A battle is the testing ground for a soldier. All the training that he receives from the day he enlists is for this supreme test, when he stakes his dearest possession — his life — against the enemy. Men do not stake their lives to earn medals. Men die for higher things, things they cherish most: their country, their religion, their family or clan. In the Army, the love of the clan is synonymous with love for the battalion or regiment. And there is no scale by which bravery can be measured. It has to be remembered that true bravery is not a ‘heedless and impassioned courage’ of the moment. True valour is measured courage inspired by the sight of the foe which takes ‘command in the midst of danger’. Among the rank and file, the men who deliberately risk their own lives to save their comrades’ certainly deserve a place of honour.
One such man who gave his life that day was Sepoy Dewan Singh. He was in charge of a light machine gun. The enemy having reached close to the position held by his platoon, there was danger of being overrun and orders to withdraw had been issued. But it was impossible for the men to get away unless the enemy could be held. Quickly realizing that his platoon faced destruction, Dewan Singh stood up and began to blaze away from the hip at the onrushing tribesmen. Several of the enemy fell. This stopped the onrush long enough to enable his platoon to withdraw. But an enemy bullet found its mark and Dewan Singh was hit in the shoulder. In spite of this he did not leave his position and kept engaging the enemy till a machine-gun burst killed him outright. This Kumaoni’s valour saved his platoon; it was recognized with a posthumous award of the MVC. Besides Sharma and Dewan Singh, the company suffered 46 casualties – 20 killed and 26 wounded. Enemy casualties were estimated by some sources at several hundred.
The enemy having reached close to the position held by his platoon, there was danger of being overrun and orders to withdraw had been issued. But it was impossible for the men to get away unless the enemy could be held.
The battle at Badgam caused a great deal of concern in Delhi and on 4 November Sardar Patel paid a visit to Srinagar to study the situation. He made it quite clear to Sen that Srinagar must be defended, and promised to send more troops. Sen was told later that day that by the evening of 7 November, he would be getting substantial reinforcements.13 His immediate task, therefore, was the close defence of Srinagar, for which he needed more troops. Sen decided to pull out the Sikhs from Pattan. Even otherwise, this battalion was in danger of being cut off. After withdrawal from Pattan, the battalion was deployed on the approaches to Srinagar, the main body being placed at milestone 4 on the Bararnula road. A sizeable tribal force followed up and attacked 1 Sikh on the night of 5/6 November. The battalion repulsed the attack, but the pressure against it kept increasing.
An aerial reconnaissance on the morning of 7 November revealed a large concentration of tribesmen between Shalateng and Zainakut, villages West of the Sikhs’ position. They were preparing defences, and a fleet of lorries that had brought them from Bararnula was parked beside the road. Sen now had two options. He could hold the lashkar till the arrival of reinforcements, or take it on that very day. What prompted Sen to attack straightaway was the certainty that once the enemy had had time to dig in, it would be much more difficult to drive him out. The decision resulted in the enemy’s rout.
Besides Sharma and Dewan Singh, the company suffered 46 casualties ““ 20 killed and 26 wounded. Enemy casualties were estimated by some sources at several hundred.
Sen’s plan was simple. He ordered 1 Sikh to keep the lashkar engaged lightly from their position at milestone 4. 1 (Para) Kumaon was at the time deployed near the Rifle Ranges. He ordered it to work its way forward and form up on a canal bank, South-West of the Sikhs, for an attack. 4 Kumaon was now up to strength and he ordered one company from it to secure the forming-up place for 1 (Para) Kumaon; the rest of the battalion was to guard the air-strip.
To Sen’s good luck, a troop of armoured cars of 7 Light Cavalry had reached Srinagar two days earlier by road, crossing the Banihal Pass from Jammu. He had sent two of the armoured cars with a rifle troop that morning on a patrol to Bandipura, North-West of Srinagar. He now ordered the patrol over the radio to forget about the mission to Bandipura and instead make at once for a spot in the rear of the lashkar concentrated at Shalateng. The road from Sumbal would enable the patrol to do this; it met the Srinagar-Baramula road near Shalateng. The Patrol Commander was to keep in touch through radio with Headquarters and inform it as soon as he had reached the allotted position. The assault by 1 (Para) Kumaon was to go in as soon as the armoured cars were ready. Simultaneously, the Sikhs were to attack from the East and the armoured cars from the rear of the enemy.
The effectiveness of the victory was proved by the fact that the enemy made no further serious attempt to get into the Srinagar Valley.
The plan succeeded beyond all expectations. The action commenced around noon and, by 1700 hours, the battle was over. Not used to fighting in the open, the lashkar behaved like a mob. ‘Shot up from three sides, the tribesmen ran pell-mell’. Even the best of troops lose their nerve if attacked from the rear unexpectedly, and the share of this small armoured force in the victory was far beyond its size. To the tribesmen’s bad luck, most of the area over which the action took place had been freshly ploughed and they fell easy victims to the steady fire that poured from three sides. The Air Force too put in its bit, strafing the enemy caught in the open. The day was won with very light Indian casualties although the enemy suffered a crushing defeat, deaths on their side running into hundreds. The survivors ran as fast as their legs could carry them, leaving their lorries standing by the roadside. The effectiveness of the victory was proved by the fact that the enemy made no further serious attempt to get into the Srinagar Valley.
It is interesting to recall that Sen got into hot water for withdrawing the Sikhs from Pattan. When Kalwant Singh visited Sen on 5 November he berated the Brigade Commander for his action. According to Sen (Slender was the Thread), the Kashmiris got so alarmed by the pull-out of the Sikhs, that they sent an urgent appeal to Nehru to remove him from the command of 161 Brigade. Success changed all that: he was now the saviour of Srinagar.
There was no trace of the enemy or the locals when 1 (Para) Kumaon entered the town. But there were plenty of signs of carnage and plunder: unburied bodies, burnt-out shells of houses, and the all-pervading smell of death. The houses were deserted and not a soul stirred.
The Sikhs were entrusted with the pursuit of the fleeing enemy and by 2000 hours they had reoccupied Pattan. Shortage of petrol and the poor condition of the civilian lorries forced a short halt, and the advance was resumed shortly after midnight. Baramula was taken without opposition on the morning of 8 November. There was no trace of the enemy or the locals when 1 (Para) Kumaon entered the town. But there were plenty of signs of carnage and plunder: unburied bodies, burnt-out shells of houses, and the all-pervading smell of death. The houses were deserted and not a soul stirred.
However, after some time, men were seen coming down from the hills surrounding Baramula. They came in ones and twos, but soon their number increased. As they came nearer, they shouted ‘Maharaja Sahib zindabad’. They were under the impression that the state’s forces had retaken Baramula. Soon the crowd spotted Brigadier Sen, who had by then come up and the shouting changed to ‘Sarkar Britannia zindabad’14 – they had taken Sen for a British officer! Someone must have put them wise, for the chant soon changed to ‘Pandit Nehru zindabad’. These simple people had run away from their homes to escape the savagery of the tribesmen. Sudden deliverance left them dazed and confused. But they were happy.