By Maj Gen (R) Syed Ali Hamid, 39 PMA
It happened today 49 years ago. 8th Sep 1965………the day that the youngest tank regiment of the Pakistan Army stopped the Indian 1st Armoured Division.
After a wild and fruitless ride of 65 kms through the night to Narowal and back, 25th Cavalry was refueling at Pasrur. At about 0630 hours the commanding officer, ‘Kaka’ Nisar came up to Maj Ahmad ‘B’ Squadron and said ‘Enemy has attacked through Charwa. You have to stop him.’
That was all the information available. Ahmad called in his troop leaders. The squadron was to advance in extended order. Whichever troop saw the enemy was to form a base of fire, around which the other troops would manoeuvre. Nisar went with the squadron up till Phillaurah and as they passed through, the left hand troop reported. “Tanks in front. Whose?”
Ahmad replied, “Enemy, You engage.”
The youngest tank regiment of the Pakistan Army was engaging one of the oldest regiments of the Indian cavalry. 16th Light Cavalry had been raised prior to 1776 as the 3rd Regiment of Native Cavalry in the service of the Nawab of Arcot. What happened in the next few hours is what legends are made of and the defence of Phillaurah on 8th Sep 1965 by 25th Cavalry is a shining star in the history of the Pakistan Army and the armoured corps.
Ahmad hastened forward. He saw an Indian tank bogged down near Gadgor. Two Indian tanks were trying to recover it and he ordered the gunner to engage. The round went wild and the officer cursed the gunner. The man said casually. “Saab this gun has not been zeroed.” (The M48 had just returned from the workshop).
Ahmad changed his tank but was again unlucky. The gun misfired twice. The firing pin was broken. In the meantime two Indian Centurions with 105 mm guns cautiously approached Ahmad’s tanks. There was nothing that the officer could do, except charge. Ahmad’s luck turned, and the Indian tanks hastily withdrew. The tank was driven into a depression where the broken firing pin was replaced. Once again in the open, Ahmad saw six Centurions congregating in a Mango plantation. He could not resist the shoot and took over from the gunner. He indexed 600 yards on the range finder, checked from the loader if an HVAP round was loaded, and fired. The nearest Indian tank blew up. Three more were shot destroyed in quick succession.
The loader got so excited that he started clapping and his asbestos glove fell and stuck in between the breech ring and the recoil cylinder. The gun could not fire and the driver pushed the gun against a tree and inched the tank forward until the glove fell out. Ahmed then ordered the driver to move towards the burning Indian tanks. A shot ricocheted off the turret of his tank jamming the turret ring. A third shot set the tank on fire forcing Ahmad into yet another tank. While maneuvering towards Gadgor with his squadron, Ahmad encountered two Indian tanks directly in his path and shot one but his M48 was hit by the other and the ammunition started exploding. Ahmad was badly burnt and evacuated. His gallantry was rewarded with Sitara-e-Jurat but was modest about his action. He later acknowledged that he should have been more concerned about controlling the squadron battle than in a personal shoot out.
M48s of 25th Cavalry in action in the Battle of Chawinda during the 1965 War:
A maneuver by a squadron of 16th Cavalry ran into ‘A’ Squadron commanded by Effendi which had been brought up by ‘Kaka’ Nisar and deployed to the right of Ahmad’s squadron. The maneuver encountered a troop that had been sent by Effendi to probe forward. In a sharp engagement, the troop destroyed four Centurions but lost a tank. An advance of the left forward regiment of the Indian division went smoothly till Poona Horse ran into an infantry company and lost a tank. Resuming a more cautious advance it was checked by ‘A’ Squadron at Tharoh and Dugri. In an attempt to maneuver for a breakthrough, the squadrons of the two Indian regiments ran into each other and a shoot-out occurred. ‘Kaka’ Nisar was with the forward squadrons all the time and he was not quite yet finished with 16th Cavalry. With the right flank of the armoured brigade still unprotected, he launched the Second World War vintage M36 B2s of ‘C’ Squadron under ‘Ginger’ Raza (Editor: from 3rd PMA) towards Gadgor.
Though the attack could not make much progress, it forced the Indian armoured division to deploy its only reserve, Hodson’s Horse to protect its flank. Against heavy odds the M 36 B2s could not make much progress but managed to destroy two more Centurions of 16th Cavalry before the regiment could disengage under cover of Hodson’s Horse. A second attack by the old M36 B2s of ‘C’ Squadron (with support of ‘A’ Squadron) and a company of infantry before dusk to capture Gadgor, struck the unfortunate 16th Cavalry probably just when it was contemplating going into leaguer for the night. In the resulting confusion, the Indians abandoned eight tanks, two with their engines running.
‘Ginger’ Raza was injured in the head but remained with the squadron till relieved. His gallantry was also rewarded by a Sitara-e-Jurat. So also was the commanding officer ‘Kaka’ Nisar who had joined the armoured corps from the Patiala State Forces at Independence and was due to retire as a major but was promoted and raised 25th Cavalry the last of the regular tank units to be raised before the 1965 War.
An Indian Centurion tank knocked out during the Battle of Chawinda:
The total losses to 16th Cavalry in a single day of fighting were 16 tanks against only four of 25th Cavalry. As a consequence of this aggressive defence by one armoured regiment on 8th Sep 1965, a blow to its artillery from a flank by a small but to the Indians very significant actions by two recce and support platoons of 13 Frontier Force Regiment, and ambiguous orders that resulted in a clash between a withdrawing Poona Horse and 2nd Lancers which was leading the advance of the Indian lorried brigade, the offensive of their armoured division stalled.
The Pakistan Air Force which had been very active the whole day and destroyed many vehicles caused a virtual breakdown of administrative support. The armoured division decided to take two days in reorganizing and replenishing which provided a critical respite to the defenders who even till now were still unaware that they were facing the might of the Indian armoured division and had stopped the cream of the Indian cavalry; Hodson’s Horse, Poona Horse and 16th Cavalry.
Extracted from History of the Indo-Pak War 1965 by Lt Gen Mahmud and The Pakistan Army-War 1965 by Maj Gen Shaukat Riza.
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