By September 1, 1965, Pakistan plans under 'Operation Gibralter' laid in tatters. Most infiltrators were killed or driven out from Kashmir and Haji Pir Pas fell to determined Indian attacks. 'Operation Grand Slam' was launched by Pakistan in Chamb Sector to severe Indian lines of communication to Jammu & Kashmir. Such move was anticipated, and on September 3, 1965, Army Headquarters gave the 'Go Ahead' to put our offensive plans into effect in Punjab Sector, with the primary objective of threatening Lahore.
The road from Harike (Punjab, India) to Lahore passed through Barki, which was located astride Ichhogil Canal (9.5 km from the International Border and 24 km from Lahore). The Upper Bhuchar Distributary and Hudiara Drain were obstacles enroute to Barki. The buildup areas of Hudiara, Nurpur, Barka Kalan and Barka Khurd lay on approaches to Barki, were well defended and had to be cleared. The defences of Barki were formidable; concrete pill boxes, extensive tunneling and adequate artillery support had converted it into a virtual fortress. The enemy had deployed one company in Barki village, two companies on the East Bank of the Ichhogil Canal and a company of the Reconnaissance and Support Battalion ahead of defences. Barki could challenge the best in any unit.
11 Corps Plan (Operation Riddle)
The Corps was to launch three simultaneous thrusts along the Axes GT Road, Bhikkiwind-Barki and, Bhikkiwind-Khem Karan-Kasur with the aim of securing the East Bank of Ichhogil Canal. 4 Mountain Division, 7 & 15 Infantry Division were orbatted to the Corps. 7 Infantry division was tasked to capture Barki and mop up enemy on east bank of Ichhogil Canal. 48 & 65 Infantry Brigades and Central India Horse (CIH) were allocated for the task at hand.
Preliminary operations commenced at 0445 hrs on September 6, 1965 and posts held by Satlej Rangers were captured by own troops. By 0700 hrs, 48 Infantry Brigade had contacted enemy defences at Hudiara, and came under effective fire. By 1030 hrs, 6/8 Gorkha Rifles had secured Hudiara Village, but could not progress operations further onto Hudiara Drain due to enemy fire. Meanwhile 5 GUARDS attacked Nurpur by an outflanking maneauver, forcing enemy to withdraw from Hudiara Drain but not before they blew up the bridge spanning 140 feet. The bridge was reconstructed by own engineers by 1545 hrs on September 7.
General Officer Commanding 7 Infantry Division, appreciating that 48 Infantry Brigade had suffered fairly heavy casualties in the battle for Hudiara Drain, switched 65 Infantry Brigade Group into the lead with the task of securing the Ichhogil Canal at Barki.
65 Infantry Brigade Group resumed its advance on to Barki, with 9 MADRAS and a squadron of CIH. 9 MADRAS captured Barka Kalan towards the evening of September 7, 1965. On September 9, 16 PUNJAB captured Barka Khurd and with that the inner defence ring of Barki was laid bare for the main assault. 65 Infantry Brigade planned to carry out attack in two phases:-
Phase 1.4 SIKH to capture Barki Village.
Phase 2.16 PUNJAB to capture East Bank of Ichhogil Canal and destroy the Barki Bridge.
4 SIKH, post detailed appreciation decided to take the frontal approach and H Hour was fixed at 2000 hrs on September 10, 1965. When assaulting companies commenced move from FUP, enemy opened up with its mortars, artillery and automatics from the village. Enemy fire was coming from the entire front of the village and also from the Ichhogil Canal Bank. The assaulting companies continued to inch forward towards their objectives through sheer grit and determination. The Sikhs pressed on regardless, systematically silencing one pill box after another. CIH less two squadrons provided aggressive fire support to assaulting troops. By 2110 hours on September 10, the village of Barki was wrested from the enemy.
4 SIKH suffered three JCOs and 20 ORs killed and two officers, one JCO and 93 ORs wounded. Sub Ajit Singh was awarded MVC, posthumously. The battalion was conferred with the Battle Honour 'Barki' and Theatre Honour 'Punjab' for its gallant actions.
While 4 SIKH were battling their way through the village of Barki, 16 PUNJAB were pushing up to the East bank of the Ichhogil Canal in the second phase of the brigade attack. As the battalion reached the outskirts of Barki, it ran into intense enemy shelling and very heavy small arms and automatic fire from concrete pill-boxes. Meanwhile, the tanks of CIH came up and started shooting at the enemy defences. The intensity of the attack forced many of the enemy to jump into the canal, leaving their weapons behind. By 2340 hours on September 10, the unit was in undisputed possession of their objective. The enemy however, managed, to demolish the bridge over the canal before retreating. Lt Col SC Joshi, Commanding Officer of CIH was killed while negotiating an enemy minefield. 16 PUNJAB suffered 21 killed and 50 wounded during the attack. The battalion was awarded the Battle Honour of 'Barki'.
After retreating across the Ichhogil Canal, the Pakistanis, retaliated with a heavy artillery concentration – approximately 2000 rounds on Barki and the canal. Own troops held on. Own artillery was also staged forward and a few shells landed on Lahore, triggering panic and exodus of civilians from Lahore.
Maj Gen HK Sibal, GOC 7 Infantry Division had this to say about the operations (Extracted from Sainik Samachar of January 15, 1966):-
"The enemy resistance was very stiff and the troops did an excellent job of winkling the enemy out of their emplacements and bunkers by lobbing grenades into them and this took quite some doing. The grit and determination displayed by the crew of CIH, was something fantastic. In spite of tanks being crippled in the minefield, they still kept on firing at the enemy and just refused to let him put his head up".
By September 10, 7 Infantry Division of 11 Corps had made a rapier like thrust and created a wedge in enemy territory, with capture of Barki. In addition, own 1 Corps offensive was launched into Sialkot Sector and Shakargarh Bulge, creating multiple vulnerabilities into the heart land of Pakistan Punjab. However, Pakistani offensive by its coveted 1 Armoured Division towards Khem Karan was threatening to outflank own 11 Corps. In days to come, history was to be written in Phillora (Pakistan) and Asal Uttar (India). These battle accounts would be told in subsequent editions of 'Sanik Samachar'.