Battles that made History

Sub Title : Battle Honours of The Indian Army - 14 1947- 48 Indo-Pak War : Tithwal

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 3 Jul/Aug 2019

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 70

Category : Regular Features

: July 31, 2019

Two Param Vir Chakras (PVC) were won in the numerous battles that were fought around Tithwal during the Indian Summer Offensive in 1948

Battle honours, are awarded as recognition and to record a unit’s active participation in battle against a formed and armed enemy. Units eligible to be awarded such honours are those whose purpose is to close with and defeat, neutralize, or destroy the enemy.

Having halted Pakistani raiders in the Kashmir valley, the Indian Army set out to address the Tithwal sector leading to its capture on 23 May 1948, this led to a saga of bravery in both sides fought vicious battles for the control of dominating heights; military Key Terrain Features. Two Param Vir Chakras were won in some very intense small team operations in a very rugged and difficult terrain.

Tithwal is located to the North of the Kashmir valley. The northern route from Pakistan was a track from Muzaffarabad (2200 feet) to Tithwal across the Kishanganga River (Pakistan calls it Neelam) through the Tangdhar Valley (6093 feet) to Nastachun Pass (10264 feet) and then on to Kupwara (5190 feet), Sopore on to Srinagar. The portion from Nastachun Pass to Srinagar was motorable and some length of it was metalled.

163 Infantry Brigade of the Srinagar Division was launched on the Handwara-Nastachun-Tithwal axis to evict the raiders who had come along this axis from the Muzzafarabad side. In six days, the Brigade under Brigadier (later Lt Gen) Harbakhsh Singh had, in a lightning move, secured all territory starting from Handwara to the Kishanganga over the Nasta Chun Pass and Tithwal. The Brigade commenced its advance on 18 May. By the end of the next day, 1 MADRAS secured Dogarpur Ridge and 3 GARWAL Rifles captured Trehgam. On 20 May, 1 SIKH captured Chowkibal at base of the Nastachun Pass.  After a stiff climb to the pass, 1 MADRAS captured Nastachun Pass on 22 May. 1 SIKH then rolled down to Tithwal and captured it on 23 May taking a large number of prisoners and weapons; 163 Brigade had advanced over 60 Kms in six days over mountainous tracks and reached the banks of Kishanganga River.

The move was on foot with essential loads carried manpack, this herculean effort is best described in the words of Maj Gen K S Thimayya, General Officer Commanding 19 Infantry Division in a message to 1 SIKH in Nov 1948:

…On the night of 16 /17 May in a lightening advance from Handwara you surrounded the enemy HQ at Dogarpur and then continued to capture Chokibal, the Nastachun Pass and finally entered Tithwal on 23rd May 48. This was an amazing advance under very difficult conditions and in very mountainous country against a Pathan enemy who was highly skilled in mountain warfare. When you pushed through the Nastachun Pass, snow and ice still lay all over it.

From then onwards you held the most vital part of the Tithwal area for six months. You occupied a forward position which was constantly under enemy pressure and heavy mortar and artillery fire. The enemy made repeated attempts to drive you from this position and the last effort of the enemy on 13 October when he used over three Battalions accompanied by heavy Artillery and Mortar support, you beat him back causing very heavy casualties on him.

The enemy knew who you were and decided that it was no use trying to flight a fine Battalion like yours…

Under intense pressure, the enemy fled in utter confusion across the Kishanganga River after dumping their arms and equipment in the river. They however quickly recovered from this shock, re-organised their forces and mounted a strong counter-attack to recover lost ground. As a result, units of 163 Brigade withdrew from their positions across the river. Finally, they settled on the Tithwal ridge to take on the enemy from a stronger position.

One Division of the Pak army occupied the Uri and Tithwal front. A Brigade had been rushed forward to defend Tithwal. To strengthen the defence of Tithwal 163 Brigade captured high features astride Tithwal namely RichmarGali, Pir Saheb, Mir Kalsi and high ground across the Kishanganga River. Muzaffarabad lay a mere 29 KM away. Fearing for the worst, despite heavy casualties, the enemy counter attacked many times to dislodge the Indian troops.

The battle of Tithwal went on for months. The enemy could not, however, make a dent on the Indian defences despite repeated attempts.

On 11/12 July, 6 RAJPUTANA Rifles was ordered to capture two Ring Contours on the ridge overlooking Tithwal as part of a renewed offensive. The first feature was occupied without facing any opposition. However, on the second feature, the advance was met with stiff resistance at a narrow path which was only three-metre-wide with sheer falls on both sides. On 18 July, a Company attack was launched at 0130 Hours. This narrow path was dominated by hidden Pakistani bunkers that allowed both observation and clear fields of fire for the defending troops. The company was subjected to heavy shelling from the Pakistanis, and within half an hour suffered 51 casualties.

During the battle a section of the leading the company led by CHM Piru Singh was reduced to half their strength due to heavy casualties. Piru Singh rushed towards a Pakistani Medium Machine Gun (MMG) post, which was causing most of the casualties, during which he suffered multiple shrapnel wounds across his body as the Pakistani defenders began rolling grenades down from the heights. Undeterred, he continued to advance shouting his regiment’s battle cry ‘Raja Ramchandra Ki Jai’, He very valiantly destroyed the post.

But by the time he captured the position, the rest of his company lay dead or wounded. Singh was left alone to achieve the assigned objective. He advanced towards the second Pakistani MMG post. At this juncture, he was almost blinded by a grenade that blast at his face. His Sten gun ammunition had run out, nearly blinded, he lobbed grenades at the next Pakistani post and then jumping into a trench bayoneted two of the enemy to death. Before he was able to move out of the trench, he was hit by a bullet in his head. CHM Piru Singh achieved martyrdom on the battlefield of Tithwal after destroying three enemy Machine Gun positions, a rare feat by any account; he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra.

The attacks and counter attacks continued with brutal intensity. On 13 Oct, coinciding with Id festival, the enemy launched a desperate attack with a brigade strength to evict the Indian Army from their strongly held positions overlooking Kishanganga River. The objective was to recapture RichhmarGali to the south of Tithwal and to outflank the Indian Army by marching on to Nastachun Pass.

A bold and audacious plan under the circumstances; both attempts however failed. During this attack, bitter fighting took place in the RichmarGali area held by a platoon of 1 SIKH. The attack commenced with heavy shelling of guns and mortar aimed to soften the target. Such pre-H hour bombardment is done just prior to the Infantry assault to rattle and disorient the defender.

Lance Naik Karam Singh was commanding a forward outpost ahead of the platoon locality. Such outposts are created in mountains either to act as listening posts to keep a watch on enemy movement or to screen and provide depth to the main defences and also present a false frontage to the enemy. If they are attacked and after they have achieved their aim of detecting and delaying the enemy, they are usually withdrawn to the main defences.

During the night, the enemy launched a determined multi directional attack with a large force. The outpost was attacked eight times, it obviously was of great value and the enemy was desperate for a vital breakthrough. The determined Sikhs at the outpost repulsed the enemy every time causing heavy attrition on the attacker.

The fifth enemy attack was very intense, he was desperate to succeed. They nearly did so and two enemy soldiers came so close to Karam Singh’s position that he could not engage them without hitting his men; he jumped out of his trench and bayoneted the two intruders to death. This bold action and his throaty battle cry of ‘Jo Bole So Nehal, Sat Shri Akal’ so demoralised the enemy that they just ran away leaving their weapons behind. Three more attacks followed. Ignoring all dangers, Karam Singh crawled from trench to trench encouraging his men to keep up the fight. He made effective use of grenades to push back the attackers climbing up the steep slopes. Twice wounded, Karam Singh refused evacuation and continued to hold on to the first-line trenches. Such resilience is complimentary for winning battles and Lance Naik Karam Singh proved to be a dauntless leader of men in a critical situation.

The outpost commanded by Karam Singh though outnumbered and outgunned continued to beat back multiple attacks. This small outpost of gritty men had done their duty and done it well. They were surrounded by the enemy and ringed by his fire, it was almost impossible for them to break out and join back the main defences. Finally these multiple attacks took their own toll of the defenders and soon ammunition ran short and the post was ordered to withdraw. Although himself wounded, he brought back two injured comrades with the help of a third mate; this in the mountains and in the face of the enemy is in itself a herculean and brave act. Had the wounded been left behind, they would have been butchered by the raiders who themselves had suffered many casualties. The day long battle ended when the enemy called off the offensive at night.

Throughout the engagement, the attackers fired about three thousand shells, but they could not shake Karam Singh’s resolve; Tithwal was saved. For his conspicuous bravery and act of valour, Lance Naik Karam Singh was honored with the Param Vir Chakra; he was the first ever living soldier to be awarded India’s highest gallantry award. He retired as an Hony Captain and passed away 20 Jan 1993 at the age of 77 years.

The Battle of Tithwal is saga of inspirational gallantry on the part of units of the 163 Infantry Brigade which fought a kerger and better equipped force for many months first pushing the enemy out of the Kasmir Valley and then resolutely holding on to dominating heights around Titwal. All units of the very resilient 163 Infantry Brigade were awarded the Battle Honour – Tithwal.