Kashmir Ops 1947-48 - Part I

Better boardroom plans don’t win wars. Better boardroom plans along with a disciplined army will win you wars. The Nizam lost Khardla because of his queen’s tantrums and the Austrians lost Karánsebes in a drunken brawl. In both the cases, the loser was in a position to win hands down. But, what undid their effort, if not for their own incompetence?

Pakistan faced the same situation in 1948. The planning was picture perfect. The Maharaja of Kashmir was not ready to accede to India, his Muslim nobles were pressing him to accede to Pakistan and foremost of all, access to Jammu and Kashmir is from Pakistan and not from India. Pakistan used it to the fullest – the british officers of Pakistan Army made the plans, their Indian counterparts were styming Indian efforts and even subverting government orders, the blockade was perfect, the planning was perfect and a well trained, battle hardened army formed the nucleus of the troops that was unleashed against Jammu and Kashmir. The whole kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir would have fallen to Pakistan even before India was able to do something substantial. What was the weakest link Pakistan had in the execution of it’s plans? The Pakistani soldiers and their leaders. Even battle hardened WW2 muslims from Paksitan who joined the war, did so not for military glory or glory of Pakistan but for women and loot. Not all were armed properly and Pakistan, surprisingly, banked upon them to take Kashmir. Too many mujahideen were used. Heroic resistance by J&K Dogra Forces (even after the muslims deserted) was not expected. They underestimated the Indian Army. Only the advance units were given better weapons and by the time Pakistan army formally entered the fray, the advantage was lost.

“They came in the morning - just before daybreak. There were hundreds of them. Most of them carried axes and swords. Some had muskets, others just sticks”
I took my own shotgun and bullets. No one not even the Pakistan government helped us.
"I used to tell the fighters after an attack that you have come here to fight, not to run away as chickens. You will not run away.

It is important to note that this war was spread as a war against the infidel.

The Pir of Maniki Sharif told us we would have to fight. We were told that it was a war between Muslims and infidels and that we would get Kashmir freed.

The campaign for an average soldier can be summed up by the words below:

Some had brought cattle, some horses. Most of them had brought arms, and many brought women. One Afridi tribesman walked back with two women in tow. They wept incessantly and just wouldn't stop.

When Muzaffarabad fell, a considerable part of the mujahideen spent three precious days in loot and rape.

They plundered the state armoury, set entire markets on fire and looted their goods, They shot everyone who couldn't recite the kalima - the Arabic-language Muslim declaration of faith. Many non-Muslim women were enslaved, while many others jumped in the river to escape capture.

They wasted another two days in Baramulla. These five days was what which stopped them from taking Srinagar.

In fact, Pakistanis themselves were angry at this delay – Agha Humayun Amin directly wrote, The uncouth raiders delayed in Baramulla for two (whole) days for some unknown reason.

This delay of five days plus a stout defence by the Dogra and Indian troops was enough for India to place sufficient men in Srinagar and roll back the invasion as much as possible.

The Prelude:

Maharaja Hari Singh refused to accede into both India and Pakistan and signed a Standstill agreement with both the countries on 12 August 1947. Accordingly, Pakistan was to manage the Post and Telegraph and handle the export of daily essentials. But, things are not to stay calm for long as Hindus and Sikhs fleeing Pakistan amidst massacres entered Jammu, bringing their tales of horror along with them. Slowly, the situation was turning towards a general anarchy and Pakistan which was looking at an opportunity got one at Poonch when units of the State Army punished some Muslim rioters in Poonch. Amidst much propaganda and threatening by Pakistani’s, both in their individual capacity(like Raja Yar Khan of Hazara) and in the official capacity, Jammu was targeted by units from Pakistan. The first known contact is believed to have happened near Jammu at Kotha on 3 September 1947 where a Pakistani band tried to attack the village but was chased back. The first military incursion happened on 6 September. Amidst allegations, counter-allegations and denials, Pakistan started to renege upon the cross-border commitments – from 12 September, Postal Services were suspended. Immediately after, the railway service between Jammu and Sialkot. Next followed dishonour of cheques and withdrawal, soon followed by stopping of trucks carrying provisions into Jammu. It is important to note that Jammu had already paid money for the goods which it was expecting.

By the mid of October, the whole border was being constantly attacked and situation was becoming fast untenable for the Jammu troops. On 15 October, Fort Owen was evacuated by Jammu troops and soon, Kotli-Poonch Road was breached. Main action was centred around Mirpur, Mangla and Bhimber.

Parallel to this, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity, with Jammu Government approaching the British Government on 12 October, complaining to the Pakistani Government on 15 October and on evasive responses, Jammu warned that it will be forced to approach India on 24 October. Jammu formally acceded to India on 26 October 1947.

The Plan – Operation Gulmarg:

The main aim of the hit and run activities spread across the whole of border with Pakistan was to ensure that Jammu troops will stop operating as a cohesive unit and to stop them from giving a formidable challenge to Pakistan when it invaded.

Every Pathan tribe was to enlist at least one Lashkar of 1000 troops each and these units were shifted to the nearest major cities like Bannu, Peshawar and Nowshera before they were shifted to Abbottabad by 18 October. Though formally under the control of the head appointed by the tribe, the units were given Pakistani military officials as liaison officers and the whole unit was headed by Maj Gen Akbar Khan.

The main plan of action was

6 lakshars advancing from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar via Domel, Uri and Baramulla tasked to capture the airport and marching towards Banihal Pass

2 lashkars marching on Gulmarg from Haji Pir Pass

2 lashkars from Tithwal towards Handwara and Bandipora

10 lashkars were to operate around Punch, Bhimber and Rawalkot with a task to take Poonch and Rajouri and march towards Jammu.

7 Infantry Div of Pakistan Army was not to be a part of the invasion force but was stationed near Murree to act as a support for the invading Lashkars.

Along with this, Akbar Khan was tasked to create an Azad Kashmir Army out of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, including the state troops.

In reality, there is no point talking about the situation of Jammu troops – they were completely scattered and there was no way they could have presented a serious resistance. At a point of time, India was only able to count 700 troops supporting India in the whole of the Dogra Army on the field.

The Invasion:

Domel, just across the river at Muzaffarabad controlled the main access to Jammu and Kashmir. Domel Garrison and the border outposts of Ramkot and Lohar Gali were key to the defence, but as events transpired, there was going to be a walkover. On 22 October, at day break, the laskhars crossed the border near Muzaffarabad. 4 Kashmir Infantry surrendered at Ramkot and Lohar Gali without a fight and joined the invaders. Muzaffarabad itself fell in no time. The Dogra units scattered across Muzaffarabad inflicted some damage but were wiped out. Domel Garrison heard of the attack only when the invaders reached Domel Bridge connecting Muzaffarabad with Domel. While the Muslim troops in the garrison joined the invaders and slaughtered the Hindu troops including the Commander of 4 JK Rifles, Lt Col Narayan Singh. The garrison held on till the evening when 15 soldiers escaped into the hills, never to be heard again.

It was a similar scenario played out again and again. The MMG unit at Muzaffarabad under Hawaldar Bishen Singh reached Srinagar a few days later. Battika detachment was captured in retreat and was executed. A unit from Kotli reached Uri. The whole theater saw a retreat of Jammu troops towards Baramulla. Brigadier Rajendra Singh, Chief of Military Staff, Jammu and Kashmir forces himself was killed in action, after stopping 6000 invaders near Uri for four days with just 110 troops as a last ditch effort. He saved Kashmir and was later awarded India’s first Mahavir Chakra.

The window he created was critical, with Karan Singh, the then Crown Prince of Jammu and Kashmir lauding him through the words “If Brig Rajinder Singh had not stopped the Pakistani invaders, if he didn’t sacrifice his life, Kashmir may not have been a part of India

Brigadier Rajendra Singh

The distribution of troops still supporting Jammu and Kashmir Government on 25 October 1947 is as below.

Baramulla fell on 26 October. But Brig Rajinder Singh had given precious breathing space for Indian troops to be inducted. In the next 48 hours 1st Sikh and 4 Kumaon would follow Brig Rajinder Singh’s example and save Srinagar and Kashmir. Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai and Major Somnath Sharma would script history.

The Kashmir Ops series to continue.

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