Chapter 4: Recovery in Sight: Naushera -- India Pakistan War 1947-48


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.


Chapter 2: With the decisive victories at Badgam and Shalateng, the Pakistani militants are driven out of the Valley.


Chapter 3: After India’s astounding victory in the Battle of Shalateng, we find out what were Daimler cars, how was the invasion of the rough terrains of Jammu dealt with and who were the local heroes.

In the months of the war that had passed, Indian forces had dedicated a lot of their efforts and resources towards the Kashmir valley. However, the districts of Jhangar and Naushera, which lay very close to the LoC had not witnessed action till then, and sensing strong enemy presence there, the 50 Para Brigade led by Brigadier Usman was deployed to safeguard the area.


As most troops were concentrated around Uri and Poonch, the enemy believed they could capture the district of Jhangar, which was the junction of roads between Mirpur and Kotli, thereby holding strategic importance.


On 9th December, 1947, the Pir Matalsi ridge, connecting Jhangar and Mirpur was attacked by the enemy, and was fiercely pushed back by the 50 Para Brigade, resulting in 40 casualties on the enemy side. The enemy took 10 days to regain their strength, and launched another attack with renewed vigour on 19th December. The fight was marked by the much needed assistance of 3 Para Rajput who fought valiantly. Although the attack was beaten off, 1 Indian officer lost his life and 16 were reported missing. However, the enemy had planned well in advance and launched another surprise attack the very same night at Jhangar. 1/ 2 Punjab was mortared and parallelly attacked, resulting in intense fighting for over 6 hours, ending with the enemy being forced to withdraw.

Map showing the various areas of the state where the Indian Forces were stationed


However, Pakistan hadn’t given up and wanted to have full control over Jhangar. On 23rd December, two troops on the Jhangar-Naushera road were surprised to encounter heavy firing by the 1500 strong enemy. Fighting ensued throughout the day, with the troop being led by Jemedar Umrao Singh being responsible for killing about 200 of the enemies. The next day, sensing India’s vulnerability, the enemy attacked again and successfully captured not only the Pir Matalsi ridge but also Jhangar, despite India having put up a strong defence and inflicting heavy casualties, reducing the enemy strength to about half. The 1000 strong enemy then disarmed communication from Jhangar to Naushera and forced the Indian forces to retreat to Naushera. Our Army suffered heavy losses- 60 men were killed, 56 were wounded grievously and 42 were reported missing. The battle, though lost, brought to the fore the spirit of a few machine gunners from a platoon of 1 Mahar who risked their lives and incessantly fired at the enemy, all the while aware of their impending death. Their heroism will never be forgotten and will be eternally treasured in the minds of Indians.

Source: Navbharat Times


The very next evening, the unending reinforcements of the enemy in the form of 3000 members launched an attack at Naushera, however all their attempts were foiled. Offensive air support, which was not possible the previous day due to unfavourable weather conditions, was provided on the 25th to the Indian forces.


The loss of Jhangar led the Indian leadership to rethink their strategies. The importance of the intelligence and communication systems was realized and attempts were made to upgrade the same. More forces were raised, and Major General Thimayya, Commander of East Punjab Area was ordered to raise 6 battalions. 15 Dakotas were brought to improve the maintenance facilities. Most importantly, emphasis was given to ensure the position at Uri was guarded, Poonch was held securely and Jhangar was recaptured at the earliest.

Major General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya. Source: Honour Point


In the first week of January, following the capture of Jhangar, Indian forces had to tread cautiously to ensure the safety of Naushera. The enemy were greater in number and possessed an upper hand due to their control over Jhangar. Slowly but steadily, the Indian forces were successful in establishing permanent picquets in the neighbouring areas and pushing away the enemy.


One needs to understand that a war, or even a battle, is not simply the fighting that occurs on the D-day, days and weeks of planning, gauging defences, and most importantly, strategic positioning is integral to victory. Pakistan understood this well. They displayed their detailed planning by launching two smaller, surprise attacks on Naushera to serve as a distraction from their disastrous final attack. In spite of this, they didn’t stop here. They also placed roadblocks on the road from Naushera to Beri Pattan, threatening the line of communication.


On the evening of 6 January, after the enemy had retreated, Brig. Usman recognized the significance of the line of communication and gave orders to open the roadblocks. However, the operation was unsuccessful and instead, made Naushera more vulnerable as the forces were kept away from the district and vulnerable to enemy attacks. Indian forces were ordered to retreat. The enemy, sensing the weak position of the Indian forces, set up 3 more strong roadblocks the following day by blowing up bridges. The same day, additional troops were deployed to assist in the opening of the line of communication. Brig. Lakhinder Singh, commanding the Z Brigade group, engaged in intense fighting for 3 days, finally opening up the roadblocks by 10th January.


Learning from the enemy blocking the line of communication to Beri Pattan, Brig. Usman ordered the troops to patrol not only Naushera but also Beri Pattan. On 23rd January, Lt. Col. R.G. Naidu, Commander of 2 Jat was given the responsibility of clearing out the enemy from the area around Beri Pattan, which was codenamed Operation Satyanas.

The troops made some progress until the morning of 25th January when they encountered heavy firing as they approached Siot. The enemy had spread over a wide area and the ground was broken at many places, making conditions even more difficult to navigate. Indian forces slept in the freezing cold in the open at night and made a silent unseen advance on the second night, finally launching a surprise sudden attack at dawn, wherein the enemy was taken aback and suffered a crushing defeat. The enemy suffered about 100 dead and wounded.

Meanwhile, the 7 Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Rajindar Singh, was ordered to launch a surprise attack from the rear to destroy the main base of the enemy at Assar/Kadala, which would weaken and disrupt the enemy’s offensive. A mobile force given the name ‘Cheeta force’ was put under Lt. Col. Singh. The Cheeta force consisted of different troops of armoured cars and a squadron of Stuart Tanks from 7 Cavalry. The plan was to push right up to the area of Assar-Kadala-Bhimbar to destroy the enemy base. The mobile force launched its operation at 0530 hours on January 25th. Despite earlier reverses, it was able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy at Amberala, Chordhaki, and Assar/Kadala. With the combined might of the Cheeta force from rear end, and intense engagement at Siot, Operation Satyanas was successful and the enemy around Beri Pattan were cleared out. This Operation was the first success since the capture of Jhangar, and was a source of inspiration for all the soldiers.


A few days later, Lt. Gen. K.M. Cariappa, who was the GOC-in-C of Western Command, visited Brig Usman to check on the defences and receive an update about the situation. Lt. Gen. Cariappa, who went on to become the first Army Chief of Indian origin of independent India, recommended that Kot area be secured, as it overlooked our defences and the enemy’s rising strength over that area could be a threat.


Two days later, Brig Usman launched Operation Kipper, codenamed after Lt. Gen. Kariappa’s nickname.

Lt. Gen. K.M. Cariappa. Source: Economic Times


The aim was to not only capture Kot but also the neighbouring areas which were strong enemy bases- Pathradi and Uparla Dandesar. Along with this, the Indian forces wanted to set up a permanent picquet at Kot. On 1st February, at dawn, the attack was launched. The Air Force was to also lend assistance by softening the enemy attack. To confuse the enemy, a deception plan was carried out, which would make the enemy believe that the Indian forces meant to capture Jhangar. Pathradi was easily captured in a matter of hours and little resistance was faced. However, although the Indian forces succeeded in capturing Kot and Uparla Dandesar, the enemy immediately launched counter-offensives. Indian forces were well prepared this time and were able to repulse the attack. Tempests from the Air Force played a significant role in attacking the enemy and taking them by surprise. They conducted aerial strikes on the registered enemy positions indicated by the ground visual control posts. Several direct hits were confirmed by the Air Force on enemy pockets of resistance. The deception plan was also a success, as enemy forces were concentrated around Jhangar and made strategies, in vain, to guard it. Prisoners captured from Kot and Pathradi confessed to not having expected the attack. Operation Kipper was a huge success. It raised the morale of the Indian troops, and was a source of joy and a beacon of light in the darkness that had enveloped them since December.

Post the success of Operation Kipper, intelligence sources reported that the enemy was planning to strike back hard by attacking Naushera on February 6. This integral source of information helped Brig Usman plan well in advance and station the troops accordingly. The anticipated attack was carried out early morning on Feb 6 by the enemy. The main target for the enemy appeared to be the picquets at Taindhar and Kot. At Picquet No.2 in Taindhar, the enemy, about thousands in strength, attacked thrice despite suffering heavy casualties. Out of the 27 men guarding the picquet, 24 lost their lives. Naik Jadunath Singh was one of the 3 remaining men. His valour and bravery not only forced the enemy to retreat in confusion but also led him to handle the Bren gun while one of the frontline gunners was severely injured.


After a while, the young 32 year old soldier was the only man standing at his post, having lost all his comrades at the picquet. However, he charged back harder and single handedly drove back yet another wave of Pakistani troops for the umpteenth time. While he successfully inflicted heavy injuries on the enemy, he succumbed to his own chest and head wounds, and lost his life at the battlefield.


Brig Usman realized the gravity of the situation and sent 3 Para Rajput, just in time. Meanwhile, fighting at Kot continued throughout the night of 6th February. About 400 enemy were killed and 250 wounded at Kot and Taindhar. 1000 strong enemy attacked the Kangota picquet and about 5000 strong enemy from other directions. Brig Usman realized that merely defending was not enough and sent a small reserve to attack the enemy concentration south west of Naushera, and were successful in forcing the enemy to withdraw. Naushera had been saved. Had it not been for Naik Singh, repelling the attack would have been nearly impossible and Naushera would have been lost.

Naik Jadunath Singh. Source: Honour Point


The stage was now set to reclaim Jhangar and tilt the battle scales in India’s favour.


Estimating the strength of the enemy around Jhangar, Brig Usman realized that the recapture, and avenging of the setback suffered in December, would not be a straightforward process, not that any battle ever was, but he realized that this operation would be even more tougher than the others. Owing to the complexity of the operation, it was divided into three phases. The first phase commenced on 7th February, and involved probing into enemy positions around Naushera and Jhangar. Meanwhile, Major General Kulwant Singh, commander of the J&K Forces, sent forth reinforcements to lend a hand. While most of the first phase went about with few casualties to the Indian forces, one event was certainly noteworthy. Reports indicated the strong presence of the enemy in a village ‘Kalal’, and 1 Kumaon was given the task of capturing and destroying the village. 4 Dogra, popularly known as Char Satara, was ordered to provide protection to the 1 Kumaon battalion from the right flank. While 1 Kumaon faced no resistance, 4 Dogra, led by Lt. Col. IJS Butalia bore the brunt of the attack. Encountering heavy firing, Lt. Col. Butalia continued to stay on the battlefield and fight fearlessly even after having his left hand being completely blown off. Without his gallantry and determination to carry out his duty, the operation might not have been successful at the first phase itself. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously for exhibiting ‘selfless devotion to duty’.


The second phase, codenamed Operation Bharatpur, commenced on 28th February and the aim was to capture the areas of Ambli Dhar and Kaman Gosha Gala, which were still controlled by the enemy. Banking on the success of Operation Kipper, where a deception plan had yielded the desired result, this time too, the enemy was made to believe that the Indian forces were approaching in another direction. By the time the enemy realized their folly, 2 Jat had already captured Ambli Dhar. However, the enemy was not one to give up easily, and after one anxious hour, they struck back ferociously, killing 2 Indian officers and injuring 7. The attack to capture Kaman Gosha Gala also involved the loss of lives of 12 officers and wounding 29. The enemy suffered heavier casualties and Operation Bharatpur was successful.


The final phase, codenamed ‘Operation Vijay’ was launched on 5th March.


19 Independent Brigade group and 50 Para Brigade were ordered to advance along separate axes with the 7 Light Cavalry between them on the Jhangar-Naushera road. The 7 Light Cav tanks were camouflaged so as to not be recognizable from a distance and were moved only during darkness. The other officers of the 2 Brigades were kept unaware about the presence of the tanks until the final day of the battle so as to avoid any reports reaching the Pakistani intelligence. The operation was so minutely planned that multiple battalions struck the enemy at different bases, taking them by surprise every time. Major Shamsher Singh of 1 Patiala and Captain Hazura Singh of 3 Maratha (Para) displayed exceptional bravery in pushing back the enemy. 1 Rajput was the first troop to enter Jhangar on 18 March, 1948, signifying its recapture. Lt. Col. Rajindar Singh, the Commanding Officer of the 7 Cav was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.

Stuart tanks of the 7 Light Cavalry


Although Naushera and Jhangar were now secure, and Brigadier Usman had rightfully earned his title of ‘Naushera ka Sher’, the enemy was meanwhile wreaking havoc in other areas of Leh, Skardu and Kargil.

References:

  • History of Operations in Jammu & Kashmir (1947-48), Prasad, S., & Pal, D. (2021)


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