Battle of Shalateng
When the British left in 1947 after creating Pakistan and India, the Princely States were given the option of acceding to India or Pakistan or to remain independent. All the Princely States except two had soon aligned with either India or Pakistan. One of the two was Maharaja Hart Singh, of Kashmir. He could not make up his mind and continued to dillydally. Most probably he wanted to remain independent. On the other hand, his Prime Minister, Mr Sheikh Abdullah wanted Kashmir to join India.
Pakistan on the other hand was totally insistent on Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. This is because the majority of the population of Kashmir were Muslims. The main road communications to Srinagar were through Pakistan along the Jhelum Valley. Even Jammu and other towns in west Kashmir were well connected to Pakistan. Right from the start, Pakistan tried to pressurise the Maharaja to join Pakistan. Pakistan warned Kashmir that it. would be annexed by force if necessary. Pakistan also imposed economic sanctions on Kashmir by stopping flow of essential commodities to Kashmir and cutting off electric supply.
Pakistan on the other hand was totally insistent on Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. This is because the majority of the population of Kashmir were Muslims.
When it became apparent that Maharaja Hari Singh would not join Pakistan on his own, Pakistan prepared to annex it by force. It got together about 10,000 tribesmen from the North-West Frontier Province and an equal number of Muslim locals from the border areas, armed them with rifles, light machine guns and heavy weapons like machine guns and mortars. Civilian transport was mustered for the Raiders to carry the troops, equipment and ammunition. Pakistan also provided some officers and men from the regular army to form the hard core of the Raiders and assist in planning, co-ordination and control of operations. Fire support from artillery guns was also promised.
The Raiders were given the license to loot, rape and kill. When these forces were ready, a full-scale tribal invasion backed by the Pakistani regular army was launched. The operations in the Jammu Sector and Poonch started on October, 15 1947 and in the Kashmir Valley on October, 20 1947 with the aim of capturing Srinagar by October 26, 1947. The operation for capture of Srinagar was given the code name OPERATION GULMARG. The Pakistani attacks in West Kashmir in October 1947 are shown on Map No 1.
To understand the operations that followed, it is necessary to understand the geography of the Srinagar Valley. The Valley consists of the valley of the Jhelum and its tributaries, the Mawar and Pohru Rivers. The main metalled road ran from Muree in Pakistan via Muzaffarabad, Dommel, Uri, Baramula, and Patan to Srinagar. There were two other subsidiary routes to Srinagar. The northern route was a track from Muzaffarabad to Tithwal to Nastachun Pass and then on to Kupwara, Sopore on to Srinagar. The portion from Nastachun Pass to Srinagar was motorable and some length of it was metalled. The southern route left the Muree – Srinagar Road midway between Uri and Baramula and ran south east to Gulmarg and via Magam on to Srinagar. Gulmarg to Srinagar was a metalled road.The State of Kashmir had a small State Force of about eight to ten battalions. Two battalions were deployed in each of the four regions and the rest were possibly located at Srinagar. The State Forces mainly consisted of Sikhs. Dogras and Muslims. Some of the Muslim troops remained loyal to the Maharaja and fought to the last. Many others deserted and joined the raiders. Some. like those at Gilgit, mutinied and joined the Pakistan Army.
The OPERATION GULMARG started with attacks along two routes along the main road and the northern axis on October 20, 1947 (Refer Map No 2). The main column of the raiders consisting of 4000 to 5000 raiders started from the small border town of Garhi Habibullah astride the Muree – Dommel Muzaffarabad – Uri – Baramula – Patan – Srinagar Road. Dommel was captured without a fight on the first day. The battalion of State Forces located at Muzaffarabad put up some resistance but was overpowered. Muzaffarabad fell on October 23. The Raiders moved forward and contacted Uri. Muzaffarabad was to become the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Azad Kashmir, as the Pakistanis like to call it. The State Forces at Uri under the personal leadership of Brigadier Rajinder Singh though hampered by the desertion of Muslim troops, fought gallantly to the last man and last round. Uri fell after two days of bitter combat on October 25.
The retreating State Forces blew up the Dri Bridge. Brigadier Rajinder Singh was killed in battle and awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. The destruction of Dri Bridge held up the enemy for another day and the Raiders contacted Baramula on the morning of October 27. Baramula was poorly defended and fell to the enemy the same day. At Baramula, the Raiders went berserk killing, looting, raping and burning. The orgy of violence went on for three days during which at least 3000 people were slain and half the town was burnt. It is reported that the loot was so much that some of the raiders went back to leave the loot before coming for more. Hundreds of young women were forcibly taken away to be sold as slaves in Pakistan.
On October 24, Pakistan organised the formation of the Azad Kashmir Government with its capital at Muzaffarabad and the Raiders were called Azad Kashmir Forces. The Azad Kashmir government immediately declared its independence from the Kashmir State. The Maharaja of Kashmir, seeing the gravity of the situation, approached the Indian Government for assistance on October 24. He agreed to accede to India and sent his Prime Minister, Mr. Sheikh Abdullah to Delhi to sign the treaty of accession. The Indian Government agreed to the Maharaja’s request. The Instrument of Accession was signed on October 26. The road communication from Jammu to Srinagar over the Banihal Pass was an indifferent track 300 kms long. It was not fit for induction of Indian troops into the Valley. The first Indian troops had to be air lifted and landed at Srinagar airfield on October 27.The Raiders were to pay heavily for the time spent in the orgy of violence at Baramula. The metalled road to Srinagar and the city itself lay almost defenceless. They forgot that they were to capture Srinagar by October 26 and concentrated on the looting and raping. Some even went back to Pakistan to leave their spoils of battle before returning for more. It gave the Indian Army time to secure the Srinagar airfield and induct its forces. But the fate of Srinagar was to hang in balance for a few more days. It was learnt “that Mr Jinnah, the President of Pakistan had planned to celebrate Id in Srinagar Mosque on October 26. It was a dream that was to remain unfulfilled.
The first batch of troops to arrive was the battalion headquarters and three companies of 1 SIKH under Lt Col Ranjit Rat. The Battalion had been deployed in Gurgaon – Rewari area in aid lo civil authorities trying to control the Hindu Muslim riots. The Battalion headquarters located at Gurgaon received the warning order for move at 1000 hours October 26. Lt Col Ranjit Rat, the commanding officer immediately asked the Battalion to concentrate and prepare for the impending move. There was considerable uncertainty about the situation in Srinagar and the number of aircraft available. However, maximum number of aircraft were made available by cancelling all domestic flights and making these civilian aircraft available. The first wave containing the Battalion Headquarters and the C Company took off from Delhi at 0600 hours October 27. The first aircraft reached Srinagar airfield at 0930 hours. Here the Battalion was received by senior civil and State Forces’ officers and given their first briefing. They were told that Baramula was st111 in the hands of State Forces and there was no enemy movement east of Baramula. The information proved to be incorrect.
Col Rai ordered C Company along with a section of 3-inch mortars to proceed immediately to Baramula. The company led by Capt Kamaljit Singh started moving at 1130 hours in civilian vehicles commandeered by the local authorities. It reached Mile 30 on the Srinagar – Uri Road after crossing terror stricken refugees from Baramula on October 27 and saw that Baramula was already in enemy hands and burning. After carrying out reconnaissance and meeting remnants of a State Cavalry troop. Capt Kamaljit decided to take up defences at Mile 32-33. He also sent back information about the situation to the Commanding Officer. The next troops to arrive the same day were the D Company of the Battalion under Major Harwant Singh. Col Rai ordered the company to carry out a flag ‘march through the Srinagar city before moving for Baramula to join the C Company. The flag march could be completed only by 1900 hours. D Company less two platoons (one platoon was left at the airfield for its protection and the other at Sopore) moved out for Baramula at 2030 hours. October 27 and. joined C Company at 0400 hours October 28. This flag march did much to restore the morale of the people of Srinagar and subdue pro Pakistan elements.C and D Companies (less two platoons) along with the troop of State Cavalry started preparing their defences. There were no defence stores and digging tools. The troops did their best. At about 0900 hours enemy movement was noticed on both flanks of the Position. Fire was also exchanged. Col Rai reached the forward defences at 1030 hours on the morning of October 28. He carried out a quick reconnaissance and planned to launch an attack on the enemy. However the raiders launched an attack on the Sikh position at about 1130 hours. The attack was beaten back with heavy casualties. The Raiders took up positions on both sides of the road. A stalemate now developed. Col Rai realised the need for immediate reinforcements. But A and B Companies had not reached up by 1300 hours. There was no radio communications with the airfield.
Giving instructions to Major Harwant and Capt Kamaljit to hold the position at all cost, Col Rai returned to the airfield to find out what was happening. A and B Companies had landed at 1400 hours. A mobile patrol was sent by the Battalion towards Magma on Srinagar Gulmarg Road as enemy was reported to be moving from Baramula towards Gulmarg. Col Rai instructed his companies to follow him and headed back for Mile 32 position. In the mean time, the raiders had intensified their fire on the Sikh positions and started an out flanking movement. At 1530 they launched another attack but were beaten back. They now attempted to get behind the Sikh positions. At 1700 hours, Col Rai decided that the situation was critical and if his C and D Companies were to be kept intact, a withdrawal was essential. He issued orders accordingly.
The Raiders regrouped and launched an out flanking move. There was no option for the company but to withdraw. Lt Col Ranjit Rai died in this action while supervising the withdrawal which took place during the night of October 28 / 29. He did not succeed in evicting the intruders but had made them wary and slowed down their advance. 1 SIKH fell back and took up defences at Shalateng. However, either on orders of Major General Hiralal Atal or on the revised decisions of the officiating Commanding officer, Major Harwant, the battalion moved forward again to take up a defensive position near Patan astride Mile Stone 17. The Battalion reached Mile Stone 17 at 0400 hours October 29. A convoy of the Raiders reached the position at about 0700 hours. A firefight followed. The Raiders quickly dismounted and the battle of Patan was joined. The main attack came at 093.0 hours. The attack was beaten back. The next attack was launched at 1400 hours. This was also beaten back. Night October 29 / 30 and 30 / 31 were quiet with no further attacks. The Battalion used the time to improve their defences.
In the mean time 161 Brigade under Brigadier J C Katoch had begun to arrive on October 29. It established its headquarters at the airfield. Some elements of 1 Kumaon Regiment arrived under Lt Col Pritam Singh and took over the duties of protection of the airfield. One company of MAHARs (machine guns) and some mountain guns also arrived. Between October 30 and November 1 more reinforcements in the form of 4 KUMAON under Lt Col M M Khanna and 1 PUNJAB under Lt Col GIS Khuller and other supporting troops had arrived. Some elements of 4 KUMAON under Major Somnath Sharma were moved to Badgam. 1 PUNJAB moved to Magam and took up defences. Brig Katoch was wounded on October 31 while visiting 1 SIKH at Patan. He was evacuated and the Brigade was taken over by Brigadier L P Sen on November 2. On November 3, 1 SIKH put in an attack on the Raiders at Patan. The enemy were taken by surprise and fled.