You may have seen the movie starring Brad Pitt in the role of Don Collier, a real life battle-hardened U.S. Army sergeant who commanded a Sherman tank nicknamed Fury during the Second World War. During the 1965 War, Pakistan also had its ‘Don’.
His name was Haq Nawaz and he was a daffadar (sergeant) in the 11th Cavalry Frontier Force. He made his last stand in an unequal contest between his crew manning an M36B2 Tank Buster and Indian Centurion tanks of Hodson and Poona Horse.
After fighting a hard engagement in Chambb, 11th Cavalry had rapidly shifted south to rejoin 6th Armored Division in the adjoining Sialkot Sector. The Indians had unleashed their counter offensive and Pakistani forces were hard pressed to stem its advance. The regiment arrived at Rahwali on the 9th of September with a squadron-and-a-half of M48 Tanks that had survived the previous battle. Its third squadron in which Haq Nawaz was serving in the repair section had lost all its Second World War vintage M36B2 Tank Busters – some to enemy action but most to mechanical breakdowns. It had also lost its brave squadron commander Major Raza Shah who was martyred while charging the enemy in the last remaining M36B2 and was awarded a posthumous Sitara-e-Jurat.
The regiment was tired after a hectic and urgent move by road and rail to Rahwali but there was no time to rest. The squadron of Tank Busters was reequipped with more of the same which had been hauled out of storage at Rawalpindi and moved to the war zone with their parts still preserved in grease and some without wireless sets and missing the gunner’s telescope. Needless to say they were in no condition to challenge the Indian Centurion tanks but the crews had no option but to go into battle.
The next night, 11th Cavalry along with 9th Frontier Force Battalion was thrust into the eye of the storm and executed a relief-in-line of 25th Cavalry and units of 24th Infantry Brigade who were pulled back to defend Chawinda. The relief was ill-timed and it was also badly managed since there was no armoured brigade headquarters to coordinate with the troops being relieved.
Daffadar Haq Nawaz had brought his dodge truck to repair the M36B2s of his squadron which were frequently breaking down
At first light on the 11th of September, the Indian 1st Armoured Division re-launched its attack to capture Phillaurah and Chawinda with Hodson and Poona Horse. The M36B2 squadron had been positioned between the two M48 squadrons and bore the brunt of the attack. A fierce tank battle ensued and the air was saturated with the smell of gunpowder. The tempo of battle was fast and four M36B2s were lost in the early stages of the battle. In this melee, Daffadar Haq Nawaz had brought his dodge truck with the section well forward to repair the M36B2s of his squadron which were frequently breaking down. He approached a tank standing next to a hamlet from which emerged the gunner and driver who appeared badly shaken. They narrated that the commander and loader had been badly injured by an artillery airburst and evacuated and they were at a loss what to do.
Haq Nawaz was a proud Gaitwal from the Kahuta Galiyat whose forebears had a strong tradition of serving in the army. Without hesitation, he decided to take command of the tank and crew and ordered a sowar from the repair section to fill in as the loader. A glance inside the turret revealed enough ammunition and after some tinkering the engine fired. However no amount of tinkering could coax the wireless set back to life and thus Haq Nawaz had no contact with the squadron. Nearby was a dried out pond and he ordered the driver to steer the tank into the depression and the relative safety of a hull-down position. Standing in the turret he scanned the area with his binoculars but the movement of tanks and artillery shelling had raised a cloud of dust making it difficult to either locate the enemy or recognize friend from foe. The field of fire was also limited by tall crops of barley and sugarcane. In between scanning the area, Nawaz gave a pep talk to his crew urging them to remain alert and ready for a kill.
Out of the haze appeared the unmistakable box-like shape of an Indian Centurion tank only 500 meters away moving across the line of fire. Haq Nawaz calmly directed the gunner to lay on to the target and fire. The Centurion tank was well armoured but the round struck the hull between the tracks, igniting the ammunition and a column of flame shot out of its cupola. He congratulated his crew on achieving their first kill of the day but there was no letup in his concentration and his watchful eyes kept searching the area.
Nawaz must have been pleased with himself. He was proving his worth as a tank commander and started playing with his bushy moustache. A flicker of a smile may have emerged on his serious face when he saw another Centurion moving on his flank. He laid his tank gun in ambush and as the Centurion emerged from behind a clump of trees he fired two rounds in quick succession. The tank came to a staggering halt and a little later its crew bailed out. This was his second kill and any tanker would be proud of such an achievement. Nawaz was still busy looking to his flank when his tank was rudely shaken. For a moment he didn’t know what had happened and he shouted into the microphone but there was no response from the crew. He shouted again but there was silence. Suddenly he felt giddy and saw his sleeve soaked in blood. He ducked down into the turret saw his gunner crouched on his seat and bleeding but the loader and driver, though ashen faced, were OK.
A direct hit on a tank unnerves even the bravest crew. The logical course would have been to bail out but Nawaz was made of different metal. Assisted by the loader, he laid the wounded gunner on the floor of the turret, took control of the gun, traversed it towards the Indian tank and started firing. The situation was becoming grave. Flashes of fire from tank and anti-tank guns penetrated through the haze of dust and smoke accompanied by the din of artillery rounds bursting close by. The tank was jolted by a hit for the second time, injuring the loader and Nawaz decided to evacuate. Grabbing the first-aid kit, he had the driver help him carry the injured crew to the relative safety of the hamlet. With care he patched up their wounds with his own turn coming as the last.
During a lull in the firing, Nawaz walked back to the tank to get a water bottle and was relieved to see that a APDS high velocity anti-tank round had passed clean through the relatively thin walls of the turret without causing much damage. He headed back and raising his voice said to the driver and loader in typical Punjabi, “Lale kehn ge keh Musle tank chad ke nas gie si. Chalo Allah da nan le kah apne baqi round fire Karye” [The Indians will say that the Muslims have left their tank and bolted. Come, take the name of Allah and let’s fire the remaining rounds].
A direct hit on a tank unnerves even the bravest crew. The logical course would have been to bail out but Nawaz was made of different metal
The crew initially hesitated but a persuasive look by Nawaz and his appeal to their “izzat” (self-respect) made them forget their injury and exhaustion. The gunner was too badly injured but the driver had some training in firing and familiarized himself with the gun controls while Nawaz scanned the area in front for signs of the enemy. 600 meters directly ahead was a field of tall barley and he made out the top of the turret and the barrel of the Centurion 20-pounder gun with its prominent bore evacuator. Nawaz patiently made his novice gunner aim at the target, index the range and fire. At this distance, it was difficult to miss and he was rewarded by the flash of an impact – but to his alarm he saw the tracer of his armour-piercing round sail into the sky as the projectile ricocheted off the thick wall of the Centurion’s turret. “Shot loaded two”, shouted the loader as he slammed another armour-piercing round into the breach but before the gunner could fire again, there was a tremendous jolt and flash as the M36B2 was hit for the third time. Nawaz sank to his seat never to rise again and the tank was engulfed in flames. The other two were badly wounded but managed to bail out.
The Battle of Phillaurah on the 11th of September 1965 was one of the most difficult days during the 1965 War and it took a desperate stand by 11th Cavalry and a counterattack by the Guides to halt the Indian armoured division. In the clash with two of the finest regiments of the Indian Armoured Corps, 11th Cavalry lost 7 M48s and the squadron of M36B2s lost 9 out of its 12 tanks with its squadron commander Bashir Ullah (Bob) Babar badly burnt. The commanding officer of 11th Cavalry Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Khan and his number two, Maj. Muzzaffar Malik, were also badly injured. The battle rolled on and the story of Nawaz’s courage and heroism remained shrouded. The curtain was finally raised months after the war when one of the survivors of his crew returned after a prolonged stay in hospital. Nawaz was recommended for the award of Nishan-e-Haider, the highest gallantry award of the country but since so much time had elapsed, the recommendation was not accepted. He has thus joined the brotherhood of the Unknown Soldiers.
Nawaz is dead—nay he shall live forever.
This article is based on an account by General Khalid Mahmud Arif which was published in Sabre and Lance, the Journal of the Pakistan Armoured Corps in 1968.