Army Today

Defending Kashmir

Why did Pakistan invade Kashmir in the first place? First, Kashmir being a Muslim-dominant state was considered a natural part of Pakistan, which had made Islam the basis of its modern nationality. Second, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan's Pathanistan Movement was gaining momentum and Kashmir was held out as a bait for luring the poor tribals away. The internal conditions of Jammu & Kashmir with religious passions aflame, lawlessness rampant and authority paralysed offered the right mix for the raiders to strike.

Operation Gulmarg

The Army Headquarters of Pakistan planned the main invasion plan, code-named Operation Gulmarg. Conclusive proof of this came through two different sources - Major Onkar Singh Kalkat, then serving as the Brigade Major at HQ Bannu Frontier Brigade Group, and GK Reddy, a journalist. Both happened to stumble upon the plan by chance. The invasion was planned meticulously with considerable strategic and tactical insight. According to Operation Gulmarg, as described by Major Kalkat, every Pathan tribe was required to enlist at least one Lashkar of 1,000 tribesmen. These Lashkars were to be concentrated at Baftnu, Wana, Peshawar, Kohat, Thal and Nowshera by the first week of September 1947. The Brigade Commanders at these places were to issue them arms, ammunition and some essential clothing items. Each Lashkar was also to be provided with a Major, a Captain and ten JCOs of the regular Pakistan Army. The entire force was to be commanded by Major General Akbar Khan, who was given the code name Tariq.

All Lashkars were to meet at Abbottabad by October 18th. According to the plan, six Lashkars were to advance along the main road from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar via Domel, Uri and Baramula, with the specific task of capturing the aerodrome and subsequently advancing to the Banihal Pass. Two Lashkars were to advance from the Haji Pir Pass direct on to Gulmarg, thereby securing the right flank of the main force advancing from Muzaffarabad. Another two Lashkars were to advance from Tithwal through the Nastachhun Pass for capturing Sopore, Handwara and Bandipur. And 10 other Lashkars were to operate in the Poonch, Bhimbar and Rawalkot area with the intention of capturing Poonch and Rajauri before advancing to Jammu. Arrangements were also made for detailing of guides/informers from the so-called Azad Army, to all these tribal Lashkars.

Major General Khan was also given the task of organising the Azad Army, the major portion of which was to come from the Muslim element of the J&K State forces. Dumps of arms, ammunition, supplies and clothing were to be established forward of Abbottabad by October 15th. These were to be subsequently moved to Muzaffarabad and Domel after the D-day. Pakistan's 7 Infantry Division was to concentrate the Murree-Abbottabad area by October 21st and was ordered to be ready to move immediately into J&K territory to back up the tribal Lashkars and consolidate their hold on the Valley. One infantry brigade was also held in readiness at Sialkot to move on to Jammu. The D-day for Operation Gulmarg was fixed as 22 October 1947, on which date the various Lashkars were to cross into J&K territory. The invasion plan was tactically sound and, in the beginning, brilliantly executed. The main attack had by necessity to be launched frontally along the motor road. Apart from rifles, the standard weapon of the raiders, the main force was also equipped with a few light machine guns and traveled in about 300 civilian lorries.

Fall of Domel and Baramula

The main strength of the defenders was at Domel where the two approach roads from Murree and Abbottabad met before leading towards Srinagar along the Jhelum gorge. Its two out posts Lohar Gali and Ramkot were the key to the whole defence and were guarded by the 4th Kashmir Infantry, which had a mix of Muslim and Dogra soldiers. When the raiders struck in the morning of October 22nd, traitors within the 4th Kashmir Infantry joined the raiders and gave them complete information about the strength and disposition of the defending troops and helped them send sufficient force against each piquet of defenders. That proved to be the beginning of a series of successes for the raiders before they were ultimately held, and subsequently thrown back, by Indian reinforcements over the next two weeks or so.

Between October 22nd and 26th, the raiders had run over Domel, Muzaffarabad, Uri and Baramula. Yet in their success lay the seeds of their doom. For on their way, they took to looting and raping, and the ultimate goal of the 'Holy War' was forgotten. Each man tried to grab as much wealth or as many girls as he could, and the 'infidel' Maharaja at Srinagar or the 'liberation of the oppressed Muslims' of Kashmir was last on his mind. The advance on Srinagar was held up for a few days, and that proved crucial. In Delhi, hundreds of kilometres from stricken Baramula, it had at last been decided to save Kashmir in its hour of peril. Even as the barbaric raiders were satisfying their greed and lust in Baramula, transport planes full of Indian troops were winging their way through the azure autumn skies: Destination Srinagar.

Smashing of the J&K Siege

When the first wave of tribal warriors from Pakistan invaded the Kashmir Valley on 22 October 1947, the kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir had not acceded to either Pakistan or India. Therefore, taking the plea that it was an internal matter, India refused to send in its troops to the Valley. However, when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian Government on the evening of 26 October 1947, Jammu & Kashmir became an integral part of the Indian Dominion legally, morally and constitutionally. Now was the time to react to the tribal invasion, which India did commendably, considering the short notice given to its military commanders.

The first troops were flown to Srinagar with hardly a couple of days planning and preparation. The liberation of the Valley in early November 1947 was a splendid feat of arms by the 161 Brigade, fighting against hordes of raiders. This single brigade managed to hold its own throughout the long winter of 1947-48 when its only line of communication was blocked by snow. Large areas in the Tithwal, Naushahra and Rajouri sectors were liberated from the invaders, and were held against repeated attacks by a vastly superior enemy. Naturally, the Indian Army also suffered setbacks, minor and major, at several places such as Jhangar, Pandu, Kargil and Skardu. But the situation was fully restored at Jhangar and Kargil. The long siege of Poonch was finally broken and Gurais & Dras areas were successfully recaptured against tremendous odds. The Army won five Param Vir Chakras (PVCs), 47 Maha Vir Chakras (MVCs) and not less than 284 Vir Chakras (VrCs), including three twin-awards of VrCs, during the J&K Operations of 1947-48.

During the long campaign, the Indian Army lost 76 officers, 31 JCOs and 996 men of other ranks. The wounded totalled 3152, including 81 officers and 107 JCOs. Apart from these casualties, J&K State Forces lost approximately 1990 officers and men. The small Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) lost 32 personnel, including 9 officers. The enemy casualties were definitely many times the total of Indian Army and RIAF casualties. By one estimate the enemy suffered 20,000 casualties, including 6000 killed. The gallantry and skill of all ranks of the Indian Army are amply borne out in the various accounts of these operations. But the exploits and the vital role of the RIAF deserve special mention here. Its contribution to the success of the J&K operations cannot be over emphasized, and it was the one weapon to which the enemy had no answer, as the Pakistan Air Force wisely desisted from joining the fray.

Only the impromptu airlift to Srinagar in October 1947 saved the Kashmir Valley. A hundred planes landed every day on the improvised airfield at Srinagar, bringing in troops, ammunition and supplies and evacuating casualties and the refugees. The RIAF and civilian pilots of these Dakotas defied the mountains, the weather, and fatigue, to continue the airlift till the Valley was saved. Giving invaluable support to these were the fearless fighter pilots who accurately and repeatedly attacked vital enemy positions at Gurais, Zoji La, Pindras and Rajouri. Apart from the men in uniform, civilians played a crucial role in liberating the Valley. The dedication and skill of the civilian pilots who flew to Srinagar in October 1947 was no less than their counterparts in the RIAF. Very few know that a civilian washerman, Ram Chander, won a Maha Vir Chakra for rescuing an officer wounded during an ambush, shooting down several enemy troops in the process. It was this Indian spirit and valour that saved the Valley.

India to the Rescue

It was on 24 October 1947 that the Government of India first got news of the Kashmir invasion. By that time, Domel and Muzaffarabad had already fallen to the raiders, who were fast approaching Srinagar. The Maharaja of Kashmir sent an S.O.S. message to the Indian Government on the night of October 24th. After deliberations at the highest levels, it was decided that India couldn't send its troops till J&K formally acceded to India. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in the evening of October 26th, which made J&K an integral part of India - legally, morally, and constitutionally. The Indian reaction, from then onwards, was swift, adverse ground conditions notwithstanding.

Operation Jak

The Indian rescue operation was beset with obvious difficulties from the very beginning. Srinagar was over 480 km from the nearest point on the Indian border. Troops in East Punjab were engaged in dealing with the refugees and maintaining law and order. Hence, air transport was the only way out. Worse still, the airport at Srinagar was hardly fit to land fully laden transport planes. But that was the only option available and it had to be taken. The rescue mission was code-named, Operation Jak. The first regiment to move in was 1 Sikh, stationed at Gurgaon at the time and commanded by Lt. Col. D.R. Rai. The troops were transported in four Dakota planes that took off from Delhi on October 27th and reached Srinagar early morning the same day. The first engagement with the enemy started on October 28th. Lt. Col. Rai was the first Indian officer to fall in the battle of liberation.

It was only after the first troops had landed at Srinagar that the gravity of the situation was realised. So, the Indian Army decided to throw its full weight to drive back the invaders. On October 28th, the Delhi and East Punjab Command was ordered to carry out Phase II of Operation Jak. It involved dispatching one Brigade Group to Jammu via Pathankot. The next day, the Eastern Southern commands were asked to spare whatever troops they could for the operation. Airlifts were undertaken almost round-the-clock airlifts to increase the troop strength. On October 30th, two fighter aircraft of the RIAF were detailed to operate from the Srinagar airstrip to provide air-support to the ground troops. In the following days, many Harvards and Spitfires were based on that airfield and they gave invaluable support to the infantry.

Meanwhile, there had been some fierce engagements with the enemy on the ground, resulting in some casualties on the Indian side. But most importantly, the advance of the invaders had been checked. The ground troops held the enemy. Transport planes took care of the supply of troops, equipment and ration. Interestingly, apart from three RIAF planes, 33 civil Dakotas were used in these sorties. Many of them even did a double trip to Srinagar on a single day - a tribute to the morale of the pilots and crew. By November 6th, the critical phase for Srinagar was over. The raiders had lost the initiative thanks to their looting at Baramula. About 3500 Indian troops had reached Srinagar by then. They threw a ring of machine guns and bayonets around Srinagar and the airfield. Although the invaders were only about 8 km away from the city at the nearest point, it was now impossible for them to penetrate the Indian positions and capture the capital, almost in their grasp. Having strengthened their position, the Indian Army was about to begin the liberation of the Kashmir valley.

The Liberation of the Valley

According to orders from the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, Baramula was to be recaptured from the enemy by November 17th, even if the Indian Army had to incur 500 casualties. The original plan was to launch the decisive battle on November 10th, but an unexpected attack on Indian positions at Shalateng on November 7th postponed the initiative. In a masterly battle strategy, the Indian troops flanked the invaders from three sides and unleashed murderous firepower on them. The RIAF strafed them from the air. The Battle of Shalateng was over within 20 minutes. It put Srinagar and Kashmir Valley beyond the grasp of the invaders forever. There were encounters after that, but the enemy was being driven back steadily and surely. By the evening of November 13th, Uri was captured. With that the liberation of the Kashmir Valley was complete.

The Relief of Poonch

On 20 November 1947, a column for the relief of Poonch set out from Uri, but was halted at Kahuta, 13 km short of Poonch. The Poonch garrison held out for one full year before it was finally relieved. Operation Easy was aimed at establishing the final link-up with Poonch, which had proved to be difficult throughout most of 1948. An attempt to link up with Poonch could be made either from the south, namely, via Thana Mandi or Rajouri, or from the north via the Haji Pir Pass. Lt. Gen. Cariappa (later Field Marshal and Army Chief) gave the go-ahead for the link-up with Poonch via the south. Lt. Gen. Shrinagesh (later General and Army Chief), who had been appointed Corps Commander of J&K Forces on September 14th, ordered Major General Atma Singh to plan for a link-up accordingly.

Major General Atma Singh was further ordered to carry out Phase I (secure Pir Badesar) by October 8th; commence Phase II (demonstrate north of Thana Mandi) by October 10th; and concentrate in Rajouri the required force for Operation Easy by October 16th. On October 9th, Major General Atma Singh finalised his plan. The force was to be under the command of Brigadier Yadunath Singh, Commander 19 Brigade, and was to consist of six infantry battalions plus one field battery and one mountain battery. It was to be divided into two columns, one column of three battalions under command of Brigadier Umrao Singh, Commander 5 Brigade, and the other column of three battalions under command of Lt. Col. Jagjit Singh Aurora (the same Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora of 1971 War fame), Commander 1/2 Punjab. As a preliminary to the main operation, the deception plan was to be carried out about October 12 to secure Pir Badesar.

The main operation was to commence on about October 19th with 5 Brigade advancing from Rajouri and securing Pir Kalewa ridge. Lt. Col. Jagjit Singh's column was then to pass through, moving from south of Thana Mandi to secure a firm base in the area around Sangrot. Having secured the base, the intention was to advance to Potha with 5 Brigade and carry out operations from Potha for the link-up with Poonch.

Capture of Pir Badesar

Operation Ranjit: The task of carrying out Operation Ranjit for the capture of Pir Badesar was given to 268 Brigade, 1/2 Punjab, 1 (Para) Kumaon and 1/1 Gorkha Rifles concentrated south of Darhal on October 13th. The brigade plan was for 1/1 Gorkha Rifles less one company and one platoon to lead the attack and secure Kater and the high ground north of Giran. Then 1/2 Punjab was to push on and capture Khalbahat Gala. 1 (Para) Kumaon was to take the lead next and capture Point 5432. At 2000 hours on October 14th, the brigade moved out, 1/1 Gorkha Rifles leading, and the first objective, Kater was secured without opposition. 1/2 Punjab captured Point 3978 at 0600 hours on October 15th. 1 (Para) Kumaon captured Pir Badesar by 1700 hours on the same day. Artillery played an important part in Operation Ranjit also.

After the capture of Pir Badesar, there was an important modification in Operation Easy and it was decided that the link-up with Poonch should be made via Mendhar and not via Potha. An ad hoc formation named Durga Force under overall command of Brigadier Yadunath Singh was to undertake Operation Easy and was composed of 5 Infantry Brigade, 19 Infantry Brigade, and the Rajouri Garrison. To provide air support, the RIAF No.10 Squadron of Tempests and No.12 Squadron (Transport) of Dakotas and No.1 AOP Flight of Austers were made available. As per the plan, 5 Brigade secured the vital Pir Kalewa ridge at 1200 hours on October 28th. The next important features to be secured were Ramgarh Fort and Bhimbar Gali.

Poonch Finally Relieved

Major General Atma Singh now detailed 19 Brigade Group to capture Point 5732 with a view to exploit Jhhika Gali, an enemy stronghold barring the way to Mendhar. 5 Brigade Group was assigned the task of capturing Point 4394 and securing the right flank of the main column up to but excluding Point 3295. The plan was to capture Topa area with a view to linking up with 101 Brigade from Poonch. 19 Brigade less one battalion, supported by all available artillery was to commence attack on night of November 19/20th. 101 Brigade was to start operations on the night of November 19/20th to capture Point 6005 and Point 6876 (Pir Margot Ghazi). It was expected that the link-up with 101 Brigade would take place by the evening of November 20th.

During the night of November 19/20th, 1/4 Gorkha Rifles and 5 Rajputana Rifles carried out a night march. Point 5982 was captured by 0730 hours on November 20th without much opposition. Meanwhile, the leading company of 1/4 Gorkha Rifles had also captured its objective at 0620 hours. Then exploitation began. One platoon 1/4 Gorkha Rifles was sent to Point 6793 and met the troops of 101 Brigade at 1200 hours. 1/2 Punjab passed through the positions of 5 Rajputana Rifles and captured Topa at 1500 hours on November 20th. The link-up with Poonch in November 1948 was a notable performance. The enemy ring round Poonch was broken and attempts to force the Poonch garrison to surrender were finally frustrated.

The Battle of Naushera

The capture of Jhangar on 24 December 1947 gave the enemy a tremendous advantage. It was, hence, vital to Indian strategy to recapture Jhangar. The battle of Naushahra on 06 February 1948 was decisive in this context and paved the way for the recapture of Jhangar later on. Lt. Col. R.G. Naidu, CO of 2 Jat, was put in command of Operation Satyanas for clearing the enemy from the area around Beri Pattan. The troops occupied Tung on January 23rd and crossed the Thandapaniwali Tawi the next morning. In the early hours of January 25th, as they advanced to attack Siot and Pt. 2502, they came under heavy enemy fire and had to make a retreat, but not before inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, estimated to be 100 dead and wounded.

To weaken and disrupt the enemy's offensive, a mobile force known as 'Cheeta Force' was formed. It consisted of Stuart tanks from 7 Light Cavalry. Orders were given to this mobile force on January 24th. The plan was simple. Two small detachments of mixed armour and infantry were to be established at Amberala and Chordhaki to guard the rear; the rest of the mobile column was to push right up to area Assar-Kadala-Bhimbar to destroy the enemy base. The mobile force launched its operation at 0530 hours on January 25th. Despite earlier reverses, it was able to inflict heavy losses on the enemy at Amberala, Chordhaki, and Assar/Kadala.

Operation Kipper

Intelligence reports revealed that a strong enemy build-up was taking place at Kot. Situated about 9 km north-east of Naushahra on the highest point, Kot allowed observation over the Rajouri road to a point near Merian. It was therefore, planned to attack and capture this strong enemy position, which was a serious threat to Naushahra. Other important enemy bases in the area were at Uparla Dandesar and Pathradi. The enemy strength here was estimated to be one battalion, about 500 strong, equipped with 3" mortars, medium machine guns, light machine guns and about 400 rifles.

On January 30th, Brigadier Usman issued instructions for Operation Kipper, the code name for dislodging the enemy from Kot-Pathradi-Uparla Dandesar area and to establish a permanent picket in Kot. The responsibility fell on 50 Para Brigade Group which included 2/2 Punjab, 3 (Para) Mahratta Light Infantry, 1 Rajput (A Coy), 3 (Para) Rajput (B Coy), 7 Cavalry (B Sqn), 1 Mahar (MMG) (Y Coy), among others. The plan was to attack Kot and Pathradi on a two-battalion front. On the left was 2/2 Punjab with objective Pt. 3227 and Kot; on the right 3 MLI with objectives Pt. 3284, Pathradi and Uparla Dandesar. The assault was timed for 0630 hours on February 1st and it was to be a silent dawn attack. The RIAF was to support the ground attack by softening the strong enemy positions.

As per a deception plan the enemy was made to believe that an advance towards Jhangar was imminent. Meanwhile, 3 MLI moved from Naushahra camp at 1915 hours on January 31st to area Pt. 2300. Enemy opposition was liquidated and Pathradi was captured by 0710 hours on February 1st. Meanwhile, 2/2 Punjab too had secured its objectives. But, the enemy launched a counter offensive almost immediately and recaptured Kot. It was after a fierce fighting that Kot was finally recovered at 1010 hours. Capture of Kot area had a significant bearing on future operations, as it was from this base that the enemy used to operate its successful efforts to cut the supply route to Naushahra. The occupation of Pathradi and Kot by the enemy would have rendered matters critical in the major attack on Naushahra that followed on February 6th.

Victory at Naushahra

Stung by the loss of Kot, the enemy launched the expected all-out attack on Naushahra on 06 February 1948. The pickets at Kot and Tain Dhar were heavily mortared between 0640 and 0715 hours. Picket No. 2 at Tain Dhar bore the brunt of the attack but they fought to the last man. At about 0715 hours, Brigadier Usman realising the gravity of the situation sent a company of 3 (Para) Rajput to reinforce the main picket. It was the turning point of the whole battle. At Kot, fighting continued throughout the day and night of February 6/7th. Indian troops held the onslaught and beat off the enemy attacks. The estimated enemy casualties at Kot and Tain Dhar were 400 killed and 250 wounded.

The enemy also attacked the Kangota picket. This picket was heavily mortared and attacked at about 0700 hours. About a 1000-strong enemy force surrounded the picket and tried to rush it, but was beaten back in hand-to-hand fighting. Simultaneously, the enemy, approximately 5000 strong, attacked other pickets from the west and south-west. To meet this serious threat to the Naushahra valley, Brigadier Usman decided to take the offensive and send his small reserve to attack the enemy concentration southwest of Naushahra. The valley was cleared of the hostiles by 1500 hours. In the annals of military warfare, the battle of Naushahra was par excellence a gunners battle.

The Recapture of Jhangar

Operation Bharatpur: After the victory at Naushahra on 06 February 1948, the stage was set for the recapture of Jhangar. For that it was essential to dislodge the enemy who was still holding Ambli Dhar and Kaman Gosha Gala. The responsibility to push back the enemy from Ambli Dhar fell on the 2 Jat through Operation Bharatpur, which was launched on 28 February 1948. The plan was to launch a surprise attack at dawn after an approach march. A deceptive attack was launched in the east towards Bhata Village to mislead the enemy. The decoy worked and the enemy did not realise the threat of the main advance until 2 Jat was half way up for the attack on Ambli Dhar. Soon, Pt. 3319 on Ambli Dhar was captured and the enemy was forced to retreat to lower positions. After an hour's lull, however, there was a counter offensive by the enemy in which one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and two men were killed and seven wounded. Eighty raiders were also wounded in the return fire.

Operation Vijay: By March 5th, Ambli Dhar was secured and the enemy had been cleared from Kaman Gosha Gala as well. It was now time for the final assault on Jhangar. Operation Vijay was to be completed in two phases.

In the first phase, the 19 Independent Brigade, consisting of 1 Rajput, 4 Dogra, 1 Kumaon Rifles and ancillary units, was to secure Pt. 3327 and 3283. In phase two, the 50 Para Brigade Group, consisting of 3 (Para) Maratha Light Infantry, 3 (Para) Rajput, 1 Patiala and ancillary units, was to secure Pt. 2701, Jhangar, Pt.3399 and Pt. 3374. Unknown even to the Indian troops, a squadron of the 7 Cavalry was also pushed into the operation. The tanks arrived from Naushera camouflaged with wooden covers at night. The secret plan to push in tanks paid off, as the enemy was completely surprised by their arrival. One of the vital strategic points on the way to Jhangar was Pir Thil held by the enemy. On March 15th, 3 MLI was sent on offensive reconnaissance to locate the enemy position in the area, but it was resisted with strength. It was now confirmed that there was an equivalent of one enemy brigade, six medium machine guns, a couple of light machine guns and two 3" mortars.

Based on the information, Brigadier Usman modified his plan and decided to attack two places on the Pir Thil feature about 360 metres apart with two battalions - the 3 MLI on the right and the 1 Patiala on the left. By March 17th, the 50 Para Brigade had captured Pir Thil Nakka and the way was now clear for the final attack on Jhangar. The offensive started on March 18th. That day, the 3 (Para) Rajput captured Pt. 3477, following which the 50 Para Brigade, the 3 MLI and the 1 Patiala concentrated at this feature. The plan was to attack with two forward battalions - the 1 Patiala, on the right, was to secure objective ring contour and the 3 MLI, on the left, was to secure Pt. 3399 and Pt. 3574. Both the objectives were secured the same day. The enemy fled towards Mirpur, leaving behind 46 dead and a cache of ammunition. Meanwhile, the Stuart tanks of 7 Cavalry (C Sqn), were already on their way. Brushing aside minor opposition, which resulted in the loss of one tank, the squadron along with one company of the 1 Rajput entered Jhangar at 1400 hours that day. With the recapture of Jhangar on March 18th, the main land route leading into the Naushahra Valley was secured and the enemy's supply line was disrupted. Operation Vijay thus ended in Vijay, i.e. Victory.

The Fall of Skardu

The northern front of the Kashmir campaign included the sectors of Gurais, Skardu, Dras and Kargil, and Leh. From November 1947 to August 1948, the enemy achieved impressive successes in the region. But equally impressive was the valour of the Indian troops who held their positions against all odds. Of particular importance was the siege of Skardu. It was at Skardu that the true spirit of a typical Indian soldier was first demonstrated. After the fall of Gilgit to the enemy in November 1947, it fell on Lt. Col. Sher Jung Thapa and his men of 6 J&K Infantry to defend Skardu. The troops reached Skardu on December 03rd and positioned themselves inside a fort. With a total strength of about 285 men, Lt. Col. Thapa was to defend his picket against a 600-strong enemy who was equipped with modern rifles, 2" and 3" mortars and was led by professional fighters.

The enemy attacked on February 11th. From that day till August 13th, when Skardu finally fell to the enemy, it was a saga of defiance, gallantry and determination. Lt. Col. Thapa and his men repulsed waves after waves of enemy attacks. To make matters worse, the fort had hundreds of refugees men, women and children who had trusted Lt. Col. Thapa with their lives against the raiders. The brave men held the siege for more than six months fighting not only the relentless enemy, but also ration and ammunition shortage. A major attempt to send reinforcements to the besieged men had ended in failure. There came a stage when there was just enough food to feed 70-80 mouths, but the garrison and the refugees numbered 600! Meanwhile, Kargil had fallen to the enemy. The priority of the headquarters shifted to recapturing Kargil to establish the crucial line of communications. Lt. Col. Thapa and his men were literally forgotten. Reinforcements were few and scarce. Lt. Col. Thapa sent his last message to his commanders at 0800 hours on August 13th. That day, after holding out for six months against overwhelming odds, Skardu finally capitulated.

Offensives in the Uri Area

Uri was of great strategic importance since it commanded the routes to Domel, Poonch and Srinagar. Hence, the main objective of major offensives carried out in the Uri area was only to establish a firm base there in order to prevent the raiders from entering the Kashmir valley. Uri had its first heavy snowfall about the middle of January 1948, resulting in this front getting more or less frozen for the time being. Activity on both sides was, therefore, confined to local patrolling only. Intelligence reports, however, showed that an enemy build-up was taking place in Uri and Mahura in order to destroy the powerhouse and to cut off the line of communication between Rampur and Uri.

By the first week of April, enemy reinforcements in this area had swelled manifolds. The Indian response had been somewhat similar and 161 Infantry Brigade - responsible for holding the area - was suitably reorganized and reinforced. Till the first week of April, both the sides were mostly involved in small raids and counter raids owing to heavy snow. With the onset of spring, vigorous offensives were launched. From the Indian perspective, the first major offensive was directed at capturing Kopra. 4 Kumaon regiment secured the objective on April 15th and Indian pickets were established there. Another major achievement during this period was the capture of Point 9062. The Indian troops launched an attack in heavy rain. Despite slippery and steep slopes, the offensive was successful and the enemy was driven out of what was supposed to be a very strong defensive base. The threat to Mahura was finally ended when 3 Royal Garhwal secured Zambur Pattan on April 21st.

Meanwhile, a threat was developing at Kaurali where enemy in large numbers had infiltrated from Poonch. In one of the most tragic ambushes, the enemy annihilated the entire patrol party of 1 Madras, including its commander Lt. Col. Menon. A sole survivor who had escaped by hiding under a waterfall for more than three hours conveyed the tragic news to the base.

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