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.
Chapter 2: With the decisive victories at Badgam and Shalateng, the Pakistani militants are driven out of the Valley.
A stranger could walk into the town and feel the despair emanating from it. Baramulla, snatched back from the Pakistani tribal, had witnessed an astounding victory of the Indian Armed Forces in the Battle of Shalateng, but the cost was the abduction of almost all the young women of the town, mass murder, and raid of over 250 truckloads of loot. The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru also visited the ghost town a few days after the Battle.
Although the militants had faced a strong defeat in the Valley and were left to lick their wounds, the work of the Indian Military was not over yet. Major General Kulwant Singh, the Commander of the J&K Forces, directed the military towards recapturing the remaining towns which were conquered by the enemy.
The 161 Infantry Brigade, led by Brigadier L.P. Sen headed for Uri, merely 3 days after the Battle of Shalateng. The 1 Punjab Para Battalion was re-allocated from 161 Infantry Brigade to 50 Para Brigade, which was led by Lt. Col. Harbaksh Singh. The latter was patrolling the valley, which had been cleared of enemies in the decisive Battle of Shalateng.
On 11th November, the 161 Infantry Brigade was resting at Rampur before proceeding to Uri, a major battle site. While resting, the troops heard loud explosions from Mahura, a town nearby. The 161 Infantry Brigade was on its feet in no time, scouring the area for intruders and identifying the source of the attack. They realised that the enemy camp was targeting Power House- the principal source of electricity to the state’s capital, Srinagar. A power outage of this scale in Srinagar would not only give the enemy an undue advantage to charge in the dark, but also put the several local residents of the city in the direct line of fire risking their lives. Apart from the Power House, Pakistan was also destroying the bridge from Rampur to Mahura, another major connector for road transport. Almost instantly, 1 Kumaon, part of the 161 Infantry Brigade, climbed up a steep hill from the left side to launch an attack on the enemy, but was spotted. Undeterred, the men of 1 Kumaon kept firing from all sides and gave no room for Pakistani troops to gain any ground. Their effective crossfiring forced the enemy side to drop their plans and retreat from the incessant barrage of 1 Kumaon’s bullets. A Daimler Armoured Car fired its gun on the car which carried the enemy and pulled the trigger, killing 5 Pakistani tribal. Had the 1 Kumaon not succeeded, Srinagar would have been plunged into darkness - due to the lack of electricity and because of the unspeakable horrors of the War.
Map of the path that the 161 Infantry Brigade took from Baramulla to Uri, passing through Rampur and Mahura
The destroyed bridge from Rampur to Mahura was rebuilt by the Brigade by throwing boulders and branches of trees into the dry bed of the hill stream until the road level was reached. The 15 feet long, 10 feet deep and 8 feet wide gap had to be filled in such a way that it could carry the weight of Armoured Cars and loaded supply lorries. In less than two days, the bridge was completed, and went on to be used for three weeks, until Field Engineers built a more stable one.
The final bridge between Rampur to Mahura built by field engineers
While the bridge was under construction, a company patrol of 1 Sikh advanced towards Uri, and were relieved to find no enemies, thus establishing their positions there with ease. The Brigade had travelled about 100 kms from Srinagar to Uri and fought enemies all along the way. The district was encircled by high hills, with its eastern side leading towards Poonch through the Haji Pir Pass. Strong security positions were established- 1 Sikh was deployed on the heights, the Independent Rifle Company was kept in the lower valley areas of Uri as the battalion reserve, while 1 Kumaon was entrusted with the charge of lower slopes and the road entries into Uri.
Map of the path from Uri to Poonch through the Haji Pir Pass
On 21st November, an old woman from Uri was found to be going in the direction of Srinagar to visit her daughter. Lt. Col. Sampuran Bachan Singh of 1 Sikh invited her into the camp for tea, and casually asked her questions about the enemies in Uri. She revealed that she had heard the Pathans planning attacks at Nalwar and an area to the south of Uri which the enemy had code-named ‘Subhas’, around 22nd-24th November. True to the reports, Nalwar witnessed enemies approaching with grenades. 1 Sikh, led by Lt. Col. Sampuran Singh and the 4 Kumaon reserves of one Company were immediately sent to the area before the enemy captured it completely. The enemy was forced to withdraw, and suffered about 100 casualties. Orders were given to be better prepared for another attack at Subhas, and it was ensured that the enemy was not aware of the Indian Army’s knowledge about the upcoming attack. The tribals, who were expecting an easy attack without any resistance, were taken by shock and suffered double the number of casualties that they had two days ago at Nalwar. Many Pathans withdrew back home. These two victories went a long way in protecting the very strategically significant district of Uri from the enemy. The old woman, who remains unknown till date, casually provided integral intel, exhibiting how a civilian could help change the course of the war.
Although the enemy made 16 attempts to capture Uri in the 18 days from 22nd November to 9th December, they were thwarted each time. The tough weather conditions, which were a natural advantage to the Pathans who had been brought up in these areas, along with the ability of the enemy to launch random surprise attacks at night, camouflaging in the darkness, made the Indians realize the urgent need of a strong and efficient intelligence force. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammed Saqid and DP Dhar of the political party National Conference promptly agreed to the demand, and sent forward Forest Rangers, who possessed immense knowledge and familiarity with the valley and its surrounding areas. Not only did they provide essential information about the enemy, they also helped the Army update any outdated maps of the area. Their courage, speed and efficiency made them invaluable assets.
Lt. Col. Pritam Singh, who had led 1 Kumaon in the Battle of Shalateng was dispatched to relieve Poonch, via the Haji Pir Pass. When Lt. Col Singh and his men reached Poonch on 21 November, 1947, they realised the seriousness of the assault. Poonch, one of the most important sites in Jammu, was surrounded on all sides by enemy troops. The enemy knew that a gateway into Poonch was virtually a gateway into the capital city of Srinagar and if that happened, it would be calamitous for India’s troops. To add to this, Poonch also housed the 40,000 refugees who had escaped the massacres from the surrounding towns of Mirpur, Jhangar and Kotli. Lt. Col Singh, a seasoned officer, knew that not only did he have to secure Poonch, but also ensure the safety of its civilians.
Lt. Col Pritam Singh had stared danger in the face too many times before to be thrown off by the current situation. In the past, when he was taken captive by the Japanese in Singapore during the Second World War, he escaped the heavily guarded POW camp and made an arduous journey through several countries before reaching home. Now, the same mettle and courage echoed through the mud streets of Poonch as Singh called its people to action. Having realised that road transport for supplies and refugee evacuation was unsafe because of the presence of the raiders, he decided to do the unimaginable - construct an airstrip in Poonch.
With the help of 6000 refugees, the airstrip was constructed within a record time of seven days. It was an extraordinary feat in an extraordinary situation; one that reflected the power of the people, the impact of leaders like Lt. Col. Singh and the resilience of a war-stricken, displaced population. On 8th December, 1947, the first landing was made at the airstrip by AVM Subroto Mukherjee (who later became Chief of Air Staff) and Air Commodore Mehar Singh.
Supplies were carried to Poonch and within six days, all the refugees were evacuated. During this time, the term ‘Poonching’ was coined by the Air Force, flying in the narrow valleys of Poonch which was surrounded by streams from three sides was considered extremely dangerous and needed extreme skill. Local men of the town were included into raising two militia battalions- 11 and 8 J&K Militia. A month later, in January 1948, the unit of 3/8 Gorkha Rifles was also sent to help secure the area. Lt. Col. Pritam Singh was promoted to the rank of Brigadier for his quick and strategic planning and execution. Although the refugees were evacuated, 1500 sq. km of territory was yet to be defended and secured. Poonch remained under siege for almost a year, ending with our brave soldiers fighting the odds under highly unfavorable circumstances.
The district of Mirpur was captured by Pakistani raiders during this time. On 25 November, about 5000 women from the district were abducted and raped by the raiders.
The black day, marked by a cold massacre, is witness to about 30,000 men, women and children being heartlessly murdered. The captive men and women, tortured at a Gurudwara (converted into a prison camp) in Alibeg were finally liberated by the International Committee of Red Cross in January.
In early December, the Army encountered a slightly different experience. About 2000 officers of the J&K State Forces were discovered in the Badami Bagh Barracks, who had been consuming rations all this while in Srinagar. Brigadier L.P. Sen of the 161 Infantry Brigade, and Major Kulwant Singh were horrified by the fact that these experienced officers, who had served in the Second World War, were at a position where they could help the 1 Sikh deployed at the Barracks, but chose not to, They were thus dispatched off to Jammu. The Military is made of the toughest men and women but sometimes, we forget that they are humans after all and might succumb to the stresses of a War this large and devastating. While the officers of the J&K State Forces were strongly condemned for their actions, it serves as a glaring reminder of the conditions of a War and how it can break the very people trained to fight it. Notwithstanding this setback, India’s Forces marched ahead with rigour to reclaim the lands that belonged to her.
1 Sikh led by Lt. Col. Sampuran Bachan Singh had moved out of Uri towards Bhatgiran on the morning of 13 December, when, due to a strategic error by Lt. Col. Singh, they were caught out in the open and taken aback by surprise by the well concealed enemies in the trenches. Lt. Col. Singh fought valiantly, but was shot in the leg, and the battalion suffered 61 casualties and 59 were killed, causing the battalion to withdraw. This was a point in the War where the Indian Forces faced setbacks, bore losses and faltered a little. With the War advancing simultaneously on all sides, a newly Independent India which had seen half its Army move to the very land it was now fighting against, faced an acute shortage of officers. But help came from a very unlikely quarter - the Boys Platoon of the 4 Kumaon Company. During that time, it was customary for Regimental Centres to comprise this Company, wherein the sons of ex-soldiers and serving personnel of the Regiment were trained from a young age, until they can be enlisted for service. This was considered to have been done because of the shortage of officers owing to the Partition and the massive casualties suffered during the time of a war. Now, when a similar situation arose, the Boys Platoon of 4 Kumaon reached the ground, prepared for action. Lt. Col Manmohan Khanna, who was in charge of the region, hesitated before sending these boys to battle. He saw them as mere boys and wondered how they would hold ground against Pakistani tribals who had wreaked havoc on seasoned officers of the Indian Army. To keep the young lads away from enemy fire, he selected an unimportant post for them to man, in the hope that Pakistan wouldn’t create trouble there. But Wars can never be written, even by the best Commanding Officers. On that day, Pakistani troops advanced to attack the exact area manned by the Boys Platoon. While Lt. Col. Khanna did not expect this situation, what he also didn't expect was the skill and courage displayed by the boys in the face of imminent danger. It is said that the troop fought like seasoned officers and displayed capabilities well beyond their age. Every battle has a story and the story of these boys is reflective of how real strength lies in determination, resilience and valiant efforts in the face of any adversity.
The Bhatgiran Battle Soldiers in bunkers overlooking Uri
A war of this scale sees simultaneous action at several fronts and requires able commanding officers to keep their troops together. While the 1 Kumaon was facing challenges at Poonch, the 50 Independent Para Brigade, led by Brigadier Mohammad Usman was deployed to secure the district of Naushera. Brig. Usman had been offered the chance of becoming the Army Chief had he chosen to join Pakistan.
During Partition, however, he chose to stay in India. Many long battles ensued at Naushera in the following months where Brigadier Usman fought fiercely, and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, exacting wounds the side could never recover from, earning a Maha Vir Chakra for his valiant efforts. His courage and bravery resonate through the pages of India’s Military history even today as the nation fondly remembers him as ‘Naushera ka Sher’. Although the Indian Forces had the upper hand over Pakistan during this period, the war was not over for yet another year, and many more precious lives had to be sacrificed in the process.