1947-48 Kashmir War

Rajinder Singh's Last Battle

Brigadier Rajinder Singh's Heroic Action

Brigadier Rajinder Singh MVC
Brigadier Rajinder Singh
Image Credit: Daily Excelsior

The operational situation in the Poonch, Mirpur, and Jammu sectors during the third week of October 1947 was bad enough, but the worst was to follow in the Muzaffarabad sector. By 15 October, many Hindu and Sikh refugees from the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan had entered Muzaffarabad. These refugees had brought information that the Pakistan authorities had collected a large force of tribesmen, mainly Afridis and Waziris, numbering some six thousand in the area of Abbottabad-Mansehra, with the avowed intention of invading the State. Apparently, the Maharaja was aware of the Pakistan plan even earlier than this, but was confident that his troops would be able to meet the threat, once the arms, ammunition and equipment promised by the Indian Union was received. In anticipation of such help from India, a plan had been made for the demolition of the Kohala Bridge and portions of the Muzaffarabad-Mansehra road to make them unusable by the potential invaders. The issue of accession to the Indian Union, which held the key to the solution of the problem of security of the State, continued to be obstructed by the uncompromising stands adopted by the three parties involved. While the Union Government insisted that the accession was to be only with the Sheikh’s consent, notwithstanding the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, that conferred this prerogative on the Maharaja, the latter refused to commit himself on the issue till power was transferred to him. The Maharaja, on the other hand, was not prepared to transfer power to Sheikh Abdullah before the accession. In the meantime, the Government of India could have at least supported the State with the arms, ammunition and equipment that it had demanded in the first week of October. But that was also not to be; not, because of a matter of policy, but because no one could push the State’s indent fast enough, in face of obstructions caused by British officers who were still then holding key appointments at the Army Headquarters.

On the fateful night of 21/22 October 1947, the Muslim element of the 4th Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, located at Lohargali and Ramkot, swept by religious fanaticism, forgot their oath of loyalty toward their ruler and the state, joined hands with the enemy and led him to pre-arranged positions in the area around Muzaffarabad and Domel, in what was to become the most treacherous and dastardly act in the annals of military history. Then before it was twilight, over 5000 tribesmen, stiffened by the regulars from the Pakistan Army, fully armed with modern weapons, and led mostly by Pakistan officers, stormed the sleeping city of Muzaffarabad. In a couple of hours that followed, hell was let loose on the city – arson, loot, massacre, rape and everything else that may be expected of barbarians. Simultaneously, the raiders, guided by the traitors of the State Army, moved out to liquidate the posts of the 4th Battalion around Muzaffarabad by attacking them with overwhelming numbers. The traitors also led the raiders to the Battalion Headquarters at Domel, that was attacked even before the men could reach their weapons, locked up in the Kots.

The news of the invasion was first received at Srinagar on the same morning of 22nd October, when Lt. Col. Narian Singh, an officer commanding the 4th Battalion, spoke to the Duty Officer at the Army Headquarters (State) on wireless and informed him of the catastrophe that had befallen his troops. The Battalion Headquarters was at that time under attack of the raiders and Colonel Narain Singh could not pass any thing beyond an urgent request for reinforcements, before going off the air. Unfortunately however, there was at that time, no reserve with the Army Headquarters that could be sent up. The 8th Jammu and Kashmir Infantry that was being held as reserve in Srinagar, had already been pushed out to Chirala in view of the SOS call received from there in the first week of October, and the 1st Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, that was to come as its replacement, was still stuck up in Poonch. On the other hand, with the fall of Muzaffarabad and Domel a very critical situation had developed, as there was nothing between the enemy and Srinagar, the state capital. The only course open was to seek Indian help, but even that was to take time, and there was now an urgent requirement for keeping the enemy away from Srinagar till such help arrived. Consequently, as much of the man power as was immediately available at the Badami Bagh cantonment was collected, and formed into a strong company, supported by a section of medium machine gun and a detachment of 3 inch mortars, for proceeding to the front. As the task that this little force was to perform was of vital importance to the security of not only Srinagar, but also that of the entire state, the Maharaja entrusted its command to none other than the Chief of the Military Staff, Brigadier Rajinder Singh himself. Three other officers, Captains Prithi Singh and Khazan Singh, and Lieutenant Nasib Singh were also placed under his command.

Brigadier Rajinder Singh left Srinagar at 6.30 PM on 22nd October and reached Uri by about midnight. Uri had been selected as the main defensive position and the force set about to organise its defences immediately. The men worked hard through the remaining part of the night and by morning, the defences were reasonably set. As the enemy was still some miles away, Brigadier Rajinder Singh left his defences to the care of a small party, and moved forward with the major portion of his force to Garhi, to make early contact with the enemy. The first clash with the enemy took place on the morning of 23rd October, when the column was half a mile short of Garhi. In a head-on collision, in which each side was surprised by the other, the enemy, due to his overwhelming numerical superiority, ultimately got the better of the small Dogra force. After a sharp engagement, in which the leading platoon commander, Subedar Duni Chand, was killed and a number of others wounded, Brigadier Rajinder Singh withdrew his force to Hattian, 4 kilometers further back, and took up a proper delaying position there. The action at Garhi, though a short one, had made at least one thing clear that the enemy was in much greater strength and better organised and armed than had been appreciated at the time that Brigadier Rajinder Singh had moved out from Srinagar. It was now apparent that it would not be possible for his force to impose any appreciable delay on the enemy, unless it was considerably reinforced. So while the wounded, who included Captain Prithi Singh, were evacuated to Srinagar, Brigadier Rajinder Singh flashed off a message to Army Headquarters suggesting the following:-

  1. All the other available men in the Cantonment to be formed into units and dispatched to the front immediately.
  2. Additional supporting weapons to be procured from some where and sent up urgently.
  3. One company from Poonch to advance via Hajipir and join up with the force at Uri.
  4. The company of the 4th Battalion located at Kupwara to immediately move down to Baramulla and thence to Uri.

Meanwhile, after taking up another intermediary position between Hattian and Uri, Brigadier Rajinder Singh was forced back to his main position at Uri by nightfall on 23rd October. While the force was preparing for its last ditch stand at Uri, it was joined by reinforcements in the form of a platoon strength of infantry, one section medium machine guns, and one section 3 inch mortars, which was all that could be sent immediately from the Badami Bagh Cantonment in response to the instructions issued by the Brigadier. Captain Jawala Singh, under whom the reinforcements had been sent, while bringing an assurance that action on the Brigadier's other suggestions was on hand, had also brought with him a written order from His Highness, binding Brigadier Rajinder Singh to hold Uri at all costs; even if it meant fighting to the last man and the last round. The reinforcements were no doubt woefully inadequate, but there was nothing more that could be done about it than prepare for a do or die battle, with whatever was available. The men worked the whole night to make their defences as impregnable as possible under the circumstances. Next morning (24th October), even as the defences were being improved and defensive fire tasks were being registered, the bridge over the Uri Nala was prepared for demolition. The bridge was, however, not to be demolished till the last; to allow the maximum number of refugees to cross over to Uri. 

Very soon during the day the enemy came hurtling along the road. As soon as he was sighted, the demolition was set off and the bridge was made unusable. Although this must have dampened the spirit of the raiders, the thought that they must reach Srinagar before the arrival of the Indian Army urged them on. In their hurry, they launched a frontal attack, only to be mowed down by the sweeping fire of the machine guns. The 3-inch mortars also took a heavy toll of the enemy and he was compelled to beat a hasty retreat. Having been beaten back thus, the enemy resorted to a tactical move, which was to leave Brigadier Rajinder Singh with no alternative, but to withdraw. Keeping the Dogras engaged frontally, a large portion of the enemy crossed over to the north bank of the Jehlum River by a foot-bridge, (that had fallen in his hands intact), with the intention of re-crossing it near Mahura behind the Uri defences, by another foot-bridge. Another enemy column with a similar aim moved over the hills around the left flank. These were dangerous moves, for now, even if Brigadier Rajinder Singh had stuck to his defences, as ordered, he would not have been able to stop the raiders from getting a free run to Srinagar. Fortunately the enemy moves had been detected, and realising the gravity of the situation, Brigadier Rajinder Singh decided to withdraw to Mahura, to fight the next battle there. The Maharaja’s orders had to be interpreted intelligently and there could be no doubt that the withdrawal was necessary if Srinagar was to be saved – which obviously was the Maharaja’s intention in issuing the order.

The first vehicle of the retreating column reached Mahura at about 10.30 p.m. on 24 October. Mistaking it for the enemy, the staff at the powerhouse cut off the electric supply and the whole of Srinagar was plunged into darkness. That was the Dussehra night, and the Maharaja, in order to prevent panic among the people, was going through the usual practice of holding the Dussehra Durbar as if nothing was amiss. When the lights went off, it was believed that the enemy had captured the Mahura power station. The Maharaja had by then completed the formalities of the Durbar, and the dinner that was to follow was held in the usual manner with the help of the palace generator. Side-by-side negotiations for the accession of the State to the Indian Union were being carried on.

At dawn on 25th October, the enemy caught up with Brigadier Rajinder Singh’s force at Mahura and straightway launched a fierce attack on the hurriedly prepared defensive positions. The attack was beaten back, with heavy casualties being inflicted on the raiders. The enemy then resorted to his usual tactics of outflanking the defences and cutting off the rear. Sensing this, Brigadier Rajinder Singh ordered Captain Jawala Singh and Lieutenant Nasib Singh to destroy the two footbridges across the Jhelum River at Buniyar. This they did, but not before some enemy had already crossed over. By midday, the raiders mounted another massive attack on the Mahura defences, but the little garrison held on tenaciously; once again taking a heavy toll of the enemy. Ultimately however, while over a thousand Pathans hammered at the defences, an equal number once again moved over the hills in an outflanking move, making the position untenable. Thus, by evening, Brigadier Rajinder Singh was once again forced to withdraw to take up a position at Buniyar.

The delay that this small Jammu and Kashmir force was causing must have been very frustrating for the enemy, who was eager to capture Srinagar before the Indian Army could intervene. He caught up with the force at Buniyar by the morning of 26th October and once again, went in straight for the attack. This attack was also beaten back, with the machine guns and mortars taking the usual heavy toll. During the fighting that continued the whole day, the defenders also suffered many casualties but they stood their ground right till nightfall. Brigadier Rajinder Singh now expected the enemy to resort to his usual outflanking move during the night. He, therefore, decided to withdraw during the night, to give the next battle at Seri, short of Baramulla. The withdrawal commenced at about midnight, but as the enemy had by then closed in too near the defences, it became difficult for the Dogras to make a clean break, as they had managed to do after all the previous engagements. The worst was that this time the enemy had already worked his way behind the defences, and established a roadblock a few miles in the rear. When the withdrawing force reached the roadblock they found it effectively covered by enemy fire. As they tried to rush their vehicles through, the driver of the second last vehicle, in which Brigadier Rajinder Singh was travelling, was killed. The Brigadier took the wheel himself, but hardly had he moved the vehicle when he too was shot in the leg making it impossible for him to drive. The vehicle had to be abandoned, while the men dismounted and ran out of the crossfire to safety. We have it on testimony of Captain Khazan Singh, who was in the same vehicle as Brigadier Rajinder Singh, that he and his men offered to carry the Brigadier on their backs but he appreciating that carrying him would hinder the withdrawal, asked them to leave him there, and themselves rush to the next defensive position. That was the last that was seen of this gallant son of Jammu. The tragedy of the situation lies in the fact that, unknown to the Brigadier and Captain Khazan Singh, the last vehicle carrying the rear guard was yet to cross the roadblock, when Captain Khazan Singh and his men abandoned their vehicle and took to the hills. When the last vehicle finally arrived on the spot, its commander, Subedar Swaran Singh, steered his vehicle past the abandoned one, and rushed through the enemy fire, without knowing that Brigadier Rajinder Singh was lying wounded some where around.

With the enemy too close on its heels, and the force having got greatly disorganised, it could not take up a defensive position at Seri as planned by Brigadier Rajinder Singh. Instead it rushed past Baramulla to take up a position between Baramulla and Pattan. A little beyond Baramulla it was met by the company of the 4th Battalion under Captain Prabhat Singh, that had just arrived from Kupwara. Thereafter, Captain Prabhat Singh took charge of the operations, while Captain Jawala Singh, himself wounded, carried the dead and the wounded to Srinagar. As it was now not possible to save Baramulla, Captain Prabhat Singh deployed his company and the remnants of Brigadier Rajinder Singh’s force, a little distance to the east of it and waited for the enemy there.

Meanwhile after four days of haggling over the issue, the Indian Government finally accepted the accession of the State to the Indian Union on 26 October 1947. The accession opened the way for the dispatch of Indian troops to Kashmir, and the first batch consisting of two companies of the 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment, landed at Srinagar on the morning of 27 October. There is a conspiracy angle to the inordinate delay in the acceptance of the Maharaja’s offer of accession, and the dispatch of Indian troops to Jammu and Kashmir, in which the British involvement is strongly suspected. Interesting though this matter is, it cannot be discussed here as it falls outside the ambit of this article. Suffice it to say that Brigadier Rajinder Singh and his small band of gallant soldiers were able to gain more time for their ruler, for completing the formalities of accession to the Indian Union, than could be frittered away by those trying to obstruct it, as part of the conspiracy to give Pakistan a chance to annex the state by force. The services of Brigadier Rajinder Singh, and the supreme sacrifice made by him, was duly recognised by the Government of India with the posthumous award of the first Maha Vir Chakra of free India. 




Major (Retd.) Dr. Brahma Singh (b. 11th April 1931) lives in Jammu and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A large number of his writings on Kashmir affairs and national defence, have appeared in national/local dailies and periodicals from time to time in the form of articles and letters to editors. 

He has also authored the following books:

And the official histories of :

His three generations have dedicated themselves to the Indian Army and he is the proud son of Col. Bhagwan Singh, who not only was the hero of the Battle of Budil in the 1948-49 Jammu & Kashmir aggression, but during World War II, became the first Indian to command a unit in war independently and free of British officers.

Maj. Brahma Singh also holds a Master’s degree in Military Science & in 1989 was awarded the degree of Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy in History at Jammu University.