Kashmir 1947: A war remembered

Barely 10 weeks after Independence, Pakistan launched the invasion of Kashmir on October 22, 1947. A battalion of the Maharaja of Kashmir’s Army was soon overrun.

October 27, 1947 is a landmark date in the history of the Indian Army and of our nation. On that date the nation faced a grave challenge. The Army was given the task of rescuing the people of Kashmir. Against all odds, we succeeded in our mission. This sketch covers the backdrop of the first war that we fought after Independence and the events of the first 10 days of that war.

During 200 years of rule in India, the British would often claim that they had kept India safe from invasions from the northwest. Successive invaders from the dawn of history came from that direction and persistently defeated Indian forces.
The Muslims felt that their co-religionists had ruled over India for nearly seven centuries and, in all fairness, when the British depart, they should hand back power to them. Sir Syed Ahmed, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, wrote on March 16, 1888, “Is it possible that two nations, the Hindus and Muslims, sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them conquer the other and thrust it down... Our Muslim brethren the Pathans (could) come out as a swarm of locusts from their mountain valley and make rivers of blood (flow) from their frontier in the North to the extreme end of Bengal.” Muhammad Ali Jinnah, duly helped by the British, gave concrete shape to the two-nation theory and got India partitioned. A popular slogan among his followers was, “Hans Ke Lia Hai Pakistan, Lar Ke Lenge Hindustan.” Taking a cue from Sir Syed, Jinnah unleashed a tribal invasion of Kashmir. His soldiers, in civilian clothes, were also among the invaders. Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, under the pseudonym of Gen. Tariq, commanded the invading force. Tariq was the great Arab military commander who had conquered Spain in the early 8th century AD, about the same time as Mohammad bin Qasim had conquered Sindh. Akbar Khan was a reputed officer who had won the coveted British DSO (Distinguished Service Order) in battle during the crossing of the Irrawady in Burma. I met him when he was serving in South Block as a colonel in the Weapons and Equipment Directorate before Partition. After Partition was announced on June 3, 1947, he would often visit Jinnah, then living in his house on Aurangzeb Road in Delhi.
Barely 10 weeks after Independence, Pakistan launched the invasion of Kashmir on October 22, 1947. A battalion of the Maharaja of Kashmir’s Army, commanded by Col. Narayan Singh and defending Muzaffrabad, was soon overrun. Half the troops in the battalion were Punjabi Muslims. They killed Col. Narayan Singh and some of their Dogra colleagues. They joined the invaders. Brig. Rajendra Singh of the State Army, with a small force, rushed from Srinagar to fight the invaders. He destroyed the bridge at Uri, delaying the enemy for two precious days and was killed putting up a heroic defence.
By October 25, 1947 the enemy reached Baramulla, subjecting it to the most barbaric rape and plunder. Among the victims were the European nuns in the Baramulla Convent and the nurses in the hospital. Maharaja Hari Singh fled from Srinagar to Jammu on October 26 and signed the Instrument of Accession merging his state with India on that date. The enemy was at Baramulla, barely 30 miles from Srinagar, which lay defenceless. Jinnah was reported to have moved from his capital at Karachi to Lahore in anticipation of a triumphant entry into Srinagar.
I was serving in a skeleton Command Headquarters of 12 officers at Delhi, as a General Staff Officer Operations in the rank of major. Lt. Gen. Sir Dudley Russell was the Army Commander. Our command had been set up a couple of months earlier to maintain law and order in Delhi and Punjab and to protect lakhs of Muslims in refugee camps as also organise and protect their trains to Pakistan. We were totally unprepared to conduct a war against an invading force. This applied equally to the Army as a whole. All combat units had gone through a surgical operation with their Muslim sub-units going to Pakistan and we were trying to assimilate non-Muslim sub-units that had come from units in Pakistan. Many families of officers and men were untraceable and many were staying in refugee camps. The British officers had mostly departed or were in the process of leaving. Indian officers very junior in service had to take over
senior appointments. Officers with seven years’ service replaced unit commanders with 20 years; a similar differential existed in the higher ranks.
Late in the afternoon of October 26, Gen. Russell held a meeting of his dozen staff officers and told us that Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded to the Indian Union and our command had been given the task to conduct operations in Kashmir. He added that British officers serving with both the Indian and Pakistan Army had been forbidden to go to the Kashmir theatre. Being the only Indian officer in his headquarters, I was told to act as his eyes and ears. Troops had to be flown to Srinagar the following morning.
On the first day only six Dakotas were available and from the second day all Dakotas of private airlines, numbering 40, would be available. These had mostly European pilots. The road journey from Pathankot to Srinagar took four days then as against only two now. Troops had to be flown from Delhi to Srinagar but the snag was that Srinagar was a grass airfield without proper landing facilities. The other problem was that snow was expected within 15 days, and both the airfield and the road would be closed. There was then no tunnel at Banihal and the 9,000-foot Banihal Pass would be blocked by snow in winter. The window of opportunity was only about 15 days during which a complete brigade group with four months of winter stocks had to be flown to Srinagar. I was made responsible to organise the airlift besides my normal duties as an operations staff officer. We flew 800 sorties of Dakotas in 15 days from Safdarjang airport to Srinagar without mishap. Lord Mountbatten wrote, “In my long experience of war, I have not come across such a massive airlift organised at such short notice and so successfully.”

(To be continued. This is the first part of a two-part series.)

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir


Very interesting insight

Very interesting insight straight from Horse's mouth.

Where can we read the Second Part ?

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