The Last Battle of Lahore
If you happen to be a fan of Pakistani film star and comedian Munawar Zarif, you may be aware that he rests in Lahore’s Bibi Pak Daman graveyard. While at the graveyard having paid due respect to our film star of yesteryears, if one roams around the not very neatly laid out graves, a prominent gravestone attracts your attention. Maj Ziauddin Uppal of 30 Heavy Regiment sleeps here. The headstone on officer’s grave tells us that our Artillery Observer had embraced Shahadat on 17 Sep 1965 at Wagah. Now if we get a bit precise on location it wasn’t Wagah but Dograi. Dograi, a village across the far bank of Bambanwala Ravi Bedian Link (BRBL Canal), that having been lost to Indian 3 Jat on the first day of September War, was recaptured by ‘Qayyum’s valiant men.
Having defended BRBL on 6 September, Pakistan’s 10 Infantry Division now decided to try their luck in attacking. 22 Brigade under their courageous commander, Brigadier Qayyum Sher launched a counter attack on 8th September. In the words of Major General Shoukat Riza, “Brigadier Qayyum Sher in his command jeep, moved unit to unit and then personally led the advance, star plate and pennant visible. This was something no troops worth their salt could ignore”
On the morning of 8 Sep after squadrons of 23 Cavalry engaged in a light tank skirmish, 18 Baloch took almost deserted Dograi with ease. After the replenishment and relief in line, by midday September 10 Dograi defences were in shape. Two Companies of 16 Punjab in the forward defended localities (FDLs) and a company each from 8 Punjab and 12 Punjab in depth, duly supported by Bravo Squadron 23 Cavalry. Here’s a map animation of 22 Brigade’s attack and shaping up of defences around Dograi.
Defenders of Dograi
It was during defensive phase at Dograi that on night 17/18 September we lost our Major Uppal of Bibi Pak Daman Graveyard to Indian artillery shelling. A day before Major Uppal, Lieutenant Iftikhar of 23 Cavalry succumbed to artillery shelling and embraced shahadat. The attrition caused by artillery and air onto the Dograi defenders was putting them in a disadvantage both in terms of number and equipment, particularly the unit in FDLs, our 16 Punjab commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Golwala, started showing the signs of battle fatigue. If we head back in time a bit, by the count of a few nights, on 11/12 September an incident happened that was to have grave consequences in coming days for Dograi Defenders.
It was the night of 11/12 September, when 16 Punjab having lost some ground tried to recapture it with tanks. B Squadron of 23 Cavalry, while advancing along the GT Road ran into an anti-tank screen. Major Muhammad Sarwar while in his tank, crossed the road to check on a troop leader that was not moving. It was while re-crossing the road that an anti tank recoilless rifle knocked out his M 48 tank which blew up killing all the crew. B Squadron would remain without a squadron commander, but more on it later in the post.
The Attack is Launched
The war diary of 16 Punjab records increased Indian activity in terms of artillery shelling and air sorties. It also tells us of increased patrolling and probing attacks by Indian infantry. The unit knew that the adversary was onto something, planning for a full fledge attack. Indian attack came on night 21/22 September. At 2300 hrs in Phase One 13 Punjab and 15 Dogra attacked the front two companies of Pakistani 16 Punjab. 3 Jat would go to the depth companies each of 8 Punjab and 12 Punjab in Phase Two. B Squadron of 23 Cavalry was required to protect the northern flank of 16 Punjab and in Colonel Golwala’s perception he had left flank protected through armour support.
Forward companies of 16 Punjab under intense shelling fought bravely. With Machine Gun (MG) fire and grenades they broke the frontal attacks of Indian 13 Punjab and 15 Dogra. Attacking dead were found within 10-20 yards of forward line. As all of this was happening tanks of 23 Cavalry were nowhere to be found.
The Tank Fiasco
Major Nazar’s from Alpha Squadron 23 Cavalry was ordered to take along a troop to tank, collect two tanks of HQ squadron on his way across the BRBL Canal and assume the command of battle worthy tanks of a commander-less Bravo Squadron (only two tanks of which has survived to be fighting fit). For some unexplained reasons our Major would stay west of BRBL much away from the exposed left flank of 16 Punjab FDLs, at the same time reporting that they had reached Dograi. On that battleworthy night they had gone astray much towards north-west towards the village of Bhasin and with this blunder of utmost proportions, 3 Jats going in Phase 2 of Indian attack was about to get a walkover. Colonel Golwala of 16 Punjab having discovered the tanks’ blunder instructed one of the depth companies to place a fighting patrol in the exposed gap to help deter the assaulting enemy from that direction. That did not happen either and there was virtually no opposition to check the attacking Jats.
On the other hand, Lt Col Desmond Hayde, Commanding Officer 3 Jat did not know that his opponents were suddenly without armour. All he knew came through wireless that Phase1 of Brigade Attack had failed. This would no deter him an inch, he is credited to have said those iconic words “Zinda ya murda, Dograi mein milna hey”. And dear reader, luck always favours the brave.
Up ahead they see Dograi lit up by gunfire as if on a Diwali night.
It’s 1:40 am when Delta, the first attacking company, hits Dograi, guns blazing.
Decades later Rachna Bisht Rawat will meet a few who attacked Dograi that night. She would bring us stories, direct from the battlefield.
Captain Kapil Singh Thapa was in Delta Company. Towards north-eastern edge of Dograi Village he was seen assaulting three trenches single handed. As he sits down to change his magazine, a bullet rips through helmet into his head. He earned Maha Veer Chakra.
Major Asa Ram Tyagi was commanding Alpha Company. Despite bullet wounds he led his troops onto objective. In close quarter combat he is said to have bayoneted a Pakistani officer. Himself shot at close range and badly bayoneted he would later succumb to his injuries on September 25.
Major Tyagi was awarded Maha Vir Chakra. Indian accounts claim the Pakistani officer meeting his end by the bayonet of Maj Tyagi was Major Nazar of 23 Cav, but in reality he was on the west bank of BRBL. This gallant officer in all probability was Major Mazhar Hussain Shah of 8 Punjab.
By 0300 on Sep 22 Dograi fell to 3 Jats. With depth companies gone the two forward companies of 16 Punjab were now sandwiched. Lieutenant Colonel Golwala keeping up the highest tradition decided to end it fighting. In the first glow of emerging dawn the Punjabis saw the dashing assault of Indian 14 Horse. In sheer desperation a few charged enemy tanks with rocket launchers and were wiped out by tank machine guns. Others waited in calm for the attacking infantry to close up and took their final leap killing one or two while getting killed. Those who survived the frontal attack died fighting 3 Jat from their rear.
By 0800 hrs the battle was over for 16 Punjab. 56 soldiers including two officers lay dead on the battlefield. Second Lieutenant Akhtar and Captain Sagheer. The latter was awarded Sitara e Jurrat. Lieutenant Colonel Golwala himself wounded was among the prisoners. He earned a well deserved Sitara e Jurrat.
A Suicidal Counter Attack
Unaware of a last minute extension in Cease Fire deadline (3 AM, the next day September 23 as requested by Indians) and thinking that the same would come into affect by mid day 22nd September, commander of Pakistani 10 Infantry Division launched the ill fated divisional counter attack in broad daylight on well dug in Dograi defences. The attacking force comprising of 1 Baloch supported by a squadron of 23 Cavalry was almost annihilated as they came out of their Forward Assembly Area (FAA) at Wahgrian. The impetus of the attack died down even before it could gain momentum. With the counter attack failed, battle of Dograi had decisively won by Indians.
A present day traveller of on Rawalpindi-Kohat road, while a little short of Kohat, in a village named Babri Banda, in a roadside cemetery would come across the grave of our valiant son of Kohat, Captain Zahoor Ul Islam Afridi, Sitara e Jurrat. Leading the divisional counterattack on Dograi, our Captain Zahoor of 1 Baloch was wounded after Start Line and was carried by his Havildar Major. An injured captain commanding his men in their final assault on target would die fighting with his troops.
Starting from Bibi Pak Daman Graveyard in Lahore, our story has now reached the wayside graveyard of Babri Banda on Rawajpindi-Kohat road. On our way to wind up this post, dear reader, let’s carry with us the giveaways from the last battle of Lahore.
Post war, 16 Punjab would have 106 names on their honour role. This is the most men lost to war by any battalion of Pakistan Army. The battalion now titled as Ghazian e Dograi, carries a monument that remembers the lives lost while defending Dograi.
The veterans of 3 Jat, whenever they happen to sit together remember this battle in their signature Haryanvi rhyme:
Kahe sune ki baat na bolun, gaaun dekhi bhai
Teen Jat ki katha sunaon, sun le mere bhai
Ikkis Sitambar raat ghaneri, hamla jaaton nee mari
Dushman mein mach gayi khalbali, kaanp uthi Dograi”
The night of Dograi attack, among the rank and file of 3 Jat was one Captain Harinder Kumar Jah. He recounts a meeting of Commanding Officers, that of 3 Baloch defending Batapur Bridge on BRBL, Tajammul Hussain Malik and of 3 Jat, Desmond Hayde. Captain Jha quotes Tajammul to have said:
We have to accept hard facts. Even 16 Punjab, which fought so well here at Dograi on 22nd September against your final assault just before the ceasefire, lost to your attack. I can tell you that our two Battalions were one of the best ones in our Army but yet we lost to you! Of course, I cannot deny that your boys also fought so well and treated our boys well everywhere after their capture.
Captain Jha goes on to add that both the opposing commanders, having fought well, in the highest of military tradition of respect and honour shook hands with a smile before parting …