Colonel Ajay K Raina, SM
October 27, 1947 is a date that holds a gigantic import in the history of J&K State. With the Pakistan army-backed invasion already in progress since October 22, the situation in Kashmir Valley had been turning grim with every passing moment. Among the developments that had happened between the moment of invasion and the midnight on the intervening night of October 26/27 the most important one had been the signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh.
It was during the wee hours of October 27, 1947 when the Chief of Staff of the State Forces, Brigadier Rajendra Singh, having scripted a saga an unmatched determination and dedication, had begun to slip into a restful, unending sleep. Having slogged for almost 100 hours, he and his band of braves from the State forces had successively foiled invaders’ attempts to have a free run to Srinagar. Ill-equipped and heavily outnumbered, the small force under him had been fighting literally without a wink of sleep, proper food and in the absence of any medical aid for the past four days and nights. Just an hour or so back, Brigadier Rajendra had been shot in his limbs when his force had been ambushed while the last of his men were trying to fall back to one more blocking position between Baramulla and the invaders. Uri bridge that the defenders had been able to blow up on October 24, had prevented the enemy from bringing in his lorries and men in full strength. They were, however, now closing in rapidly. Brigadier Rajendra had refused to get evacuated and had ordered Captain Jwala Singh to move on to fight the enemy at another place without wasting time carrying him on the shoulder. A blood-stained tie was all that was ever found of the brave-heart who, through his personal example, had done something really unprecedented! His act remains unparalleled to the day.
As the first light was coming on, two injured soldiers of the State forces were spotted in Baramulla. They were possibly the remnants of 100-odd men who had laid down their lives as a mark of unflinching loyalty and dedication to the land they had belonged to. A few moments later, an open car entered the town with a man in a bastardized uniform. He summoned the small crowd that had gathered in the street, anticipating some developments post breakdown of electricity supply from Mahura power station just a day before. There were hardliners from the Muslim Conference, nationalists from National Conference as also many with no political leanings but with loads of apprehension on their minds. Many residents of the 15,000-odd town had already moved out. The man in the car, without bothering to indulge in the usual formalities, ordered all Muslim households to tie a green cloth outside their houses. The carnage of Baramulla was about to begin.
Captain Prabhat Singh of ‘B’ Company of 4 JAK Infantry, having received orders to move to Baramulla from his location at Kupwara, was met by Captain Jwala Singh who, along with a few wounded survivors, was on his way to Srinagar. After a short exchange of information, Captain Prabhat Singh deployed his two platoons to the East of Baramulla. Baramulla had already fallen and the officer had decided to fight another battle between Baramulla and Srinagar even though with 50 of his men pitched against more than 6000 frenzied zealots, he was well aware as to how the next contact was to likely to end. Captain Jwala Singh then moved off to Srinagar with his lot of wounded soldiers.
Far away, at the Palam Airport in Delhi, the Commanding Officer of 1 SIKH, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjith Rai had been handed over an operational order about a couple of hours back. At around the time when the convertible had been entering Baramulla, the first flight of six Dakotas was taxing out to get airborne, carrying the valiant Sikh soldiers, both from 1 SIKH and 13 Field Regiment (the latter as part of 1 SIKH so as to make up the strength), on their mission to save the Valley. It was the power of a young democracy being unleashed as the civilian Dakotas and their pilots pitched in. The orders for the leading aircraft were to do a circle over the rough airstrip at Srinagar to ascertain the status before landing. The order, itself, was illustrative of the amount of fog that prevailed at that moment.
The first Dakota with Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjith Rai on board and being flown by Wing Commander KL Bhatia, entered the airspace beyond Pir Panjal at about 0820h. Having made a circle over the airfield and having made successful radio contact with the civil aviation wireless station, the first Dakota touched down at 0830h. Lieutenant Colonel Rai’s first message to Delhi through the aviation wireless station came as a big relief back at Delhi. With three companies, including the composite company of 13 Field Regiment, on the ground, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjith Rai had to take a decision even though there was no concrete information available about the enemy beyond the input that said that there were tribesmen in thousands. There were two choices: either sit tight at the airfield (that being the primary task assigned to his battalion) and await the arrival of the enemy and then fight him close to the airfield; or move ahead, seek the enemy and give him a fight away from Srinagar! Being the soldier that he was, he opted for the second option.
A semblance of a squadron of the State’s Bodyguard Cavalry was available at Srinagar and the same was sent ahead to reinforce the two platoons of 4 JAK Infantry near Baramulla by Lieutenant Colonel Rai. One company of 1 Sikh also went along with the Cavalry. His message to Delhi at 1200h, read,” About 500 enemy and 2000 locals near Baramulla cannot be held by State forces. So will undertake task 1 and reinforce State troops to prevent break-through. Build-up must be expedited.” Obviously, till then, no one had an idea about an extra ‘0’ that was warranted in the figures for the enemy.
Wing Commander KL Bhatia, instead of flying back to Delhi, took off for Baramulla for aerial reconnaissance. Soon, he was back with the report that while the road Srinagar-Baramulla was virtually empty, Baramulla had been burning. During the reconnaissance from a low altitude, his aircraft had been hit by a bullet of .303 rifle but he was able to land back at Srinagar. After in-situ repairs by a team from Delhi, he flew back to Delhi later.
Leaving one company at the airfield, he proceeded ahead towards Baramulla with the remaining company. Between Pattan and Baramulla, he came across the last of State troops deployed alongside the main road. Captain Prabhat Singh, pleasantly surprised to see Indian Army, briefed him about the enemy even though he, himself, had not been in contact with the enemy till then. The CO deployed a major chunk of his force alongside 4 JAK Infantry company and then moved ahead with a strong escort. Once closer to Baramulla, at 1500h, he sent another message to Delhi and it read, “Baramulla fallen and in flames. In all some 700 men available. Not enough to prevent enemy from bypassing during the night; need at least two companies to patrol and protect flanks.”
Meanwhile, inside Baramulla, the tribesmen were busy looting and raping and setting buildings on fire. The regulars of the Pakistan army, however, had moved ahead towards the Eastern edge of the town by the afternoon. Both the groups, i.e., Indian Army troops and raiders, were actually surprised to see each other. The firefight started immediately and many raiders from the town joined those on the outskirts. Lieutenant Colonel Rai was taken aback to see the kind of weaponry the so-called tribesmen were holding and the kind of conventional tactics that were being followed. Contrary to what he had heard till then, the enemy was better equipped, was being led by regulars and was far too superior in numbers. Pakistan regulars and the tribesmen, on their part, were equally surprised to see the Indian troops so early into the action. Their belief that the highway to Srinagar stood open for them, was immediately shattered.
Sensing his weakness as the enemy started outflanking the Sikhs, the CO ordered the withdrawal and the small force broke contact and fell back by about two miles. The enemy, however, didn’t follow up that night, probably, shaken up by the sudden appearance of the Indian troops and awaiting instructions from the controllers in Pakistan. It was decided by the CO to halt the enemy there and then chase him out of Baramulla. The enemy, however, didn’t show up. The patrols operating on the flanks too didn’t report any enemy activity during the night.
Army HQ replied to Lieutenant Colonel Rai at 2305h, informing him that the air strafing would be carried out on 28 October and a Tac HQ of the brigade, one additional battalion, followed by another battalion, would be flown in over the next two days. Little did the Sikhs know that their Centre Commandant, Colonel Dykes (on leave) and his wife had been murdered at Baramulla earlier that day.
The Indian Government had been keeping the Pakistan government posted about the movement of Indian troops into J&K. The unexpected landing of the Indian Army had upset the plan to annex Kashmir by force and many in Pakistan had been surprised. At this juncture, the Governor-General of Pakistan, Mohd Ali Jinnah, decided to send in regular army into Kashmir to out-manoeuvre Indian forces and take over Kashmir. When he called up General Gracey, Chief of Pakistan Army, to convey his decision, he was advised by General Gracey against such a move. As he was briefed, while it might have been possible to rush two or three units to Srinagar to secure the Valley but such a move would have left Lahore undefended in the face of a likely Indian reposte. General Gracey, then tactfully explained a technical difficulty wherein he couldn’t issue such an order without informing and taking permission from the Supreme Commander of both the forces, Field Marshal Auchinleck.
With a small force of Dogras and Sikhs standing holding the fort between Srinagar and Baramulla, the residents of Kashmir Valley had a reason to thanks the Almighty for his kindness on the day of Eid.
1. The assertion by many historians that Baramulla was plundered and looted for three days between October 24& 27 is factually wrong.
2. Brigadier Rajendra Singh was awarded the first Maha Vir Chakra of the nation posthumously.
3. Lieutenant Colonel DR Rai laid down his life on October 28, and was awarded MVC posthumously.
4. Wing Commander KL Bhatia was awarded Vir Chakra for his numerous acts of valor during the conflict. He died of complications arising out of a splinter injury sustained during the operations but after a few years.
(The author is an Army veteran and has authored eight books. He is the founder member of the Military History Research Society of India)
Colonel Ajay K Raina, SM