THE FORGOTTEN WAR
The 1965 Indo-Pak war, has been in many ways, a war that Indians at least, had forgotten. However, in this well timed and impressive study, released in this 50th anniversary year of that war, the author’s have given serious students of history the opportunity to understand the actions on the battlefield in particular and the operational environment in general, of this six week long war, when India’s gallant offensive was stalled at the gates of Lahore and Sialkot by western powers. Captain Amarinder Singh (erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala), a soldier turned politician along with Lt Gen. Tajindar Shergill, has painstakingly compiled this volume on the ‘65 war, with detailed accounts written with honesty and based on war diaries of both sides (laced with anecdotes and some rarely spoken truths about our generals), as well as previously unpublished photographs (of Indian and Pakistani commanders and heroes), and detailed maps of most major military engagements during the six week long war.
The authors were both active participants in this war. Captain Amarinder Singh – who has in the past repeatedly produced outstanding compilations on India’s military history, and has perhaps no equal in the genre -had a ring side view of the happenings all through the conflict as he was the ADC to the main Indian military commander in that war, Lt Gen. Harbakhsh Singh, GOC-in-C Of India’s Western Command. As the conflict was fought largely on the J&K and Punjab borders, General Harbakhsh was quite literally the theatre commander, as there was no Northern Command in those days. A tough, no nonsense soldier, General Harbakhsh is credited by many for personally influencing the course of this war, and the author’s have rightly dedicated this book to him.
But credit must also go to the co-author of this work, LtGen. Shergill, who had not only taken part with his regiment in the massive tank battles in the plains of Punjab – apparently the biggest since World War II –along with his father, Maj. Gen. Rajindar Singh, MVC and bar, and better known as‘Sparrow’ in military circles, who was in command of the Indian 1 Armoured Division that spearheaded the Indian thrust across Punjab. Maybe that explains why each tank battle is thus narrated in great detail, but the same cannot be said about the coverage of the operations in Rajasthan’s Barmer sector, where some significant battles were also fought. In fact, some units have merited no mention whatsoever, like 3Grenadiers, that did well enough in the war to be posted to Delhi to take up the ceremonial role in Rashtrapati Bhawan!
But it’s not entirely a self congratulatory account of how the Indian Army got everything right, once the trumpets were sounded for war. Some of our generals clearly had feet of clay, as Capt. Amarinder narrates how a disheveled Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad, the GOC of 15 Infantry Division, had first received a severe tongue lashing by the army commander and then threatened with a court martial by his corps commander – which could pronounce that he be shot dead – for withdrawing without orders! But the most revealing account is of how the GOC of XI Corps had thrown the towel in on 4 Mountain Division, in a hand written report to the army commander, asking that four units of the division be disbanded and the division be replaced by another formation! General Harbakhsh however chose to ignore his advice and instead reposed faith in the division, and encouraged it to fight back, which it eventually did, and brilliantly so. And notwithstanding a few oversights – with two different accounts of how many tanks CQMH Adbul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers actually knocked out – the book is indeed a collector’s item and the authors deserve our salute for doing a much better job than the drab account of that war, published in 2011 by the Ministry of Defence.