Battles that made History

Sub Title : Battle Honours of The Indian Army - 13 1947- 48 Indo-Pak War: Poonch, Jhangar

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 2 May/June 2019

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 70

Category : Regular Features

: May 25, 2019

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.

Pakistan’s misadventure in Jammu and Kashmir did not end even after a bloodied nose in the Kashmir Valley. Hordes of attackers consisting of regulars, ex-servicemen and Pashtun tribals infiltrated into Poonch District south of PirPanjal with dreams of capturing Jammu. The State forces were outnumbered and retreated to towns as did thousands of refugees escaping the marauders. The raiders fanned out into the country-side of high mountains and rugged jungles and besieged the towns.

Just before Poonch, the district HQs could be besieged, it was reinforced by 1 PARA Battalion, (1st Battalion, the KUMAON Regiment) under Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh. 1 KUMAON fresh from its success at Shalateng was ordered to move to Poonch as a part of 161 Infantry Brigade (along the Srinagar – Rawalpindi Road over Hajipir Pass). As the column, having crossed Haji Pir was nearing a bridge, a detachment of Kashmir State Forces fearing it to be the enemy demolished the bridge; the relief column withdrew to Uri. 1 KUMAON was however able to enter Poonch with 419 soldiers on 21 Nov 1947 against all odds to write a saga of gallantry. Pritam Singh was elevated to the rank of Brigadier as commander of Poonch garrison. Soon Poonch was isolated by the raiders. Brigadier Pritam Singh organised the defenses with regular troops, State Forces and two militia battalions, created from refugees. The defenders kept the besiegers at bay by vigorous patrolling.

A temporary airstrip was prepared and on 12 Dec 1947, Wing Commander Mehar Singh (popular as the legendry Mehar Baba), accompanied by Air Vice Marshal Subroto Mukherjee, carried out a daring trial landing. The same day, Dakotas carrying a section of mountain artillery landed. In Jan 1948, another battalion, 3rd Battalion, 9 GORKHA Rifles (3/9 GR) was airlifted into Poonch. Thereafter Air Force established an air bridge of Dakotas. Despite constant shelling by enemy mountain artillery, t)he air bridge flew in supplies and flew out refugees: forty thousand within a few weeks, a rare feat indeed.

Pritam Singh and Mehar Singh were symbolic of the determination and courage of the armed forces which had to coordinate to save Poonch. -Kunal Verma, Bharat Rakshak

By the end of Dec 1947, Pakistani raiders controlled large areas of the District. On 24 Dec, they captured Jhangar a vital road junction and were in full command of lines of communications from Mirpur to Poonch; attack on Naushera by the raiders was imminent. In response Brigadier Mohamad Usman, commander 50 PARA Brigade recently inducted from Jammu established strong picquets on all likely approaches.

The enemy attacked on a foggy morning of 6 Feb 1948 from three directions. The Indian Army picquets defended with alacrity and resoluteness. One commanded by Naik Jadunath Singh of the RAJPUT Regiment with eight men was attacked and beaten back. The enemy attacked relentlessly wounding all the men in the picquet. Finally Naik Jadunath Singh, wounded and alone charged the enemy. The enemy surprised by the determined resistance fled in disorder, Jadunath himself received fatal injuries.  Naik Jadunath Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously for exceptional bravery.

In order to exploit the success at Naushera, it was planned to recapture Jhangar by inducting 19 Infantry Brigade in mid Feb to hold Naushera, so that 50 PARA Brigade could be relieved for operations against Jhangar. In addition, 2nd Battalion, the JAT Regiment was placed under 50 PARA Brigade.

Time’s come for the capture of Jhangar. It is not an easy task, but I’ve complete faith in you all to do your best to recapture the lost ground and retrieve the honor of our arms-we must not falter, we must not fail. Forward friends, fearless we go to Jhangar. India expects everyone to do his duty. Jai Hind. -Brigadier Mohammad Usman in a signed order to 50 PARA Brigade.

The operation was conducted in three phases,

  • Initially several probing attacks along road Akhnoor – Naushera to assess the enemy strength. This lasted till the end of Feb,
  • Next was the capture of dominating heights and included the capture of Ambli Dhar, a ridge to the immediate North of Naushera (By 2 JAT and 1 RAJPUT of 50 Para Brigade) and Kaman Gosala Gala echeloned south of Naushera (By 5 DOGRA and 2/2 PUNJAB of 19 Infantry Division), between 1- 4 March. This would clear enemy from all the dominating heights.
  • The third phase, code named Op ‘VIJAY’, involved the capture of Jhangar.

The enemy paid dearly for his audacity in engaging the Indian troops during preliminary operations. According to a conservative estimate more than 2000 of the enemy were killed. Indian casualties were a total of 33 killed and 102 wounded. Op Vijay was to commence on 12 March, but had to be delayed by two days, due to heavy rain.  50 PARA Brigade advanced South of the valley and 19 Brigade on the North, with a squadron of 7 Cavalry moving along the valley. The tanks had been moved up only during the night camouflaged as Lorries; the enemy was in for a surprise. Composition of the brigades was:

  • 50 PARA Brigade – 3 PARA Maratha LI, 3 PARA RAJPUT, 1 PATIALA, and a company of 3/1 PUNJAB.
  • 19 Infantry Brigade-1 RAJPUT less a company, 4 DOGRA and 1 KUMAON.

By night fall, 3 PARA, reached Kothi Dhar. Next morning, the battalion commenced their advance towards Pirthal Naka, where the enemy had his main line of defences. As the leading company approached, the enemy suddenly opened fire with automatic weapons. Among the first casualties was the company commander, within a few hours, 3 PARA had suffered 18 casualties, which included two officers killed.

Brigadier Usman wanted to pull back 3 PARA, and make another attempt later. The CO, Lieutenant Colonel HS Virk insisted that he would be able to hold on, and Usman gave his consent. By the end of the day, some field guns were brought up. The company of 3 PARA which had been pinned down was extricated after last light. Usman decided to attack with two battalions, supported by artillery and air. 3 PARA was to attack from the right, while 1 PATIALA was to go in from the left. A company of 3/1 PUNJAB was to divert the enemy’s attention by engaging the feature from the South, 3 PARA was in reserve. The Air Force and Artillery softened up the objective before the assault. The credit for the brilliant Artillery Fire Plan which rattled the enemy goes to Brigadier Usman.

The attack on Pirthal Naka commenced at 0730 hours on 17 March 1948 supported by a considerable amount of artillery – 24 field guns and the mortars of all three battalions, which had been brigaded. An intense 15 minute barrage was put down, the fire lifting just as the troops reached the forward trenches of the enemy. Taken by surprise, the defenders fled.  3 PARA did not suffer a single casualty and exploited towards Susloti Dhar, which was captured at 1300 hours.

Meanwhile, the advance of 19 Infantry Brigade also progressed well, and by 17 March, they had cleared Gaikot forest. Both the Brigades were now ready for the final assault on Jhangar. However, the enemy withdrew and troops of both brigades entered Jhangar next day without any opposition. Operation ‘VIJAY’ was over.

On 3 July in Jhanghar, Brig Usman was hit by an enemy Artillery Shell and killed in action. Brig Usman was one of the only 18 Brigadiers serving in the Indian Army at the time of independence. He was the highest ranking officer to fall in active operations, he was awarded the MahaVir Chakra. All the participating Units were awarded Battle Honour ‘Jhangar’

The siege of Poonch continued till mid-June when for a few days a land link from Rajouri was established but it did not last long. It was then decided to establish a land link with besieged Poonch at all costs. The task was daunting since the enemy controlled some dominating heights and between April and Sep a number of operations had to be launched to dislodge him. A link up force comprising 5 and 19 Infantry Brigade and ‘Rajouri column’, an adhoc Brigade with supporting field artillery and two troops of Sherman tanks of the CIH was launched; the operation was code named “Op EASY”.

The plan involved two brigades attacking from general area Rajouri-Naushera. PirBadesar at 5430 feet high feature dominating both Jhangar-Naushera Valley to its east and Seri Valley to its west   was to be attacked and captured by 268 Infantry Brigade about three weeks before the main attack. This would lead the Pakistanis to believe that the main attack would come on axis Naushera-Kotli-Poonch. The main attack involved an advance on two axis by 19 and 5 Brigades along line Rajouri-Bhimbhar Gali-Mendhar-Topa with 19 Brigade on the left and 5 Brigade on the right. The ‘Rajouri Column’ was tasked to secure the left flank of the main attack by capturing Ramgarh Fort.

According to plan 268 Brigade attacked Pir Badesar and captured it on 14/15 Oct. This was followed by capture of Pir Kalewa at 6,650 feet by 5 Brigade as a preliminary operation on 28 Oct. The adhoc Brigade commenced its attack against Ramgarh from 4 Nov and captured it on the 9th. The Main attack commenced with 19 and 5 Brigades on 8 Nov supported by aircrafts and tanks. Point 6307 was captured by the 19 Brigade attack on 8 Nov and Bhimbhar Gali and Point 6945 on 9 Nov.

Pakistan reinforced Mendhar with two infantry companies and one section of 3.7 inch mountain guns on 9 Nov. On 10/11 Nov, 19 Brigade was held up at Point 5732. One battalion of the Brigade was detached to mask Point 5732. The remaining battalions were switched towards the right to join 5 Brigade and continue with the advance (with an aim to reinforce success), bypassing Mendhar from the east and capturing Point 5073 Northwest of Mendhar on 18 Nov. Thereafter the task was simple, Topa was by-passed from the north and the force linked up with Poonch garrison whose elements had attacked from Poonch towards Point 6793 on 20 Nov.

On 23 Nov, Mendhar was captured by 19 Brigade permitting the Engineers to construct a jeep track via Mendhar to Poonch. The final attempt to link up Poonch with Rajouri had started in Nov, the main link-up took place on 20 Nov and the one year old siege was broken on 22 Nov 1948. Brigadier Pritam Singh was credited with saving Poonch and its people, locals fondly called him ‘Sher Bacha’ or a lion hearted person.

The entire operation by the Indian Army was supported by very determined and brave Air Force and Civilian pilots and Civilian refugees who had suffered immense personal losses. They had all stood up as one against the marauding tribals and militia supported by the Pakistan Army. All the participating units were awarded Battle Honour ‘Poonch’