We start 2018 with a post from Brig. Suresh C. Sharma who brings us a few lesser known war time incidents, some astonishing and amusing war stories. Such happenings are neither published nor recorded anywhere but, we guess, are talked about among the military pals and, at times, find place in the reminiscences of our real heroes. The column on “Military Musings” is Freedom First‘s salute to our real heroes and their spirit.
Operation Vijay (1961) – Liberation of Goa
On 19th December 1961, Admiral B. S. Soman took his barge to the jetty at Marmagoa to witness the surrender ceremony of the Indian territory of Goa which was under Portuguese rule for more than four centuries. However, he was stopped by the sentry who pointed a rifle at him and asked for the password. Unfortunately, neither the Admiral nor his staff knew the password. The sentry remained unmoved even when told that the Admiral was on board. The Admiral’s staff officer called a JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer). To the Admiral’s utter surprise the JCO said “Navy will be allowed only on D-Day Plus 2. Cannot allow anyone without the password.” Alas, the Admiral decided to come the next day.
D-Day, a military term, is the day on which the combat attack or operation is initiated, and Plus 2 means two days after the specific action. The Liberation of Goa initiated by the Indian Army on 18th December 1961 was over within 36 hours. The territories of Daman and Diu were also freed from Portuguese rule.
Indo-Pak War 1965 – Operation Gibraltar
The Pakistan Army was overconfident as it was receiving huge arms aid from the USA. It also believed in the slogan – ‘One Pakistani soldier equals ten Indian soldiers’. This view got further strengthened on account of the poor performance of the Indian Army in the 1962 war against China and the reluctance of the Indian Army to escalate the conflict in Kutch.
During the Commonwealth Conference in UK, the then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan told Lal Bahadur Shastri that they got the better of the Indian Army in Kutch. Shastri remarked that as a military man Ayub should well appreciate that India declined to participate in a conflict where the location was unfavourable.
The success of a few revolutionary movements in Vietnam and other sites led to a dream of similar victory in Kashmir. There was also an apprehension of increased military strength of India due to aid by USA after 1962. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Pakistan’s Foreign Minister then, thought that 1965 was the best opportunity for liberation of Kashmir and started working towards that goal. He approached Gen. Shahid Aziz to put in a word with Ayub to attack India. Gen. Shahid who was close to Ayub replied “Zulfi, have you ever heard a shot fired in anger? In a war there are no victors or vanquished. Everyone suffers.”
Aziz Ahmed, Foreign Secretary (and later Defence Secretary) was a member of the Kashmir Cell. A few military and civil officers often met at the house of Mrs. Ahmed’s brother in Rawalpindi when Islamabad was still under construction. Bhutto tried to sell the idea of liberation of Kashmir at these meetings. Gen. Muhammad Musa, Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan complained to Ayub that Bhutto was trying to brainwash his officers.
In one of the meetings, a civil servant remarked that the Pakistan Army had done nothing towards the creation of Pakistan or liberation of Kashmir. Major-General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 12th Infantry Division, retorted that he had a plan ready and outlined the operation for induction of militants into Kashmir. Aziz Ahmed conveyed this to Bhutto who felt it was a God sent plan.
At first, Ayub did not approve the plan. Ayub was a Tareen (a tribe of Western Afghans also known as Pashtuns or Pathans) who had migrated from Kandahar during Ahmed Shah Abdali’s rule. A whisper campaign reached Ayub’s ears that being a Tareen, he did not have the courage for a conflict. A slur on his reputation thus, won Ayub over and Operation Gibraltar was launched. Five thousand soldiers dressed in civilian clothes were infiltrated into Kashmir. However, they were ill-prepared, could be easily identified as non-Kashmiris and lacked knowledge of the local language. Moreover, their expectation from the local population was fallacious. They presumed that everyone whom they approach would be anti-Indian and pro-Pakistan. They were unfamiliar with the metric system of India and could easily be identified as foreigners when they tried to purchase any item with the Indian currency supplied to them. They were given away by two local shepherds. Much later, Pakistani Major-General Syed Ali Hamid, who was then a young boy of fifteen, recalls these soldiers in green shalwar and kameez marching past.
A firm believer in the “one is to ten soldiers” theory, Ayub wrote in his directive that “As a general rule, the Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows delivered at the right time and place.” It was perhaps a combination of overconfidence and reluctance to face the reality that Ayub went off on a vacation for a couple of days and was unavailable to put his stamp of approval for the attack in Akhnoor sector (Jammu District) for two days, thus giving time to India to rush in its troops. The Indian Army reacted by crossing the Cease Fire Line and occupying Haji Pir Pass and Kargil Heights. The militants retreated to Pakistan.
Surprisingly, even as late as 27th August, Ayub did not know that Operation Gibraltar initiated in early August 1965 had failed. Gen. Musa continued to feed Ayub with information that everything is on course, some setbacks notwithstanding.
None of the Operation’s objectives were achieved and the Indian troops were in a commanding position with Muzaffarabad within their reach.
Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.) is a freelance writer and has been a regular contributor to Freedom First and FF Digital. He has also been advisor to the telecom industry.
FF Digital’s column on “Military Musings” is open to all readers and especially to our friends from the armed forces (retired or still serving) to share with us their experiences and encounters to help the commoner get a better feel of the reality of belonging to the army, navy and air force. You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions on other subjects are also welcome.