Celebrated as the Infantry Day by the Indian Army, 27th October, 1947, was truly spectacular in the annals of Indian History – Not only did the Post-Independence Indian Army come into its own, but it was also the finest hour for the Indian Air Force and the brave Kashmiris who collectively contributed in their own way to the ‘rescue’ of Kashmir. This piece covering these fateful events is an extract from my book, ‘The Crimson Chinar: A Politico-Military Perspective of the Kashmir War.’
Concurrent to these developments in Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah sent Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and GM Sadiq to Pakistan to meet Mr. Jinnah and/or Mr.Liaqat Ali Khan.
The Military Situation and Initial Indian Responses
News of the Pakistan sponsored Qabali invasion reached Delhi on 24 October via two channels. Generals Auchinleck and Lochhart were informed by the officiating C-in-C of the Pakistan Army, General Gracey, and by the evening, the second input came through Mr. R L Batra, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kashmir, who had flown to Delhi with an urgent request from the Maharaja. His mission requesting for immediate help also conveyed the willingness of the Maharaja to accede to India to save his state from the ‘Marauders’ as he dubbed the Qabalis, who by then had already ravaged Uri and had the same state was feared for Baramulla.
The next day the Defence Cabinet Committee (DCC), chaired by Lord Mountbatten held their first meeting. Against strong opposition from the Service Chiefs and from Lord Mountbatten himself, it was decided to help Kashmir militarily. However, what could be adduced as delaying tactics, it was decided to send Mr. Menon to Srinagar to make an ‘on the spot’ assessment. As a consequence, Menon and Batra flew to the valley the same afternoon.
Concurrent to these developments in Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah sent Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and GM Sadiq to Pakistan to meet Mr. Jinnah and/or Mr.Liaqat Ali Khan. This move of Sheikh Abdullah proved abortive as Jinnah sensing victory did not deem it prudent to meet the emissaries, now that success was within his reach. This enraged the Sheikh and he flew to Delhi and met Pundit Nehru. In fact he was there when Batra reached Nehru’s house on 24 October. On the same day Pundit Nehru informed Prime Minister Attlee of the developments and that India was considering military intervention. Mr Attlee responded by requesting both Nehru and Liaqat to avoid precipitating the situation which could lead to a military confrontation.
When Menon flew back the next morning, Mr. Mahajan, the Prime Minister of Kashmir, also flew in with him and he carried the letter seeking accession to India. Thus, 26 October was the date when after a stormy DCC session, the decision was taken to send Indian troops to the rescue of the state. The situation had become so acrimonious, that the Indian Ministers were constrained to state that since the British officers opposed the operation, they could step down and it was Mountbatten’s intervention that saved the situation. However, after this ugly turn of events, he took upon himself to become the de facto military advisor for the impending Indian operation.
…it is worth mentioning, that after the Second World War, the Indian Army was fortunate to have a number of Battalions who were trained for parachuting and it was fortuitous for India that the first wave of Indian troops landed unopposed.
The Military Response
Lieutenant General (Retd) S K Sinha in his book, Op Rescue: Military Operations in J & K, 1947-49 has brought out the circumstances when instructions were received at HQ Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command. This HQ had been raised after partition and was tasked to control the sub-areas of East Punjab and Delhi as well as the restore ‘law and order’ in Delhi and in the newly created state of East Punjab. General Sinha, who was then a Major, recounts how they had been summoned to the Operations Room at 2200 hours on the evening of 26 October, 1947, when the Army Commander, General Russell tasked them for the ‘rescue’ of Kashmir. He instructed his officers to expeditiously dispatch one Battalion group by air to Srinagar using a combination of Air Force and civil aircraft and one Brigade group by road to Jammu; moves which were required to commence by first light the next day i.e. 27 October. The Battalion for Srinagar was required to be built to a Brigade group before the onset of winters. One term of reference was laid down at the outset; no British or Muslim officer who had opted for Pakistan could accompany the forces. With one stroke, this reduced the availability of officers to lead the expeditionary force. The military imperatives for the task entrusted to Russell are analysed below:
Secure Srinagar Air Head. This was paramount as air was the only means to build up forces in the time frame. It is pertinent to interject that in the absence of information, especially on the security of the airfield, it would have been militarily desirable to have provided a fighter-bomber escort and paratroopers with the first wave to secure the air head. Since this was not done or planned for, it may have been because of their non-availability in the time frame. However, it is worth mentioning, that after the Second World War, the Indian Army was fortunate to have a number of Battalions who were trained for parachuting and it was fortuitous for India that the first wave of Indian troops landed unopposed. Had the landing been opposed, India may not have been able to recapture the valley as the instructions to Colonel Rai were to land only if the airfield was un-held. From Pakistan’s point of view, going by the timing of Op Gulmarg, it was expected that the airfield would be in the hands of the raiders by the 24/25 October. It was the delay in Baramulla that upset their time plan and provided the window to land forces. The futility of the contingency instructions are obvious.
Securing of the Banihal Pass. This was a concurrent priority, as the pass provided the only possible road link to the valley. Again, it was fortuitous for India that Pakistan could not/did not block this strategic pass. India also erred in this regard and it was only later that a company of 3 RAJPUT (PARA) was sent there when reports of a threat building up were received.
Kashmir has acceded to the Indian Union and Sheikh Abdullah has been invited to form a popular Government.
Aggressive employment of Air. Interdicting the tribals at Kohala or Domel and delaying their move to Srinagar should have emerged as the first priority. However, for inexplicable reasons, such strikes were not undertaken.
Independent India’s First Expeditionary Military Deployment
The honour of the first unit going into combat on behalf of Independent India was bestowed on 1 SIKH, whose Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel Ranjit Rai had taken over the unit recently and fortuitously, the Battalion had been conducting internal security duties in Gurgaon. HQ 161 Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier J C Katoch who had moved for internal security tasks from Ranchi was available as the formation for controlling operations in the valley; while the second formation selected for the Jammu sector was 50 Parachute (Para) Brigade under Brigadier Paranjape. It may be pertinent to point out that as a result of their internal security role, 1 SIKH was not carrying heavy weapons, which had to be hastily found for them.
The sketchy Intelligence and the vague tasking to CO 1 SIKH can be judged from the Operational Instructions personally drafted by General Russel: excerpts are reproduced:
Kashmir has acceded to the Indian Union and Sheikh Abdullah has been invited to form a popular Government.
Tribesmen, numbers and arms unknown but reliably reported to be in large numbers, are reported moving to Srinagar from the western and north-western areas of the state. Situation in Srinagar reliably reported on 26th October to be deteriorating.
You will: –
(a) Secure Srinagar airport and civil aviation wireless station;
(b) Take such action, as your first task and available troops allow to:-
(i) Drive tribesmen away from Srinagar.
(ii) Aid the local government in the maintenance of law and order in Srinagar.”
It is also to the credit of 1 SIKH that the Battalion could be inducted so effortlessly in such a short time. It needs to be pointed out that these men were from Punjab, the state that had been the worst affected by partition.
With this as the only background, Lieutenant Colonel Rai was handed over his instructions along with two sets of maps at 0300 hours on 27 October at the airfield, implying that all his planning had to be done enroute. This may have been the first time in the history of Independent India that troops were launched into battle with such sketchy information and vague tasking. Unfortunately, this was not the not to be the last. It is to the credit of Rai and his men as well the staff of HQ DEP and the numerous airmen, both military and civil, who rose to the occasion and affected the air lift flawlessly. The personal impressions of General Sinha, as the Command HQ staff officer assisting Rai in the airlift of the man given this arduous task is worth recounting and is quoted both as a tribute and as an inspiration for military leadership. “I must mention that his calmness was indeed inspiring. He showed no excitement or agitation and appeared, as always, supremely self-confident. With my little experience of war, I am convinced that calmness and self-confidence during stress and strain are very important assets for a good leader. Self-confidence in a leader is contagious, it soon spreads among the led, and a self-confident fighting team is a battle winning factor.”
It is also to the credit of 1 SIKH that the Battalion could be inducted so effortlessly in such a short time. It needs to be pointed out that these men were from Punjab, the state that had been the worst affected by partition. These men had their homes and families uprooted and they had arrived in Indian Punjab as refugees; many had had their loved ones killed, maimed or separated – most of them were homeless. That these men could put aside their personal losses and fight for their nation so resolutely, in a state not their own, speaks volumes of the soldiers they were. That was not all the handicaps these indomitable breed of men endured. The initial wave which was to be flown in also included one battery of Sikh Artillery gunners, re-organised for an Infantry role. Not only were these gunners enmeshed seamlessly but assimilated as a fighting sub-unit of the unit.
The command and control of the forces for the forces to operate in Kashmir remained awkward to say the least. HQ DEP,which essentially was an ad-hoc HQ was organised to control the internal security situation and in no way was it geared up to oversee full-fledged operations in distant Kashmir. However, being located in Delhi, it was made responsible for collecting, transporting and arranging logistical support of the forces being sent to Kashmir; the operational control of the forces, however, rested directly with Army HQ. This arrangement continued till late and resulted in the war being remotely controlled from distant Delhi, with no intermediate HQ in between, and in the initial stages, 1 SIKH was directly reporting to Army HQ.