Hero of Assal Uttar

Lt Col Mukund Singh Jamwal (Retd)
During the 1965 war with Pakistan , battle of Assal Uttar was the most decisive where  enemy was handed over a crushing defeat. This is considered the largest tank battle after second world war with highest tank casualities in which Pakistan lost 97  American M 46 Patton tanks ,  considered the most  modren and highly sophisicated at that time.
Pakistan had planned to capture Khem Karan and then make a dash to river Beas , seize a bridge over the river and then turn north thus isolating nearly half of the Indian army in Punjab and J&K including Ladakh. Had they succeeded , the road to Delhi would then have opened for Pakistan and there may have been another battle of Panipat in the offing. Pakistan’s pride , the I Armoured Division reinforced with another Brigade was earmarked for this purpose and unknown to the Indian army  , lay hidden in the jungles of Kasur.
This is the story of Col Prabhu Singh Vir Chakra(Vr.C), son of the soil , who as a young Capt with only 3 years service  in 1965 played a stellar part in decimating the Pakistan juggernaut , their I Armoured Division and literally stopping it in its tracks.  He was born  in village Sochani of Samba District in the year 1939. Within a year after his birth his father Col Bhagwan Singh Jamwal who was commanding Ist J&K Mountain  Battery led his unit out of India to participate in second world war in the middle east theatre.  Col Prabhu Singh was thus brought up in a military atmosphere. Joining army was the only option that he had in his mind all through his growing years especially when his cousins and brothers also had exercised the same option. Col Prabhu Singh is the second of three brothers , the eldest being Major Dr.K Brahma Singh , a writer and military historian of repute who has written the Regimental history of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state forces now known as Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (JAK RIF) besides other books and numerous articles. The younger brother of Col Prabhu Singh was late Maj Gen Keshav Singh who was Chief of Staff of 3 corps when he was killed in helicopter crash while going for a border meeting with Mynmar army officials in 1997.
Commissioned  into 18 Rajputana Rifles (RAJ RIF), in Jun 1962 , the officer had his baptism to fire straightaway as his unit was engaged in active counter insurgency operations in the eastern sector. Soon , however , there was war with China where ill equipped and ill prepared Indian army under megalomaniac political leadership suffered an ignominious defeat which had filled  the entire army with rage. The Chinese declared ceasefire and withdrew to their predetermined positions. However , there were a lot many wounded Indian soldiers who had not been able to withdraw and were stranded or lost in agony in the 4 Corps sector.
Gen SHFJ Maneckshaw who took over 4 Corps from Gen kaul decided to send a large patrol party to find such stragglers and bring them back. Capt Prabhu Singh volunteered for this job and even when nobody was sure about the actual positions of Chinese troops his patrol party was able to bring back around 35 wounded and stranded soldiers to safety often venturing very close to the Chinese positions.
The origin of 1965 war is too well known and does not merit recapitulation. Suffice it to say that once Pakistan’s Op Gibralter failed , it launched Op Grand Slam which was aimed at capturing Akhnoor  and cut off J&K from rest of India. To relieve  pressure on Akhnoor , the Indian army decided to invest Lahore and launched offensive towards Sialkot as well as Lahore sectors.  18 RAJ RIF by then was part of 4 Mountain Division , which along with 7th and 15th Infantry Divisions was given the task of attacking Lahore. 4 Mountain Division was launched on the southern axis from Khem Karan to Kasur.
Before we proceed further , it would be in order to distinguish between units in a mountain and infantry diivisions. The main difference is in the weapons. Since in mountains the possibility of tank warfare is either remote or non existent , the units have nearly half the anti tank  capability as compared to the units of infantry division. For an infantry battalion in a mountain division , it is big handicap if it has to fight the tanks with lesser no of 106 mm RCL guns  capable of destroying the tanks.
As already stated , Pakistan’s Ist Armoured Division with American M46 Patto tanks was lying hidden in the jungles of Kasur. 4 Mountain Division , however , did not have the time for a proper reccee. Having reached the area on 4th and 5th  Sep , the attack on Kasur was launched on the 6th. Expecting to be opposed by a single infantry battalion , the attack launched by two brigades and a Regiment of Second world war vintage Sherman tanks found a Brigade reinforced with armour and entire Pak Ist Armd Div sitting in front. The Indian attack failed miserably. However  ,  on the southern flank , in the area of responsibility of  18 RAJ RIF , Capt Prabhu Singh assaulted and captured three Pak posts against stiff opposition. Capt Prabhu Singh and his men thus became isolated and were in danger of immediate counter attack by the superior Pak forces. He was therefore ordered to fall back and relocate to his unit alongwith his company.
In the face of imminent attack by Pak Armd Div , entire 4 Mtn Div was asked to fall back and take up defensive position at village Assal Uttar in a horse shoe shape. 18 RAJ RIF alongwith other units were diggging trenches and Capt Prabhu Singh was told to site his company’ defences. The land was soft and it was an uphill task to dig as the mud kept slipping and falling. There was , however , an unexplicable delay of one day on the part of PAK Armd Div in attacking , which gave Indians time to dig defences and also to flood the sugar cane fields. The attack came in full force on 9th Sep.
On the 18 RAJ RIF front , Capt Prabhu Singh’s position was under furious attack. The response was equally severe. His 106 mm RCL guns , mortars and other weapons were continously engaging Pak tanks and were destroying them. Pak tanks kept coming on relentlessly. They were coming over the trenches and then criss crossing them with tracks in order to crush those inside the trench and bury them. Capt Prabhu Singh and his men withstood this mighty onslaught with courage. Battle field noises were immense with artillery , tanks , RCL guns and  the infantry weapons all firing at the same time.
Gradually , the ammunition started depleting. At one stage somebody even spread the rumour that the entire Batallion had withdrawn but this had no effect on Capt Prabhu Singh and his men as withdrawal was the farthest from his mind.  He informed his Commanding Officer about the ammunition situation. The Commanding officer was not In a position to help much but he offered to provide artillery support. This was quite  dicy  because in the din of battle and in view of the close proximity of Indian and Pakistani troops , such support could have hit own troops also. However , the situation was desparate and Capt Prabhu Singh agreed to have artillery support without withdrawing even an inch from his defensive position.
The steadfastness of  Capt Prabhu Singh and his men so unnerved the Pakistanis that they started abandoning their tanks and running away even while leaving their engines running.The Pak attack on 18 RAJ RIF front thus ran out of steam due to the doggedness and heroic resistance offerred by Capt Prabhu Singh and his men and also due to the unbearable tank losses inflicted on them by this band of brave men. Pak Armd Div thereafter withdrew from this sector. The next day i.e. on 10th Sep they attacked the other brigade position where they received further beating at the hands of 4 Grenadiers when Company Quarter Master Havildar (CQMH) Abdul Hamid knocked out 4 Patton tank with his 106 mm RCL gun before he was killed in action. For his act of gallantry  he was awarded Param Vir Chakra.
In addition to the Infantry battalions , our Armd regiments with inferior Centurian , Sherman and AMX tanks played a stellar role in the battle of Assal Uttar. Because of shorter range of their guns as compared to guns of Patton tanks , the Indian tank commanders devised the art of holding their fire till the Pattons came well within their range thus causing havoc to Pak tanks. The water logged sugar canes fields added to the woes of Pak armour as many tanks got bogged down in the marshy land and became sitting ducks. Pakistani Artillery Brigade Commander was killed in Indian firing and although GOC Ist Pak Armd Div was also in the same jeep , he somehow escaped death. Ultimately Pak tank losses reached unacceptable level rendering their Armd Div unfit for war and that was the end of Pakistani dream of having tea at Red Fort Delhi.
Capt Prabhu Singh (now a retired Colonel) was awarded Vir Chakra (Vr.C) for exhibiting exceptional courage and bravery in the face of continous enemy onslaughts and contributing towards defeat of enemy’s famed Ist Armd Div , thus turning the tide of war in India’s favour.