22 September 2018

The Fateful Para-Commando Assault - 1965 War

In the wake of hostilities in Rann of Kutch, the PAF Air Headquarters decided to review its war plans, as the threat of a wider conflagration loomed. Though the PAF and the IAF C-in-Cs had tacitly agreed not to use their air forces in Kutch – which was a bizarre arrangement worked out over a phone call between the two pre-Partition squadron mates – the possibility of air operations in a future war was real.
The PAF C-in-C, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, toyed with the idea of launching a para-commando assault on some of the forward IAF airfields, in case war broke out. This desire was conveyed to GHQ in May 1965, and a series of meetings were held between representatives of the two services. Gp Capt Mukhtar Dogar, a former transport pilot posted as Director of Air Intelligence in AHQ, was tasked to liaise with Col Seyyed Ghaffar Mehdi, Commander Special Service Group (SSG). According to Col Mehdi, “nothing appreciable was achieved as the demands made by the PAF were clearly beyond the operational capability of our troops.”[1]  A formal presentation was made to the PAF C-in-C by Col Mehdi (alongside his GSO-2 Ops, Major Ehsan-ul-Haq Dar) in July at the Para Training School (PTS) in Peshawar, and the SSG’s point of view was explained. Two important points were highlighted[2]:
a)  A daring operation of this nature could only succeed if both the strategic and tactical surprise was with the attacker. The blow against the Indian bases, therefore, had to be struck as a first ever signal of war, the implication being that if the war had been going on for some time and enemy air base defences were in a state of alert, the chances of success of such commando operations using Second World War methods were remote.
b) An accurate and up-to-date analysis of the target, its characteristics, size, shape and dimensions of its defences, and peculiarities of the general environments in which the target existed, had to be provided to the SSG by PAF/GHQ.
Assuming that these two basic pre-requisites were met, the operational considerations for SSG’s employment were then spelt out by Col Mehdi:
a)   The operations would be mounted in the early hours of the night.
b)   Air missions (para-commandos) would be dropped on the target.
c)  Exfiltration would be either by landing an aircraft on the captured airfield, or by rendezvous with a helicopter, in view of the vast distances separating the targets from friendly forces.
The requirements for the operation were largely reasonable and well thought out, except for the matter of exfiltration of the para-commandos after the mission. Landing transport aircraft on an airfield that was expected to be on full alert after the attack was, in the least, a fanciful idea.  As for helicopters, neither Pak Army, nor the PAF had troop transport versions that could evacuate a large number of commandos from enemy territory.
By 22 July, Air Marshal Asghar Khan had retired after completing two four-year terms.  The new C-in-C, Air Vice Marshal Nur Khan (later Air Marshal), who had stayed out of the PAF for six years while on deputation as Managing Director PIA, had too many operational matters to catch up on. He, therefore, decided to go along with the para-commando assault mission as it shaped up. Not known for getting into minutiae, the C-in-C apparently left it to Gp Capt Dogar and Col Mehdi to sort out the nuts and bolts of the assault.  It so happened that Col Mehdi fell out with the Army C-in-C, General Muhammad Musa, for opposing the  utilisation of commandos  in insurgency and prolonged guerrilla warfare roles that were  central to the impending Operation ‘Gibraltar’[3]. On 31 August, he was replaced with one of the SSG battalion commanders, Lt Col Abdul Matin, as the officiating Commander of SSG. 
During the meetings between Gp Capt Dogar and Lt Col Matin, a sticking point was the number of airfields to be attacked, with the Army pleading a shortage of commandos due to their commitment in Operation ‘Gibraltar’.  Four airfields, viz Adampur, Ambala, Pathankot and Halwara were agreed upon, though a day before the attack, Ambala was cancelled.[4] Three teams, each of 60 commandos including three officers, were planned to be air-dropped by three C-130s. Each team was to have one wireless set so as to be able to keep the C-130s informed of their progress. Individual commandos were provided with two days’ rations (five meethi rotis each) and Rupees 400 in Indian currency, in addition to personal weapons, explosives, grenades, etc. 
Retrieval of the commandos after the mission was a tricky and dangerous affair, and a final decision was callously deferred. The options discussed included landing C-130s on the recently-attacked airfields to pluck the teams, and also for the teams to wend their way back on foot across enemy territory, with the farthest target being 60 miles from the nearest border.
Cobbling Up the Teams
In response to Operation ‘Gibraltar’, the Indians had captured Haji Pir Pass which provided easy access to Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir. On 1 September, Pakistan’s 12 Division frantically launched a riposte in Chamb Sector under the label of Operation ‘Grand Slam’.  With the lifeline to Srinagar threatened by imminent capture of the vital Akhnur Bridge, the Indian Prime Minister warned Pakistan in no uncertain terms that India would respond 'at a time and place of her choosing'.  After that stern message, the possibility of an Indian attack across the international border did not need any guessing.  Pakistan armed forces, thus, ordered a belated general mobilisation, all leave was cancelled, and those already on leave were recalled.
Those amongst the SSG airfield assault teams who were on leave rushed back, but it was discovered that as late as 6 September, there was still a personnel shortfall of 40%. In a last-minute cobbling effort, men from Group HQ, Unit HQ and rear companies were mustered to complete the required numbers. The motley teams had not conducted joint training, and some of the members did not even know each other, or their officers.  Many personnel had not done any refresher para drops during the last one year.  One team leader had not even completed his fifth and final training jump, while four volunteer staff officers, including one on low medical category (‘B’), were taken in desperately.[5]
The Pathankot team consisted of 64 personnel including three officers, viz Major Khalid Gulrez Butt, Capt Bunyad Hussain Syed and Capt Muhammad Azad.
The Adampur team consisted of 55 personnel including three officers, viz Capt Said Afzal Durrani, Capt Ghulam Ahmed Kabir and Capt Muhammad Ashraf.
The Halwara team consisted of 63 personnel including three officers, viz Capt Hasan Iftikhar, Capt Ghulam Ahmed and Capt Syed Hazoor Hasnain.
Now or Never
On 6 September at 0830 hours, the GSO-2 (Coord) at GHQ informed the officiating SSG Commander, Lt Col Matin that the Indian Army had attacked across the international border at Wagah, therefore the SSG 'Ibrahim' and 'Kamal' Companies should be kept ready on short notice. At 1030 hours, another phone call from GHQ ordered the immediate move of the two companies to Peshawar, where they were to be briefed in detail by PAF’s Gp Capt Dogar. Almost as an afterthought, the Officer Commanding of PTS was tasked by GHQ to prepare necessary equipment for the para drops.
At mid-day, Gp Capt Eric Hall (Station Commander Chaklala, and senior supervisor of C-130 operations),  Gp Capt Dogar and Lt Col Matin started a briefing session in Peshawar that lasted a full four hours.  Gp Capt Dogar announced that the three IAF airfields of Adampur, Halwara and Pathankot were to be attacked by para-commandos, with a time-on-target (TOT) of 2300 hours. At this, Lt Col Matin objected to the very short notice for the complex and difficult mission, and suggested that the mission be delayed by one day for better preparation. Gp Capt Dogar answered Matin’s suggestion with a curt ‘now or never’ reply.[6] It is uncertain whether Gp Capt Dogar had the C-in-C’s consent on this decision.
Both companies, which were still fumbling for important equipment like wire cutters and explosive detonator switches in Cherat, were ordered to reach Peshawar by 1600 hours for another briefing by Gp Capt Dogar and the C-130 aircrews. The briefing started at 1645 hours and the assault teams were briefed about their targets for the first time. They were told to destroy aircraft, radars, bomb dumps and air traffic control towers on the designated airfields. Details of recovery of the assault teams after the mission was accomplished, were confused and cursory.  The teams were told that on receipt of a ‘mission accomplished’ radio signal from the team leaders, the C-130s would land at the airfields, and the teams would be picked up.  Outlandish as the idea was, the team leaders rejected it, and decided to trudge back on foot.  
Each team was issued a set of two ¼” maps (scale: ¼” to a mile), and a picture of the respective airfield.  The maps were surveyed as far back as 1909, so these obviously did not show the Indo-Pak boundary line, and the terrain features, irrigation networks and population centres were drastically outdated. The airfield pictures were also old dating to 1958, and had few worthwhile details. With just a few hours remaining for boarding the aircraft, the teams hopelessly tried to make sense of the ‘intelligence info’ just received. The team leaders needed more time to explain the mission details to their men. At the PTS, there was mayhem as the riggers tried to complete the checks on 182 main and 182 emergency sets of parachutes in blacked-out conditions. With mission preparations far from complete, the TOT was delayed by an hour to 0000 hours.
At 2330 hours, it was learnt that Pathankot had been attacked earlier in the evening by PAF Sabres, and all air and ground defences had been alerted.[7] Lt Col Matin, therefore, suggested that the Pathankot drop should be called off, but it was not agreed to by Gp Capt Dogar.  Instead, it was summarily decided to carry out the air drops 3-4 miles away from the targets to avoid enemy AAA. Whether the PAF C-in-C was consulted on this matter remains moot.
Embarkation by the para-commando teams started at 0030 hours, and the three aircraft took off within the next fifteen minutes.  After flying at low level for up to one-and-a-half hour, the C-130s were over their respective targets and by 0235 hours, all drops had been completed. At 0400 hours, Gp Capt Dogar informed Lt Col Matin that, “the para drops were complete, and that the team leaders had unanimously rejected the plan for retrieval by C-130s and would be exfiltrating on their own, Insha’Allah.”[8]
Pathankot Drop
On the morning of 7 September at 0235 hours, 64 commandos designated for Pathankot airfield were dropped from the two side doors of the C-130 in two ‘sticks’[9] of 32 each, at an altitude of 1,000 feet.  On landing, the team leader, Major K G Butt, discovered that they had been dropped five miles south-west of the airfield, just next to a major canal which ran parallel to another one, 500 yards away.  Apparently the major waterway was the Upper Bari Doab Canal, while the minor one was a later distributary not marked on the old map. The first casualty of the Pathankot assault was the team’s wireless operator who parachuted straight into a canal, and drowned along with his equipment.  No contact could, thus, be established with Cherat, and the fate of the group members was known only after the POWs had been repatriated six months later.
Major Butt was able to regroup 25 of his men, and started heading east towards the airfield through boggy terrain. Immediately after crossing a bridge over the first canal, they encountered enemy troops.  Company Havaldar Major Abbas Ali, along with two of his mates, engaged the enemy so that the rest of the party could continue its advance.  In the ensuing firefight, Havaldar Major Abbas Ali and Lance Naik Muzaffar Khan were martyred, while Sepoy Shah Nawaz Khan was seriously wounded. (All three were awarded Tamgha-e-Jur’at).  Butt’s party was able to cross the second canal, and carefully negotiated the crop fields which had started to fill up with farmers for the day’s work. The airfield was now a mere 1,000 yards away.
The enemy troops were in close pursuit, and seeing that no sanctuary was available for cover at the crack of dawn, Major Butt decided to throw the enemy off their scent.  Skirting the airfield, the group scattered and headed north-east towards Kangra Hills. Assaulting the next night after a well-rested day in the safety of crags and ravines, was considered a more sensible option. While heading towards the hills not far from Chaki River, Capt Bunyad’s party encountered enemy fire. A firefight ensued, but when the party found itself out of ammunition and completely surrounded by enemy troops, it was left with no option but to surrender. Major Butt’s party was also encircled by enemy troops near Pathankot-Jalandhar Road, and after a courageous two-hour firefight, it also had to surrender. (Major Khalid Gulrez Butt was later awarded a Sitara-e-Jur’at.)
Seeing the mission headed nowhere, Capt Azad’s party decided to abort, and turned west to escape. The party was able to evade the enemy for four days, but was apprehended while crossing River Ravi just a few miles from the border. Only a party of fifteen men, led by Naib Subedar Muhammad Azam, was able to make it back to Pakistan from amongst the Pathankot group. Of the remaining men, 45 were captured (including six seriously wounded), and four were martyred.
Adampur Drop
At 0230 hours, 55 commandos designated for Adampur airfield were dropped by the C-130 in two sticks of 27 and 28, at an altitude of 1,000 feet. After landing, most of the commandos discovered that they had landed in the midst of a village, in the vicinity of fields with tall crops.  Barking of dogs gave away their presence immediately. While it took almost two hours to extract and regroup, the team leader Capt Durrani, managed to put together 49 men, and by 0415 hours they were ready to launch.
The airfield was about two miles away, but shortly after the group started to move, it was struck by the noise of jet engines, signalling that aircraft were starting up for the day’s missions.  By then it was first light, and soon the aircraft formations started to get airborne. Everyone ruefully wished that the para drops had occurred two hours earlier, so they could get on with the assault before daybreak. Capt Durrani decided to put off the operation for the following night, and broke up the group into smaller parties to hunker down for the day.
With an infantry company searching for the commandos, it was not long before they were completely surrounded by regular troops, police, armed villagers, and dogs.  Fierce fighting took place and there were many casualties. In view of the enemy becoming fully alert, it was decided to abort the mission and all survivors were told to escape in small teams. The three officers (Captains Durrani, Ashraf and Ghulam Ahmed) were able to evade search parties for the next four days, living on nothing more than raw corn cobs and sugar cane.  After covering a distance of fifty miles their luck ran out, and they were apprehended just 14 miles short of the border while crossing River Sutlej.  In all, 42 men were captured (including three seriously wounded), 12 were martyred, and only one managed to escape.
Halwara Drop
The drop of 63 commandos at Halwara was done in a single stick, due to the non-availability of a second jumpmaster on board the C-130. Just as at Adampur, the commandos landed in the midst of houses and fields with tall crops. Assembling the group was a problem, as no one was able to spot the signalman’s torchlight due to various high obstructions in the line of sight.  Search parties of regular troops, and police in armoured cars and jeeps were all over the place; at dawn, light aircraft also joined in the search from the air. Most of commandos could not make it to the airfield, and got scattered while trying to evade the enemy. A few small parties were able to ambush the enemy’s troops from Punjab Armed Police, and muleteers from the animal transport company in Ludhiana, that had been hastily mustered. One commando party managed to blow up a bridge. Subedar Allah Ditta managed to lead his team almost to the boundary of the airfield, but was surrounded by the enemy and a tough firefight ensued before the group ran out of ammunition; he was later awarded the Sitara-e-Jur'at for his brave leadership. In another encounter, Lance Naik Mukhtar Ahmed fought till the end when surrounded by one of the hunting parties. He was posthumously awarded the Tamgha-e-Jur'at.
Capt Hazoor Hasnain was able to regroup a team of six men, and headed for the airfield from where jet noise could be heard.  Reaching the fourteen feet high airfield perimeter fence, they discovered to their dismay that  the tightly woven wires could not be cut, as none of them had been issued with wire-cutters. After a while, a PAF bomber flew overhead and discharged its bomb load on the runway. (It later transpired that this B-57 was flown by Flt Lt Yusuf H Alvi.) The enemy AAA opened up and the sky was lit all around. The air base was now fully alert, and it was daybreak.  Hasnain decided to call off the mission, and the party of six prepared to escape.
Not long after they set course, Capt Hasnain’s party was surrounded by scores of highly charged villagers, but the audacious commandos managed to defy them.  Later, on several occasions they were spotted by search parties, but incredibly, they were able to give them the slip each time. After covering a circuitous route of 50 miles on foot – travelling at night and resting in the fields during day – they came upon an Army jeep which they were able to commandeer, and drove the remaining 50 miles to the Pakistani border, south of Kanganpur.  Soon after they arrived at the Indian border check-post of Fattuwala for an ID check, their cover of ‘Indian commandos going on a mission to Pakistan’ was blown, but they were able to scamper away.  The next thing they heard was a loud blast and saw their jeep rocketed to bits by the irate check-post guards, who thought it was still occupied.  Once on the Pakistani side, they were accosted by a Pathan soldier at the check-post, “Olaka, tau sokay?” (Hey there, who are you?)  Capt Hasnain declared that they were ‘Pakistani commandos coming back from a mission in India’. The guard commander, instantly ordered his men to hold fire, and welcomed the weary troops to their motherland. Capt Hasnain was later awarded a Sitara-e-Jur’at.  Besides Hasnain’s party of six which escaped, 53 men were captured (including four seriously injured), and four were martyred.
Ambala Drop That Never Was
On 16 September, in the midst of a fierce war, HQ SSG received a flash message from GHQ ordering 'Ghazi' Company to undertake a para-commando assault against Ambala airfield, the same night. It was a baffling order, not only because the company had returned after operations in Kashmir just two days ago, but none of them had been trained for assault on an enemy airfield. Besides, the commandos had no experience of night jumps and had only done their basic para course; they were also in need of a refresher.
Pursuant to the GHQ order, Lt Col Ayub Afridi (Officer Commanding, 2 Commando Battalion), Major Naeem Shaikh (Company Commander, 'Ghazi' Company) and Major Ehsan-ul-Haq Dar (GSO-2 Ops), reached the Para Training School at 1100 hours for a coordination meeting with the PAF representative.  Gp Capt Mukhtar Dogar arrived at 1500 hours, and straightaway went in for the briefing.  He started by lauding the successful assault on the Indian airfields, “which had been completely destroyed by the SSG officers and men.”[10]  A surprised Major Naeem questioned Gp Capt Dogar if the PAF had the means to differentiate between damage caused by aerial bombing and ground action. When Gp Capt Dogar was unable to give a satisfactory reply, he was informed that for the last nine days, not even a beep had been heard from any of the wireless sets that the commando teams carried with them. BBC and All India Radio had reported that most of the commandos had been captured, and were POWs. In short, the mission that Gp Capt Dogar was lauding had actually been a complete disaster.
Moving to the upcoming Ambala assault, Gp Capt Dogar showed his audience an old photograph of Ambala airfield. Major Naeem objected to the obsolete photograph and demanded latest ones, with aircraft shelters and airfield defences properly marked. He also demanded photographs of at least two nearby drop zones. He then reminded Gp Capt Dogar that his men had not done a refresher para course, and also needed to carry out night jumps and learn group assembly techniques in darkness. These, Naeem insisted, were the minimum requirements to undertake the assault.
Irritated, Gp Capt Dogar remarked if that was the case, the task would require three months to complete. An equally exasperated Naeem replied that the task should then be postponed for three months. “Are you telling me that the mission cannot be launched tonight?” Gp Capt Dogar questioned Naeem.[11]  Naeem caustically replied that if the commandos were ordered to sit in the aircraft and launch, it would be done, but the mission success could not be guaranteed.  With this, the briefing was called off and while departing, Gp Capt Dogar said that he would check with GHQ if the mission was on for the night.
The same evening, 'Ghazi' Company learnt that in view of Major Naeem’s reservations, the Pak Army C-in-C had agreed to call off the mission, much to the consternation of the PAF high command.  It was no less embarrassing for the GHQ to have acceded to PAF’s request to start with, when the failure of the earlier missions was well known.
Some Professional Perspectives on the Operation
Brig Zahir Alam Khan, a former SSG battalion commander states in his book, The Way it Was, “The Headquarters SSG had carried out no preliminary planning for these operations, no intelligence had been gathered, no maps and air photos had been collected, and no troops had been earmarked and trained. Lt Col Matin, Punjab Regiment, who had not served in the SSG but had been selected as a SSG battalion commander by Col S G Mehdi, was the officiating commander of the SSG on 6 September. The orders came without any warning, and caught the SSG without any plans and troops earmarked for the operation. The officiating SSG commander, and the GSO-2 (Operations), Major Dar, Punjab Regiment, later Major General, who had also not served with the SSG but was made responsible for operational planning and supervision of the launching of operations.” In a scathing final comment, Brig Zahir Alam goes on to say, “The whole operation was a disaster due to bad planning, bad launching of operation, and above all, the lack of moral courage to refuse a badly organised operation.” [12]
Brig Shamim Yasin Manto, was a former GSO-2 (Ops) at SSG HQ, and President of the Court of Inquiry constituted for debriefing the repatriated para-commando POWs. He was of the opinion that GHQ must equally share the blame for the fiasco, alongside the SSG officers, viz Col Mehdi, Lt Col Matin and Major Dar. He also believed that despite a four-month prior notification, the mission details were provided only a few hours before the actual launch, hence the preparations were shoddy.  Secrecy had been stretched to such an extent that instead of surprising the enemy, own troops stood stunned. As for Col Mehdi’s role, Brig Manto thought that he failed to properly liaise and coordinate with AHQ regarding the mission.  Another observation of Brig Manto was that there was no oversight of the preparations and training of personnel by a higher authority (in case of the SSG, it was the Chief of General Staff); this was unlike other subordinate formations which were under constant scrutiny of Corps and Divisional Commanders. Brig Manto addressed another significant operational aspect that was found wanting. This was the need for ‘pathfinders’ who should have been para-dropped or infiltrated a night or two prior, to radio back suitable drop zones near the three airfields, and away from population centres.  Finally, he felt that if there had been a bold SSG Commander, he would have refused to undertake a mission that was practically ordered at a twelve-hour notice, with no preparation and with perfunctory target details.[13]
The late Air Cdre M Zafar Masud, former Station Commander Sargodha, and the 'ghost' author of The Story of the Pakistan Air Force – A Saga of Courage and Honour, summed up the operation as follows: “Thus ended an operation which on the face of it was an unmitigated disaster.  Certainly the cost in lives of the heroic para-commandos, who embarked on their perilous mission with a memorably cheerful calm was difficult to justify.”[14]
Air Cdre Sajad Haider, mission leader of the famous Pathankot attack by Sabres, writes in his book, Flight of the Falcon, “The plan was somewhat utopian and proved to be a tragic failure, essentially because the premise and pre-requisites set forth for the mission’s success were totally missing.” Forthright as he is, Air Cdre Haider goes on to write: “There was clear reason to call it off. This was a horrific blunder by the PAF high command.”[15]
The late Maj Gen Faisal Alvi, a former GOC SSG, was more charitable towards his outfit regarding the failed para drop operation. “The airfield drop was PAF’s plan and the Army simply went along with it. It should be remembered that at that time the SSG was a nascent and inexperienced organisation.  In such circumstances, it was not unusual for strong motivation and intense enthusiasm to have taken the better of good sense.”[16]
The late British military writer John Fricker, author of Battle for Pakistan – The Air War of 1965 writes, “It is difficult, in fact, to avoid the conclusion that the air assault raids were nothing less than suicide missions, but in the mood then prevailing in Pakistan, most fighting men considered their own lives of secondary importance to the need for national survival.” Fricker does not mince his words when he says that the operation was an unmitigated disaster. It was, “ill-conceived, ill-planned, badly executed and based on faulty intelligence.”[17]
The para-commando assault on airfields was, in all likelihood, originally conceived as a contingency operation.  It was to be carried out in case the small PAF was constrained from attacking IAF airfields with combat aircraft, due to limited air effort at the outset of war. Apparently, as discussions between representatives of AHQ and GHQ progressed, the commando operation morphed into an opening gambit of major proportions, to be conducted soon after PAF’s pre-emptive air strikes. In this latter arrangement, the para-commando assault made no sense, since PAF’s air strikes promised to be far more effective, could deliver vastly more firepower, and were less risky in terms of human lives. When the PAF’s air strikes by Sabres did take place on the evening of 6 September, the element of surprise for the upcoming para assault had been snuffed, and its success was foreclosed there and then.
As far as the mission objectives are concerned, it seems that there was muddled thinking at the AHQ about utilization of the commandos, and it ended up employing them disastrously for mopping up PAF's air strikes earlier in the evening. If the para-assault was indeed meant to augment PAF's limited flying effort available for airfield strikes, a more profitable – and less risky – option would have been to earmark the nearby Pathankot for the commandos, while the PAF tackled the relatively distant Adampur and Halwara with its Sabres.  In the event, the PAF ran out of air effort, and was able to put up just three aircraft each for these two airfields against the planned package of eight each, resulting in complete mission failures. It can be said, albeit in hindsight, that the shortfall of ten aircraft would not have existed, if those aircraft earmarked for Pathankot had been originally reserved for the other two airfields.
The AHQ had also left a number of issues unresolved during the planning stage.  For instance, the idea of exfiltration of commandos by C-130s landing on the just assaulted airfields defied common sense, but either the PAF C-in-C remained unaware of this plan, or had rashly approved it. Similarly AHQ, which should have known better about air intelligence matters, failed to inform GHQ about its stock of outdated maps and airfield photographs in advance, so that the latter could have tapped its own resources, if any.  Finally, AHQ should have notified GHQ at an early stage – at least by 1 September, when Operation ‘Grand Slam’ was launched and retaliation by India expected – that warning for the impending para-commando assault was not going to be more than 24 hours.  That would have kept the SSG commanders on their toes, and would not have caught them by surprise, as it happened.  

At GHQ, the Chief of General Staff (Maj Gen Malik Sher Bahadur), to whom the SSG reported in the chain of command, was too busy in preparations and supervision of Operations ‘Gibraltar’ and ‘Grand Slam’.  It appears that the para-commando operation got relegated in importance and – for want of milder words – was subjected to gross negligence in the preparatory stage.  It is particularly deplorable that least attention had been paid to the most critical phases of the operation, viz infiltration and exfiltration.  It seems that nobody at GHQ thought that the mission would actually have to be executed one day. 

Evidently, the matter regarding secrecy of the mission had been taken to ludicrous limits by both service headquarters, and it had harmfully impinged on the preparations for the very dangerous and demanding mission. The only saving grace of the fateful assault was that the fearless commandos, whose lives were at stake, took the orders in a do-or-die spirit that had infused this impossible undertaking on the first day of war.

[Consolidated losses from a total of 182 commandos were: 140 captured (including 13 seriously wounded), 20 martyred and 22 escaped.]

[1] Politics of Surrender and the Conspiracy of Silence; page 25.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Operation ‘Gibraltar’ was aimed at stoking an insurgency in Kashmir with the help of infiltrated irregular forces supported and directed by SSG personnel.
[4] SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein claims that initially Chandigarh airfield was also proposed to be attacked, but the PAF cancelled this target at an early stage of discussions; page 125.
[5] Ibid, pages 126, 127.
[6] Ibid, page 128.
[7] Halwara had also been attacked by PAF Sabres in the evening, but this was not disclosed for some reason.
[8] SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein; page 129.
[9] In para drop parlance, a ‘stick’ is a group of paratroopers dropped over a point on the ground in quick succession.
[10] SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein; page 142.
[11] Ibid, page 143.
[12] The Way it Was; pages 163, 164.
[13] Brig Manto’s views abridged from SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein, pages 137-141.
[14] The Story of Pakistan Air Force – A Saga of Courage and Honour; page 375.
[15] Flight of the Falcon; pages, 157, 158.
[16] Maj Gen Alvi’s views from SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein; page 332.
[17] Battle for Pakistan – The Air War of 1965; pages 107, 108.

1.  Fricker, John; Battle for Pakistan – The Air War of 1965, Ian Allen Ltd, London, 1979.
2.  Haider, S Sajad; Flight of the Falcon, Vanguard Books (Pvt) Ltd, Lahore, 2009.
3.  Khan, Lt Col Ghulam Jilani; SSG Tareekh ke Ainay Mein, SSG HQ, 2004.
4.  Khan, Brig Z A; The Way it Was, Dynavis (Pvt) Ltd, Karachi, 1998.
5.  Mehdi, Seyyed Ghaffar; Politics of Surrender and the Conspiracy of Silence,  Crescent International Newspapers Inc, Markham, OT, Canada, 2001
6.  The Story of Pakistan Air Force – A Saga of Courage and Honour, Shaheen Foundation, Islamabad, 1998


This article was published in 'Defence Journal' April 2019 issue.


Hamid said...

One finds it difficult to believe the lack of professionalism and sanity in the planning and launch of these missions. I wonder if we have learnt our lessons!

Maverick said...

What an a thrilling narration sir....we should also have the courage to admit our failings...we lost so many good men.....by reading the details, I am somehow convinced that the commandoes had lost surprise.....for what reason or just by sheer bad luck....I can't comment on that ....but surely lot of people did not do there proper home work.... sir could you shed some light on what happened to the ones that were pow.....how many did come back ….how many served full terms etc.....thanks for invaluable insight on a very important historical fact of 65 war …..yet most of us did not know about it....

Anonymous said...

Kaiser, you've done it again. Lucid, honest and incisive. Bravo, brother...


Unknown said...

One must appreciate the devotion and dedication of brave Commandoes who went to an alien land with no info/equipment and poor planning but went down in dark hours for the bright future of their next generation . we are proud of our brave sons of soil.mun janbazam.

Hamid said...

It is not for us to question why, but to do and die. Such is the code of soldiers. I agree with Zaka Naeem.

Anonymous said...

Fits in largely with the numbers produced by this article on the same incident in theprint.in, which says 22 killed and 138 captured .Of course ignore the slightly brash headline.Plan was actually pretty good, after that everything else wasn't.


Fariha wajid said...

Absolutely involved in reading the details .....one I guess cannot say it was I’ll planned when the country is at war ...everyone is playing their part to its best .....salute to all the soldiers who were part of this mission .

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Unknown said...

Fully Agreed what is shocking is AM Asghar Khan conceived it ? All others showed total lack of professionalism and sacrificed such brave soldier.

Unknown said...

Great write up Kaiser

Zahid said...

Major Khalid Gulzar Butt passed away 2 years ago in Lahore. He was a family friend and would sometimes humorously entertain us kids with some small detail of the mission. I do not recall him ever blaming anyone, but being just matter-of-fact about making the jump, evading enemy, & getting captured. His toe nails were disfigured after having been pulled off, though.

One story is that of a para-commando landing in a village while people slept. To the extreme misfortune of a sleeping woman, the commando landed on her charpoy and she died. The said commando was able to regroup with the rest of the party. Major K. G. Butt related that he said "Sir you have taught us to land in fields & water, but never on sleeping women".

Mohsin E. said...

Please write a more general account of 1965 as well.