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1947-48 INDO – PAK WAR : ROLE OF INDIAN ARMY AND INDIAN AIR FORCE



The Indo-Pak war of 1947- 48 was India’s first military endeavour. The operations involved the large-scale execution of Indian plans for the first time in independent India’s history. The war emerged as a victory of the highest sort for India which was still in a budding state then. The war started as an invasion by Pakistan which wanted to annex Kashmir by force. Indian retaliation was undertaken to save Kashmir which was till then a princely state and had acceded to the Union of India through the Instrument of Accession signed by the then king of Jammu & Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh.


The year-long battle saw major participation of the Indian Army and Indian Air-force which were still emerging from the horrors of partition and were themselves in a reorganising phase. The grit, determination, and heroism of soldiers as well as their professional competence led India to an inspiring victory over Pakistan despite it having an ingenious strategy. India lost more than 1100 of its brave soldiers, including air force personnel, while the number of fatalities on Pakistan’s side was upward of 6000. Indian Army’s participation in the war started only after the signing of the instrument of accession on 26th October 1947. Indian troops were airlifted by the Air force on the following day to Srinagar. Thereafter an ad hoc brigade was established to repel the intruding forces. The war, which until then was being fought between Jammu & Kashmir State Forces and tribal militia along with Pakistani regulars, turned into a full-blown war between the two nations. Indian army fought battles in areas ranging from Zojila to Poonch achieving significant gains in terms of the areas lost.


Pakistan deployed all its military might to turn the tide, but in the end, it had to accept the crushing defeat. First and foremost, role that the Indian army had to undertake was a defensive one. Maharaja Ranjit Singh requested for Indian help only when the attack on Srinagar was imminent. By 22nd of October, Pakistani troops along with tribal had reached Baramulla. Despite being close to Srinagar, Pakistani troops, rather than advancing, focused on looting, raping, and wreaking havoc in Baramulla. This move proved costly as it gave Maharaja Hari Singh vital time to seek assistance from India. The ad hoc brigade reinforced the princely state forces. Under the able command of Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the troops established a defensive perimeter and defeated the tribal forces on the outskirts of the city. Initial defence operations included the notable defence of Badgam holding both the city and airfield against extreme odds.


During the Battle of Shelateng, the successful defence included an outflanking manoeuvre by the Indian armored. The main aim of the Indian army was to regain the lost areas. Once the advancing troops were halted, the focus shifted to pushing the troops back and regaining ground. The initial thrust of the offensive from the Indian side was able to push back the intruders allowing Indian forces to recapture Baramulla and Uri. Poonch was still under siege and after the success in Baramulla and Uri, the focus shifted to Poonch. Although a relief column was sent, the siege in Poonch couldn’t be lifted. Attempts to capture Uri were thwarted and an offensive in Chamb by the Indian forces secured it. Rajouri and Jhanger, which had previously fallen to the tribal, were also brought under Indian control by launching Operation Vijay. Meanwhile, in Kashmir Valley, Indian forces were able to capture Tithwal and also protect it against numerous counterattacks.


The spring of 1948 saw Indian forces launching a number of offensive operations in Kashmir. Operation Gulab and Operation Eraze were launched to secure Keran and Gurais. Indian forces then shifted their focus toward Zojila. Operation Bison was launched for capturing the same. The operation involved dismantling M5 Stuart light tanks and then moving them in dismantled condition through Srinagar to Zojila. Zojila along with Drass was recaptured. The Indian forces finally started to gain an upper hand in all sectors. Poonch, which had been under siege for over a year was also brought under Indian control. Indian plans to liberate the remaining illegally occupied territories had to be put on hold due to the ceasefire agreed upon by both countries. The terms of the ceasefire were laid by the UN and were agreed upon by both nations on 5th of January 1949.


Indian Air force played an active role throughout the 1947-48 war. This is despite the fact that the then Royal Indian Air force had lost many permanent bases and other establishments as a result of the division of the country. Air Force’s participation in the war started with the ad hoc airlift operation to transport troops to Srinagar by No. 12 Sqn. On 30th October, the first spitfires from Advanced Flying School at Ambala reached Srinagar and were soon engaged in strafing the raiders. Various recce missions were carried out across the Pir Panjals to ascertain the exact location of the raiders. The Indian Air force carried out strafing runs over the tribal's columns causing serious attrition. This delayed the advance and gave valuable time to the infantry to set up defensive positions around Srinagar.


The offensive role of the Indian Air force was also pivotal during the Battle of Shelateng which broke the back of the enemy offensive. For the battle of Shelateng, the Air Force had a few spitfires and two tempest squadrons in the fray. IAF had up to four aircraft in action all day with its area of operation being expanded up to the fleeing raiders. The contribution of the IAF was massive as during the initial days of war, movement of troops and logistics was possible only due to the Air force. Even in inhospitable and difficult terrain like Leh, the Air force was successful in inducting troops and airlifting them for relief.

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The 1947-48 Indo–Pak war is one of the pivotal moments in Independent India’s history. The consequences of the war are still felt up to this date. The war was one of the finest examples of jointmanship between the two arms of the defence force. The fact that such a high level of cohesion was possible between the forces despite the difficulties and challenges of partition made this victory even sweeter.


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