Indian 11th Infantry Division in Operation Barrel, 1965
v.1.0 April 7, 2002

Ravi Rikhye

With thanks to Mr. Jagan Pillarisetti for providing a copy of the official 1965 War history.  This has never been released, but the Times of India obtained a copy and published it in 2000.


30th Infantry Brigade of 11th Infantry Division fought most of the campaign in the desert.  Brigadier J.C. Guha, the OC, was certainly not unique in having a division commander and an army commander breathing down his neck. He was, however, unusual in that the entire effort of Southern Command was focused on his single lonely brigade. No other action was underway to require their attention.  Ironically, just three years earlier the division commander, then a brigade commander, had gone through the same experience: his corps and army commanders were both present during his operations against the Chinese.  Fortunately, other parts of the front were in serious trouble and they had to push off.

Before 1965, leave alone the deep desert, anything south of Ganganager was regarded as too remote for military action. Included in the post-1962 War buildup were two desert divisions, 11th and 12th; in 1965 only the first had been raised but was incomplete. The Army’s priority was to replace the infantry divisions sent east from the Punjab in 1962-63, during and after the disastrous China war, the desert would have to wait.

In April, 1965, however, Pakistan activated the desert sector by seizing territory inside India’s Rann of Kutch, itself a desolate backwater within a desolate backwater. Pakistan’s purposes are beyond the scope of this orbat.  Here it suffices to note that the Rann of Kutch incident directly led to the September War.

11th Division’s war was a confused one. Its objective seems, in retrospect, impossibly optimistic: with Barmer as the logistical base, advance from Gadra Road west to Mirpur Khas in Pakistan, along the only railroad track between India and Pakistan.  The problem was lack of troops and the desert itself.  Pakistan had two brigades in the area; later it sent one north, confident no threat existed. Till then, India with its three infantry battalions was outnumbered, and exactly 11 tanks were available in support. Further, the desert was inhospitable, with no roads or water. Distances were huge, and radio communications both sparse and prone to breakdown. Navigation presented another vexing problem: sub-units got entirely lost, or headed the wrong way. The Indians may as well have been moving in a thick fog for all they could discern about the enemy’s whereabouts. Neither air reconnaissance nor air cover was available till the last days whereas the Pakistan Air Force was prominent.

In such conditions, for Pakistan to keep raiding Indian territory and to keep the attackers off balance was a simple matter.  Though India ended up with 390 square kilometers of Pakistani territory, this has to be compared to the near 100,000 square kilometers of empty desert available as a buffer before India reached Pakistani population centers. The Pakistanis continued fighting long after the ceasefire was called, in an attempt to grab as much ground as possible. On November 16th, for example, 11th Division launched three task forces, named Sodhi, Hammer, and Bull Forces, equal to two battalions, to clear out Pakistani forces that had infiltrated into Indian territory.

The real significance of 11th Division’s war lay not in the success or lack of it in 1965. Rather, the division showed the way for 1971, when the equivalent of an Indian corps was able to operate in a sector where six years earlier a brigade had found the going difficult. Though in any future war the desert will remain secondary to Kashmir and the Punjab, it could be the scene of multi-corps engagements, and it all will be traceable back to 11th Division.

Senior commanders

Lt.-Gen. Moti Sagar, GOC-in-C, Southern Command.

The desert, being a sideshow, was the responsibility of a static administrative headquarters, the Delhi and Rajasthan Area. This in turn reported to Western Command. Because Western Command was fighting a war across a 2000+ kilometer front, Barmer and the Kutch were split off and put under Southern Command, which to this day continues to be responsible for the Kutch, Barmer, and Jaiselmer sectors of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Maj.-Gen. N.C. Rawlley, GOC, 11th Infantry Division

An officer with an unusual record. He not only got to successively lead a brigade, a division, and a corps in three separate wars,  he may be unique in that all three formations had the same number. Walong in 1962 he was OC 11th Brigade; in 1965 he was GOC 11th Division, and in 1971 he was GOC XI Corps. A quiet officer and gentleman of the old school, in the public view he was eclipsed by his wife, an international standard women’s golf champion.

Brig. J. Guha, OC 30th Infantry Brigade

Of him we know nothing, but hope to learn much – please write to us.

30th Infantry Brigade

-         1st Garhwal [Lt. Col. K.P. Lahiri]

-         3rd Guards

-         5th Marattha Light Infantry

-         17th Madras (arrives September 15)

-         D/13th Grenadiers

-         3rd (I) Armored Squadron (-1 troop) (arrives September 7)

-         95th Mountain Composite Regiment (leaves September 13)

-         1673rd Field Battery, 167th Field Regiment

-         85th Engineer Field Company

-         6th Battalion, Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (put under command September 11)

-         7th Battalion, Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (put under command September 11)


-         The 13th Grenadiers were a camel-mounted battalion, and the “D” is for D Squadron.

-         The Rajasthan Armed Constabulary, like all Indian state police battalions, was a very lightly armed force with obsolete weapons, few vehicles, and fewer radios. Battalions from the RAC and the Punjab Armed Police were assigned to manning border posts on the India-Pakistan border.  In 1965, partly because of the Rann of Kutch incident, all border police battalion in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Jammu, and Kashmir were put under a new, centralized Border Security Force.  The two RAC battalions above had not yet been co-opted into the new force.

-         An independent armored squadron was affiliated with a regular cavalry regiment, and had a HQ (two tanks), three tank troops (3 tanks each), and two rifles troops.

On September 21, the newly raised HQ 85th Infantry Brigade arrived from Ahmedabad. Forces were split between the two brigades:

85th Infantry Brigade [Brig. H.N. Summanwar]

-         5 Marattha LI (leaves brigade shortly thereafter)

-         17th Madras

-         1673rd   Field Battery (no prime movers)

-         3 (I) Armored Squadron (- 3 troops)

30th Infantry Brigade

-         1st Garhwal

-         3rd Guards

-         Two troops 3rd (I) Armored Squadron

-         ?Artillery battery?

With no real increase in troops – the additional infantry battalion was taken away – the induction of a second brigade HQ was intended to ease command and control problems rather than add any strength.

As with everywhere else along the front, India seems to have wanted to do everything and ended up doing little. There appear to be some troops left in the Kutch, perhaps the rest of 13th Grenadiers, and at least one additional infantry battalion, the very senior 3rd Punjab, was still in its peacetime cantonment. Another army might have scrapped together everything available for a concentrated thrust into Pakistan. With six infantry battalions and the tanks that could surely have been found at the Armored Corps School and the odd battery or two from the Artillery School – both in Southern Command, a force substantial enough to achieve results could have been put in place. Of course, this would have left nothing in reserve or in the Kutch. The idea would have been to protect the rest of Rajasthan and the Kutch by decisively attacking in one place. No senior commander is to blame for failing to take this opportunity: the Indian Army was, and remains to this day, defensive in its orientation, the 1971 Eastern campaign notgwithstanding.

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All content © 2003 Ravi Rikhye. Reproduction in any form prohibited without express permission.