'Unmatched War Record' - Western Command Celebrates 75 Years
History of military formations needs to cover major events and activities over a period of time. Some moments and achievements have special place in a formation's history. In the case of Western Command the more important period to recall is its participation in various operations starting from 1947-48 Kashmir War to the 1971 War.
During the 1947-48 Kashmir War it saved, just in nick of time, Srinagar airfield and the town from falling into the hands of Tribal hordes and the Pakistan army. Thereafter it drove them well beyond other parts of the Valley and beyond, including from Ladakh. While Western command was well on its way to retrieving the whole of J and K, India unfortunately sought a ceasefire and United Nations' intervention.
The I962 War against China, while there were many setbacks in the Eastern Sector, but on the Ladakh front Western Command successfully halted the Chinese offensive in the Chushul Sector. It gave the Chinese a bloody nose at Rezang La and brought its advance to halt at Gurung Hill.
However, the 1962 War, left the Indian Army badly mauled and somewhat demoralised. What followed was that, Indian Army's entire focus shifted to mountain warfare. This led to raising of mountain divisions and equipping these to the neglect of forces tasked and organised to fight battles in the plains sector against Pakistan.
We had yet not fully recovered from the trauma of the 1962 Ear when Pakistan decided to first grab Jammu and Kashmir through massive infiltration of Mujahideens, and Pakistan army personnel in civilian clothes. When that move by Pakistan was skillfully thwarted by Western Command, it mounted a major offensive across Manawar Tawi in the Akhnoor Sector of J&K. This did initially surprise Western Command, but then it rose to the challenge by first stalling this Pak offensive and then itself going over to the offensive.
Western Command's only option to relieve the pressure in Akhnoor Sector was to launch a counter-offensive in the plains of J&K and Punjab. The Indian 1 Armoured Division located in the Amritsar sector was sent to the Sambha-Jammu sector in complete secrecy, adding to the element of surprise.
But truth be told, the Indian Army was in no state for a war with Pakistan. There were serious disparities in the capabilities of the two armies. The Western Command's armoured formations and units, both in numbers and strength and equipment, were no match for Pakistan's two armoured divisions equipped with state of the art Patton tanks (500 in number).
To balance the two fronts (Punjab and Jammu) it was decided to leave one Centurian Regiment of Indian armoured division (3 Cavalry ) in the Punjab sector, and in a surprise move, sidestepped rest of the 1 Armoured Division from Amritsar sector to Jammu sector, achieving complete surprise.
In artillery too Pak had higher caliber guns with longer range. To meet the shortfall of infantry divisions, ( plains ) some mountain divisions had to be fielded, which were neither equipped nor trained in plains warfare.
Pakistan had 500 M47/28 Patton tanks, 110 Light M-24 Light Tanks, 75 M-36 Tank destroyers and up-gunned Sherman tanks, making a total of 18 armour regiments. On the Indian side there were a total of 16 armour regiments with only four regiments of Centurion tanks. The remaining tanks being Shermans, and PT-76.
Notwithstanding these serious disadvantages and shortcomings, Western Command rose to the occasion with aplomb and self-assurance. The overall war plan was well thought through and brilliantly executed.
Lt-Gen Harbaksh Singh, the GoC-in-C, of Western Command, a battle hardened officer with towering personality was often seen amongst the leading troops. His inspiring leadership infused troops with confidence and offensive spirit. His planning and conduct of war was flawless.
Tank formations and tank crews, notwithstanding their inferior equipment and lesser strength, rose to the occasion and brought about complete destruction of Pak armour and enemy's offensive potential. Indian armoured corps Junior leadership and skill of seasoned tank gunners, even while manning inferior tanks, got the better of state of the art Patton tanks.
Ajai Singh, a young officer, with his Centurion squadron, (Poona Horse) tearing through Pak defences, single handedly captured the key location of Phillora. Many other young officers did no less.
There were some worrisome moments during this war, but Western Command rode through these with confidence and self-assurance.
Some of the self appointed, defence experts tried to do-down Indian Army's (Western Command's ) performance in this war. One of them being Shekhar Gupta, then with the Indian Express, who tried to project Indian Army's (Western Command's ) performance in 1965 war in poor light. In an article, with the heading, 'What did you do in the war daddy,' he tried to do-down the army's (Western Command's) performance.
It may be recalled that this phrase, "What did you do in the war daddy," was used by Field Marshal Montgomery, while, after World War II. While addressing his officers, Montgomery said, "when you grow old and sit by the fireside, your children and grandchildren will ask you, 'what did you do in the war Daddy?' You will not have to give a long answer. Just say that you were with the 8thArmy."
In response to Shekhar Gupta, I wrote in my article that, 'son, when the war ended, Indian Army (Western Command ) had got the better of Pak army and was decidedly on top. Pakistan's army's offensive potential was completely destroyed and its tank fleet decimated: inferior equipment and mountain divisions made to join plains warfare. We were in addition occupation of large areas of Pak territory."
Since then a number of outstanding officers have been in command of Western Command. Each one of them, have in their own way, contributed in enhancing Command's assets, administration and war potential.
The 75th Anniversary of Western Command is a time to recall its unmatched war record ,and great achievements in a range of diverse fields. It is an event to celebrate, an occasion to raise a toast in its honour and a moment to recall its glorious record. Lucky are those who are now serving with this Formation and those who served in it the past.
Lt General Harwant Singh is retired from the Indian Army.