By : Commodore (Retd) Fasahat H Syed, SI (M)
The conduct of maritime operations by Pakistan Navy (PN) in the 1965 war is a story of grand success, a parallel of which is difficult to find in the annals of naval warfare. PN, notwithstanding its size, has always been in the forefront to ensure the maritime defense of our country.
The Raan of Kutch conflict preceded the 1965 War. It started in January 1965 when Indian patrols began probing forward, towards Pakistan. In March the Indians carried out a joint exercise “Arrow Head” with a brigade group supported by INS Vikrant, seven destroyers and frigates in the Gulf of Kutch operational area. In this exercise Indians practiced various types of naval operations, with particular emphasis on carrier based operations including anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, air strike and reconnaissance missions. Indian Navy was in a state of high preparedness before and during the Raan of Kutch conflict for providing morale, material and operational support to the Indian land forces. It was the sailing of PN Submarine Ghazi on operational patrol, which forced these Indian warships to sail out of the Gulf of Kutch thus abandoning their support to the Indian land forces during the Kutch conflict. They realised their operational limitations and the submarine threat to which their warships, particularly aircraft carrier Vikrant, were exposed. The Kutch conflict came to an end on June 30, when both Pakistan and India signed the cease-fire agreement. Here the first important lesson relating to material superiority in weapons and weapon systems emerged, which in principle is equally applicable even today.
PN maintained a state of high preparedness throughout the Kutch conflict and continued with it even afterwards. This was considered essential by PN, based on the appreciation of the prevailing geo-political ituation. In September 1965, the main difference in the operational preparedness of the Pakistan and Indian Navies was that the Indian Navy (IN) slackened its readiness after the ceasefire in the Kutch conflict; Vikrant and Delhi were placed under a long refit and the build of operational Indian Naval Forces sailed on a cruise of the cast coast of India. On the other hand, Pakistan Navy continued with the operational sea training and the visits to Karachi harbour were made only for essential repairs, maintenance etc. The stay at sea was utilised in conducting operational training and improving upon the professional efficiency. This emerges as the second important lesson relating to operational preparedness and achieving high standards of professional efficiency and excellence, which gave an upper edge to PN over the IN, as was proved subsequently during the 1965 War.
In September 1965, when the conflict in Kashmir intensified engulfing the two air forces as well in the battle, Pakistan Navy correctly appreciated the Indian intentions and on the 5th September Ghazi was ordered to shift patrol off Bombay and was authorised to sink heavy ships (INS Vikrant, Mysore and Delhi) on sight. It may be mentioned here that the best time to attack a ship is while it is leaving harbour. Once the ship is out at sea, it is like finding a needle in the haystack. This was specially so in 1965 due to technological limitations of both India and Pakistan in the field of maritime reconnaissance.
It is an amazing coincidence that PN Flotilla, which had entered harbour for the weekend, was supposed to leave harbour at 08:00 hours on 6th September and was to proceed to resume its war station. The only change which the Indian surprise attack on Lahore and Sialkhot caused was that the time of leaving harbour was advanced by about two hours. It is interesting to note that the naval forces of Pakistan were fully ready to meet the challenge as such the Indian sudden attack was no surprise for the PN. It reflects the professional excellence of the Pakistan Navy leadership which enabled them to understand the capabilities and intentions of the potential aggressor accurately through highly objective appreciations. This underscores the importance of leadership; professionally sound and good leadership will always lead to success. Therefore, the third lesson is the impact of good leadership, which was as much valid in the past as it today. In the present maritime perspective, due to technological advancement and an accelerated pace of continuous all round change, leadership is faced with even more precise and exacting demands.
The Indian naval force had significant superiority in numbers. Its superior edge was in having an aircraft carrier, two cruisers and nineteen other surface combatants as compared to eight surface combatants of PN including one cruiser. Seven out of these eight were fully operational during 65 war. However, PN had a cutting edge over IN having a submarine (Ghazi) and a logistics support ship (Dacca). The latter enabled PN ships to stay at sea continuously without the need of returning to harbour for refueling etc. Both these units proved a positive factor for PN in achieving the grand success in the Kutch Conflict as well as the 1965 war. IN neither possessed a submarine nor the capability to provide sustained logistics support to their ships at sea. Here the fourth lesson emerges pertaining to the dividend, which well conceived development planning during peacetime could render during war. Forward looking planning while deciding the acquisition of units, equipment and material is the cornerstone of success and victory in war. There are many examples in the developing countries where funds have been wasted on acquiring purposeless obsolescent units merely for petty self-oriented monetary gains. This lesson is an important one for all times.
In fact the Indian surprise attack on Lahore and Sialkot on 6th September was more of a surprise for their own Navy, as IN was ill prepared to join their land and air counterparts. INS Mysore, the cruiser, along with other ships was in Calcutta harbour when on 3rd September, it received the message to terminate the cruise and return to the Arabian Sea to join the war. The ships did return but the fear of Ghazi overwhelmingly cramped their minds and throughout the war they could not make effectively operational, the inherent mobility of the naval warships and the destructive power of the available weapons on their modern ships. It also shows lack of courage as IN ships were well equipped for countering an underwater threat but did not dare facing it with determination and boldness.
The fifth lesson is that the character qualities and personality of the commander will always play an important role in the final outcome of military operations. In fact battle is a process of dialectics or struggle between the wills of the two opposing commanders. The importance of this character quality is often ignored during long spells of peace, which needs to be guarded against.
Throughout the 1965 War, Pakistan Navy was dominating the Arabian Sea like its own lake but that was not enough to satisfy the urge of PN personnel, as they wanted to engage the Indian Navy in battle and teach them a lesson for attacking our country. The gallant sailors had achieved professional excellence and were impatiently waiting to engage the opposing forces. They were confident of their skills and qualitative superiority and wanted to prove their mettle in the dedicated defense of their motherland by engaging, with full faith in Allah, a numerically larger navy. Pakistan Navy on 6th September did not know the exact location of the Indian ships; and they were nowhere to be found despite intensive search spreading all over the Arabian Sea.
Naval Headquarters, appreciating the enthusiasm of the officers and sailors whose patience was now running out due to long waiting while the operations on Pakistani soil and air space were progressing, issued orders on 7 September to undertake bombardment of Dwarka at midnight of 7th and 8th September. NHQ decision was hailed onboard all ships, shouting slogans of “Allah-o-Akbar.” The spirit of being a “Ghazi” or a “Shaheed” was glowing in the eyes of all personnel. The silence and long wait was at last over. The decision provided an opportunity to punish the coward aggressor who had attacked the Pakistani soil without any declaration of war.
Dwarka, a town on the northern tip of Khatiawar coast was selected as the target for bombardment, keeping in view several operational objectives. One of these was to humiliate the aggressor so that IN may decide to come out of harbour and face PN at the sea. Pakistan’s Naval Task Group comprising seven ships namely Babur, Khaibar, Badr, Shahjahan, Alamgir, Jahangir and Tippu Sultan was to undertake bombardment between midnight and 0030 hours, each ship firing fifty rounds of the main armament which comprised a total of 27 guns of 5.25 inch, 4.5 inch and 4 inch caliber. In all, 350 rounds were to be fired in area bombardment on the town of Dwarka , which is about 210 nautical miles from Karachi. PN ships, which were spread all over the Arabian Sea, were ordered to rendezvous by 1800 hours on 7th September in position 120 nautical miles west of Dwarka. Based on NHQ general directive, detailed Operation Orders were prepared by COMPAK (Commander PN Flotilla) onboard his Flagship Babur on 7th September and passed on to each ship by “heaving line transfer” between 1800 and 2000 hours. This transfer took more time than usual as the weather had deteriorated and the sea had become slightly rough. After 1800 hours, ships continued their advance towards the Indian coast. By 2000 hours the task group was formed up in a combatant formation spread over an area of four and a half miles. The formation was now committed and ships were fully ready for battle and for countering any obstruction in the way of their objective. “Operation Somnath” had entered its final phase. The start position for bombardment, which is known as “Initial position (IP)” was selected south of Dwarka. Every moment after 1800 hours, PN ships were getting closer and closer to the Indian coast. By 2300 hours gallant ships of Pakistan Navy were only 30 miles away from the Indian coast. COMPAK had imposed complete radio silence which was to be broken only for reporting the detection of the opposing force or for other specified operational reasons. Selectively radars were also to operate under a periodical silence plan. The radio and radar silence policy was successfully maintained till the time when bombardment was commenced by transmitting the code word “Commence Operation Somnath.” It was a pitch dark night with overcast sky and a very low cloud base. The dense clouds were totally blocking the light of the moon and stars. In other words total surprise was achieved which is one of the basic principles of war. As it became known after the war, there were two modern IN ships Talwar and Trishul present in the vicinity but they never realized the looming threat as PN ships were totally darkened and were strictly observing a well planned radar and radio silence. The sixth lesson of Operation Somnath was that it always pays consciously plan for achieving a “surprise” which is also one of the fundamental principles of war.
Yet another principle of war which was strictly followed against all temptations was the “Selection and maintenance of the aim.” During transit to the IP, on more than two occasions surface contacts were detected at a distance which was not interfering with the execution of our assigned mission. Being radar contacts, it was not even clear if these are warships, merchant ships or big fishing trawlers. Therefore, observing the principle of war, it was decided not to deviate from the mission unless these contacts came close to a distance whereby they would become an obstacle in the way of accomplishment of the assigned mission. In that case the only option would have been to destroy them. Being in the Indian waters and in the final phase of operation, the situation indeed each time created a lot of heat and temptation to investigate these radar contacts. There was even difference of opinion which was firmly expressed, however, COMPAK finally and wisely decided not to mission. In these circumstances, to say the least, it was a difficult decision which was facilitated by observing the basic principle of war that once the aim has been selected, it must be maintained. The success of Operation Somnath proved the validity of this basic principle of war and its adherence paid the dividend.
At twelve minutes past midnight the speed of the formation which so far was advancing at 23 knots (nautical miles per hour) was reduced to 15 knots which was to be the speed during the bombardment; and six minutes later the course was finally altered to 320 degrees which was the bombardment course. The ships by now ere formed up in single column on a line running almost parallel to the lay of Khatiawar coast and heading towards Dwarka. At 24 minutes past midnight COMPAK ordered the naval force to “commence Operation Somnath.” Twenty seven quick firing guns of PN ships boomed in the air firing together a total of 350 shells on the Indian soil. At 0028 hours on 8th September the mission was accomplished! The ships during bombardment were about 3 to 4 mission was accomplished! The ships during bombardment were about 3 to 4 miles away from the coast and the bright flashes of the bursting shells could seen glaring in the dark night. The town of Dwarka was taken by complete surprise and suddenly woken up from their sleep which made the aggressors realize that they could not get away without being punished for waging an undeclared war on the sacred soil of Pakistan. By the time of Fajr Azaan PN Ships had returned without the slightest damage as “Ghazis” in their own waters and resumed their pre-assigned war stations.
PN Submarine also won its war trophy when on the last day of war, before the ceasefire, on 22nd September it sighted a group of Indian Navy ships. She decided to attack with four torpedoes one of these ships a frigate, which was closing her. The sound of two explosions was heard on her sonar. Thereafter she skillfully maneuvered and cleared the area while Indian Navy Alize (anti-submarine reconnaissance and attack aircraft) continued searching for her. The Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer were awarded Sitara-I-Juraat for their gallantry.
Three characteristics of the 1965 War are essential to note. First, the total support of the Pakistani public for their armed forces which was conspicuously visible in all fields of human activities. Secondly, immense inter-services cooperation among all the three armed services and the paramilitary forces. Thirdly, a superior strategic orientation in all aspects of warfare during peace time planning as well as in the conduct of operations. These three factors are essential in any war and in fact a prerequisite for success. The success in 1965 War reinforces the validity of these concepts as such these should be incorporated in our future national strategy. It is the professional duty of political leaders and military commanders to build on these concepts and consolidate these values during peacetime as their erosion is fatal to national survival.
The spirit of the 6th September symbolizes the “operational will” of the Pakistani nation against any hegemony. It proves that Pakistanis will be not be deterred by the size of the aggressor when defending the integrity of their land. They rely on “Providence” which blesses them with high morale, courage, and Divine help that finally leads them to success