A stopover of strategic and economic importance on the Mughal Road to Kashmir over 400 years ago, the history of Rajouri needs more attention as the town and the roads leading to it gain ascendancy on the fresh political, economic, cultural and security framework.
One of the stories of Rajouri is about how it fell to Pakistan and how a soldier, General Zorawar Singh, travelling all the way from Ahmednagar, via Jallandhar, fought valorous battle to reclaim this land of the kings. For six months after accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, Rajouri was with Pakistani forces and tribesmen. These six months were of an everyday war till Rajouri was reclaimed on April 13, the day of Baisakhi, in 1948.
Since then the Baisakhi Day is also celebrated as Vijay Diwas or Rajouri Day. Two senior citizens of the town, Kuldeep Raj Gupta, now a BJP leader, and Choudhary Gulzar Ahmed, a former politician, are accorded a special importance on the occasion. They not only survived the 1947-48 onslaughts to save the town for its people but also have been witness the seven-decade long journey of Rajouri.
In 1947, the misery of Rajouri town started with the desertion of Colonel Rahmat Ullah Khan from the forces of Maharaja Hari Singh. He became the king-pin of the rebels who revolted against the State Government in 1947 in Rajouri area. In 1947 when the country was divided into two nations, i.e. India and Pakistan, immediately after 14th August, 1947, the people across the border of J&K State started talking about jihad for Kashmir and Pakistan started trying to spread large scale violence in the State. At that time, Colonel Rehmat Ullah was posted at Jhangar and commanding 9 JAK Co. which was under the overall command of Brigadier Chattar Singh who was stationed at Mirpur.
In the month of October, 1947, disturbances started in Sensa area of Mirpur District and the area was taken over by the rebels. Brigadier Chattar Singh of Mirpur Brigade ordered Colonel Rehmat Ullah to move from Jhangar for the re-capturing of Sensa. He along with his company immediately rushed for the help of Sensa on 12th of October, 1947 but was engaged by the rebels at Juna. Brigadier Chattar Singh then deployed 3rd JAK for the help of Colonel Rehmat Ullah under the command of Maj. Nasar Ullah. When Maj. Nasar Ullah reached Juna and met Captain Rehmat Ullah at this very place, both the officers were motivated by some rebels. They came under the influence of rebels and both the officers along with JCOs and some others revolted against their own forces. They killed the Gurkha sepoys of their own companies at Juna and moved towards Throachi Fort which was 22 miles from Jhangar and was held by the Gurkhas under the command of Captain Raghbir Singh Thapa. Col Rehmat Ullah organised all the deserters of Maharaja’s forces and moved towards Rajouri and reached Chhachhera on 28th of October, 1947. Since Colonel Rehmat Ullah was working in Maharaja’s force and knowing that the defense of Rajouri was very weak he therefore, started building pressure on the town.
In the meantime, two Tehsils of Poonch Principality had gone under the control of rebels under the leadership of Sardar Ibrahim Khan had declared the formation of so called Azad Kashmir Government on 26th of October, 1947 at Palandri, a Tehsil of Poonch Principality. When Sardar Ibrahim came to know about the desertion of Colonel RehmatUllah and his plan to capture Rajouri, he dispatched his contingent of rebels under the command of Sakhi Diler who joined Captain Rehmat Ullah at Chhachhera in the last week of October, 1947.
In the first week of November, 1947, Captain Rehmat Ullah sent a message to Tehsildar Rajouri Pandit Harji Lal for surrender. Pt. Harji Lal without taking the citizens in confidence, left during the night hours of 8th November along with Dogra forces and escaped. When the citizens of Rajouri came to know on 9th morning about the escape of Pt. Harji Lal, they got discouraged even when they had decided to fight against the rebels. In the meantime, a prominent advocate and a seasoned citizen of Rajouri Narsingh Dass Kalla sent a message for negotiation to Captain Rehmat Ullah through Mirza Faqir Mohammad who was the President of Muslim Conference at that time in Rajouri town. Narsingh Dass Kalla tried his best to avoid the bloodshed by mediation and negotiation. He involved prominent Muslim leaders also but Captain Rehmat Ullah and Sakhi Diler turned down his request of negotiation. In these circumstances, Captain Rehmat Ullah on 9 November, 1947 laid the seize of Rajouri and started firing on the town from all sides. The Gurkha platoon and some volunteers from the city started retaliating. However, up to 10 November, 1947, all the Gurkha Jawans and majority of the volunteers got killed. In the meantime, the citizens of Rajouri city were harassed and demoralized due to continuous firing from all sides. When they thought that it is not possible for them to face the rebels and defend the town, then on the request of young ladies, the prominent citizen Dina Nath Kalla distributed poison among them who took poison and died on the spot.
In these circumstances, on 11th of November, 1947, the rebels under the command of Sakhi Diler and Captain Rehmat Ullah entered the city. They got the city evacuated and gathered the citizens near the present Air Field. The prominent local Muslims like Maulvi Wali Shah, Mufti Azam Pahar and Maulvi Salah Mohammad apprehended that the rebels will kill the innocent citizens, requested Sakhi Diler that these minorities are now under their shelter, they may not be killed. But Sakhi Diler and Colonel Rehmat Ullah turned down their suggestions and on12th November, 1947, they killed all the young members of the families brutally and cold bloodily by leaving the women, children’s and old persons. It is said that people ranging from 3000 to 7000 were killed by the rebels on 12th November, 1947.
After slaughtering all young persons, Colonel Rehmat Ullah and Sakhi Diler suddan entered the town on 13th of November, 1947 and conducted the meetings with the prominent persons of the area. After deliberations, Colonel Rehmat Ullah nominated a prominent local leader belonging to Jaral dynasty Mirza Mohd Hamad Hssain of Behrote as the ruler of Rajouri and directed him to establish his Administration.
Mirza Mohammad Hussain who was MLA of Praja Sabha from Rajouri and very influential person of Rajouri declared his administration immediately after the capture of Rajouri by deserters. In this manner Mirza Mohammad Hussain became the ruler of the whole Rajouri area including Darhal, Budhal, Thana, ManjaKote etc. on the other hand another administration under the name of ‘Azad Kashmir’ had already come into existence at Palandri in Poonch principality on 25 of October 1947 under the leadership of Sardar Ibrahim Khan sitting MLA of Praja Sabha.
Both Mirza Mohammad Hussain and Sardar Ibrahim Khan were Sitting MLAs of Praja Sabha of Maharaja Hari Singh, both were having strong backing of Jaral and Sudan tribes respectively. Therefore, none of them was willing to work under the administration of other because there was a rivalry between them. Mirza Mohammad Hussain was running his Government with the support of deserters of Maharaja forces mostly belonging to Jaral families but Sardar Ibrahim Khan was having the backing of about 60000 ex service men of second world war along with the backing of Pakistan Government. In these circumstances when Sardar Ibrahim Khan posted civil officers from Mirpur for Rajouri, Mirza Mohd Hussain refused to accept these officers in his territory and compelled them to return on the plea that he is the real ruler of ‘Azad Area’ and has nothing to do with the administration of Ibrahim Khan. However, Mirza Mohd Hussain apart from his Razakar force also allowed Pakistani forces in his territory to defend the area under his occupation.
In this manner the whole of Pir Panchal region including Bhimbar, Mirpur, Rajouri, Kotli, Mendhar, Thanamandi, Darhal, Budha, Surankote, Bagh, Rawlakote up to Muzaffarabad except besieged Poonch town and Nowshera area was under the control of Rebels Poonch, deserters of state.
This was the time when in the month of Oct, Nov 1948 Indian forces after vacating the Kashmir valley from the raiders planned a two side operation to capture those areas which were under the occupation of Pakistan Sponsored forces in Pir Panchal region of Jammu Province.
The Indian forces captured Jhangar on 15th March, 1948 under the command of Brigadier Mohammad Usman Khan. After securing Jhangar Gen. Kulwant Singh planned an offensive and started advance towards Rajouri. The offensive was well planned in which Gen. Kariappa was also involved and advance was started on 8th of April 1948 from Nowshera side by assaulting Barwali Hill which was captured by the Dogras on the same day. With the capture of Barwali Hill, they were now in a position to move towards Chingus along with Tanks. Chingus was the strong hold of Pakistan sponsored forces but they could not face the Indian offensive and vacated the area after small resistance. Therefore Chingus was captured on 10th of April, 1948. Then the offensive was planned for Rajouri under the command of Brigadier Yadunath Singh. After the capture of Chingus, the enemy was on the run. The advance of Indian forces continued and on the evening of 12th of April 1948, Rajouri city was stormed and captured after hand to hand fighting. This operation cost the enemies approximately 500 dead and it was the biggest success for the Indians forces. The capture of Rajouri town and Poonch town was the biggest success in the south of PIr Panchal region during the battle of 1947-48 in which 250 Kms long belt from Nowshera up to Poonch was liberated and the whole area of Budhal, Thanamandi, Manjakote, Rajouri, Surankote, Mandi, Mendhar and Poonch was liberated. Therefore, every year Vijay Diwas is organized at Rajouri on 13 April and Link up day Poonch is celebrated on 21 November to recall the memories of Martyrs.
Remembering Gen Zorawar Singh: The Military history of Rajouri Operation
Known to many as Zoru, George or Zorawar, K. Sorawar Singh was born in Jaipur in 1920, the son of Major General Bhairon Singh, an officer in the Jaipur State Forces who was well known for his dashing character and famous among other things for being a nine handicap polo player. Zorawar was educated at the famous Royal Indian Military College (RIMC) and in due course entered the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun where he was to prove to be an outstanding cadet, earning the Sword of Honour. After passing out he was to be commissioned in 1941 into the 16th Light Cavalry, but a desire to involved in action against the enemy led to a transfer from this home service unit to the Central India Horse in 1944.
After the long journey to Italy, Zorawar was made 2-in-C to ‘B’ Squadron under Major (later Lt. Col.) Gordon Laverick. By 05 April 1944, after a period of intensive training in the south of Italy, the CIH was in contact with the Germans on the Lanciano front, just north of the River Sangro and about 20 miles inland from the Adriatic coast. The regiment was assigned to serve as the Reconnaissance Corps unit for the famous 4th Indian Division carrying out scouting and patrol duties for that Division on its new front, and it was whilst performing those tasks that Zorawar’s thirst for action was for the first time to be met.
On the 3rd of August, Zorawar lead a combined patrol of men from his own and another Squadron, within the Regiment, out towards Casale Vecchia north-west of Arezzo. The area lay between the two frontlines and the purpose of the operation was to locate the German frontline and deal with any patrolling Germans it encountered. Indeed this was the result of the patrol a firefight with an enemy reconnaissance force which left two of the enemy dead and three taken prisoner. For his dashing leadership during this action, Zorawar was awarded the Military Cross.
At the end of October 1944, the 4th Indian Division found itself withdrawn from the Italian campaign and dispatched to Greece to fill a vacuum left there by the withdrawal of German forces. Since it had been committed to battle in 1940 the Central India Horse had seen service in the Western Desert, North Africa, Eritrea, Persia and Italy. Greece was to prove a quieter posting but Zorawar was to make another – more peaceful – conquest, meeting and falling in love with Maria Trichipolous, a beautiful and talented Greek lady who later became his wife.
In February 1946, the CIH returned to India and well earned leave. Re-assembled at Ahmednagar in West Central India, they re-equipped with the Stuart Mk.VI light tanks. It would be up to regiment’s youngest ever commandant, the now Lt. Col. Zorawar Singh, to show how mobile and flexible these well-tried little tanks could be in the testing conditions of the Indian subcontinent; his opportunity was not long in coming.
On 18 August 1947, ‘B’ Squadron, CIH, moved out of Ahmednagar en route to Jalandhar in northern India, a journey of 1100 miles which was covered in 7 days despite heavy monsoon conditions. The tanks moved by rail, the road party in wheeled soft skinned vehicles. The level of mob violence it encountered indicated to the squadron that it stood right in the middle of the Punjab disturbances, its role being to quell riots and to protect columns of refugees leaving and arriving in India and to guard Hindu villages from mobs ranging from 5000 to 10,000 strong.
This duty, the CIH carried out without preference or prejudice towards either Hindu or Muslim ensuring that as many people as possible could remain secure in their own homes or travel safely towards or out of the new state of Pakistan.
By April 1948, the regiment had been concentrated in the Naushera region under the 19th Infantry Brigade, the unit responsible for operational commitments in the Jammu area including Poonch. After an insurrection had been attempted by local tribesmen, (supported by large numbers of Pushtuns from the NWFP), Pakistani forces had crossed into Jammu & Kashmir attempting to seize those areas from Indian control. And it was to be here during the operations to recapture Rajauri, an important place held by strong Pakistani forces, that the extraordinary ability of Zorawar as a dashing cavalry commander came to the fore.
Some 28 miles of wild rugged terrain connected Naushera with Rajauri, climbing from a hot dry plain about 1500 feet above sea-level, to a height of 5000 feet in beautiful natural surroundings. The fair weather road followed the old Moghul route through Naushera and Rajauri across Pir Panjal to Srinagar passing Nandpur South, Barwali Ridge, Merian and Chingas. Most places on route still had old Mogul serais (campsites), though these were mostly now in ruins. From Naushera to Merian the road passed through a stretch of very difficult rugged terrain with many defiles. From Merian onwards it generally followed the western bank of the Manawar Tawi river through cliffs and spurs of varying height, some with a drop of 500 feet to the river below.
The Nandphur South-Barwali Ridge complex was a bottleneck of some military significance. It was dominated by the steep, rocky Barwali Ridge from the north, the Kot Hill feature to the east and Nandpur Hill to the west. At Nandpur there was a small open space, about 250 x 150 yards in size, with terraced fields, a few derelict houses and a Moghul serai. Just ahead of Nandpur was the Manawar Tawi river bend with a large pool 4 to 8 feet deep and dominated by the Barwali Ridge. The river bend was joined by a deep nullah which emerged from a gorge to the west.
The Nandphur area was mined and effectively covered by the enemy. This was the only place available for the deployment of tanks from which fire could be brought to bear on the Barwali Ridge. The Nadpur-Chingas-Rajauri road had been badly damaged by the enemy and had remained un-repaired during the period 1946-48. All culverts had been destroyed and many large boulders and felled pine trees had been laid across to form roadblocks, these obstructions had then been mined. The cliffs and defiles closer to the river had been deliberately cut and the road was non-existent in several places. Zorawar flew over the area during the planning stage of the operation and assessed the damage as “frightening”, reporting that it would require an immense effort in time and labour to make the road usable as an axis of advance.
The magnitude of the damage was to be even more gravely expressed in the remarks of a senior engineering officer who also flew over the area, “Anyone who is thinking of advancing with tanks to Rajauri is, in my opinion, taking a great risk!” It was indeed a great risk, but one which, in a true cavalryman’s spirit, Zorawar was to accept. The 19th Infantry Brigade plan for the operation was divided into three phases: to capture the Barwali Ridge; then to advance and capture Chingas; finally, to advance and capture Rajauri.
During the night of April 7/8th, the feature to the east and the Nandpur feature to the west were captured and secured by the 19th Infantry Brigade. ‘A’ Squadron, CIH, under Major Karam Singh, with two tanks of RHQ, one of which was the commandant’s, plus a troop from ‘B’ Squadron, advanced from a place near Naushera, about 5 miles from the objective, and had taken up position in Nandpur South by 0630 hours in the morning of April 8th. At 0800 hours, 4 Dogra, commanded by Major Sansar Chand, himself a Dogra from the Jammu region, debouched from it’s forming up point and started advancing towards the objective on the east flank of ‘A’ Squadron’s deployment area.
The Dogras assault went in with two companies up, the left-hand company had as it’s objective the Barwali Top and the right-hand company’s objective was the east spur. On approaching the river bend both the leading companies came under very heavy fire. The right-hand company was pinned down and the tanks supporting them found themselves having to manoeuver in mine-strewn ground to get to positions from which they could hit back at the enemy machine-gunners who had checked the advance.
Although a careful search had been made by infiltrating parties of infantry and engineers the previous night, under the gallant 2nd Lt. Rama Raghoba Rane of 37 Assault Company, Bengal Engineers, some mines did indeed remain hidden in the thick undergrowth and undulating ground. As the tanks were in the process of re-deploying, the enemy opened up with heavy and well-aimed fire with machine-gun’s, small arms and mortars, forcing the tank crews to close their hatches thus making observed movement even more difficult. Some tanks skirted mines, only by inches, Zorowar’s among them.
Disaster was now averted by the heroism of two members of the Lt Col’s tank crew. Lance Daffadar Varyam Singh, a young and fearless jawan and seasoned dispatch rider of the Second World War, who was now the commandant’s hull gunner, and Acting Lance Daffadar Sita Ram, his driver. Ram, with great presence of mind, managed to halt the tank when it was almost upon a cluster of mines concealed beneath a stone slab. Varyam Singh, acting on his own initiative, dismounted and guided the RHQ tanks safely to their positions thus undoubtedly saving the lives of Zorawar and the other crew members. For this gallant act Varyam Singh was subsequently awarded the newly instituted Vir Chakra.
Meanwhile the left-hand company, after crossing the river, had started to climb the steep rocky ridge and was joined by the remainder of the battalion which had already suffered casualties. Captain Arvind Nilkhanth Jatar (CIH), had volunteered to accompany the leading company of 4 Dogra to act as forward tank observation officer and, with his radio, was now able to provide the crews of ‘A’ Squadron with the directions which enabled them to pick out and effectively engage enemy machine-gun positions. This close support fire from the Stuarts was to continue for 4½ hours and was only made possible because the crews were able to replenish their ammunition from specially prepared forward ammunition dumps, which Zorawar had earlier ordered to be established in anticipation of such action.
This foresight and imagination that light tank guns could be used in what amounted an artillery role was but one of the Command ante’s outstanding abilities as a tank commander. The sight and sound of sixteen Honey tanks blazing away with their 37mm cannon and 30 calibre machine guns, blasting the ridge along it’s full length and breadth, was most dramatic. During the course of the action the crews of the CIH where to fire 2000 rounds of 37mm ammunition and several thousand rounds of 30 calibre, yet thanks to the efficient training of the regiment, the skilled maintenance of it’s equipment, and the high quality of the tanks themselves not one single weapon was to fail to fire at any time.
At about 1730 hours on that day the enemy staged a counter-attack from the west and attempted to encircle 4 Dogra Company on the ridge top, nearly ambushing the brigade commander and his recce party who were ascending the ridge at the time. With great foresight, Zorawar had ordered his tank crews to locate and train their guns on likely targets in the anticipation of such a counter-attack. As a result the enemy was subjected to another hail of shells and bullets and broke off the engagement after suffering heavy casualties. With this repulse Phase 1 of the Rajauri Operation was successfully accomplished by the Indian forces.
On the morning of the April 10th, Zorawar decided to exploit the river itself as an axis for further advance and personally reconnoitered the watercourse, wading many times across the 3 to 4 feet deep, icy cold, boulder-strewn, swift flowing water, until he had located sufficient suitable crossing places for the tanks. The width of the Tawi gorge near Merian was about 200 yards, gradually reducing to 100 yards at Rajauri. The river itself was some 40 to 50 feet wide. The only crossing places were all dominated by high hill ranges running parallel on both sides. However, by 1000 hours on that morning ‘A’ Squadron tanks, after crossing the river twice, had outflanked Chingas to the east and with their support the engineers had succeeded in opening the road through to Chingas for light vehicles.
Speed and careful passage of the Tawi river axis were the priorities in Zorawar’s plan for the remainder of the advance and, with this in mind, a task force was formed which was to be self-contained for the next forty-eight hours. The force, under the Command ante’s direct command, consisted of ‘A’ Squadron plus the two RHQ tanks and ‘B’ Company, 1st Kumaon Rifles, under the command of Major Bisht. The infantry were initially occupying a hill feature but in the morning it was relieved and placed directly under Zorowar’s command.
The task force was on the road from Chingas at 1130 hours led by the squadron commander, Major Karam Singh, and despite coming under mortar and machine-gun fire, it was able to maintain the tempo of it’s advance by engaging hill features held in some strength by the enemy. In this task the force was greatly assisted by the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) whose Tempest fighters operated in the ground attack role, coming in in pairs to rocket and strafe with their cannon positions indicated to them by HE (high explosive) tank gunfire. In addition the pilots were able to keep the task force informed about enemy activity in the Rajauri area as they over flew the battlefield.
After a grueling six-hour tank drive covering some 14 miles, in which the tanks crossed the river no less than eight times in varying conditions and depths, the task force reached Rajauri at 1730 hours. Immediately intense and accurate fire from the tanks was directed at all important targets, including Rajauri Fort, the town and the surrounding hills from where enemy fire was coming.
The element of surprise created bewilderment and confusion among the enemy, the sudden arrival in their midst of an armoured force caused dismay as was apparent in an intercepted radio message which read: ‘Tawi River full of Buffaloes [the code word for tanks] from Chingas to Rajauri. Impossible to hold Rajauri.’ The news of the successful arrival at the objective was meanwhile being signaled back to 19th Brigade, and at first could not be believed and had to be repeated.
With the Pakistani’s forced back the operation was concluded. The 27 year old commandant of the CIH, Lt. Col. Zorawar Singh, had, by his brilliant command of armour and his daring use of the Tawi river as his axis of advance, conducted one of the most outstanding light tank exploits of all time. It was however to be the last time he saw active service.
In 1948 Zorawar’s tenure of command at the CIH ended, when he was selected to attend the Command and Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth, USA. From there he was appointed to the staff of the Defence Services College at Wellington, where he served for three years until being appointed to command the Tactical Wing of the Armoured Corps Centre and School at Ahmednagar. His next move, as a Brigadier, was to be Military Attaché in Paris. Thereafter he held several important staff appointments before retiring as a Major General at the age of 49. He then became the Colonel of the CIH, a position he held with high honour from 1961 to 1971. Zorawar, handsome, bold and brave, was one of the first great tank commanders in the Indian Army, as well as being a true cavalry officer and is, as such, a role model for all to emulate.
TheDispatch acknowledges inputs from Mr KD Maini and Bharat Rakshak