This excerpt is in continuation to the article series on Tithwal Diaries 1947-48. The article elaborates the turn of events from soil of Kashmir that witnessed barbaric slaughter of Kashmiris by Pakistan irregulars and the most heroic battles tales ever. This truth has been carefully hidden to manipulate and mislead the youth of Kashmir who talk of Azadi and Free Kashmir. Little do they know, the people who sacrificed lives for their today are not Kashmiris, not Muslims, these heroes don't even speak their language, for the history of Kashmir shall never forget their valour and supreme sacrifice.
Part II : Valour of Ist Battalion The Sikh Regiment
1 st Battalion the Sikh Regiment of Indian Army was the first paltan to have entered
Kashmir valley in rescue of the Awam on 27 Oct 1947, in the aftermath of Pakistan’s late autumn offensive by their Army led Razakars. The day continues to be celebrated as Infantry Day to commemorate the iconic milestone. Having cleared right upto Uri under Brig Sen’s 161 Infantry Brigade, 1 Sikh accompanied by 1 Madras and a squadron of Armoured Corps rechristened as Zulu Brigade (later 163 Infantry Brigade), moved swiftly
to Handwara in May 1948. Pockets of resistance were quashed by Indian Forces as they advanced from Handwara along Panzgam, Chowkibal and across the Shamshabari Ridge towards Tithwal which lay along the banks of Kishanganga. Nastachun Pass known for its treacherous terrain and steep gradient was chosen to cross the Shamshabari Ridge so as to catch the Pakistanis by surprise.
Before we progress further into the operation, it is important to understand the operational orientation of Tithwal, the peace loving mindset of locals and the strategic significance of this location.
Tithwal also provided and continues to provide a key alternative to Uri-Muzzafarabad axis for liberation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir making it a point of strategic significance.
Tithwal astride Kishanganga provided the closest point to cross the river before advancing further towards Devalian and Muzzafarabad which were key townships of Jammu and Kashmir state. Tithwal also provided and continues to provide a key alternative to Uri-Muzzafarabad axis for liberation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir making it a point of strategic significance. In addition, the location was also a key trade and transit route for transshipment of goods onto either sides of the River. With Jammu and Kashmir dependent on Rawalpindi-Muzzafarabad-Tithwal/ Uri transit route for salt and sugar, this location assumed immense economic significance.
The population of Tithwal dominated by Gujjars, Bakharwals, Kashmiri Pandits and Marwari Merchants in 1940s were mostly peace loving as would any township in the midst of a kingdom be. With the closest point of border of Jammu and Kashmir state being over 600 Kilometers towards the North West on the Afghan front along the mountains tracks in times when mountains were a no go for vehicles, a war in Tithwal would have been beyond imagination for these locals of undivided India who faced the barbarous onslaught of Razakars in May 1948.
Therein came 163 Infantry Brigade commanded by Brig (later Lt Gen) Harbaksh Singh with 1 MADRAS followed by 1 SIKH crossing the Nastachun Pass on 21 May. On 22 May 1948, 1 MADRAS established a firm base to catapult 1 SIKH for liberation of Tithwal. Having fully understood the enemy’s savage tactics learnt from the previous engagements on the Baramulla-Uri front, 1 Sikh advanced stealthily under the cover of darkness and occupied the heights of the East of Tithwal overlooking Kishanganga River.
The Battalion entrenched itself amidst Rocky outcrops of the steep terrain as obtained in these slopes. On the same night, an officer led small team of 1 SIKH infiltrated into Tithwal to join hands with the oppressed locals to neutralize most of the Razakars. Having perched itself onto a position of dominance, 1 Sikh entered Tithwal village at 0930 hrs on 23 May only to find desolate and plundered remnants of the erstwhile buzzing township. Most of the Razakars had fled towards Pak held territories on receipt of information of Indian Army’s arrival. Few Razakars who were caught unaware of Indian advance were immediately eliminated.
Undeterred by enemy’s barbarism meted out to the locals, both the paltans consolidated their positions along the eastern banks of the river and readied themselves to exploit the fleeting opportunity by taking the battle across Kishanganga River. In the upcoming editions, we will explore and unfold the battle across Kishanganga River as also learn from the inspiring leadership of the day which not only won a victory lasting till date, but also provided Indian Army a firm footing and strategic thought to liberate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.