Updated: May 31
Chapter 1: The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir signs the Instrument of Accession and the Indian Forces enter the valley to fight the invader Pathans.
A day after the Instrument of Accession was signed, on October 27, Indian troops were flown into the Srinagar airfield. A Dakota DC3 aircraft, also known as Douglas, carried the troops to the airstrip. The first Dakota to land in Srinagar on 27 Oct 1947 was piloted by Wing Commander K L Bhatia, No 12 Squadron IAF and carried troops of 1 Sikh Regiment. It bore the tail number VP905 and the DC3 aircraft was recently restored and handed over to the Indian Air Force. Two others who played a major role were Air Commodore Mehar Singh, head of the Operational group in Jammu and Kashmir and Biju Patnaik, who later went on to serve as the Chief Minister of Odisha.
The troops comprised one rifle company and the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh). Although the Battalion Commander, Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was given strict orders to set up defensive positions at Srinagar, he ensured that the airbase at Srinagar was secure, and then dispatched a large number of the 1 Sikh troops to Pattan (a district in Baramulla), under Major Harwant Singh. He then himself advanced away from Srinagar so as to engage the enemy in battle as far as possible from the airfield, and fought from the first line. He was killed in action the same evening, and was among the early recipients of the Maha Vir Chakra. His valiant efforts reaped benefits and he bought the Army crucial time. October 27 is celebrated as Infantry Day every year, to mark the day when the first Indian infantry soldiers landed at the Srinagar airbase to thwart the evil designs of the Pakistan Army.
On October 31, the first Brigade Commander sent to Srinagar, Brigadier J.C. Katoch of the 161 Infantry Brigade was injured due to a bullet wound and had to be called back immediately. The next day, Col L.P Sen, under Brigadier P.N. Thapar in the Directorate of Military Intelligence, was temporarily promoted to the rank of a Brigadier, and selected to replace Brigadier Katoch. Col. Sen, in his own words,
“borrowed a couple of stars from one on his Staff Officers, rearranged his badges of rank to conform to those worn by a Brigadier”.
Among the troops sent to Kashmir was also the 4th Battalion of the Kumaon Regiment, led by Major Somnath Sharma, who went on to become India’s first Param Vir Chakra recipient. 9 Major Sharma was recovering from a sport-related injury at the time, however, he insisted on accompanying his Battalion. On November 3, matters came to a head when the Pakistani invaders reached Badgam, a small town merely an hour away from Srinagar. Brigadier Sen dispatched Major Sharma to hold off the enemy.
Thinking quickly on his feet, Major Sharma anticipated that although the enemy had been spotted in Badgam, it was meant to divert attention from the real attack from the west. Although Major Sharma predicted the direction of the attack correctly, what he could not have known was the strength of the enemy forces. The 4th Kumaon Regiment had been stationed since dawn, when, in the afternoon, 500 tribal lashkars launched an attack. Surrounded from three sides, the Regiment fought incredibly bravely, and realized the importance of holding off the defenders. If the enemy captured the airfield, they would get a direct entry into the rest of India and would block the entry of Indian troops into the valley. Under heavy fire and mortar bombardment, Major Sharma risked his life several times, motivating his 50-men strong company to fight harder and not relinquish their position. While also calling for reinforcements from the headquarters, Major Sharma, despite his fractured arm, himself filled magazines for the light machine gunners so as to ensure their effectiveness was not compromised. Major Sharma lost his life in a mortar shell explosion soon after. Witnessing their leader fight till his last breath, the soldiers delayed the invaders for six hours, killing over 200 of them and disabled their leader, buying crucial time till reinforcements could arrive. By the time the 1st Kumaon Regiment reached Badgam, more than 20 officers of the Battalion had lost their lives. The last message of Major Sharma was, “The enemies are only 50 yards from us. We are heavily outnumbered. We are under devastating fire. I shall not withdraw an inch but will fight to the last man and the last round”. The 4th Battalion of the Kumaon regiment, despite suffering heavy losses and having the odds stacked against them, saved Kashmir valley.
The following day, Sardar Patel and Baldev Singh visited Brigadier Sen and promised the support of more troops and artillery. True to their word, three Battalions of Infantry, one Squadron of Armoured Cars and a Battery of Field Artillery were sent to the Valley by road. The road was bridged, facilitating easier and larger transport.
A new problem which then arose was the invaders scattered throughout the state. It was not sound and in greater interest to attack the different troops of invaders who were constantly on the move. Brigadier Sen decided to bait the tribals to collect together at one place, making it appear like they had the upper hand. The 1 Sikh regiment, strengthened with two extra rifle companies, stationed merely 26km away from the airfield at Pattan (dispatched by Lt. Col. Rai on October 27) was the obstacle for the enemy, and Brigadier Sen withdrew them to Srinagar. The gamble, which could have resulted in a temporary loss of Pattan if the enemy chose to capture the territory, paid off.
In the following days, as reinforcements poured in, a large number of patrols were sent out, and multiple blocking positions were established. The newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Force, led by Major General Kulwant Singh, arrived on November 5. The Pathan forces advancing towards the airfield were halted. The defensive parameter, ranging from Srinagar to Baramulla to Humhom, was expanded.
In the early light of November 7, the enemy attacked the defensive positions at Shalateng on the outskirts of Srinagar, where the 1 Sikh was positioned, led by Maj Sampuran Bachan Singh. The other troops engaged in this decisive integral battle were the 1 Kumaon, 4 Kumaon, and 1 Punjab among others. India gave a befitting response, when, as the 1 Sikh fired and distracted the invaders, in a brilliantly planned coordinated attack, the remaining troops encircled the enemy. The rifle troop of the 7th Indian Light Cavalry led by Lieutenant Noel David, along with two armoured cars attacked from the behind, while 1 Kumaon commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh, advanced from the right suddenly, firing their automatic weapons. What followed was complete chaos, and the invaders had no option but to withdraw. 1 Sikh, attacking from the front, was strengthened by 4 Kumaon, which had been kept in reserve until then. Over 700 men of the invaders were killed, and the others fled, leaving behind most of their vehicles and equipment. The Battle of Shalateng, which lasted half a day, resulted in the crushing defeat of Pakistan, and Indian forces recaptured the districts of Baramulla and Uri. The invaders, after 10 days, had been thrown out of Kashmir Valley with this decisive battle. However, the war was far from over.
Kiss, Peter. (2013). The First Indo-Pakistani War 1947-48.
Collins L., Lapierre D. (1975). Freedom at midnight.