Pakistani Army Museum, Rawalpindi

By Usman Ansari

Rawalpindi has always been a military town. Long before the British arrived in South Asia it had military importance. The British Indian Army comfortably ensconced itself in Rawalpindi bestowing upon it the status of the headquarters of the Northern Command, and giving it the largest British Indian Army base in South Asia. After Partition the Pakistani Army naturally set up home, and when the time came for a museum to be set up, there was no better place than Rawalpindi.

The entrance of the museum is suitably guarded by an impressive statue of Subedar Khudadad Khan VC, the first South Asian recipient of the Victoria Cross. The inscription on the plinth upon which the statue of this brave warrior stands reads as follows:

'The first South Asian soldier of the British Indian Army to get the highest gallantry award "Victoria Cross" at Hollbecks, Belgium during World War One, on 31st October 1914.

Subedar Khudadad Khan belponged to village Dabb Tehsil (Now Distt) Chakwal. He died at CMH Rawalpindi on 8th March 1971 at the age of 94 years and was buried in his native village.'

Inside the exhibits are on the whole very impressive, and span the whole period of Pakistan’s existence. These are every day items that were used by the army, from radios to medical equipment and motorbikes. The crests that adorn the walls tell a history of their own, either displaying the change from a British dominion to an Islamic republic, or still displaying the roots of some of the regiments that date from the time of the British Indian Army. The flags and colours of the various regiments are a testament to the fact that the British Indian Army was defending the Empire in nineteenth century, whilst the British Army in Europe mercilessly pounded parade grounds. A number of displayed items were captured during the decade-long struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Some of these items were turned on their former owners by the Mujahideen, others such as the parts of Afghan government and Soviet aircraft, were suitable for nothing more than trophies after they met their fate. Though not itself present, a model of the ‘Zamzama Gun’ forever enshrined in literature thanks to Rudyard Kipling, is also displayed inside. More commonly known to Pakistanis as the ‘Rani Top’, the monster cannon and its history, is perhaps indicative of the relationship between present-day India and Pakistan. Unsurprisingly after three wars with India, there are a significant number of captured Indian weapons and related ‘militaria’. This should not cheapen their worth as all the wars were hard fought affairs, especially on the ground.

Of note is the uniform jacket of Field Marshall Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, (GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE), the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army from 1943 onwards. He is incredibly underrated as a military figure but was a very competent leader, respected by his troops and enemies, (at least those in opposing armies if not the cut-throat and treacherous world of the British Army officer corps). In personal terms he was a self-made man having been born into poverty in the home of the British Army, Aldershot, but through sheer hard work and determination he rose to the top of his profession. He laid the groundwork for Montgomery’s victory against Rommel at El Alamein, though neither Montgomery (who resented Auchinleck for being a British Indian Army Officer – an honour he was denied due to his poor performance at RMA Sandhurst) nor his supporters would have ever admitted to that. After becoming the C-in-C of the British Indian Army in 1943, he engineered the logistical supply that allowed General Slim, (another officer of the British Indian Army) to eventually defeat the Japanese in Burma. After the war he helped prepare the Pakistani and Indian armies for independence, despite opposing the manner in which Partition was handled. In this he clashed with Mountbatten the last Viceroy of India, (who was no friend at all of the fledgling Pakistan), and retired. Standing next to his uniform he was by no means a tall man, but he more than made up for his lack of stature by being inherently competent, (despite the slandering). To see his uniform displayed in the museum is a reminder of a great and honourable man, who played a significant role in establishing the Pakistani Army. In some respects he is the father of the army, so to have his uniform on display is all the more significant. Another touching item on display is a Pakistani flag that survived the fall of Dhaka in 1971 during the third Indo-Pak War. It was kept safe by a railway worker through his imprisonment by the Indian Army until he was repatriated back to West Pakistan. The efforts he went to, to ensure the flag remained safe, are recognised by it being displayed in the museum. Two other internal exhibits of note are the limousines of ex-Presidents General Yahya Khan and Field Marshal Ayub Khan. They were both were in office during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India respectively. Both are American Cadillac cars and in virtually mint condition condition. Visitors should not be surprised to see the museum staff painstakingly removing every speck of dust on these immaculate vehicles. Along with the Nishan-e-Haider gallery, which celebrates the bravery of those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in exceptional circumstances, these exhibits are perhaps the things that should be of particular interest to a visitor. One final curiosity is the hunting bow and arrows of Tipu Sultan ‘The Tiger of Mysore’. Though Mysore is in modern day India, Tipu Sultan’s ferocity in battle, religious piety, and high standard of governance and tolerance (despite propaganda to the contrary), have proved an exceptional example ever since. The intrepid WWII British agent Noor Inayat Khan, who was captured, tortured and executed by the Nazis in France, is said to have been one of his descendents. Whilst these are just some of the items related to the great men of history connected with Pakistan, the external exhibits are no less arresting.

The external exhibits again span a time well before Pakistan was even a notion. There are a number of cannon that date from the ‘Indian Mutiny’ of 1857, but on the whole exhibits from the post 1947 period, especially from the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistani Wars, dominate the grounds. Medium to large calibre artillery guns are arranged in front of the museum, having long since been replaced. There is a good selection of tanks and the Sherman, Chaffee and Patton tanks that took part in the 1965 war are well represented. These were used in the fierce battles of Chawinda and Assal Uttar in the 1965, the two largest and fiercest clashes of armour during the war. The loss of irreplaceable Pattons was so great at Assal Uttar that they were replaced by the truly horrendous Chinese Type-59s shortly after, but Pakistan required tanks and they were the only option. Also present are the Sexton and Priest SP artillery vehicles that equipped the Pakistani Army, (and indeed the Indian Army) during the wars. In PA service they have long since been replaced by the M-109 and M-110, but these WWII vintage weapons gave a good account of themselves in 1965 and 1971. There is also a Bell-OH-13 observation and liaison helicopter plus a Cessna OH-1 Bird Dog, on display. The diminutive Ferret armoured car near the main gates, was actually used by the Frontier Corps to check smuggling along the Pakistani/Iranian border. A look inside the open hatches adequately demonstrates just how cramped the car was for its two-man crew.

Of note though are the captured Indian vehicles that date from both wars. The captured Indian Mahindra jeep is particularly interesting as the manufacturer’s plate is still clearly visible, and shows it was captured by the 6th Baloch Regiment, in 1971, the year of its manufacture. Some of the captured jeeps were fitted with recoilless rifle anti-tank weapons which proved deadly to tanks in the cultivated fields of the Punjab. The antiquated looking, WWII era T-6 APC was despite its age, still a fairly competent ‘battle bus’. It was captured in the Lahore sector in 1965, the scene of fierce fighting. The AMX-13 and Sherman were both captured during the Battle of Assal Uttar, a clash most often remembered for the needless loss of a great many Pakistani Patton tanks in the cultivated fields of the Punjab plain. Though like most of the displayed vehicles the AMX-13 has been given an all-over coat of olive-drab, the Sherman has been spared, allowing it to be positively identified as belonging to the 9th Horse, and allotted to the 4th Mountain Division during that battle. If the Pakistani thrust that led to Assal Uttar proved to be the graveyard of Pakistani Patton tanks, it did one other thing, it stalemated the war in Lahore sector and forced the focus of Indian efforts north. This led to the fiercest and largest tanks battle of the war, the battle of Chawinda, and it was during this period of the war that the Indian Centurion on display was captured. The Centurion is probably the best British tank ever made, but that did not stop them being decimated in terrain that was more akin to Normandy’s Villiers Bocage in 1944, than an open plain normally desired for tank warfare. Opposed by largely by Sherman and some Patton tanks, as well as infantry wielding anti-tank weapons, the Centurions were stopped dead in their tracks. Though it cannot be known for certain what knocked it out, the turret side penetrations and shell that ricocheted into the engine compartment, effectively brought the career of the captured example to an abrupt end.

The museum may in the future be moved to Ayub National Park in an effort to make it more ‘visitor-friendly’. As it is, it is a very well run museum that does credit to the Pakistani Army. The only real criticism that can be made is that the application of olive-drab over the vehicle’s markings has taken away some of the essence of the exhibits if not spoilt them somewhat. Thankfully not all have had an additional light-grey camouflage pattern very roughly applied. All in all, the museum should be on the list of places to visit for anybody in Rawalpindi.

Published in PakDef E-Reporter, Issue 2  

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