First Kashmir War- Stemming the Tide Oct-Nov 1947

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The First Kashmir war was fought across multiple fronts for over a year, starting in Oct 1947 and ending in that controversial ceasefire in Nov 1948. The ceasefire also resulted in a  security council resolution which nobody in Pakistan has read, but loves to bring it up in any conversation related to Kashmir.

Deception and use of non-state actors were skills which the state of Pakistan was born with. Even before they became a reality, Pakistani administration and military had put plans afoot to annex the state of Kashmir. Using the excuse to save the majority muslim population from the tyrannical rule of a Hindu Dogra king, who had declared himself as an independent state, Pakistan army launched ‘Operation Gulmarg’.

In March 1947, some of the hardcore Islamic military men from the future Pakistani army, led by Col. Akbar Khan, had proposed to Jinnah a plan to use the war-like tribal laskhars from the NWFP, to attack Kashmir and annex it. They didn’t think too much of the small military force belonging to the J&K state who were expected to capitulate within a few days of this multi pronged attack across western and northern borders of the state. These tribals were annually being paid 16 crore rupees by the British, to keep the frontiers quiet and safe. Newly born Pakistani state didn’t have that kind of money to spare…so they guided these tribals towards kashmir…a state with many prosperous towns like Baramulla, Poonch  etc. would act as an attractive looting and rampaging destination.

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These tribals from NWFP (North west Frontier Province) also known as kabayalis,  had been fighting since so long that it had become a part of their life. If a Pathan didn’t fire a bullet at someone on a given day…he would feel constipated and uneasy till he did so. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a wonderful charming rendition of a Kabayali man in his novel Kabuliwala…the Pathan who dealt in kaju-kishmish-badam. A  tear jerking movie was also made with Balraj Sahni in lead…which has a song that every NRI plays on 15th August once…’Aye mere pyare watan’. But, these Kabayalis, who were indoctrinated and armed by the nascent Pakistani military in late August, were dealing in guns-bullets and grenades instead of dry fruits.

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They were being incited by spreading falsehood about the persecution of Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Hindu Dogra soldiers of the J&K state military.

Twenty Lashkars of a thousand men each were formed and assigned different sectors in J&K. Some of these Lashkars were also comprised of Poonchi Muslims…a disgruntled community who had earlier participated valiantly in WW II. But, after getting discharged from the British Indian army and snubbed by their own state’s military to absorb them and provide a stable livelihood, they decided to join ranks with the Pakistanis. These Poonchi Muslims formed the bulk of Lashkars which attacked the western borders, mainly on Poonch, Rajouri and Naushera areas. Idea was to capture all important mountain passes like Haji Pir and clear the road to Srinagar. Adding to the misfortune of J&K state forces, many Muslim soldiers switched sides to join the Lashkars as they came along.

The lashkars started moving in on 22nd Oct. 1947. Initial skirmishes were assumed to be local Hindu-Muslim rioting. But, it slowly became clear to both J&K and Indian leadership as to what was going on. Also, there is a amazing story of this Indian Army officer Maj. Omkar Nath Kalkat, who was a Hindu officer in Bannu Brigade in NWFP in Oct. 1947. He had been transferred to the Indian army, but hadn’t relocated till then. He happened to come across this file marked ‘Operation Gulmarg- Top Secret’. The file outlined the daring plan for invasion of Kashmir. Before he could take any action about it, he was captured and taken to Lahore, from where he managed to escape and reached Delhi. After  he apprised the  senior Indian Army leadership of the audacious tribal invasion plan, the Indian army top brass trashed his claims as grand fantasies and didn’t initiate any countering operation. It is also said that the Pakistan Army C-in-C(British), had informed Lord Mountbatten and Indian Army C-in-C (British) about the impending invasion, but both men didn’t think it was important enough to be shared with the Indian political leadership as Kashmir had not ceded to India at that point.

It was after the tribal unleashed horrific violence and slaughter in the border towns of Baramulla, Rajouri and Uri, that the J&K and Indian leadership jumped into action. Pandit Nehru in maybe his first and last pragmatic military decision, ordered the Army to move in and save Srinagar after Sardar Patel got the instrument of accession signed on Oct 26.

Now Kashmir was part of India. On 27 Oct., early morning, Indian troops (mainly 1 Sikh battalion) were airlifted in the Dakotas belonging to both the Indian Air Force and other civilian airlines.

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Along with them came a bunch of IAF Spitfires and Tempest aricrafts for interdiction and ground attack.  As the Srinagar airport didn’t have adequate re-fueling facility, the Dakotas would lend their fuel to these fighters during the initial days in lieu of ‘I.O.U’ chits. Spitfires and Tempest aircrafts would then take off and pound the advancing tribal formations/convoys by strafing them by their machine guns or dropping 500 pound bombs on them.

Hawker Tempest-

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Spitfire-

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The tribals did cause huge mayhem and acted more like the armies of Nadir Shah or Tamur Lane. Baramulla town had around 40000 hindus out of 50000 population. Most of them were massacred…the whole town was looted and burnt down. The time spent by these rampaging tribals while ransacking the Baramulla town, actually allowed Indian forces to plan an effective defense for Srinagar. Elements of 1 Sikh, formed defensive positions on high ground at Pattan, about 30 kms west of Srinagar. This defensive step was a major factor in saving Srinagar.

By 31st Oct, elements of 161 Brigade with about 3000 men were now available for defense of Srinagar. The tribal raiders had changed tactic after facing stiff resistance at Pattan and split into two groups. One of those groups was now threatening the Srinagar airfield from the South. On Nov 3, a large offensive patrol comprised of 4 kumaon regiment, led by Maj. Somnath Sharma was sent out to take on the raiders.  In the town of Badgam, Major Sharma’s troops were met with ferocious enemy fire coming from the houses, complemented by mortar and heavy machine gun fire. Major Sharma, with his left hand in plaster, called for close air support…Two IAF spitfires arrived at the scene within minutes and strafed the enemy positions till they ran out of ammo.

Major Somnath Sharma, PVCM, (Posthumously)

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Major Sharma didn’t withdraw…kept on fighting till the last man and last bullet till a mortar shell landed too close to his position. For his amazing gallantry while in face of numerically superior enemy, he was awarded the first Param Vir Chakra.  The stiff resistance from 4 Kumaon and strafing by IAF convinced the raiders that the Indian forces were in much larger number than estimated by them. Also, the senior tribal commander was badly wounded in the battle of Badgam. All this let to substantial confusion in the tribal ranks which negatively impacted any offensive plans that the raiders were planning to execute.

On 7 Nov,  Col. Harbaksh Singh

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(later General Officer Commanding (GOC) Western Command) of 161 Brigade, ordered two battalions (about 700 soldiers) to attack the raiders at Shalateng (24 Kms west of Srinagar) on the Baramulla-Srinagar highway.  A bunch of armored cars of 7 Cavalry regiment then did a classic outflanking maneuver and came in from behind to decimate the raiders in vicious crossfire. This was the turning point of the war…Raiders were now retreating back…Srinagar was safe.  One amazing fact here is about the Indian Army running out of petrol while chasing the retreating raiders. Had they kept on going, Muzaffarabad would have been an Indian city and the POK map would have been very different.

Now began the great battle of attrition across multiple fronts which lasted about a year. This included the siege of Poonch and battle for Zozilla pass. More about that later.

  • jai Hind
  • Ref- India’s Wars by Arjun Subramaniam

 

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