Book Review – The Monsoon War
Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill and Captain Amarinder Singh’s book The Monsoon war is an encyclopedic work on 1965 India-Pakistan war. It is a detailed account of operations of all phases of 1965 war from the perspectives of junior officers. Authors have used extensive Indian material as well as Pakistani sources to provide a detailed picture of the conflict.
Book starts with the background of the conflict that culminated in open war in 1965. This is followed by details about the Run of Kutch conflict that was prelude to the war. Chapter five is especially a good read as it provides details of armor equipment of both armies and advantages and disadvantages. This helps the non-military reader to understand strengths and weaknesses of rival armies during the conflict. Authors provide details of some of the challenges faced by Indian army in the aftermath of Indo-China conflict of 1962. Rapid expansion of Indian army resulted in poorly armed and poorly trained formations. If Indian army was producing ‘nine months wonders’ for Indian army officer corps, Pakistan army was producing ‘pre-mature’ officers from Officers Training School with only eight months of training. In early 1960s, Pakistani officers were not happy with the pay as it had remained stagnant as well as lack of accommodations. When troops were used to construct accommodations, there was resentment among soldiers as they saw it below their dignity to work as laborers. Pakistani tanks had not carried out any tank firing for over two years as training ammunition provided by Americans was hoarded as ‘war reserve’. However, when war started majority of officers and soldiers on both sides fought to the best of their abilities.
Contrary to popular perceptions in Pakistan about Muslims of India, it is interesting to note that a number of Muslim soldiers and officers fought on Indian side. Lieutenant Colonel Salim Caleb (later Major General) was commanding 3rd Cavalry. 4th Grenadiers was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Farhat Bhatti (later Major General) and class composition of the battalion was A and B Jat, C Kaim Khani Muslim and D Dogra companies. GSO-3 of a division was Abdul Rasul Khan of 4th Grenadiers (later Colonel). Lieutenant Colonel Salim Chaudhri was CO of 4th Rajputana Rifles, Major A. K. Khan was 2IC of 8th Garhwal Rifles and B Squadron of 18th Cavalry was a Muslim squadron. Ironically, the platoon that ambushed Pakistani Brigadier A. R. Shami’s jeep in which he was killed was a Muslim platoon of 4th Grenadiers. Company Quartermaster Havaldar Abdul Hamid of 4th Grenadiers won a posthumous highest gallantry award Param Vir Chakra (PVC).
On page 108, it is suggested that change of command of 12th Division in the middle of operations from Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik to Major General Yahya Khan may be due to the fact that Malik was an Ahmadi (a heterodox sect of Muslims) and high command wanted to deny him the honor. The question of change of command has never been explained but sectarian factor was probably not the reason. Official ostracization and persecution of Ahmadis started much later in 1970s. At the time of 1965 war, disproportionately large number of Ahmadis was serving in all branches of armed forces. A number of Ahmadis were senior officers and many performed very well.
Book gives some insight into regimental intrigues. It is claimed that Corps Commander XV Corps Lieutenant General Katoch due to resentment over not being appointed Colonel of Sikh Regiment was responsible for not forwarding gallantry awards recommendations for 2nd Sikh Regiment. It is to the credit of Indian army as well as government that people were taken to the task for the acts of omission and commission. 161st Field Artillery Regiment serving under 10th Infantry Division abandoned its guns. Later, CO of the regiment was court martialled and GOC of 10th Division Major General B. D. Chopra was relieved of his command. GOC 15th Division Major General Niranjan Prasad was relieved of his command on September 07 and replaced by Major General Mohindar Singh. In fact irate Corps Commander XI Corps Lieutenant General Jogindar Singh Dhillon threatened Prasad with an immediate court martial in the field with the likelihood of being found guilty and shot. CO of 15th Dogra Lieutenant Colonel Indirjeet Singh was one step ahead of his retreating soldiers when panic struck the battalion. He first went straight to brigade headquarters and despite Brigade commander’s efforts raced all the way back to division headquarters. He was promptly placed under arrest, later court martialled, dismissed from service and given three year imprisonment sentence. CO of 13th Punjab was also removed from command. 48th Brigade Commander Brigadier K.J.S. Shahany was also relieved of his command and replaced by Brigadier Piara Singh. Pakistan army also penalized some officers but many were simply removed from the command and no detailed inquiries were conducted.
Book mentions role of some officers in 1965 war with amazing life experiences. Brigadier Anthony Albert ‘Tony’ Lumb was commander of 4th Armored Brigade of Pakistan army consisting of 5th Probyn’s Horse and 10th Frontier Force (FF). He was commissioned in 9th Royal Deccan Horse and this regiment was allotted to India in 1947. Tony opted for Pakistan army. In Khem Karan theatre, Tony was fighting against his old regiment Royal Deccan Horse of Indian army. In 1947 when Indian army was divided, Proby’s Horse and Deccan Horse had exchanged squadrons. In 1965, old Probyn’s squadron now carrying regimental color of Royal Deccan Horse was fighting against its own old regiment as Probyn’s Horse was part of 4th Armored Brigade. Tony was a Gallian; alumni of Lawrence College Ghora Gali. He migrated to Canada in 1967 where he died in 2013.
Major General Niranjan Prasad was commissioned in 4th Battalion of 12th Frontier Force Regiment (now 6 Frontier Force Regiment). This is parent battalion of current Pakistan army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Prasad was later seconded to Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) as Flight Lieutenant and fought Second World War with air force. He served with No: 1 Squadron commanded by K. K. Majumdar. Even in this capacity, he saved his battalion. 4/12 FFR was in Burma and during withdrawal towards Sittang and in the fog of war was strafed by RIAF planes. Prasad recognized the markings of his own battalion and helped in stopping the strafing by calling off further attacks. Later, he commanded No: 8 Squadron. Many other army officers also joined RIAF and never reverted back to army. Asghar Khan later became Air Marshal and C-in-C of Pakistan air force and Diwan Atma Ram Nanda retired as Air Vice Marshal in Indian air force. Prasad reverted back to army as he had problems with his commander. In 1962 Indo-China war, he was commanding 4th Division, was blamed for the disaster of 7th Brigade and sacked. A humiliated Prasad went to the airfield alone and not even a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) was sent to see him off. He petitioned the President against his sacking and was re-instated. 15th Division was raised in October 1964 and Prasad was appointed GOC. After the war games, his Corps Commander and Army Commander recommended his removal as he was found not fit to command. In a meeting with Chief of Army Staff (COAS), he was only given warning but not removed from the command. Chief gave the reason that Prasad had influence with higher authorities in Delhi and that they should ‘go easy on him’. Poor command cost Indian army dearly and a day after the start of the war Prasad was removed from the command. He had already written a representation against his sacking and Pakistanis got hold of it when his jeep was captured that contained his brief case.
Lieutenant (later Major) Shamshad Ahmed of 25th Cavalry of Pakistan army was the grandson of legendry Risaldar Major Anno Khan of 17th Poona Horse. Anno Khan decided to stay in India at the time of partition. His one son Yunus Khan also stayed in India, serving with 17th Poona Horse and retired as Risaldar. Anno’s other son Mehboob Khan had also served with 17th Horse and retired as Daffadar. In 1947, Mehboob decided to come to Pakistan. Mehboob’s son Shamshad Ahmad joined Pakistan army. In 1965 war, he was serving with 25th Cavalry of Pakistan army and his regiment fought against 17th Poona Horse; his family regiment. If Mehboob had decided to stay in India, it was very likely that his son Shamshad would have joined his family regiment and fighting against 25th Cavalry.
Indian and Pakistan armies are continuation of the Raj and they learned good sportsmanship from their British predecessors. They kept those traditions even during the war. In June 1965 during Run of Kutch operation Major Khusdil Khan Afridi (later Lieutenant General) of 8th Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan army was captured. Afridi was winner of sword of honor of 4th Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) course. He was captured by Major Venky Patel (later Lieutenant General) then serving as OP of 1 Mahar commanded by Lieutenant Colonel (later General) K. Sundarji. Famous Indian actor Raj Kapoor’s hit movie Sangam was the talk of the day and Afridi requested if he could see the movie. He was taken under military escort to Ahmadabad to a theatre to watch the movie and then flown to Delhi to enjoy the fond memory of the movie during his captivity. Two pictures reproduced below taken immediately after ceasefire reflects the professionalism on both sides. In one picture Major Hira Singh is embracing Major Shafqat Baloch for putting up such a good show. In second picture, Indian officers are posing with their arms around their Pakistani counterparts when they met after cease fire. I remember another incident in 1971 war when an Indian officer after accepting the surrender of Pakistani officers took them to the mess and ordered a round of drinks before sending them off to captivity.
Picture: 1. Major Hira Singh of Indian army embracing Major Shafqat Hussain Baloch of 17 Punjab of Pakistan army after cease fire for outstanding performance.
Figure: 2. Officers of 3 Jat of Indian army and 8 Baluch of Pakistan army meeting after ceasefire. Note Sikh Indian officer with his elbow on the shoulder of the Pakistani officer and Pakistani officer putting his arm around Indian officer.
On page 1 is mentioned that Iskander Mirza was a former Major General in the Pakistan army and then transferred to the political service. This statement is incorrect as Mirza never served in Pakistan army. He was the first Indian commissioned from Sandhurst in 1920. Mirza joined his parent 33rd Cavalry Regiment stationed at Jhansi in 1922 after serving a year with a British regiment. Around the same time reorganization of Indian army was under way and 33rd Cavalry and 34th Cavalry were in the process of amalgamation to form 17th Poona Horse. Mirza remained with his regiment for only four years and transferred to Indian Political Service (IPS) in August 1926. He was Captain when he resigned his commission. He became Secretary Defense in newly independent state of Pakistan. Later, he became Governor General and President of Pakistan. Mirza was given the honorary rank of Major General for protocol purposes.
On page 2 it is mentioned that Ayub Khan’s father Mir Dad Khan was Risaldar Major of Hodson Horse. Mir Dad retired as Risaldar and not Risaldar Major of 9th Hodson Horse. He was enlisted in 1887 and during Great War; he went to France with his regiment in October 1914. He was evacuated to India due to ill health in 1915. He served with the regimental depot and retired in August 1918. He was awarded Order of British India (OBI) for his long and meritorious service but no gallantry award. During war, regiment’s list of Risaldar Majors includes Mir Jafar Khan, Malik Khan Muhammad and Dost Muhammad Khan. Mir Dad’s lifelong best friend and regimental buddy was Risaldar Muhammad Akram Khan and this friendship extended to the next generation. Mir Dad’s son Filed Marshal Ayub Khan and Akram Khan’s son Lieutenant General Azam Khan (4/19 Hyderabad Regiment) were close friends but in the end got estranged when jealousies of power crept in the relationship. On Page 83 CRPF is described as Central Reserve Peace Keeping Force but it should be Central Reserve Police Force.
On page 108, it is mentioned that ‘Yahya Khan was a Shia and a Pathan, as was Musa Khan’. This is only partially true as both were Shia but not Pathans. Major General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan was Shia but Persian speaking Qazalbash from Peshawar while General Muhammad Musa Khan was a Shia but Persian speaking Hazara from Quetta. On page 233, it is mentioned that Lieutenant Khizar Ullah of 3 SP Field Artillery Regiment had won sword of honor at PMA Kakul. I have list of all sword of honor winners of PMA Kakul and didn’t find the above named officer. It may be a mistake.
Monsoon war is an excellent and very thorough work about the conflict. It is to the credit of both authors that despite close personal relationship with some senior officers, they have remained objective and critically evaluated the conduct of war by senior brass. This book should be on the shelves of every military institution of training and instruction of India and Pakistan. Three works are essential in the library of anyone who is interested in the history of 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. In addition to Monsoon war, the other two works are Lieutenant General ® Mahmud Ahmad’s and Major ® Agha H. Amin’s encyclopedic work on Indian-Pakistan war of 1965.
Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill and Captain Amarinder Singh. The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminiscence 1965 India-Pakistan War (New Delhi: Lustre Press Roli Books, 2015)
April 29, 2016
Defence Journal, May 2016.