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ARMOUR ’71: A Deep Dive into strategies that helped India win the 1971 War

ARMOUR ’71: A Deep Dive into strategies that helped India win the 1971 War

An extremely detailed book backed by painstaking and meticulous research, Armour ’71 will undoubtedly assist future military leaders in training for the next conflict.

Over several decades, the Indian Army Armoured Corps has fought and ensured India’s victory in all major conflicts post-Independence. It has operated effectively in diverse terrain and climatic conditions ranging from the high mountains in Zojila (1948) and Chushul (1962), in developed terrain including Patton Nagar at Khemkaran (1965), Akhnoor and Shakargarh (1965 and 1971), in the Longewala desert (1971), riverine terrain of Bangladesh (1971), in the jungles and built-up areas in Sri Lanka during the IPKF Operations (1987) and most recently in Eastern Ladakh’s high altitudes. (2021). Armour assures both deterrence and destruction.

The book Armour ’71, commissioned by the Cavalry Officers Association, documents the various battles of the 1971 Indo-Pak War–both for their remarkable operational execution as well as lessons for military professionals that are relevant even today. This outstanding initiative was led by Lieutenant General Amit Sharma (Retd) and undertaken by a team of three highly committed authors who meticulously researched and recorded the history of Armour operations in 1971 with a great deal of granularity.

About the Book
Armour ’71 touches on a wide range of issues, beginning with the politico-diplomatic perspective of the war, the build-up, Armour operations in each theatre, followed by naval and air operations. The book covers interesting viewpoints and closely looks at the role of Armour in both offensive and defensive operations. It also details the employment of tanks in East Pakistan, which posed several problems due to the riverine terrain as a large number of rivers and streams required crossing. The 1971 War is widely remembered as one of liberation and a war that led to the creation of a new nation. Of all four wars with Pakistan, 1971 is remembered as the most decisive one. All wars and battles lead to outcomes, invariably interpreted as victory or defeat by the protagonists and the Indo-Pakistan wars are no different. However, the 1971 war is an exception–it is still accepted as a decisive victory for India for it achieved an outcome that changed the map of the region forever.

The objectives of the military campaign were clear. In the East, it had to be the decisive defeat of Pakistan; in the West, it was to ensure that Pakistan was unable to make any gains in Jammu and Kashmir while exploring possibilities of capturing territory in Rajasthan and Sindh that could be politically useful at the negotiating table. Force levels were deployed accordingly. General Candeth, in his book on the 1971 War, stated: “The Chief of Army Staff informed us, his Army Commanders that the aim of the government was to create conditions by helping the Mukti Bahini drive out the Pakistanis and install a popular government in Dacca so that the ten million or so refugees could go back home and live peacefully. He told us that it was no part of India’s policy to humiliate Pakistan. India sought to achieve a quick victory in the East and carry out only holding operations in the West.”

While the Indian Army underwent major modernisation and expansion following the 1962 conflict, the focus was on the Northern Borders and lesser emphasis was laid on Armour. In fact, in 1965 Pakistan had more Armoured Regiments than India. However, after 1965, the focus turned to Armoured Corps and ten additional Regiments were raised. Our holdings were modernised with the induction of T-54, T-55 and PT -76 tanks from USSR and own Vijyantas. The Centurions still proved to be battle winning and we still held the Light AMX-13 and some Shermans.

In the East there were three Armoured Regiments, 45 Cavalry, and 69 Armoured Regiment were equipped with Pt-76 and 63 Cavalry was converted to T -55. In addition, there were two independent Armoured Squadrons equipped with the PT -76’s discarded by 63 Cavalry. The 45 Cavalry was the first Regiment to be blooded in battle in this war on 21 November 1971. Over the next twenty-six days, the Regiment fought twenty-nine actions with seventeen battalions of the with 4 Mountain Division and 9 Infantry Division, the last two being on 16 December, the day of the surrender. The actions by Major DS Narag at Garibpur, where they destroyed five Pakistani Chafee tanks and Second Lieutenant Sam Chandavarkar, are beautifully illustrated. Major Narag was killed in battle and was posthumously awarded the Mahavir Chakra. The 5 (Independent) Armoured Squadron of 63 Cavalry commanded by Major SS Mehta was involved in three major operations: Akhaura, Ashuganj, and the crossing of the mighty River Meghna in the most innovative manner. This Squadron was the only Armoured element to be in Dacca for the “Surrender Ceremony”.

On 17 December, Lieutenant Colonel Pawittar Singh Takhar, Commandant of 69 Armoured Regiment, had the unique opportunity to accept the surrender of Lieutenant Colonel Bukhari, Commanding Officer Pakistan 29 Cavalry.

It was decided to use a mix of T-55 tanks and PT-76s in each Regiment evolving the concept of light Armour supported by medium Armour, a T-55 Squadron along the axis which was generally firm terrain, and PT-76 tanks would be employed to carry out outflanking moves across wet paddy fields. Armour Operations in East Pakistan were successful due to the right employment and aggressive action with high initiative at the sub-unit level. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that tank actions can only succeed if they have comprehensive infantry, artillery, and air support, with very carefully executed logistics support.

India’s strategy in the West was aimed at preventing the loss of territory. Several small offensives were planned to capture vulnerable salient’s along the Cease Fire Line and along the International Border. The original plan was to launch offensives in Chhamb and in the Shakargarh Bulge. A major advance was to take place in the desert towards Naya Chor. A smaller push in the direction of Rahimyar Khan was also possibly considered. The authors interviewed veterans who participated in the War, accessed Regimental Records, and read various accounts of battles including some by Pakistani writers before compiling this book. With the advantage of hindsight and their experience, they documented all Armour actions, ranging from sub-units to formations and have also given an insight into the remarkable personalities who contributed to India’s stellar victories. A contingency plan to employ the Armoured Division across the border was also made in the event of Pakistan committing its reserves in the Shakargarh area. Neither this nor the plan for the offensive in Chhamb were executed. In fact, the Armoured Division remained on a “tight leash” throughout. The battle of Chhamb, where two Armoured Regiments, Deccan Horse and 72 Armoured Regiment, fought an integrated battle as part of 10 Infantry Division displayed gallantry, resolute grit, and determination, which led to destruction of enemy Armour. The styming of their offensive on the West bank of the Munawar Tawi has been covered with a great deal of granularity.Yet, “it is quite inexplicable that Deccan Horse which blunted Pakistan Armour in the initial stages was denied the Battle Honour of Chhamb”. The battles of Shakargarh, Dera Baba Nanak, Shejra, Fazilka, and Longewala have especiallt been covered in great detail with maps and rare photographs that have added value to the book. In the Western Sector, Second Lieutenant Arun Kheterpal of Poona Horse was awarded the Paramvir Chakra whereas Brigadier Arun Vaidya, Commander of 16 (Independent) Armoured Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel RM Vohra commanding Hodsons Horse, Lieutenant Colonel Sukhjit Singh commanding Scinde Horse, and Lieutenant Colonel Hanut Singh commanding Poona Horse were all awarded Mahavir Chakras. The battles of these and many other illustrious Regiments that fought in the Western Sector have been covered with painstaking detail, highlighting issues that have still not lost their relevance in the memory of the people.

The War of 1971 reflected a combination of strategic decisiveness among the political leadership, unity across the party lines, setting out of clear political objectives, and a relationship of trust in the advice rendered by military leadership. It was no doubt that a whole nation functioning on a common script enabled India’s claim to sthe right side of history. However, as General VN Sharma writes, “Despite India’s great victory, in the Shimla Agreement, it is not clear why Prime Minister Indira Gandhi let Pakistan ‘off the hook’ on the question of the conflict in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the need for settlement of the border and termination of terrorist activity by Pakistan.” An extremely detailed book backed by painstaking and meticulous research, it will undoubtedly assist future military leaders in training for the next conflict in varied and difficult terrain and understanding the express need for effective cooperation between all the military Services and Departments of government, for success in battle.

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