Anecdotes from 1947-48 War

Brig. Suresh C. Sharma

The first post-independence war that India fought is the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947-48.  This war fought over the possession of the land of Kashmir has become a procrastinating, a never-ending affair in the history of India.  It seems like the battle of two warring and separated brothers who will bleed to death, leaving their families wailing and mourning, but will not want to negotiate and come to any kind of settlement.

Brig. Suresh Sharma narrates some lesser-known anecdotes of the 1947-48 War. 

Warning Ignored

In August 1947, Major O. S. Kalkat (who later became Major General) was the Major of a brigade located in Pakistan when he received a letter for his Commander who was out of station. The Commander asked Kalkat to open the letter, and behold, it was the master-plan for infiltration into Kashmir. The Commander advised Kalkat to hasten back to India as his life was in danger. With the help of two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) of his regiment, he managed to escape. But, the two JCOs faced capital punishment. In India, his message was ignored even though he had managed to convey it to Baldev Singh, the first Defence Minister of India.  Nehru learnt of it only after the raid and is reported to have been angry with Baldev Singh. By that time, it was too late.

Role of British Officers

It is unfair to brand all British officers with suspicion; but General Roy Bucher, Commander-in-Chief, Indian Army (he was the last non-Indian to hold the top post of the Indian Army after partition) certainly seemed to favour Pakistan. He vehemently opposed the 1948 Police Action in the then princely state of Hyderabad and conveyed his operation plans to General Frank Messervy, his counterpart heading the Pakistani army.  Their telephonic conversation was in French.  The next day, V. P. Menon, State Secretary confronted General Bucher with an English translation of the conversation and the General requested not to humiliate him. He offered to resign and did so.

On another occasion, Pakistan Army Chief told General Bucher that the Indian Army was driving away Muslims from Jammu to Pakistan. He rushed to Jammu and tried to discipline the formation Commander. But it never occurred to him to take up the issue of the Hindus and Sikhs being threatened in the district of Poonch. It was the heroism of the Poonch garrison under Brig. Pritam Singh that saved them.

It is interesting to note that Lord Louis Mountbatten had advised against relief of Poonch!  Whereas Nehru gave orders to bring back the non-Muslims even at the cost of driving up to Domel town in Pakistan region where they had gathered.

General Frank Messervy’s Master Plan

Major General Akbar Khan assumed command of the attack by the tribal groups into Kashmir in 1947.  He was given the title of General Tariq.  Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan gave whole-hearted support and a few officers were taken into confidence.  At that time, General Messervy who was the Officiating Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistani Army informed Major General Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan Pataudi that he has not been consulted, and hence, outlined his plan to induct one battalion in civil dress. Two companies at Srinagar Airfield and two companies at Banihal town would have been the end of the story. To write off the might of the Indian Army so lightly was being naïve.

General Messervy later commented that “politicians using soldiers and soldiers allowing themselves to be used without the knowledge of their superiors were setting a bad example for future.” His remarks have been vindicated by the number of military coups in Pakistan.  The elected Prime Minister has to take the approval of the Army Chief in all matters of defence and external affairs.  This is often called “consultation”.

Command of Azad Kashmir Forces

Towards the end of 1948, the self-styled Defence Minister of Azad Kashmir [AK] Forces tried to set up various branches of GHQ (General Headquarters) like in major armed forces divisions.  Meanwhile, the two officers in the Poonch sector kept on promoting themselves, ending with the rank of Field Marshal.  Ayub Khan was the first and only Field Marshal of Pakistan.  Not to be outdone, the Defence Minister assumed the rank of Captain General (a rank in the German Army).

Participation of Pakistan Army Officers

Major Faruq Lalla Ahmed and some army officers joined the infiltrators. He was the son of Brig. Gulzar Ahmed. He made an arduous journey across hostile territory and hid himself amongst animal herds. He became infected with lice and fleas. Finally, he was able to extricate himself with great difficulty to safety and back to Pakistan.

Stuck in Jammu

Lt. Gen. (later Field Marshal) K. M. Cariappa took over the responsibility of Kashmir operations in January 1948 and moved his HQ to Jammu. He was in Jammu when the road to Pathankot was cut off. He tried to travel to Delhi via Srinagar but got stuck at Batote. He sent a message to Major General Iftkhar Khan, GOC 8 Pakistan Division, for permission to travel via Sialkot-Lahore. The message created ripples in the Pakistan Army. A polite message was sent that General Iftkhar was out of town and Begum Iftkhar was indisposed. So it would be awkward for them to receive General Cariappa. General Cariappa was stuck in Jammu till March 1948.

Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.) is a freelance writer and has been a regular contributor to Freedom First and FF Digital.  He has also been advisor to the telecom industry.

FF Digital’s column on “Military Musings” is open to all readers and especially to our friends from the armed forces (retired or still serving) to share with us their experiences and encounters to help the commoner get a better feel of the reality of belonging to the army, navy and air force.  You can write to us at freedomfirst1952@gmail.com.  Contributions on other subjects are also welcome.

 

 

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