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BATTLE OF SHALATENG: Battle that saved Srinagar in 1947

The Battle of Shalateng is considered as the most decisive battle of the first Kashmir War which had a long standing impact on the history and geography of Kashmir. It literally changed the face of the war and saved Srinagar from the onslaught of the barbarian Pakistan army from across the border.

On the night of 20-21 October 1947, nearly 5,000 Pakistani soldiers with Kabalis tribesmen took over the bridge spanning the Neelam river on the Hazara road linking Muzaffarabad with Abbottabad (now in PoK), and occupied the first major town of Muzaffarabad by October 21.

The Kashmir State Forces tried to put up a brave fight, but that was inadequate and Domel as well Uri fell in very quick succession like a house of cards. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October and 1 SIKH arrived at Srinagar Air field on 27 Oct 1947. The race to save Baramulla by 1 SIKH went in vain as the Pakistan Army in the garb of raiders captured Baramulla on 27 Oct 1947 and 1 SIKH was forced to deploy at Pattan. At this crucial juncture, Headquarters 161 Infantry Brigade, under the able leadership of Brig L P Sen arrived at Srinagar.

Soon after, Spitfires of the Royal Indian Air Force were employed to engage in strafing of the intruders beyond Pattan. During the first week of November, the raiders were strafed so thoroughly that it broke the backbone of their resistance. Notable among the Spitfire pilots was Flying Officer Dilbag Singh, who subsequently rose to the rank of Chief of Air Staff.

Now, it was time for a bold and innovative decision as the Pakistani Army were

avoiding a frontal assault on 1 SIKH at Pattan due to aerial raids by Spitfires and were

spreading in all directions in the valley in small groups. It was a herculean task to prevent

infiltration by the Pakistani Army with three infantry battalions. Hence Brig L P Sen took the bold decision to withdraw 1 SIKH from Pattan to Srinagar and 1 PUNJAB from Magam to Humhom till arrival of reinforcements of two infantry battalions, a squadron of armoured cars and a battery of field artillery. The aim was to entice the Pakistani Army to assemble, regroup and rush in their motor transport further towards Srinagar. Brig L P Sen was lmost berated by Lt. Gen. Kulwant Singh for moving troops from Pattan. A lot of hueand cry happened in the political sphere with complaints against the Brigade Commander with Prime Minister Nehru wanting to remove him from the post.

However, the gamble paid off. After the withdrawal of 1 SIKH from Pattan on 5th

November, the small groups of the Pakistani Army disappeared from the warzone only to

assemble in Baramulla and were planning to have a joint frontal assault on the Indian

troops. To counter this move, a superb tactical manoeuvre was conceived. After the arrival of reinforcements on 7th November, a wide encircling manoeuvre by two infantry

battalions from Srinagar airfield via Magam to Pattan was planned would sandwich the

Pakistani Army between Pattan and Srinagar.

On 7 th November, a reconnaissance patrolof 7 th Light Cavalry was sent via Ganderbal - Safapur road to Bandipora with an aim to collect all possible information from the local police stations as well as Maharaja’s bodyguard and then return to the airfield by evening. At the same time, 1 SIKH was positioned west of Srinagar at the flood channel at Shalatang and 1 KUMOAN in the RifleRange (Chandmari) area.1 SIKH informed the

Brigade Headquarters that their forward companies were engaged by automatic weapons including Medium Machine Guns. A quick aerial reconnaissance revealed that a force of several thousand was present across the flood channel. This was the moment, Brig L P Sen had been waiting for and he wasted no time to swing his plan into action.

The reconnaissance patrol was immediately diverted to Sumbal to act as rear guard

at the junction of roads bifurcating for Baramulla and Sumbal near Shalatang to prevent

the Pakistani Army from withdrawing. 1 KUMAON was ordered to proceed from the south

of rifle range area to Shalatang. Once they reached the location and were within bayonet

charge distance, they were given the order to go all out from the right flank.  Following suit,1 SIKH opened up with incessant fire and the reconnaissance patrol engaged the

Pakistani Army from the rear.

This stunned the Pakistani Army and resulted in complete confusion in the Pakistani Army positions. The stunned Pakistani Army were wondering as to what was happening. It would have been very difficult even for well-organized, well trained and battle hardened soldiers to react to a three directional attack, i.e. front, rear and right flank. There was complete confusion in its ranks and that broke their will to fight. The Pakistani Army rushed in all directions bumping into one another. 1 SIKH was ordered to pursue them with relentless attack.

Brig Sen did not enjoy numerical superiority over the Pakistani Army. However,

calculated risks worked to his advantage. He forced the Pakistani Army to play into his

hands thereby moving their resources including automatics and mortar positions ahead.

He chose his own battlefield and used his concentrated resources to bear upon the

Pakistani Army in Shalateng. The killing ground chosen by him was the game changer

The Pakistani Army were fooled to move into the Zainakote bowl which was surrounded by three sides. However, the foundation of such a brilliant plan rested in its precise execution which would not have been possible but for the indomitable courage of Indian Army soldiers who proved their mettle and saved the day. Notably amongst them were Lieutenant N G David and Dafedar Jage Ram of 7th Light Cavalry who, disregarding their personal safety, displayed raw valour to diminish the Pakistani Army and were awarded the Vir Chakra.

Success in the Battle of Shalateng couldn’t have been accomplished without the courageous and whole hearted support of the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris facilitated the Indian Army with all possible resources they had at their disposal. From providing vehicles to delaying the Pakistani Army, the Kashmiris left no stone unturned to thwart the nefarious designs of our hostile neighbours. The nation can never forget the role of Maqbool Sherwani, the saviour of Kashmir, who disrupted the plan of the Pakistani Army to advance on Srinagar by misguiding them on a wrong path. Once the Pakistani Army realised that they had been hoodwinked, they exhibited their barbarism by tying the young valiant son of the soil to a pole, driving nails into his hands and forehead before shooting him 14 times. He had refused to shout ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and his last breath before being executed was a cry for Muslim, Hindu and Sikh unity.

The Battle of Shalateng was fought and won in 20 minutes and the onslaught continued for more than 12 hours. About 500 of the Pakistani Army were killed and another 150 lay dead between Shalateng and Baramulla. Pattan was occupied the same day by eight in the evening and Baramulla the next day in the morning. The battle of Shalateng was one of the most decisive battles ever fought by the Indian Army. It reversed

the tide of war in the Kashmir Valley. The immediate threat to Srinagar was completely

removed and led to recapture of most of the territories lost to the Pakistani Army in the

initial days of the conflict.

To this day 7th November is commemorated as ‘Shalateng Day’ to celebrate the

valour exhibited by Kashmiris and the Indian Army, whose combined resolve put to rest the nefarious designs of the adversary in the First Indo-Pak War.

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