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27 Oct 1947: The arrival of saviours’ of J&K, Indian Army

Byadmin

Oct 26, 2021

Gowhar Nazir

 

It is difficult to imagine the cliffhanging drama that unfolded as Indian Army the saviours’ of Kashmir landed in Kashmir on 27 October 1947. The place was in limbo, the Maharaja having left Srinagar for Jammu in a long convoy at 2 am on the night of 25 October, a few hours after signing the accession. On October 27, when the first wave of Indian troops, that is, the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment landed at Srinagar, Pakistani invaders were already in Baramulla just 35 miles of tarmac road was all that lay between the invaders and Srinagar. Uncertainty prevailed about the fate of Srinagar, with negligible intelligence inputs having reached Delhi. Under these circumstances, the 1st Sikh Battalion flown from Delhi under Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai, were given explicit instructions, “to circle over the airfield before landing and ascertain that the airfield had not fallen into enemy hands.” Instructions to Lieutenant Colonel Rai were not to land if there was any doubt, but to fly back to Jammu.

On instructions of Maharaja of Kashmir, Brigadier Rajinder Singh, Chief of Staff of the Kashmir State Forces, was rushed to Uri with 200 soldiers to stall the invaders, who were in Uri, 101 km from Srinagar. Brigadier Rajinder Singh led from the front and engaged the raiders for two valuable days. Ultimately he had to blow up a bridge that spanned the nullah on the main Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road to further delay the raiders. The Brigadier was killed in the ensuing battle on October 24. He was awarded the Mahavir Chakra posthumously, the first recipient of this award in Independent India. Indian army fought gallantly to rescue J&K from the invasion of Pakistan orchestrated Kabalis (Pakistani tribesmen) with direct support of Pakistan Army regular soldiers. Indian army are sworn to protect the beautiful heaven of Kashmiris and protect and honor the Supreme sacrifice of its ancestors and army martyrs’ veterans.

Lieutenant General (Retd) S K Sinha in his book, Op Rescue: Military Operations in J&K, 1947-49 has brought out the circumstances when instructions were received at HQ Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command. This HQ had been raised after partition and was tasked to control the sub-areas of East Punjab and Delhi as well as the restore ‘law and order’ in Delhi and in the newly created state of East Punjab. General Sinha, who was then a Major, recounts how they had been summoned to the Operations Room at 2200 hours on the evening of 26 October, 1947, when the Army Commander, General Russell tasked them for the ‘rescue’ of Kashmir. He instructed his officers to expeditiously dispatch one Battalion group by air to Srinagar using a combination of Air Force and civil aircraft and one Brigade group by road to Jammu; moves which were required to commence by first light the next day i.e. 27 October. The Battalion for Srinagar was required to be built to a Brigade group before the onset of winters. One term of reference was laid down at the outset; no British or Muslim officer who had opted for Pakistan could accompany the forces. With one stroke, this reduced the availability of officers to lead the expeditionary force.

 

 

What actually happened?

During the Post-independence period when India got Independence from British rule and was partitioned to create Pakistan in August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh. On 20-21 Oct, 1947, about 20,000 tribesmen took over the bridges spanning Neelum river on the Hazara road linking Muzaffarabad and Abbottabad (now, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) and occupied the first major town of Muzaffarabad by October 21, and then  this tribesmen marched further towards Uri with an intent of invading the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The first target of the invaders was Muzaffarabad and Mirpur and the attack on Mirpur and Muzaffarabad was mounted on October 22, 1947. Those who could not recite “Kalima” were killed (on the basis of their religion), their belongings looted by the raiders. Minorities (Hindus and Sikhs) had two options, either die or escape to Jammu.

The raiders successfully captured Mirpur and Muzaffarabad, which was considered one of the great victories of Pakistan. Now, their plan was to capture Srinagar by taking the route to Baramulla district, which is close to Muzzaffarabad. The attack on Baramulla commenced on October 24, Pakistani invaders did not even spare St Joseph’s Hospital in Baramulla; they killed patients, medical staff and burnt down the hospital building. Nuns performing their duties at the hospital were raped and killed by the invaders, including Pakistani Army men in civil clothes. They didn’t even spare sick, wounded patients at the hospital. They picked up young women as sex slaves and killed children, old women and men of all ages. The attack was so lethal that only 3,000 citizens of Baramulla out of a total population of 14,000 were said to had survived—a sad fact that Major General Akbar Khan, the main perpetrator of the attack, mentions in his book ‘Raiders in Kashmir’. The Pakistan Army assisted 20,000 Kabalis (Pakistani tribesmen) in civil clothes to capture Baramulla and Srinagar. The tribesmen destroyed everything that came in their way. As the Pakistani invaders captured Mirpur, Muzzaffarabad, Uri and Baramulla with minimal resistance from J&K forces, the fall of Srinagar looked imminent.

On October 24, Maharaja Hari Singh appealed to India for military assistance in order to halt the aggression. He was scared of losing Srinagar; his request was considered on October 25 in a meeting of India’s Defence Committee, headed by Mountbatten and included Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Baldev Singh, minister without portfolio Gopalaswami Ayyangar, and British commanders-in-chief of the Army, Air Force and Navy. The committee concluded that “the most immediate necessity was to rush arms and ammunition already requested by the Kashmir government, which would enable the local populace in Srinagar to put up some defence against the raiders,” as per  Lt General K.K. Nanda’s book ‘War with No Gains’. The Defence Committee sent V.P. Menon, secretary, Ministry of States, to Srinagar to “make an on-the-spot study” the same day. He returned to New Delhi the next day with his impressions, and suggested sending troops to Kashmir, pointing out the “supreme necessity to save Kashmir from raiders”.

In the meantime, the newly appointed Prime Minister of J&K, Mehr Chand Mahajan, warned: “We have decided by 25th evening to go to India if we get a plane or else to Pakistan to surrender.”  As per Jyoti Bhusan Das Gupta’s book ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, Mountbatten warned that “it would be dangerous to send in any troops unless Kashmir had first offered to accede,” arguing that it would result in an India-Pakistan war. He suggested the accession should be considered as provisional, and “when law and order had been re-established in Kashmir, a plebiscite should be held as regards Kashmir’s future”. Menon was then flown to Jammu to advise the Maharaja about the government’s view, and that’s when the Maharaja finally signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, and Menon returned to Delhi with Mahajan. The Instrument of Accession was signed on matters of defence, communications and foreign affairs. Menon was then flown to Jammu to advise the Maharaja about the government’s view, and that’s when the Maharaja finally signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, and Menon returned to Delhi with Mahajan. The Instrument of Accession was signed on matters of defence, communications and foreign affairs.

On October 27, the first batch of troops flew to Srinagar. Air Commodore Mehar Singh, AOC Operational Group, inducted troops in five days, a feat lauded by Lord Mountbatten also. More than 100 civilian mobilised aircraft were used to fly troops, equipment and supplies to Srinagar. Instructions to send a battalion to Srinagar were received by the Delhi-East Punjab Command (now Western Command) at 1 pm on October 26, and the 1st Sikh Battalion employed on internal security duties at Gurgaon was ordered to concentrate at Palam airfield. By midnight of October 26/27, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai, managed to assemble his battalion headquarters and one company at Palam. Ammunition, clothing and rations were issued to the troops at the airfield. By first light, 1st Sikh was airborne. The remaining elements of 1st Sikh were still deployed and brought to Delhi to be flown to Srinagar on the next day. On landing, Lieutenant Colonel Rai had to take a quick decision — whether to engage the invaders, which outnumbered his inadequate force, or wait till sufficient reinforcements arrived. He took the bold decision and dashed into the invaders column at Baramulla. Keeping one company in reserve, he launched an attack with the other company. The raiders were well-organised, equipped with machine guns and mortars. Lieutenant Colonel Rai decided to fall aback and occupy around Pattan, half way between Srinagar and Baramulla. He remained with the forward section to ensure all his troops move back safely. At this juncture, a sniper’s bullet injured him. He had succeeded in halting enemy’s advance. Meanwhile, the 161 Brigade Headquarters under Brigadier L.P. Sen, DSO, arrived in Srinagar and took over the command of all Indian and State Forces in Srinagar.

On November 3, a company of 4 Kumaon, flown in under Major Somnath Sharma, went on a fighting patrol to Badgam. The company encountered 500-700 strong enemy forces, which attacked with 3″ and 2″ mortars. The encounter lasted for over six hours. Despite one arm being in plaster due to a fracture, Major Sharma inflicted many casualties on the enemy. His last radio message to Brigade Commander was, “the enemy is less than 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered and under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch…” was interrupted by a loud crash of a bursting mortar, killing him. He was awarded the first Param Vir Chakra of India and late Sepoy Dewan Singh awarded Mahavir Chakra posthumously. In the Battle of Badgam, Major Sharma, one JCO and many other ranks of 4 Kumaon were killed. Major General Kulwant Singh arrived in Srinagar on November 5, and established the headquarters for Jammu and Kashmir. Thereby he took over command of all the forces in Jammu and Kashmir. A squadron of armoured cars of 7 Cavalry under Major Inder Rikhye was inducted in through the perilous road from Ambala via Jammu and the 9,000 feet high Banihal Pass by negotiating over rickety bridges. Spitfires were soon engaged in strafing of intruders beyond Pattan. During the first week of November, the enemy was strafed so thoroughly that it broke the backbone of their resistance. Notable among the Spitfire pilots was Flying Officer Dilbag Singh, who subsequently rose to the rank of Chief of Air Staff.

 

Final Assault; Shalteng

 

Tempests of Number 7 Squadron RIAF played a decisive role in the battle of Shalteng checking the advance of the raiders. In the early hours of November 7, the enemy contacted the forward defended locations of 1 Sikh position. Thus commenced the Battle of Shalateng. The troops available were 1 Sikh under newly promoted Commanding Officer Maj Sampuran Bachan Singh, who commanded the battalion from October 30 to December 12. Later, he was wounded in the Battle of Bhatgiran. 1 Kumaon commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh, a gallant officer, who had been wounded and a company of 4 Kumaon, 1 Punjab under Lieutenant Colonel G.I.S. Khullar and 6 Raj Rif, 2 Dogra , 37 Field Battery and a Squadron from 7 Light Cavalry under Major Inder Jit Rikhye. 1 Patiala Infantry (Rajindra Sikhs) and a troop of Patiala State Mountain Guns were also engaged in this battle. The plan conceived was to encircle the enemy completely by a series of quick moves; an encirclement, from Shalteng in the extreme north west to the Rifle Range area in the south east and to the Hokar Sar area in the south, and thereby to completely annihilate him. A company of 4 Kumaon launched itself on the enemy as the right flanking company of 1 Sikh. The final orders for attack were given by Brigadier L.P. Sen, DSO. All hell broke loose when the enemy was shot up in the rear by the armour troop commanded by Lieutenant Noel David, and attacked frontally by 1 Sikh.

Suddenly, 1 Kumaon commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh burst in on the enemy’s right flank, with automatic weapons blazing, as they were fired from the hip, and with bayonets flashing. This stunned the enemy and resulted in complete confusion in the enemy positions. The defectors of J & K State Forces Infantry, who had joined the enemy ranks, were now trying to escape the fire that was hitting them from three sides. Seeing the bayonet charge descending on them, the enemy rushed in all directions, and crashed into one another. Ultimately, they turned and fled westwards. As they broke, 1 Sikh was ordered to attack and the rifle company of 4 Kumaon was thrown into the battle on the right flank of 1 Sikh. An immediate request to the Air Force to strike the fleeing tribesmen was answered with some telling blows. The Battle of Shalteng, which lasted for 12 hours, had been won. It was a major disaster for the tribesmen.

As the news spread about the defeat of the enemy, there was jubilation in Srinagar. The civilian buses borrowed from the civil administration remained woefully unsuitable for the requirements of the army. Notwithstanding this drawback, and despite a number of casualties to own troops, Captain H.S. Bolina, the Company Commander of 4 Kumaon pressed home the attack. The disorganised and beaten enemy streaked across the fields towards Baramulla. This was a devastating blow for the raiders, who left behind thousands dead and many wounded. The air support shattered the morale of the enemy and drove them beyond Baramulla and Uri.

Lord Mountbatten who had been proved wrong by the Indians was full of praise for the effort and he went on to write, “In his war experience, he had never come across an airlift of this order being successfully undertaken with such slender resources, and at such short time.” General S K Sinha, who himself was involved with the airlift as a staff officer, was to call this effort a ‘miracle.’ The important lesson to take home from the airlift was the alacrity of response and unity of purpose which was displayed by the men ‘in’ and ‘out’ of uniform. Without this, as the late Air Commodore Jasjit Singh has pointed out, the valley and with it Kashmir, would have been lost.

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