An Authentic Account of a Forgotten India-Pakistan War

monsoon war

Amarinder Singh and Lt. Gen. Tejinder Shergill
The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce about the 1965 India-Pakistan War
Lustre Press, Roli Books, 2015, 528 pp, Rs 1995.

The 1965 Indo-Pak war has been in many ways a war that Indians at least, had forgotten. Pakistan however celebrates it as a victory, for reasons best known to them, even though most analysts say that the conflict ended in stalemate. India’s massive military reply to Pakistan’s two-part aggression was stalled midway, following false promises by Western powers that pushed for a ceasefire to prevent the humiliation of their ally, Pakistan’s military ruler General (and self promoted Field Marshall) Ayub Khan, while offering India the hope of a favourable settlement over Kashmir.

However, in this well-timed and impressive study, released to mark the 50th anniversary of that war, the authors have given the readers the truth behind the falsehoods that Pakistan trumpets as a ‘victory’ over India. Like all Pakistan’s military campaigns, this one too began under a cloak of deception and denials, until things eventually went awry, and a ceasefire saved shattered assumptions.

The authors of this very detailed account of this two-part war have chosen to call it ‘The Monsoon War’, since the military operations lasted through the monsoon months – from early August to third week of September – of 1965. Ayub Khan was goaded by Pakistani hawks, led by a young and ambitious Zulfikar Bhutto, to make the most of India’s military disadvantages – low morale and a yet-to-be fully modernised military force – in the aftermath of the 1962 Chinese invasion. Bhutto was confident that an Algeria-like uprising could be created in the Kashmir Valley through large scale military infiltrations by soldiers disguised as freedom fighters (an obsession with Pakistani planners even till today), and then when the Kashmir Valley would be up in flames with this operation (Op-Gibraltar), Pakistan was to launch an air-cum-land offensive near Jammu (Op-Grand Slam) to cut Kashmir off from India, and complete the unfinished agenda of partition. But India’s military response took Ayub Khan and his cronies by surprise, and India’s counter offensive was stopped just when India’s forces were poised to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Pakistani army.

Until now, few historical accounts have allowed any serious student of history the opportunity to understand the actions on the battlefield in particular and the operational theatre in general. But now, Captain Arminder Singh (the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala), a soldier-turned-politician, along with Lt. Gen. Tejinder Shergill, has painstakingly compiled this volume on the ‘65 war, with detailed accounts written with honesty and based on war diaries from 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. Harbaksh Singh, GoC-in-C Of India’s Western command.  As the conflict was fought largely on the J&K and Punjab borders, General Harbaksh was quite literally the theatre commander, as there was no Northern Command in those days. A tough, no-nonsense soldier, General Harbaksh is credited by many for personally influencing the course of this war, and the authors have rightly dedicated this book to him.

Tank battles

But credit must also go for the co-author of this work, Lt.Gen 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 – that brought Indian tanks to the gates of Lahore and Sialkot. General Shergill’s father, Maj. Gen. Mohinder Singh, a renowned tank-man twice awarded the rare Maha Vir Chakra and better known as  ‘Sparrow’ in military circles, was in command of the Indian 1 Armoured division that spearheaded the Indian thrust across Punjab. Maybe that explains why each tank battle is narrated in great detail; the same, however cannot be said about the coverage of the operations in Rajasthan’s Barmer sector, where some significant battles were also fought. Unlike ‘Op-Riddle’ battles in Punjab, the actions of some units has merited no mention whatsoever, like that of 3rd Grenadiers, that did well enough in the war to be posted to Delhi to take up the ceremonial role in Rashtrapati Bhawan!

The book is not without its share of errors. A photograph of Lt.Col AS Vaidya, gives a PVSM and AVSM along with his name, though these were acquired later as he rose to become army chief (see page 256). In the ’65 war, Vaidya was a Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded the MVC.

There is also a discrepancy in the the account of the gallantry of CQMH Abdul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers. While on page 221 he is credited with having knocked out 3 enemy tanks before he died in action, on page 228, a more detailed account of the his action in the Khemkaran sector credits Abdul Hamid with at least 7 enemy tank kills! Surely a bit of cross checking about the facts on the most talked about individual act of gallantry by an Indian in that war, should have been done. And though there is a photograph of Maj MAR Sheikh, awarded a posthumous VrC, there is little mentioned about his act of gallantry, whereas several individuals and their acts in battle have merited mention in much greater detail.

Notwithstanding these oversights, 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.

Maroof Raza is a commentator on strategic affairs and the publisher of ‘SALUTE’ a monthly on India’s armed forces.

  • rmuk

    That destroyed tank is a Sherman M4A1, a WW-II vintage tank used by Pakistan in 1965. Pattons looked very different.

  • Gus, USA

    Maroof is very credible.