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Indo Pak War of Lahore – The Battle for Ravi-Sutlej

The Battle of Lahore and Pakistans Main Attack in 1965

The Battle for Ravi-Sutlej Corridor 1965
A Strategic and Operational Analysis



December 2001

This is part of one of the chapters of my book Pakistan Army till 1965 published on 17 August 1999 and later summarised and published as a journal article in December 2001

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The Indian attack on Lahore in particular and Ravi-Sutlej Corridor in general has remained the subject of too much propaganda and too little analysis. On Pakistani side the Battle for Lahore was seen as a superhuman effort while on the Indian side it exposed many glaring weaknesses in the Indian Army at unit, brigade, divisional and corps level.

On the other hand the total failure of the main Pakistani attack in Khem Karan was ignored or forgotten in the smoke screen of glory created by official propagandists who successfully shifted the entire public attention on laurels of Aziz Bhatti etc. Thus, many glaring failures like surrender of an entire tank regiment on Pakistani side in Khem Karan were overlooked. If Niranjan Parshad was sacked on the Indian side no one realized that the Pakistani GOC 1st Armoured Division survived unceremonious dismissal simply because he was close to the then army chief.

Unfortunately, instead of dispassionate analysis the Battle for Lahore or Ravi-Sutlej Corridor as one may call it was overclouded by tales of heroism at individual and unit level on the Pakistani side.On the Indian side, it led to various drastic changes in high command and re-thinking about unit employment. After the war, Indian High Command spent a very large fortune on increasing terrain friction by construction of spurs, bunds, drains etc to ensure that something like a tank thrust against their strategic line of communication to Kashmir and Amritsar may never again take place. In 1971, thus little activity took place in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor and the emphasis shifted to area south of Sutlej.

We will analyse the corps level battle in this article in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor in 1965 which involved a total force of some five infantry divisions and one armoured division and an independent armoured brigade.Orientation withthe battle area
The Ravi-Sutlej Corridor from the point where the River Ravi finally enters Pakistan near BRB Syphon north of Lahore till Kasur measures roughly 160,000 yards in frontage. The main Pakistani town Lahore, a place which had immense strategic, political as well as psychological significance for Pakistan was located just 29 kilometres from the border while the main Indian town Amritsar was about 28 kilometres from the border. Khem-Karan, a small Indian town which made many headlines in the first four days of the war was located about 60 kilometres south west of Amritsar and 5 kilometres to the border. Ravi, the river comprising the northern boundary of the corridor was relatively smaller than Sutlej, the river which formed the southern boundary of the corridor and entered Pakistan in the Sejhra Bulge, going into India again for a few miles into Hussainiwala Headworks before re-entering Pakistan again a few miles south of Kasur, a small Pakistani town 5 kilometres from the border.

Since there was no natural boundary between India or Pakistan in this corridor, Pakistan had constructed the BRBL (Bambanwalla Ravi Bedian Link) Canal which the Indians referred to as Ichhogil Canal. The BRBL canal ran from north to south from Ravi in the north till Sutlej in the south, after it entered the corridor passing through a siphon on the Ravi from Sialkot District.

The canal was constructed in the 1950s with the express purpose of serving as a defence obstacle against a possible Indian attack on Lahore. Its western banks were higher than its eastern banks to provide good fields of fire and observation for the defender and lined with bunkers.

It was approximately five metres deep and 45 metres wide and was a “complete water obstacle”, formidable in subcontinental terms where attack across water obstacles was regarded as a formidable and extremely difficult operation!1

The BRB running in a nearly ninety degree direction flows 5 to 14 kilometres from the Indian border. It has various branches which run from east to west like the Lahore Branch, Kasur Branch.

All these branches ran from northeast to southwest and thus no cause of any ground friction for any attacker advancing from east to west.

The BRB crossed the GT Road at Dograi a village located on its east bank. The other obstacles in the corridor were the Hudiara Drain, Rohi Nala and the Nikasu Nala.

The first two could be crossed with minor engineer effort or recce while the third required greater engineer effort. Both Ravi and Sutlej were complete water obstacles with width varying from 150 to 350 metres and were in near full flow in the season. The fields of fire in the area were limited from 300 yards to 1200 yards and the area near the canals, their branches and the nalas were boggy, limiting tank movement and requiring careful reconnaissance.

The main roads in the area were the GT Road linking Lahore with Amritsar and onwards to Jullundhur and Ludhiana. Lahore-Harike Road linking Lahore with Ferozepur-Ludhiana Road and the Ferozpur Road linking Lahore with Ferozpur, after passing through Kasur and crossing the Sutlej over the Hussainiwala Headworks near Ferozpur.

The major bridges from where the BRB could be crossed were at Dograi on the GT Road, Bhaini, Malikpur, Bedian, Barki, Kasur etc. In addition, there were various aquaducts and viaducts on the BRB. The area had thick vegetation trees etc and various crops specially sugar cane severely limited fields of observation and fire.

Indian Plan

The Indian war plan was finalized on 9th August 1965.2 The plan envisaged a major attack in the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor employing 11 Corps (4 Mountain Division, 7 Infantry Division and 15 Infantry Division) along three axis i.e 15 Infantry Division on Amritsar-Lahore axis, 7 Infantry Division on Khalra-Barki-Lahore axis and 4 Mountain Division on Khem Karan-Kasur axis.

Each division had two brigades while their third brigade was held by the 11 Corps as reserve or for other tasks. 29 Brigade (ex-7 Division) was directly under corps headquarter and tasked to defend the area opposite the Dera Baba Nanak Enclave, Dharm Enclave and the Jassar Bridge.

The corps boundary of the 11 Corps extended from Dera Baba Nanak (Included) some 56 Kilometre North of Amritsar in the north till the north bank of Sutlej River in the south and onwards till Ganganagar which was defended by 67 Infantry Brigade (three battalions) supported by 4 Independent Squadron (Sherman-75mm). The 2 Independent Armoured Brigade was the corps reserve of 11 Corps.

It consisted of 3rd Cavalry (Centurions) and 8th Light Cavalry (AMX-13). 15 Infantry Division had 14 Scinde Horse (Shermans-76 mm), and 1st Skinners Horse (Shermans) an additional regiment which was on move on 6th September 1965 from Benares to the frontline.

This unit joined the 15 Division only on 11th September. The 7th Division’s integral armour unit was the 21 Central India Horse (Sherman-75mm) while the 4th Mountain Division (less 33 Mountain Brigade deployed on Chinese border) had the 9 Deccan Horse (Sherman-76 mm).

In addition after 6th September the 7th Light Cavalry (PT-76) equipped with fully amphibious PT-76 tanks was moved to the corps area with restrictions placed on the unit for utilization in only highly sensitive missions because of conversion and armour vulnerability reasons since the PT-76 was newly inducted and had very thin armour plates.

This brigade also had 1 Field Regiment (SP) and 1 Dogra (Lorry borne). In addition the corps also had a reserve infantry brigade i.e 96 Infantry Brigade (three infantry units) (ex-15 Division) initially placed at Tarn Taran.

The reader may note that Joginder Singh claims that at one point General Harbaksh Singh had agreed to transfer 7 Division to 1 Indian Corps involved in Operation Nepal opposite Chawinda but the decision was changed on Joginder’s remonstrances to the Indian Army chief. This if done would have left a big gap in between Indian 15 and 4 Mountain Division.3
Each Indian division had an organic artillery brigade known as divisional artillery in Pakistan. In addition there was the 21 Independent Artillery Brigade consisting of one medium and one heavy regiment.
In addition the 11 Corps was also given three other formations which were not in its area of operations on 6th September 1965.

These were 41 Mountain Brigade (forced to move to Akhnur after Grand Slam), 50 Para Brigade which was on move from Agra to 11 Corps area on 6th September and the 23 Mountain Division which was initially Indian Army Reserve and did not arrive in the battle area and had no influence on the conduct of operations till end of the war.

The reader may note that this formation was last ordered to concentrate in area Dera Baba Nanak by 26th September 19654 while ceasefire took place on night 22/23rd September 1965.
In the strategic sense the prime Indian aim in 11 Corps area was to launch a thrust at Pakistani vital centre of Lahore which would compel Pakistan to “retain large portion of her reserves in that Sector”.5
Another major strategic benefit that the Indians visualised to derive from 11 Corps attack was ensuring defence of Indian territory in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor by utilising the BRB as a water obstacle.

The Indian planners had assessed that with all territory from the border till BRBL in Indian hands the Indian territory in Ravi-Sutlej Corridor was secure against any Pakistani attack. This was so since no water obstacle like BRB was available with the Indians for the defence of their side of the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor.

The reader may note that before the war if Joginder Singh the Chief of Staff Western Command is to be believed some people (Harbaksh Singh) in the Indian Higher Command regarded the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor as indefensible and were in favour of taking a defensive position on the Beas River.6

In classical strategic terms the Indian 11 Corps attack was a “Thrust” defined by Andre Beaufre as “Reach a vulnerable point in spite of opposition of the enemy” and aimed at “Depriving the enemy of his freedom of action by wearing him down”.7

In pure operational order terminology 11 Corps tasks were:—8

Advance to the Ichogil Canal (BRBL) along the axes GT Road, Bhikiwind-Khalra and Bhikiwind-Khem Karan to capture Pakistani territory from opposite Ranian inclusive to its junction with Dipalpur Canal opposite Hussainiwala inclusive and capture intact:—

a. GT Road Bridge over Ichogil Canal.

b. GT/Jallo Link Road Bridge. Barki Bridge over Ichogil Canal.

c. Destroy any enemy which may enter the Punjab and Ganga Nagar Sector in Rajhastan.

d. Simultaneously with point “a” above eliminate Bridgehead in the area Dera Baba Nanak, and if possible capture the bridge intact.

e. Finally on completion of task “a”, be prepared to continue the advance to Lahore.

15 Division Plan

Translated into tangible terminology the above mentioned objectives were to be acomplished by commencing the advance of 15 Infantry Division in two phases. In Phase One commencing on night 5/6 September with two brigades and one task force.

54 Infantry Brigade (three battalions) of this divison supported by a tank squadron (14 Scinde Horse) and engineer field company was to advance along GT Road after crossing the international border at 0400 Hours 6th September and capture two bridges on BRB at Jallo and Dograi. Simultaneously, a battalion group task force i.e 1 Jat (ex-38 Infantry Brigade) half tank squadron (14 Scinde Horse), engineer field company, under direct command of HQ 15 Division were to capture road bridge in area Bhaini-Dhilwal.

In the second phase not before six hours after 0400 Hours 38 Infantry Brigade was to capture area Bhasin and Dograic.

7 Division Plan

The 7 Infantry Division was also given a two phase plan. In Phase one, it was to advance with one infantry brigade (48 Brigade) supported by tank squadron less one troop (21 Central India Horse) advancing along axis Khalra-Barki capturing Barki and securing the adjacent bridge over the Ichogil Canal (BRBL) by last light 6th September.

Simultaneously and independent task force directly under 7 Division Headquarter comprising 17 Rajput and one tank troop (21 Central India Horse), supported by a regiment strength of artillery and a field company of engineers was to cross the border at axis Wan-Bedian and secure Bedian by last light 6th September.

In Phase two, 65 Infantry Brigade was to carry out mopping up operations along BRBL and also destroy all bridges on BRBL within 7 Division area of responsibility.

4 Mountain Division Plan

4 Mountain Division comprising two infantry brigades and one tank regiment (9 Deccan Horse) was the southern most division of the advancing force. It was tasked to secure Pakistani territory upto Ichhogil Canal which in this area was just about 4 kilometres from the Indian border, destroying bridge over Ichhogil Canal over road Khem Karan-Kasur and to occupy a defensive sector to contain possible Pakistani offensive consisting of an armoured division and two infantry brigades.

This division was also assigned the support of 2 Indian Independent Armoured Brigade on priority.

The reader may note that initially the Indian planners had correctly assessed that Pakistani 1st Armoured Division may be employed in this sector. However, once Pakistan’s 7th Infantry Division the sister division of the 1st Armoured Division had moved into Gujrat area the Indian Intelligence equally incompetent like their Pakistani counterparts had by September assessed that the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division was in Wazirabad area!9

Thus the 11 Corps was in a relaxed mood and had no clue that the Pakistani 1st Armoured Division was dispersed in Changa Manga Forest area about to commence an attack which in leading Indian military analyst Ravi Rikhyes word had the potential to be India’s Fourth Battle of Panipat.

Pakistani Plan 10 Division Plan

The Pakistani plan in this corridor had two different dimensions. One was the defence of Lahore the prime Pakistani defensive consideration. The second was the main Pakistani attack originating from Kasur aimed at severing the entire Indian 11 Corps line of communication. There were three Pakistani divisions in the corridor.

The 10 Division responsible for defence of Lahore from BRB Syphon till Bedian in the south a frontage of approximately 60,000 yards.10 The newly raised 11 Division responsible for defence of the area from Bedian till and including Hussainiwala Headworks, a total frontage of some 100,000 yards11 in gunner terminology!

The 10 Division had three infantry brigades, two of which were deployed in defensive role and one along with a tank regiment (23 Cavalry), two infantry battalions, a field artillery regiment in direct support and an R & S Company was designated as the Division Strike Force responsible for counterattacks.

Before the war this brigade had been trained to carry out counterattacks to destroy any enemy penetration west of BRBL.

The reader may note that 23 Cavalry had one M-47 Squadron while the remaining two squadrons were equipped with Shermans.12 The TDU regiments were also equipped with Shermans.

114 Brigade was responsible for defence of Ravi Syphon through Bhaini Bridge till and including the main GT Road at Wagah. It had three infantry battalions, an R & S Company less one platoon, a TDU tank squadron (30 TDU) and was directly supported by a field artillery regiment. The main defensive positions of the brigade were on the BRBL.

103 Brigade was responsible for defence of area excluding GT Road till Bedian. It had two infantry battalions, a TDU tank squadron (30 TDU), an R & S Company less a platoon, and a field artillery regiment in direct support.

The 10 Divisional artillery’s strong point and one which gave it a marked advantage over the Indians, was in possession of 30 Heavy Regiment consisting of latest US eight 155 mm guns and four 8 inch Howitzers. In addition, the division had three medium regiments supporting three infantry brigades, a medium regiment and two locating batteries.

11 Division Plan

The 11 Division was raised in 1965 around May 1965.13 It consisted of three infantry brigades i.e 21 Brigade, (two battalions), 52 Brigade (three battalions) and 106 Brigad(two battalions).

In addition it had two tank regiments (15 Lancers and 32 TDU). The division had two roles i.e defending the line of BRB and also providing a bridgehead to the main Pakistani attack force i.e the 1st Armoured Division. Its artillery consisted of three field regiments, one mortar troop,one medium regiment, one heavy regiment (eight 8 inch Howitzers and four 115 mm guns) and most valuable a corps locating regiment.

The dual operational task of the 11 Division was defence of Kasur, destroy enemy advance on axis Ferozpur-Kasur and Khem Karan-Kasur, capture Pakistani side of Hussainiwala enclave and destroy all enemy likely water crossings in the divisional area. Its offensive role was to be prepared to secure a bridgehead across the Rohi Nala for the 1st Armoured Division.

In this task the division was to secure general line Patti-Harike inclusive of bridge over Harike and Bhikkiwind on axis Lahore-Harike. In the Phase two, the division was to get the 5 Armoured Brigade to capture Jandiala Guru Bridge over the Beas River.14

Conversely, if the GHQ decided to launch the whole of 1st Armoured Division in conjunction with 11 Division, 11 Division was then to provide a firm base to facilitate operations of 1st Armoured Division.

In this eventuality the 5 Armoured Brigade was to revert to under command 1st Armoured Division.15
Lately, Major General Naseerullah Babar in an interview conducted by this scribe for the Defence Journal claimed that the originator of this offensive plan was Major General Altaf Qadir.16

1st Armored Division Plan

As per the initial war plans of the Pakistani GHQ Headquarter, 1 Corps was supposed to control the operations of 8 Division, 15 Division, 10 Division, 11 Division and 1st Armoured Division. Humanly speaking, this was an impossible task and a tribute to Ayub and Musa’s grasp of strategic and organisational depth or lack of it! Even the officially sponsored historian Shaukat Riza admitted “nothing could be farther away from intention or capability of HQ 1 Corps” .17

The reader may, note that the 1st Armoured Divisions prime task was to function as a reserve for the Ravi-Sutlej Corridor along with 7 Infantry Division.

However, later on the 7 Division was diverted to Operation Grand Slam North of Chenab River.18
The first armoured division as it stood in 1965 was one of the finest armoured formations that the sub continent had seen till 1965.

To be precise in the words of Gul Hassan the last C-in-C of the Pakistan Army and the then Director Military Operations in 1965, the 1st Armoured Division was the “best equipped division that we fielded and far superior to any armour formation the Indians had”19
In September 1965, the 1st Armoured Division consisted of three armoured brigades (3rd, 4th and 5th) each with two tank regiments and one APC borne (Armoured Personnel Carrier) mechanised infantry battalions.

In addition the division had a recce regiment and the normal divisional artillery component of three self propelled (tracked) artillery regiments, one medium regiment, one self-propelled (tracked) Light Anti Aircraft Regiment. In addition there was the usual component of engineer signal and other supporting arm and service battalions.

On 1st September 1965, Headquarter 1 Corps still in command of 1st Armoured Division and still retaining some mental equilibrium which it was soon to lose from 6th September 1965 issued its grand operational instruction to the 1st Armoured Division:—

“1st Armoured Division on orders from GHQ was required to debouch from a bridgehead provided by 11 Division and to cut Grand Trunk Road in area Jullundhur”!20

In other words, 1 Corps Headquarter was assigning the 1st Armoured Division an objective some 100 miles inside India and one which required crossing of one major river !

As per this instruction the 5 Armoured Brigade was initially placed under command 11 Division for establishment of bridgehead.21

The initial 1st Armoured Division plan is illustrated on the adjoining map. It envisaged an advance by 3rd Armoured Brigade along Sobraon Branch to secure the Beas Bridge, a distance of 60 miles, an advance by the 4 Armoured Brigade along Kasur Branch to Jandiala Guru on Grand Trunk Road east of Amritsar, a distance of some 50 miles. 5 Armoured Brigade was to revert to command of 1st Armoured Division in the breakout phase and act as reserve.22

If 1st Armoured Division succeeded in accomplishing the above mentioned tasks this would have meant that complete Indian 11 Corps was encircled and forced to either surrender or withdraw northwards towards Pathankot.

In the process the Indians would have forced to sue for ceasefire and would have lost all territory including crucial cities like Amritsar till the Beas River. This is why Ravi Rikhye called it a possible fourth battle of Panipat for India.

Conduct of Battle

On 4th September at precisely 2230 Hours the Pakistani GHQ sent a signal to all formations which asked them to take “necessary defensive measures” against India. War had not yet broken out but Pakistan had already launched an infantry division/armoured brigade size attack in Indian Held Kashmir from 1st September. The signal whose language was described by Shaukat Riza as “not peremptory”23 read as following:–

Pak Army DTE Sept 042230 E
Latest Intelligence reports indicate Indian concentration on both East and West Pakistan and such flash announcements on All India Radio as QUOTE Pakistanis attacking Jammu etc. UNQUOTE indicate their aggressive intention, formations will take necessary defensive measures (.) All InformedGul Hassan states that there was no ambiguity in this signal and that all formations took immediate action on it barring 10 Division in Lahore. This in view of Gul Hassan was a clear case of complacency.24

10 Division area

All that 10 Division did on receipt of the above mentioned signal was to warn forward troops to exercise greater vigilance and ordered troops to move into defensive positions on night 5th and 6th September.25 Gul’s assertion is confirmed by Shaukat Riza who states that GOC 10 Division on 4th September brushed aside Commander 114 Brigades suggestion to move into defences but later relented and ordered move to defensive positions during night 5/6 September 1965 on the morning of 5th September.26


Shaukat did not give any reason in his book in which he repeatedly praised Ayub and Musa as to why the Pakistan Army had so non-military in the language of it signals while stating that the 10 Division was not in full deployment because of the GHQ!27 Even the Indian armour historian noted that “for some unaccountable reason the 114 Brigade was not in its defences when the Indian attack came on the morning of 6th September “.28

The two forward brigades of the 10 Division were occupying their positions when the Indian attack commenced at 0400 Hours 6th September 1965. 3 Jat the leading battalion of the 54 Indian Brigade reached the BRB bridge near Dograi which had been destroyed by the Pakistani defenders.

The Indians claim that two companies of this battalion crossed the BRB walking over the partially destroyed debris of the bridge and occupied Batapur for sometime but were forced to withdraw since the Indian 54 Brigade/15 Division did not reinforce it.29 The reader may note that in this case the weakest link in the whole affair was not the Indian soldier or 3 Jat but the Indian 54 Brigade Commander and GOC 15 Division who did not respond to CO 3 Jat’s repeated requests for reinforcements!

The claim of 3 Jat having crossed the BRBL, however, is denied by Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik who was then defending that area as Commanding Officer 3rd Baluch.30

Lieutenant Colonel Tajammul Hussain Malik commanding 3rd Baluch played the most decisive role in repelling main Indian attack on Lahore

In the final analysis 54 Brigade accomplished little except 3 Jat’s singular accomplishment of contacting the BRBL opposite Batapur.

1 Jat Group similarly performed miserably. It failed to reach the BRBL and was repulsed by the combined effect of artillery fire and left forward battalion of the 114 Brigade. It panicked and dispersed back to the Indian side of the border by mid-day.31 It was replaced by 6 Kumaon along with two tank troops which deployed at Ranian.32

The 38 Infantry Brigade of the 15 Division also advanced very slowly at H + 6 and according to Harbaksh’s narrative had just advanced within 2000 yards of the BRBL by 2200 Hours 6th September.33

By 1300 Hours 6th September GOC 15 Indian Division Niranjan Parshad reported that the situation in his sector was serious on account of high casualties and no further offensive action was possible! On hearing this report, Harbaksh Singh accompanied by Commander 11 Corps personally visited 15 Division battle area and found that

“the situation had been grossly exaggerated and the fighting potential of the formation were in no way impaired — only the GOC had failed to measure upto certain local reverses, inevitable in any battle”. Harbaksh found the GOC 15 Division “drained of all will and vision …his attitude was passively negative and there was the unmistakable air of the defeatist about him. He stated his inability to undertake any further offensive action on the plea that his formation had lost all capacity for operations”.34

On 7th September afternoon GOC 15 Division while on the way to visit 38 Brigade towards Bhasin was ambushed35 by 18 Baluch.

The GOC escaped but his jeep was captured and is still retained by 18 Baluch (now 3 Sind) as a war trophy.

Harbaksh Singh sacked GOC 15 Division on 7th September and Major General Mohinder Singh succeeded Niranjan Parshad as the new GOC 15 Division on night 7/8 September 1965.36

On night 7/8 September 38 Brigade based in Pul Kanjri area attempted to capture Bhasin but failed. 54 Brigade on Jallo and Dograi villages with a battalion each also failed on night 7/8 September.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani GOC 10 Division ordered a counterattack to put 15 Division on the defensive. The Divisional Strike Force 22 Brigade was given orders to attack Indians east of BRB, something which they had not practiced in pre-war training manoeuvres.

The 22 Brigade crossed the BRB at Maqboolpur Syphon with 23 Cavalry leading, Brigadier Qayyum Sher37, captured area Bhaini by 0830 Hours 8th September and had cut the GT Road at Milestone 13 in Dograi area by 1330 Hours.

This audacious counterattack threw the Indian 15 Division into utter confusion. Harbaksh Singh states that two Indian units 13 Punjab and 15 Dogra in Dograi area broke the line and abandoned their defences.38

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