakistan denied presence before, it could no longer do so now.
The 31st Brigade was told to move to Bhuj to counter any Pakistani offensive and the 51st Brigade of the 8th Division of Pakistan took control of the Indus rangers with the express commands to
“Ensure strict vigilance and have the Indus Rangers patrol the area extensively, Establish close liaison with the Rangers and the HQ of 8th Division and support the Indus Rangers in their operations with the avoidance of provocation and maintenance of the Status Quo.”
Brigadier Azhar, commander of 51st brigade visited the region and in March, established HQ at Badin and placed two formations in Malir on 4-hour notice. During this period, the Indian positions remained on the defensive and while defenses were beefed up, there was no evidence that the Indian army was actively taking control or attempting to implement the orders of Operation Kabbadi which resolved around retaking the Fort and removing the Pakistani Presence from the sector.
Kanjarkot was an official hotspot and both sides looked ready for a conflict. The situation was upped again by the Gujarat Home minister who gave the Indian version of events and stated that
“India was ready to accept the challenge if the situation worsened.”
On 1st March Pakistan sent a note to India stating that the area around Kanjarkot had been the de facto region of Pakistan since 1947 and rejected Indian request for the meeting of the two Surveyor-Generals on the grounds that the matter of the border was a political discussion between two governments. Pakistan asserted that it only patrolled the region and had not occupied which was in stark contrast to the orders of General Tikka and the ground situation. Considering the operation Kabbadi from the Indian GHQ, it is safe to say that Pakistan had occupied the fort before 22nd February and had fortified it on 22nd February. The lack of Indian military action gives credence to this fact. On 4th March the Indian foreign Minister, Swaran Singh, held a press conference where he stated that Pakistan had never been in control of the region of kanjarkot and the Rann of Kutch was a disputed area whose borders had never been demarcated properly. The Pakistani military command started to secure the area by moving the 18th Punjab to Diplo, 8th FF (without the A company) was moved along with a battery of the 14th Field Regiment to Kadhan.
Company A of 8th FF and a troop of 120 mm Mortars numbering a total of six were moved to Rahim Ka Bazar. 6th Baluch remained in Malir. The seriousness of the situation can be assessed with the fact that the 6th Baluch were ordered to move to East Pakistan but that order was canceled and they were told to stay at Malir and provide support and the brigade was later moved to Hyderabad. The 6th Baluch were to reconnoiter the routes to Khokhropar and Umerkot. 18th Punjab was ordered to cover Vingi and Jat Trai and provide support to the Indus Rangers and the Frontlines. The 51st Brigade now had full control of the region and did aggressive patrolling. The Indian Patrols were now challenged at every step but India was not willing to sit still and lose the initiative. The newly fortified and constructed posts gave India a good starting point to harass the Pakistani Patrols as well.
To better understand, it would be prudent to peruse Map 2&3. In this map, we can clearly see that the Indian position was not as dire as it may look. In fact, India was well poised to strike KanjarKot the moment more reinforcements arrived. Sardar Post overlooked KanjarKot and threatened the flank of the fort whereas India had occupied and strengthened all the positions in front of KanjarKot Fort, threatening the Track and the lines to the fort all the way from Chad Bet. It was becoming clear to the HQ at Badin that if the Indian Army launched an attack along Vingi, Jat Trai and Rahim ka Bazar, then the Fort would find itself in an untenable position of having to defend itself from the Sardar Post and the offensive from Vigiokot. In such an event the fort may fall endangering Rahim Ka Bazar, Mara and Ding and would force the Pakistani Army to fall back to defend the Mara, Rahim, Saro and Diplo line, losing quite a lot of the initiative. It was becoming clear that for this line of Vingi, Jat Trai and KanjarKot to be secure, Sardar Post had to fall which would not only allow the Flank to be secure but also secure the entire line, creating it the perfect first-line defense for Rahim Ka Bazar. As long as the post existed, the first line was always in threat. This was tripled when the Indian forces, Outflanking Pakistan, established a Post at Ding on 5th April and set up Shalimar Post in front of KanjarKot Fort. With the Ding post, the danger to the fort quadrupled and any counter-attack could be pre-empted. The first line for the defense of Rahim Ka Bazar was in danger and Ding post endangered Mara and Ding itself and the fort was in great danger. Over here we can see that now the Indian forces in the area were securing posts and strategic locations to implement the orders of Operation Kabaddi. The Pakistani fortification did indeed place them on the backfoot but by building their advantages, they moved to outflank KanjarKot. Pakistan now had only two options. It could both leave the fort and move back to Rahim Ka Bazaar or it could launch an offensive on the posts and secure the area around KanjarKot Fort to secure the line.
Brigadier Azhar arrived in Badin on 11 March and on 27th March, the Indian High Command started a joint exercise called ARROWHEAD in the Gulf of Kutch where INS Vikrant, several frigates and destroyers along with a brigade group did a joint service exercise. Both sides were ready for any incident of fire for this to become hot.
On 30th March Pakistan sent an aide memoire to India describing the Indian military action as provocative. While these talks were going on India had begun reconnaissance flights over Kutch and had, by its own admission, started to patrol areas that it had never patrolled before and closer to the Pakistani tracks. Although the patrols were well within the Indian area, they were however a violation of Ground Rule 9 that the status quo must be maintained. Pakistan protested very strongly against the new patrols.
There was great pressure among the public and the opposition for India to do something as the response was seen as meek and lackluster and drew criticism with reminders of 1962. Many critics bashed the government stating that in 47 they had lost 1/3rd of Kashmir to Pakistan, In 62 they had lost Aksai Chin to China and in 65 they would lose Kutch to Pakistan. Swaran Singh would argue in the Lok Sabha, when the correlation was highlighted, that all those scenarios were different and it was highly unfair and ridiculous to compare these situations and present them as similar and he went on to explain how the Chinese had built a properly engineered road whereas the Pakistanis had built only a mud track for the passage of trucks. This was not well received as the parliament shouted at the government for incompetency and accused the government of being inefficient and coward and demanded to know why the Indian military was not being properly sent with set objectives.
On 11th March India proposed a meeting at any level acceptable to Pakistan where a solution could be discussed however India did not solely focus on diplomacy and strengthened its hand during this period by making Sardar Post and post at Vigiokot to defend each other. Pakistan would establish posts at Ding as well. India was strengthening its position but there is no evidence to suggest that India believed that this would lead to confrontation with regular army soldiers. Now before we head to the Battle of Sardar Post, let us analyze the criticism levied by the Indian opposition and critics.
The Indian response was not lackluster at all. In fact the criticism was truly unfair since many were reeling from the events of 1947 and 1962 and felt that an India that is not tough will simply lose all its territory. Many saw this as a repeat of the colonial era and the times when invasions would come from the lands west of the Indus but there is a world of difference between tough and warlike and the actions of the government were tough. The opposition demanded them to be warlike hostile. The Indian government did not sit idly by at all. It immediately reinforced old posts, set up new ones, armed the men that were present and held their ground. They did advance patrolling into areas they had not ventured before and where they were challenged, they also challenged any Pakistan patrol that came their way. The call that they should bring the Indian army is also unfair since, as has been established above, the Indian army was sent to the area. It was a proportional response where vigorous patrolling was met with vigorous patrolling and new posts were met with new posts. Pakistan sent its 51st Brigade which took control of the Rangers and India sent the 31st Infantry Brigade which took control of the SRPF and both sides had them stationed on the front lines while they had their forces at the back to stop any thrust from the other side. The Indian response was adequate to the situation and the hostile criticism was unwarranted. They strengthened their position and continued a diplomatic push. This was a tough response and very different from 1962.
On 6th April, the HQ ordered the Brigade to capture Sardar Post, Jungle Post (A post near Sardar Post, securing, reinforcing and supplying it) and Shalimar post which was located in front of the KanjarKot Fort. Doing so would secure the fort and secure the defensive line and with the fall of these positions, the dangerous Ding post would fall by itself or any offensive would be a lot easier. On paper, the plan was very sound and tactically there were no faults since the fall of all three would truly secure KanjarKot Fort and Ding post would have no choice but to either surrender or retreat. If Sardar Post alone fell, then the other posts were not strong enough to hold out.
The attack night was planned to be 7-8th April However, the movement of the battalions to the concentration area was delayed which forced the brigade commander to postpone the attack to the night of 8-9 April. The H hour was fixed at 0100 hours. On 7th April, the HQ ordered Brig. Azhar to take the three posts and for this, an attack plan was formed where the 6th Baluch (Understrength having left a large rear party at the Cantonment numbering no more than 300-400 out of a total 800 battalion) would take the Shalimar post and Company A and B of the 18th Punjab (Strength 100-150 in a company) would attack Camp A and Company D and B of the 8th Frontier Force would Attack Camp B whereas Company A and C of the 8th FF were to be committed wherever the situation demanded. At 0200 hours, the attack would begin.
It must be clarified that the number of troops that participated in this battle are grossly over overestimated with some foreign sources citing 3500-4000 soldiers. This misinformation has largely grown to the thinking that the entire 51st Brigade participated and some have even given numbers to be of 10,000 thinking that the entire 8th division participated. Reality is quite different. The number in a company in Pakistan contains 100-150 troops depending on strength of the Brigade. In this offensive, the 6th Baluch was at battalion strength which would normally contain 700-800 troops but the 6th Baluch had left a large contingent behind at cantonment and were understrength whereas the two companies of the FF force D & B Company had 100-150 men each and the 18th Punjab Company A & B had 100-150 men meaning that the maximum number of participating troops, accounting for the understrength 6th Baluch would be somewhere between 1000-1200.
The enemy at Shalimar Post had a single Company (Strength not mentioned thus presumed to be full) with Jungle Post the same. The Sardar Post had somewhere between a Single Company to 2 Companies according to various sources but one thing is assured that 2 Companies were out on patrol and this is according to Indian Sources. There is little available scholarship on the Battle.
Little before midnight on 8 April, Brigadier Azhar accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Iqbal Malik, CO 14th Field Regiment arrived in the concentration area. In the meantime, 6th Baluch secured the ground where the two attacking battalions were to form up for the attack. The H hour had to be postponed to 0200 hours because 18th Punjab arrived late in the forming up place and without their artillery observer, Lieutenant Riaz. The officiating commander of 83rd Independent Mortar Battery, Captain Nazar was ordered to accompany 18th Punjab as the artillery observer in the attack. A silent attack began at 0200 hours with two companies each of 18 Punjab and 8 FF heading for Camps A and B respectively. The leading elements of both battalions reached the forward enemy positions covering almost 3000 meters, a considerable distance, for an assault on foot. The surprise was nearly achieved by B Company of 18 Punjab as it was almost on its objective before a lone Indian sentry challenged them.
Lieutenant Farukh Khatlani, commanding B Company 18 Punjab ordered the charge. Amid the confusion that followed, the company overran half of Camp A's positions. Further assault was checked by enemy machine guns from Camp B which was not yet under attack by Company B and D of the 8th FF. The attack was to happen simultaneously since the Sardar Post, itself was divided into three major camps and these camps would make sure to defend each other. The B Camp had the deadly machine guns and behind Camp A and B was Camp C, whose adjacent were the dangerous mortars but the delay meant that an unengaged Camp B was free to fire at Company B of 18th Punjab. The Company was caught in a precarious situation.
As a result, Lieutenant khatlani and his company CO Subedar Mauz Muhammad were both killed. Captain Nazar called for fire on the objective but he too fell, mortally wounded. His signaler,Kifayat Ullah, tried to continue but a bullet knocked out the Wireless set while another killed him. The artillery and the Mortar battery, which was to cover the Companies, could not be used. With the key personnel in the company dead, the attack Of B Company 18th Punjab came to a halt.
The question is where was Company A during this time after all both companies were to attack together at Camp A.
Company A of 18th Punjab under Major Nadir Hussain drifted to their right and instead Of attacking Camp A simultaneously with Company B, arrived opposite Camp B which was the Objective of Company B and D of the 8th FF objective. The leading elements of 8th FF, (B Company on the left and D Company on the right) had also drifted to their right, and as a result, B Company of 8th FF arrived at Camp B, behind A Company of 18th Punjab (Map 5). The Indian positions at Camp B were stronger and the attacking force met stiff resistance.
Even then Somehow, Sardar Karnail Singh, the Indian commander at Sardar Post who had his headquarters at Camp B, surrendered with seventeen of his men. As at Camp A, only half the positions at Camp B were overrun and the depth positions not only held their own but brought to hear effective fire on 18th Punjab troops at Camp A.
Lieutenant Colonel Mumtaz Ali, CO 18 Punjab, realizing that his A Company was on the wrong objective decided to disengage Camp B and ordered it to attack the enemy opposite it at Camp B and swing around behind Camp A and support B Company. This was a costly move since such disengagement brought the Company under fire from Camp B and C and soon the Company found itself pegged and being fired from all sides. In this attempt, Major Nadir and some of his men got wounded and he withdrew his company to allow the enemy to be engaged by his artillery observer. At this stage, CO 18th Punjab ordered D Company to reinforce B Company at Camp A, but they had hardly begun to move forward when enemy mortar fire checked their advance. The offensive had begun in the worst possible fashion. The 8th FF Company B and D had not partaken much and had found itself checked by enemy mortars whereas Company A and B of 18th Punjab had struggled with logistics, finding themselves lost. The mismatch timing meant that the Companies attacked in the worst possible fashion and the 14th field Regiment, Artillery, had been barely used allowing Sardar Post to effectively push back the attack.
At about 1030 hours, with the offensive going nowhere, CO 18th Punjab ordered his forward companies to dig in and hold out until 8th FF had cleared Camps B and C.
The 8th FF’s attack on Camp B was led by Major AHQ Zahid. Commanding B Company on the left and Major Luqman Mahmud commanding D Company on the right. As mentioned above these two companies strayed towards their right whereby only B Company assaulted Camp B (with A Company of 18th Punjab at Camp A). To make things worse, the wireless communication between the battalion and the attacking companies broke down. Since the attack was to be a silent one, wireless silence had been imposed and was to be broken on contact with the enemy. But when this was necessitated, the wireless failed altogether.
At about 0330 hours, CO 8th FF moved forward with A Company to establish contact with the forward companies But A Company's movement was also checked by enemy mortar and machine gun fire from the area of High Ground (Map 5). The attack was being halted. During this period, it was maintained that 2 Companies of Sardar Post had been out patrolling and reinforcement from Vigiokot could arrive if they were alerted. The situation needed to be resolved and resolved right now.
Now during this time, we have to wonder where the 6th Baluch was. Well At about 0430 hours, 6th Baluch reported that it had occupied Shalimar Post, the enemy having withdrawn without any fight and was the only attack point which had been very successful and was free to help the other companies but this had to be done before reinforcement for any reinforcement would stagnate the offensive and allow for the Indian army to come in full force.
Brigadier Azhar decided to use the 6th Baluch for a new offensive. At 0830 Hours, the 6th Baluch was at Ding where they were regrouped. Brig. Azhar ordered them to attack Camp B and C and then attack Camp A with the forward companies to capture Sardar Post and move to remove the Jungle Post with full strength. On paper, this plan looked concrete however it needed to be executed perfectly. Azhar decided to deploy the Battalion along with Company A & C of the 8th FF to cover their understrength. They were to attack Camp C and provide aid for the capture of Camp B. Lt. Riaz, who was to be the Artillery observer for the deployed companies but had failed to reach them, was ordered to be sent with them but he left without a wireless set! Even before the beginning, the offensive would run into trouble.
Lt. Colonel Zaidi. CO 6th Baluch decided to approach his objective from the west. 6 Baluch reached Dhand Nullah at about 1130 hours and on crossing it the battalion came upon open ground. The salty marshes offered either open plain ground or ‘Bets (Elevated mudflats 3-5 feet above ground). The area north of the Custom Track held dunes ranging 40-300 ft in height but the south was open ground making vehicular movement both easy and very dangerous since ‘Bets’ provided unobstructed observation. This meant any movement could be seen on the open ground and could be fired on. The conflict had begun at night but by now, the light of day was full and provided an unobstructed view of all that happened and moved. The second offensive had taken too long and time wasted disadvantaged the offensive.
Lt. Colonel Zaidi ordered Lieutenant Riaz to engage enemy machine guns firing from Sardar Post only to discover that he didn’t have a wireless set. This caused massive confusion and delay as the force stood in open ground in front of enemy machine guns without artillery cover. At 1400 hours, Lieutenant Colonel Zaidi ordered D Company to probe forward and locate the enemy positions. The company had hardly advanced 400 meters when it came under machine gunfire. Lieutenant Riaz engaged the machine guns with artillery at 1430 hours when eventually Second Lieutenant Ahmed Sultan of 14th Field Regiment arrived with a wireless set and joined 6th Baluch but by then any surprise the offensive was to have, was completely removed and the attack was disadvantaged.
Lt. Colonel Zaidi ordered C Company 8th FF to move forward while he moved with his own C Company. Within minutes the troops were subjected to machine gun and mortar fire and the attack ground to a halt. Since their presence in the open ground and their slow attack and late wireless calls had allowed them to utilize all the power of the post to attack the incoming offensive. While the situation was difficult, the offensive was not hopeless. In fact the attacks of the night had weakened the post considerably and neither the patrolling companies had returned nor any reinforcement had arrived. The atmosphere in the post was of desperation and the pinned down Companies could launch another offensive if proper leadership was used. In fact, the most major part was that 14th Field Regiment which had been barely used yet but was their most powerful weapon. If used alone, they could endanger the post and break its defenses. True military skills and leadership are seen when things go south, as offensives become late, surprises and covers blown, it is there we witness true officers. When things go right, every officer looks like Rommel. The situation on the Pakistani end was not dire and all they needed was to use the 14th field Regiment and mount an offensive under their cover and capture the post. Half of Camps A and B had already fallen but alas this was not so.
Not satisfied with the progress of the operation, Brigadier Azhar ordered CO 6th Baluch to suspend further attacks until he reached their position. Having been informed of enemy reinforcements on their way from Vigiokot, he was eager to capture Sardar Post before their arrival. However, Brigadier Azhar was unable to reach the 6th Baluch position and rather than ask them to pursue the attack, he called the offensive off and he reasoned that the prospects of its capture were bleak and enemy reinforcements were on their way. Brigadier Azhar decided to call off the operation and withdraw to a more defensible position. However, the reality was different since the artillery shelling under the directions of Lt. Riaz had forced the enemy to a full retreat where they abandoned all three Camps. The Indians felt themselves stretched and surrounded and felt that neither reinforcement nor the patrols were coming and thus decided to abandon their position and retreat 2 miles south to Vigiokot post. The coveted Sardar Post was within grasp had only one step been taken towards that direction. This was a scene that would repeat itself often when these two armies would clash when neither side knew the other's plight and would make decisions based on assumptions.
Sardar Post, which 51 Brigade had attacked so desperately, remained vacant for some time. The Indians waited and when the Pakistani forces showed no inclination of taking it, they re-occupied it—this time with regular troops. In fact, it was an Indian air WAR OP aircraft which discovered that Sardar Post was unoccupied.
“The AOP which had arrived at Bhuj to take the Brigadier artillery Southern Command to 11th Field Regiment's practice in the Little Rann now came in useful. It new over the Sardar post and saw no sign of the Pakistani movement. A patrol from the leading battalion confirmed that Sardar Post had not been occupied by Pakistani troops. The patrol firmed in at Sardar Post and stayed there until an infantry company relieved it.”
In the words of Major (Retired) Sita Ram John,
"The same afternoon an Indian army contingent was sent to occupy Sardar Post. The contingent was surprised to find that Pakistan had not occupied the post. It was undefended. The Indians reoccupied it."
Following the reoccupation of the Sardar Post, the Indian Army Headquarters took charge of the situation in the Rann of Kutch more earnestly. According to an Indian point of view, "The operations in Kutch were till then being conducted by a static formation: Maharashtra and Gujrat Area, with its headquarters at Bombay." The preparations began for the next encounter that would end the Rann of Kutch Conflict and that would be the famous ‘Battle of Bets’ and it would be this battle that would give Pakistan the confidence in its military to undertake offensives against India. On 9th April India sent a diplomatic protest Note and on 10th April Pakistan replied to the note rejecting Indian allegations, demands for a ceasefire and high political talks. Shastri also took a hardline by stating that India would only talk about border demarcation if Pakistan vacated Kanjarkot Fort and would repeatedly insist on doing so. The 9th April diplomatic Note had contained that request.
Perhaps the best way to analyze the operation would be a later Indian government report into war described this episode with some accuracy when it stated,
“The Brigadier of 51st from Pakistan had handled the operation as ineptly as Brigadier Pahlajani of 31st Infantry Brigade of India.”
Both would be sidelined from the theater. A quick analysis of the entire offensive tells us some very important things.
Artillery, Night and Defense
The Pakistani offensive had 1000-1200 against the Indian 150-300 men, who had positions entrenched as well as Mortars at height. The rule of thumb is that against a defending enemy you attack with a ratio of 1:3 in favor of the offensive army and if there is height then 1:6 in favor of the offensive army. The plains made the numbers even more visible. Pakistan employed the 14th Field Regiment however due to lack of wireless contact the artillery remained ineffective during the offensive until the end when it showed its devastation and highlighted that if used correctly early, then this battle would have been over before the first light as was the original plan. The requirement of the numbers pointed to two important things that in the plains such a large number could be seen and could come under fire immediately thus it needed two major covers. Artillery and the Night. The offensive had to use the artillery efficiently and had to finish before the first light. General Tikka’s orders actually included this important part that the offensive must be completed before first light. The operation would become multiple times dangerous under daylight. Yet the importance of both was not understood and the offensive happened in the worst possible manner.
Communication Break Down
The first moment of the Offensive underwent a major communication breakdown as wireless sets were broken and communication to the HQ and to the 14th Field Regiment was an absolute mess. The attack was to be a silent one to achieve surprise and radio silence is indeed kept when silent attacks happen however here, like in all silent attacks, radio silence was only to be kept till the contact with the enemy however contact with the enemy led to an absolute breakdown in communication as wireless sets were broken, there was no plan for second communication officer, and the Company entered into chaos. The HQ was completely in the dark about how the Company was doing and where the other Companies were. The entire leadership of a Company fell to enemy guns which led to the halting of the offensive. Company A’s plan to aid Company B in Camp A by swirling around also points to lack of communication as the Company A CO had no idea that the Company A leadership was not there and any surrounding movement would require Company A to have prior info and leadership to attack together at Camp A. Company B and D of 8th FF where themselves unaware as to what was happening and the lack of communication displayed a lack of urgency especially on the part of 6th Baluch which had easily completed its objective and could have aided Company A but only communicated the fact that they had won the Post without a fight when the offensive began at 0200 Hours, at 0430 Hours and regrouped at Ding at 0830 Hours, 4 Hours later.
Coordination and Logistics.
Silent attacks circle around coordination and logistics. The Companies were unaware of their position for most of the offensive and this created a lack of coordination. Two companies were to attack Camp A and two were to attack Camp B so that neither Camp could defend the other and would be overwhelmed however the two Companies of 18th Punjab were the only ones that fought hard and achieved success at a level as well but the lack of coordination was open. Company A felt the blow of the entire Post and when Company B came to the fight, Company A had already halted and Company B came alone against the most fortified position of Sardar Post. Company B and D of 8th FF barely did anything and found Company D had found itself checked by mortars. Coordination was absolutely zero and this immediately blunted the offensive. Logistical sense attributed to the Companies veering right and it became worse when Company A tried an impossible maneuver that only saw it enter into the cross fire from Camp B and Camp C. The Mortars, the most dangerous weapon of Sardar Post, remained unchecked. The silent attack was meant to avoid the Mortars and Machine Guns but the failed coordination allowed for the maximum utility of both by the enemy. This was witnessed again when LT. Riaz had forgotten his wireless set and he was an artillery observer. Previously he had forgotten himself causing a delay in the start of the operation and then he had forgotten the wireless set. This meant that by full midday, the artillery was necessary but could not be used immediately.
Delays, Delays, Delays.
As I said that the offensive was best to be fought under the Night sky and daylight was the absolute worst enemy of such an offensive in such geography yet the offensive was delayed an hour due to the absence of the artillery observer and the attacks were delayed as well with Camps being engaged one at a time. The attack by D Company of 8th FF came at a massive delay and was checked immediately since the Post was fully alerted and the battery fully ready to fire at any Company that was in its range. The 6th Baluch took its time in reporting the Post takeover and then took 4 hours to regroup at Ding and then the next delay came with LT. Riaz forgetting his Wireless set as the attack which was to begin at 1400 Hours was delayed and this was when the 6th Baluch was standing in the plains in open sight. The delay in artillery allowed for the Post to shore up for another offensive and immediately checked the advance. Lastly was the delay caused by Brig. Azhar, who felt he had to be there himself and called for a complete halt of the offensive till his arrival yet he failed to get there and the offensive was completely halted in the middle of open ground in broad daylight.
Panic and Nerves
In a battle, things do go wrong. Equipment fails, men cower, weapons jam, all and everything that could go wrong do go wrong however the mark of a strong soldier is how long can he keep his nerve and think with a cool head and not panic. Here we saw the leadership panic immediately. Even before the offensive, the absence of the artillery observer was shocking and then we witnessed how Major Nadir, despite his success panicked at his presence at Camp B and tried to reposition himself to the initially planned position rather than utilize constructive thinking and continue the offensive at Camp B. His unnecessary movement stalled and blunted his own attack which could have been effective with Company B of 8th FF which was behind him. Camp B was the most dangerous position and it was through Camp B that the Mortar positions could also be targeted.
We see the immediate Panic by Brig. Azhar again when he thought the offensive halted and his decisions only made the offensive stall even more. IT was clear that by 1500 Hour, he had lost his nerve and his call for a retreat towards a more defensible position showed his thinking especially when that was the time to continue the offensive. The artillery had finally been used properly and it was the time to lead an attack to see what would happen but his nerves lost and he would undertake a strategy that would be employed by both Pakistan and India in the 1965 conflict and that was to immediately go into the defensive and retreat to defensible positions. This lone decision caused, what could have been a successful offensive to fail horridly.
These battles are important to study because we see mistakes and failures that can teach us many important military lessons. Not all offensive succeed but learning from failure is the most important trait of an army and even today this battle is important as a study because, in this short battle, we can decipher many things that can help us understand the coming Battle of Bets and the 1965 war and this battle would ring the coming of a massive conflict between Pakistan and India but that is a study for another time.
“History of Indo-Pak War- 1965” By General Mahmud Ahmed
“From Kutch to Tashkent” By Farooq Bajwa
“The Pakistan Army; War of 1965” By Shaukat Riza
“India’s Paratroopers; History of the Parachute Regiment of India” By KC Praval
“The Indo-Pak Clash in the Rann of Kutch” By Major Ahmed Saeed
“The Indo-Pak Conflict of 1965” By Major Sita Ram Johri
“History of the Regiment of Artillery—Indian Army” By Major Generaql DK Palit
“History of Indo-Pak War 1965” Chakravorty B.C History Division, Ministry of Defence, New Delhi,
Maps Sourced from
“History of Indo-Pak War- 1965” By General Mahmud Ahmed
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