Sunday, July 3, 2022

The hero we remember with gratitude for saving Poonch in 1947-48

In 1947-48 war with Pakistan, that raged in many parts of Jammu and Kashmir for months together, November 21, 1948, is a very important date. It was on this day that the link-up with Poonch was done and it was finally freed from the siege of over a year! A small garrison got stuck in Poonch town in a very precarious position in late 1947 as Pakistani raiders spread mayhem in the Kashmir valley.

Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Kotli, Bhimber, Palandri and such other towns had been lost to the enemy in the early days of action from October 22 to 26. The enemy had been pushed back from the doorway of Kashmir, Uri in Baramulla, by gallant Indian troops by November 11, 1947. From thereon, the Indian Army consolidated its position and strengthened its defences.

Poonch was subjected to the enemy designs and was threatened constantly, with the Pakistani forces hoping to make it capitulate. They tried to force it to surrender as its road link with Uri on the northern side and Rajouri, and beyond to Jammu, were interdicted. For a long time, it was a tenuous link through aerial route using Dakotas that was maintained.  Aerial bombardment of enemy positions by RIAF Tempest aircrafts also helped sustain the morale of the Poonch garrison.

For a long time, the garrison remained totally cut off as enemy closing in from all sides made landing of Dakotas impossible in Poonch. Days became weeks, weeks rolled on to months and people in Poonch were not sure of whether the Indian forces will be able to relieve them. However, by mid-1948, it had been decided that Poonch was to be freed of the clutches of Pakistanis.

Putting those plans into action took much longer than anticipated, more so as developments relating to far-off Hyderabad proved to be a serious constraint. A very important objective of the Poonch link-up was achieved by the capture of Pir Badesar on October 15, 1948. Pir Badesar is the highest point for miles around and it can be a serious threat to Kotli lying to its south.

(It is in a way appalling that Pir Badesar is called so even officially on the Indian side. This hill feature has an ancient Shiva temple dating back to 850 AD and is actually Virbhadra Rudreshwar. In the Hindu scriptures, Virbhadra is a Rudra (an angry manifestation of Lord Shiva) swarup. He was born when Sati, the consort of Shiva, immolated herself at her father Prajapati Daksha’s house in Kankhal near Haridwar.)

After the capture of Pir Badesar, the enemy thought till last that the objective of the Indian forces was Kotli to its south. Accordingly, it withdrew much of its forces from areas around Poonch to strengthen defence of Kotli. That helped the Indian Army immensely as this deception was something it had always aimed at.

Tactically, Pir Badesar is a strong feature overlooking Seri valley, protected Jhangar from the north and posed a very serious direct threat to Kotli. Its capture in Operation Ranjit went a long way to ensure the success of Poonch link-up, the final operation that all removed threats to Poonch.

Deception was a key element of the operation and the enemy ring around Poonch was broken mainly due to the success in the capture of Pir Badesar. In “Kashmir Operations” (September ’48 to December ’48), Lt. Gen Sriganesh says: “By demonstrating towards Pir Badesar, Kotli, and Pir Kalewa, and by carrying out deceptive air drops, we led the enemy to believe that Kotli was our objective and made him disperse his forces. It was only after the operation had been completed that our real intention, which was to link-up with Poonch, and not capture Kotli, became known to the enemy.”

The hero of this link-up was Brigadier Pritam Singh who is even now revered and is well known among the residents of Poonch. His tales of valour have been passed on orally from one generation to other over last seven decades. Another person who played a big role in the Poonch link-up was Brigadier Yadunath Singh.

Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is now out and could be bought here.

Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.


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