The propensity of the Indian military leadership for trusting the Pakistani War Machine and leaving vital localities such as Ledi Galli and Pir Kanthi abandoned during heavy snowfall months fearing inclement weather casualties, is unpardonable. The same weather and logistical difficulties exist on both sides and the initiative shown by our opponent to immediately seize tactical advantage of our follies, is commendable. We must learn to respect the ‘killer’ instincts of our enemies and not forget our past mistakes!
Those who have had the opportunity to serve in the Uri and Tangdhar Sectors know very well the importance of these imposing Pakistani posts overlooking the Indian defences which give the former dominant artillery observation onto the Indian side. Nearly three decades ago, I was the Company Commander facing the Haji Pir Pass and the imposing Bedori feature on the horizon. At that time, I had dug up and read most of the material that was available about the daring operations by 1 PUNJAB (Para) and 19 Punjab to capture these important objectives during the 1965 hostilities. It was only recently when I had started reading in detail about the 1947-1948 Kashmir Operations from a variety of sources, that I stumbled across some interesting facts and battles that carry important lessons and are relevant for us for all times.
Those who have had the opportunity to serve in the Uri and Tangdhar Sectors know very well the importance of these imposing Pakistani posts overlooking the Indian defences…
Uri had been re-captured on November 13, 1947, from the Pakistani Tribal Lashkars by 161 Infantry Brigade led by Brigadier L P Sen and having the Combat Units 1 SIKH, 1 KUMAON (Para), 2 DOGRA (this was a Territorial Army Battalion recently converted to Regulars) and supporting elements notably ‘C’ Squadron 7 CAV. After the re-capture of Baramula on November 08, 1947, Major General Kalwant Singh, the GOC of All Forces in J&K, had pulled out 1 PUNJAB (Para) from 161 Infantry Brigade and sent it to Jammu to bolster 50 Para Brigade operating there.
The Pathan Lashkars were on the run and this depletion of force when offensive action had to be ceaselessly continued up to Domel, was tactically unsound in terms of ‘time and space’ and ‘timely reinforcement of success’ considerations. 161 Infantry Brigade was halted at Uri and it was thereafter diverted with two Infantry Battalions to carry out a ‘temporary’ relief operation of Poonch via the Haji Pir Pass with effect from November 20, 1947, probably to bring out Brigadier Kishen Singh of the State Forces who was a close relative of the Maharajah. 1 KUMAON under Lt Col Pritam Singh was detached from 161 Infantry Brigade after it reached Poonch and placed directly under JAKFORCE. Due to an emergency situation created by enemy offensive action in the area between Haji Pir Pass and Uri, 4 KUMAON was moved from Srinagar to Uri and placed under 161 Infantry Brigade with effect from November 22, 1947. Thereafter, due to snowfall, there was a prolonged lull in operations and the front stabilised till offensive operations were restarted on May 18, 1948, on the orders of JAKFORCE HQ. It must be noted that there was a genuine shortage of Army Units and Formations available to be moved into Kashmir Valley and tremendous logistical difficulties existed to sustain the forces deployed there. This was due to the poor condition of the Banihal land route which remained cut off from the rest of India in winter due to heavy snowfall.
Summer Offensive of 161 Infantry Brigade
In order to regain the initiative, General Thimayya, who had on May 01, 1948, become the GOC of the newly formed Sri Division in Kashmir Valley, decided to launch a limited offensive with the available forces. 77 Para Brigade had also come into the Valley by May 05, 1948. This Brigade was tasked to take over the defences from 161 Infantry Brigade at Uri. 161 Infantry Brigade was tasked to go on the offensive along the Uri-Domel road Axis and the newly formed 163 Infantry Brigade, along the Handwara/Kupwara – Tithwal – Muzaffarabad Axis. 161 Brigade had 2 DOGRA, 6 RAJ RIF, 7 SIKH and 4 KUMAON.
There was a genuine shortage of (Indian) Army Units and Formations available to be moved into Kashmir Valley and tremendous logistical difficulties existed to sustain the forces deployed there…
On the North bank of the Jhelum River, 4 KUMAON Battle Group was tasked to advance from Mahura on May 15, 1948 and capture the six-kilometre long Chota Kazinag Ridge overlooking Uri, having peaks up to 11,000 feet high. Prominent amongst these were Point 6873 overlooking Chakothi on the South bank of the Jhelum, eight kilometres after Uri; the massive Pandu feature whose highest point was Point 9178; Chota Kazinag (Point 10657) and Chinal Dori. These features were held by the newly raised Pakistani 4 Azad Kashmir Battalion, supplemented by the Pathan Lashkars. After moving forward at night, 4 KUMAON did not light a single fire for three days in order to maintain secrecy, while it carried out extensive reconnaissance and patrolling as the build-up continued. The forward-held Company Localities on the Indian side were at Point 9062 (Sawai Man Guards) and at Goashar (2 MADRAS). On the night of May 19, 1948, preceded by a route marking Platoon, the Battalion infiltrated behind the enemy-held positions on Kazinag feature towards its North-West. In a brilliant tactical operation, 4 KUMAON overran the peaks of the Kazinag Range by launching successive pre-dawn attacks from unexpected directions.
After securing a Firm Base on the top of the Ridge at Tragan (North of Maidan Pass), the first major assault started at 0400 hours on May 19. Fighting fiercely over a period of two nights, the Battalion overcame determined resistance aided mainly by the ‘surprise’ factor, and captured the Chinal Dori and Chota Kazinag (10,657’) features. By May 24, progressing the attack along the Ridge, the Safaida feature (Point 9178) and thereafter, the tactically significant Pandu Massif which dominated the Uri-Domel road was also captured by continuous assaults. The Battalion then exploited and overran the final strongly-held feature on this Ridge viz Kathai (Point 6873) by the morning of June 02. 4 KUMAON had been placed under command of 77 Para Brigade on May 28 and relieved by Sawai Man Guards for this last attack operation. This was a stupendous string of achievements by 4 KUMAON led by the indomitable Lt. Col. Man Mohan Khanna and they had incurred total casualties of ten fatalities and 28 seriously wounded. Though they deserved getting the Battle Honour ‘Chota Kazinag Ridge’, it was not to be, due to later events. The Pakistani Army regular Battalion 4/13 FF Rifles (now 9 FF), which was then just moving into this last part of the area captured including Point 9213, Point 6873, Kathai and Point 3903, suffered great loss of face.
2 DOGRA which had also been placed under command of 77 Para Brigade with effect from May 28 (as this formation was later given responsibility of the offensive operations North of the Jhelum in Uri Sector), was tasked to capture Points 10027 and 6065 on the next Ridgeline by attacking from the Chinal Dori side. Their efforts however failed and the Unit had to be recalled on June 07, 1948. As a result Pakistan got unhindered access to the beautiful Leepa Valley (which was probably the setting for James Hilton’s famous novel “Lost Horizon”) across the Reshian Gali and extending up to the Tutmar Gali.
The Pakistan Army showed great initiative even during the snow-bound months of 1947-1948, by pushing through a column of 1 Azad Kashmir Battalion and over 1,600 Swat and Mahsud Lashkars with three weeks’ supplies and ammunition over the high Shamshabari Range from the Muzaffarabad side…
Earlier, as part of the “Summer Offensive” in 1948 by 161 Infantry Brigade in the area South of River Jhelum and West of Uri, 2 DOGRA had been tasked to capture the lightly-held height of Salamabad by first light of May 19, as an essential preliminary operation. This Battalion was unable to accomplish this task and, therefore, 6 RAJ RIF which had been tasked to carry out the advance along the Uri-Domel road, had to be diverted for this same Task. 6 RAJ RIF which was the Indian Unit having the most number of gallantry awards in WWII, captured Salamabad by May 20. 6 RAJ RIF thereafter, swooped down towards Milestone (MS) 68 and captured Dardkot and the steel bridge near Urusa intact, on the Uri-Domel road. 6 RAJ RIF also captured the Urusa Ridge. Thereafter, 7 SIKH supported by ‘C’ Squadron armoured cars of 7 CAV captured the territory up to Nawa Rundan Nala and MS 68 on the South bank of Jhelum by May 22, 1948, from 1/13 FF Rifles (now 1 FF). It was only after 7 SIKH captured a Prisoner of War and produced the remnants of a 4.2” Howitzer bomb fired at them, that Army HQs was convinced that the Regular Pak Army had joined in the conflict in J&K! 7 SIKH established defensive positions at Kopra and Tofarabad ridges overlooking the demolished steel bridge at MS 68. But the heights of the Pir Panjal Range above the spurs along the Jhelum River were still in Pakistani hands.
On June 16, 1948, a Fighting Patrol of 6 RAJ RIF sent up the spur between the Nawa Rundan Nala and Goalta Nala detected build-up of the enemy possibly for an attack downhill. Realising that an enemy breakthrough would isolate the forward Battalion (7 SIKH), Brigadier Sen convinced Major General Thimmayya to release two Battalions of 77 Para Brigade (Sawai Man Guards & 2/3 GR), who were readily available in Uri. On getting the green signal, 6 RAJ RIF, Sawai Man Guards and 2/3 GR started the climb up to Pir Panjal Heights above Uri on the same night, self contained for seven days and carrying first-line scale of ammunition. 2/3 GR was tasked to capture the formidable Pir Kanthi masiff and Sawai Man Guards the Ledi Galli defences. 2/3 GR advanced up the Ridge where 7 SIKH was deployed i.e., between the Khalian da Khas Nala and Goatta Nala, towards the Pir Kanthi Height (Point 10,924’). The intermediate positions they captured were Point 8570, and Point 9180. June 26 was spent by the three Units for re-organisation and reconnaissance for the final assaults.
Employing a very effective Deception Plan with a Reinforced Company doing a Holding Attack from one direction on the night of June 27, two other Companies of 2/3 GR infiltrated and attacked Pir Kanthi from the rear. Pir Kanthi was manned by a Company of 3 AK Battalion and Company of Pak 2/1 PUNJAB (present 2 PUNJAB). Captain Muhamad Sarwar of 2/1 PUNJAB posthumously got the first Nishan-e-Haidar, highest Pak gallantry award, for defending this feature. By June 28, this formidable feature was captured after overcoming stiff opposition. 2/3 GR suffered casualties of 11 killed and 51 seriously wounded in the Pir Kanthi Operation and deserved to get a Battle Honour which due to later events, was not to be!
6 RAJ RIF had advanced up the Ridge between the Goaltee Nala and Nawa Rundan Nala from Urusa and first occupied Point 8432. Their next objective was Point 9356. Other localities in the vicinity were also cleared. 6 RAJ RIF then remained as Reserve, but the Pakistanis kept expecting the main attack to come from their direction. Their CO Lt. Col. SS Kalaan had to control the operations after June 25, as Brigadier Sen had to be medically evacuated from Khilla Dher due to high fever.
The Sawai Man Guards (present 17 RAJ RIF) followed by Tac HQ 161 Infantry Brigade had advanced up the Salamabad feature towards Point 9768. They then attacked and captured the strongly defended feature of Point 10658. Thereafter, they pushed the enemy back and seized the Khilla Der (11010’ high) feature by 25 June. The final assault on the Pir Panjal Heights was launched on June 27 after last light. After stiff fighting during the night, they succeeded in dislodging the 3 AK Battalion’s Company which had been augmented by a Mohmand Tribal Lashkar, from the Ledi Galli feature (10825’ high), by the evening of June 28. The Pakistani forces fell back to the adjacent Neja Galli area. By June 29, reorganisation and exploitation was completed and a fighting patrol was sent down the route to the vicinity of Haji Pir, where they linked up with another fighting patrol from 1 KUMAON which had come from the Poonch side.
7 SIKH established defensive positions at Kopra and Tofarabad ridges overlooking the demolished steel bridge at MS 68, but the heights of the Pir Panjal Range above the spurs along the Jhelum River were still in Pakistani hands…
161 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier LP Sen’s able leadership had achieved commendable success in the 1948 summer offensive to ensure the security of Uri Sector, including domination of the downhill areas up to the Haji Pir Pass.
Operations in Handwara-Trehgam-Tithwal Sector
The Pakistan Army showed great initiative even during the snow-bound months of 1947-1948, by pushing through a column of 1 Azad Kashmir Battalion and over 1,600 Swat and Mahsud Lashkars with three weeks’ supplies and ammunition over the high Shamshabari Range from the Muzaffarabad side, to develop a threat from the North-West along the Trahgam valley of the Pohru River onto Dragmula, Handwara and Sopore. On February 07, 1948, first reports came at Srinagar of a mass invasion by Pathan Lashkars across the Farkian Galli. These Raiders soon captured Trahagam and Shulur putting the Hindus there to the sword. 1 SIKH, which was the immediate Reserve available at Srinagar, was launched on February 08, under the command of Lt Col Harbaksh Singh. The Unit soon cleared the areas of Handwara, Dragmula and Kupwara of these Pakistani elements by February 21.
In March 1948, 163 Infantry Brigade was raised and made responsible for the Handwara Sector. By mid-April, reinforced by 7 SIKH, Col Harbaksh consolidated own positions and carried out aggressive patrolling to keep contact with the Enemy. Due to the Brigade Commander (J C Katoch) becoming medically indisposed and evacuated, Harbaksh though being a medical category case and comparatively junior, was given the brevet rank of Brigadier in mid-May because of his undoubted competence, energetic nature and being the “man on the spot”. He took charge of 163 Infantry Brigade offensive operations which started on May 16. He had under him 1 SIKH, 1 MADRAS and 3 GARH RIF. 3 GARH RIF did the most bitter fighting, advancing along the Shulur Valley and captured Trehgam by the evening of May 18. On May 19, they captured Shulur too. 1 MADRAS captured the Dogarpur Ridge, West of Handwara by May 18, and 1 SIKH was launched cross-country towards Chowkibal to ensure the element of ‘surprise’.
Chowkibal was captured on May 20, and thereafter, 1 MADRAS chased the Pakistani forces and captured Nastachun Pass (10,264’) in a daring operation on May 21. 1 SIKH then resumed the advance and captured Tithwal village on the East bank of the Kishanganga River (Neelum) by May 23. 1 SIKH further exploited and by bitter fighting evicted elements of the recently arrived 3/12 FF (now 5 FF) & 5/12 FF (now 2 FF) of Pak 10 Infantry Brigade from the vital Richmar Galli (Point 7895), Point 7802, Pir Saheba feature and Mir Kalsi Ridge, all South of Kishanganga River, by June 01, 1948, in order to secure a springboard for further offensive operations by fresh forces towards Muzaffarabad. Similarly, Harbaksh tasked the just arrived 3 GARH RIF (less two Rifle Companies) in Tithwal to exploit across the Kishanganga and seize the Ring Contour and Point 7229 features in order to give depth and protection to Tithwal, which they did in the nick of time on May 26. These features were later handed over to 1 MADRAS on May 30, in order to keep 3 GARH RIF concentrated as Reserve.