What was the Battle of Burki (1965)?

Introduction

The Battle of Burki (Barki) was a battle fought by Indian infantry and Pakistani armour in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

Barki is a village that lies south-east of Lahore near the border with Punjab, India, and is connected with Lahore by the Bridge of Ichogil canal. During the fighting, the relative strengths of the two sides were fairly even and Indian infantry clashed with Pakistani forces that were entrenched in pillboxes, dug-outs and slit trenches that had been carved into the canal banks. The Pakistanis were supported with a large number of tanks, as well as fighter jets.

The battle resulted in an Indian victory.

Background

Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam on 17 August 1965 in an effort to relieve infiltrators who had been surrounded after the failure of Operation Gibraltar on 15 August and to attempt to cut off the Indian supply lines. With supply lines under severe stress due to Operation Grand Slam, India launched an offensive towards Lahore to open up a second front in the war and distract Pakistani attention from Kashmir. After opening the Lahore front, Indian troops advanced towards Lahore along three axes – Amritsar-Lahore, Khalra-Burki-Lahore and Khem Karan-Kasur roads – overwhelming the small Pakistani force.

Indian infantry, supported by the only Indian armoured division, quickly pushed back unprepared Pakistani defenders with the aim of encircling and possibly besieging Lahore. Due to the element of surprise, India was able to capture a large amount of Pakistani territory from the town of Khalra, an Indian border town which lies on a straight road to Lahore through Burki. In the meantime, the Pakistani Army mobilised the troops in the region and mounted a three-pronged counter-attack to recapture lost ground. The Battle of Burki was subsequently fought on Khalra-Burki-Lahore road.

Pakistan’s main goal was to force the Indian infantry into retreat before their armoured support and supply lines could catch up. The Pakistani Army’s aim also was to capture much of the territory it had lost earlier in the fighting. The Indian infantry’s aim was to capture and hold the town of Burki until reinforcements, including armour and supplies, could arrive.

The Battle

India began their advance from Khalra under Major-General Har Krishan Sibal and tank operations under Lieutenant-Colonel Anant Singh with a village called Jahman being the first major Pakistani outpost to fall. Pakistani troops pulled back towards the next major town, which was Burki, leaving small pockets of resistance at each village to slow down Indian advance.

On 08 September, Pakistan began the counter-attack with Pakistani artillery pounding the Indian advance on 8, 09 and 10 September. This constant shelling slowed down the Indian advance but was unable to stop it completely. This was followed by a counterattack by Pakistani armour consisting of considerable part of Pakistan’s 1st Armoured Division. Indian infantry eventually clashed with Pakistani tanks at Burki, which resulted in most of the Pakistani armour being damaged or destroyed by 10 September.

The Indian infantry was able to hold off the Pakistani armoured units until Indian tanks from the 18th Cavalry Regiment arrived. They were then able to subsequently launch the main assault on 10 September with armour support. As most of the Pakistani tanks had already been incapacitated, the Pakistani defenders had little armoured support from the remaining tanks. A few Pakistani fighter jets were called in to provide air cover for Pakistani troops and to target Indian positions. However, the use of fighters to perform ground strafing against ground troops instead of bombers with bombs and missiles meant that little was achieved through air support. The limited number of jets and the easy availability of trench and defensive structures for cover added to the ineffectiveness of Pakistani air operations. As a result, after intense fighting, Indian infantry captured Burki on 11 September and held it throughout the rest of the war despite the use of defensive structures like trenches and pillboxes as well as anti-tank weapons by Pakistani defenders during the defence of Burki.

Aftermath and Legacy

After the capture of Burki, the Indian advance continued towards Dograi (31.528300°N 74.446087°E), a town in the immediate vicinity of Lahore. They subsequently went on to capture Dograi on 20 September, thus bringing the main city of Lahore within range of Indian tank fire. However, no attempt was made to capture Lahore and the main assault on Lahore was not launched because a ceasefire was to be signed in the following couple of days and it was known that the city would have been given back to Pakistan even if it was captured.

Awards

The 4th Battalion the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army, which played an important part in capturing Burki, was later conferred with the Battle Honour of “Burki” and Theatre Honour of “Punjab”.

The Pakistani commander, Major Raja Aziz Bhatti, was later awarded the Nishan-e-Haider, the highest military decoration given by Pakistan, posthumously. Each year he is honoured in Pakistan on 06 September, which is also known as Defence Day.

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