THE TRICOLOUR OVER HAJIPIR

The infiltration of Pakistani regular soldiers into India as part of Operation Gibraltar started on 1 August 1965. The forces tasked to operate in the Kashmir Valley were designated as 1 Sector and those tasked to operate in the Jammu region as No 3 Sector. The former was placed under the command of Brigadier Fazle Rahim, MC. The latter was placed under the command of Brigadier Ahmad Kazi. The infiltrating columns were formed into six groups, each group being given a code name of a Muslim conquerer, in a bid to inspire their personnel. The groups were named Tariq, Qasim, Khalid, Salahuddin, Ghaznavi and Babar. In addition, three more groups designated as ‘F’ Force, Nusrat Force and Poonch-Mandi Column were raised. The Tariq, Qasim, Khalid, Salahuddin and ‘F’ Force were tasked for operations in the Kashmir and Ladakh divisions while the remainder were tasked to operate in the Jammu division.

Depending on their area of operation, the infiltrators were tasked to destroy bridges, cut telephone lines, lay mines, ambush convoys, attack isolated parties, attack headquarters, ammunition dumps and isolated Indian army posts, take on opportunity targets like convoys and patrols and to create disturbances and unrest. A special force called Alamgir Force, under Capt. Farooq was tasked to capture the All India Radio station at Srinagar and distribute propaganda literature in Urdu and English among the local population. The aim was to tap the sympathetic elements among the local population and cajole them to engineer a local uprising against India.

It was fortunate that we came to know about these operations, more by luck than by design. The first intimation that something was amiss came on 5 August, when a local reported to the police station at Badgam that he had been forcibly made to work as a porter for the infiltrators. More such information started trickling in thereafter, and action to evict the infiltrators were begun in earnest.

On 12 Aug 65, the army chief, General JN Choudhary visited HQ 19 Infantry Division at Baramula. The Chief was briefed on the progress of operations and on measures required to be taken to prevent further infiltration into the area and to trap the infiltrators already inside the Valley. This, the Chief was told, would involve capturing Hajipir pass and all areas up to the Kishanganga river and linking up thereafter with the Poonch garrison. Over the next fortnight, continued intensive operations against the infiltrators resulted in the situation being normalised in the valley. Most of the infiltrators were killed or captured, including bulk of the company commanders, and huge quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives were recovered. At this stage the counter offensive code named Operation Bakshi was launched.

The Counter Offensive: Operation Bakshi 68 Infantry Brigade was given the task of capturing the Hajipir Pass. The action was code named ‘Operation Bakshi’, after the name of Commander 68 Infantry Brigade, Brig Zoru Bakshi. The plan involved a two pronged attack as follows:

(a) 1 Para to capture Sankh and Ledwali Gali by 0500h, D Plus 1.

(b) 19 Punjab to capture Ring Contour, Pathra and Bedori (Pt 12330) by 0500h, D Plus 1.

(c) 4 Rajput to capture Hajipir Pass by 1800h, D Plus 1.

(d) 19 Punjab to exploit up to Pt 11107 and establish contact with Hajipir by 1800h D Plus 1.

(e) 7 Bihar, ex 161 Infantry Brigade, to capture Tilpatra and Ziarat by first light on D Day.

(f) 7 Bihar to capture Burji on night D/D Plus 1.

(g) 6 Bihar to capture Memdagali and Lunda on night D/D Plus 1.

(h) D Day – 24 Aug 65. Due to heavy rains, D day was postponed to 25 August. Since the streams on the right approach were flooded, 4 Rajput was switched on to the left approach. The attack on Sankh was launched on 26 August by two companies of 1 Para under the command of Major Ranjit Singh Dyal. Due to heavy rains earlier and thick undergrowth, the assaulting troops got delayed en route and the attack was launched in the daylight. The offensive was held up due to heavy enemy machine gun fire and our troops suffered 21 wounded before the attack was aborted. The troops returned to their firm base along with all the wounded.

The Eastern pincer on Bedori also did not go off as planned. 19 Punjab began the operation at 2150h on 25 August and by midnight had secured Pathra. However, while advancing to Bedori they came under very heavy medium machine gun fire, and further advance on the extremely narrow ridge line was not possible. It was realised then, that the capture of Bedori would perforce have to take place from the northeastern approach, and so 6 Bihar was detailed for the task.

An attack on Sankh was launched by 1 Para on 27 August 65 and the feature was captured without any casualties on our troops. The assaulting troops pressed home the attack and Sawan Pathri and Ledwali Gali were captured in quick succession a couple of hours later. That evening, a mixed column of A and D companies of 1 Para, under the command of Major Ranjit Singh Dyal, moved towards the Hajipir pass to exploit the success achieved. The column descended from the Ledwali Gali and reached the Hyderabadi nallah by nightfall. The terrain was difficult and rain further hampered movement but the troops pressed on, moving on the left bank of the Hyderabadi nallah. The column stopped for a much needed halt on reaching the old Uri-Poonch road at 0430h, about 10 km short of the Hajipir pass, and resumed the advance at 0700 hours. They reached the pass at 0900h, totally surprising the defenders. The enemy reacted with rifle and LMG fire from the pass itself and with MMG fire from the western shoulder, but the pass was overrun and the defenders withdrew in confusion to the western shoulder of the pass. This too was soon silenced and the entire Hajipir pass fell into Indian hands.

The attack on Bedori was launched by 6 Bihar on the night of 26 August from the northeast. While still short of the objective, the unit, wrongly assessing that the feature had been captured, gave the success signal. On receipt of this signal, we launched 19 Punjab to exploit the success achieved. The Punjabis however were fired upon from atop Bedori and then it came to light that the entire feature had not been captured. This caused a lot of embarrassment and the corps commander was soon on the line, speaking to the GOC. He was terribly upset about what had happened. Some time later he rang up again and this time he spoke to me. I assured him that we would capture Hajipir by 29 August 65, and over a light hearted banter even wagered a bottle of scotch for capture of the objective by due date, which to some extent mollified him. Another attempt to capture Bedori from the North was made by 4 Rajput, but their assault too was held up. Lt Col Sampuran Singh, CO 19 Punjab, then volunteered to capture Bedori from the South. The attack was launched on the night of 28 August and the feature was captured after heavy fighting. They pressed on then to Kuthnar Di Gali and thence to Kiran, finally linking up with 1 Para on 1 September.

The official announcement of the capture of the Hajipir Pass was announced in the Indian parliament on 29 August 65 and all the members gave a standing ovation. The delay in the announcement by one day was to ensure that any counter attack by the enemy would be taken care of. Radio Pakistan kept claiming that the pass was still in their possession. The next day some fifty odd journalists from all over the world landed at our headquarter and I was asked to brief them. After the briefing we sent the lot to the forward post in 161 Infantry Brigade from where the Hajipir pass could be observed by telescope. Meanwhile, we sent the Indian Tricolour and our Divisional (Dagger) Flag by helicopter and asked 1Para to fix the flags on the tallest trees. The journalists saw the flags and next day even the Pakistan media accepted the fall of Hajipir. Perhaps, after the siege of Lucknow in 1857, when the Union Jack flew at the residency for 24 hours, this was the first and the only occasion when the Tricolour and 19 Infantry Division flag flew round the clock and were not lowered at Retreat. Also, for the first time, field decoration for outstanding performance were awarded to Major Ranjit Singh Dyal of 1 Para, Major S Kapur of 1Sikh and Lt Col Sampuran Singh. The former was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra and the latter two were awarded Vir Chakra. I got my bottle of Black Dog, which was brought by special courier, courtesy the corps commander.

After the capture of the Hajipir pass, ring contour overlooking Hajipir pass was captured a few hours later by 1 Para. The advance elements of the enemy reserve battalion, that had been moved opposite Tithwal, had by now arrived here. During this attack, 1 Para lost 6 killed and 22 wounded. Major Ranjit Dyal had a miraculous escape when three bullets hit his belt but failed to penetrate through, remaining embedded in the belt. With the capture of ring contour the defence of the Hajipir pass, was now secure.

After the capture of the Hajipir Pass, to secure the lines of Communication and facilitate the opening of the road Uri- Hajipir-Poonch, it was essential that the enemy domination from the Bisali feature be removed. 4 Rajput was given the task of capturing Bisali. The feature was captured on the night 4/5 September. However, they could not hold this feature against relentless enemy counter attacks. This was our second major setback in which we lost two officers and 26 other ranks killed and four officers and 47 other ranks wounded.

On 4 September 65, while I was busy in the operations room, Captain Gurung, the Quartermaster of 1 Para, who was on his way from Pattan to Uri, dropped by to see me. During the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was fed up with administrative duties and wanted to take part in the action that was going on. I called up Ranjit Dayal and conveyed Gurung’s wishes. An attack was being planned on Ring Contour and so Captain Gurung was given command of the company selected to attack this feature. The attack was launched on the night of 7/8 September. Repeated attempts to capture this feature were held up due to heavy machine gun fire. Captain Gurung was killed leading his troops. Having failed to capture the ridge running west of the Road Hajipir – Poonch, the operation was switched to the east. 6 DOGRA captured Point 7720 at dawn on 9 September and 19 Punjab captured Point 9270 later in the morning. Ziarat was captured that same evening.

The historic link up with 93 Infantry Brigade at Poonch took place at 1000 hours on 10 September. Kahuta was captured by 19 Punjab on the night 11/12 September. While 19 Punjab and 6 Dogra cleared the heights overlooking the road, 3 Sikh from 268brigade ensured that the home bank of Neelam river was secured. All bridges were blown and all infiltration routes to the Valley had been adequately taken care of. India had indeed won a major victory.

Commissioned on 10 Oct 1943 in the Corps of Signals, Maj. Gen. H.S. Kler, as the GSO1 of 19 Infantry Division, oversaw operations in the Kashmir Valley during the 1965 War and was awarded the AVSM. A veteran of World War II, and the 1948 Indo Pak War, he commanded 95 Mountain Brigade in the Liberation War of 1971, where he was awarded the MVC. After command of 10 Infantry Division, he left the Army and moved to California. This article was written before the General passed away on 27 May 2016.

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Maj Gen HS Kler

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