by Mihir Srivastava

Even after 50 years there's little clarity. Both India and Pakistan claim that they won the 1965 war. Ironically, it's not celebrated as a victory day in India, while Pakistan commemorate September 6 as the Defence Day—the day Indian troops crossed the international border and entered into Pakistan.

The Indo-Pak war of 1965 was a tank-warfare, the first after the World War II. Indian Army destroyed as many as 300 Patton tanks with their fairly outdated fleet of World-War-tanks: the M4 Sherman; the British-made Centurion Tank Mk 7, the c PT-76 and M3 Stuart light tanks. "Pakistan was drunk with their military equipment they procured from the US," says Colonel Anil Bhat, defence expert and author. But it was just a drunken stupor for they weren't trained to use it.

A Captured Sherman Tank of the Pakistani Army

The Pakistanis would abandon a tank soon after it was hit, fearing that it would catch fire and they would be charred in flames—not the best way to die for a Muslim. "So many Patton tanks recovered were brand new. They had just done 30 to 35 miles. Pakistani Army had far superior equipment, but weren't trained to use them," says Brigadier JP Singh. He was flown in as a young officer in a vintage aircraft with non-compressed cabin. When he landed in Pathankot airstrip—it was in a disarray. The damaged aircrafts which were caught on the tarmac punctuated the green landscape. "The war zone was deserted, corpses strewn here and there. It all seemed so unreal," remembers Brigadier Singh. The myth of invincibility of Patton Tank was broken. "There is no confusion who won the war, at least not in our sector (the Punjab Border)," he adds. 

Some of the war veterans have assembled in a Delhi hospital. The legendary colonel Ashok Sodhi is undergoing a surgery—the same Sodhi whose part of skull was blown away in a tank battle, he is now again in hospital after 50 years. Major Bhupinder Singh was remembered. He helped bailout fellow army men out of a burning tank before he made his way out and was badly charred in the process. This happened on the 11 September 1965, only after he caused heavy damage to the Pakistani camp. Commanding the 'B' squardron of the 4 Horse, he successfully led his forces into the Pakistan territory, forcing a retreat along the Gadgor-Phillora road. He succumbed to his injuries after nine days in an army hospital in Delhi. The then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri visited him in the hospital. He regretted that he couldn't stand to salute him. Shastri was overwhelmed. He was awarded Mahavir chakra, posthumously.

One of the war veterans present in the hospital was Brigadier Ravi Malhotra, who with his commanding officer Brigadier Madan Mohan Singh Bakshi, in a solitary tank was left to confront a dozen of Pakistani tanks one morning in the Sialkot sector. This happened because of a false intelligence report. A pitched battle ensued in the sugar-cane fields. Within ten minutes, some of the Pakistani tanks were neutralised, and troops deserted the tank in a hurry, soon after it was hit. Malhotra had to disembark his tank as well, after it got engulfed in flames. A close range pistol combat took place before some of the surviving Pakistani soldier retreated. Malhotra, and some others, were stuck in the middle of no man's land for hours before the help came. "We won the war in our sector. But there were intelligence and operational issues. We made mistakes and should be bold enough to accept them."

According to war veterans, the doubt about who won is a political gimmick. "We had reached the outskirts of Lahore," says Anil Bhat. It was a political decision to withdraw. Indian army has an illustrious history. They played "decisive role" in the two world wars by providing critical manpower. The Indian Army was 1.5 and 2.5 million men strong during the World War I and II, respectively. The current strength, 1.2 million, is less than half of what it was during the World War II. The Pakistan Army didn't have that lineage and that is what went against them in this war, feels Bhat.