Overlord'S Blog: Pakistan's Waterloo
Tanks are mighty behemoths of destruction, but in one case they have created as well. This all happened during the short 1965 war between India and Pakistan.
India was having a bad time of it in the early 1960's. In 1962 China had defeated them militarily in the Himalaya war, then in 1964 its much loved Prime minister had died. Hostilities then began to escalate with Pakistan in mid 1965, until all out war broke out with both sides launching attacks, skirmishes and infiltrations on the same day.
The first official act of war was when the Indians launched a large attack across the border aimed towards Lahore in early September. This attack was stopped when it reached the Ichogil Canal. Despite the Indians knowing about the waterway they were utterly unprepared for forcing a crossing and their attack stalled.
With the Pakistani troops defending the bridges or having blown them up the Indians had no means of conducting an assault crossing. In one sector however, two companies of infantry did manage to use the rubble from a destroyed bridge to cross. On the same day the Pakistani's launched a massive counter attack with its 1st Division. This counter attack forced the Indians back, as their forces began collapse and rout in the face of overwhelming fire-power. The Indian forces began to dig in in an attempt to hold their ground.
The 1st Division consisted of about 300 M48 Pattons, in three armoured brigades. The M48's were newly purchased from the United States. Equally every other branch in the 1st Division was equipped with new equipment. Arrayed against them were the Indian forces, mostly equipped with M4 Shermans armed with 75mm guns. There were some 76mm armed tanks and a few units of Centurions in addition to the Shermans.
The Pakistani First Armoured Division was given a final objective over 100 miles inside India, but first it had to capture the village of Khemkaran 5 km from the border. The initial advance was beset with delays, at first bridge construction over the Rohi Nala river was several hours behind schedule, then one of the tanks got stuck on the bridge which left only about a companies worth over the river.
Then on the 7th of September the Pakistanis split their forces, although they regrouped towards evening, in the region of Khemkaran.
Near Khemkaran was the Indian infantry of 4th Battalion of The Grenadiers. One of the companies had the 32 year old Havildar (roughly Sergeant) Abdul Hamid. After 5 years of service he had been appointed to Company Quartermaster. The 4th Battalion had advanced to the Ichogil Canal, and after the failure to cross the Indian forces had fallen back. The 4th Battalion had been in action for the previous 24 hours with no rest.
By then they had fallen back near to a village called Chima, where they had began to dig in on either side of the main road. They deployed their four jeep mounted 106mm Recoilless rifles covering the road. The weapons were perfectly sighted, using ploughed muddy fields to increase their fields of fire, while the guns were dug in behind sugar cane or cotton bushes. The recently ended monsoon also made the ground so much harder for the tanks to use.
|Havildar Abdul Hamid
Havildar Hamid was very familiar with the 106 mm's, having spent his entire career crewing them. He was also considered the best shot with the recoilless rifles in the battalion. His skill with these weapons meant that although he maintained the rank of his former station he was still the leader of the battalions AT platoon.
Suddenly Patton tanks appeared from the direction of the canal, barrelling down the main road. The lead Patton through luck spotted Havildar Hamid, halted and the commander of the tank yelled to Havildar Hamid asking for directions. His response was a 106 mm shell that destroyed the tank. The crew frantically re-loaded and Havildar Hamid destroyed a second and then possibly a third tank (note: the reports from multiple sources are contradictory as to exactly when he knocked out the tanks).
The 9th was relatively quiet, and the 4th Grenadiers carried on digging in.
At 0800 on the 10th the Pakistani forces tried again for a big offensive. M24 Chaffee tanks approached the line the Grenadiers were holding under the cover of Pattons and artillery fire against suspected positions, they tried to scout the front line and force the AT guns into giving away their position.
The Indian gunners wisely held their fire, crouching in their fox holes while the artillery sent shock waves through the air and kicked up splats of mud.
After this Pattons moved up in force several tanks abreast and began to roll forward with all their guns blazing. By 0900 the Pakistanis shifted their attack to a weaker position, Havildar Hamid spotted another column of Pattons smashing through the forward company position.
Despite the artillery fire Havildar Hamid drove his Jeep mounted 106 mm out of its position and took up a flanking position to the thrust smashing through the infantry. Once behind another bush and within range Havildar Hamid opened fire. His first shot destroyed the lead Patton. Recoilless rifles have a massive firing signature, so knowing he was likely spotted Havildar Hamid reversed his Jeep and moved to a different location. Once aimed and set he fired again. The 106mm round smashed into the target Patton causing it to burst into flames. As he pulled out of position the Pakistanis saw him, and started firing everything they had at him.
With bullets sleeting past like hailstones, and tank shells thudding down near him Havildar Hamid calmly aimed at a third Patton. Again his third shot of the day flew true and destroyed the Patton. Once reloaded Havildar Hamid aimed at a 4th Patton. The Patton fired and the HE shell landed close enough to Havildar Hamid’s unprotected Jeep. The entire crew were killed by the blast.
Again accounts do not record if Havildar Hamid destroyed the 4th tank. But we do know that Havildar Abdul Hamid killed seven Pattons in those two engagements. For this he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra medal, India's highest decoration for valour.
Elsewhere the Pakistanis were suffering just as badly. In many places the Indian tankers hidden in the lush undergrowth or by sugar canes in their Shermans waited until the Pattons were at point blank range before firing. Equally the monsoon soaked ground caused such bad mud that the Pakistani tanks simply bogged down.
The attack by the vaunted 1st Armoured Division began to break down and lose momentum.
The Divisional Commander came forward in his tank to try and get the stalled attack moving again. However the Indians picked up the radio signals from his command tank, and promptly shelled him with their Second World War vintage 25 pounders and BL 5.5" guns. One of the guns got lucky and killed the Divisional Commander.
With no leadership left and suffering badly at the hands of the dug in Indians, the Pakistanis fell back. One of the 1st Lieutenants that retreated that day was Pervez Musharraf, who later became president of Pakistan.
But what of the creation I spoke of at the start? Well all the Pattons that the Indians captured were taken to one place. Slowly over time a settlement began to form. Then the tanks were removed, and are now displayed across India on war memorials.
The settlement at the graveyard of the Pattons continued to grow, and for a time was named Patton City. Although it appears to have reverted to one of the names of the local villages either Bhikhiwind or Khemkaran, western sources are not exactly clear on this.