“In spite of tremendous stress, he was cool and calm and set an example to his subordinates by his own work and conduct. His advice was mature, well-considered and expressed without fear or favour.”
What does a high practitioner of the military art and sciences, a successful commander and trainer of men, and an outstanding General Staff Officer find in his 32 years of service and two wars? First, that political guidance and military strategic thinking is virtually absent in our affairs of the state. Higher direction of war is well below the poverty line. He proves it.
As COS HQ Western Command to three successive GOC-in-Cs he autopsies the 1965 war as the main example of this poverty. Startlingly he shows that when the war was joined, a fair proportion of field commanders who failed had already been found wanting in the Eastern theatre in 1962. Higher direction was tentative and ad-hoc at Army HQ level. At the theatre level, forward command was being exercised by the theatre commander at battalion levels, unable and unwilling to read the big picture and acting on wide open operational possibilities being presented on a plate by the enemy.
The indictment is particularly heavy when one reads that every action of the enemy was anticipated from 1955-56 onwards at one level or the other. Nobody acted.
This book lays to rest many operational ghosts of 1965.
After serving a few years in the 5th Battalion the 14th Punjab Regiment (the Forty Thieves) on the Y cadet scheme the author was commissioned into the ¼ Punjab Regt in 1937. He cut his operational teeth in the NWFP where he developed a healthy respect for the mountainous terrain. He attended the 1945 Army Staff Course in Quetta and thereafter went into a series of staff appointments in the transition phase to independence and setting the fortunes of a National Army at Army HQ. Here he found that the First Secretary, Ministry of Defence, HM Patel, was not amenable to common sense but coercion. In 1950 he took over the 7th Battalion, the PUNJAB Regiment, then in the dumps. He whipped the unit back into a first class outfit. Thereafter, he taught the senior command course in the Infantry School. On taking over command of the 80 Infantry Brigade in Naoshehra he was astonished to observe that nobody had cared to defend his left flank – the plains of Chhamb. (That it remained inadequately defended in 1965 did not surprise him.)
He oversaw the 1962 Ladakh effort as BGS XV Corps before moving on to HQ Western Command. Promoted to Major General he was retained as COS to three successive GOC-in-Cs. In between he went out to command 5 Infantry Division which along with the rest of the Army was severely under-trained, it having also built houses like its sister formation 4 Infantry Division in Ambala.
In August 1965 when war broke out with a massive attack by infiltrators, the birds came home to roost. Every move the enemy made had been validated by war-games and exercises as attended by the same men who were now presiding over higher direction. Yet they would not act. He thus had to be a hyperactive COS attempting to get a pacific GOC-in-C to mind the whole house. He retired from service in 1967 having had his war citation for distinguished service of the highest order drafted personally by a grateful COAS.
Author: Maj Gen (Retd) JOGINDAR SINGH, VSM (Class I)