From a Services Career

Maharattas n Muslims …

Posted on April 11, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) –

At the Battle of Malegaon, Muslim soldiers in the Maratha army defied the British army for a full month when they had no hope of victory as the Chhatrapati and Peshwa had already surrendered. The heroes of Malegaon — or for that matter personalities like Ibrahim Khan, who led the Maratha artillery at the battle of Panipat in 1761 — are forgotten.

Malegaon fort. Kind courtesy: Wikipedia
The Malegaon fort. Kind courtesy: Wikipedia

On January 1, 2018, the bicentenary of the defence of Koregaon by a small British force — that had a number of Mahar troops — was observed with great fanfare. The British — the victors in the third Anglo-Maratha war — erected a pillar to commemorate the event.

During the same war, Muslim troops of the Marathas defied British forces for a full month from May 15, 1818 to June 13, 1818. Since the Marathas were on the losing side, this saga of bravery was obliterated from history by the British.

As we approach the bicentenary of that event it is time to remember the brave soldiers of the Maratha army who continued to fight even when they had no hope since the Chhatrapati had already been captured by the British and Poona and Satara were under British occupation.

The loyalty to the Maratha flag by its Muslim soldiers even in a hopeless situation deserves to be applauded.

Remembering the Mighty Shivaji, truly a world leader

The Battle of Malegaon fought in May-June 1818 was the last major attempt at resistance by the Marathas.

On May 15, 1818, a brigade strength force under Lieutenant Colonel A MacDowell reached the vicinity of Malegaon fort. The British expected that this show of force would be sufficient to overawe the defenders of the Malegaon fort. The British were in for a nasty surprise.

In response to summons to surrender, the defenders fired on the British camp leading to panic. The quadrangular fort of Malegaon is located near the bend in the Musam river so as to cover two side of the fort, Malegaon town being on the other sides. The fort had two lines of defence built of masonry surrounded by a seven feet wall and a 25 feet deep 16 feet wide ditch.

The outer wall had watch towers built of mud and stone. The inner fort or the citadel was 60 feet high with 16 feet wide ramparts.

On May 16, Colonel MacDowell reached the west bank of the river and began work to erect barriers of breastwork to deploy guns for the final assault. At 8 am the British began bombardment of the fort with 20 guns, an assortment of 12 pounders (the biggest calibre gun then in India), 8 pounders and mortars.

The defending soldiers sortied out of the fort, destroyed the batteries and killed two British officers and several soldiers. At the same time 7 guns from the fort opened devastating fire on the British lines on the west bank of the river. The ding dong battle continued for six days.

On May 22, after particularly heavy shelling from the fort, the British were forced to abandon the breastwork for the guns and retreated. On May 26, the British — through constant bombardment — succeeded in creating a breach in the inner wall of the fort. The next day the British launched a three pronged attack after a bombardment lasting nearly two hours.

One column was led by Major Greenhill and consisted of a native battalion of 1,000 soldiers with 100 Europeans to directly go into the fort through the breach. Another column of 800 sepoys under Lieutenant Colonel Stewart crossed the river downstream to outflank the fort from the west.

The third column consisting of 300 sepoys and 50 Europeans under Major Macbean went towards the river gate. Each column had pioneers with tools, mines and ladders to tackle the fortification.

But the defenders of the Malegaon fort proved equal to the challenge. The attacking British were met with a hail of bullets and gunfire. The attempt to scale the inner wall failed. Many of the engineer officers leading the attack suffered injuries. Both the columns led by Majors Greenhill and Macbean were ordered to withdraw.

Only Lieutenant Colonel; Stewart’s column met with some success and he occupied part of the town.The stalemate continued till June 4. On that day another column under Major Watson arrived from Ahmednagar with a battalion of native infantry and a large number of siege guns.

A map of the Battle of Malegaon

For nine days, till June 13, the fort was subjected to heavy bombardment by the British guns. On June 13, at 3 pm, the fort garrison accepted surrender and the Union Jack was hoisted in place of the Maratha saffron jari patka flag. The next morning the garrison of 300 men marched out of the fort and surrendered their arms.

The British strength at Malegaon numbered over 2,000 troops. During the battle the British casualties numbered 11 officers and 220 soldiers (killed or wounded). Thirty Maratha defenders died while 60 Maratha soldiers were wounded.

The British record states that in the end they used 36 guns, fired over 8,000 shells and used 35,500 pounds of gunpowder.

The British were so impressed with the valour and chivalry of the defenders that they permitted the surrendered soldiers to keep their daggers.

Historian N C Kelkar notes in his Marathi book Marathe ani Ingraj that at one stage the desperate British sent a message to the Muslim soldiers of the Maratha army that since the Chhatrapati had already surrendered, they should do likewise. The doughty defenders replied that they were indeed aware that their king was in British captivity, but they were yet to receive instructions from him to surrender and therefore would keep fighting.

The devotion to duty and loyalty to their king was of the kind seen later only during World War II when many Japanese soldiers continued to fight even after Japan surrendered.

There is neither any victory pillar nor are the names of these brave soldiers engraved anywhere. Even two hundred years after the event and the departure of British 70 years ago, the Muslim heroes of battle of Malegaon remain unknown, forgotten and unsung.

Two hundred years ago, the third Anglo-Maratha war fought in 1817 and 1818 ended in the Maratha Chhatrapati and Peshwa (prime minister) surrendering to the English.

After having defeated the Holkars and Shindias in early 1817, the British turned to the conquest of Maharashtra proper.

The Marathas fought three wars with the British, as did the Sikhs, the Gorkhas and Tipu Sultan.



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The Japanese Military …

Posted on April 6, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Uncategorized |

WSJ – For the first time since World War II, Japan’s army is a unified fighting force.

On Wednesday, a central command station for Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force opened at a military base just north of Tokyo. The headquarters will control Japan’s five regional armies and a new amphibious brigade similar to the U.S. Marine Corps.

The organizational shake-up is among the biggest in Japan’s postwar military history. The army, disbanded in 1945, was re-established nine years later but split into five to thwart a repeat of the conspiracy of senior army officers that helped propel the country into World War II.

In recent years, however, rising security threats, such as China’s challenge to Japan’s southern islands, have prompted government officials to highlight the splintered leadership as a weakness that would hinder quick and comprehensive deployment in a crisis. The navy and air force each has a unified command.

Hours before the command station opened, Japan reported seeing Chinese coast guard ships sailing for the third successive day in waters near East China Sea islands controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. China calls the uninhabited islands Diaoyu and Japan refers to them as the Senkakus.

China’s “unilateral escalation is a matter of strong concern,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in a speech to mark the opening of the combined army command.

The new Japan Ground Self-Defense Force central command will also eliminate the need for the U.S. military to deal with several local counterparts for operations in Japan. Around 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan under a security-treaty alliance.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, here reviewing the Self-Defense Forces in 2016, has been an advocate for the military since taking office in 2012, raising spending for six straight years and easing restrictions on its scope of action.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, here reviewing the Self-Defense Forces in 2016, has been an advocate for the military since taking office in 2012, raising spending for six straight years and easing restrictions on its scope of action. PHOTO: EUGENE HOSHIKO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“This will simplify coordination between the U.S. Army and the [Japanese army] during a natural-disaster or security situation, since the same procedures will be used during training, exercises, or crisis, anywhere in Japan,” said U.S. Army Japan deputy commander Col. Stephen J. Grabski.

The creation of the new command is part of a broad review and upgrade of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, which many Japanese still associate more with disaster relief than warfare.

Though far smaller than most regional rivals, Japan’s military is equipped with some of the world’s most advanced weaponry. The country is investing in cruise missiles, at least 42 advanced F-35 fighter jets and a new missile-defense shield. Last month, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for the nation to develop its own aircraft carrier.

Much of Japan’s military equipment is American-made, and U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Tokyo to buy more.

In recent years Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed through legal changes to loosen restrictions on the military, including allowing it to fight in support of an ally under attack near Japan. He has set a target of 2020 for introducing a constitutional amendment establishing Japan’s right to maintain its own armed forces. Taken literally, the postwar constitution bars a military, though previous governments haven’t questioned the armed forces’ legitimacy.

Government and military officials say Japan faces the most security threats in decades, including from North Korean missiles, and have no choice but to respond.

“We have to create a truly combat-ready Ground Self-Defense Force,” Maj. Gen. Tadao Maeda, a senior army official responsible for planning the transition, said in an interview.

We have to create a truly combat-ready Ground Self-Defense Force.

—Maj. Gen. Tadao Maeda

Japan’s primary fear is that China may try to seize the Senkaku islands. To be better able to retake any islands, the army is tripling its amphibious unit to 2,100 troops. Japanese soldiers have trained with U.S. Marines for around a decade in amphibious warfare.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman didn’t directly answer a question about Japan’s central army command, but China often has criticized Japan’s military changes, calling on Tokyo not to repeat past mistakes.

Some defense experts say that while the expanded amphibious unit and single army command improve Japan’s capabilities, spending on the military spending is sometimes misguided and coordination between land, sea and air forces is still insufficient.

Jeffrey Hornung, an Japan security specialist at Rand Corp., points to the acquisition of destroyers and submarines rather than modern amphibious-troop carriers needed to carry soldiers into battle, and to the Air Self-Defense Force’s lack of training in close air support.

Following a ceremony to open the new army command, Mr. Onodera said the government is emphasizing joint operations of the three arms of the military to deal with crises such as ballistic-missile attacks, island defense or large-scale disasters.

Mr. Onodera also said there are sufficient checks against military usurpation of political power, as in the past.

“We have firm civilian control,” he said.

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1971 War – Sam Manekshaw, Kim Yadav, Krishna Menon …

Posted on March 27, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities, Regimental |

A sordid Story which began when Gen Thimayya was Chief and Nehru’s blue eyed Defense Minister – VK Krishna Menon began to under cut and humiliate the Chief in order to pave the way for the rise of the Kashmiri ASC Gen BM Kaul – a distant cousin of the PM.

The Story starts when the Defense Minister visits Maj Gen Sam Manekshaw who was GOC 26 Div and tries to enlist him against his own Chief – Gen Thimayya. Sam of course refuses point blank and thereby begins to  dig his own grave.

This is the cause de terre for the enquiry which was initiated against Sam a year or so later when he was Commandant of the Staff College.

The principle witness against Sam in the enquiry against him was a close colleague and friend – then Col – later Brigadier – Kim Yadav who happened to be the the first CO of a very dear course mate and friend, who vouches his elan and professionalism. Kim was, indeed, an outstanding officer, who was for a while, ADC to Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Years later when Sam took over Western Command where Brig Kim Yadav  was Commanding a Brigade, Sam heard some officers in the Mess, in hushed tones belittling Brig Yadav. Turning to them he says, “Gentlemen, Brig Kim Yadav professionally is  head and shoulders above most of you – all he lacks is character”.

The late PKK Raju, a Rimcollian, was present with the FIFTH when it was part of Kim Yadav’s Brigade and used to narrate this exercise which most every one thought was to fix Kim. This seemed  more so Sam as Army Commander himself attended.

The brigade had performed pretty well and Sam went up for his Summing Up, most every one thought that Sam would now tear apart Kim. But Sam went to the podium, looked round and spoke just one sentence before he shook the Commanders’ hand. He had said was that were he himself commanding the brigade, he could not have done better!

And at the end of the 1971 war, Kim Yadav sent a telegram to Sam, ‘You seem to have won the war all by yourself – without any help from me! My Congratulations’.

Those were the Days and these were the Guys.

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State of Indian Defence …

Posted on March 22, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career |

Maj Gen Pushpendra Singh ( Retd) in DEFENCE –

The media spotlight on army Vice Chief Sarath Chand’s testimony to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence may have faded, but the substantive issues that he raised cannot be glossed over as these impinge on the very existence of the nation.

The three services’ (Army, Air Force, Navy) combined budgetary demand in 2013-14 (last UPA budget) was Rs 1.24 lakh crore. This went up to Rs 1.32 lakh crore the following year – the first of the present NDA government. Clearly, expectations in the three services were high as they thought that at long last a ‘nationalist’ government would start shoring up India’s defence capability. These hopes were soon dashed as the revised Budget estimates were slashed by over 40%. In the subsequent years, the defence services were compelled to further lower their demands by 20%. Of even these reduced requirements, another cut of 40% was imposed on the funds that they were allowed to spend. (The defence and finance ministries together control all expenditure).

As the Vice Chief of the army stated, over 68% of weapon systems are vintage and only 8% state-of-art – a situation that places it at considerable disadvantage with even Pakistan. The army’s main capability voids, piled up over decades are air defence, Howitzers, night-fighting, small arms (rifles, machine guns and carbines).

The air force has been seeking replacement of ageing fleet (dubbed as flying coffins) for nearly 20 years. It needs 45 squadrons but due to persistent neglect, the fleet is likely to come down to barely 19 by 2027. As for the navy, a report by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) indicates that it has only 65% of vessels and 51% of aircraft against its sanctioned needs. The report also highlights the continuing ‘hollowness’ in munitions of all the three services, questioning their ability to fight a war for even 10 days.

The CAG also flagged the high accident rate in the navy. This too can be attributed to choking of funds for decades, compelling it to operate assets ranging from WW-2 vintage to relatively modern platforms and to continue deploying these for more than double their extended life spans. Anticipating expansion, the navy had sought additional submarines 20 years ago, but the defence ministry remained somnolent. Hence our ship-building pace crawls even while private shipyards, created at great cost and resources are lying idle for want of orders. Meanwhile, China has raced ahead such that it now swirls rings around us, pre-empting any interventions – as seen in the Maldives crisis. Dismal scenario indeed!

The nation suffers through Pakistani violence and Chinese transgressions. These impose a great human and financial burden on the country. During the last two years, Pakistan perpetrated 1,330 ceasefire violations while simultaneously waging a sub-conventional war. As a result, 431 civilians, 390-odd security force personnel lost their lives while 1,021 terrorists were eliminated. The moot point is: does our military weakness invite this violent adventurism? Additionally, would not boosting our defence capability minimise these losses?

Before the onset of the 1962 Indo-China war, Nehru had rebutted charges of the army being poorly equipped by retorting, “It is the man behind the gun that counts.” Today, the situation is bad. Not only are the defence forces inadequately equipped but their fighting spirit – particularly the army’s – is being systematically sapped.

Immediately after being appointed,  defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman asked the defence services to clean the muck left behind by tourists   around the country. This order was so demeaning that the chief of naval staff and many flag officers and commandants took it upon themselves to lead by example in full uniform with broom-in-hand. Her next order did no better to promote the army’s fighting spirit by ordering it to build railway overbridges at three stations in Mumbai – hardly an emergency situation.

However, when an FIR was lodged by name against an officer for extricating his men and government property from a violent mob, the defence minister did not intervene and even assented. Neither could she summon the courage to call for restoration of education allowances to children of war-time martyrs. This small annual expenditure of Rs 300 crore is less than the government’s publicity expenditure for just 10 days.


In addition, veterans have been on a disciplined dharna for well over 1,000 days over OROP (one rank, one pension), but not one government or services functionary has been allowed to meet them. Instead, they have been assaulted by police goons, their medals ripped off. These incidents illustrate the demoralising pressure being mounted on defence personnel.

A nation’s power primarily comprises economic strength and the ability to defend itself. Productivity of human capital contributes substantially to both these. Hence, while the defence sector may require 4% of GDP to sustain and modernise, the funding must compete with health and human resource development plus a host of contributory requirements. However, a budget under 2% to 2.5 % of GDP is not even a survival budget and exposes two fatal flaws in the government’s assessment. First, that our nuclear weapons preclude even a limited war. This is absolutely false. Could we have used – or even hinted at the N-option – had the Chinese succeeded in crossing the Doklam red line? Now, having consolidated their strength, we cannot contemplate this even if the Chinese do intrude and threaten the Siliguri Corridor or Pakistan does another 26/11 or Pathankot. So, while N-weapons may prevent a major war, these are no substitutes for deterrent conventional capability.

The second flawed perception is that defence expenditure impedes national development. Actually, Emile Benoit (Columbia University) and others found that military expenditure accelerates economic growth in developing economies through spin-offs. In India, army presence ensures connectivity and livelihoods in remote communities, boosting local economies. There is, therefore, a clear imperative to increase the defence budget while also ensuring that we maximise efficacy of national financial resources. Currently, our defence budget is constrained by excessive salary and pension costs as well as huge, inefficient outlay for ordnance factories.

The CAG report is particularly scathing on the performance of these factories.

Ordnance factories consume about 9% of the defence budget. The CAG report spotlighted that there is “systemic deficiency in production planning … deployment of industrial employees is not commensurate with the workload and working of machines.”  Besides, the audit exposed blackmail by its workforce to extort huge, unjustified overtime payments. As for Defence Research and Development Organisation, its budget is over six times the wasteful ordnance factories, but it too has little to show for its allocation other than the successful surface-t0-surface missile programme. Both need drastic overhaul.

Salaries constitute about 40% of the total defence budget. Defence pensions, though not included in the Budget, also reduce the funds available for the sector. Salaries and pensions taken together are more than two and a half times the modernisation outlay for the three services. There is, therefore, an imperative need to shed the silo mentality that pervades the government and take a consolidated view of national resources.

The Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) under the home ministry constitute 82% of the strength of the army and have an outlay of about Rs 63,000 crore – roughly a quarter of the defence budget. Viewed from an overall perspective, there is wasteful duplication of finance and HRD resources. News reports indicate that the defence ministry has now recommended five-year compulsory military service for those seeking state or central government jobs. Newspapers have also reported that the government is actively considering a proposal that the army should recruit and train CAPF personnel and deploy them for the first five years. Both these proposals must be implemented as these would eliminate wasteful duplication of financial and human resources and provide much-needed funds for defence modernisation. Regarding officers, an assured second career is necessary by transferring some to the Indian police, foreign or administrative services.

The conclusions are clear. Weakened defence forces are an open invitation for aggression by inimical neighbours. Therefore, we must urgently plug capability voids by the following means. First, effective utilisation of human and financial resources by the army, recruiting and employing CAPF personnel for the first five years and compulsory military service for government job-seekers, including IAS, IPS and IFS. Second, revitalise ordnance factories and DRDO by privatising all units except those meant for critical and sensitive strategic requirements.

A vibrant defence ministry should abandon its dangerous drift and ensure plugging capability-voids in finite timeframes. The defence budget must support this endeavour by providing for adequate defence imperatives and not be dependent on what can be spared after election populism. Peace through strength is the call of the hour.

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Army’s Command and Staff Streams …

Posted on March 16, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Guide Posts |

Maj. Stephen W. Richey, USA Ret., served as an enlisted Armor crewman from 1977 to 1979 and graduated from West Point as an Armor officer in 1984. He served in various assignments in Germany, Ethiopia, Iraq and the continental U.S. Richey holds a master’s degree in history from Central Washington University and is the author of the book Joan of Arc: The Warrior Saint.

Our Army’s penchant for operations orders that are hundreds of pages, is for dull, unimaginative people who are good at slavishly following a cookbook recipe. It is not for people who possess the spark of combat creativity.

Military history is replete with examples of great Generals, with a couple staff officers at their side, writing orders in minutes, using the hood of their personal vehicle as a desk.

Our writing to cover all possible situations in our mandatory process of planning the next battle is a fruitless attempt to eliminate the uncertainties of war. Uncertainty is a basic condition of war, and the best battlefield commanders thrive on uncertainty.

We attempt to forecast what we will do if this happens and how we will react if that happens, leaving no possibility unaccounted for. Given the unpredictable chaos of battle in which an intelligent enemy gets a vote in what happens—such attempted forecasting is a waste of time and effort.

A free-thinking and active enemy, a change in the weather, an unforeseen delay or blunder, the random whims of luck—and the fact that information about the situation is never complete and frequently wrong—will inevitably combine to produce situations not dreamed of in all what we have catered for.

Far better than over scripted staff procedures is a certain quality that should be part of the mind of every battlefield commander.

The French call this quality coup d’oeil, the “stroke of the eye” that enables the great commander to look at the terrain of a future battlefield and instantly intuit how to place his soldiers and weapons on that terrain to defeat the enemy.

Napoleon had this quality. The parallel German concept to coup d’oeil is fingerspitzengefühl, the “fingertip feeling” that enables the great commander to quickly and intuitively sense how the chaotic ebb and flow of battle is playing out and to issue new orders to his forces accordingly. Rommel had this quality.

Using an English-language phrase, we could say George S. Patton Jr. had the sixth sense that enabled him to understand a constantly changing battlefield situation and rapidly act on his understanding—always faster than either his fellow American or opposing German commanders could.

His pedestrian superior officer, Omar N. Bradley, criticized Patton for being a poor planner. Perhaps Bradley envied how Patton delivered victory after victory by boldly following his inner light rather than bogging himself down in rigid staff procedures. We need to find and nurture more Pattons.

An Army Field Manual – Army Planning and Orders Production is headed by a quotation from Patton: “A good plan violently executed NOW is better than a perfect plan next week.”

Ironically, however, the following 64 pages of that chapter quash the Patton spirit by mandating a planning process of over scripted complexity. For just one example, our staffs prepare three courses of a What’s magic about three courses of action? Why not two? Why not four?

Standardized procedure wrongfully trumps an intelligent sense of what any given unique situation requires. This insistence on a point of procedure causes the common vice of staff officers creating one or two courses of action that are intentionally so bad the commander can instantly discard them in favor of the one course of action the staff already knew he wanted.

Ginning up courses of action to deliberately see them quickly dismissed is a criminal waste of time and effort in wartime situations, in which every drop of time and effort is precious and irreplaceable.

Worse, having the staff prepare three courses of action from which the commander is to choose implies a disturbing passivity on the commander’s part.

Under the time crunch of combat, a great commander looks at the ground, looks at his own forces, looks at the enemy and—quickly—tells his staff that “this” is the one course of action he has decided on. He sets his staff to work doing the coordination to make his plan work.

He and his staff win the deadly race against the enemy who is simultaneously trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.

Based on the above, I propose the following:

First, the Army should have two career tracks for its officers: a command track for about 10 percent and a staff track for the other 90 percent. Under this system, young captains would command a company/battery/troop either before or after doing a staff job or two.

Then, based on their comparative performance as either commanders or staff officers, they would be slotted as either commanders or staff officers for the rest of their careers. Obviously, those slotted as career staff officers would outnumber those slotted as career commanders by about 10 to one.

Second, commanders at all levels must be forbidden to possess personal computers, forbidden to exchange emails and forbidden to create PowerPoint slides. Let staff officers have ranks of computers and drown in emails and PowerPoint slides.

The rationale for my proposals flows from my observation that the personality traits that make a good commanding officer and the personality traits that make a good staff officer are the perfect inverse of each other.

Patton’s performance ratings from his staff officer times were poor. Fortunately for the Allies, Marshall and Eisenhower had enough sense to know they needed a larger-than-life battlefield prima donna, and they knew where to find him.

In time of war, necessity can make anything forgivable, and as soon as the war was over, they made Patton go away. Not even the necessity of war could rescue the brilliant, charismatic, maverick Terry Allen from the safe, solid, dull Bradley.

Furthermore, leadership by PowerPoint and email is killing our ability to ever again produce somebody like Patton. Computers, emails and PowerPoint slides are a scourge that threatens to make commanders indistinguishable from staff officers.

I propose “Richey’s law” with two corollaries:

Demands from higher headquarters for more information and more staff coordination will always expand to choke whatever new communications technology has just been invented.

If radios and telephones can’t convey enough information quickly enough, then computer networks of a certain size, speed and bandwidth will. And if that previous-generation computer network can’t convey enough information quickly enough, then a new-generation computer network of greater size, speed and bandwidth will. And so on, ad infinitum ad absurdum.

First corollary: Computers are not labor-saving devices. They are labor-creating devices in that they enable more people at more echelons to micromanage more numerous and more inane issues than ever before.

Second corollary: The deluge of extra information made possible by computers does not improve combat effectiveness, because the sheer volume of information now exceeds the brain capacity of the average human commander to absorb and use in a reasonable time.

The wise commander must now know when to turn off the deluge and revert to applying classic commander’s intuition—his “feeling in the fingertips” in the old German phrase or his “stroke of the eye” in the old French phrase—just like the best commanders have done since Alexander the Great.

Also, the extra work for staff officers made possible by computers does not improve combat effectiveness because almost all of this extra work is needless “eyewash.” An old-fashioned textual after-action report describing a recent firefight is a better and simpler tool than a high-tech, high-gloss computer graphics storyboard.

Today’s commanding general at war typically exchanges hundreds of emails a day, and any commanding general who sends and receives hundreds of emails a day is not commanding! He is chained to his computer when he could and should be out on the battlefield seeing the fight with his own eyes and influencing the fight with the power of his personal presence and example.

These two truths apply to any battlefield:

First, if a commander at any level has something to say, then what he has to say is so important it must be said voice-to-voice with a radio or telephone or, even better, face-to-face.

Second, anything that needs to be said that is less important than what the commander has to say should be said by staff officers and can be appropriately said via email.

Due to the scourge of personal computers, the character of the combat leader is debased while the character of the office bureaucrat is exalted. In today’s Army, an officer who is mediocre at staff work will be passed over for command. His personality traits that could make him an ideal commander will be lost to the Army.

Our Army has cut itself off from developing more Pattons. What precious few Pattonesque higher commanders there are reached their current positions in spite of, not because of, our Army’s culture.

In conclusion, our Army should rethink its battle planning process with a view toward streamlining the process while emphasizing the commander’s role as the guiding visionary.

Our Army should consider separate career paths for commanders and staff officers of promise. In addition, our Army must liberate its bold battlefield leaders from the shackles of personal computers, emails and PowerPoint slides. We need our Army culture to develop our next Patton, not restrain him.


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Indo Pak War 1947/48 – Prelude …

Posted on February 26, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Pakistan |

Hamid Hussain 

In August 1947, the British departed from India after partitioning the country into two independent states. Two pillars of stability; Indian Civil Service (ICS) and Indian army were divided between the two countries. Pakistan inherited the north-western frontier of India and its associated tribal question.

A tribal territory under British protection separated Indian administrative border from Afghanistan that in turn served as a buffer state between British India and Tsarist Russia; later Communist Soviet Union.  East India Company encountered these tribes after the demise of Sikh Durbar in 1849 when Punjab was annexed. In the next four decades, this relationship evolved over various stages.  By 1890s, Afghanistan’s borders were stabilized with demarcation of boundaries with Persia, Russia and British India.

There was a layered administrative structure of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).  Five settled districts (Hazara, Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu & Dera Ismail Khan) were administered like rest of India under Indian penal code.

In between settled districts and tribal territories were areas called Frontier Regions (FR) administered by deputy commissioner of the adjoining settled district.  In the early phase, deputy commissioners also dealt with the neighboring tribes.  Later, when tribal agencies were created Political Agents dealt with tribes under a separate code called Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

In 1947, there were five tribal agencies; Khyber, Kurrram, Malakand, North and South Waziristan.  In general, scouts operated in tribal agencies, border military police (later Frontier Constabulary) in Frontier Regions and police in settled districts.

Troops of Indian army were deployed in various garrisons as a back-up for internal security duties and for external defense against possible Russian threat.

After Second World War, events moved at rapid pace and all three main players; Congress, Muslim League and British government were not prepared for these cataclysmic changes. By 1946, it was clear that British were finally leaving India and frontier question was seen in this context.

After Second World War, it was decided to gradually cut back regular troops on the frontier.  In 1944, a committee was formed under Lieutenant General Francis Tuker to recommend new frontier policy. This Frontier Committee recommended that regular troops should be withdrawn and Razmak, Wana and Khyber Pass garrisons should be replaced with scouts and khassadars (tribal levies).

Imperial giants of frontier Sir George Cunningham and Sir Olaf Caroe recommended implementation of committee’s recommendations.  Withdrawal of troops was to be complemented with a massive economic and infrastructure investment in tribal areas.

In 1944, Khojak Brigade on Baluchistan frontier was disbanded.  In March 1945 Tal Brigade was disbanded and some of its units were assigned to Kohat Brigade.

In April 1946, Indian army Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Claude Auckinleck presided a high-level conference at Peshawar.  It was attended by Governor NWFP, Agent to the Governor General Baluchistan, British counsel at Kabul and senior military and civil officers.

A unanimous decision was reached to replace regular troops in tribal areas with scouts and khassadars.  It was to be gradual withdrawal in five phases and to be completed in two years.

On 23 July 1947, GOC of Northern Command Lieutenant General Frank Messervy issued orders for reconstitution of his command.

According to this plan, fourteen battalions deployed on frontier defense were reduced.  Four battalions of Zhob brigade were withdrawn and levies took their place.  Three battalions from Tal were removed and replaced by frontier scouts and khassadars.  Gardai brigade (four battalions) was to be withdrawn in two phases; 15 August and 01 October 1947.  One battalion stationed at Malakand was removed.  Wana and Kohat brigades were reduced by one battalion each.

The decision of gradual withdrawal of regular troops from frontier was made by British high command long before partition of India and process had already started at the time of independence.

Indian army was divided between two countries and regiments were in the process of reorganization.  Muslim elements heading to Pakistan and non-Muslims heading to India.

In 1947, about half of 5000 British officers decided to stay and serve with Indian and Pakistani armies on secondment.  Those with long service opted for retirement while others asked for transfer to British army. Several factors including a recent World War with industrial scale carnage, desire of emergency commissioned officers to go back to their civilian jobs, shock of fratricidal communal civil war between Hindus and Muslims meant that not many British officers were willing to continue soldiering.

Immediately after independence in October 1947, India and Pakistan got involved in armed conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This resulted in speedy exit of remaining British officers. Within few months of independence, majority of British officers had left the combat units.  However, many senior British officers remained at important positions especially technical, staff and instructional appointments.

In early 1948, the list includes C-in-C General Douglas Gracey, Chief of Staff (COS) Lieutenant General Ross McCay, Deputy COS Major General W. Cawthorne, Chief of General Staff (CGS) Major General R. A. Hutton, most senior officers of engineer, signals and ordnance branches, commandant of Staff College (Brigadier I.C.A. Lauder) and commandant of military academy (Brigadier F. H. B. Ingall).

On the frontier, officers of Indian Political Service (IPS) and scouts were responsible for maintaining peace.  In 1946, interim government under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was very critical of frontier officers that severely affected the morale of IPS.  Deputy Commissioner of Mardan Gerald Curtis confronted Nehru and later resigned.  When Mountbatten asked NWFP Governor Sir Olaf Caroe to leave on the advice of Nehru, British officers lost all confidence.  Many officers called it a day and handed the reins to Pakistani officers.

However, in 1947, still several British army and political officers were performing duties on the frontier.  Evelyn Cobb was Political Agent (PA) of Malakand Agency and he raised Pakistani flag on August 14, 1947.  Lieutenant Colonel Vernon Cox was resident of Waziristan, Captain Robin Hodson was PA of North Waziristan and P. T. Duncan was PA South Waziristan.  Several officers were ably administering frontier settled districts including Arthur Dredge at Bannu, Andre Wooler at Kohat and St. John Major at Hazara.

Withdrawal of regular troops from tribal areas was envisioned under British high command after Second World War.  Even if India was still under British rule, it was most likely that by the fall of 1948, all regular troops would have been withdrawn.  Partition of India and division of armed forces in early 1947 speeded up this decision.  In October 1947, Pakistani C-in-C General Frank Messervy in a meeting with country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah where Cunningham was also present warned that Pakistan army was in a bad shape and suggested that regular troops should be withdrawn from Waziristan within three months. All three present at the meeting agreed and Pakistan government made the final decision in October 1947.  On 06 November, Resident of Waziristan announced this decision to tribal jirga. The troops withdrawal code named Operation Curzon was completed by December 1947.

Army withdrawal from tribal areas was done under the watchful eyes and close cooperation of scouts and khassadars.

The key factor which most historians have ignored is link between frontier question and incursion of tribesmen in Kashmir in 1947.  By early September 1947, almost every tribe on the frontier was asking British governor Sir George Cunningham to let them go to kill Sikhs.  With some satisfaction, Cunningham wrote that ‘I would only have to hold up my little finger to get a lashkar of 40’000 or 50’000’.  In fact, later Cunningham was instrumental in convincing Jinnah to support tribesmen.  On October 29, Cunningham met Jinnah and advised him to increase tribal incursion supporting them with supplies and exert more control.  On the same day, a meeting attended by Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan agreed to support tribesmen establishing a seven-member committee based at Abbottabad. However, Cunningham had his misgivings and was not sure how this will end.  He wrote that ‘the harm has been done, and we have to make the best of the situation’.

Tribal lashkar had entered Kashmir valley by the third week of October 1947.  This means that they must have left their homes at least one to two weeks before in early October. Thousands of able bodied armed tribesmen were already out of their lair heading to greener pastures in Kashmir.  The religious factor was at play but main incentive for the tribesmen was the lure of loot.

I have not been able to find any documentary evidence of what was promised to the tribesmen but from some later oral traditions, it has emerged that they were told that they would keep captured arms and ammunition as well as any loot. On their way to Kashmir, tribesmen lived off the land in Pakistani territory.  Even in cities like Abbottabad, they would walk into any shop and take what they liked.

In Kashmir, they usually refused food offered by local Muslims for the fear of poisoning and usually grabbed sheep or goats and slaughtered and cooked for their consumption. In Kashmir, they looted from Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  They returned with captured arms, ammunition, gold etc. and brought even captured Kashmiri women. However, it was only a handful of women that ended up in tribal areas.  Majority of women were abducted by fighters from Pakistani controlled Kashmir, Hazara and Punjab.

The role of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah is interesting.  He had single mindedly fought for a separate homeland for Muslims and for seven years was fighting on different fronts.  Now suffering from advanced tuberculosis of lungs, his frail body was not able to support his agile mind to tackle the crisis in Kashmir.

Local leadership in Punjab and NWFP was fumbling through Kashmir problem.  In September 1947, Jinnah told The New York Times that ‘he was doing his utmost to hold back Moslem tribesmen, who were demanding a holy war against Hindus and Sikhs.  He admitted that he was not sure he could restrain them overlong’. Defence Secretary Iskandar Mirza told Cunningham that when the subject of tribal incursion was broached, Jinnah told him ‘do not tell me.  I want to keep my conscience clear’.

When Maharajah of Kashmir signed accession agreement with India and Indian troops were flown to Srinagar, on the night of October 27-28, Jinnah ordered Lieutenant General Douglas Gracey who was officiating C-in-C to send troops into Kashmir. Gracey told Jinnah that this order would result in implementation of ‘Stand Down’ order for British officers serving with Pakistan army.  Gracey also telephoned Supreme Commander Field Marshal Claude Auckinleck at Delhi.

On the morning of October 28, Auckinleck flew to Lahore, met Jinnah and convinced him to withdraw his order.  Jinnah obliged but was very angry.  On the advice of Auckinleck, Jinnah also agreed to meet Mountbatten, Nehru and Maharaja of Kashmir for a roundtable discussion.  On the same day, Mountbatten persuaded Indian Defence Committee to accept Jinnah’s invitation. In the afternoon, during meeting of Indian cabinet, all opposed the idea and in the end only Mountbatten went to Lahore to meet Jinnah.

On November 01, Jinnah met Mountbatten to discuss Kashmir situation.  Jinnah suggested that both sides should withdraw.  When Mountbatten asked him how the tribesmen can be called off.  Jinnah confidently replied that ‘all he had to do was to give them an order to come out and to warn them that if they did not comply, he would send large forces along their lines of communications’.  This may be an argument by a smart barrister but not in line with ground realities. 

Internal tribal dynamics and local political maneuvering determined who went to Kashmir.  NWFP Chief Minister Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan and Muslim League supporter Pir of Manki Sharif lobbied Pushtuns of settled as well as tribal areas for Kashmir.  Majority were Pushtuns from Mardan and Swat and Pushtu and Hindko speaking Hazarawals as well as Mahsud, Afridi, Mohmand and Bajawar tribesmen.

Recently ousted Congress Ministry of NWFP and followers of Abdul Ghaffar Khan stayed away.  Wazir representation was very small as Faqir of Ipi in Waziristan had prohibited his followers to join Kashmir adventure.  A rival Pir of Wana and some others who competed with Faqir of Ipi for local influence sent a small group of Wazirs.  Faqir of Ipi who had been a thorn in British side was not willing to accept the rule of Anglicized Indians even if fellow Muslims.

Later, everyone blamed tribesmen for all failures in Kashmir. Two veteran pro-Pakistan Kashmiri leaders of Pakistani controlled Kashmir who fought in 1947-48 struggle later saw induction of tribesmen as damaging to Kashmiri cause.

Referring to tribesmen Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan stated that ‘the movement suffered a great set back because they were uncontrollable’.  He added that ‘they did lot of damage’ and ‘the looting created a very bad impression’ as they looted Muslim and non-Muslims alike.  Referring to Pakistan, he said, ‘they made an absolute blunder allowing a thing like this’.

Sardar Ibrahim Khan while appreciating fighting qualities of tribesmen was of the view that ‘we made a terrific mistake’ referring to no command and control of tribesmen.  Another pro-Pakistani Kashmiri Muhammad Yusuf Saraf; a resident of Baramula and later Chief Justice of Pakistani administered Kashmir also echoed same sentiments stating that ‘there was generally no distinction between Hindus and Muslims in so far as loot and arson was concerned.  The local ‘cinema hall was converted into a sort of a restricted brothel’.

Tribal factor needs to be seen in the general context.  Tribesmen angered by latest news of atrocities against Muslims during partition carnage now wanted to embark on a religious obligation.  In fulfilling this duty, they also looked for a chance of loot and plunder with clear conscience.  They were small bands led by their own clan leaders and all depended on how good or bad were these leaders.  There was no central command and no arrangement for supplies.

Except for rebellion of locals in Poonch, local population of Kashmir was too frightened or passive for an armed rebellion.  Tribesmen played a major part in wresting the territory that is now Pakistan controlled Kashmir.  Years later, tribesmen would pester political agents for favors pointing to the fact that they had gone to Kashmir to pull Pakistani chestnuts from the fire.

If tribesmen had not been directed to Kashmir in October 1947, it is very likely that some of them would have forayed into Muslim majority settled districts of Pakistan near their border. This conclusion is based on the simple fact that general break down of law and order or signs of weakness by government is an opportunity by highlanders to deprive inhabitants of the plains of their wealth.

Some incidents when it became clear that British were leaving point to this fact.  In April 1947, Bhittanis; generally, a weak tribe and some Mahsuds looted the border town of Tank.  They not only looted the town but burned property and cut off its water supply.  A robust seven platoon scout detachment under a British officer secured the town.

Another detachment under Major James Majury (5/13 Punjab Regiment) was sent for patrol and they found that three Mahsud lashkars were on their way to take their share in the loot.  A stern warning by Majury telling them that area was well defended resulted in melting away of the Mahsuds.

When Wazirs heard about free for all affair in Tank, hundreds of Wazirs with ladders and ropes and string of camels headed towards Bannu.  Tochi Scouts intercepted them arresting many and dispersing them.

Pakistan was faced with enormous challenges with no infrastructure of new government, flood of refugees, precarious law and order and serious economic concerns.  There was neither time not will to review frontier policy therefore Pakistan continued to administer tribal areas as under British rule.

Jinnah brought back veteran British political officer Sir George Cunningham from retirement as governor of NWFP.  Sir Ambrose Dundas was appointed Chief Commissioner of Baluchistan and later he succeeded Cunningham as NWFP governor. IPS was absorbed into Ministry of States and Frontier Affairs.  Only a handful of Indians were serving with IPS therefore officers of Provincial Civil Service (PCS) serving in subordinate positions were promoted and posted to tribal agencies.

Jinnah’s address to tribal jirga at Government House in Peshawar on 17 April 1948 gives hints of the complexity he was facing.  Tribesmen were concerned about two issues; to maintain their independence and continuation of allowances as under British rule. They were essentially asking for continuation of status quo and Jinnah obliged.

On the issue of freedom, he said, ‘Pakistan has no desire to unduly interfere with your internal freedom’.  This was exactly what Frontier Crimes Regulation was about where tribal customs were codified.  Jinnah first criticized allowances stating that ‘you are dependent on annual doles’ and ‘at the end of the year you were no better off than beggars asking for allowances, if possible a little more’.

After criticizing it, he said that as you wish to continue these allowances and khassadaris therefore ‘neither my government nor I have any desire to modify existing system’ but added the caveat of ‘so long as you remain loyal and faithful to Pakistan’.  Some restrictions on tribesmen were abolished and gradually tribal society was integrated with the country.

Sources: 1. Charles Chenevix Trench.  The Frontier Scouts (New Delhi: Rupa & Company: 2002 Indian Edition of original 1985 publication)  2. Daniel Marston.  The Indian Army and the End of the Raj (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014) 3. Andrew Whitehead.  A Mission to Kashmir (New Delhi: Penguin Global), 2008 Indian Edition 4. Pradeep P Barua.  Gentlemen of the Raj : The Indian Army Officer Corps 1917-1949 (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2008)  5. William A. Brown. Gilgit Rebellion – The major who mutinied over the partition of India (South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword), 2014  6. Major General Shahid Hamid.  Disastrous Twilight (London: Leo Cooper, 1986)  7. Major General Shaukat Raza.  The Pakistan Army 1947-1949 (Lahore: Wajidalis, 1989)  8. Brandon D. Marsh. Ramparts of Empire: India’s North-West Frontier and British Imperialism 19919-1947.  PhD Thesis. The University of Texas at Austin, May 2009. 9. Major General ® Akbar Khan.  Raiders in Kashmir (Lahore: Jang Publishers, 1992) 10. Hamid Hussain.  Waziristan – The Past.  Defence Journal, November 2004. 11. John Connell.  Auckinleck: A Biography of Field Marshal Sir Claude Auckinleck (London: Cassell, 1959)  12. Norval Mitchell.  The Quiet People of India (Weardale: The Memoir Club, 2006). 13. Head Quarters Northern Command Order.  Reconstitution of the Indian Army – Reliefs, dated 23 July 1947.  Copy of this order was provided to author courtesy of Major General Syed Ali Hamid from his father Major General Shahid Hamid’s personal papers.



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Rajputs – Why they Lost …

Posted on February 21, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career, Regimental, Uncategorized |

From ……  They were defeated by Ghazni, Ghuri, Khilji, Babur, Akbar, the Marathas and the British.

A thousand years ago, Rajput kings ruled much of North India. Then they lost to Ghazni, lost to Ghuri, lost to Khilji, lost to Babur, lost to Akbar, lost to the Marathas, and keeled over before the British. The Marathas and Brits hardly count since the Rajputs were a spent force by the time Akbar was done with them. Having been confined to an arid part of the subcontinent by the early Sultans, they were reduced to vassals by the Mughals.

The three most famous Rajput heroes not only took a beating in crucial engagements, but also retreated from the field of battle. Prithviraj Chauhan was captured while bolting and executed after the second battle of Tarain in 1192 CE, while Rana Sanga got away after losing to Babur at Khanua in 1527, as did Rana Pratap after the battle of Haldighati in 1576. To compensate for, or explain away, these debacles, the bards of Rajputana replaced history with legend.

It is worth asking, surely, what made Rajputs such specialists in failure. Yet, the question hardly ever comes up. When it does, the usual explanation is that the Rajputs faced Muslim invaders whose fanaticism was their strength. Nothing could be further than the truth. Muslim rulers did use the language of faith to energise their troops, but commitment is only the first step to victory. The Rajputs themselves never lacked commitment, and their courage invariably drew the praise of their enemies.

Even a historian as fundamentalist as Badayuni rhapsodised about Rajput valour. Babur wrote that his troops were unnerved, ahead of the Khanua engagement, by the reputed fierceness of Rana Sanga’s forces, their willingness to fight to the death.

Let’s cancel out courage and fanaticism as explanations, then, for each side displayed these in equal measure. What remains is discipline, technical and technological prowess, and tactical acumen. In each of these departments, the Rajputs were found wanting. Their opponents, usually Turkic, used a complex battle plan involving up to five different divisions. Fleet, mounted archers would harry opponents at the start, and often make a strategic retreat, inducing their enemy to charge into an ambush.

Behind these stood the central division and two flanks. While the centre absorbed the brunt of the enemy’s thrust, the flanks would wheel around to surround and hem in opponents. Finally, there was a reserve that could be pressed into action wherever necessary. Communication channels between divisions were quick and answered to a clear hierarchy that was based largely on merit.

Contrast this with the Rajput system, which was simple, predictable, and profoundly foolish, consisting of a headlong attack with no Plan B. In campaigns against forces that had come through the Khyber Pass, Rajputs usually had a massive numerical advantage. Prithviraj’s troops outnumbered Ghuri’s at the second battle of Tarain by perhaps three to one. At Khanua, Rana Sanga commanded at least four soldiers for every one available to Babur. Unlike Sanga’s forces, though, Babur’s were hardy veterans.

After defeating Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat, the founder of the Mughal dynasty had the option of using the generals he inherited from the Delhi Sultan, but preferred to stick with soldiers he trusted. He knew numbers are meaningless except when acting on a coherent strategy under a unified command. Rajput troops rarely answered to one leader, because each member of the confederacy would have his own prestige and ego to uphold. Caste considerations made meritocracy impossible. The enemy general might be a freed Abyssinian slave, but Rajput leadership was decided by clan membership.

Absent meritocratic promotion, an established chain of command, a good communication system, and a contingency plan, Rajput forces were regularly taken apart by the opposition’s mobile cavalry. Occasionally, as with the composite bows and light armour of Ghuri’s horsemen, or the matchlocks employed by Babur, technological advances played a role in the outcome.

Ossified tactics

What’s astonishing is that centuries of being out-thought and out-manoeuvred had no impact on the Rajput approach to war. Rana Pratap used precisely the same full frontal attack at Haldighati in 1576 that had failed so often before. Haldighati was a minor clash by the standards of Tarain and Khanua. Pratap was at the head of perhaps 3,000 men and faced about 5,000 Mughal troops. The encounter was far from the Hindu Rajput versus Muslim confrontation it is often made out to be.

Rana Pratap had on his side a force of Bhil archers, as well as the assistance of Hakim Shah of the Sur clan, which had ruled North India before Akbar’s rise to power. Man Singh, a Rajput who had accepted Akbar’s suzerainty and adopted the Turko-Mongol battle plan led the Mughal troops. Though Pratap’s continued rebellion following his defeat at Haldighati was admirable in many ways, he was never anything more than an annoyance to the Mughal army. That he is now placed, in the minds of many Indians, on par with Akbar or on a higher plane says much about the twisted communal politics of the subcontinent.

There’s one other factor that contributed substantially to Rajput defeats: the opium habit. Taking opium was established practice among Rajputs in any case, but they considerably upped the quantity they consumed when going into battle. They ended up stoned out of their minds and in no fit state to process any instruction beyond, “kill or be killed”.

Opium contributed considerably to the fearlessness of Rajputs in the arena, but also rendered them incapable of coordinating complex manoeuvres. There’s an apt warning for school kids: don’t do drugs, or you’ll squander an empire.

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1971 War – IAF vs PAF …

Posted on February 20, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career |

From The Print – India’s bureaucracy is responsible for the vacuum in military history. But there’s a new crop of young scholar-warriors eager to fill this gap – by Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) former Chief of the Naval Staff.

Disregarding the counsel of wise men, from Herodotus to George Santayana, Indians have consistently ignored the importance of reading, writing and learning from history.

So, when retired US Air Force Brigadier ‘Chuck’ Yeager, head of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Islamabad during the 1971 war, says in his autobiography that “the Pakistanis whipped the Indians’ asses in the sky… the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing 34 airplanes of their own…”, we are left fumbling for a response.

Other Western ‘experts’ have alleged that, in 1971, the Indian Air Force was supported by Tupolev-126 early-warning aircraft flown by Soviet crews, who supposedly jammed Pakistani radars and homed-in Indian aircraft.

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history?

The Ministry of Defence website mentions a History Division, but the output of this division is not displayed, and it seems to have gone into hibernation after a brief spell of activity. A Google search reveals copies of two typed documents, circa 1984, on the internet, titled ‘History of the 1965 War’ and ‘History of the 1971 War’ (HoW), neither of which is designated as ‘official history’.

A chapter of the latter document, deals with the air war in the Western theatre, and opens with a comparison of the opposing air forces. The 1971 inventory of the IAF is assessed as 625 combat aircraft, while the PAF strength is estimated at about 275. After providing day-by-day accounts of air defence, counter-air close support and maritime air operations, the HoW compares aircraft losses on both sides, and attempts a cursory analysis of the air war.

The IAF is declared as having utilised its forces “four times as well as the PAF” and being “definitely on the way to victory” at the time of cease fire. Commending the PAF for having managed to survive in a war against an “enemy double its strength”, it uses a boxing metaphor, to add a (left-handed) complement: “By its refusal to close with its stronger enemy, it at least remained on its feet, and in the ring, when the bell sounded.”

This is this phrase that Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail (Retd) has picked up for the title of his very recent book: “In the Ring and on its Feet” [Ferozsons (Pvt) Ltd, Lahore, 2017] about the PAF’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Commissioned in 1975, this former Pakistani fighter pilot is a historian and bold commentator on strategic affairs. Currently unavailable in India, the book may, prima facie, be accepted as authentic, because the author asserts that in two of his appointments, he was the “custodian of PAF’s war records”, which he was, officially, permitted to access in writing the book.

Tufail starts with an attempt to dispel the “ludicrous Indian fabrication about Pakistan having initiated the war”, and offers the thesis that since war was already in progress, the ineffective 3 December PAF pre-emptive attacks were merely “first strikes” meant to overburden the IAF’s retaliatory capability. Apart from this half-hearted attempt at obfuscation, the rest of Tufail’s narrative is refreshingly candid, free of hyperbole and – one hopes – reliable. Having served in an IAF fighter squadron during the 1971 war, I was fascinated by Tufail’s account, and share a few of his frank insights into wartime events in this article.

Tufail suggests that the wartime PAF Chief, Air Marshal Rahim Khan, was an inarticulate, short-tempered and lacklustre personality, who, at this crucial juncture, chose his two most important advisors – the ACAS (Operations) and the Deputy Chief – from the ranks of transport pilots! His problems were compounded by low service morale, due to the massacre of 30 airmen in East Pakistan and defections by Bengali PAF personnel.

As far as the two orders-of-battle are concerned, it is interesting to note that the HoW figures of 625 combat aircraft for the IAF and 273 for the PAF are pretty close to Tufail’s estimates of 640 and 290 respectively. A fact not commonly known, in 1971, was, that while the IAF’s work-horses, Sukhoi-7s, Hunters, Gnats, HF-24s, Mysteres and Vampires, were armed only with 30/20 mm guns, the opposition had the advantage of air-to-air missiles. While all PAF Western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s, Yeager tells us: “One of my first jobs (in Pakistan) was to help them put US Sidewinders on their Chinese MiGs… I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics.”

Tufail provides a tabular account of both IAF and PAF aircraft losses, with pilots’ names, squadron numbers and (for PAF aircraft) tail numbers. To my mind, one particular statistic alone confirms Tufail’s objectivity. As the squadron diarist of IAF’s No.20 Squadron, I recall recording the result of a Hunter raid on PAF base Murid, on 8 December 1971, as “one transport, two fighters (probable) and vehicles destroyed on ground”. In his book, Tufail confirms that 20 Squadron actually destroyed five F-86 fighters in this mission – making it the most spectacular IAF raid of the war!

Particularly gratifying to read are Tufail’s reconstructions of many combat missions, which have remained shrouded in doubt and ambiguity for 47 years. Personally, I experienced a sense of closure after reading his accounts of the final heroic moments of 20 Squadron comrades Jal Mistry and K.P. Muralidharan, as well as fellow naval aviators Roy, Sirohi and Vijayan, shot down at sea. Tufail also nails the canard about Soviet Tupolev-126 support to IAF, and describes how it was the clever employment of IAF MiG-21s to act as ‘radio-relay posts’ that fooled the PAF.

Coming to the ‘final reckoning’, there is only a small difference between the figures given in the HoW and those provided by Tufail for IAF losses; both of which make nonsense of Yeager’s pompous declarations. According to the tabulated Pakistani account (giving names of Indian aircrew), the IAF lost 60 aircraft. The HoW records the IAF’s losses in action as 56 aircraft (43 in the west and 13 in the east).

However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).

Using ‘utilisation rate’ per aircraft and ‘attrition rate’ as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, “… had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”.

Adopting a different approach, Tufail concludes that the overall ‘attrition rate’ (loss per 100 sorties) for each air force as well as aircraft losses, as percentage of both IAF and PAF inventories, are numerically equal. Thus, according to him, “…both air forces were on par… though the IAF flew many more ground-attack sorties in a vulnerable air and ground environment”.

He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking that, “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF …the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it”.

Air Commodore Tufail’s book clearly demonstrates that there are at least two good reasons for writing war histories; lessons are learnt about the political sagacity underpinning employment of state military power, and militaries can test the validity of the Principles of War.

Sensible nations, therefore, ensure that history is not replaced by mythology. Like Kaiser Tufail, there is a whole new crop of young scholar-warriors emerging in India too, eager to record its rich military history.

But as long as our obdurate bureaucracy maintains the inexplicable ‘omerta’ vis-a-vis official records, this deplorable historical vacuum will persist.


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1962 War – The Sela Story …

Posted on February 5, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career |

Se La is now scheduled to have a tunnel like Zoji La in Kashmir and Rohtang in Himachal Pradesh.

The move is of immense strategic significance because Se La is what connects Tawang to the rest of Arunachal and also the road to Guwahati. China, as is known, has always laid claim to Tawang considering it as part of its larger Tibet.

Unlike the other two passes in the Western Himalayas, Se La has a place in history that few military veterans want to recall – but none dare forget. It was the fall of Se La that made it possible for the Chinese forces to steamroll into India in 1962 – easily India’s most humiliating defeat.

The Chinese Se La campaign in the second week of November 1962 mirrored the Chinese famod ‘Chosin Reservoir Battle’ against the advancing US II Corps during the Korean war. Not surprising because the campaign at Se La was carried out under the command of Zhang Guo Hua, a veteran of the Korean war.

The Chinese called it the ‘Counter Attack in Self Defence’. What happened was that on 6 October the Chinese Command decided on a large scale attack to severely punish India and the directive from Mao to PLA Chief of Staff Lou Ruiquing laid out the broad strategy – “The main assault is to be in the Eastern Sector but Chinese forces in the Western Sector would ‘coordinate’ with actions in the Eastern Sector.”

In the East, the Chinese forces, in the first few days of the war, attacked and captured Tawang and the Indian forces staggered back to Se La, resolved to defended it at all costs as it was gateway into India.

Indian defences had been organised across the 101 km long Se La – Dirang Zhong – Bomdi La axis. There were approximately 3,300 troops according to the Chinese estimate in Se La, as per a Chinese record.

There were another 1,500 troops in Dirang Dzong and about 2,200 in Bomdi La. The Chinese described the deployment as ‘Copper head, tail made of tin and a soft underbelly’. Se La was the ‘copper head’.

And so, the battle strategy – “Smash the head (Se La), cut-off the tail (Bomdi La), snap at the waist (Se La-Dirang Dzong road) and dissect the belly (Dirang Dzong).”

Hence China launched simultaneous attacks at each of the three points. The attack on Se La was carried out by the 55 Infantry division, with three infantry regiments supported by artillery. They were given the task of ‘smashing the head’.

Simultaneously, three more infantry regiments moved from the West, through a narrow corridor between Se La and the Indo-Bhutan border. They were to ‘assist’ in the capture of Se La, but move on from the western flank to Dirang Dzong – to accomplish their other task ie team up with the 11 Infantry division that was coming in from the East to ‘dissect the belly’ and capture Dirang Dzong.

Meanwhile, four infantry detachments from the Shanan Military Sub-district had bypassed Se La to ‘snap at the waist’. They were later joined by more forces from Se La.

Another group of the 11 Infantry division outflanked Dirang Dzong and captured the road leading to Bomdi La, thus ‘cutting off the tail’.

India’s 4 Infantry division, which had organized the defence, found itself split in three pockets – Se La, Dirang Dzong and Bomdi La. These pockets then came under attack almost simultaneously.

In November 1950, the US Marine division too had found itself split in three ‘isolated peremeters (Yudam-ni, Hagaru and Koto-ri)’. But the US had its air force to support the Marines, which annihilated Chinese troops, allowing the Marines an opportunity to extricate.

The IAF was not called in by the Indian Govt so while the Marines were able to ‘fight heir way through’, 4 Infantry division even found retreat difficult. Once the defences at Se La were broken and reinforcements could not be sent, Bomdi La fell without any great resistance.

By the time 4 Infantry division fell back to Tezpur, it had “ceased to exist as an effective fighting force”.

That signalled the end of the border war as by then, China offered a unilateral ceasefire and ordered withdrawal of its troops even though they had stormed their way into the defenceless Indian NE.

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Reality Check for India’s Defense Bravura …

Posted on February 2, 2018. Filed under: From a Services Career |

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