A note from Tulsi Bhandari on Kashmir

On the occasion of ‘INFANTRY DAY’ I am sharing with you excerpts of
Notes of my father Col Harwant Singh MC (Retd). He is 94 yrs old, in
good health and was actively involved in the fateful events of 1947-48
till the cease fire was declared on 01 Jan 1949. He was one of the
leading Company Commanders of 1SIKH, when they landed in Srinagar on
27 Oct 1947. He was with 1 SIKH as a Coy Cdr, officiating Commanding
Officer and 2iC and participated in all actions of the Battalion.
Later he was Station Commander Srinagar before taking over command of
4 SIKH in Dec 48 in the Valley itself.
1.The Kashmir landings by the Indian Army in Dakotas commenced on 27
Oct 1947 from Palam airport at Delhi with the urgent task of
protecting J & K State from being forcibly annexed by Pakistan with
the help of thousands of raiders supported by their regular troops.
The landings were spearheaded by 1 SIKH under the command of Lt Col
Dewan Ranjit Rai. The first and second wave of Dakotas carried C Coy
under Capt Kamaljit Singh and D Coy under Maj Harwant Singh MC,(my
father) respectively. The Commanding Officer travelled in the leading
aircraft. Rest of the battalion was to follow on 28 Oct. Air lift on
27 Oct went off smoothly except for one Dakota carrying Battalion
Signal Platoon and wireless equipment, which force landed at Jammu and
joined the Battalion in another aircraft after three days. 1 SIKH was
devoid of any communication equipment for the first three days.
Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, MVC, Commanding Officer 1 SIKH, rushed his
available troops comprising approximately 120 -130 men with a section
of 3 inch Mortars to Baramula (a hill feature astride Mile 32) to hold
the raiders well away from Srinagar despite orders to stay put at
Srinagar airport. He was unfortunately killed at 1730 hrs on 28th Oct
while fighting a rear guard action in an open area astride Mile 32,
East of Baramula, after the troops had to start withdrawing due to the
overwhelming strength of the raiders. He was posthumously awarded the
MVC for gallantry.
As rest of the battalion had not arrived,
Major (later Col) Harwant Singh MC, who was D Coy Commander took over
Officiating Command of 1 SIKH after Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was killed
in action . The CO had given orders for the available troops to
withdraw and stop the raiders at the Shalateng Spill Channel 4 ½ miles
from Srinagar.
2. During Night 28th / 29th Oct the operational situation was very
fluid and there was no other help available. Maj Harwant Singh MC
controlled the situation calmly and with courage, though he had only
six years service. He took the tactically sound but a very risky
decision to move the Battalion on Night 28/29 Oct from Shalateng Spill
Channel 4 ½ miles from Srinagar to area Mile 17 near Pattan, almost
half way between Srinagar and Baramula after realising that with the
strength of troops available, the Spill Channel was not defensible and
could be easily bypassed by the raiders. They had barely reached the
hill features at Mile 17 and were preparing their defences when at
dawn the raiders convoy heading towards Srinagar was ambushed.
Repeated attacks were launched by the raiders to dislodge 1 SIKH from
Mile 17 but the troops held their ground inflicting heavy casualties
on the raiders. Had 1 SIKH not stopped the raiders at Pattan, Srinagar
would have fallen on 29 Oct 1947. He thus caused most needed 48 hours
delay on the raiders to enable own troop build up at the airport.
GOC of 19 Infantry Division, Maj Gen (Later Gen and COAS) K S
Thimayya, DSO had this to say to 1SIKH on the eve of their departure
from the Valley.
SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY
BY
MAJ GEN K S THIMAYYA, DSO
(Later General and Chief of the Army Staff)
GOC, 19 INFANTRY DIVISION
1ST BN THE SIKH REGIMENT
This is to bid farewell to you Officers and men of the 1st Battalion
The SIKH Regiment on the eve of your departure from 19 Division. You
had the honour of being the first Battalion to arrive by air to
Srinagar on the outbreak of hostilities and you reached Srinagar on
the 27th October 47. The enemy was then at Baramula when you pushed
forward. During this action you lost your gallant commander Colonel
Rai. Owing to the lack of transport and reinforcements and the
overwhelming strength of the enemy you were forced to pull back to the
outskirts of the city until your whole Battalion was concentrated from
India. From here, as part of 161 Brigade you made a brilliant advance
and pushed the enemy all the way back to Uri causing heavy casualties
to him. This speedy advance caused the enemy to break even run beyond
Muzaffarabad and it was only because of the lack of transport and for
other strategic reasons that prevented you from reaching Muzaffarabad
itself.
From then on as part of 161 Brigade you held a secure base at Uri and
prevented the enemy from infiltrating into the Kashmiri Valley from
the West. During this time you had some very fierce engagements with
the enemy in which you proved your superiority over him in every way.
You continued through out the winter. For many of you the sight of
snow was a novel experience and the way you operated and stayed in
that area under intense cold and in difficult terrain was a fine
example of your toughness and high morale.
Early in spring the enemy infiltrated into the Handwara Valley via the
Nastachhun Pass. You were hurriedly sent there to push him back from
Sopor and Handwara and there you held him in the hills and prevented
him from making further advance. During this time, apart from the
fighting that you carried out, you took the opportunity of befriending
the local population and with them you gained great popularity and won
the confidence of the peasants, which has been a deciding factor in
the political stability of Kashmir. All this time you were part of J&K
Force.
In April 1948 Sri Division came into existence and you formed part of
163 Infantry Brigade. In May 1948 Sri Division took the offensive to
the West and your Battalion as part of 163 Infantry Brigade took a
most prominent part in these operations. On the night of 16 /17 May
1948 in a lightening advance from Handwara you surrounded the enemy HQ
at Dogarpur and then continued to capture Chokibal, the Nastachun Pass
and finally entered Tithwal on 23rd May 48. This was an amazing
advance under very difficult conditions and in very mountainous
country against a Pathan enemy who was highly skilled in mountain
warfare. When you pushed trough the Nastachun Pass, snow and ice still
lay all over it.
From then onwards you held the most vital part of the Tithwal area for
six months. You occupied a forward position which was constantly under
enemy pressure and heavy mortar and artillery fire. The enemy made
repeated attempts to drive you from this position and the last effort
of the enemy on 13 October when he used over three Battalions
accompanied by heavy Artillery and Mortar support, you beat him back
causing very heavy casualties on him. The enemy knew who you were and
decided that it was no use trying to flight a fine Battalion like
yours.
During all these operations you suffered the following :-
Killed
Wounded
Missing
Officers2
5

VCOs
6
15
1
Other Ranks
101
349
15
You inflicted the following casualties on the enemy :-
Killed
Wounded
Missing
1206
442
15
You captured the following arms and equipment’s from the enemy :-
3 Inch Mortars
3
Country Made Mortar
1
Bren Guns
3
Rifles
29
Pathan Rifles
5
Sten Guns
2
MMG
1
and plenty of kit, equipment and stores.
Before the partition of the Indian Army your Regiment the SIKH
Regiment, had earned for itself a great reputation for gallantry and
efficiency in two World Wars in various theatres in the World and on
numerous operations on the North West Frontier. During these 13 months
in the Kashmir Valley, fighting for free India, you have surpassed all
previous records and have further enhanced your traditions as a
fighting unit. It has been a great privilege to have you in my
Division in which you have helped to lay the foundations of a great
tradition and it is with a great sorrow that I bid farewell to you
officers and men whom I have come to love and admire. The Valley of
Kashmir will always sing your praises and echo to the deeds of
gallantry performed by you. Some of you who are present in the parade
have lost all you owned in the West Punjab. You have had your homes
uprooted and your families displaced and you are many of you, still
without a home. In spite of all this you have fought hard and kept
your morale high and enhanced the reputation of the Indian Army. I
hope you will all in a very short time be able to take your well
earned leave and that you will find your families in great cheer and
happiness and I wish you all a well earned rest and may God be with
you!
JAI HIND
Sd/–x-x-x-x-x-x
Srinagar (J&K)K S Thimayya,
Nov 1948Major General
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