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Tithwal Diaries Part V : Capture of Richhmar Gali


On 21 June 1950, Singh's award of the Param Vir Chakra was gazetted. The citation read:


Tithwal in Jammu and Kashmir was captured on 23 May 1948. After that date, the enemy made numerous attempts to recapture Richmar Gali, and thence Tithwal. On 13 October 1948, coinciding with Id, the enemy decided to launch a brigade attack to retake Richmar Gali, and bypassing Tithwal, advance into the Srinagar Valley. Lance Naik Karam Singh was commanding a section at Richhmar Gali. The enemy commenced its attack with heavy shelling of guns and mortars. The fire was so accurate that not a single bunker in the platoon locality was left unscathed. Communication trenches caved in. Bravely, Lance Naik Karam Singh went from bunker to bunker, giving succour to the wounded and urging the men to fight. The enemy launched eight separate attacks that day. In one such attack, the enemy managed to obtain a foothold in the platoon locality. Immediately, Lance Naik Karam Singh, who was severely wounded by then, with a few men, hurled himself in a counter-attack and evicted the enemy after a close quarter encounter which accounted for many enemy dead, having been dispatched by the bayonet. Lance Naik Karam Singh proved himself to be a dauntless leader of men in crisis. Nothing could subdue him and no amount of fire or hardship could break his spirit.

— Gazette Notification: 2 Pres/50, 21.6.50

 

The Kashmir Liberation war of 1947 is replete with testimonies of super-human bravado by 1st Battalion The SIKH Regiment which saved many a civilian from the brutal mutilation of Razakars. The unit having created a niche for itself as ‘Saviours of Kashmir’ by being the first to enter the valley forcing the Razakars to retreat had switched from the Uri front in winters of 1947 to Tithwal front by May 1948. Having liberated Tithwal on 23 May 1948, the unit fanned southwards in conjunction with 1 MADRAS Regiment’s operations across Kishanganga River to jointly consolidate the liberated localities by occupying dominating positions.


Richhmar Gali is a tactically significant location which enables movement between Panjkot Valley and Tangdhar Bowl. The gali named after the Richhmar Village frequented by baloos (bears) from the local forest (Richh - Bear, Mar - Kill) is located three Kilometres east of Panjkot Village at an altitude of 8100 Feet. Capture of Richhmar Gali was important for progressing operations towards Panjkot Valley as it was to cement Indian Army’s foothold in Tithwal Sector. The pass located on the offshoot of Kafir Khan Range, provides a dominating view of area around by observation. One Company of 1st Battalion The SIKH Regiment set out to advance along the heights south of Tithwal to occupy Richhmar Gali on 28 May. Two other companies reached another location named Jogi by 11:30 AM the same day. The Razakar resistance at his held position Veera melted with the stories of the Battalion’s valour reaching him before the jawans. Though the terrain was challenging, the company at Richhmar Gali captured Veera location to its south by 6 p.m the same day.


A simultaneous action by a platoon led to capture of an enemy post in Ring Contour Position to the north of Richhmar Gali at a height of 8600 Feet (This post was later named Rupa). Capture of Rupa enabled a firm hold on both Northern and Southern Flank of the pass. Having captured Rupa, the paltan not only beat back enemy’s counter attack the same night, but also launched one company each from Jogi further west of Rupa to capture Pir Sahiba on 31 May and Mir Kalsi on 01 Jun thus entrenching themselves on heights dominating Panjkot & Nausheri and evicting the enemy. However, continued occupation of Chunj Top by Pakis which could be supplied from gradual slopes on its rear, and the unending stream of razakars eagerly re-inforcing Pakistani posts to share the promised loot posed a challenge for Indian troops to retain Madras Hill, Mir Kalsi & Pir Sahiba. By Jul, these locations were vacated due to lack of Infantry to hold such an out-stretched frontage. Having consolidated around Richhmar Gali by Oct 1947, 1 SIKH was poised to provide a firm base to enable launching of forces for recapture of the vacated locations.


However, enemy committed the cardinal blunder considering Indian vacation of tactically un-viable posts as his success. On 13 Oct 1948, he launched a well coordinated desperate attack to recapture Richhmar Gali bypassing Tithwal and attempted to outflank the held positions. During this attack bitter fighting took place in Richhmar Gali on the night of 13 Oct. The attack by Pakistani regulars accompanied by Razakars commenced with heavy artillery and Mortar shelling. The devastating fire of his heavy caliber weapons was successful in damaging all the bunkers in Veera, Richhmar Gali and Rupa. However, the grit, determination and raw courage of Indian Khalsas led by Lance Naik Karam Singh withstood a record eight attacks on the same night. The eight time repulsed demoralised enemy withdrew the same night.


The historic resistance by Lance Naik Karam Singh’s post which led to an astounding victory was rewarded by a Param Vir Chakra. With Indian forces perched atop the dominating heights around Richhmar Gali, the war came to an end on 01 Jan 1949 with United Nations brokered Cease Fore. However, the blow on enemy’s morale due to the loss in the battle of Richhmar Gali has been so severe that he has never attempted to capture Richhmar Gali or the posts around it in any of the subsequent three wars till date. Indian forces continue to hold this location today which not only stands as a testimony of our moral and psychological ascendency but also provides us the western most point of liberated Jammu and Kashmir.



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