Liberation of Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir has always been close to my heart. My late father was posted in Sialkot from 1946-49 as a Captain, and two of my uncles have participated in the 1948 Kashmir War, therefore, I have been listening to the stories of bravery connected to it since my childhood. During 1965 I was posted to 17 Punjab, which had captured Chunj feature in Tithwal Sector in July 1948, thus halting the Indian offensive in that sector. I conducted a detailed study of the Battle of Chunj after visiting the site in 1988 and interviewing many of the participants. This is a unique battle which was conducted with the use of most unorthodox tactics. The H Hour (time to attack) being on a Bugle call and one 3.7″ Mountain Gun was tied to a tree, using ropes to give direct fire on the enemy positions below. This is a story of 4/16 Punjab (now 17 Punjab Regiment) then commanded by Lt Col Nausherwan Khan (later Brig).
On June 25, 1948, CO 4/16 Punjab addressed all his troops and explained the plan of action and selection of initial objective for capture of Chunj feature general area (Point 9444) that subsequently was to facilitate the capture and evict enemy from Point 6953 and Point 7229 (high peaks) that were dominating the main track along River Neelum. He especially emphasized the importance of Point 9444, which was the highest feature in the area. Due to difficult terrain and lack of tracks etc., no artillery fire support other than integral weapons was available.
After explaining the situation, the CO gave out his initial orders to his commanders. An officer with platoon strength was tasked to clear and occupy area Point 4207 by 0500 hrs the next morning. The attacking platoon moved astride a track. Indians opened up with every piece of artillery and machine guns they had, but no major damage was done to own troops due to the prevailing darkness of the night. The enemy protective elements finally abandoned the area, leaving behind two dead and large quantity of ammunition and some equipment.
The intial plan devised by Lt Colonel Nausherwan took the enemy by surprise and imposed caution on its thinking and planning. However, the enemy – fully alerted by now – started firing on any movement they observed. By the evening, rest of the battalion started arriving in the area. The following week our front was further stabilized with the arrival of rest of the brigade. Then arrived two 3.7" howitzer guns to support the 4/16 Punjab, under Captain Rao Farman Ali (later Major General).
The enemy resorted to regular bombing and strafing using Indian/RAF aircraft. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not have the luxury to hit back. Indians were superior in artillery, which consisted of mountain and field guns, but these were not effective. The terrain provided good cover from artillery fire. Engineers and labour working round the clock constructed a mule track, which enabled steady movement of troops, weapons and logistics.
In the third week of June, 4/16 Punjab Regiment was ordered to relieve another battalion of the Brigade in Chunj area in preparation to capture Point 7229, our main objective. The battalion moved in three phases (by companies) to concentrate north of Chunj/Point 9444 in area Chugail/Ban Forest. The major part of the battalion crossed River Neelum from Dhani, where the Engineers had erected a single span rope bridge, but it could not be crossed between 1100-1800 hours, because of fast blowing winds. However, the worst was confronted when 3.7" howitzer gun nicknamed “Shehzadi” was required to be moved to Chunj, as the gun could not support the attack from the road side or Nausada area. There was no bridge strong enough to take the load of the gun pieces. Then a British Officer, Major Sloan ex Engineers, accepted the responsibility and personally worked with his Sapper JCOs/men to construct a bridge fit enough to bear the load.
The bridge was completed in a short time and Shahzadi was hauled across with the help of 70 porters. It took them 36 hours over a very difficult terrain to bring it to its firing position at Point 9444. The position had already been prepared. Ropes had to be tied to secure the gun and prevent it from falling off the hill due to recoil. The entire battalion completed its move and concentrated in Ban Forest area by June 30.
On July 2, 1948 at Point 9444 (Chunj), the Commanding Officer gave his initial assessment of the task at hand. Four days were given to the subordinate commanders for preparations. Thereafter, the reconnaissance by company, platoon, section and specialist platoon commanders started. Complete wireless silence was observed. Limited day reconnaissance was allowed, whereas close reconnaissance was done at night. Around 50 percent of the troops went as close as 100 yards of the enemy position without being observed or detected even once. At 0730 hours on July 7, 1948 final orders to the subordinate commanders were issued. 4/16 Punjab set the mission to capture Point 7229 by 1800 hours on July 8, 1948. All troops were asked to concentrate at the battalion tactical headquarters (Ban Forest) at 1700 hours. A platoon of Azad Kashmir troops also joined the battalion. The CO decided to stay with the reserve company.
On July 8, 1948 move of troops to the FUP (located south of Ban Forest behind Chunj, Point 9444) went undetected. By 0430 hours, all troops reached their FUP. Protection parties deployed in front of the companies saw a lot of movements and some unusual noise in the early hours of the morning. They thought perhaps the enemy had received early warning about the impending attack. Actually the new unit – 3 Madras – was in the process of preparing for their stand-to timings and was absolutely unaware of the attack. All attacking troops entered the FUP quietly. At exact 0500 hours, the unit buglers sounded the Reveille, as desired by Lt Col Nausherwan. The echo of the bugles was heard far back in the Brigade Headquarters in Dhani. The enemy was taken by total surprise and was alerted when the attacking company shouted Nara-e-Haidri and charged on to its positions. Earlier during the night, the CO had ordered the unit Dispatch Rider (DR) to keep his motorcycle starting intermittently to give the impression of tanks in the area. All these actions bore fruit and resulted in facilitating the attack. The morning sun was just rising, when the first wave got into the attack. The attack on Point 6953 coming down from Point 9444 was astride a narrow ridgeline and a conventional two company-up attack was not possible. ‘A’ Company went into attack first, however, the advance was held up. Artillery piece ‘Shahzadi’, played a major role when it blew a few enemy bunkers early during the attack by direct hits. Major Ghulam Rasul, whose advance was held up by a solitary machine gun, decided to approach the enemy positions from the southwest (enemy’s rear) from the direction of Chilean village. This process took a few hours, and ‘A’ Company was able to capture part of enemy defences. By the time ‘B’ Company passed through the leading company, it was dark. After a hand-to-hand fight and heavy casualties to the enemy, the objective Point 6953 was finally captured. Enemy deserted the defensive positions, leaving behind 30 dead and 13 prisoners. With no fire support coming from depth positions, the remaining enemy troops gave up the fight and surrendered.
On July 9, C and D Companies finally moved forward to launch second phase of the operation. Final orders to go ahead were delayed till 0800 hours. However, around 0600 hours, the CO sent a message to disclose that Point 7229 was unoccupied and that both companies were required to join him at Point 7229 immediately. The enemy was in a state of complete panic, and therefore, while withdrawing across River Neelum blew up the bridge at Tithwal. The unit asked for permission to cross the river and chase the enemy, but it was turned down. The same night, the battalion attacked the enemy “Piquet” (north of Tithwal) overlooking two valleys. The enemy was so demoralized that it abandoned all positions in this Sector. Unfortunately, the casualties due to mines increased to over 10 killed and 60 wounded compared to only two dead and 10 wounded in the attack itself. 3/12 FF was then asked to immediately move and occupy Pir Sahaba feature.
Subsequently, 4/16 Punjab took over Pir Sahaba positions. The battalion remained in the area for about three months until relieved by 8 Punjab Regiment and returned to Abbottabad on November 23, 1948. The Chunj Operation was finally over, with great memories of success, bravery, sacrifice and leadership.
This battle was a great morale booster for the entire force in Tithwal Sector – forcing the enemy to withdraw to the home bank of the River. This great success can rightly be attributed to the superb leadership of Lt Col Nausherwan Khan. The enemy was completely surprised and was never allowed any initiative throughout. Lt Colonel Nausherwan had to think of an out-of-the-box solution. He decided to launch his direction of attack from the highest feature in the area, i.e., Point 9444, which was not under enemy’s occupation. Secondly, he opted to dismantle, carry and site the 3.7" howitzer, all the way up to Point 9444, which provided him direct artillery fire. Other measures like depicting presence of tanks in the area, employing motorcycle noise and sounding of bugle call to announce commencement of attack, created psychological ascendency.
The Battle of Chunj is a unique unit/sub-unit level attack that needs to be studied for its unorthodox planning, bold execution and courageous leadership at all levels. Fall of Chunj in Tithwal Sector and Pandu in Jhelum Valley brought the much talked of Indian Summer Offensive to a grinding halt. Pakistan Army thus fought and successfully defended the Azad Kashmir territory from Indian military aggression. These stories of valour motivate our soldiers defending Azad Kashmir even today. Of course, liberation of Kashmir remains an unfinished agenda of Partition and all efforts must be made for the liberation of remaining Kashmir.
Kashmir bane ga Pakistan, In sha Allah.