You can only die once, so make sure it’s worth it.
For a long time I have wanted to write about the bravery, never say die attitude of our soldiers. Two movies actually pushed me to start the process – American Sniper and Baby. Both these movies brought home the truth that there is something about a soldier that inspires, motivates and propels us along. George Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”
I am sharing with you stories of those brave hearts who bore arms for India, fought to protect her and us, allowing us to enjoy our freedom today.
A Pakistani historian wrote, “Two tricks of fortune conspired to cheat Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Kashmir – the loss of a day and half of pillaging in Baramulla and the reckless bravery of one Indian army officer, who…made an attack on the invading forces as if he had the whole Army Division at his support.”
That Indian officer was Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of 1 Sikh, who became a trail blazer in our first war with Pakistan.
Prior to the accession, Maharaja Hari Singh had realised that Pakistan had no intention of honoring the Standstill Agreement he had signed with them. October 1947 saw a revolt by deserters of J&K State Forces, aided by the Pakistani Army and the tribesmen from Northwest crossing the border into Kashmir. Pakistani raiders
captured the border town of Uri, Mahur and started pillaging Baramulla. The looting was beyond human imagination.
It is this attack on the people of Baramulla that distracted the Pakistani raiders from their objective of capturing Srinagar. That the situation was grim became an understatement. A country that had fought for independence from the British, was now fighting internally to save her citizens and territory. The acceptance of accession came with the responsibility to protecting people & property of J&K. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26th October 1947 and the Indian Army landed in Srinagar on 27th October 1947.
Challenges that the Army faced were enormous:
1. Shortage of time and resources – mobilising & moving Army Units long distance in a short span of time was the first hurdle.
2. Difficult & unfamiliar terrain – Jammu & Kashmir was unfamiliar and difficult terrain for our troops. Unfamiliar because they had never battled there, difficult because it was winter and the severe cold climate had adverse effects on men & weapons.
3. Pressure of war – Indian Army did not have any time to prepare for a war of this kind. We had gained independence two months prior to this and were still sorting out internal political, social and economic issues. This was a firefight – either we fight now or we have nothing left to fight for was the message.
Under such circumstances, 1st Battalion Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh) was chosen to be air lifted & inducted into the burning
Valley. Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was the CO who was ordered to take his Battalion from Gurgaon to Srinagar. His briefing at Army HQ prior to departure included just two points –
1. Uri was captured by the Raiders & Baramulla was being pillaged by them.
2. 1 Sikh was to protect the city of Srinagar and facilitate subsequent landing of Indian Army units at the airport.
Never in the history of warfare had such an airlift taken place…with so little notice and planning. 30 Dakota aircrafts with men, weapons and equipment landed. Reliable communication or intelligence was wishful thinking at that time and Lt Col Rai had to prioritise his tasks and devise methods of executing also.
Some wise man had said a long time ago, “Fortune favours the bold.” The CO took the bold decision of seeking, fighting & destroying the enemy in and around Baramulla, away from Srinagar city and airport. This tactical engagement of the Raiders was to earn more time for our troops to land. Adequate men were left behind to protect the air field and the rest of 1 Sikh moved to Baramulla on 28th Oct. Lt Col Rai chose to occupy a delaying position between Patan & Baramulla to prevent the enemy from advancing towards Srinagar. A fierce battle ensued between 1 Sikh and the Raiders…more than a thousand Raiders against approximately 180 – 200 Indian soldiers. These bravehearts fought with disregard to their own safety and delayed the enemy movement towards Srinagar.
In this conflict, the Raiders presumably spotted the CO and a few men moving from one position to another and fired incessantly on them. The CO and those few men with him were all killed.
The courageous Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai inspired his men to give their best in the wake of enemy attack, even when they were out numbered. This “reckless bravery” helped us gain more time and allow more troops to land in Srinagar. As a result, we were able to protect the city also. Lt Col Rai became the first Commanding Officer to land in J&K after the accession, the first CO to achieve martyrdom and to be decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra.
His valour and sacrifice have inspired all ranks of the Sikh Regiment and the Regiment continues to be one of the highest decorated regiments of the Indian Army, with 72 Battle Honours, 15 Theatre Honours and 5 COAS Unit Citations besides two PVCs, 14 MVCs, 5 KCs, 67 Vir Chakras and 1596 other gallantry awards, The history of the Regiment spanning 154 years is replete with heroic deeds of bravery and courage which have few parallels if any.