Brig Rajinder Singh, MVC (Posthumous) succeeded in destroying a vital road bridge at Uri, thus completely upsetting the timetable of this Pakistan-sponsored tribal force. Consequently, they could only reach the vicinity of Baramulla by 25th October, instead of the outskirts of Srinagar. This delay enabled the Maharaja to carry out negotiations with the Indian Union for accession and moving Indian Army to save the State. Brigadier Rajinder Singh was ambushed on the night 26/27 Oct, barely six hours before the Indian Army landed at Srinagar airport. Demolition of Uri Bridge was a masterstroke that ultimately saved Kashmir. For this action Brigadier Rajinder Singh is gratefully known as 'Saviour of Kashmir' and was awarded Independent India's first gallantry award, The 'Mahavir Chakra' (posthumously).
Brigadier Rajinder Singh MVC (Posthumous)
was born on 14 June 1899, in Bagoona village, 35 kms east of Jammu city in Samba Tehsil. He was commissioned on 14 June 1921, in the J&K Armed Forces. Rajinder Singh rose to the rank of Brigadier in May 1942 and become the Chief of Staff of the J&K Forces on 25 September 1947.
J&K state acceded to India on October 26, 1947. The first Indian Army contingent was flown to Srinagar on October 27. The Dakota aircraft carrying this contingent, comprising one company of the 1 Sikh under Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, their Commanding Officer, touched down on the dusty and unkempt airstrip of Badgam (Srinagar) at 0830 hours on October 27, 1947. At this stage, no one was sure about the state of affairs in the valley. The Commanding Officer 1 Sikh had orders to turn back and land at Jammu if the Srinagar airfield was found occupied by hostile forces. God favoured the brave. 1Sikh landed safely without any mishap. While the battalion was being built up to its strength with more air landings, Baramulla was being ransacked by the tribals. The delay caused by looting and rape, however, cost the Pakistanis dearly.
If the tribal force had advanced to Srinagar with with speed instead of indulging in loot and rape, they could have occupied the airfield at Srinagar before the Indian troops landed there. Immediately after landing , CO 1 Sikh rushed a company forward to join the J&K force on the outskirts of Baramulla. The so-called 'Iashkar' was however, well armed with mortars and machine guns and completely outnumbered our troops. Despite a determined fight put up by the Sikh, they had to withdraw from pattan, approximately 11 kms down the Srinagar road. Lt Col Rai was killed in action, on the outskirts of Baramulla along with a JCO and 20 Jawans. For his gallant action and exceptional valour, Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) posthumously.
Crucial battle of Jammu (1947- 48)
After the enemy was driven out of the Kashmir Valley in early November 1947, the main effort was diverted towards the Uri-Poonch link up in the North, Manipur and Kotli in the South. 161 Infantry Brigade was given the task to effect the Uri-Poonch link up, across the Haji Pir Pass at 2,636 meters, while 50 Independent Para Brigade was ordered to secure Mirpur, Kotli and Jhangar area by November 20, 1947.
By the end of November, the enemy had, however, secure Mirpur and penetrated deep into the Naushera, Rajouri, Mendhar and Poonch areas. The battles of Naushera and Poonch tell a talc of grim determination and bold courage of our troops, who pursued the enemy relentlessly and eventually, drove him out of these key areas despite various handicapas. If the enemy had succeeded in holding on to these areas, he would have threatened the whole of the Jammu region, and all the routes connecting Srinagar and Jammu.
The Battle of Naushera Sector
50 Independent Para Brigade was given the task to relieve pressure on the State Forces detachment at kotli. The advance commenced on November 16, along the Akhnoor- Naushera - Jhangar track. No strong opposition was encountered en route except for minor road block, but there was a sharp encounter on the outskirts of Kotli on November 26. The enemy was holding the bridge on River Bains supported by mortars and machine guns. This opposition was cleared on November 26-27, and the State Forces garrison was reinforced, Mirpur, an important communication centre south of Kotli, however fell into enemy hands the same day.
Due to certain political and military considerations. it was decided to abandon Kotli and take defenses in the Jhangar-Naushera area. Jhangar, which was an important communication certre, and considered a gateway to Naushera, was Pakistan's prime target. There was several thrusts and counter thrusts, and the Jhangar defences changed hands twice.
Eventually our troops holding Jhangar had to fall back on Naushera on December 24, 1947. The enemy followed closely and occupied some important heights around Naushera. The final battle of Naushera was fought in February 1948. The enemy attacked Naushera in great strength in in the first week of Feburuary, but was repulsed. Brig M Usman, Commander 50 Para Brigade, took steps to evict the enemy from the surrounding heights, regardless of the enemy strength around Naushera. In the battle of Taindhar, a height near Naushera, one company of ! Rajput Battalion, occupying this position, frustrated all enemy attempts to capture this ground . In fierce hand-to-hand fight, the tenacity of Naik Jadunath Singh of 1 Rajput and his section of nine men who kept the enemy at bay could be seen. In the process Nk Jadunath Singh was killed , and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), in recognition for his outstanding courage and determination against great odds. Lt KS Rathore, his company commander, was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC).
Capture of Jhangar
Lieutenant General Cariappa , who had taken over as Western Army Commander, brought his Tactical headquarters forward to Jammu to oversee the conduct of two important operations, the capture of Jhangar and Poonch.
The capture of Jhangar was of special significance for 50 Para Brigade to avenge the setback they had suffered in December 1947. The operation commenced in the last week of February 1948.
19 Infantry Brigade advanced along the Northern ridge, while 50 Para brigade cleared the hills dominating the Naushera-Jhangar road in the south. Many fierce battles were fought during this twin thrust toward Jhangar.
The enemy was Eventually driven from this area, and Jhangar was recaptured. Pakistan brought its regular forces into the fray in May 1948. Jhangar was once again subjected to heavy artillery bombardment, and many determined attacks were launched on
Jhangar by the Pakistan Army. Brig Usman, the hero of Naushera and Jhangar, however frustrated all enemy attempts to recapture Jhangar. Brig Usman unfortunately was killed in Jhangar by an enemy 25-pounder shell. For his inspiring leadership and great courage, Brigadier M Usman was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra posthumously. 7 Cavalry under Lt Col Rajinder Singh Played a pivotal role in the recapture of Jhangar for which he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
The Link Up to Poonch
Column under Brig Pritam Singh also went forward from Poonch to meet the link -up column, but they were delayed by a stiff counter with the enemy at Potha, a dominating position enroute. By now Mendhar, another enemy stronghold had been breached and the way to Poonch was cleared. On arrival of the relief columns there was great jubliation in Poonch, but as rajouri and some other key areas were still in enemy hands, the siege of Poonch was still not over. It was decided to use 19 Infantry Brigade to clear the axis for good. This was achieved in September 1948. This operation resulted in the capture of nearly 5,00 square kms of territory in Rajouri, Mendhar and Poonch area, and three brigades of the enemy deployed in these areas were driven out with heavy casualties. The long siege of Poonch was at last broken. The defence of Poonch against great odds was another outstanding example of the heroic effort of our troops and their patriotic fervour in most unfavourable circumstances.
The Battle of Zojila and Leh
The importance of Zojila lay in the fact that it commanded entry to Leh. Indus Valley provided a direct all weather approach to Leh and Kargil from Giligit and Skardu. Once Zojila closed in winter, there was no direct route available in Srinagar and Leh . After December 1947 , when the enemy had invested Skardu, the Indus Valley route to Leh lay open, and the capture of Leh would only be a matter of time. By March 1948 Leh was threatened both from the North and South.
The enemy had occupied Zojila, Dras and kargil in strength. Between Kargil and Leh only two state Forces platoons, guarding the bridge at Khaltse, stood in the way of the enemy.
Leh detachment was ordered to build an airstrip near leh in these difficult conditions, which they managed to complete by May 1948, as the Pakistani forces approached Khaltse, the State Forces platoons demolished the bridge, just at the nick of time to halt the enemy in its tracks. On June 1, 1948, one company of 2/4 Gorkha Rifles had been air-transported to Leh from Srinagar; the reinforced Leh garrison therefore managed to keep the enemy at bay.
Leh still had no satisfactory logistic support system, as the route to Srinagar was blocked with the enemy in occupation of Zojila, Dras and Kargil. Gen Thimayya decided to clear Zojila, Dras and Kargil. 77(Para) Brigade of Chindits and Burma fame, commanded by Brig KL Atal, was given the task of capturing Zojila in September 1948. This brigade comprised 3 JAT, 1/5 Gorkhas, 5 Maratha Light Infantry, a platoon of engineers, a platoon of machine gunners and a few ancillary units. 1 Patiala, which was located at Baltal after clearing the Sonamarg valley, was put under command of the Brigade for this mission.
77 (Para) Brigade first went into action on September 3, but was unable to complete the mission due to difficult terrain and snow conditions on all the heights surrounding Zojila. So strong was the enemy position, that the battalion attacking Zojila frontally could make no headway, despite adequate artillery support and strafing of enemy positions by Tempest aircraft. Another attempt on September 13 also failed. Instead of bashing their heads against this strong enemy position on the Pass, Gen Thimayya now came up with a truly ingenious and bold plan. He decided to use light armour to dislodge the enemy from Zojila, and then make a dash for Drass and Kargil.
No where in the world had tanks ever operated at such heights. Within a period of one month, the Engineers (Madras Sappers) built a track, which could be used by Stuart tanks from Baltal base up to the Pass. The plan, however, involved the move of a squadron located at Akhnoor across the Pir Panjal Range. The road from Jammu to Srinagar was a mere dusty track in 1947/48, with weak wooden bridges over fast-flowing streams and rivers. Engineer assistance was required at each crossing, which had to be affected by night. To keep this move secret,tank turrets were removed and transported by
vehicles. While heavily camouflaged turretless armoured vehicles moved from one harbour to another under the cover of darkness. The tanks had to be winched across many bridges. After nearly a month, the Stuarts arrived in the vicinity of Srinagar. A curfew was imposed in the town so that the direction of movement of the tanks could be kept a secret. To move a squadron of tanks 400 kms over such difficult terrain was a great achievement for the Stuart squadron and the Engineers. The first heavy snowfall of the season generally takes place of Zojila after mid October. This is exactly what happened on D Day, October 20, 1948, and 'OP BISON' had to be postponed. A less determined commander than Gen Thimayya would have given up, as heavier snow were expected thereafter, Gen Thimayya, is another bold decision, declared November 1 as the next D Day, regardless of the weather conditions. Full credit must be given to the CO of 7 Cavalry, Lt Col Rajinder Singh 'Sparrow' who did not hesitate for a moment to accept this seemingly impossible mission. During the assault, tanks were closely followed by determined infantry soldiers with bared bayonets. Gen Thimayya traveled in the leading tank, up the treacherous gradients to the white hell of Zojila. It should be noted that Gen Thimayya always led from the front, often at great personal risk. Any hesitation to tackle Zojila at this juncture would have resulted in the loss of Leh and Ladakh.