The tank battles of the 1965 Indo-Pak war were the most intense ever fought post World War II. One of the most intriguing photographs from the annals of the war history is the mighty American Patton tanks supplied to Pakistan lined up in what later came to be known as Patton Nagar, the graveyard of Patton tanks.
Close to a thousand tanks from both India and Pakistan descended in the Punjab sector and fought pitched battles over four days. Pakistan had intended to wade through Punjab and capture Amritsar through the armored offensive with its M-48 Patton tanks. India did have British-made Centurion Mk-7s, but its numbers were limited.
On the night of September 7, 1965, Pakistan launched a surprise offensive on the Kasur-Khem Karan axis with its prized 1 Armoured Division comprising the latest M-48 Patton tanks and M-113 Armoured Personnel Carriers.
The objective was to capture the bridges on the Sutlej and Beas Rivers that would cut off Punjab from the rest of India, threaten Amritsar, and open the road to Delhi.
A young Pakistani Lieutenant of Artillery in the 16 (SP) Field Regiment of the 1st Armoured Division Artillery — Pervez Musharraf — was also part of the Pakistani offensive. He later became the country’s army chief and a military dictator-ruler of Pakistan.
It was in Asal Uttar (meaning Fitting Reply) that India stopped the offensive of Pakistani tanks in its tracks, quite literally. Major General G. S. Jamwal (retired), while recalling the battle, later said: “My boys had watered the fields before using anti-tank guns to hit the fleet of Pakistani tanks, which were stuck in slushy mud fields and were nothing more than sitting ducks for us. The battle of Asal Uttar had created a ‘graveyard’ of Pakistan’s tanks near Khem Karan.”
The Indian Army had assumed a horseshoe-shaped defensive position with Asal Uttar as its focal point. The Pakistani armored forces, consisting of M-47 and M-48 Patton tanks, touted as unbeatable by the US, took the bait. The slushy mud of the sugarcane fields slowed the advance of the Pakistani tanks.
After the intense battle, the Indian Army’s 4th division (Fighting Fourth) captured about 97 tanks – some were destroyed, partially damaged, or intact. This included 72 Patton tanks and 25 Chafees and Shermans. Thirty-two of the 97 tanks, including 28 Pattons, were in running condition.
The Indian Army lost 32 tanks in the Khem Karan sector. Around 15 of them were captured by the Pakistan Army, mostly Sherman tanks.
For a brief while, the captured tanks created an open-air showroom called Patton Nagar in the nearby village of Bhikkiwind. Following the battle of Asal Uttar, Patton Nagar, also known as the graveyard of Patton tanks, was established. 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’s hero was Havaldar Abdul Hamid of 4 Grenadiers, who was later given Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry away of India. On September 9, 1965, Hamid destroyed two Patton tanks while riding on his jeep.
On September 10, a battalion of Pakistani armored forces comprising Patton tanks renewed the attack and carried out intense artillery bombardment. When he saw Pakistani tanks advancing towards the battalion defenses, without caring for his life, he moved out of the flank with his gun mounted on a jeep. He continued firing, knocking out three Patton tanks before the fourth one killed him.
The destruction of Pakistan’s American tanks forced it to replace them with M-60 tanks after the 1965 war.
M-48s Versus Centurions
After a week of fighting, India’s 1st “Black Elephant” Armoured Division launched an offensive toward Sialkot, where it rebuffed Pakistan’s 6th Armoured Division, which suffered considerable tank losses.
David R. Higgins, in his book ‘M-48 Pattons vs. Centurion,’ wrote: “The ensuing battle at Chawinda on 14-16 September 1965 demonstrated that the Centurion, with its 105 mm gun and heavier armor, generally proved superior to the faster, lighter but overly complex Patton, mounting a 90mm main gun; however, the latter performed exceedingly well in the Sialkot sector, exacting a disproportionately heavy toll on its Indian opponents.”
India was able to destroy a considerable number of Patton tanks given to Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 through a combination of tactics and technology. One tactic that was used was the anti-tank mines, which were effective in disabling the tanks in their tracks. The Indian army also employed recoilless rifles, which could penetrate the tanks’ armor. Lastly, the Indian fighter jets also browbeat the Pakistani tanks from the air.
The M-47 was an American medium tank, while the M-48 Patton was an upgraded version with improved firepower and armor. The Patton tanks had a robust 90mm smoothbore gun, which could fire various ammunition, including high-explosive and armor-piercing rounds. The Patton tanks had decent armor protection, offering reasonable resistance against small arms fire and shell fragments. However, they were vulnerable to the more advanced anti-tank weapons deployed by the Indian army.
The Patton tanks had good mobility and were relatively fast, allowing them to maneuver on the battlefield effectively. The Indian Army turned the battleground into a swamp, restricting Patton’s mobility.
The Indian Army relied on Centurion tanks. They were armed with a powerful 105mm rifled gun, which provided excellent accuracy, range, and penetration capabilities. The weapon was capable of firing a variety of ammunition types.
The Centurion tanks had thick frontal armor, providing better protection than the Patton tanks. The sloped design of the armor enhanced its effectiveness against enemy projectiles.
In direct tank-to-tank engagements, the Centurion tanks generally had an advantage over the Patton tanks. The Centurions’ superior firepower, especially with their 105mm gun, and better armor protection gave them an edge. The Indian army’s effective use of combined arms tactics, integrating infantry, artillery, and air support with their tank units, further contributed to their success.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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