Kashmir ’47: How the day was won

All our combat units around Delhi had their sub units widely deployed for internal security duties. I had accompanied Gen. Russell on his visit to 1 Sikh at Gurgaon a couple of weeks earlier. He was impressed by its commanding officer. On our journey back to Delhi, he told me that a unit reflects the personality of its commanding officer. No wonder he selected 1 Sikh as the first unit to be flown to Srinagar. On the first day, due to a limited airlift, only some 300 troops could be flown to Srinagar, battalion headquarters and two companies. Most of the British officers in our HQ showed little interest as they felt it was India’s war for Indians to manage. Some even hoped that we would not be able to manage on our own and would ask them to come back! Russell was an exception, a man completely loyal to India and one who identified with us. So was my immediate boss, Col. MacConachie, who was leaving for the United Kingdom four days later. Russell remained in command till January 1948 when Gen. Cariappa replaced him. Sir Rob Lockhart, the Army Chief since August 15, 1947, had received intimation from his British counterpart in Pakistan that the Pakistanis were planning to attack Kashmir. Surprisingly, he ignored this information. He did not inform the government about it nor did he direct any preparations to be made to meet the attack. He had to be removed in November and Sir Roy Boucher succeeded him.
Working through the night, MacConachie and I prepared the operational instruction, as instructed by Russell, arranged for aircraft, concentrated 1 Sikh at the airport, organised issue of warm clothing and ammunition, prepared load tables for the aircraft and arranged a hot meal for the troops before they departed. I briefed Col. Rai at the airport in the early hours of October 27 and found him very self-confident. By sunrise, 1 Sikh was airborne for Srinagar. The war in Kashmir had started.
Immediately on arrival at Srinagar, Col. Rai left a company to guard the airfield and proceeded with the other to make contact with the enemy at Baramulla. Though heavily outnumbered, he imposed caution on the enemy. After a few hours Col. Rai found that the enemy, while engaging him from the front, was trying to envelop him from both flanks. He had taken a few casualties and decided on a fighting withdrawal to Pattan, halfway between Baramulla and Srinagar. While withdrawing he was hit and killed by a burst of enemy machine gun fire. His second-in-command, Maj. Sampuran Bachan Singh, rushed with reinforcements to Pattan. The following day Brig. J.C. Katoch, commanding 161 Brigade, landed in Srinagar with his tactical headquarters and most of 1 Kumaon, the brigade’s second battalion. He went forward to Pattan to see the defences when he was hit by a sniper’s bullet and seriously wounded. That afternoon I, along with Brigade Maj. Dilbagh Singh and Sampuran, who was officiating as CO of 1 Sikh, went round the defences at Pattan. In those days I used to spend the day in Srinagar and get back to Delhi for the night to organise the airlift for the following day and attend to other work. We were holding Pattan with a battalion and a half and the enemy in front of us was milling around the place in thousands. Fortunately, the enemy was not pressing his attack. We were flying in about 60 Dakota sorties daily bringing about one battalion every day. As a senior battalion commander came he took over officiating command. His brigade commanders were changing every day. We three majors, Sampuran Bachan commanding 1 Sikh, Brigade Major Dilbagh and I, were doing our best to tackle problems with the approval of successive officiating brigade commanders. To avoid being outflanked we had withdrawn from Pattan to Shelatang, on the outskirts of Srinagar, where we could hold stronger defensive positions. By October 31, the command situation stabilised. Two senior, experienced officers were posted. Lt. Col. Harbaksh Singh was posted to command 1 Sikh and Brigadier L.P. Sen to command 161 Brigade. Harbaksh had fought against the Japanese in Malaya and Sen had commanded a Baluch battalion in the most-contested battle of Kangaw against the Japanese in Burma. He had been awarded the DSO in that battle. Sen’s arrival in Srinagar on November 1 brought a breath of fresh air. He gave out that he would soon have the enemy swimming in the Jhelum. This was a morale-booster for the troops. Our build-up was nearly complete with four battalions, a field regiment and a squadron of armoured cars.
On November 3, I was having a mug of tea with my friend, Maj. Som Nath Sharma, sitting on a kitbag at Srinagar airfield. I had known Som in Delhi when he was with his battalion at Anand Parbat. He had met with an accident in Delhi and had his hand in plaster. Therefore, he and his company had been held back for local protection of the airfield. He wanted a more active assignment. Later that afternoon an alarm was raised. Some 700 raiders had infiltrated from the south and reached about a mile from the airfield. Som with his hundred men was rushed to stop the infiltrating force. Though outnumbered he fought stubbornly. Two-third of his force was overrun and he himself was killed, but the enemy was forced to retreat. The grave threat to the airport was averted. Had the enemy managed to capture the airfield, our build-up and stocking up for winter would have been interrupted with disastrous consequences. Som was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
With our build-up complete, Brig. Sen launched our counter-offensive — a frontal attack preceded by heavy artillery shelling. Armoured cars were sent on an outflanking movement from the north, hitting the enemy from the rear along with the main assault from the front. We had moved a squadron of Spitfires to Jammu and these fighter aircraft participated in the battle, giving valuable air support. Within a couple of hours we won a decisive victory in this battle of Shelatang. The enemy fled, carrying a number of their dead and wounded. We picked up over 300 enemy dead from the battlefield. We then advanced, liberating Baramulla and by November 14 had reached Uri, 60 miles west of Srinagar. Srinagar was saved the fate of Baramulla and the Valley cleared of the enemy.
We were fortunate in winning a great victory at Shelatang against great odds. If we had lost and the raiders had overrun Srinagar, the results would have been disastrous. Not only would we have lost Kashmir, but our secular polity would have been seriously endangered. Brig. Seb, in his appropriately titled book Slender Was The Thread, has covered this operation in great detail. Had Akbar Khan started his invasion 10 days later, with approaching winter and snow we could not have been able to save Kashmir. Had the enemy not wasted two to three days in the rape of Baramulla, or had he secured Srinagar airfield and pressed his attack before November 1, when we were off balance, the story may have been different. These are all imponderables of war. The courage, determination and devotion of our officers and men at that difficult juncture helped us turn the table on the enemy. Many made the supreme sacrifice. Today, the nation should pay grateful tribute to the memory of those martyrs.
(This is the concluding portion 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 J&K

Post new comment

<form action="/comment/reply/104694" accept-charset="UTF-8" method="post" id="comment-form"> <div><div class="form-item" id="edit-name-wrapper"> <label for="edit-name">Your name: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="60" name="name" id="edit-name" size="30" value="Reader" class="form-text required" /> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-mail-wrapper"> <label for="edit-mail">E-Mail Address: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <input type="text" maxlength="64" name="mail" id="edit-mail" size="30" value="" class="form-text required" /> <div class="description">The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.</div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-comment-wrapper"> <label for="edit-comment">Comment: <span class="form-required" title="This field is required.">*</span></label> <textarea cols="60" rows="15" name="comment" id="edit-comment" class="form-textarea resizable required"></textarea> </div> <fieldset class=" collapsible collapsed"><legend>Input format</legend><div class="form-item" id="edit-format-1-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-1"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-1" name="format" value="1" class="form-radio" /> Filtered HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Allowed HTML tags: &lt;a&gt; &lt;em&gt; &lt;strong&gt; &lt;cite&gt; &lt;code&gt; &lt;ul&gt; &lt;ol&gt; &lt;li&gt; &lt;dl&gt; &lt;dt&gt; &lt;dd&gt;</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> <div class="form-item" id="edit-format-2-wrapper"> <label class="option" for="edit-format-2"><input type="radio" id="edit-format-2" name="format" value="2" checked="checked" class="form-radio" /> Full HTML</label> <div class="description"><ul class="tips"><li>Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.</li><li>Lines and paragraphs break automatically.</li></ul></div> </div> </fieldset> <input type="hidden" name="form_build_id" id="form-3058d1a66acf4838f8307f1e5cfecf31" value="form-3058d1a66acf4838f8307f1e5cfecf31" /> <input type="hidden" name="form_id" id="edit-comment-form" value="comment_form" /> <fieldset class="captcha"><legend>CAPTCHA</legend><div class="description">This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.</div><input type="hidden" name="captcha_sid" id="edit-captcha-sid" value="81161978" /> <input type="hidden" name="captcha_response" id="edit-captcha-response" value="NLPCaptcha" /> <div class="form-item"> <div id="nlpcaptcha_ajax_api_container"><script type="text/javascript"> var NLPOptions = {key:'c4823cf77a2526b0fba265e2af75c1b5'};</script><script type="text/javascript" src="http://call.nlpcaptcha.in/js/captcha.js" ></script></div> </div> </fieldset> <span class="btn-left"><span class="btn-right"><input type="submit" name="op" id="edit-submit" value="Save" class="form-submit" /></span></span> </div></form>

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.