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Remembering Battle of Shalateng: The decisive blow that saved Srinagar from Pakistan in 1947-48 war

The battle had the most credible impact on the current boundaries between India and Pakistan.

Battle of Shalateng saved Srinagar from Pakistan Army in 1947-48 war
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Srinagar, First Published Nov 6, 2021, 9:58 PM IST
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A re-enactment of the Battle of Shalateng, one of the most decisive battles of the Indo-Pak War of 1947-48, will be held at Sarifabad in Srinagar on Sunday to commemorate the 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'. The battle had the most credible impact on the current boundaries between India and Pakistan. During the 1947-48 war, this battle changed the face of war and saved Srinagar from the onslaught of the Pakistan Army. In this war, the Army along with locals fought the battle ferociously and threw the enemy out.  

Battle of Shalateng

On the night of October 20-21, 1947, over 5,000 Pakistani Army soldiers with Kabailis (tribesmen) intruded into the Indian territory and seized the bridge spanning the Neelam river on the Hazara road that connects Muzaffarabad to Abbottabad (now in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), and occupied Muzaffarabad by October 21. The enemy then turned towards Uri. 

Codenamed as 'Operation Gulmarg', the Pakistani troops who were in civil clothes were advancing further deep into Indian territory. During this moment, the formal war between the two nations began, all at the behest of Pakistan. On October 26, resuming their advance, the Pakistani Army captured Baramulla, 56 km from Srinagar. Indian Army dropped its 1st Battalion of the Sikh Regiment on October 27 to save Jammu & Kashmir from the Pakistani invaders, who were in Baramulla.

On another front, Kashmir State Forces Chief of Staff Brigadier Rajinder Singh had been engaging the Pakistani Army at Uri with his 200 soldiers. The fight was taking place at a distance of 101km from Srinagar in Uri.

Brigadier Singh led from the front and engaged the Pakistani Army for two valuable days, but unfortunately, he was killed in the ensuing battle on October 24 and was awarded the Mahavir Chakra posthumously -- the first recipient of this award of Independent India. 

In the early hours of November 7, the enemy contacted the forward defended localities of 1 Sikh position. Thus commenced the Battle of Shalateng. 

The Indian troops were comprised of personnel drawn from many regiments. These included 1 Sikh (led by then newly-promoted Commanding Officer Major Sampuran Bachan Singh), 1 Kumaon (commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh), 4 Kumaon, 1 Punjab (led by Lieutenant Colonel GIS Khullar), 6 Rajputana Rifles, 2 Dogra, 37 Field Battery and 7 Light Cavalry (under Major Inder Rikhye). 1 Patiala Infantry (Rajindra Sikhs) and a troop of Patiala State Mountain Guns were also engaged in this battle. 

The plan was to encircle the enemy completely with a series of quick moves from Shalateng in the extreme north-west to the rifle range area in the south-east and to the Hokar Sar area in the south, and thereby to completely annihilate them. A company of 4 Kumaon launched itself on the enemy as the right flanking company of the 1 Sikh regiment. Brigadier LP Sen has the final order for the attack. 

The armoured troop commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Noel David slammed the enemy from the rear while the frontal attack was carried out by 1 Sikh. Suddenly, 1 Kumaon commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh burst in on the enemy right flank, with automatic weapons blazing, as they were fired from the hip, and with bayonets flashing. The enemy was stunned and sent them helter-skelter. 

Orders were given to 1 Sikh to attack. Backing them up from the right flank was 4 Kumaon. An immediate request to the Indian Air Force to strike the fleeing enemy was answered with some telling blows. The aerial attack obliterated the enemy's morale and chased them beyond Baramulla and Uri. The battle of Shalateng was one in 12 hours. It was a major disaster for the Pakistani Army. This was a devastating blow for the Pakistani Army, which left behind hundreds dead and many wounded. 

Legend of Sherwani

There is an untold story of patriotism and extraordinary valour of 19-year-old Mohd Maqbool Sherwani, who single-handedly thwarted the advance of thousands of invaders and gave valuable time to the Indian Army to land in Srinagar. 

Pakistani soldiers had stormed Baramulla on October 22 and were planning to advance to Srinagar. Sherwani went around on his bicycle, misguiding the enemy into believing that they should halt their advance and fortify as the Indian Army had reached the outskirts of Baramulla. Sherwani's brave act gave the Army precious time to prepare for the Battle of Shalateng. The enemy later shot him dead when they came to know that the Indian Army was nowhere near Baramulla.

The 1 Sikh regiment landed at Srinagar Airport on October 27, 1947, with its Battalion Headquarters and two companies. On landing, Lieutenant Colonel DR Rai took a bold decision and dashed into the invaders' column at Baramulla. He took one of the two companies to battle.

The enemy was well-organised, equipped with machine guns and mortars. Lieutenant Colonel DR Rai decided to fall back and occupy the area around Pattan, halfway between Srinagar and Baramulla. All along, he led from the front to ensure that all his troopers had fallen back safely. At this juncture, a sniper's bullet wounded him. He succumbed to his injuries but succeeded in halting the enemy advance. Meanwhile, the 161 Brigade Headquarters under Brigadier LP Sen, had reached Srinagar and taken over command of the forces there.

I shall not withdraw an inch

On November 3, Major Somnath Sharma's company of 4 Kumaon regiment went on a fighting patrol to Badgam. The company encountered 500-700 strong enemy forces, which was using 3 inch and 2-inch mortars. The exchange of fire lasted for over six hours. 

Despite wearing a cast on his arm due to a fracture, Major Sharma dealt heavy losses to the enemy. His last radio message to Brigade Commander was that enemy forces were less than 50 yards from them. He also informed that they were heavily outnumbered and under intense attack. "I shall not withdraw an inch..." were Major Sharma's last words before a loud crash of a bursting mortar shell abruptly ended the transmission. He was awarded the first Param Vir Chakra of the country and late Sepoy Dewan Singh was awarded Mahavir Chakra posthumously. In the battle of Badgam, Major Sharma, one Junior Commissioned Officer and many other ranks of the 4 Kumaon regiment were martyred.

On November 5, Major General Kulwant Singh landed in Srinagar and established the Jammu and Kashmir headquarters. Major Inder Rikhye led a squadron of 7 Cavalry's armoured cars conducted a perilous journey from Ambala via Jammu and the 9,000 feet high Banihal Pass. Along the way, they negotiated rickety bridges.

Also Read 

Kargil Vijay Diwas: Enemy firepower couldn't deter the medics on the frontlines

The Ghatak platoon captain who scaled a rock wall and gave Pakistan a bloody nose

 

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