Known as one of the largest tank battles fought during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the battle of Asal Uttar was fought from 8 to 10 September 1965. Indian Army’s befitting reply to the Pakistani counterparts led them to retreat, defeated. Factors that contributed to this were the fierce fight put up by Indian army, conditions of the plains, better tactics and a successful strategy.
The place where the fierce fight took place is known as “Asal Uttar” or befitting reply (to the Pakistani intruding force), hence the battle of Asal Uttar.
This battle is often compared with the Battle of Kursk in the second world war for how it changed the course of the India Pakistan war of 1965 in India’s favour. Indian resistance near Khem Karan was one of the key turning points of the war that led to the result of the war in favour of India.
Pakistani Army captured the Indian town of Khem Karan 5 km from the International Border in Punjab. Indian troops retaliated, and after three days of bitter fighting, the battle ended with the Pakistani forces being repulsed near Asal Uttar.
On September 10, 1965 three Indian armored regiments with 45 old American M4 Sherman tanks, 45 light French built AMX-13 tanks, and 45 British-built Centurion tanks were arrayed outside the village of Asal Uttar in the western part of Punjab. These tanks had set up defensive positions in a “U” formation and were superbly camouflaged by tall un-harvested sugarcane stalks.
The Indian force was assembled to attempt to stop the Pakistani invasion. Pakistan had a powerful fleet of 300 of the new American M47 Patton tanks along with a few M24 Chaffee Tanks. The 46-ton Patton was considered one of the best and most modern designs of the time and included a 90 mm main gun that challenged the enemy. Indian tanks were largely outgunned, having 75 mm main guns as well as were outnumbered by a factor of 2:1.
In the night, the Indian troops flooded the sugar cane field, and the next morning, the Pakistani tanks of the 1st Armoured Division, consisting mainly of M-47 and M-48 Patton tanks, were lured inside the horse-shoe trap.
Opening fire from their camouflaged hiding places at ranges of as short as five hundred meters the smaller Indian tanks were able to penetrate the Pakistani Pattons from all angles and shortly set dozens on fire. The Pakistanis left the field in disarray, leaving almost a hundred tanks behind. Another tactical move was to lure Pakistani tanks into areas with soft soil which completely ruled out a quick retreat for their tanks. Today the site of the battle is referred to as Patton Nagar (Patton City) after the large number of Patton tanks captured there.
The swampy ground slowed down the advance of the Pakistani tanks and many of them could not move because of the muddy slush. Ninety nine Pakistani tanks, mostly Pattons, and a few Shermans and Chaffees, were destroyed or captured while the Indians. The Indians lost 32 tanks but gained a powerful victory.
Despite the initial thrust of the Pakistanis into Indian territory, the battle ended in a decisive Indian Victory. The commander of Pakistani forces Maj. Gen. Nasir Ahmed Khan was killed in action. According to military historian Steven Zaloga, Pakistan admitted that it lost 165 tanks during the 1965 war, more than half of which were knocked out during the “debacle” of Asal Uttar.
The battle also witnessed the personal bravery of an Indian soldier, Abdul Hamid, who was honoured with the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest military award, for knocking out seven enemy tanks with a recoilless gun.
However the war ended in a stalemate and a ceasefire that ended the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War on 22nd September.