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Of Tanks Battles and Air Sorties: A gripping account of the 1965 war

Col. Arun Hariharan | Updated on November 24, 2021

Shiv Kunal Verma’s depiction of the lesser talked about Indo-Pakistan war is a book that will delight not just hardcore military buffs but a newer generation of readers

They say the best way to appreciate good wine is to use your senses. As you swirl the wine glass, look at the wine's colour, sniff its bouquet or scent; try to identify the different aromas. Now take a sip and feel its texture and weight as it glides over your tongue.

Shiv Kunal Verma’s detailed account of the lesser spoken about of the two major wars (if you exclude the J&K centric skirmishes of 1948 and 1999) of India with Pakistan i.e. the 1965 war, is like that old wine which needs to be savoured and appreciated, one sip at a time.

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 was a culmination of skirmishes that took place between April and September of that year between Pakistan and India. The conflict began following Pakistan's Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule. India retaliated by launching a full-scale military attack on West Pakistan. The seventeen-day war is also better known for the largest tank battles fought anywhere in the world since World War II.

Verma begins the account by brilliantly painting the background of a demoralising defeat suffered by the Indian Army in the 1962 war with China, perpetuated largely by atrociously inept senior political and military leadership. However, he does bring out that at the junior and field commander levels, the leadership was exemplary and heroic – which reflected the basic fabric of the Indian Army. It was this very factor which was mis-read by Pakistan when they launched their initial operations on Kutch and achieved reasonable success against an ill prepared and out-numbered Indian defence.

The tale unfolds with the author’s detailed descriptions of Pakistan’s treacherous Operation ‘Gibraltar’—in Kashmir in August. Nearly 12,000 trained mujahids were covertly deployed in multiple groups, each named after historical plunderers of the subcontinent. Confident that they had superior armour (M-47 and M-48 Patton tanks), better fighter planes (F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters), and better submarines (Daphnes) than India, the Pakistanis expected that in the event of an expanded war, the Indians would collapse just as they had against China in NEFA three years previously. However, India repulsed the attack and cut off the entry and exit points into the Kashmir Valley by capturing the Haji Pir Bulge. Operation Gibraltar thus fizzled out.

Pakistan then launched Operation ‘Grand Slam’ in September 1965 in Chhamb and Jaurian. The resultant Indian counter-attack saw the focus shift to various other sectors—Lahore, Barki, Kasur (Khem Karan), Fazilka, Sialkot, and Barmer—on the international border. With the two air forces getting involved almost immediately, the armed skirmishes turned into full-scale war.

As they had in 1962, the junior officers and men of the Indian armed forces acquitted themselves admirably despite the on-the-fly reorganization of forces, lack of intelligence, obsolete equipment, and lacklustre military leadership. What could have ended in a decisive victory instead culminated in a stalemate.

The book beautifully describes the land and air battles fought in this very complex conflict including the famous battle of Dograi across the Icchogil Canal, infantry operations in J&K and the great tank battles of KhemKharan, Asal Uttar, Barki and Chawinda.

Numerically and quantitatively inferior Indian Armoured Corps fought with tremendous tenacity and improvisation including 20 Lancers deploying AMX-13 tanks in a copybook manner and holding up two of Pakistan’s oldest tank Regiments at Chhamb-Jaurian. The 18 Cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hari Singh literally knocked on the doors of Sialkot, 1 Armoured Division under General Sparrow, involved in one of the greatest armoured battles at Chawinda, with both Poona Horse under Lieutenant Colonel A.B. Tarapore (who was subsequently awarded the PVC) and Hodson’s Horse under Lieutenant Colonel M.M.S. Bakshi destroying a large number Pakistani tanks, Lieutenant Brijendra Singh of Scinde Horse ably supporting 3 JAT at Dograi, Central India Horse advancing to Barki and 2 (Independent) Armoured Brigade stopping the Pakistani offensive at Asal Uttar with 3 Cavalry and Deccan Horse together creating a graveyard of Pattons.

Unlike many other accounts of the War, air warfare has also been covered with a great deal of clarity, and the author’s view from the sky is quite impressive. The air warriors excelled themselves, from the photo reconnaissance missions by Flying Officer Barbara in Kutch and Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath in Punjab to the bombing run of Peshawar by the Canberras, the missions flown over Pakistan and aerial combat.

The author has also covered the aspect of the steel will of the physically diminutive Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri – which was totally under-estimated by the Pakistani leadership. The relationship within the military leadership, that is between. Gen JN Chaudhuri the suave COAS and his battle hardened Western Army Commander, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh and also between the military leadership and the political dispensation and its impact on the decision-making and further unfolding of events has also been brought out by Verma quite well. The book is also quite impartial in describing events and not jingoistic at any instance - making it quite readable and convincing.

The author has researched the terrain well along with numerous interviews with soldiers, officers, bureaucrats, and others who had a first-hand view of the conflict. The book -1965: A Western Sunrise though voluminous, makes a very interesting read and is surely a definitive account of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan created for the newer generation readers and hard core military history buffs alike.

About the book
  • 1965: A Western Sunrise: The definitive account of India’s Second War With Pakistan.
  • Shiv Kunal Verma
  • Aleph Book Company
  • 576 pages; Rs 720

Check out the book on Amazon

(Colonel Arun Hariharan is a military veteran and an experienced security and business continuity professional)

Published on November 24, 2021

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