The advance to Pir Badesar began from Darhal after last light on 14 October. Harbhajan Singh employed only 1/1 Gorkha Rifles from his brigade. The other two battalions for the mission – 1 (Para) Punjab and 1 (Para) Kumaon – came from Jammu. Native Sikhs of Darhal acted as guides to the brigade, and the Gorkhas led the advance up to Giran. The Punjabis took over from there, and in the final bound the Kumaonis were the vanguard. By 1700 hours the next day, Pir Badesar had been taken. Artillery and the Air Force had a big hand in this quick success.
On 20 October, 5 Brigade reached Rajauri under Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Umrao Singh. It comprised 4 Madras, 5 Rajputana Rifles and 1/4 Gorkha Rifles. To strengthen the lines of communication between Pathankot and Naoshera, two battalions were moved from Hyderabad—1 Maratha Light Infantry and 6 Jat.
To give the new brigade a feel of the terrain and the enemy, it was given the task of taking Pir Kalewa. This feature straddled the right flank of the route to Mendhar and it was essential to capture it before beginning the main advance. The brigade did well, and Pir Kalewa was in Indian hands by midday on 28 October.
To confuse the enemy and divert his forces, the unit occupying Kailash was to advance towards Thanna Mandi, and the battalion at Pir Badesar was to demonstrate towards Kotli.
With the capture of Pir Kalewa the stage was set for Operation ‘Easy’. Atma Singh’s plan envisaged a two-pronged thrust against Bhimbar Gali, the first major enemy position on the way to Mendhar. The heights overlooking this pass had been fortified and were held in strength. To capture these positions, 5 Brigade was to advance from Pir Kalewa on the right flank while 19 Brigade, consisting of 1 (Para) Punjab, 2 Rajputana Rifles and 1 (Para) Kumaon, was to strike from the left. To confuse the enemy and divert his forces, the unit occupying Kailash was to advance towards Thanna Mandi, and the battalion at Pir Badesar was to demonstrate towards Kotli. An ad hoc brigade had been formed under Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) A.S. Sodhi from the garrison troops at Rajauri with 2/2 Punjab, 3 Assam and 6/8 Gorkha Rifles. This brigade was to seize Naghun, an enemy strongpoint West of Rajauri, and then capture, the Ramgarh Fort before D-day, which was fixed for 8 November.
Brigadier Yadunath Singh was placed in command of Operation ‘Easy’, and Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Jagjit Singh Aurora of 1 (Para) Punjab took over 19 Brigade temporarily. Yadunath Singh was an unusual soldier. A man of great piety, his daily routine included many hours of prayer and meditation, which he did not give up even during military operations. He took every opportunity to remove caste prejudices. Lieutenant General Maurice Cohen41 of the Corps of Signals relates how one day the brigadier organized a barra khana for both officers and men. “Under his instructions the food was cooked by the sweepers only. It was very good and enjoyed by all”.42
Yadunath Singh did not let his godliness come in the way of soldiering and establishing his Headquarters at Rajauri, he began to conduct the operations with great vigour. Besides the infantry element already mentioned, he had two troops of light tanks from the Central India Horse, 16 Field Regiment (less a battery), a battery from 13 Field Regiment, a battery from 22 Mountain Regiment, detachments of 3 Mahar machine-gunners, Engineers and ancillaries. Air support of a squadron of Tempests, five Dakotas, and an Auster (for air observation) was also available.
The 6/8 Gorkhas captured Naghun on 5 November with a spirited charge, in which the element of surprise was fully exploited. The fort of Ramgarh proved a little more difficult, and 2/2 Punjab captured it on 9 November after a series of operations. which were supported by the Air Force. Meanwhile, the main advance had begun on schedule.
The country between Rajauri and Punch is ideal for defence. “Looked at from the air, it presents an awesome spectacle of lofty mountain ranges torn by deep ravines, through which flow swift nullas”. There was no road at the time connecting the two places and only a mule-track snaked along the nulla-beds. It climbed up the mountains at Bhimbar Gali.
The enemy held it in strength, and there were bunkers at the top.
The enemy had done all it could to fortify the approaches to the pass. The first objective of 19 Brigade was Point 6307, a hill West of Dheri Dara. The enemy held it in strength, and there were bunkers at the top. Yadunath Singh maintained strict secrecy about the operation and had ordered that Point 6307 should be taken with a ‘silent’ night attack. No reconnaissance was permitted. A night attack is difficult business at any time, but launching one over unreconnoitred territory is particularly risky. That the brigade’s leading battalion – 1 (Para) Kumaon – succeeded in taking it on time was ample proof of the courage of its men and the leadership of its commanding officer.
The Kumaonis fired their success signal as dawn was breaking on 8 November. Soon after, 2 Rajputana Rifles passed through and, after a stiff engagement, captured the next objective: Point 6274. The enemy held a still higher feature to the North-West – Pir Saiyid Fazal Shah (Point 6945). From there it continued to snipe and mortar the Rajputana Rifles, and it was impossible for them to hold on to Point 6274 so long as Pir Saiyid Fazal Shah was in enemy hands. The task of capturing the latter was given to 1 (Para) Punjab.
To be continued