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Volume 2(3)
November-December 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RETURN TO INDEX

 

OPERATION POLO: THE LIBERATION OF HYDERABAD

L N SUBRAMANIAN

The State of Hyderabad comprised most of the Deccan Plateau. Having risen from the ruins of the Mughal Empire, it was like many other princely states where a Hindu majority was ruled over by a ith a Muslim ruler called the Nizam. Established in the 18th century by Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jha, it came under British protection under the policy of Subsidiary Alliances instituted by Arthur Wellesley.

In 1947 the Nizam of Hyderabad was Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan, a man of vast wealth. Dreaming of an independent state he sought Dominion status from the British only to rebuffed by Lord Mountbatten. The Indian Government was averse to a forced takeover and agreed to conclude a Standstill Agreement. It was hoped that this would open negotiations and the eventual peaceful accession of the state. However this only emboldened the Razakars a militant organization led by Kasim Rizvi. Helped by the manipulations of the Nizam and his men the Razakars aided by the communists let loose an orgy of violence.

The Razakars went on a recruiting spree including many from outside the state. There was an orgy of political murders and Hindu villages were razed. By the spring of 1948 they become bold enough to raid the Union territory. On 6th September a police post near Chillakallu village came under heavy fire from Razakar units. A squadron of Poona Horse and a company of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles were sent to investigate. They too came under fire. The tanks then chased the Razakars to Kodar, in Hyderabad territory. Here they were opposed by the armoured cars of 1 Hyderabad Lancers. In a brief action the Poona Horse destroyed one armoured car and forced the surrender of the state garrison at Kodar. Since the trouble began the Razakars had attacked about 70 villages in the state, 150 attacks outside the state, killing, raping and looting. The Nizam was given a last warning to rein in the Razakars.

The Nizam instead continued to insist that the conditions were normal and that his own troops were capable of maintaining law and order. Then hoping to get the UN to intervene, a delegation of his advisors left for UN headquarters via Karachi. This raised the possibility of the same power politics that plagued the case of Jammu & Kashmir. It was time for decisive action. The first plans for a military operation were outlined by Lt General E.N. Goddard GOC-in-Chief Southern Command. This envisaged the capture of Hyderabad the state capital with a dual thrust by 1st Armoured Division, from Vijayawada (Bezwada) in the East a distance of 250 km and Sholapur in the West, a distance of 300 km while small units will pin down the Nizam forces on the border.

The Order of Battle

Hyderabad had a large army with a tradition of hiring mercenary forces. This included Arabs, Rohillas, UP Muslims and Pathans. The State Army consisted of 3 armoured regiments, a horsed cavalry regiment, 11 infantry battalions and artillery. There were supplemented by irregular units with a horse cavalry, four infantry battalions (Saraf-i-khas, paigah, Arab and Refugee) and a garrison battalion for a total of 22000 men. Finally there were the Home Guards and Razakars. They were commanded by Major General El Edroos an Arab. The Razakars totaled about 200,000 although only 25 percent were armed with modern small arms and the rest with muzzleloaders and swords.

The final plan for Operation Polo was based on the Goddard Plan. It envisaged 2 major thrusts: a Western thrust through Sholapur - Hyderabad axis and an Eastern thrust along the Vijaywada (Bezwada) - Hyderabad axis. Smaller thrusts were to be made from the South to protect the railway lines of communications and from the North in the Jalna area.

The Indian Task force commanded by Major General J.N.Chaudhari for the thrust from Sholapur consisted of four operational groups

Strike Force
9th Dogra - Lt.Col. Ram Singh
Skinner's Horse minus one squadron (Stuart tanks) - Lt. Col. Kamla Nand
1 troop Div HQ Squadron (Shermans)
Battery 1st Field Regiment (self propelled)
1 Forward Air Control team

Smash Force
1 Armoured Brigade (Brigadier S.D Verma)

3rd Cavalry minus one squadron (Shermans) - Lt. Col. D.C.Basapa
17th Horse minus one squadron (Shermans) - Lt. Col. K.Jangshamsher Singh
One troop Skinner's Horse
1st Field Regiment less one battery (self propelled)
2nd Battery 40 Medium Regiment
one company 9th Dogra
Engineer and Administrative Units

Kill Force
7th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Gurbachan Singh)

2nd Sikhs
3rd Grenadiers
14th Rajput
9th Para Field Regiment
Engineer and Administrative Units

Vir Force
9th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Apji Randhir Singh)

3rd Punjab
2/1 Gorkha Rifles
34 Anti Tank Regiment
Engineer and Administrative Units

The advance from Vijaywada was led by Major General A.A. Rudra and consisted of 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, 1 Squadron minus a troop of 17th Horse1 troop from 19th Field battery + Engineers and ancillary units. Besides these forces, 4 Infantry battalions were to neutralize and protect lines of communication. 2 squadrons of Tempest aircraft were available from Pune to provide air support. The overall control was in the hands of Lt General Rajendrasinghji, DSO.

The date was fixed for Sept 13 and all foreign governments especially the Americans, British, Canadians and Australians were asked to evacuate their national. At 0500 hrs on the morning of the 13th, the Pakistan Army was informed about the decision.

Last Minute Discussions

It is interesting to note that General Bucher was opposed to the military action and if agreeable was for an attack from the south even though Lt Gen. Rajendrasinhji was in favour of the western approach. A cabinet meeting was organized for Sept 12th to take a final decision. Among those who attended were the PM Nehru, Home Minister Patel, Defence Minister Baldev Singh, Gopalswamy Iyengar, Gen. Bucher, Air Marshal Elmhirst and Gen. Cariappa. As the decision was being finalized Bucher stood up and said "Gentlemen, you have taken a decision in a difficult matter. I must give you my warning. We are also committed in Kashmir. We cannot say how long it will take so we will end up having two operations on our hands. This is not advisable so as your C in C I ask you not to start the operations." He further offered his resignation if his advice was not heeded. There was a silence while a distressed and worried Nehru looked around. Patel replied " You may resign, General Bucher, but the police action will start tomorrow'. A angry Bucher stormed out and coincidentally the next few days saw a rise in the tempo of the Kashmir operations.

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The War Begins - September 13

The first obstacle was the Naldurg fort, which stood on the Sholapur - Secunderabad road about 19 km from the state border. Behind it was the Bori river with a bridge vital for the passage of Indian armour. The fort was defended by 1 Hyderabad Infantry, some irregulars and two 25-pounder guns. The task of capturing the bridge was given to 7th Brigade consisting of 2 Sikh, 3 Grenadiers and a battery from 34th anti tank regiment, a detachment from armoured reconnaissance and some Engineers. It started on the night of 12th Sept and moved to an area 23 km South of Naldrug in Indian territory. Here the column split with one going for the bridge and the other for the guns. Achieving complete surprise the bridge was secured intact. The main column set of at 0400 hours. Led by 1 Armoured Brigade it consisted of 3 Cavalry less 2 squadrons, 17 horse less a squadron, 1 Field regiment less a battery, 7 Field Company, 14th Rajput, 4 Gwalior and a company of Dogras. Brushing aside the odd sniping and the occasional artillery volley it linked up with the 7th Brigade. Meanwhile 2 Sikh made a dash for Jalkot 8 km east of Naldurg. Havildar Bachittar Singh commanding a platoon saw 2 vehicles coming from Naldurg. In spite of the withering fire he ran forward and succeeded in capturing the vehicles with their escorts. Latter during the day an entrenched Hyderabadi position opened up with Bren guns. Bachittar Singh led a skillful charge. 25 metres from the post he was hit on the thigh. Still he crawled forward and silenced the post with 2 grenades. Refusing to allow any medical help he kept encouraging his men till the end. He was awarded the Ashok Chakra.

The armoured columns of 1 Armoured brigade now reached Jalkot around 0900 hours. Chaudhari now asked the 3rd column to pass through and continue advancing. Under Lt Col. Ram Singh this column consisted of 1 Horse (less a squadron), 1 battery of 1 field regiment, 1 battery of 40 medium regiment, an Engineer detachment, 9 Dogra less a company and some ancillary units. Brushing aside the resistance they made it to Umarge 61 km inside Hyderabad by 1515 hours. The Razakars in the town resisted but were quickly overpowered.

The 4th column was in charge of clearing the Northern flank of the main advance. Under 9th Brigade it consisted a squadron of 3rd Cavalry, a troop from 18th cavalry, a troop from 9 Para field regiment, 10 Field company engineers, 3/2 Punjab Regiment, 2/1 Gorkhs Rifles, 1 Mewar Infantry and ancillary units. Its task was to capture Tuljapur, 34 km NW of Naldurg. This straddled the Sholapur Osmanabad road and connected to Naldurg by road. A battalion group consisting 2/1 Gorkha rifles, a battery of 9 Field regiment, a squadron of 3rd cavalry and a detachment of engineers advanced from Barsi and crossed the border at 2000 hours. By dawn they had isolated Tuljapur by stationing a company each on the Tuljapur Osmanabad road and Tuljapur Naldurg road. A ridge commanding the plateau below was held by 200 Razakars and 1 Hyderabad infantry. There was a stubborn resistance for 2 hours even thought the issue was never in doubt.

Another group of 9th Brigade consisting of 3/2 Punjab, Mewar Infantry, a troop of 18th Cavalry, a battery from 9 Field regiment and some Engineers advanced along the Sholapur -Tuljapur road. Though the tanks got bogged down, the Punjabis continued to lead the advance and linked up with the Gorkhas at 1530 hour. Further movement towards Lohara was given up due to the swollen nulla on the way. After the units linked the Mewar infantry was given the task of mopping and holding to Tuljapur. Thus ended the first day with the Indians battering the Hyderabad forces and inflicting heavy losses. A number of men were captured including a British mercenary tasked with blowing up the Naldurg bridge.

Meanwhile the column from Vijayawada leading the Eastern thrust was making good progress. The opposition was in the form of 2 armoured units of Humbers and Staghounds. The task of neutralizing it was given to 4 battalions: 9/2 Punjab, 3 Sikh LI, 6 Jat and 6 Kumaon. Some support was provided by 17 Poona Horse. The force was commanded by Lt Col. Amrik Singh. The advance began at dawn on Sept 13 and by 0830 hours they had reached Kodar. Leaving the 9/2 Punjab to guard Kodar. Amrik Singh pressed on to reach Mungala by afternoon.

On the Southern borders of Hyderabad, the Indian aim was to ensure the safety of the rail communications that passed through the area. The bridges at Kurnool, Tungabhadra and Hospet were the responsibility of units under Brigadier N.V.Bal. Headquartered in Guntakal he had the 5/5 Gorkha Rifles, 1 Mysore Infantry and Mysore Lancers (on horses). He had two armoured trains for patrolling. These units did not encounter much resistance except at Hospet where a company of the Mysore Infantry ran into trouble.

A sugar factory by the bridge was occupied by a large number of Razakars and Pathans. Twice the company took over the factory only to be beaten back by large numbers of the defenders. A company of the 4th Rajputana rifles trying to aid 1 Mysore was itself in trouble when the train in which they were travelling got derailed. However the stubborn resistance could not hold out against determined Indian efforts.

A company of 5/5 Gorkha rifles left Guntakal for the Tungabhadra bridge in the early hours of 13th Sept. The bridge was guarded by a strong contingent of the Hyderabad forces, its flanks covered by Bren gun posts. A section led by Naik Narbahadur Thapa engaged the defenders. Under heavy fire he dashed across hundred yards of open ground between him and the Bren gun position and decapitated its crew with his khukri. With it all resistance collapsed. Naik Narbahadur Thapa got the Ashok Chakra.

Day 2 - September 14

Chaudhari's aim was to reach Rajasur, 48 kilometers East of Umarga. However the road passed through an 8 km defile near Talmud. Here the hills on both sides of the road were covered with scrub. Furthermore the ground at the end of the defile rose sharply providing a good vantage point for artillery observers. Air recce had indicated well defended positions. The Indian Air Force was called in and a couple of strikes by IAF Tempests caused the Hyderabadis to abandon their positions. With Rajasur falling in the afternoon, a small detachment was sent to take care of Kalyani which was held by some Razakars.

Meanwhile in the Kodar area the Hyderabad army had dug an anti tank ditch. The ditch was filled up and as the advance continued heavy fire was encountered from some low hills 6 km short of Suriappet. The fire was coming from units of 1 Lancer and 5 Infantry but fight as well as they did they could not hold long against the veterans of the Burma campaign the 2/5 Gorkha rifles. The cost was 35 Hyderabadis dead and 49 captured for 2 Gorkhas killed.

Meanwhile a column of 3/11 Gorkha Rifles and a squadron of 8th cavalry advanced on to Osmanabad from the North. However its main defences were in the South and provided stiff resistance to a column from 9th Brigade which advanced from Tuljapur. Heavy street to street combat took place as the Razakars fought doggedly.

Meanwhile the major General D.S.Brar was given the task of taking Aurangabad. An important military and civil center its early capture was essential. Brar organized 6 columns for this purpose. A column comprising 3/5 Gorkha Rifles, 2 companies of 17th Sikh, a squadron of Stuarts and armored cars from Armoured Corps School, 20 Field Battery and Engineers and ancillary under Lt Col. P.S .Thapa was tasked with taking the city. Moving along the Nangaon - Aurangabad axis, it brushed aside the odd opposition and entered Daulatabad fort by the afternoon. As the column reached the city outskirts the civil administration came out to surrender.

A column consisting of 3 Sikh, a company of 2 Jodhpur infantry and some tanks from 18 Cavalry marched to Jalna. Here the Hyderabadi forces resisted stubbornly before giving up.

Day 3 - September 15

The action here continued till early morning when the elements from 9th Brigade were joined in by 8th cavalry. The action left 75 Razakars killed and 84 taken prisoner. Once this was over a company of 3/11 Gorkhas were left behind with some tanks to hold the city while the rest of the forces moved to Latur. By afternoon they reached Mominabad. The 3 Golconda Lancers who held it, after some initial half hearted resistance threw in the towel.

Suriapet was strafed by the IAF in the morning, followed by a rapid advance by the 2/5 Gorkhas. The Hyderabadis had withdrawn but a few dozen Razakars were captured in mopping operations. The retreating Hyderabadis partially destroyed the Musi Bridge. But they neglected to lay covering fire and it was repaired and the advance resumed. The only other action was at Narkatpalli where a Razakar battalion was decimated.

The column led by 1 Armoured was cautious as it approached Zahirabad and Bidar. This were well defended and the aim was to take over Homanabad and launch probing operations towards Zahirabad and Bidar. Homanabad fell at 0800 hours with only sporadic resistance. Leaving 9thBrigade to mop up the armoured units moved towards Bidar but soon ran into a swollen nulla. The other column led by Ram Singh advanced about 16 km towards Zahirabad before halting for the day.

Day 4 – September 16

Ram Singh's forces moved out towards Zahirabad in the early hours of the morning to capture the junction where the road from Bidar met the Sholapur - Hyderabad road. If that fell he was to turn north towards Bidar while the armoured column moved towards Zahirabad. The armoured columns was slowed down by a mine field which were cleared in due time. Ram Singh’s forces encountered fire at the junction. Some time into the fighting the armoured column joined up and Ram Singh’s units disengaged and moved North leaving the fighting to Armoured column. All along the route there was sporadic resistance by Hyderabadi forces and by nightfall Ram Singh’s men were a few km short of Bidar.

Meanwhile the armoured column met with determined resistance from the Razakars. Within the built up areas the Razakars enjoyed a brief advantage till the 75 mm guns of the tanks were brought into play. By nightfall the forces had moved 15 kilometers beyond Zahirabad.

The War Ends - September 17

On Sept 17 in the early hours the Indian Army entered Bidar. With the Nizam forces being routed from all directions, the Government resigned. Forces led by 1 Armoured regiment were at Chityal about 60 km from the capital. Another column took over Hingoli. With no escape route and no foreign aid coming the Nizam went on the air and asked his remaining forces to cease fire by 1700 hours. He banned the Razakars and allowed Union troops into Secunderabad and Bolurum.

The next day General Chaudhari rode at the head of an armoured column to Secunderabad and at 1600 hours the Hyderabad Army represented by Major General El Edroos surrendered. Chaudhari took over as Military Governor. Over the next few days mopping operations continued against the Razakars with their leader Rizvi arrested on Sept 19. On 24th November Chaudhari handed over control to a civilian Governor following the Nizam's accession to the Union.

The Indian Army suffered 66 killed and 97 wounded. The Hyderabad State forces had 490 killed and 122 wounded. The Razakars suffered even more.

 

Copyright Bharat Rakshak