Military victories are not only achieved through gallantry and valor, but also through intelligence and battlefield tactics. The Battle of Batapur highlights the intelligence of one such engineer from Engineers Corps, who valiantly fought against the enemy despite worse odds.
Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan did his Civil Engineering from the prestigious NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi in 1950. With a degree in hand, he opted to join Pakistan Army as a part of the Corps of Engineers to serve the nation. His knowledge and prowess in the field was soon acknowledged as he was posted to the newly established Military College of Engineering, Risalpur, to teach and train the young aspirant military engineers.
During one of his assignments in Balochistan, he carried out a detailed analysis of the subject of oil and petroleum issue associated with Iran and Pakistan and its importance for the country. He wrote an article on this intricate and complex issue, titled “Persian Pipeline”. Apart from its importance as a fuel supply line, he also suggested the method for its protection along the hostile territory by establishing mini battalion-size cantonments along its proposed route through Balochistan/Sindh. The article was published by the Military College of Engineering. President Ayub Khan read the article and liked the concept. As a result, Major Aftab was sent abroad (Swindon, UK) on a three year scholarship to pursue advanced studies in the field of “Reinforced Concrete”.
The article eventually played a part in the planning of 2,775-kilometre Iran -Pakistan Gas Pipeline to deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan.
During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, Major Malik Aftab was posted in 4 Engineers Battalion, which he later commanded (from July 21, 1967-January 25, 1969). He also had a tenure in Frontier Works Origination (FWO) as an Officer-in-Command of 122 Q&C Battalion (July 24, 1974-Feberury 4, 1975), where he designed and completed the Abbotabad-Manshera Bypass on Karakoram Highway (KKH) among other projects at the KKH. From June 24, 1975-December 10, 1975, he commanded the Training Battalion at Engineers Centre, Risalpur.
The motto of Pakistan Army`s
Corps of Engineers is Rooh-e-Rawan, meaning
the moving spirit.
Opting for premature retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel, he joined Pakistan Civil Services as a Joint Secretary, later Additional Secretary, eventually retiring as the Director General of a subsidiary of Ministry of Finance. He was also the Founder Secretary of the Bait-ul-Mal, Pakistan. During his tenure as a civil servant, he went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) for nine years as a consultant to the Ministry of Defense of KSA Medical Services to advise/supervise their Military Hospitals, etc. From then onwards, he concentrated on his prime expertise i.e., engineering. He aptly utilized his technical knowledge in the construction of the first project to supply drinking water to the town of Pasni by preparing the first formal feasibility report of the Shadi Kaur Dam in that remote town of Balochistan and later the expansion of multiple military hospitals in KSA, among various others projects. He also had the distinction of being a graduate of the Pakistan Army’s Command and Staff College, Quetta (1967) and the Pakistan Administrative Staff College, Lahore (1989).
After living the life to the fullest, he passed away in February 1999. He left behind two daughters and two sons, who entered the field of medicine with three of them specializing in ophthalmology, pathology and dermatology.
Corps of Engineers
The motto of Pakistan Army’s Corps of Engineers is Rooh-e-Rawan, meaning the moving spirit. And PA4117, Major Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan has the unique distinction of being the Corps of Engineers’ first recipient of the coveted Sitara-e-Jurat (Star of Courage), the third highest military award of Pakistan. It is awarded for the gallantry or distinguished service in combat.
4 Engineers Battalion
Major Aftab’s parent unit was 4 Engineers Battalion. The motto of the unit is Jurat-o-Istaqlal (courage and perseverance), which was not only an inspiration for the young officer but served as his aim and purpose in the service and life. Needless to say, he most aptly proved in true essence and spirit the saying, “Let it not be said that we did not prove equal to the task”.
4 Engineers Battalion is one of the oldest units of Corps of Engineers with a glorious history. Raised in Lahore on October 1, 1962, the history of the unit can be traced back to the year 1819 when its 2 Field Engineers Company was raised as a part of “Bengal Sappers and Miners”. While serving the nation, 43 valiant sons have laid their lives for the motherland. The unit has been honored with 2 Sitara-e-Jurat, 2 Tamgha-e-Jurat, 3 Tamgha-e-Basalat and 6 lmtiazi Sanad and 13 Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Commendation Cards.
With a rich history spanning six decades, the unit has always lived up to its motto and the legacy of commitment and sacrifice continues. True to their traditions, they were the first to go to war and the last to leave.
Freedom is Never Given, It is Won
It was 57 years ago, on September 6, 1965, when India crossed the international border unannounced and attacked Lahore. Credit goes to the valiant soldiers of the Pakistan Army who repulsed the Indian attack and successfully defended Lahore. The entire nation backed their Armed Forces against this naked aggression of India. Today, when our fourth generation is celebrating the Defense Day, it is incumbent on the older generation to apprise them of the fact that the liberty and freedom they enjoy today was achieved at the expense of the blood and sacrifice of our valiant soldiers, who always placed the motherland before self.
Indians, being under pressure from the freedom fighters and the Chhamb offensive of Pakistan Army in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), violated the international border and attacked Lahore. Indian Army Commander, General J. N. Chaudhuri had bragged that they would hold Bara Khana (feast for troops) in Shalimar Gardens and grand dinner with his officers at Lahore Gymkhana on September 6, 1965. Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh, who was the General Officer Commanding in Charge (GOC in C) Western Command, was tasked to execute this plan.
The Battle of Batapur
Batapur is a town near the city of Lahore, where the first Bata factory was established on the Indian subcontinent. This town basically acted as a residence for the workers of Bata shoe factory.
Allama Iqbal International Airport*, Lahore, is a 20 minutes’ drive through Lahore Ring Road, which highlights its strategic importance in any war. The town was ruined during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.
The Battle of Batapur was fought between Pakistan and India on September 6, 1965. 15 Infantry Division under World War II veteran, Major General Niranjan Prasad, crossed the international border and started advancing towards Lahore, assisted with a tank regiment equipped with Sherman tanks. On the Pakistani side, it was 3 Baloch Regiment which put up massive resistance. The battle ended in Pakistani victory. The battle forced Major General Prasad to retreat, leaving behind his jeep and personal papers and a diary, which were captured by Pakistan Army. The advancing Indian infantry found the Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) Link Canal a big obstacle. The Indian high command panicked as they could not fulfill the desire of their Army Commander to have a Chota (a half-sized drink, especially of whiskey or whiskey and soda) at Lahore Gymkhana in the evening.
It is well known to those who have interest in history that on the night of September 6 and 7, 1965, Pakistan unexpectedly faced a heavy attack on the eastern border of its western wing. Despite the fierce resistance of the semi-armed forces of Rangers, the Indian army advanced and reached the eastern bank of BRB Canal.
The danger of Batapur Bridge falling into the enemy hands had been realized at the Headquarters 10 Division as soon as it was reported in the morning that the enemy has reached near Dograi. On the battlefront too, the element of surprise was in favor of the attacking army, at least on the first day. After the initial shock, a counter-strategy was put in place. An immediate decision for the defense of Lahore was to destroy the Batapur Bridge on the BRB Canal to block the advance of the invading army by making the canal a defensive line.
Like the defenses, the demolition work on the BRB Link Canal bridges in 10 Division’s area of responsibility was not complete when the Indians attacked on September 6, 1965. Of all the bridges, the one on Batapur was the most threatened and the least prepared. 4 Engineers Battalion had moved out on the night of September 4-5, but the entire day of September 5 had been spent by sappers in preparing trenches near various demolition sites. It was after the nightfall on September 5 that the work on the bridge was started. Explosives chambers made during the Rann of Kutch crisis had been plugged with wooden stakes earlier in July. Some of these could not be removed easily and the new chambers had to be drilled. One platoon of B Company, 4 Engineers Battalion was assigned to Batapur Bridge but work on it could not begin before 11 PM because of the particularly heavy flow of traffic on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road. Thus, by the morning of September 6, only the chambers had been prepared and the explosives had still to be placed in them when the stream of refugees fleeing from the border areas brought the unpleasant and unexpected news that the Indians were coming.
Unfortunately, explosives were in short supply and the demolition parties had to make to do with whatever was issued to them. The engineers had done only forty-five minutes worth of work on the Batapur Bridge when the leading elements of the Indian Army (3 Jat and C Squadron 14 Horse) reached Dograi. The engineers continued to work under the hostile fire and shelling by troops on both sides. However, 3 Baloch destroyed 2 enemy tanks before they could reach the eastern end of the bridge. But the danger was far from over and at 1030 AM, the Commander of 114 brigade, who was at the bridge himself, ordered the demolition to be executed immediately. The premature explosion only partially damaged the bridge, yet rendered it unsafe for tanks to cross.
The engineers were ordered to destroy the bridge completely at all costs. CO 4 Engineers Battalion sent forward a vehicle carrying the last stock of explosives to complete the demolition. But a chance-hit from enemy artillery completely destroyed the vehicle together with the explosives.
While the Pakistani infantry supported by tanks kept the Indians away from the canal, the engineers resumed their demolition efforts once again. At this juncture, Major Aftab, the newly appointed Commander of B Field Company Engineers arrived at Batapur Bridge.
The situation appeared bleak as the chances of supply of ammunition appeared dim. Having run out of explosives, Major Aftab displayed remarkable ingenuity. He proposed to open the nearly three hundred mines he had, and use their explosive material to make an improvised weapon on the spot. Fifty crates, each containing six anti-tank mines, were disassembled and prepared accordingly. This resulted in an Improvised Explosive Device in the shape of a necklace. In the meantime, the eastern side of the bridge was blocked by a quickly raised wall of sandbags to protect the sappers from the direct firing weapons of the Indians on the eastern side of the canal.
For those who are familiar with munitions and in particular mines, can well visualize the dangers associated with opening mines and pressing their contents hard into another container so that the newly prepared improvised charges are able to destroy the very strong concrete bridge built by the British. All this involved a high level of risk. At any stage, a slight mistake or oversight could have not only blown those involved in doing this work, but cause devastation in the surrounding area due to the presence of a lot of ammunition in close proximity.
Major Aftab, utilizing his prowess in engineering, determined the most suitable location under the bridge where the improvised weapon was to be installed.
Finding no other option, the local Commander agreed to the innovative plan. Major Aftab got this precarious and sensitive work started under his personal supervision and within a short period of time, this improvised weapon was ready. The immediate problem was to choose the appropriate location under the bridge from where it would be detonated and completely destroy the bridge. If the bridge was only to be partially damaged, the risky venture would be pointless, as the approach would still be open. The enemy would still be able to cross the canal and if it did, there were no significant natural obstacles on its path to the city of Lahore.
Major Aftab, utilizing his prowess in engineering, determined the most suitable location under the bridge where the improvised weapon was to be installed. Initially, this task was assigned to a non-commissioned officer, but he was martyred by the enemy fire during the initial reconnaissance or recce. At this point, Major Aftab, rejecting the advice of his colleagues and subordinates, decided to personally plant the explosives under the bridge.
Around midnight, on receiving a signal on the field telephone, the shelling from the Pakistani side intensified at once such that the Indian gunners were forced to retreat. Taking advantage of this short break, Major Aftab along with his small team, under a shower of the bullets from both sides reached the designated place from the bottom side of the bridge. There was still the nerve-racking task of tying the necklace type string of explosive charges together.
All this took considerable time and eventually the explosives were tied under the bridge. The weapon’s bond to the bridge needed to be aptly pressed for a meaningful explosion. Otherwise, it would explode but without inducing the desired level of vibration into the concrete of the bridge, hence only minor damage would occur. The laborious work continued all afternoon and well into the night. The team returned without any injuries.
The much awaited time had finally arrived. A few minutes after midnight, the area resounded with explosions and the bridge was finally demolished at 0045 AM on September 7. This demolition severed the pathway for the advance of the invading army. This feat proved to be decisive in halting the advance of the Indian army, and not even an inch of the land on the Lahore front could be captured by India. In an official announcement on the morning of September 7, Major Malik Aftab Ahmad Khan was awarded the first Sitara-e-Jurat of the 1965 War.
The key to the 10 Division’s success lies in the very direction of the counterattack, which caught the Indians by surprise. With nearly all the bridges on the BRB Link Canal destroyed within the first twenty-four hours of the battle, the enemy did not expect so quick a reaction from the defenders.
Having demolished all the bridges over the BRB Link Canal on September 6-7, the need for reconstructing one was realized as soon as the 22 Brigade was ordered to launch the counterattack. Therefore, 4 Engineers Battalion was ordered at 0330 AM on September 8 to construct a Class 50 Bailey Bridge for the troops inside the bridgehead. B and C Field companies, which were committed to minelaying in front of the second layer (depth) positions of the infantry were immediately switched over to bridge construction.
It took considerable time to transport the bridging equipment and men to the bridge site. The equipment was assembled by about 0130 AM on September 9, and the sappers finally got to work under intense fire. The bridge was ready at 0600 AM on September 9, costing 27 casualties including 6 killed from the Engineers Battalion.
The key to 10 Division’s success lies in the very direction of the counterattack, which caught the Indians by surprise. With nearly all the bridges on the BRB Link Canal destroyed within the first twenty-four hours of the battle, the enemy did not expect so quick a reaction from the defenders.
Sacking of Major General Prasad
Major General Niranjan Prasad, a veteran of World War II, commanding 15 Infantry Division, got so desperate that on the morning of September 7, he decided to bypass the Batapur Bridge, as the brave soldiers of 3 Baloch would not let him cross over. Instead, he tried to attempt a breakthrough from Ravi Siphon/Bhini bridge side and came forward himself, but was ambushed by the counter attacking force of 18 Baloch (3 Sindh now). He had to abandon his jeep and escape on foot. General Prasad was so demoralized that he refused to continue operations. He was sacked and replaced by Major General Mohinder Singh.
With the change of command, fresh reinforcements were sent to 3 Jat to augment their efforts of advancing. However, the Indian evil designs were shattered and not even an inch of land on the Lahore front could be captured. Indian dreams of a grand dinner party in honor of their Commander-in-Chief were met with defeat and utter humiliation.
Reminder and Tribute
East of Lahore, where the BRB Link Canal intersects GT Road, stands tall the Batapur Monument. It is a tribute to the Battle of Batapur and in memory of those brave soldiers who laid their lives while defending the motherland and denied India crossing over the BRB Link Canal.
E-mail: [email protected]
* Note: There was no Allama Iqbal Airport in 1965.
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