Indian Army Strike Force in the 1971 War
v.1.0 April 14, 2002
Dave Sandhu & Ravi Rikhye
India’s strike force in the 1971 War was composed of the 1st Armored and 14th Infantry Division, located in the XI Corps area in the Punjab. Ordinarily, given an identical strategic situation in the west as pertained in 1971, HQ II Corps would have provided the higher HQ. Like I Corps before it, II Corps had been raised as an extra corps HQ without assigned troops, to take charge of forces as required. It was a skeleton HQ, raised in 1970, and even in 1971, without sufficient integral transport to move itself [Reference: email from Mandeep Singh Bajwa]. II Corps, however, was required for the East Bengal campaign, and India did not raise a replacement though it had several months before the war began.
In the event perhaps it was as well that the Pakistanis did not use their strike force: Indian XI Corps’s C2 was badly overextended to begin with, having to operate the Indian strike force as well might have created potentially fatal problems. Pakistan had already, in 1965, suffered the problems of controlling a large number of divisions from a single HQ; there is no reason to believe that the Indians – or anyone else for that matter – would have done much better.
HQ II Corps and elements of 9th Division left the East before the end of the war, heading west to pick up 1st Armored and 14th Divisions in preparation for the second phase of the war. With the corps HQ and extra infantry, the strike force would have been well balanced, particularly if Mile Force was added to it. In the event, with Mrs. Gandhi accepting a ceasefire on December 17 without much having been achieved in the west, the war came to an end before the strike force saw action.
Elements of 14th Infantry Division, nonetheless, see some fighting. HQ XI Corps could not resist breaking the division up to meet changing tactical requirements. Major H. Amin believes that XI Corps also tried to break up 1st Armored Division but the GOC stood up to his seniors and so it stayed intact.
XI Corps would, in all probability have said that the various elements of the strike force could quickly be reassembled and to an extent this was true. For example, 35th Brigade was returned to the division even as the fighting in the sector continued. Nonetheless, had Pakistan attacked, extricating the various elements and reassembling them would not have been an efficient process and India would have been at a disadvantage.
Pakistan, of coruse, was busy doing the same thing. It had taken one brigade of its 17th Division for the Chaamb operation, and sent another northward to reinforce its I Corps when Indian I Corps began to bite into the Shakergarh salient. The other infantry division in Pakistan’s strike force, the 33rd, had to give up one brigade to Naya Chor to stop the Indian XII Corps advance in the desert, and a second to Rahim Yar Khan to make the spoiling attack that threw Indian 12th Division off stride. There was not much left of Pakistan II Corps except the Pakistan 1st Armored Division: had Pakistan II Corps attacked, it would have done so under many handicaps and accepting many compromises – as is usual for both countries – losing half the battle before it entered combat.
1st Armored Division [Maj.-Gen. Gurbachan Singh] Faridkot-Malaut area
1st Armored Brigade [Brig. N.S. Cheema]
- 2nd Lancers (Vijayanta)
- 65th Armored Regiment (Vijayanta)
- 67th Armored Regiment (Vijayanta)
- 68th Armored Regiment (Vijayanta)
43rd Infantry Brigade [Brig. Ramesh Chandra] (actually mechanized, with Topas APC)
Divisional Artillery Brigade
- 2 105mm SP Field Regiments (Abbott)
- 1 130mm Medium Regiment
- 1 40mm LAA Regiment
Still following British World War II organizations, the division had only two manuvere brigades with 4 tank and 3 APC battalions. The idea was that the one tank, one mechanized, and one artillery brigade made a balanced team. In 1972, when the new 31st Armored Division was raised, 1st Armored Division began to transition to a three brigade structure of six tank regiments and four mechanized infantry battalions, division artillery, and strong SP AA units later termed as a brigade.
We are under the impression that the division reconnaissance unit was an independent squadron of three tank and two rifle troops, approximately 1/4th larger than a regular tank squadron.
14th Infantry Division [Maj.-Gen. O.S. Kalkat, takes over from Maj.-Gen. H. Bakshi, wounded]
116th Infantry Brigade (Jalalabad)
- 1st Para
- 3/11th Gorkha Rifles (detached to 67th Brigade Fazilka on December 7
- 17th Madras
35th Infantry Brigade (Ferozepur)
TO in the XI Corps section; detached to 7th Division then returned.
58th Infantry Brigade
TO in the XI Corps section; detached to 15th Division and stayed there.