Military & Aerospace

The Indian Army: The first challenge - VII
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Issue Book Excerpt: Indian Army After Independence | Date : 08 Aug , 2011

Pir Saiyid Fazal Shah was a towering mass of rock. The Punjabis stormed it around 1700 hours after 25-pounders, howitzers and aircraft had pounded it. The enemy used every weapon with it to stop the Punjabis. Even big boulders were rolled down the hillside, but they kept advancing, their bayonets fixed. The sight of cold steel perhaps unnerved the enemy and it disappeared, leaving behind many weapons and some dead. The next day, the Rajputana Rifles cleared the enemy from Point 6210, the last enemy stronghold on Bhimbar Gali. The hill commanded an excellent view of an enemy camp at Turti, South of Mendhar. About a thousand of its men were there, with their mules out in the open: a perfect target for the gunners. The camp was shelled with very good results.

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By this time, 5 Brigade had taken its objectives on the right (Points 6911 and 6980). The two brigades now consolidated their positions at Bhimbar Gali in preparation for the attack on Mendhar. The 29-kilometre advance from Rajauri had been pretty fast. The enemy had 175 killed and 20 taken prisoner. Large quantities of stores and equipment, including. standard and paratroop rifles, were captured.

“¦the enemy had taken good care of its defences at Jhhika Gali by covering them with two 25-pounders and eight howitzers. The brigade failed to carry the position despite heavy fighting.

The two brigades resumed their advance on 13 November. Mendhar was dominated by high hills in the North as well as the South. The pass in the South, Jhhika Gali, was overlooked by Point 5732 and the mission of capturing it was given to 19 Brigade. The right flank was again made the responsibility of 5 Brigade and it was ordered to seize Point 4394. Unfortunately for 19 Brigade, the enemy had taken good care of its defences at Jhhika Gali by covering them with two 25-pounders and eight howitzers. The brigade failed to carry the position despite heavy fighting.

To avoid unnecessary casualties in future attacks on Jhhika Gali, Atma Singh decided to bypass it. He discovered that the approach from the right flank was easier as 5 Brigade had taken its objective without difficulty. He therefore decided that the main thrust should be made by way of Topa, a hill North of Mendhar. To deceive the enemy, one battalion 43 of 19 Brigade was ordered to keep engaging the enemy at Jhhika Gali, while the remaining units were switched quietly to the right flank to reinforce 5 Brigade. To fool the enemy further, dummy air-drops were arranged behind the position occupied by the battalion facing Jhhika Gali. The change over was completed by the morning of 18 November.

Topa was made the objective for 5 Brigade. This hill was known to be strongly held. Instead of attacking it frontally, the brigade commander44 decided to outflank it as the first step. He ordered 5 Rajputana Rifles to capture a hill North of Topa and then exploit Southwards. At the same time 1/4 Gorkha Rifles was told to attack an adjoining hill and thereafter move North-East for a link-up with troops from the Punch Brigade.

These operations could naturally be undertaken only after his troops had been reinforced and the lines of communication improved.

By the morning of 20 November, 5 Rajputana Rifles had taken its objective. 1/4 Gorkha Rifles too had by then captured its hill and despatched a platoon towards Point 6793, where troops from Punch had already established themselves. At noon the link-up was achieved, though Mendhar was yet to be taken. It was necessary to take Topa and Jhhika Gali before the town could be occupied. In the first Punch link-up 1 (Para) Punjab had captured Topa. Taking advantage of the battalion’s acquaintance with this feature, it was ordered to tackle it, and by 1500 hours (20 November) the Punjabis had completed their mission.

After the fall of Topa, the enemy began to pull out of Jhhika Gali also and 2 Rajputana Rifles took it in the early hours of 23 November. Some of the enemy still lurking in the hills North-West of Jhhika Gali were taken care of during the day. At 1600 hours Mendhar was entered, and the two commanders — Yadunath Singh and Pritam Singh—shook hands to mark the final link-up with Punch (see Fig. 3.8). The last phase of the link-up operation was the construction of a road to Punch. The Engineers had been laying a jeep track as the troops advanced from Rajauri and now they took up the task of building a proper road.

The shelling continued till 17 December, when two enemy battalions advanced against the positions held by the Dogras and the Gorkhas. After their heavy pounding, the Pakistanis perhaps expected to find them abandoned.

As the year 1948 was drawing to a close, there were still large areas of Jammu & Kashmir under Pakistan’s control. Cariappa had prepared preliminary plans for liberating these areas. The operations proposed by him included the capture of territory from Urusa to Muzaffarabad, and the Bhimbar-Mirpur-Kotli bulge. These operations could naturally be undertaken only after his troops had been reinforced and the lines of communication improved. In any case, no mission of importance could be undertaken till the spring of 1949. Indian and Pakistani forces in Jammu & Kashmir were by now evenly matched.45 The latter had the additional advantage of shorter and better lines of communication.

Negotiations for a cease-fire had been going on ever since the arrival of the United Nations Commission. In August 1948 this body had suggested a Cease-Fire Agreement. The Indian Government accepted it, but Pakistan was not prepared to agree without attaching certain conditions, which were unacceptable to the Commission. However, good sense ultimately prevailed and the Pakistan Government changed its mind. Indian successes in the Kargil-Leh and Rajauri-Punch sectors may have played their part in the change of heart. The Pakistanis, however, continued offensive action even when the negotiations had reached the final stage.

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They chose 14 December for launching their biggest artillery attack of the campaign. At 1100 hours that day, Naoshera and other localities within a radius of 11 kilometres were subjected to fire from every available Pakistani gun. Medium guns, 25-pounders, 3.7 -inch howitzers, 4.2-inch mortars and anti-aircraft guns fired some 2,000 shells in nine hours. A total of 5,000 shells had fallen on Indian territory before the Indian Gunners’ counter-bombardment dampened the Pakistanis’ ardour. The main Pakistani effort was directed against 4 Dogra and 1/9 Gorkha Rifles holding the Chhawa Ridge and the ‘Punjab Hill’, South of Naoshera. The bridge at Beri Pattan also received a good deal of attention and was damaged. The Pakistanis later brought up Sherman tanks. The shelling continued till 17 December, when two enemy battalions advanced against the positions held by the Dogras and the Gorkhas. After their heavy pounding, the Pakistanis perhaps expected to find them abandoned. Unfortunately for them the two battalions had held on to their positions and effective fire greeted the Pakistanis, after which they withdrew.

This had the effect of presenting these important positions to the enemy on a platter. Troops were retained at much higher altitudes in other sectors.

The gallantry shown by Captain Dara Dinshaw Mistri during the artillery duel deserves special mention. He was the observation officer with the forwardmost picquet at Chhawa. On 15 December, the enemy shelled his post relentlessly, using howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars. Despite the murderous fire, this officer stuck to his post and it was due to his fearless conduct that enemy guns were pin-pointed in this sector. He reported the presence of tanks on his front, and remained at his post while they engaged his picquet for two hours. He did not listen to the entreaties of his platoon commander to seek safety, but continued to observe and pass back information to the guns till a 75-mm shell hit his position, killing him on the spot. His courage was a source of inspiration to the rest of the picquet, and the Government rewarded his dedication with a posthumous award of the MVC.


In December, while Indian troops were consolidating their gains in the Rajauri-Punch and other areas, a move in the Uri sector deprived India of much valuable territory. Pir Kanthi and Ledi Gali, which had been taken with great effort and at much cost in June, were evacuated on account of snow. This had the effect of presenting these important positions to the enemy on a platter. Troops were retained at much higher altitudes in other sectors. As soon as Indian troops moved out of Pir Kanthi and Ledi Gali, the Pakistanis moved in. They used this territory to great effect in 1965 to infiltrate guerrillas into the Srinagar Valley. Brigadier Brookes’ withdrawal was inexplicable considering that a cease-fire was about to take effect. His move resulted in the formation of Haji Pir Bulge (Bedori Bulge to the Pakistanis).An exchange of telegrams between the two Commanders-in-Chief, Bucher and Gracey, brought a cease-fire from midnight 31 December/1 January 1949. According to the terms of the agreement, a cease-fire line (CFL), which the troops of neither country would violate, was to be delineated. Thereafter, in the period of truce, normal conditions would be created in Jammu & Kashmir, i.e. Pakistan would withdraw all troops from the area under her occupation and also endeavour to secure the withdrawal of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals from the state. When this had been done, India was to withdraw the bulk of her forces. In the third stage the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir as to the future status of the state were to be ascertained. During the interim period, military observers, appointed by the UNCIP, would supervise the observance of the cease-fire. A ten-day conference at Karachi in July 1949 delineated the 640-kilometre CFL, which ran from Manawar in the Punjab plains to Keran, North of Tithwal, whence it ran East to Chalunka.

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The cost of the 14-month campaign to India was approximately 6,000 casualties: 1,500 killed, 3,500 wounded and 1,000 missing, most of them prisoners of war.46 Pakistan’s casualties were estimated at 20,000, including 6,000 killed. The terrain over which most of the fighting took place was among the most difficult regions in the world. During the two world wars, the Indian Army had campaigned in the extreme cold of European winters. But in Kashmir, for the first time in its history, it had fought at high altitudes, without any special clothing or equipment. Some of the troops scaled passes higher than the highest Alpine peak to reach their battleground. And tanks were used at a height never before heard of.

It must, however, be stated that the new spirit was not confined to what are called combat personnel, or men in uniform.

Right from the moment the first troops were airlifted to Srinagar, a new spirit had been in evidence amongst the officers and the men. They knew that the country was facing its first challenge and rose to the occasion. There were instances galore of men performing acts beyond the call of duty. The Engineers, the Signals and the services – AMC, ASC, Ordnance, EME – carried out herculean tasks. In this short narrative, it has not been possible to describe them all, or to relate the actions of individual units in detail. This is a task that will have to be undertaken under Government aegis, as much research and labour will have to go into it.

It must, however, be stated that the new spirit was not confined to what are called combat personnel, or men in uniform. We have mentioned how a sweeper on a beleaguered picquet at Naoshera fought the enemy. Then there was the Kashmiri villager who rescued the commanding officer of a battalion from certain death and then refused a monetary reward. Another non-combatant who showed exemplary gallantry was a civilian dhobi, Ram Chander by name.

Pakistans casualties were estimated at 20,000, including 6,000 killed. The terrain over which most of the fighting took place was among the most difficult regions in the world.

This man was travelling to Jammu on 18 December 1947 in an ASC convoy, as part of a detachment of 14 Field Company (Madras Sappers). The convoy was ambushed at Bharambla where the enemy had blocked the road by removing the decking on a bridge. Ram Chander helped in replacing the decking while the bridge was under fire. When the convoy commander, Lieutenant F.D.W. Fallon (ASC), was wounded by an enemy bullet, Ram Chander took over his rifle, and helped in holding the enemy by covering fire while the officer’s vehicle got over the bridge. When Fallon had to abandon the vehicle, he and Ram Chander found they were alone. The dhobi did not leave the officer, who was now in a state of near collapse. He escorted Fallon to the nearest Army post, which was 12 kilometres away. His courage and coolness under fire were unmatched by any of the combat personnel in the convoy. And he lived to enjoy the acclaim that goes with an award of the MVC.

Throughout the campaign, the Indian Air Force provided admirable support to the Army. Due to poor surface communications, many isolated localities and garrisons had to be maintained by air. The airmen flew supply missions across high mountain ranges in adverse conditions, often at great personal risk. Some of the most hazardous missions were flown by Air Commodore Mehar Singh himself. The people of Punch and Leh and the men who guarded these besieged towns are not likely to forget the help they received from the gallant airmen.

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Except for the first ten weeks, the operational level of command, right up to the Army Commander level, had been in Indian hands. As the reader is aware, the senior officers, by and large, did not have previous experience of higher command. All they had to guide them was the urgency of the situation and their spirit. Mistakes were made but, as the operations progressed, the Indian commanders were able to outwit and dominate the enemy in every sector. Operations calling for multi-pronged moves, like the Punch link-up, require a good deal of skill on the part of commanders and staff. At the tactical level, this was shown again and again.

Book_Indian_Army_AfterThroughout the campaign, the initial initiative gained by Pakistan was never surrendered by them. We invariably reacted to their moves. We were satisfied with tactical victories, but could neither understand nor appreciate the necessity to wrest the strategic initiative. There was an unreasoned apprehension in the minds of the political leadership with regard to taking on Pakistani regular troops. Many opponunities were missed because of inexplicable tying down of field commanders or denying adequate reinforcements which came only when the situation had gone beyond solution.


  • Jammu is now connected to Pathankot by rail.
  • Brigadier Rajinder Singh was awarded the MVC posthumously
  • in 1950.
  • Lashkar is a medieval Persian/Urdu term for an army unit or formation. In this case it is used to denote North-West Frontier tribal irregular units invading Kashmir.
  • Mr. Menon was the Reforms Commissioner and Constitutional Adviser to Mountbatten.
  • According to Alan Campbell-Johnson (Mission with Mountbatten) the presence of about 200 British residents in Srinagar was one of the considerations for sending troops there quickly. Campbell-Johnson was Mountbatten’s press attache.
  • By 11 November this organization had been positioned and the staff of Command Headquarters was relieved of this commitment. By then, over 600 sorties carrying more than 5,000 men and several thousand pounds of stores had been despatched.
  • 50 Parachute Brigade, then at Gurdaspur, was ordered to Jammu.
  • A posthumous award of the MVC was later made to Lieutenant Colonel Rai.
  • In 1952, this battalion became part of the Parachute Regiment and was renamed 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
  • On becoming part of the Parachute Regiment in 1952, this battalion was redesignated 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
  • A light machine gun has a team of two men to work it. One man aims and fires; the other refills the magazines as they get empty.
  • Ranking below the PVC (PVC) in descending order of merit are:
    • The MVC (MVC)
    • The Vir Chakra (VrC)
    • The Sena Medal, (SM).
  • The units to arrive were: 6 Rajputana Rifles; 2 Dogra; a squadron of 7 Light Cavalry; 32 Field Battery.
  • Sarkar Britania is Urdu for ‘British Government’.
  • These were mostly young women.
  • Major General Akbar Khan later wrote a book on these operations.
  • Mission with Mountbatten by Alan Campbell-Johnson, pp. 223–26 and p. 363.
  • V.P. Menon quoted by Russell Brines in The Indo-Pakistani Conflict.
  • All battalions of this group had been allotted to Pakistan. One of the companies of the 3rd Battalion consisted of Sikhs and the other of Rajputs. The Sikh company later merged with 17 Sikh and the Rajputs went to 4/6 Rajputana Rifles.
  • After the creation of an ad hoc brigade at Punch, he had been given the local rank of Brigadier.
  • Brigadier Usman came over from 77 (Para) Brigade. He had earlier been GSO- 1 at Headquarters 2 Indian Airborne Division.
  • Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad was No. 2 in the state cabinet; Sheikh Abdullah was now Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Later 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
  • Lieutenant General Russell did visit Jammu and Punch once during his tenure as GOC-in-C Delhi and East Punjab Command.
  • Cariappa had been given the nickname ‘Kipper’ by a British officer’s wife while he was serving at the Rajputs’ Regimental Centre. She found it hard to pronounce his name.
  • A company of 3/1 Punjab also formed part of the garrison.
  • Estimates of enemy strength at this battle are taken from contemporary records. Apparently, the enemy force consisted mostly of tribals and other ‘volunteers’, who were thrown in for the capture of Naoshera, and then dispersed. This is borne out by the fact that in Operation ‘Vijay’, which was later mounted for the recapture of Jhangar, only a brigade of the enemy was encountered.
  • This battalion was renamed 3rd Battalion (Rifles) The Kumaon Regiment in 1950.
  • Quote from Slender was the Thread by Lieutenant General Sen.
  • This battalion arrived in the valley just before the Banihal Pass closed for the winter.
  • Initially designated ‘Z’ Brigade.
  • 77 (Para) Brigade mounted an operation to take the Haji Pir Pass in conjuction with Sen’s thrust along the Pir Panjal Range. But the attempt failed.
  • The battalion had two companies of 2 Dogra under its command.
  • ‘La’ means ‘a pass’ in Tibetan.
  • Slender was the Thread by Lieutenant General L.P. Sen, pp. 192-93.
  • A supply column, consisting of 1,000 porters and 400 mules was sent to Leh across the Baralacha La in the middle of September to cater for the winter requirements of the garrison.
  • Red Coats to Olive Green by V. Longer, p. 311.
  • Karam Singh won the Military Medal for gallantry in the Second World War.
  • Quoted from India’s Paratroopers.
  • There was an uprising of Punchhi Muslims on account of the Pathan tribals’ atrocities against them. It was, however, “put down with great severity by a Pakistan Army Brigadier”. (Operation Rescue by Lieutenant General S.K. Sinha, pp. 92–3.)
  • In Thunder Over Kashmir.
  • After his retirement as Major General, Yadunath Singh devoted a good deal of his time towards reforming the dacoits infesting the Chambal ravines, not far from his native Gwalior.
  • 2 Rajputana Rifles.
  • Brigadier Umrao Singh had earlier been relieved by Brigadier Yadunath Singh after the former had been wounded. Major General Atma Singh had thereafter assumed command of Operation ‘Easy’.
  • The Indo-Pakistani Conflict by Russell Brines, p. 75.
  • The exchange of prisoners of war did not form part of the negotiations at Karachi. They were exchanged a year later.
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