Indian 10th Division
in the Battle for Chaamb, 1971
51st and 58th Battalions BSF were in the 10th Division sector. While we do not know the latter's position, 51st BSF was in the Chaamb sector and pulled back to defend the Division administrative area. Withdrawal of BSF units on opening of hostilities was standard operating procedure. It was thought that these paramilitary battalions could not serve in combat. It is a pity no thought was given to employing them to better effect and the neccessary training imparted. 191st Brigade could have used every additional help. We assume 58th BSF Battalion was covering the Hill sector northwest of Chaamb-Jaurian, in the 28th Brigade area.
Concerning the artillery, 39th and 216th Medium regiments were located well forward of Akhnur, behind 191st Brigade, because the division was supposed to begin an offensive on the night of 3/4th December. The cancellation of the offensive created a big problem because the guns were so far forward they were overrun by Pakistan, and the 191st Brigade sector was not mined – the brigade was to lead the division offensive. This allowed Pakistan to overrun the brigade, particularly because it defensive sector was open on three sides and of excessive length for 4 battalions.
We have no information, however, where 10th Artillery Brigade’s other regiments were positioned.
Battalions highlighted in yellow are given in Gill’s history but not in the official history. The former at many points is more detailed than the latter. Gill makes no mention of the artillery.
We need to be clear that Chaamb was impossible to hold defensively. The 1965 plan for a fighting withdrawal across the Tawi was sound procedure. Similarly, the planned 1971 offensive using Chaamb was also sound procedure. But holding terrain open from three sides with widely dispersed battalions and no local reserves was a bad idea – 68th Brigade was further back, and in any case, waiting till the enemy has the initiative and then rushing to plug threatened spots devours reserves in terribly inefficient fashion. Which is what eventually happened, with two brigades scattered over the battlefield.
General K.P. Candeth’s Plan
The key to what happened at Chaamb is Western Army Commander General K.P. Candeth’s plan. We will have to ignore the inherent unworkability of one commander controlling an Area of Responsbility stretching from Demchok in southeast Askai Chin through the Karakoram Pass, Kargil, Northern Gullies, Tithwal, Uri, Poonch, Rajouri, Hill, Chaamb, Chicken Neck, Jammu, Samba, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritser, Ferozepore, Fazilka and Sri Ganganager sectors – to say nothing of the armor strike reserve to be used for the decisive battle. The Jammu and Kashmir sectors alone ran to about 750-km, the length of the entire Inner German Border! Today three separate armies cover the same AOR.
Few people realize to this day that the 1971 Indian War plan had 3 objectives. Liberation of Bangladesh was one. Attacking, engaging, and destroying the Pakistan Army in the west was a second. And disarming Pakistan so that it would not arise as a threat for 50 years was a third.
In accordance with this, as far as Chaamb was concerned, General Candeth planned to launch 10th Division at the major Pakistan base of Gujrat, from where it could have turned north, unpinning the Pakistani defense of West Kashmir in conjunction with frontal attacks by 19th and 25th Divisions, or turned south, to assist 26th Division’s offensive from Jammu to Sialkot, but outflanking the Sialkot defenses.
The plan bold as it already was, had an even bolder component: 3rd Independent Armored Brigade was to be rafted across the Tawi after 191st Brigade – already west of the Tawi made the initial penetration into Pakistani defenses. We don’t know if 68th Brigade would have passed through 191st before the armor or after, but essentially India would have had one armored and two infantry brigades sitting inside Pakistan’s first line of defenses.
The appearance of these forces, in essence behind Pakistani lines, would have had the potential of unlocking the front, which had remained immovable since 1948.
A.H. Amin, the Pakistani military historian, derides the Candeth plan as a fantasy. As the general made no mention of it in his memoir written after the war, we have no defense of the plan from his side. We don’t know, for example, if it was seriously rehearsed.
What we do know is at the last minute, on December 1, 1971, attacks by both 10th and 26th Division’s were called off, sending the latter’s GOC, at least, into a fury of angry remonstrance.
The circumstances of cancellation are not known. In likelihood, two factors were paramount:
§ Mrs. Indira Gandhi was increasingly worried India was going to be branded the aggressor for its Eastern Theatre offensive, begun on November 21/22nd – and indeed, that did happen at the UN. Perhaps she didn’t want to appear the aggressor even more by initiating hostilities in the west.
§ India learned Pakistan was preparing an offensive in the west. Its purposes were very badly thought out. They included relieving pressure on the East, which was all but lost anyway because of India’s air and sea blockade, and a bull-headed belief, in the worst tradition of unthinking generals, that Pakistan must do something, anything.
At this point India committed a major mistake, which has not, to be best of our knowledge, ever been discussed or explained.
10th Division remained in an offensive posture though its mission had changed to defense.
When the protection of a thinly-manned front is required and no good obstacles exist, obstacles have to be created. Mine belts are a standard obstacle. 191st Brigade’s area had been cleared of mines because of the attack plan – obviously you don’t want your own troops running into your own minefield. Pakistan did not know this, and all its attacks were slowed by the fear that approaches to the Tawi and behind remained mined. They were particularly worried about a minefield in the 5 Assam area which, when they learned was only a dummy, led them to press through and overrun the defenders, breaching the defense. Which in any case was never designed to hold for the 72 hours it did, thanks in the main to the staunch defense put up by 5 Sikhs.
From our researches, we have concluded that the Indian mistake was not failure to relay the minefield. Engineer troops have always been at a premium in the Indian and Pakistan armies, and the process of bringing mines from stores to the front and planting them is, with the technology of the day, which is largely still so today, a tedious and very dangerous business. Modern day means available to advanced countries such as mechanized mine-layers, and air-, artillery- and helicopter-laid fields where hundreds and thousands of mines can be laid within hours were not available to India in 1971. It is likely relaying the minefield in 48-hours was out of the question.
What was not out of the question was reverting to the 1965 plan: telling 191st Brigade to delay a Pakistani offensive for 24-48 hours and then fall back intact. The object being to buy time for an counterattack by 68th Brigade at a point Pakistani spearheads would not have had the opportunity to consolidate their hold on the battlefield and would have been most vulnerable.
Instead 10th Division issued the standard “last man, last round” order and 191st Brigade was annihilated following it. India lost more men at Chaamb than anywhere else in the war. And to what point? No effective counterattack was mounted before the war ended.
10th Infantry Division [Maj. Gen. Jaswant Singh]
- 9th Horse [divisional T-54 regiment][Lt. Col. H.N. Hoon, later Lt.-Gen.]
- 39th Medium Regiment [Lt. Col. Gowri Shanker, later Lt.-Gen.]
- 216th Medium Regiment
- Company, 9th Parachute Commando
- 51st BSF Battalion [Col. Harwant Singh, MC] withdrawn from 191st Bde AOR to Akhnur, to defend Division Maintenance Area
10th Division Artillery Brigade
3rd (I) Armored Brigade [Brig.B.S. Irani]
- 72nd Armored Regiment [T-55]
Note: This may not be correct. The brigade HQ may have been sitting without any troops as the rest of its units had been sent to 26th Division. In which case 72nd Armd Regt would have been under direct command of the division. The question of why brigade HQ did not go with the bulk of its units to 26th Division is one we are unable to answer.
191st Infantry Brigade [Brig. R.K. Jasbir Singh. Later Lt.-Gen.] Deployed west of the Tawi River
- 4/1st Gorkha Rifles
- 5th Sikhs [Lt. Col. P.K. Khanna, MVC]
- 5th Assam [Lt. Col. A.S. Malhi]
- 10th Garhwal [Lt. Col. Onkar Singh, KIA]
28th Infantry Brigade Deployed in the Hill Subsector, NW of Chaamb [Brig. M.V. Natu]
- 5th Rajput
- 2nd J & K Rifles
- 7th J & K Rifles
- 8th J & K Militia [Lt. Col. J.P.S. Randhawa, Vr.C.]
- 863rd Light Battery/86th Light Regiment
52nd Infantry Brigade Deployed at and forward of Akhnur
- 16th Punjab [Lt. Col. Raghubir Singh]
- 7th Garhwal
68th Infantry Brigade [Brig. R.T. Morlin] Deployed east of the Tawi River
- 5/9th Gorkha Rifles
- 3/4th Gorkha Rifles (ex-52nd Brigade)
- 7th Kumaon
- 9th Jats [Lt. Col. Jagjit Singh]
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