The Battle of Assal Uttar: Pakistan and India 1965

v.1.3 February 24, 2002

Agha Humanyun Amin (orbats)

Roland Davis (supplemental orbat information)

Ravi Rikhye (commentary)

Pakistan Orbat

Please note that President (General) Pervez Musharraf was a lieutenant of artillery in the 16 (SP) Field Regiment, 1st Armored Division Artillery.

Also please note that the Pakistan Army during this period normally assigned only seven infantry battalions to an infantry division (with the exception of the 12th Azad Kashmir Division).  It was thought that Pakistan did not need a full complement of infantry.  Great reliance was put on the excellance of Pakistan Artillery (justified, in the event), and in the numerical and quantitative superiority of the Pakistan Cavalry (only partially justified, in the event).  After the 1965 War Pakistan recognized its error and increased infantry in its divisions to a more standard nine battalions.

11th Division was a new raising only some months old.  For this reason, all its artillery came from other divisions and was either not replaced or replaced with new raisings.  In the Pakistan Army new raisings relied heavily on recalled reservists who were not necessarily pleased to return to active duty, sometimes just weeks before the outbreak of war.  The issue is not that some of the battalions failed to perform well, but that so many actually did a commendable job.  In 1971, when India mobilized its reservists Territorial Army battalions, it remained unsatisfied with their performance even though the reservists had at least six months to retrain.

Pakistan raised four cavalry regiments as Tank Delivery Units (30, 31, 32, 33 TDU), intending to decieve the Indians as to their real strength. This gave Pakistan 17 regiments vs India's 15.  Four of India's regiments were, however, equipped with the AMX-13 or PT-76, tanks which while excellent for reconnaissance, were near useless against Pakistan's M47/48 and M4 Shermans, and quite inferior to Pakistan's two M24 Chaffee regiments.  This widend the disparity in Pakistan's favor even further.

1st Armored Division [Maj. Gen. Naseer Ahmad Khan]

12th Cavalry (Division reconnaissance regiment, Chaffees)

 Division Artillery [Brig. A.R. Shammi] (killed in an ambush)

3 (SP) Field Regiment [Lt. Col. Ghulam Hussain]

15 (SP) Field Regiment [Lt. Col. Ehsan Ul-Haq] (later Major General)

16 (SP) Field Regiment [Lt. Col. Akram Chaudhry]

21 Medium Regiment [Lt. Col. Maqbool]

19 (SP) Light Anti Aircraft Regiment [Lt. Col. Mohammad. Sarwar]

1 Engineer Battalion [Lt. Col. Altaf Hussain]

3rd Armored Brigade [Brig. Moeen] (in reserve, did not enter battle)

19th Lancers (Pattons) [Lt. Col. Bashir Ahmad] (Later replaced at Chawinda) - See Correspondence

7th Frontier Force (Armored Infantry) [Lt. Col. Abdul Rahman]

4th Armored Brigade [Brig. "Tony" Lumb]

4th Cavalry [Lt. Col. M. Nazir] Pattons

5th Horse [Lt. Col. M. Khan] Pattons (sole pre 1947 unit not to fight in any Indo-Pakistan action)

10th Frontier Force (Armored Infantry)[Lt. Col. Fazal Kareem]

5th Armored Brigade [Brig. Bashir]

6th Lancers [Lt. Col. Shahibzad Gul] Pattons

24th Cavalry [Lt. Col. Ali Imam]  Pattons

1st Frontier Force (Armored Infantry) [Lt. Col. Syed Shabbir Ali]


11th Infantry Division [Maj. Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan]

15th  Lancers [Lt. Col. Iskandar Al Karim] I Corps Reconnaissance Regiment

32nd  Tank Delivery Unit [Lt. Col. Aftab Ahmad] Shermans after war 32 Cavalry

Division Artillery [Col. Shirin Dil Khan Niazi] (Major General in 1971)

26 Field Regiment [Lt. Col. Ata Malik] (ex 7th Division)

38 Field Regiment [Lt. Col. Hamid Tamton] (ex 8th Division)

12 Medium Regiment [Lt. Col. Bashir] (ex 8th Division)

9 Medium Regiment [Lt. Col. Gulzar] (ex 10th Division)

35 Heavy Regiment [Lt, Col. M. H. Ansari] (later Major General) (35 Regt ex I Corps Artillery)

Troop/88 Mortar Battery (ex 8th Division)

37 Corps Locating Regiment [Lt. Col. Khalil Ahmed Khan] (37 Regt ex I Corps Artillery)

3 Engineer Battalion [Lt. Col. Saleem Malik]

25 Signals Battalion [Lt. Col. Anwar Ahmad Qureshi]

21st Infantry Brigade [Brig. Sahib Dad] initially detached, returned Sept. 6 Div striking force/reserve

5th Frontier Force [Lt. Col. Mumtaz]

13th Baluch (now spelled Baloch) [Col. M. Hussain]

52nd Brigade [Brig. S.R.H. Rizvi] (deployed from Kasur-Khem Karan Road to Kasur-Ferozepur Road)

2nd Frontier Force [Lt. Col. Fateh Khan]

7th Punjab [Lt. Col. Shirazi]

12th Baluch [Lt. Col. Akhtar]

106th Infantry Brigade [Brig. Nawazish Ali]  (deployed Bedian Sector, North of Kasur)

1st East Bengal [Lt. Col. A.T.K. Haque]

7th Baluch [Lt. Col. Rasul Bux]

Indian Orbat

Werstern Army (Kashmir theatre, Punjab theatre down to Bikaner in Rajasthan)

[Lt. Gen. Harbax Singh] Commanding XV, I, XI Corps, total 11 divisions

XI Corps [Lt. Gen. J.S. Dhillon] Commanding 4, 7, 15 Divisions

2nd Independent Armored Brigade [Brig. T.K. Theograj]

3rd Cavalry  [Lt. Col. Salim Caleb] Centurions

          8th  Lancers  [Lt. Cpl. P.C. Mehta] AMX-13

          (Third regiment was away in another sector)

          1st (SP) Field Regiment (Sextons)

4th Mountain Division [Maj. Gen. Gurbaksh Singh]

          9th (Deccan) Horse [Lt. Col. A.S. Vaidya, later Army Chief]  Sherman IV/V

                    A Squadron [Maj. J.M. Vohra, later Lt. Gen.]

                    B Squadron [Maj. G.S. Bal]

                    C Squadron [Maj. D.K. Mehta]

          7th Mountain Brigade [Brig. Sidhu]

                    4th Grenadiers

                    7th Grenadiers

                    9th Jammu and Kashmir Regiment

          62nd Mountain Brigade

                    1/9th  Gorkha Rifles

                    13th Dogra

                    18th Rajputana Rifles

          (33rd Mountain Brigade was away in another sector)         


Neither India nor Pakistan take their military history seriously. India, for example, has still to release its war histories for 1965 and 1971, though xeroxed copies were obtained by the Times of India.  The histories are so bland as to be next to useless.  The history of the 1962 War may not even have been written. Aside from the Ministry of Defense's in-house historians, no one is allowed access to war documents.  The same is true of Pakistan. Much of the conduct of Indian and Pakistani battles is by means of verbal orders, and there seems to be no scheme of keeping proper records and notes of conversations and signals.  Unsurprisingly, Indian and Pakistani military history becomes an unbroken disaster of "I said - he said"  Few of the histories published by retired soldiers would meet the requirement of rigor needed for real history.  The more decent writers couch their language in ambigious terms, so as not to hurt anyone's feelings.  Those with an axe to grind go after their bete noir, who can do nothing right, while covering up their own errors, to indicate they did nothing wrong.  Good research is expensive, and almost without exception no Indian or Pakistani writer, university, or publisher can afford to pay for it.  So accounts are written in great part because you happen to run across an officer who was there, or a story told you by the batchmate of the general concerned, who heard it from a staff officer, who was told by someone from the general's staff…and so on. Even the most concietntious writer has trouble getting a fair picture under these cirucmstances, and the best such writers can do is to acknowledge their limitations, and continue.  Else we would have no history at all, good or bad.

When writing about Indo-Pakistan wars, a further complication arises.  Both sides find it near impossible to give the other credit where credit is due, whereas criticism becomes rabid propaganda.  So the account of the Battle of Assul Uttar makes the outcome a great victory for the Pakistanis, with cruel and demanding Indian generals heedlessly sacrificng thousands of their men to make unsuccessful inroads into the staunch Pakistani defense.  Pakistanis, being from the smaller and more insecure country, are worse when it comes to objectivity, but we also have no shortage of Indians without a good word for the Pakistanis. It remains unclear how anyone is supposed to learn anything when neither side wants to be fair.

Into this morass come two Pakistani writers, Maj. Agha Humanyun Amin and Brig. Z.A. Khan, both retired and former cavalry officers.  Both have a disspassionate commitment to getting as close to the truth as possible, and both completely reject any attempt by their Government to put a gloss on mistakes.  Both are iconoclasts with a keen eye for the absurdity that war generates.  Both have a sense of humor, prodigious memories, and many friends willing to talk freely off the record.  Thanks to Mr. Ikram Seghal of Pakistan Defense Journal, both have a forum from which to speak candidly and courgageously, and we are the richer for it.  It is hard to come up with any Indian writers who equal Amin and Khan in their attention to detail and frankness, though overall you will find Indians readier to blast their own side than is true for Pakistanis.  India being the bigger is less insecure.

Because the Battle of Assul Uttar was a disaster for Pakistan cavalry, as an Indian I have chosen to use Amin and Khan's accounts rather than the Indian accounts, such as the excellent treatise by Lt. Col (Dr) Bhupinder Singh (1965 War: Role of Tanks, BC Publishers, Patiala, India, 1982) .  To me what happened on the Pakistan side is of more interest than what happened on the Indian side.  Amin and Khan have the inside story, which was not available in such detail to the world till they spoke.  I hope also that by using primarily Pakistani sourcess, I will deflect criticism from chauvinistic Pakistanis who might think I am bent on slandering Pakistan because I am an Indian.  I have been in enough trouble with my government for exposing Indian lies and propaganda with regard to Pakistan.  If I can slam my own government for its stuypidies and mistakes, I certainly have the right to examine the mistakes and stupidites on the Pakistan side.  I have no interest in proving something at the expense of someone else.  Scholarship and propaganda are two different things.  Like Amin and Khan, I am interested in the truth, however imperfectly we may get to view it. 

My main concern, in this first of two parts, is to try and understand why Pakistan's 1st Armored Division, the pride of its army, blundered so badly at Assul Uttar despite an eneormous superiority in armor. In the second part, I will try and understand why  the newly raised Pakistan 6th Armored Division, in contrast, put such a staunch defense in the Battle of Chaiwanda, against a much more closely match adversary.


In 1965, Pakistan had two armored divisions, the 1st and the 6th.  Both fought major battles.  While the 6th Armored Division acquited itself well, the 1st Armored Division failed miserably and completely.  Its division commander, two of its three brigade commanders, and most of its staff officers were transferred out as reprimands for their unacceptable performance. This division witnessed scenes that have never taken place in the history of the Pakistan cavalry, before or since.  We have an armored regiment where, after the CO is killed, the 2nd in command refuses to take charge and none of the squadron commanders picks up when the 2 i/c refuses.  We have armored infantry abandoning their APCs when they come under friendly fire, and then running from the field, all the way back home.  We have a regimental commander who achieves his phase line, but does not bother to inform brigade, and then decides if brigade - who has no idea where he is - does not link up with him that night, he will surrender in the morning,  Seventy officers and men from two squadrons decide they had best push off while they can, and leave for Pakistani-held territory.  The next morning, as good as his word, the regimental commander surrenders as soon as someone can be arranged to accept the surrender, and hands over 11 running tanks in the process.  We have a divisional engineer regiment that builds a bridge across an obstacle, only to find the banks are too high for passage, and then has to rectify the problem, halting the entire division in the process.  We have regimental commanders arguing with brigade commanders, brigade commanders arguing with the division commander, instead of cooperating to get on with the battle.

We know all this and more because two Pakistani retired officers have written of these strange and perhaps unique events.  Our sources for the Battle of Assul Uttar are primarily Pakistani, and we ask Pakistani readers who may get offended to keep that in mind.

Opening stages

On September 5/6, Indian XI Corps (4 Mountain, 7 and 15 Infantry Divisions, 2nd Independent Armored Brigade) launched its three divisions against Lahore. 4th Mountain Division was on the southern axis, alunching from Khem Karan towards Kasur, which lay perhaps 6-7 km from the international border.  7th Division was to the north of 4th Mountain Division, also aiming at Kasur from a different direction. The Indians deny Lahore was their objective, saying instead that their attacks were limited to keeping Pakistan from launching a major attack against the Punjab.  Be that as it may, had India gained Kasur, it could have outflanked the Lahore defenses, which would have been under attack from two different direcxtions.  The defenses of Kasur were immensely difficult to negotiate.  The Pakistanis had done a superb job of building defenses that could hold superior Indian numbners failing that, inflict such heavy losses that the gain would be unworthwhile.

4th Mountain Division (two brigades, a third was in another sector) and a Sherman regiment attacked at seven points, expecting to be opposed by a single regular infantry battalion.  Instead, it found a brigade reinforced with armor, and the entire Pakistan 1st Armored Division sitting behind.   Pakistan 11 Infantry Division defended the Southern Lahore area with six battalions.  Because of the large frontage, only its 21st and 52nd  Brigades were defending Kasur, now subject to a two-pronged attack by India.  11th  Division, though a completely new formation, was led by a geenral who repeatedly showed a capacity for rapid action aimed at keeping the initiave.  Pakistani plans were to seize Khem Karan, opening the way for a rapid advance to the Beas River. The Beas had two bridges over it at this time Pakistan was to seize one bridge and then turn north.  If successful, this manuver would have isolated eleven divisions of the Indian Army, more than half its effective strength at the time, in the Punjab, Pathankot, Jamm, Kashmir, and Ladakh.  The way to Delhi would also have been open, a liesurely one-day drive.  This was because India had no reserves, and no troops east of the Beas River.  Had Pakistan succeeded, a Fourth Battle of Panipat could have taken place: the first three, fought from 1526 onward, changed the fate of India each time, and the Fourth would have been no different.

The Pakistani counterattack caught advanced Indian troops in a difficult position.  They had pushed forward as far as possible under the impression they faced only one regular infantry battalion supported by paramilitary forces, and were without reserves to sustain their offensive.  They also had only one tank regiment of Sherman IVs and Vs armed with 76mm guns in support, absolutely no match for the Pakistan M47/48 Patton.  Pakistan artillery was, as usual, superbly handled, with the 140 guns available to the sector by pooling all units within range.  The Indian division was completely outgunned in artillery: as a mountain division it had 120mm mortars and 105mm pack howitzers, though a single heavy regiment was deployed in support.  Indian 106mm RCLs were deployed on a meagre scale of six per infantry battalion and were essentially ineffective against the Pakistani tanks except at close range.  The PAF - again as always in contrast to the IAF - supported the ground troops with all means at its disposal.  Last, and this is very important, the Indian infantry had insufficient training on facing armor, quite aside from the shortage of appropriate anti-tank weapons.  RCL crews would hold their fire for fear of giving away their positions. 

Considering the situation, GOC Indian 4th Mountain Division immediately ordered the division to fall back and assume a horseshoe shaped defensive position with Assul Uttar as its focal point.  This village of 1500 persons had presumably been evacuated, but we do not know the situation here.  As in most accounts of battles, the civilians who live on or near the battlefield are seldom mentioned.  Both India and Pakistan, however, have a good record of clearing civilians off the field before fighting, and neither side bombs civilian targets.  So the non-combatant loss on both sides is low.  Now, of course, thanks to the United States, which has declared water purification plants, baby food factories, and electrical power plants as legitimate targets for attack, India and Pakistan may well change their mind.  Assul Uttar was chosen because it was located at the focal point of two roads leading from Pakistan to Khem Karan, and thus the defenders could cover both likely axes of advance.

The Pakistanis have said that 4th Mountain Division was routed.  From their viewpoint, it is understandable they thought so:  some Indian infantry units, unable to take the pressure of Pakistani artillery and air attacks, unable to defend themselves against Pakistani armor, and quite aware of how seriously outgunned the Indian tanks were, retreated before being ordered to withdraw, or withdrew in a disorderly manner.  Considering the speed with which the Indians set up their new defense line which was never breached - about 24 hours - it is, however, more reasonable to accept that the division withdrew in an overall organized manner.

Either on the 6th itself or on the 7th, Pakistan 11th Division etablished a bridgehead in Indian territory. On September 7, Pakistan 5 Armored Brigade of its 1st Armored Division began the first Pakistani attack that culminated in the battle of Assul Uttar.  Also concentrating in the bridgehead were 4th Armored Brigade and 21st Infantry Brigades.  It is difficult without better accounts to tell how many attacks the Pakistanis made: 4th and 5th Armored Brigades made at least five, perhaps seven or even eight attacks between them.  At the very first, Pakistan 5th Brigade overran Khem Karan.  Subsequently, however, every attack was defeated by the Indians though they did npot suceed till after the ceasefire in getting back lost ground.  Even Khem Karan, however,  was not fully under Pakistan control till September 10.

By now, HQ Indian 2nd Armored Brigade with two regiments (one Centurion,  one AMX-13) had moved to reinforce Indian 4th Mountain Division.  On the 8th and 9th Pakistan armor attacked repeatedly, to be beaten back with heavy losses, both to the Indians and the terrain, which was soft in many places. On September 10th, the day of the last attack, the advancing Pakistani tanks ran into 4th Division's horseshoe ambush, and the attackers were annhilated.  The ambush was placed in sugarcane fields - the crop was standing tall and ready to be harvested - and Indian Shermans had learned by now to hold their fire till Pakistani tanks came within 550-750 meters.  At longer ranges Indian shot simply bounced off the Pattons.This ambush was only one part of the reason for the Pakistani defeat at Assul Uttar.

The other reason was that the Pakistan Chief of General Staff himself arrived to push the offensive forward. He took over the business of giving orders to the brigades - three command levels down.  Odd as this may seem, GOC Indian XI Corps, otherwise an excellent commander, was at one point ordering the movement of tank troops and even single tanks on the battle field, five and six levels down! To ensure the CGS's orders were executed, GOC 1 Armored Division ordered the Officer Commanding Pakistan 5th Armored Brigade to drive back some kilometers for a meeting.  The conversations were intercepted, and the Indians ambushed the GOC's convoy, an indication of how intersperesed the two armies were and how fluid the battlefield.  The artillery brigadier was killed, and though the GOC escaped - contrary to Indian belief he also had been killed - it appears that Pakistan 1st Armored Division completely disintegrated.

If the twin setbacks of Assul Uttar and the ambush were inusfficient, on the same day Pakistan GHQ ordered the division's third brigade to the Sialkot sector, where the fiercest tank battles since World War II were underway. The next day 1st Armored Division was reorganized.  Its 4th and 5th Brigades were given one tank regiment and one armored infantry battalion each, and the division HQ plus 4th Armored Brigade was sent north against the possibility of an Indian breakthrough at Sialkot.


This did not end the battle of Khem Karan-Kasur.  The Indians continued attacking until the ceasefire was announced - by September 19th Pakistan had started to run of ammunition, aircraft spares, and reserve equipment.  The Chief of the Army General Staff and the Chief of Air Staff met with the President of Pakistan that day to request a ceasefire be negotiated.  Twenty-three days into the war, Pakistan was done for - hardly surprising, as the Americans had kept Pakistan on a short leash, giving just 14-21 days of supplies.  Enough time for the Americans to arrive should a communist power attack Pakistan insufficient to do India any serious harm.  Meanwhile, India was just getting into its stride, learning from its mistakes, pulling fresh mountain troops from the east into the western theatre.  Logically, India should have continued the war, but was talked into a ceasefire by Russia and America, both of whom wanted the status quo preserved.  That is another story.

Before we go into the reasons the Pakistani offensive failed, I am compelled to make a general observation.  Western military experts and observers have had a lot of fun taunting both India and Pakistan for the limited results in the 1965 War.  I would like to ask, how many wars have Britain, France, and the United States won in 23-days, and if so, were both sides as evenly matched as India and Pakistan? I need say no more on the subject, and I hope future western historians writing about India and Pakistan show a little more humility.


Now to some analysis.  The Patton was a far superior tank to anything the Indians possessed, and the Pakistanis outnumbered the Indians 3-1 in tanks if we exclude Indian AMX-13s, and 3-0 in armored infantry.  Are we justified in this exclusion? The had no more utility in battle than an armored car, perhaps less, because after it fired off its 12 round magazine, it was left defenseless till resupplied.  It was acceptable as a reconnaissance vehicle completely unacceptable as a tank.  The Pakistani M24 Chaffee may have been a light tank, but it was a proper tank, and a successful one. Quite incidentally, the US had agreed to replace the M24 with the more modern M41, but refused when the time came because it was wooing India.

The Patton had computers to handle firing solutions most important, it could fight at night, whereas none of the Indian tanks could. The Indians had perhaps half as many artillery pieces as the Pakistanis, and were outgunned to boot.  If that wasn’t enough, Pakistani artillery command was absolutely first rate - a result of the excellent training imparted by the Americans. The Pakistanis had good air support, the IAF had its own problems and was usually absent.  The pure infantry numbers were equal.  Pakistani defenses were long-planned and thickly constructed Indian defenses were hastily thrown up in the field.  The Pakistani commander had helicopters available to him, and could arrive anywhere on the battlefield in short order, and did. The Indian commander had no such advantage.  So what went wrong?

Many of the following points are equally applicable to Indian armor forces, but since our attempt is to understand why Pakistan did not succeed when it should, we will discuss India only tangentially.

1. Command failures at all levels

According to Pakistani sources,  GOC 1st Armored Division, two brigade commanders, three of the six tank regimental commanders, all three of the infantry battalion commanders, and the engineer battalion commander failed to command their troops as required. The division was the pride of the Pakistan Army, and four of the six many of cavalry regiments plus all three Frontier Force Regiment infantry battalions were seasoned units with at least one hundred years of service each.  How such a situation came about in a highly professional army and in the leading division of the Pakistan Army is not something we as outsiders can answer.  The mystery is compounded by the contrast with 6th Armored Division's memorable stand in the Sialkot sector.

2.  Dilution of cavalry regiments due to new raisings

Under the 1954 US plan, Pakistan was to have eight tank regiments of 75 tanks each, and the US supplied approximately 700 tanks toward this end.  This left ample numbers of tanks for war wastage and training.  In 1962, Pakistan decided to switch to an establishment of 44 tanks per regiment this enabled 4 new regiments to be raised.  Pakistan wanted to raise four more regiments, but this would have breached the manpower celings set by the US.  Instead, Pakistan created four Tank Delivery Units, which in reality were reserve tank regiments.  Between 1960 and 1965 Pakistan more than doubled the number of its armored regiments, from 8 to 18, without increasing either its tank fleet or its training capabilities.  In the subcontinental context of the day, a minimum of 2-3 years were required to train new crews from scratch, and a new regiment required at least two years to shake down even with seasoned cadres taken from other regiments.  Though the Pakistanis for some reason do not emphasize this point, even with recalled reservists, the training standard in cavalry regiments must have been affected. India, by contrast, had yet to seriously undertake its armor expansion, so all its regiments were seasoned.  We know many of the Pakistani crews at Assul Uttar were inadequate trained because many tanks had 50 miles or less on their odometers, indicating they had been pulled straight from war reserves. The Indians believe that the Patton was too complex a weapon system for a subcontinental army of the day, and this too created difficulties.  Last, by raising so many extra regiments without any increase in tank strength, the Pakistan cavalry had very little left over for reserves.

Parenthetiucally, it is worth noting that had the US supplied Pakistan the agreed number of M36 tank destroyers, India, already inferirior in numbers of tank regiments, 14 to 18, would have been in serious trouble.  The M36 mounted a high-velocity 90mm gun in a turret, and was a lethal anti-tank weapon.  It was to provide anti-tank support for Pakistan's infantry division.  This would have freed Pakistan from using armored regiments to support its infantry, leaving all 18 regiments to be utilised for offensive operations.  Only six  Indian regiments were available for this role (4 in Indian 1st Armored Division and two excluding AMX in Indian 2nd (Indpendent) Armored Brigade. We can only speculate on what the outcome might have been had Pakistan deployed three full-strength armored divisions.

3. Role of infantry inadequately understood/7th Division shifted

Pakistan seemed to have little conception that tanks require the close support of infantry.  Time and again tanks were sent out with little or no infantry support, and on that fateful day at Assul Uttar, the tanks riding into the ambush had no infantry support.  Perhaps we should not be too harsh on Pakistan - Israel did not understand this till after 1973.  It is not as if infantry was short - the division had four battalions of its own and another battalion (1 FF) from the 11th Division was under command.  To add to the problems, the 1st Armoured Division's running mate, 7th Infantry Division, had been broken up with its brigades going to reinforce other sectors.  Had 1st Division been able to work with it usual partner, matters might have turned out differently.

4. No reconnaissance at Assul Uttar

Pakistan sent its tanks to Assul Uttar with infantry and without performing reconnaissance. The Indians hid their Shermans in tall sugarcane fields - the crop was ready for harvesting.  The Shermans were spaced out every 500 meters.  When the Pakistanis rolled into the U-shaped Indian defensive positions, they were hit from every side while unable to see where the Indian fire was coming from. Though the Patton was almost invulnerable at range, at 6-800 meters it could be destroyed by Indian Centurions and Shermans.  Moreover, according to the Indians, the Patton tended to catch fire when hit, causing crews to bail out rapidly following a hit.

5. No logistics support

This point is not discussed in any detail in Pakistani accounts.  Nonetheless, several times tanks were lost after they ran out of fuel or got bogged down in soft terrain.One wonders where 1st Divisions ARVs and fuel tankers were.  Our purely impressionistic take is that (a) insufficient attention was paid to logistics to begin with (b) the division may have been short of B vehicles - Brig. Khan says when the division moved to its battle station several hundred vehicles broke down because of insufficient peacetime maintenance (c) the fluidity of the battlefield inhibited B echelon personnel from replensihing their advanced troops.  No one can blame administrative troops in soft vehicles for their relcutance to charge up and down an insecure battlefield, with the danger of an ambush always present.  Further, the Indians were also constantly on the attack, so if an area was under Pakistan control in the morning, it might not be in the afternoon, and the Pakistanis might regain the area at night. (d) Overall communications were poor.

6. Faulty concentration area/Too small a bridgehead/ Faulty tactics

Pakistan crammed an armored division and a substantial fraction of an infantry division into what appears to be an area less than 30-40 square kilometers and bounded by rivers, canals, and streams.  This analyst has seen no good maps, and so this remains an impression, but he suspects there is something to this.  In any event, creating a single small bridgehead for an entire armored division to pass through would seem to work only if the lead armored brigade attacks with utmost rapidity and violence. The lead brigade, 5th Armored, would repeatedly get pushed back on the bridgehead, or would return on its own.  Each time a brigade left the bridgehead, it was told to attack two or three divergent targets so that its effort was split. The shifting of units from one HQ to another, or one sector to another, even as battles were underway was a notorious feature in both armies.  Indian 2nd Independent Brigade, for example, had all its integral regiments taken away before the outbreak of war, and replaced by three other regiments.  True that the armored corps on both sides was small, so every officer knew every other officer, but it cannot be helpful to chop and change just before and all through battles. Instead of using tanks against infantry, both sides insisted on colliding head on with each other's tank regiments in the old cavalry tradition.

7. Tank units too quick to recoil

This is a criticism equally applicable to Indian tank units.  First, because of a paucity of resources, both sides had little armor relative to the size of their armies.  Because the infantry was unable to protect itself against tanks even for a short time, tanks had to be dispersed in penny packets all over the battlefielf for infantry support - even in armored brigades and divisions.  Tanks were valuable, they were also - in the absence of  proper tank-infantry cooperation - highly vulnerable.  The lack of reconnaissance information in Indo-Pakistan Wars is absolutely remarkable: most of the time both sides were fighting almost blind over terrain with which they had little familiarity, and often with outdated, bad, or no maps at all. Given these circumstances, it is unsurprising that both sides tended to quickly recoil if they came upon each other unexpectedly.  The unit that you came upon suddenly was just as happy when you bounced back and would very rarely come afater you - because it too was bouncing back, worried about the unknowns surrounding the situation. There was no conception of selecting an objective and sticking to it, taking the inevitable casualties as a necessary condition of success.  Ironically, of course, the one time the Pakistanis did bash on regardless under pressure from the CGS and divisional commander, they drove into the Assul Uttar ambush.  If the Pakistan armored infantry had been doing its job, this would not have happened.  Incidentally, the integral reconnaissance troops of Pakistani armored regiments were mounted on jeeps, so one cannot really expect these men to go forth boldly into the unknown. Again ironically, in seeking to limit casualties by bouncing back, in the long run the casualties were greater than if the push had been maintained.

8. Returning to leauger at night 

Incredibly, after Pakistani tanks had pushed forward, often at cost, the moment darkness fell, the concern was solely to get back to a secure position, just as happened in the Western Desert.  After all, Indians and Pakistani both learned their craft from the British.  So most of the gains of the day - sometimes all of the gains of the day - were surrendered. The rationale was that the tanks were exposed to enemy tank-hunting parties working at night.  Well, that's what the armored infantry and SP guns were for, weren't they? And what about the excellent night-vision equipment on the Patton? And the moonlit nights? How is an army supposed to advance if it falls back everynight? Armored brigade commanders would invariably ask to return to secure territory once the light began to fail once a tank regimental commander, who had advanced with a single platoon of infantry, asked not to be ordered back at nightfall, and the brigade commander refused because he could not spare additional infantry.  His infantry was still trying to clear out the Indians from the route of advance.

9. Faulty Command and Control

In the absence of a corps HQ, GOC 11th Division was given overall command of 1st Armored Division as well.  He had his hands full protecting his extended sector and maintaining his bridgehead, particularly with two of his seven manuver units detached to the armored brigade.  This double-responsibility could not have helped a situation already bedevilled by bad leadership.

Hvaings aid all this, we have to return to the issue of leadership.  In 1st Armored Division, there was none. The contrast with 11th Infantry Division couldn’t have been greater.  This division had been hastily raised a few months earlier, but its commander was a very tough, very steady soldier.  He always kept his focus on obtaining and maintaining the bridgehead, no matter what the Indians were up to.  He personally visisted all his rifle companies every day, and so was never in danger of the appaling ignorance that seemed to have befogged higher HQ for the armored division.  India put in nine attacks in 12 days against his division.  He held off every one of them.  One wonders what if he had been commander of 1st Armored Division….

Letter to the Editor

From Hamayun Akhtar Malik
Lahore, January 27, 2002

Subject: The Battle of Assal Uttar: Pakistan and India 1965 (v.1.2 October 14,2001)


It was by chance that I came across your above referenced article on theInternet.

I would like to bring your attention an incorrect statement in the article, which is to say the least a gross injustice. In your list of the Pakistan army’s formations, you have stated that Lt. Col.Bashir Ahmad, who commanded 19 Lancers, was “later sacked at Chawinda”.

This is not true. Lt. Col. Bashir Ahmad, who was CO 19 Lancers at the outbreak of the war, was in fact reassigned and he remained on active duty on the frontlineuntil the end of the war.

It is true that at the end of the engagements at Chawinda, an incident occurred between two Pakistani regiments that resulted in some losses due to a mix-up in communications . The officer at HQ, who was actually responsible for the incident, passed the blame onto the CO of 19 Lancers, in order to save himself.

Since there was no time to carry out a detailed investigation, the Divisional Commander reassigned Lt. Col. Bashir, but he remained on active front-line duty.

It is a matter of record that the allegations were subsequently found to be baseless and false. This is attested by the fact that Lt. Col. Bashir Ahmad was given the command of Guides Cavalry after the war. He later served in a Middle Eastern country as a member of a Pakistani military advisory group. As many would attest, Lt. Col. Bashir Ahmad was considered to be one of the most outstanding officers of the Pakistani armoured corps. During his career, he was selected to go to the USA and UK on postings that were reserved for the best officers only. To this day, both 19 Lancers and Guides Cavalry continue to honour him on their annual regimental functions. Would this be likely had he been ‘sacked’ or dishonoured the regiment in any way?

I have listened to the personal experiences of numerous junior and senior army officers , much of it in confidence, none of it published. Their accounts are supported by records kept in GHQ, but unfortunately not accessible to members of the public, historians or not. Since it is not my objective to taint the reputation of others, I shall not go into details.

After the 1965 war, Lt. Col. Bashir Ahmad was given the command of Guides Cavalry. During the course of the following year, Gen. Abrar Hussain, who had investigated the whole matter, later apologised to Lt.Col. Bashir Ahmad and promised to set the record straight at the next board meeting. Unfortunately, Gen. Abrar Hussain suffered a stroke a few days prior to the meeting of the promotion board, and was not able to attend. In his absence, the remaining members of the board were either not sufficiently briefed about the subject, or they took the cowardly way out and remained silent during the meeting chaired by Gen. Yahya Khan. Thus the career of one of the finest officers in the army came to an end. It is a matter of record that the promotion was denied by Gen. Yahya Khan without even discussing the fact s of the case.

But that is another story. Such is life, injustices happen, but would you not agree that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we do not lose sight of the truth, no matter which side we are on?

[Mr. Malik provides names of three retired generals who he says would verify his statements.]

Your stated objective is to seek and report the truth. In the interest of fairplay, justice and common decency, I urge you to remove the offending statement from your article.

Sincerely etc.

We forwarded Mr. Malik’s letter to Major Amin, and a correspondence followed between them.

Major Amin’s final (edited) reply says:

“Hamayun Malik has himself acknowledged that Bashir was sacked in 1965, which is all that has been written on the orbat site.

No one has alleged on the subject site that Bashir was dismissed or retired or sacked for cowardice.”

Your editor feels the disagreement arises from two differing interpretations of the word “sacked”. Mr. Malik takes the word in its most pejorative sense Major Amin intends it in the sense of “replaced”. Using the permission Major Amin has extended to your editor, he has substituted “replaced” for “sacked”.  We keep Mr. Malik’s letter on the site as an adjunct to the article because it itself relates a piece of history.

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