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How the Indian army went deep into enemy territory to take the Haji Pir pass in 1965 war

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Smarting after his battalion’s failure on the night of the 25th, Colonel Sampuran Singh went to the brigade headquarters on the 28th to insist that the task should be given to him once more.

On the 52nd anniversary of the 1965 war, here’s an excerpt from Amarinder Singh and Tajinder Shergill’s book ‘The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce’.

The 1st Battalion: The Parachute Regiment’s Attack on Haji Pir Pass

As described earlier, the aim of the Western Command’s operation in the area of the cease-fire line was an advance to the Haji Pir Pass by 68 Brigade, acting as the northern claw of a pincer movement of which the southern claw would be an operation called ‘Faulad’, carried out by 93 Brigade. The 68 Brigade operation was to be conducted under the command of 19 Division and named ‘Bakshi’ after the Brigade Commander. This chapter deals with that operation.

The Brigade Battle

The brigade’s Order of Battle (ORBAT) had been completed by 18 August and consisted of five battalions: 1 Para, 19 Punjab, 4 Rajput, 4 Sikh Light Infantry and 6 J&K Rifles. Artillery support was provided by 164 Field Regiment less one battery, 144 Mountain Battery, B Troop 39 Medium Regiment, 18 Field Battery and a section of 4.2 Heavy Mortars; 161 Brigade and 41 Mountain Brigade would assist the operation by neutralizing some of the enemy’s outer positions.

The Pass

The Haji Pir Pass, which stands at 8,652 feet, lies in the Pir Panjal range and is the highest point on the old caravan route linking Uri and Punch. Legend has it that the fourth emperor of the Mughal dynasty, Shah Jahan, who ruled India from 1628 to 1658 and is well-known the world over as the builder of the Taj Mahal (the tomb of his wife, Arjumand Begum, later known as Mumtaz Mahal), was on his way from Rawalpindi to Srinagar when he dreamt on the night before his caravan crossed the Haji Pir Pass, that a small mazhar of a great Pir (saint) was situated on top of the pass. On reaching the top, he found the mazhar just as he had dreamt and is supposed to have been the first person to pay his respects to the great Pir’s memory by tying the first string on a nearby tree.

From the pass, a valley descends towards Uri, the Haji Pir Nullah. The old road, 41 miles long, joining Uri to Punch runs up the valley from Uri, climbing up to the pass and then descends to the Kahuta bridge, the scene of 161 Brigade’s reverse on 21 November 1947, the point from where Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh (MC), undeterred by the ambush the brigade had been subjected to began his gallant march with 1 (Para) Kumaon to clear the road to Punch, which follows the Betar Nullah all the way.

Both sides of the valley are dominated by high mountain features, the 12,401-foot Bedori on the east and the 11,296-foot Bisali on the west. The Bisali lies just west of the actual ridge line but, in turn, lies on the ridge line of Haji Pir–Bedori. Both the east and west ridge lines were held by a series of pickets near the Pass, so that before it could be taken, the enemy would have to be pushed off the heights on either side.

The Battle

Brigadier Zoru Bakshi decided that he would go for the Haji Pir Pass along both ridge lines, the western direct approach being the direction from which the pass would actually be assaulted. Meanwhile, the column moving along the eastern ridge line would clear the enemy posts at and around Bedori. It would then link up with the western claw of the brigade’s pincer attack, moving along the ridge line of Bedori–Kuthnar Di Gal–Kiran–Haji Pir.

The direct route to the Haji Pir Pass from the west lay via Sank (where I Sikh was surprised but subsequently won the battle of Bhatgiran in 1947), Sar and Ledwali Gali. These features would have to be captured. The eastern approach involved the capture of Pathra, a prominent ring contour (Point 8,336) and the formidable Bedori feature. Based upon these assumptions, the following plan emerged:

The operation would begin with 7 Bihar (of 161 Brigade) taking out the enemy’s picket at Burji, during the night of D-Day – and those at Tilpatra and Ziarat by first light on D+1, the next day. On the same night, 6 Bihar (of 41 Mountain Brigade) would take out the pickets at Mehndi Gali and Lunda.

On D+1, 1 Para would capture Sank and Ledwali Gali by 0500 hours and 19 Punjab were to capture the ring contour and Point 12401–Bedori by 0900 hours before reaching Point 11107 and establishing contact with 1 Para by 1800 hours. By the same time, 4 Rajput passing through 1 Para were to have captured the Haji Pir Pass.

The Army Commander visited 19 Division headquarters on 24 August where he met both the GOC, Major General Kalaan, and Brigadier Bakshi. The Brigadier told him that although his brigade was already in its Forward Assembly Area (FAAs), the non-stop rain throughout the night and morning had left all the nullahs on his line of advance in spate. He, therefore, requested a postponement of twentyfour hours, from last light on the 24th to the same time on the 25th, the time frame was agreed upon.

1 Para, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Wright (VrC) had arrived in Kashmir in November 1963. Lieutenant Colonel Prabhjinder Singh had taken over from Colonel Wright on 3 August 1965, just as the enemy’s infiltration campaign was getting underway. At that time, the battalion was under the command of 161 Brigade and was manning nine pickets from Seb, opposite Uri, to Kaman on the Jhelum. The battalion headquarters were in Uri.

On 20 August, the battalion was ordered to hand over its area of responsibility to 4 Sikh Light Infantry and to concentrate on Seb as part of 68 Brigade. Three days later on the 23rd, the battalion had completed its concentration. On the 25th, it moved out for the attack on Sank. The company tasked with securing the forming up place (FUP), did so without any difficulty but the main force comprising two companies led by the second-incommand, Major Ranjit Dayal, lost its way and were well short of the FUP at first light. The enemy had seen them arrive, but Major Dayal began the attack. The leading elements got held up by the enemy’s perimeter wire and the Commanding Officer (CO), when informed of the situation, called off the attack. The battalion then returned to Seb.

Meanwhile, 19 Punjab, after a 30-mile march from Uri, had been in its FAA since the night of 24–25 August. Cold and wet from the incessant rain, the Punjabis waited impatiently for the ‘go ahead’. It finally came at 1400 hours on the 25th and, with a sigh of relief, the battalion prepared to move out.

In spite of the heavy rain, the Punjabis pressed on as fast as they could. Wet and overburdened with rations, extra ammunition and 3-inch mortar bombs, the men plodded on through the slush only to be held up by the Hathlanga Nullah, a tributary of the Haji Pir Nullah, which was in spate. They decided to ‘push on regardless’ and in the crossing of the fast-flowing nullah, three men were swept away.

The Punjabis secured their first FUP, just short of ring contour Point 8336, by midnight and, in a swift move, overran their first objective by 0200 hours. The distance to the next objective (Bedori) was 2,000 yards. The battalion moved forward to the second FUP, just short of Bedori at 0300 hours and reached it by 0345 hours. At precisely 0400 hours, they crossed the start line only to come under heavy machine-gun fire from the objective almost immediately.

Bedori was held by a platoon of 6 Azad Kashmir. Warned by the attacks on Sank by 1 Para and the Punjabis’ own attack on Point 8336, they were expecting this new attack. Established as they were in well-fortified bunkers with a single approach along a razor-sharp ridge, which was mined and covered by machine-gun fire on fixed lines, they stopped each attempt to assault them in its tracks, in spite of all that the Punjabis’ CO, Lieutenant Colonel Sampuran Singh, could do. Finally, having consulted the Brigade Commander, he called off the attack at 1000 hours and the battalion returned to Uri.

Despite their abortive attack on Sank on the night of the 25th, 1 Para captured Sank, Sar and Ledwali Gali, as originally planned, by noon on the 26th. As the Haji Pir Pass seemed clear of enemy, the CO asked the brigade for permission to go for the pass, which lay before them. It was, in fact, the objective of 4 Rajput, who were supposed to pass through 1 Para once their objectives had been secured.

Brigadier Bakshi now found himself in a difficult situation. Both the features dominating the approach to the pass – Bedori and Bisali – were still held in strength. Although Bisali had not as yet been attacked, the Bedori defences, as we know, had beaten back the Punjabis that morning and it was now assumed that the position was being held by a strong company at least. It was too much to expect that a weak para-assault group could descend into the Haidrabad nullah which was the enemy’s L of C and seemed sure to be protected, hoping to pass through without being intercepted before making their approach and their assault on the pass without being interfered with. On the other hand, if the pass was indeed clear of the enemy, as 1 Para reported, giving the enemy time to reinforce its position there, it would certainly create many more problems for an attacking force later on. So, although this was his battle, the Brigadier consulted the division for such an attack would be going deep into enemy territory. After he and the GOC had discussed the problem in some detail, the latter gave permission for the attack to go in. An assault group of a company minus, under the command of the battalion second-in-command, Major Ranjit Dayal, took the pass on the morning of the 27th.

With the Paras on their way to Haji Pir, 4 Rajput were ordered to attack Bedori that night (the 26th). Following the same route as the Punjabis, the Rajputs ran headlong into the same vigorous defence as their predecessors. It had proved impossible to deploy more than a single section in an extended order along the line of the razor-backed ridge and the Rajput’s CO, Lieutenant Colonel Sudarshan Singh, soon realized that with casualties mounting, it was not going to be possible to break in. With reluctance, he called off the attack – the second failure against this objective in two nights.

Bedori had to be cleared and so on the third night, the 28th, 7 Bihar were launched against that determined platoon of 6 Azad Kashmir and they, too, were pushed back. It was an extraordinary achievement on the part of the platoon.

Smarting after his battalion’s failure on the night of the 25th, Colonel Sampuran Singh went to the brigade headquarters on the 28th to insist that the task should be given to him once more and insisting, too, that this time he would succeed, explaining to the Brigadier Commander that he planned to approach Bedori from a different direction – from the east. The Brigadier agreed and the Punjabis duly swung east on the night of 28–29 August, crossing the cease-fire line near Gagarhil and moving up the Dothalian Nullah to Bedori Springs. Up the Bedori spur they went and by 0600 hours had assaulted and captured the feature, only to find that the enemy had gone. Despite having defended the position so bravely for three nights, the young officer/JCO commanding the post, finding himself alone and out on a limb after the capture of Haji Pir Pass, had abandoned his position. Notwithstanding that decision, he should have been suitably rewarded for his gallant stand over those three nights.

After a few hours rest, the Punjabis took Kuthnar Di Gali by the morning of the 30th, a position they found unoccupied. They reached the Haji Pir Pass via the Kiran feature on the morning of 1 September and established a link-up with 1 Para.

While the fighting to seize Bedori and the pass had been going on, 7 Bihar had captured Mehndi Gali on 26 August and Jarni Gali on the 29th, thereby consolidating the brigade’s position.

This excerpt is from the book ‘The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce – 1965 India–Pakistan War’ by Amarinder Singh and Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill which was published by Roli Books in 2015.

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