This is the first in the series of short biographies of Partition and Independence-era Indian Army legends, by Veteran Brig Kuldip S. Brar, besides freewheeling recollections of his time in uniform.
Sometime back, Brig Vineet Sood of our Battalion suggested that I share some of my memories of senior officers of the Regiment/Army. So here goes. When I joined Char Satara at Zunheboto (Nagaland) in Jul 1960, and three years later, 165 Mountain Brigade at Chhanggu (Sikkim), fortunately for me there were still a number of officers and JCOs who had served in WW II and the 1947-48 Indo-Pak War and it was fascinating to draw out from their memories the many interesting war episodes.
In retrospect, I wish I had picked their memories for even more stories! Among them were Brig (later Maj Gen) SS Maitra (1 Gren/3/1 GR), Lt Col HW (Bill) Davis and Maj KP Menon (Char Satara), Maj (later Lt Col) Shyam Ratan (FF/4 Guards/Char Satara), Jemadar (Nb Sub)/Clk (later Hony Capt) Baldev Pershad (Char Satara) etc; these come readily to my mind today for there were many more.
In Zunheboto, I was soon designated as Battalion Intelligence Officer, frequently leading long-range patrols and search and seizure missions, or laying ambushes. When not deployed on such assignments, I would sit by the Head Clerk, then Jemadar Baldev Pershad, to listen to wartime episodes of Char Satara. Being the Battalion ‘G’ (Battle) Clerk throughout the Burma and J&K operations, he was an eyewitness to what had transpired. This narration covers vignettes of Army life, pre and post partition, as well as brief observations on some of the British officers who served in the British Indian Army.
These gentlemen had an admirable trait of recording their experiences of operational activities that were filed in unit records and War Diaries and published in journals or in books. If only we could emulate them, our officers and their spouses have an abundance of interesting stories of life in the Army. I would encourage you to commit to paper your experiences of service in various sectors and locations, in both field and peace. These could be preserved, cherished and serve in the future as the ‘Unofficial History’ of the Battalion or formation and serve as an ancillary source for the Battalion history.
Battalion history is a valuable reference point and provides guidance so that mistakes of the past are not repeated or successful techniques of the past highlighted. Brigs Vineet Sood and other officers and ladies of the Battalion who have a flair for writing, could form an editorial team to compile this ‘Unofficial History’. Further, we need to cultivate in our young officers the habit of reading, especially books on Battalion history, military campaigns, military biographies and travelogues. Personally, I gained immensely from such pursuit.
At the outset, two corrections: firstly, Lt Gen Kalwant Singh was commissioned into 2/1 Punjab and not 1/1 Punjab. The Punjab Group, the largest Infantry Group in the British Indian Army, had six regiments; 1st, 2nd, 8th, 14th, 15th and 16th. At the time of partition, only the 2nd Punjab Regiment came to India – the other five became part of the Pakistan Army. In the Indian Army, 1/2 Punjab became 1 Para, and when Gen Cariappa took over as the first Indian C-in-C on 15 Jan 1949, he decided to create the Brigade of Guards by converting senior most Battalions of four Regiments.
Consequently, 2/2 Punjab became 1 Guards; 1 Grenadiers, 2 Guards; 1 Raj Rif, 3 Guards and 1 Rajput, 4 Guards. Secondly, Gen GG Bewoor was originally from 5/10 Baloch, not the Frontier Force Regiment; more on these two generals a bit later. In our Regiment, until 1960-62, we had 10 regular Battalions and not 12 as erroneously mentioned by me earlier. The eleventh was the TA Battalion, and the twelfth (10 Dogra) was the Training Battalion, long since converted into the Regimental Centre. To the best of my knowledge, in WW II, we had four battalions – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the newly raised 4th. 2 Dogra and 3 Dogra were deployed in Malaya (now Malaysia) as part of Lt Gen AE Percival’s Corps to defend the Peninsula against Japanese invasion.
Both these Battalions fought with great courage and tenacity and inflicted great attrition on the Japanese while suffering heavy casualties in the process. Ultimately, Percival’s force was overwhelmed. He surrendered to the Japanese along with his Corps. Thus, unfortunately, 2nd and 3rd Dogra also passed into Japanese captivity. After VJ Day August 45, both these battalions were re-raised in India, and performed creditably in the first Indo-Pak (J&K) War ‘47-‘48.
During WW II, 1 Dogra and 4 Dogra formed part of Gen Slim’s Army and by 1944 were deployed in Imphal Sector as part of 4 Corps to face the Japanese invasion. Both battalions fought gallant actions; 1 Dogra wrested back the Kennedy Peak from the enemy and earned Battle Honour of the same name. 4 Dogra, as part of Maj Gen Douglas Gracy’s 20 Div was deployed at Palel airfield and surrounding hills, and successfully defended the airfield against ferocious Japanese attacks.
For many months, the airfield was vital as it was the only lifeline, sustaining troops of 4 Corps formations that were surrounded by the Japs. Interestingly, our own Brig Rajiv Chhibber recently commanded the Brigade at Palel and earned a Sena Medal while conducting CI operations. In the 14th Army’s re-conquest of Burma, 1 and 4 Dogra participated in operations across the Irrawaddy. Around that time, 4 Dogra Battalion HQ harbour was attacked at night by a Japanese party. Though sited for all round defence, some Japs managed to sneak inside the perimeter and started shooting wildly. The CO, Lt Col RP Taylor and the Adjutant, Capt Poole rallied the HQ personnel – clerks, tradesmen, Protection Section and Medical Platoon boys – to beat back the Japs and restored the perimeter.
In Burma, every soldier was expected to carry his personal weapon at all times, even while going for the morning constitutional! During the pursuit to Rangoon, 4 Dogra earned glory in Battle of Magwe in April ‘45, when the unit ambushed a large Japanese column and after a fierce battle, inflicted huge casualties on the enemy. 4 Dogra was awarded the Battle Honour ‘Magwe’.
Shortly before Magwe, Jem (Hony Capt) Bhag Singh of Charlie Company was tasked to lay an ambush with 20 men to trap the Japanese moving around in the area. The ambush was very successful, many Japanese were killed and important documents were recovered from the dead. At the RV (rendezvous), Bhag Singh was horrified to find one of his boys missing. The CO’s orders were, “no man to be left behind”. Bhag Singh and his party quickly retraced their steps to the ambush site and after many tension-filled minutes, managed to find the missing comrade. Bhag Singh earned a well-deserved MC. In April 1961, I met Bhag Singh at Vihoshe Post of Charlie Company then commanded by Capt (later Lt Gen) VK Sood. Bhag Singh was his senior JCO and was to proceed on superannuation shortly.
After VJ-Day, 1 Dogra was moved to Java-Sumatra (Indonesia) and 4 Dogra was posted to Saigon (Indo-China) where they were selected to provide the Guard of Honour to the Supreme Commander South East Asia Command (SEAC), Lord Louis Mountbatten, on the occasion of the Japanese surrender in the city. By 1947, these Battalions returned to India, and at the time of Partition, were deployed in West Punjab to escort the Hindu-Sikh refugees to East Punjab. Around that time, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of newly independent India, visited Lahore for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan.
The honour of providing protection to Nehru was given to a Dogra Battalion (perhaps 1 Dogra) and the CO, Lt Col (later Maj Gen) UC Dubey, not taking any chances, positioned himself at the entrance to Nehru’s suite to ensure foolproof security of the revered Prime Minister.
SENIOR OFFICERS OF THE REGIMENT/INDIAN ARMY
Lt Gen Kalwant Singh: He belonged to a prominent Muheyal-Datt family of district Sialkot. His father, Dr Sant Singh Datt was Chief Resident of Kalsian state in East Punjab. Kalwant’s great grand-uncle from maternal side, Risaldar Major Ganda Singh Datt, IOM was a highly decorated soldier of 19 Bengal Lancers in the British Indian Army. He belonged to the village of Zaffarwal Dattan in Sialkot district and had taken part in numerous campaigns, exhibiting valour and great gallantry in all operations. In addition to the highest gallantry award, he was appointed Hony ADC to the C-in-C Field Marshal Lord Roberts and was allotted large estates in Punjab; the town Ganda Singh Wala is named after him which is just across the Satluj from Hussainiwala.
Muheyals are very proud of their seven castes: Balis, Bhimwals, Chibbers, Datts, Laus, Mohans and Vaids. Bakshis, Nayyars and Mehtas also form part of Muheyals. They take their lineage from Rishi Vasishtha and Rishi Parashar and they are known as Warrior-Brahmins. Sunil Dutt the famous actor, also a Muheyal, had claimed that their ancestors under the leadership of Rahab Dutt, then living in Afghanistan, fought in the Battle of Karbala in Iraq, on the day of Muharram 10 October 680 AD on the side of Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, and that Rahab Dutt along with his sons and a large number of his clansmen had valiantly laid down their lives on the battlefield.
These Muheyals thus came to be known as Hussaini Brahmins. The Muheyals in Afghanistan had forged close and friendly ties with the local Shia Afghans, and participated in each other’s festivals and ceremonials. Recently, Lt Gen SS (Shammi) Mehta told me that his ancestors had lived in Southern Afghanistan for generations; the onslaught and carnage by Mongol hordes and later the Mughals, forced them to migrate and seek refuge on the banks of the Jhelum, in Sialkot and in Multan; a group of Muheyals had also moved to Maharashtra-Poona area.
Kalwant Singh graduated from Sandhurst in Jan 1925, and after one year’s attachment with a British unit, was posted to 2/1 Punjab in 1926. Growing up in the Army, he exhibited a sharp mind and remarkable professional acumen. He graduated from Command and Staff College at Quetta and by 1943 he was posted to the College as an instructor. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in 1946 and posted as the BGS North-Western Command, headquartered at Rawalpindi.
Post-partition, in 1947, Kalwant arrived in India and was empanelled with the Dogra Regiment, his 2/1 Punjab having been transferred to Pakistan Army. In Oct ’47, at the time of Pak-Tribal invasion of J&K, he was promoted to Maj Gen and was made Commander of the JAK Force for conducting operations in Kashmir as well as Jammu regions. Soon, with the induction of additional formations in the Valley and Jammu-Naoshera regions, it was imperative to split the command north and south of the Pir Panjal Range (PPR). Maj Gen Thimmayya took over the command of SRI Div (later renamed 19 (Dagger) Div) for operations North of PPR.
Kalwant remained in command of Jammu-Naoshera sector. HQ 15 Corps under Lt Gen SM Srinagesh at Udhampur was responsible for coordinating operations of these Divisions, with Lt Gen Cariappa in overall command as GOC-in-C Western Command. In 1948, Maj Gen Atma Singh relieved Kalwant who then moved to Delhi as Chief of the General Staff (CGS). Subsequently, Lt Gen Kalwant Singh commanded XI Corps based at Jalandhar to tackle the threat from Pakistan in the plains. In 1953, he became GOC-in-C Western Command for a few months, then making way for Lt Gen Thimmayya but took over as Army Commander again in 1955 till he superannuated in 1959.
Professionally, Kalwant was well known for his tactical and strategic vision, but he was feisty and abrasive, and was seen as a terror by those serving under him. At Command HQ, his Chiefs of Staff, the iconic Maj Gen HC (Harry) Badhwar (Hodson’s Horse), GG Bewoor and later Brig Harbaksh Singh the BGS, were always wary of any conversation with Kalwant. It must be stated to the credit of Gen Kalwant that as early as 1951, he and other generals had cautioned Nehru that the main threat to India’s security would emerge from China through Tibet and would not come from Pakistan.
Sadly, Nehru ignored this advice, which resulted in a humiliating defeat for us in 1962. Kalwant had strong likes and dislikes. For reasons unknown, Kalwant denied Gen Bewoor his right to succeed him as Col of the Dogra Regt, despite near unanimous votes in his favour. Gen Kalwant’s admirers as well as adversaries acknowledged his professional acumen, and the day he retired, newspapers in Pakistan ran headlines highlighting the superannuation of Gen Kalwant Singh.
(Next issue, read about late Army Chief Gen GG Bewoor and Maj Gen MS Pathania)
Brig Kuldip Brar was commissioned into the 4 Dogra in 1960, then conducting CI Ops in Nagaland. During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, his Battalion was flown into the Lohit Valley in the Battle of Walong. Kuldip was wounded at the Tri-Junction at 13500 feet. An alumnus of the Australian Army Staff College (1969), in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, he was Bde Maj of 48 Bde that captured the Pak salient Sehjra Bulge in the Khem Karan-Kasur Sector. He commanded 10 Dogra (1976-79); and 80 Inf Bde (1984-86) in the vital Naoshera-Jhangar Sector. On superannuation in Jan 1990, during the peak of the Punjab militancy, Kuldip volunteered to establish Youth camps to wean young men away from militancy. He has an autobiography titled ‘Through Wars and Insurgency – Diary of an Army Officer’. He lives in Chandigarh.
He can be contacted at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org