The General And His Tanks !

Discussion in 'Indian Army' started by Kunal Biswas, Jun 26, 2011.

  1. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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    The General And His Tanks !
    The Role of tanks at High altitude, Stuart light tanks at Zojila Pass..

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    Perhaps the most spectacular chapter in the Indian Army History and life of the great General Thimayya was his role in what is considered to be the first Kargil War in 1948. Gen. Thimayya’s tactical manoeuvres that helped save Kargil in 1948. His deployment of Stuart light tanks at Zojila Pass at twelve thousand feet above sea level to the utter surprise of the Opposition forces is still unprecedented.



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    Zojila, which means “Path of blizzards” is over one hundred kilometers east of Srinagar at an elevation of three thousand five hundred twenty nine meters and is the main pass on the road connecting Leh to Srinagar. When the Indian army landed at the Srinagar Airport in October 1947, it is reported that the opposition forces (a redoubtable force of over five hundred Pathans, Gilgit Scouts, Chitralis and renegades from the Jammu and Kashmir force) were just a few kilometres away. As a result of the Pakistani offensive, India lost Kargil and Dras and the Srinagar- Leh Road was blocked. The Enemy also seized control of Zojila and was headed to Gilgit and Leh. It is in these precarious circumstances that Maj. Gen. K. S. Thimayya (as he then was) spearheaded one of the greatest victories for the Indian Army. After a record-breaking landing at an airfield along with Air Cdre Meher Singh, the Indian contingent had to necessarily reopen the old Srinagar – Leh trade route after retaking Dras and Kargil. In an ambitious plan, at a high altitude and in bitterly cold conditions, Gen. Thimayya realized the necessity for firepower to blast the Enemy at the Zojila heights failing which the operation would be unsuccessful. Astonishingly he ordered the deployment of a squadron of Stuart MK-VI tanks of the 7 Light Cavalry compelling the engineers to cut a path into the rocky terrain in less than three weeks to build an eight kilometre long track that could take the width and weight of the tanks. Owing to the precipitous climb, the tanks had to be dismantled and physically pushed up by the Jawans… to an altitude where tanks had never been used before.


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    Having successfully commissioned the tanks at this height, the assault began on November 1, 1948. The very appearance of the tanks utterly dampened the morale of the bewildered Pakistanis who either fled or were vanquished. Once Zojila was taken, the road to Kargil was reopened and Ladakh was safe. Ultimately, on November 24 Kargil was re-taken. Thus the unofficial 1st Indo-Pak War (and perhaps the longest and toughest of them all) ended in success owing to the bold, shrewd and relentless pursuit led by Gen. Thimayya. In the process, Gen. Thimayya emerged as the finest tactician among his contemporaries.



    Gen. Thimayya
     
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  3. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Gen Thimayya (Thimmy as he was known), did his schooling in Bishop Cottons, Bangalore. We Cottonians are so proud of him. We have awards in the school named after him and there is a coveted Gen Thimayya memorial lecture every year where distinguished personalities talk about various issues at hand.
     
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  4. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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  5. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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    In the movie about his life he should be played by David Niven.
     
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  6. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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    Very Good Docomentry On Tank Operation Over Zoli pass..

     
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  7. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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  8. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Yusuf,

    It is 'Timmy', from Tim.

    In those days, Indian officers had British nicknames.
     
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  9. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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    THE BATTLE FOR ZOJI LA
    L N SUBRAMANIAN


    Zoji La presented one of the most difficult terrains for the Indian Army. Srinagar was connected to Sonmarg by an 84 km one way fair weather road, with weak bridges unable to take heavy vehicles. The main bridges were in Wyle(29 km), Kangan (38km) and Gund (59 km). From Sonmarg to Baltal was a 14 km long track. Baltal was the junction for tracks from Srinagar, ZojiLa and Pahalgam. From here the track climbed steeply 2000 ft to Zoji La(11,578 ft). From the pass it continued on the same elevation with steep shoulders ranging to 16000 feet on both sides. Two nullahs flowed through this, the Bod Gumbhar Nar from west and Lokut Gumbhar Nar from the east. There is snow near these tracks even in summer. 3 km from Zoji La the path broadens into a flattish area called Gumri. A little away is Machoi from where the track descended into a large pastureland called Minamarg, at the end of which was Matayan village. 21 kms from Matayan was Dras (10,060 ft). Tall cliffs and ridges rising 5000 to 6000 feet above the tracks flanked the entire route. Dras was the coldest place in the country with winter temperatures reaching –50 degrees centigrade. To further complicate the situation the low level of oxygen caused problems to everyone except the locals.

    Situation in May 1948

    The situation in the Leh-Kargil area was shifting in favor of the Pakistanis. Reinforcement columns of 5 & 7 Kashmir Infantry Bns under Lt. Col. Kripal Singh on their way to Kargil were ambushed and destroyed. The State Force detachment at Kargil was overwhelmed on 10th May. Dras was defended by 2 platoons commanded by Capt. Kashmir Singh. They came under siege immediately. They were under orders to hold on and delay the inevitable. Meanwhile the Pakistanis had infiltrated into the Pindras area, 13 km from Dras and developed a firebase for the capture of Dras and the occupation of Zoji La thus paving the way for the entry into the valley. The only thing that stood between Zoji La and the Pakistanis was little more than a company of 5 Kashmir Infantry under Capt. Rachpal Singh of A Coy. This was the last unit of the column of Lt. Col. Kripal Singh sent to Kargil. They were waiting for porters and ponies to join their group when word of the collapse of Kargil came through. The troops under Capt. Rachpal consisted of 2 platoons A Coy, 1 platoon C Coy, 1 section 3 in mortars (2 nos.), 1 section MMGs (2 nos.) and some rear element troops. They had to stop the numerically superior Pakistanis whose morale was sky high after their recent successes. The Pakistanis were already in occupation of Gurez and Telel Valleys, not only threatening Srinagar from the north, but also in a position to imperil the line of communication from Srinagar to ZojiLa.

    1 Patiala Arrives

    Not yet aware of the fall of Kargil and encirclement of Dras, Srinagar Division issued orders on 13th May 1948, to 1 Patiala (the Rajindra Sikhs), just arrived from Jammu region, to move one company to Sonamarg for undertaking vigorous patrolling towards Dras and Pahalgam and to push up the 5 Kashmir Infantry personnel at Gumri and Dras to Kargil. Accordingly 'A' Coy under Major Joginder Singh, with a section of 3" Mortars left Srinagar on 13th May, but was held up at Kangan due to snow slides. It reached Sonamarg on 17th May 1948.

    Meanwhile as Srinagar Division became aware of the Pakistanis successful strikes at Kargil, Gurez and also of the threats to Leh, and its lines of communications from across Rajdhani Pass and ZojiLa, it issued detailed orders on 20th May 1948 to 1 Grenadiers and 1 Patiala for operations in Gurez and ZojiLa areas, respectively. The prediction was that having captured Kargil the enemy intended to cut the lines of communications between Sonamarg and Skardu, isolate the garrisons at Skardu, Parkutta, Tolti and Leh, and finally to liquidate them and infiltrate south into Sonamarg Valley, Pahalgam and Anantnag in order to intercept with lines of communications Jammu-Srinagar.

    1 Patiala was asked to submit plans by 25th May for recapture of Kargil. The Engineers were asked to make Srinagar - Sonamarg road fit for 3 ton traffic and also make weather diversions on all bridges and culverts on this road. Led by Lt. Col. Sukhdev Singh the unit reached Sonamarg and soon set about establishing itself. It carried out a detailed recce of ZojiLa and surrounding areas and established contact with 5 KI troops at Gumri who had come under the command of 1 Patiala. It was also realized by the Commanding Officer that to operate effectively under conditions of such low temperature, extra clothing and equipment were required, for which orders were placed. Initially, the men faced breathing problems while climbing up from Baltal. A regular acclimatization program was undertaken with climbing exercises in the morning and evening. The men were taught "Dos" and "Don'ts" of high altitude warfare as also how to live on the snow surface. These steps paid rich dividends to the unit in the months to come.

    A Coy and a section of 3" mortar reached ZojiLa on 21st May and took positions to occupy Gumri simultaneously. Telephone lines were repaired and communications established between Machoi, Gumri, Baltal and Sonamarg. Maj Shamsher was made commander of the ZojiLa Gumri Machoi sector. On occupation of Gumri by men of 1 Patiala, Lt. Col. Sukhdev Singh asked Capt. Rachpal Singh to concentrate at Dras. For this he was provided with 280 ponies, the ones which had brought Patiala Company to Gumri. Capt. Rachpal Singh started towards Dras on 22nd May but found the bridge, halfway between Machoi and Matayan, burnt. With the current too fast for the ponies to cross it, Capt. Rachpal Singh returned to Machoi and informed the CO of 1 Patiala accordingly.

    The First Encounter

    On 23rd May 1948, a platoon patrol consisting of 21 men under command of Jemadar Hardev Singh was sent to investigate the condition of the bridge reported damaged by 5 KI troops. At about 1130 hrs. when the patrol was nearing a hill feature (known as Island feature) about 500 yards beyond Machoi, astride the track, it came under heavy fire from the hillside. The Pakistanis were approximately Coy. strength and were firing on the patrol with 2 MMGs, four LMGs and 2" Mortars. Due to heavy snow all around, the troops could not take secure positions quickly and suffered heavy casualties. Jem. Hardev Singh tried to collect his men towards the hillside in the west, where he could keep the enemy engaged, and got hit twice in the process; he continued his efforts to organise the men till killed by a MMG burst. Lance Naik Chand Singh took over command and tried to search for cover. At this moment Sepoy Bachan Singh who had his knee shattered shouted to him, pointing to some rocks towards the river. Unable to move he provided covering fire as Chand Singh and his men moved to the rocks to get partial protection from the oncoming fire.

    The NCO with five men, including two wounded, kept the enemy at bay although the enemy made continuous efforts to get at our casualties, nearly a hundred yards from them. Amongst them the valiant Bachan Singh who had to crawl 300 yards to make it to cover. Chand Singh kept the battle going for over five and half hours against a force superior in arms at least, twenty times more in number. Of the patrol 8 were killed, including Jem. Hardev Singh and 3 wounded. Jem. Hardev Singh was awarded the MVC posthumously while L Nk Chand Singh and Sepoy Bachan Singh were decorated with Vr.C. in this action. With the patrol pinned down and having suffered a number of casualties, the only way to save further loss of lives and to provide treatment to the wounded lay in making an assault on the Island feature to dislodge the enemy from there. By 15.30 hrs. a force of four platoons led by Major Mohinder Singh,(two platoons each of 1 Patiala and 5 KI Coys), was formed to capture the hill feature and recover the casualties. At 17.30 hrs. the attack was launched with the support of two 3" Mortars and two MMGs. It was a frontal assault as a detour was not possible due to heavy snow and a steep climb.

    The objective was about a kilometer and half away from Start Line. At 19.00 hrs. the leading troops started climbing the feature and were subjected to withering automatic and mortar fires. Jem. Sant Singh commander of a leading platoon and L/Nk. Sajjan Singh section commander of one of the leading sections were instrumental in inspiring the men under their command to carry on towards the objective. When the light had almost faded and visibility reduced to about 50 metres, the attacking force went in for the final assault in the form of a "ferocious bayonet charge". The objective was captured by 20.15 hrs with enemy beating a hasty retreat, towards Matayan. Even after the feature was captured, snipers left behind by the defenders kept the engagement for a couple of hours more. With the battle over and night having fallen it was now imperative to locate the wounded as they would freeze to death. The first to be found was Jem. Hardev Singh, his body riddled with 40 bullets. 3 more men were found one of whom died due to frostbite. As the search area was widened they heard the order to fire and the sound of bolts sliding home. Sant Singh however quickly recognized the voice as that of Chand Singh and an unfortunate incident was prevented.

    The defenders suffered at least 50 casualties and left behind 21 dead bodies and some arms and ammunition. The dead appeared to be either Pathans or Gilgitis and were in uniform. Two of them, Sher Mohammad and Faqir Mohammad, were defectors from the State Force. Indian casualties during the entire day, including those of the morning patrol amounted to 17 killed and 10 wounded. Both actions provided, for the Indian troops, one MVC and six Vr.Cs. The string of awards itself is a testimony to the fierce encounter that took place during the entire day and evening, of 23rd May 1948. For the first time in the

    Northern Sector, right from beginning of November 1947, the Pakistanis had met more than their match and were decisively beaten. The Patialas also learnt some useful lessons. Patrols should move as widely dispersed as feasible. Soft snow beds should be avoided as these restrict movements. As far as possible, movement on snow should be carried out during early mornings when it is reasonably firm. At least 10 per cent of Mortars are not likely to burst on soft snow due to inadequate force of impact. For accurate firing, the base plate of mortars need to be put on firm ground, which is not available when the surface is covered with snow. To overcome this difficulty, few sand-filled bags should always be carried by the troops, to provide firm surface to the mortar base plate.

    After capturing the feature, it was manned by two platoons of 5 KI, as extension, of the defences of Machoi. 1 Patiala sent one officer, Lt. Sharma, to assist Capt. Rachpal Singh and he was put in charge of the 'Island feature' defences. With a section each of 3" Mortars and MMGs, Machoi and Island feature defences now formed a composite defended locality dominating the track and approach to ZojiLa.

    Consolidation

    With the Pakistanis having come in strength beyond Matayan and the bridge between Minamarg and Matayan destroyed, 1 Patiala could not concentrate at Machoi for the drive to Dras and beyond. It had to take into consideration the twin objectives of holding the ZojiLa and securing their vital line of communication. Had Srinagar Div pushed more troops through ZojiLa after the successful operation of 23rd May 1948, these additional forces, using Patiala positions as a firm base, could have exploited the advantage, joined the besieged garrison at Dras and made a bid for Kargil also. As no additional troops were made available in the ZojiLa area and 1 Patiala was already overstretched on the ground, it had no alternative but to take up defensive positions around and, as far as possible ahead of ZojiLa. Accordingly, Lt. Col. Sukhdev Singh issued detailed operational and administrative instructions on 27th May 1948 for deployment of troops under his command. Before the end of the month, his force had taken up the new positions as under:

    a. One platoon B Coy at Wyle Bridge (29 km).

    b. B Coy less one platoon and detachment of 3" Mortar at Kangan for protection of L of C from Ganderbal to Bridge at Km. 52, short of Gund.

    c. Road from km 52 to 69, Gund area, was being opened by the local police.

    d. C Coy with detachment 3" Mortar at Km. 80, with the task to protect Bridge at Km. 80 and open road from Km. 69 to 80, as also to patrol tracks converging on the bridge from north and south. One platoon of this Coy established a post at high ground in Ludarwas area, 3 Km. north-west of Sonamarg, with the task of protecting Sonamarg from Mortar fire and sniping from that area.

    e. Battalion Headquarters at Sonamarg.

    f. D Coy and detachment of 3" Mortar at Baltal to reinforce ZojiLa Coy. open the road between Sonamarg and Baltal and Baltal-ZojiLa. It was also to patrol the track running south towards Pahalgam.

    g. A Coy with detachment of 3" Mortar in general area Gumri with the task to dominate ZojiLa, establish two posts to cover both tracks converging from east and west, along Lokut Gumbur Nar and Bod Gumbur Nar, respectively, and to open the road between Gumri-ZojiLa and Gumri-Machoi. It was to patrol constantly in all directions.

    h. Coy 5 KI with Sec 3" Mortar and Sec MMG at Machoi with the task to establish a two platoon post at Island feature to undertake constant patrolling in all directions and to keep contact with the enemy towards Matayan without getting heavily involved.

    Double first line ammunition and full days ration was to be kept in reserve at all company locations. Two jeeps at Sonamarg and two 15 Cwt trucks at Kangan were placed to facilitate movement of men and stores. ADS was to move from Sonamarg to Baltal; one stretcher Jeep kept at Sonamarg and one ambulance at Kangan for evacuation of casualties.

    Thus 1 Patiala kept over 100 km L of C open, with vigorous patrolling, laying of ambushes and trying to inflict maximum casualties on the Pakistanis. During early June 1948 the Dras garrison under Capt. Kashmir Singh, made an abortive bid to break through enemy stranglehold during which he and a majority of his troops died. A few of the survivors managed to reach Machoi on 11th June 1948 and in the days following. The fall of Dras was thus confirmed. With Dras in the hands of the Pakistanis, Sri. Div instructions for offensive operations by 1 Patiala lost the main purpose. The best they could do was to hold the existing defensive line aggressively, extending upto about 5kms beyond Machoi.

    During the month of June 1948, defences were strengthened by establishing three new posts in the ZojiLa area. This was done to counter the bid by the Pakistanis to infiltrate into the defences. Constant and aggressive patrolling was carried out; information about enemy was collected through patrols, locals or coolies who had managed to escape and ambushes were extensively laid. For a week from 5 to 13 June stragglers from Lt. Col. Kripal Singh's relief column and survivors of the Dras garrison reached Sonamarg and Macho. A total of 5 officers and 167 ORs reached safely during this period and were sent to the State Army Headquarters, Srinagar.

    On 11th June 1948, Sri. Div. ordered 7 Cav to send all available armoured cars to Srinagar. Two troops consisting 5 armoured cars, of 'A' Squadron were detailed. Maj. Gen Thimaya along with Sqn.Commander Maj. Harmander Singh carried out recce from Srinagar to Kangan, and decided to place 2 cars at Wyle Bridge and 3 at Kangan, in support of the infantry. These armoured cars were useful in keeping the roads open and in case of attacks during day time. Their arrival strengthened the hands of the troops guarding the L of C. 1 Patiala had only 3 Mortars in the battalion and LMGs, but there were no MMGs. In the entire sector only 2 MMGs were available with Capt. Rachpal Singh's Company and these were sited in Machoi defences. The absence of MMGs was being felt, especially in view of increasing enemy activity. Accordingly No.2 platoon of W Coy. of 1 Mahar (Machine Gun) Battalion, under the Command of Jem. Bapu Pawar was attached to 1 Patiala on 24th June 1948. These weapons proved immensely useful to the defenders and raised their morale.

    B Coy 1 Patiala ex-Kangan was moved to Machoi area to relieve Coy 5 KI. The change over started on 24th June with a Coy less one platoon moving to Machoi and the same number, on relief, started for Kangan. The manoeuvre was completed on 26th June with the third platoon of B Coy fetching up and 5 KI troops taking over the Kangan sector. This move was made in two phases to ensure smooth change, proper briefing and familiarisation of both Coys. The defences of ZojiLa area were now manned by a more cohesive force of two companies of 1 Patiala. As enemy activity was progressively increasing around ZojiLa, the battalion headquarters was moved from Sonamarg to Baltal on 25th June 1948, to bring it nearer to the area of action.

    During first half of June 1948 a series of harassing raids took place against the Indian pickets. On 2nd June A Coy at ZojiLa exchanged places with D Coy from Baltal. During the fortnight that followed Sepoy Gajan Singh helped in beating back an attack by the Pakistanis on his post in ZojiLa on 8th June.

    About the middle of June, the survivors from Dras had reported, in their debriefing, of having seen about 500 Pakistanis near Dras and 300 more near Matayan. The Pakistanis had with them 3" Mortars, MMGs and LMGs with ample ammunition. Their attacks on the defensive positions were steadily increasing in intensity although every assault was repulsed. Post 5948 (Island feature) came under repeated attacks but held out successfully.

    In a major offensive against the Gumri position, on 18th June about 20 Pakistanis were killed and 30 wounded. The attack, by two companies, targeted a platoon post west of Gumri on the ridge overlooking the ZojiLa track and Bod Gumbur Nar nullah on either side. Under the cover of morning haze and snowfall the Pakistanis concentrated in the nullah and brought 3 MMGs within effective range of the post. The attack was supported by 3 MMGs and 6 LMGs. By 06.30 hrs. the attackers came within 300 meters of the post. Accurate and intense fire from automatic weapons resulted in the casualty of one third of the men of the post. Still the troops held on tenaciously. Performance of LNk Amar Singh is worthy of mention. He was LMG No.1 at a listening post 150 meters ahead of the main platoon position. He received serious injury on his head while his No.2 also lay wounded with his arm shattered. Bleeding profusely he kept continuous and accurate firing on the enemy hardly 150 meters away, defeating attempts to rush the post. Firing single shots and occasional bursts kept the enemy at bay for fifteen hours. He fired 11 of the 16 magazines still keeping 5 for the final enemy assault. For the gallant fight put up by him, LNk. Amar Singh was awarded MVC.

    The Pressure Intensifies

    After the attack of 18th June was repulsed, the Pakistanis continued their efforts to rush Indian positions and cut off the Machoi-ZojiLa link. On 20th June Pakistanis tried to infiltrate in between defensive positions but were repulsed. Next day post 5948 was attacked by 150 men with the support of two 3" Mortars and 6 LMGs. The attack was repulsed after four hours of tough fighting. Pakistanis suffered heavy casualties while the troops of 5 KI counted one killed and one wounded. Pony convoys between ZojiLa and Machoi were also fired upon and the line of communication was in danger of being snapped. To prevent outflanking of defences, on 21st June, a platoon (1ess one section) post was established at point 15,305, on the western side of ZojiLa and it was the highest Indian post in the region. This area came to be known as Chabutra as it was a flat piece of land, on an otherwise steep mountain rising towards the southwest from the Gumri basin. The JCO commanding this platoon had been asked to establish the post on the highest point of Chabutra. He had dug in about 300 meters short of the top saying that it was not possible to climb the peak. But, to the dismay of the Patialas and Maj. Shamsher, Commander of ZojiLa defenses, the Pakistanis occupied the top, few days later with one platoon and one MMG. It was a costly mistake, which enabled the Pakistanis to dominate an important segment of Patiala defences.

    The build up by the Pakistanis in the sector continued and parties of them were seen almost everyday, digging machine gun pits and climbing up the steep heights north of Machoi and Gumri to outflank Indian positions. The Pakistanis also stepped up their attacks on the defensive positions and maintained sustained fire on them. On 26th June about 7,000 rounds were fired at the Gumri posts and the next day another 9,000 bullets fell in and around it. On 27th June C.O. 1 Patiala informed Sri. Div. that Lines of Communication between ZojiLa and Machoi had become insecure for want of adequate troops. In yet another attempt to over run post 5,948, the Pakistanis launched a two platoon attack on one of its forward section posts on 29th June 1948 at 06.00 hrs. The attack was supported by 3 in Mortar and MMG. It was repulsed. Another assault was launched with about 150 men at 07.50 hrs Nk.Chet Singh was commander of this section post. Though vastly outnumbered and being almost two kms. away from their parent position, he and his men dared the Pakistanis to assault. After six hours of fruitless and costly effort, the Pakistanis withdrew suffering heavy casualties. The defenders suffered two ORS wounded of 1 Patiala and one OR wounded of 1 Mahar. Report of C.O. 1 Patiala dated 4th July 1948. The Mahar solider wounded in the attack was LNk. Aba Kiratkunde, who was No.1 of MMG detachment on post 5,948. He was giving MMG fire support to the post of Nk. Chet Singh and realized the importance of that post to the main position. He came to the rescue of this tiny picket with effective enfilade fire and in the process became target of special attention by the Pakistanis. His bunker was heavily fired upon, resulting in damaged lock of his gun. He dashed to another bunker, in full view of the hosfiles, to get replacement and got hit in the left forearm. In spite of heavy bleeding he continued manning his gun which provided critical support to Nk. Chet Singh's post.

    On 30th June D Coy of 2 (Para) Madras reached Baltal, as reinforcement and came under command 1 Patiala. Considering the pressure on ZojiLa defenses, this was too small a force to make any material difference in the fast deteriorating situation. On the front the need to prevent infiltration into the defenses was so urgent that CO 1 Patiala had no choice but to commit the Madras Company straight into action without any acclimatization, thereby further reducing the effectiveness of an already inadequate body of troops. By 3rd July 1948 the Madras Coy had established three new posts in Macho area and had suffered casualties of 2 ORs killed and 3 wounded.

    According to Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh, the strength of Pakistanis in that sector, by the end of June 1948 had increased to a battalion plus. The men mainly belonged to Gilgit Scouts with regular Pakistan army personnel manning the Mortars and MMGs. Brig. Sukhdev Singh agrees with assessment of Pakistanis strength. According to him there was one battalion of Gilgit Scouts and one company of regular troops of Pakistan Army, with a section of 3.7' Gun and section of 4.2' Mortars. The dispositions of the Gilgit Scout battalion appeared to be one company on Chabutra, company in the gun-positions and two

    companies in general area of Gumri-Machoi. In addition, one company of regular troops was likely positioned on Mukund Ridge. The Pakistanis also had at least one platoon of medium machine guns (MMGs). The guns and MMGs were manned Pakistani regulars. Much of the Pakistanis strength lay in the unusually large number of automatic weapons. These might have come into their hands from the relief columns of State Force.

    Due to heavy firing all along the LoC, the route became insecure and all maintenance work was undertaken during the night, from 2nd July onwards. The supply convoy of ponies bringing rations, ammunition and fuel to Gun Machoi and Island feature would do so only under the cover of darkness. The Pakistanis made yet another attempt on post 5948; during the morning of 1st July 1948 with a two-company attack supported by MMG and 3" Mortars. The attack was repulsed thanks to the heroism of Sepoy Zaila Singh who took over the LMG and continued firing even though mortally wounded. He was awarded the VrC posthumously. The Air Force also lent a helping hand by accurate attacks on Pakistanis positions near Gumri and Machoi.

    After making a number of unsuccessful assaults on post 5,948 and suffering heavy casualties, the Pakistanis changed their thrust and diverted attention towards Gumri defenses. A breach in this area would have cut off Machoi and also made it easier for them to make a bid for ZojiLa itself. Now, they had also the advantage of superior power of artillery.45 1 Patiala's strength in Gumri area total one company, supported by two 3" Mortars and one MMG. This company defended locality, known as post 5,244, was based on a cluster of six posts, the largest strength being a platoon less section at a post called Picquet No.1. This was located on the western side of the defences on the ridge leading to Chabutra. Fall of this post would have made rest of the Gumri defences untenable. It was against this post that the maximum intensity of Pakistanis' firepower and assault was directed on the morning of 3rd July 1948. The Pakistanis attack began at 07.00 hrs and was preceded by shelling. The assault force consisted of about two companies backed by 3" Mortars and MMGs. The attackers managed to reach upto 200 meters of the defences but were held there. Sepoy Hazura Singh, who was LMG No.1 in a section outpost, fired his weapon with utmost accuracy causing serious losses to the Pakistanis. The attackers then tried a detour. Hazura Singh crawled to another advantageous position, even though hit in the left shoulder, and continued holding the enemy under intense Mortar/MMG fire till he succumbed to his injuries.47 Due to stiff resistance put up by the defenders, Patialas mortar fire and air strike, the attack was successfully beaten back.

    After four hours lull and having reorganized themselves, the Pakistanis launched a fresh attack on the post. Simultaneously, concentrated gunfire was directed on the main Gumri position to knock out Patiala Mortars and also to prevent reinforcements from reaching the post. Against this overwhelming assault the forward outpost appeared to be in imminent danger of being over run. Under Jem. Sampooran Singh's leadership the forward outpost hit back foiling another determined attempt to capture the post. Sepoy Hazira Singh the No 1 on the LMG engaged the enemy with such accuracy that the attack stalled at 200 yards. The enemy then tried an outflanking move on the left. Hazira Singh ran quickly to the other side and continued firing till he was killed. Havildar Hardial Singh was hit by a burst of fire and fell over the cliff and was presumed dead. Later in the day Major Shamsher Singh observed some movement and asked the porter Mohd Ismail to check it out. He went and under enemy fire retrieved the severely wounded Hazira Singh.

    In this biggest attempt so far to break through the Patiala defences, the Pakistanis fired 156 shells of 3.7.'/4.2" guns and 3' Mortars and over 20,000 rounds and suffered about 90 killed/wounded. 1 Patiala lost one soldier and three were wounded. Another important feature of the day's action was the feat of Nk. Pritam Singh, in charge of a signal detachment, who made valiant efforts to keep the communications open under very trying conditions. When shelling cut telephone lines, he moved out to repair the lines unmindful of shells bursting all round him, and restored the telephone connection. He repeated this feat twice again in the afternoon. Thus for the defenders of Gumri the day was saved by the grit and determination of the men of Picquet No.1.

    During the next three days, i.e. 4th to 6th July 1948, the Pakistanis made one determined attack on each day, apart from the almost continuous shelling of Gumri defences. Each attack, mounted by 2 - 3 company strength was beaten back by this picket, inflicting over 70 casualties on the Pakistanis; keeping the Gumri defences intact and communications through.

    Thus from 18th June to 6th July 1948, for 19 days, the Pakistanis made continuous and sustained attempts to break through or wrap up the defences of 1 Patiala, but the entire ZojiLa - Machoi area held on against very heavy odds. The Pakistanis suffered heavy casualties numbering around 200 killed or wounded. But the men of 1 Patiala had also been under tremendous pressure They were engaged in combat almost continuously during this period and were exposed to intensive shelling and firing. Apart from the pressure exerted by the Pakistanis, and consequent attrition amongst the ranks of the defenders, the severity of the elements was also making adverse impact. Operating at heights ranging upto 15,000 feet without getting a hot meal or a wash, made things even more difficult. The men of 1 Patiala were getting tired and weary. Fresh troops were required for counter attacks on the Pakistanis positions, if the defences of ZojiLa were to be stabilized in the existing positions. However, Gen. Thimaya's hands were full with operations in other sectors and no additional troops could be made available for the ZojiLa area.

    Reorganization of Zoji La Defences

    Under these circumstances Maj. Gen. Thimaya approved the plans of C.O. 1 Patiala for reorganizing his defences in a more compact defensive position based on the ZojiLa defile. The orders of Sri. Div. were received by 1 Patiala on 6th July, authorizing it to withdraw forward pickets from Machoi and Gumri, hold the defence line along ZojiLa, patrol forward of ZojiLa base, and guard against any possible enemy infiltration from ZojiLa to Sonamarg. All stores, foodgrains and equipment was also to be brought back.

    The withdrawal of troops from Machoi and Gumri, who were in contact with the enemy, was an operation, which required careful planning and competent execution. Stealth and deception had to be resorted to for keeping the Pakistanis ignorant about the move rearward. In addition, 1000 mds. of load had to be back loaded. Since all movements were possible only in darkness and ponies took five hours to cover the distance, only one trip at night could take place. Two to three hundred ponies were used for three nights to get the stores back. This done, a feint attack with mortar fire was mounted on 6th July at 20.30 hrs. Thus troops from Machoi and Gumri were withdrawn tactically during the night of 6/7 July 1948,abandoning with regret the posts where they had fought so long and so well against tremendous odds.

    With the advantage of hindsight and considering the tremendous effort that was required later to dislodge the Pakistanis from the heights around ZojiLa, it can be safely argued that the Gumri-Machoi defences should not have been abandoned under any circumstances. In fact, enough force should have been made available for this sector to strengthen the Patiala defences and to deal effectively with the increasing build up by the Pakistanis. If, on the other hand, the fact of non-availability of additional troops is taken as a determinant factor then the decision to close the defensive line cannot be faulted on tactical grounds. The step was based on sound military judgement and in consonance with the primary task given to 1 Patiala, i.e. to hold the ZojiLa and to safeguard L of C from Srinagar to Baltal.

    The planning of new defensive position, by CO 1 Patiala, was based on the twin requirement of holding ZojiLa in strength and to remove all threat to the line of communication west of ZojiLa. The force comprising 1 Patiala, Coy plus 5 KI and platoon MMG of 1 Mahar, under the command of CO 1 Patiala was sited by him in a defensive formation based on23 posts, ranging in strength from 4 men to a platoon plus one section57 and located at heights varying from 5,468 ft. to 15,854 ft. 5 KI troops, with section 3" Mortar, section MMG and headquarters at Kangan, were guarding the road from Ganderbal to Gund and beyond. Apart from company headquarters, it had manned six pickets, five of which were guarding important bridges. These troops were also helped in patrolling and defensive tasks by the armoured cars already located at Kangan and at Wyle bridges. However, the armoured cars moved back to their headquarters on 30th July 1948, may be because after the recapture of Gurez by Indian forces, threat to this portion of L of C had reduced.

    C Company of 1 Patiala had its headquarters at Sonamarg and with the support of one MMG and one 3" Mortar, it was tactically deployed on ridges around Sonamarg in six posts dominating heights and approaches in Sonamarg-Baltal area. These posts were located at heights varying from 9,000 ft. to 13,000 ft. With the battalion headquarters and one platoon located at Baltal, the main defence plan of ZojiLa was based on A Coy, B Coy and D Coy less one platoon; supported by four 3" Mortars and 3 MMGs. This force was deployed in 11 posts ranging in strength from one section to platoon plus one section located at heights from 12,500 ft. upwards, three of these being higher than 15,000 ft. ZojiLa, as has already been described, is unlike most of the mountain passes where on either side of the pass are steep descents. In case of ZojiLa, the track rose up sharply along Zojibal-Nar-Nuilah and then flattened out for over two kilometres short of the pass. From ZojiLa it continued eastward to Dras in a slope that was hardly perceptible. on both sides of this almost level track rose, snow capped mountain walls, Mukund Ridge in the east and Chabutra towards the west. Due to glacial heights and ruggedness of the mountainous terrain any approach to Baltal from Mukund Ridge could be made only through the western slopes, that is, between ridge line and the track. From the Chabutra side too one approach lay between the track and the ridge line. However, by traversing west along comparatively easier watershed, a body of troops could by-pass ZojiLa-Baltal and strike at the L of C around Sonamarg. Therefore, the Patiala defences in the ZojiLa sector were aimed at denying all the three approaches to the Pakistanis and also at holding heights on either side of the ZojiLa defile.

    Consequently, A Coy was deployed in a wide semicircle westward of the track in four pickets, Nos.1, 3, 4 and 5. The extremities of these semicircles were overlooking the track at the mouth of the pass and were over two kms. short of it. The other two posts, at heights of 15,305 ft. and 14,500 ft. were denying any incursions from Chabutra side. The eastern side was held by B Coy manning pickets Nos. 6, 8 and 9. These three posts effectively blocked any movement from the Mukund Ridge direction down the ZojiLa track or into the Sind Valley. Two pickets of D Coy. No.2 and 11 at the height of 14,708 ft. and 13,000 ft. respectively, were sited to block the western approach from Chabutra. Thus the main ZojiLa defences were arranged in the shape of two semicircles and one extended line. However, also neutralize any wide outflanking movement by Pakistanis aimed at threatening Baltal, one picket of B Coy (No.7 at a height of 15,200 ft.) and one of D Coy (No.10 at 12,800 ft.) were located in the south-east and south respectively of Baltal. In these new almost impregnable positions, 1 Patiala could ensure the safety of the pass and a solid base for launching future operations.

    The Stalemate

    That this new defensive scheme was effective as well as tactically sound, was proved by subsequent events. The Pakistanis were unable to make any breach in this defended locality and had to contend with harassing fire. On their part, the Patialas improved their defences, carried out aggressive patrolling and laid ambushes during the rest of July 1948. Their MMGs and 3" Mortars also kept up sustained pressure on Pakistanis' positions and engaged opportunity targets. With the arrival of 30 Field Battery (Fd. Bty) of 11 Field Regiment in Baltal on 15th July, its guns provided a befitting reply to shelling by the Pakistanis. It also raised the moral the defenders of ZojiLa.

    In this sector certain other related developments took place during the month of July. D Coy 2 (Para) Madras moved from Baltal to join its unit. The troops of this comp stayed with 1 Patiala for less than two weeks. Due to factors beyond their control, increased pressure of the Pakistanis lack of acclimatization, their contribution was not significant Communications in the area also improved. A jeepable track between Sonamarg and Baltal was completed by the end of June and on 5th July 1948 the Srinagar - Sonamarg road opened to all vehicular traffic, including 3-ton trucks armoured cars. Improvement of the

    Baltal-ZojiLa track to make it jeepable was taken in hand simultaneously. In the last week of July 5 KI troops minus one platoon withdrawn by Sri. Div. and sent to Shopian. This was done probably in view of the reduced threat to the L of C Srinagar-Gund sector from Gurez Valley, which had been recaptured by Indian troops.

    On 10th July, 77 Para Brigade was made responsible operations in Gurez and ZojiLa sector with task to secure Gurez and prevent enemy infiltration towards Bandipur; secure ZojiLa pass and prevent enemy infiltration west. Thus 1 Patiala ceased to be directly under the command Sri. Div., and its operational control passed on to HQ 77 Brigade, then being commanded by Brig. Palat Sankaran Nair, based at Fatehpur near Bandipur. On 30th July 1 there was a change in command with Brig. Kanhaiya Lal Atal taking over 77 Para Bngade. Brig. Atal paid the Patialas a visit on the very next day to get a feel of the terrain and the operational situation.

    However, the stalemate continued during the month August 1948 also, with 1 Patiala and Pakistanis facing each other in a stand-off position. A combination of aggressive patrolling and small scale operations during the night by the battalion saw the imposition of its will in the area and retaining the initiative during this period between July-August 48 till the next offensive was planned.

    Elsewhere in the Northern Sector, Skardu capitulated on 14th August 1948 after a long and heroic struggle lasting over six months under the inspired leadership of Lt. Col. Thapa. The troops and civilians suffered immensely at the hands of Pakistanis who let loose a mayhem of murder, rape and torture. In the Leh sector, the situation had stabilized for sometime with the arrival, by air, of a company of 2/4 Gorkha Rifles. On 26th June 1948 about 600 Pakistanis attacked forward troops near Dumkhar, in the Indus Valley downstream of Khaltsi. The Pakistanis advance towards Leh was halted near Hemis Shukpa with the arrival of D Coy of 2/8 GR at Leh on 5th July. (This company under Major Hari Chand had marched on foot from Manali to Leh.) This defensive position was also overrun by the Pakistanis on 10th July, threatening Leh once again. By 19th July the main body of Pakistanis was at Nimu, 30 kms. away, with some forward elements at Taru barely 13 kms. far from Leh by air. To make matters worse the ammunition stock of Indian troops was running low. Urgent messages by Maj. Prithi Chand to Sri. Div. for additional force and ammunition produced no results as air sorties could not be carried out due to bad weather. For one month the stand off between two sides continued at the Nimu-Taru line. Leh was once again saved by the inability of the Pakistanis to make a final determined push and the doughty resistance put up by Indian troops.

    2/8 GR, located at Ferozepur was ordered to move to Leh by the middle of August 1948. Its D Company was already at Leh. The Commanding Officer Lt. Col. H S. Parab and a few men were flown to Leh on 23rd August and he took over the command of troops and control of the Civil administration on the same day. His orders were to "defend Leh to the last man - last round". Major Prithvi Chand became commander of 7th J&K Militia. Airlift of A Company of 2/8 GR was completed by 30th August. The other two companies, B and C, reached Leh, on foot via Manali, on 18th September 1948. Leh was finally out of danger and Indian troops were in a position to take offensive action against the Pakistanis. However, to undertake any meaningful operations against Pakistanis and make Leh permanently secure, link up with Srinagar was imperative. For this a decisive action at ZojiLa followed by the recapture of Dras and Kargil were pre-requisites. The safety and security of Leh could be assured only by the success of these operations. Serious effort in this direction were already afoot, with planning and preparations being finalized, in the second half of August, for a breakthrough at ZojiLa.

    BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR  Volume 2 (6)
     
  10. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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  11. Dinesh_Kumar

    Dinesh_Kumar Regular Member

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    Dada,

    below pic is General Cariappa,then COAS, not General Thimmaiah, then head of Western Command, I think.

    Both fine gentlemen are well regarded in Coorg even today.

    Incidentally, both are from the same family (clan.)

     
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  12. Tolaha

    Tolaha Senior Member Senior Member

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    Going by your name @kushalappa, you probably would be having lot more info about these gentlemen that a lot of us! Do share any interesting information on Gen. Thimayya in this thread, if possible.
     
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  13. TrueSpirit

    TrueSpirit Senior Member Senior Member

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    Manali-Leh on foot :shocked:

    These IA men were indeed superhuman's for pulling off such an almost impossible feat. Hat off & Big Salute to our brave men.
     
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  14. Dinesh_Kumar

    Dinesh_Kumar Regular Member

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    All the interesting info on the General is on the internet. Within Coorg community, there is only boring and trivial information like

    i) which clan his children married into and what they are doing now... (don't get me wrong, this info is highly regarded within the community, and talked about for years as conversation topic but here it may have little value here on DFI)

    ii) His interactions with various ministers and politicians (used to stand his ground, i understand, from what I've heard), etc.

    iii) One interesting snippet is his regiment (5 Kumaon) put up tough , all out, last man standing type of fight against Chinese, and may have been a factor for the Chinese withdrawal after ceasefire. I assume Rezang La Battle (with 13 Kumaon), and our gratitude goes to the leadership on the ground at that time, Major Shaitan Singh and Brig Raina.
     
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  15. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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    [​IMG]



    Stuart light tanks at Zojila Pass at twelve thousand feet above sea level, A nice documentary on it ..
     
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  16. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

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    More Pictures from the conflict >>

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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