The Famous Patton Tank Couldn’t Hold Its Own Against the Indian Army

Photo Credit: Pakistan Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Over the course of six-and-a-half weeks in 1965, India and Pakistan fought a war. They didn’t do it alone, as the world was watching anxiously and world powers were taking part. At points, the United States, the United Kingdom and the USSR all played a role. The main feature of the Indo-Pakistani War was the heavy use of tanks.

The Pakistanis had US Patton tanks

Tank driving along a dirt road
The Pakistani Army had M47 and M48 Patton tanks, which were supposedly unbeatable. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The US had sold arms and supplies to both India and Pakistan over the years. The Pakistani Army thought it would have an advantage in its operations against India, thanks to its roster of Patton tanks, which were said to be unbeatable on the battlefield.

The M47 and M48 tanks were developed shortly after the end of World War II. Tanks played a prominent role in the conflict, and the US aimed to have the best on the market with these armored vehicles, which were named after famed Gen. George S. Patton.

The Rann of Kutch

Three Indian soldiers standing next to a Jeep equipped with an anti-tank gun
Indian soldiers show off a Jeep armed with an anti-tank gun during the Indo-Pakistani War, 1965. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images)

The battle began with Pakistan attacking an Indian-held area known as the Rann of Kutch. The offensive provided a number of advantages for the Pakistani forces. First, India hadn’t expected this type of attack and was caught unawares. Second, the Indian ground troops weren’t equipped to deal with the fight Pakistan brought to them.

Emboldened, the victorious army continued to push into Indian territory. The Pakistanis launched an attack on April 7, 1965 and took Vigokot and Biar Bet. These continued incursions drew the attention of the Indian government and military, with both prepared to engage in a large-scale war.

The Pakistanis badly miscalculated

Indian soldiers sitting atop a tank
Indian soldiers sit on top of a tank during the Indo-Pakistani War, 1965. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

After their success at the Rann of Kutch, Vigokot and Biar Bet, the Pakistani Army had its sights set on a much bigger prize: Kashmir. The Pakistanis believed those living in the valley would join their cause and fight alongside them. They were wrong, as the people of Kashmir were loyal to the Indian cause and shared information with the opposing military.

Still, the Pakistanis had a large number of M47 and M48 tanks. After two weeks of fighting, the Indian Army was able to catch the Pakistani tanks in a horseshoe trap. Forcing their opponent into the muddy ground, the Indian soldiers destroyed over 100 tanks and damaged another 40. The Indian forces only lost 10.

Victory in the Battle of Asal Uttar went to India.

The legend of Abdul Hamid

Postage stamp featuring an artist's rendering of Abdul Hamid
Abdul Hamid, who died in the Battle of Asal Uttar, is revered as a hero in India. (Photo Credit: India Post, Government of India / Wikimedia Commons / Government Open Data License – India)

The Battle of Asal Uttar is one of the most famous in Indian history. As a result, many of those who took part are recognized as national heroes. However, no hero is more famous than Abdul Hamid.

Hamid joined the Indian Army at the age of 21 and participated in many conflicts. During the Battle of Asal Uttar, he was tasked with manning the recoilless rifle mounted atop a Jeep. He had the unenviable task of going up against the Pakistani’s Patton tanks.

During the battle, Hamid took out eight tanks, earning him the nickname of “Patton Killer.” Seeing others on the approach, he left formation to deter them. Hamid shot his gun at the same time a tank shot its own. Despite being killed during the engagement, his legacy continues to live on. His actions also hurt the M48’s reputation, leading Pakistan to replace the tank with the M60 following the war.

Legacy and aftermath

Lal Bahadur Shastri and Muhammad Ayub Khan standing with two other men
Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan after signing a peace treaty in 1966. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

The Indo-Pakistani War concluded close to two weeks after the Battle of Asal Uttar. The two countries had essentially fought to a stalemate; no territory was changed as a result of the conflict. Despite this, both claimed victory. India lauded its forces for beating back the technologically-advanced tanks manned by the Pakistanis, while Pakistan was proud it had gone head to head against an army two-and-a-half its size and held its own.

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Most significant for the US was the way the war affected its relationship with both nations. During the conflict, both India and Pakistan felt the US and the UK didn’t support them in the way they’d expected. This drove both to develop more significant relationships with China and the USSR.