Summar Offensive


In the month of January 1948, the enemy threatened the main line of communication near Samba-Jasmergarh area in Jammu-Kathua sector. Little later, in the first week of February, information was received that a large force of hostiles had infiltrated into the Kupwara sector and had occupied the Tregham valley, thereby threatening Handwara and Sopore towns. These developments necessitated induction of more troops into J&K. 77 Parachute Brigade was brought to Jasmergarh and 19 Infantry Brigade to Nowshera. 163 Infantry Brigade, was raised in the second week of February and stationed at Srinagar to take charge of operations in Handwara-Bandipur-Skardu-Leh areas. On 18 March, Jhangar was recaptured, this time for good. Rajouri was liberated on 13 April. With these two tactically important objectives in hand, Indian efforts to link up with and relieve the Punch garrison received fresh impetus.

By now almost eight brigades of Indian forces were operating in J&K. Keeping in view the quantum of troops, the vastness of the area of operations and also the fact that, during summer months, operational activities would substantially intensify requiring the personal supervision and closer command and control of the Divisional Commander, the command structure in J&K was reorganised in the beginning of May 1948. The Srinagar Div under Major General Thimaya now had 161 and 163 Infantry Brigades as also 77 Parachute Brigade, with supporting arms and ancillary units. Soon after his arrival General Thimaya planned a two-brigade offensive for the capture of Domel on 20th May 1948.

Pakistani preparations for the summer campaign came in the form of continued personnel and material back up to the hostiles and irregular forces as well as induction of two infantry divisions in J&K. These two divisions comprised five brigades, besides thousands of 'Azad Kashmir' troops, fully equipped and trained by Pakistan.

With the two forces thus arrayed against each other, Indian Army's summer offensive in the Valley opened on 18 May 1948 . The attack was launched simultaneously from Dragmula and Handwara, overcame considerable enemy resistance and captured Chowkibal on 20 May. Troops moved further on over the 10,000 ft Nastachun Pass and secured Tithwal on 23 May. As compared to the impressive results achieved by this force, the efforts to capture Domel floundered after achieving some initial success. By the middle of June, a stalemate had set in. Indian gains in Uri sector were limited to capturing important positions of Chhota Kazinag, Pandu, Pir Kanthi and Ledi Gali. However, in a major upset Pandu was again occupied by Pakistani forces on 23 July 1948 . Thus ended India's summer offensive, without achieving its aim of capturing Domel, which once again eluded the Indians.

The situation prevailing in the valley at this time was to continue, with minor changes, till the end of the conflict. In Jammu area also, except for the capture of Mendhar and link up with Punch in November 1948, nothing else of significance was to take place till the declaration of cease-fire on 01 January 1949.

Northern Sector

However, in the Northern sector where significant developments had been taking place since the end of October 1947, considerable territory had been lost to Pakistan and Indian troops were faced with heavy odds in the entire vast, desolate and strategically important region.

The deployment of State forces in Gilgit - Ladakh area was as under:-

(a)   Battalion less two companies - Bunzi

(b)   Company less platoon - Leh

(c)   Two platoons - Kargil

(d)   Company less platoon - Skardu

The coup d’état took place on 31st October 1947 , after the accession of the State to India a few days earlier. By next morning the Governor who offered personal resistance had been taken into custody. The Sikh company in the Bunzi was attacked, while their route of withdrawal was blocked at Astor. They were either were killed or taken prisoners. A provisional government was formed in which no local Raja or any member of the public was included.

By the end of November, Pakistan was in complete control of the administration of the Gilgit region. Thus Gilgit was lost to Pakistan . This opened up the way for subsequent Pakistani incursions into Ladakh, Gurez and Tilel valleys, Zoji La and the capture of Skardu.

The Siege of Skardu

After the fall of Gilgit and Bunzi, loss of two companies and the imprisonment of the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, Major Sher Jung Thapa, based at Leh, took over the regions of the 6th Battalion. The State Army Headquarters ordered Major Thapa to move to Skardu immediately with one platoon from Leh and one from Kargil. He sent messages to Srinagar requesting immediate reinforcements, if Skardu was to be saved.

After over-running Tsari the hostiles went on to Skardu and launched an attack on the early morning of 11th February, with a well equipped force of 600, made up of tribals, Chitralis and about 80 deserters of the State Force. The Skardu garrison was able to put up a spirited fight lasting nearly six hours. The hostiles retreated but not before slaughtering the non-Muslims and ransacking a major part of Skardu town, which was outside the defensive perimeter. This retreat by hostiles enabled the second batch of 70 men to reach Skardu, safely. The third group of same strength entered Skardu on 15th February, raising the number of Thapa's force to 285. Still, the size of this force was much too small for undertaking a meaningful defence of Skardu garrison, which also included 229 non-Muslim refugees, 19 Muslim refugees and 22 Muslim civil prisoners.

By the night of 14/15 February, 1948, the siege of Skardu had begun. Major Thapa continued his exertions to stall efforts of the hostiles to achieve a breakthrough of his defences, at the same time he kept on requesting for ammunition, supplies and man-power, which were fast depleting. He also suggested withdrawal to Kargil so as to present a much stronger and more compact front. From Kargil this force could be a thorn in the enemy's flank with his Line of Communication stretched. However, the proposal was not approved and the Skardu garrison continued a gallant defence against heavy odds. In the meanwhile events were taking a serious turn, in Gurez and Ladakh sectors.

The Gurez Ingress

Having failed to make any headway in Uri and Jammu areas, the hostiles opened new fronts in the summer of 1948. The capture of Gilgit, followed by the containment and isolation of the Skardu garrison, enabled them to extend their encroachments towards east and south with the intention of capturing Leh and posing serious threats to Srinagar from Gurez in the North and Zoji La in the East. This summer campaign of the hostiles had three objectives aimed at the dispersal of Indian forces, opening two more fronts - through Gurez and Zoji La- and 'bagging' as much territory as possible in Baltistan and Ladakh.

The Gurez area is primarily the valley of upper Kishanganga River in the north of Srinagar . Gurez was an important communication centre and a place of considerable strategic importance. The capture of Gurez by Indian forces was important for them as it removed the threat to Srinagar from the north and also helped in developing operations towards Skardu, over the Burzil Pass , where the garrison was holding out.

The build up of Pakistani forces in this sector comprised of the Frontier Constabulary, Chitral Scouts and Gilgi Scouts, led by regular officers of the Pakistan Army and deserters from the State Force. The First Indian Grenadiers cleared Tragbal of the hostiles in well coordinated operations with artillery and air force. It was developed as a base for further operations towards Gurez. The troops fought fierce battles relentlessly in extremely severe weather and by 29 June 1948 First Grenadiers drove the hostiles out of the Gurez Valley. The threat to Srinagar from the north was removed.

Fall of Kargil and Dras

With Skardu garrison in dire straits, the State Force Headquarters made a desperate bid to dispatch relief. All efforts by reinforcement columns to regroup and advance were ambushed and severely decimated.

By end May 1948, a weak company was holding on in Dras, having been surrounded on 10th May, and a company plus of the same battalion was at Machoi. Dras held on for almost a month, but with supplies and ammunition almost exhausted, the troops attempted to slip out of Dras in an effort to join with the troops at Machoi. An engagement with the hostiles followed and most of them got killed or captured. Only very few could make it to Machoi. Thus Dras also fell into the hands of the hostiles. The doughty defenders of Skardu were still holding on.

Leh Threatened

Operations in the eastern half of the Northern Front revolved around Leh, which was the headquarters of Ladakh district and an important communication centre. It stretched from Kargil to beyond Chushul and from the Himalayan Range to the Karakoram.

Before moving on to Skardu, Major Sher Jung Thapa had left behind only one platoon at Leh. This was a very unsatisfactory arrangement, more so after the presence of some infiltrators was noticed in the Nubra Valley a month before Skardu was surrounded. "Operation Sledge" was planned in Pakistan Army Headquarters and launched from Gilgit in mid-February 1948, for the capture of Leh. The fall of Kargil on 10th May cut off Leh's line of communication with Srinagar and it now lay open to attacks from the north and west. Only more and timely reinforcements, arms and ammunition could save it from an imminent debacle. The only way to achieve this was to establish an air-link with Leh for which an airfield was constructed at Leh. One company of 2/4 GR was airlifted to Leh on 1st June 1948 . It was immediately rushed to stop the advancing hostiles along the Khaltsi route. The situation was estabilised to the West of Leh.

Fall of Skardu

Few sieges in the annals of modern war have lasted for 185 days, from 11 February to 14 August 1948 . The Skardu garrison fought gallantly and ultimately fell when it ran out of ammunition and supplies. The credit for this heroic deed goes entirely to Maj Sher Jung Thapa. Without his stand at Skardu, the raiders would have commenced their operations towards Leh earlier and Ladakh could never have been saved.

Stemming The Tide in Ladakh

By the end of June, Pakistan advance towards Leh was checked and the Gurez and Tilel valleys were recaptured by Indian troops. 77 Para Brigade after several attempts finally burst through Zoji La with the help of tanks of 7 CAVALRY and secured Zoji La, Dras and Kargil. The liberation of the occupied areas of Ladakh was greatly facilitated by the thrust from Zoji La to Kargil in November 1948.