First Kashmir war 1947-48- Siege of Poonch, Tanks at Zoji-La.

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First Kashmir dragged on from Oct 1947 to Dec 1948 before India accepted the UNSC proposed ceasefire on January1 1949. This war was composed of many battles…across multiple fronts. Most of us know this war with reference to Maj. Somnath Sharma, the first PVC recipient, who saved the Srinagar airfield from being run over by the raiders. But there were many other major/minor battles which highlighted the grit and determination of  the Indian Army which was trying to break the shackles of British era imperialist outlook and thinking.

One of the major battles was the siege of Poonch which started in the initial days of November 1947. Poonch was a prosperous town with 80% Hindu population. This made it a lucrative target for the tribal Lashkars. Indian leadership decided to save Poonch at all cost and sent two battalion sized force to defend the town. But the tribals surrounded the town from all sides and blockaded the road from Jammu preventing any reinforcement or supplies to come in by road. They occupied all the high points around Poonch town which was surrounded by hills and began harassing the defending forces with continuous shelling from those advantageous positions.

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The only way to save the town and its garrison was to construct an air-strip which shall be used to link Poonch by an ‘air-bridge’. The local Commander Brig. Pritam Singh, with the help of 6000 of town’s citizenry, built a make-shift air strip by mid-December 1947. Now, it was the turn of the IAF to show its mettle. Air Commodore Mehar Singh took it upon himself to fly a fully loaded Dakota and land it successfully at Poonch, establishing the Air bridge. Within 10 days the IAF airlifted close to 200 tons of supplies to Poonch which included light 25 pounder artillery guns to take-on the raiders sitting in their vantage points.

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Apart from supplies, they also undertook bombing attacks on the raider’s positions using their lumbering Dakotas…airmen would fuse the 250 pound bombs and just roll them down from the back opening.  The siege lasted for about an year before all the hills around Poonch were cleared out by the Army. That period of one year showcased amazing civil-military cooperation and trust.

Another amazing feat for the Indian Army was the battle for Zoji-La pass. This pass connects Kashmir valley with Ladakh and it had been captured by the raiders who had spread across the whole Dras-Kargil-Batalik sector. To save Leh, it was important to regain control of this pass. 77 Para brigade of the Army fought ferocious battles with the raiders but couldn’t dislodge them.  This prompted Maj. Gen. Thimmaiya (later COAS), to resort to use of armor. Light weight Stuart Tanks were knocked down and transported to Baltal, re-assembled again and sent to the battlefront. These tanks didn’t have a thick armor but had a 37 mm main gun along with two machine guns. Madras Engineering Group men then laid down the tracks suitable for tank movement, under freezing conditions and  persistent enemy fire.

When tanks appeared on Zoji-La pass, the tribal raiders were shocked out of their wits.

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No one expected that the Indians would be able to bring armor into play at such high altitudes. The raiders didn’t have any anti-tank weapon to counter. Combine that assault with the IAF Tempest and Hurricane  fighters making accurate machine gun strafing runs on the tribal positions…it didn’t take too much time to break enemy’s resolve to fight. Enemy suffered heavy losses and started retreating. By end of Nov 1948, tribal raiders had retreated as far back as Skardu.

There were many other battles fought in this heaven on earth, resulting in supreme sacrifice by many of the officer and men of the Indian Army. Eventually, when Indian army was planning to strengthen its position and throw every single raider/Pakistani out of the rest of Kashmir, Nehru under immense pressure from the British, decided to sign the UNSC ceasefire declaration.

UN Security Council resolution on Kashmir- First condition which was never fulfilled by Pakistan.

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British were in fact happy to leave region of Gilgit-Baltistan in the hands of a favorable regime in Karachi(initial capital of Pakistan). This was part of the ‘Big Game’ being played to keep the Soviet Red Army out of Middle East and Indian ocean region. It is on record that despite claiming to be neutral, many British officers were found leading Lashkars of raiders in Kashmir.  It was not just junior British commanders but even the senior British officers of Pakistan Army seemed to be actively supporting ‘Operation Gulmarg’- Pakistan’s first plan to annex Kashmir by force. Like all the later plans…this was also destroyed by the Indian Army. Although, if it was left to the Army’s devices, they would have got back all of Kashmir from Gilgit to Muzzafarrabad and maybe more.

  • Jai Hind
  • ref. India’s wars by Arjun Subramaniam

 

 

 

 

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