.hy offBRIGADIER MOHD. USMAN, MVC
It is said that 'those whom the Gods love, die young'. The brave rarely have long lives, and so it was with Mohammed Usman. When he laid down his life for his Motherland, he was 12 days short of his 36th birthday. But he achieved in his short life time more than most mortals, who live twice as long, or more. A grateful nation awarded him the Maha Vir Chakra, and he was given a State Funeral, a rarity for a military leader. Usman's valour, courage and tenacity, against fearful odds, played a crucial role in 1948, when a new born nation faced its first test of battle. His deeds are now part of the legend, of Naushera, and Jhangar. A true patriot and war hero, his name will always be enshrined in annals of the Indian Army.
Usman was born on 15 July 1912, in Bibipur village, of Azamgarh district, in the United Provinces. His father, Kazi Mohd Farook, was a police officer, who later became the 'Kotwal' (the officer in charge of the main police station in a city) of Banaras (now Varanasi), and given the title of Khan Bahadur, by the British Government. He was named Sheikh Mohammed Usman, but later, the prefix Sheikh was dropped. He had three elder sisters, and two brothers, one of whom, Gufran, joined the Army, and rose to rank of brigadier, while the other, Subhan, became a journalist. Usman was sent to the Harish Chandra High School, at Banaras. Even as a young lad, he showed signs of courage, which later brought him fame, as a war hero. When he was twelve years old, he was passing through a village, and saw several people around a well. When he learned that a child had fallen in the well, Usman unhesitatingly jumped in, and saved the life of the child.
Due to a speech impediment, Usman used to stammer. His father thought that it would be difficult for him to enter the civil service, and decided that he should join the police. He took his son to his superior, who was an Englishman, and also stammered. When he asked Usman a few questions, and the latter replied, the Englishman thought that the young boy was imitating him, and was visibly annoyed. This put paid to his chances of joining the police. His father was disappointed, but not Usman. He had always wanted to join the Army, and had expressed his desire to his friends, in school.
Indians had begun to join the Army as commissioned officers since 1920, though the competition was very tough, and only the scions of the aristocracy or landed gentry were given preference. Usman decided to try his luck, and applied for Sandhurst. He was selected, and in July 1932, sailed for England. In fact, this was the last course at Sandhurst to which Indians were admitted, since subsequent batches joined the Indian Military Academy, which opened in Dehradun in the same year. Usman passed out from Sandhurst on 01 February, 1934, along with ten other Indians, which included Apji Randhir Singh and R.N. Nehra. Incidentally, Apji was first in order of merit, out of 45 cadets who passed out, while Usman was 30th, and Nehra 34th. The first batch of ICOs had joined the Indian Military Academy at about the same time as when Usman's batch went to Sandhurst. This included Sam Manekshaw, Smith Dun and Mohd Musa, who rose to become Army Chiefs in India, Burma and Pakistan. This batch of ICOs was commissioned on 1 February 1935, with their seniority ante dated by one year, to account for the difference in duration of training between the Royal Military College and Indian Military Academy. However, to ensure that they remained junior to the KCIOs, the ICOs were given seniority from 4 February 1934. Thus, Manekshaw's batch was three days junior to Usman's.
After commissioning, Usman was sent to a British battalion for a year's attachment, as was customary. On 19 March 1935, he joined the 5th Battalion (King George's Own) 10 Baluch Regiment, also known as Jacob's Rifles. After a stint of regimental duties, he qualified on a war time staff course, and did a tenure on the staff. Towards the end of World War II, he was posted to 16/10 Baluch, as second-in-command. The battalion was then in the Arakan, in Burma, and part of 51 Infantry Brigade, under 25 Indian Division. The CO, Lieut Colonel John Fairlay, was one of the few Britishers who liked Indian officers, and had a high opinion of their capabilities. This was probably because he had served in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, as an instructor, and had seen them at close quarters. Z.C. 'Zoru' Bakshi, who later became a Lieut General, and one of the most highly decorated soldiers of the Indian Army, was in the same battalion, as a young officer.
Soon after he joined the battalion, Zoru Bakshi was sent on a patrol, with some men of his company, who were Pathans. On his return, Zoru reported that he had come across a hill feature, which was held by the Japanese. The CO promptly gave orders for its capture, though he was leaving on transfer next day. Zoru was assigned to carry out the task, but was told to take the Dogra company, instead of the Pathan company. Colonel Fairley had started his career with the Dogras, and had more faith in their prowess, than in the Pathans. Zoru was not very happy about it, but there was nothing he could do. To make up the strength, even the men employed in the mess were rounded up. One of these was Sepoy Bhandari Ram.
The next night, Zoru went ahead with the Dogra company, and launched the attack on the feature from three sides, using a platoon from each direction. After a bitter fight, the feature was captured. This was the first time Bhandari Ram had been in action, but he showed conspicuous gallantry. Apart from sustaining several bullets, a grenade burst right in front of him, and he was seriously wounded. After the operation, Zoru recounted this to Usman, who was officiating as CO, since Fairlay had left, and the new incumbent, Lieut Colonel L.P. 'Bogey' Sen had still not reported. Usman decided that Bhandari Ram deserved a Victoria Cross, and when the new CO joined next day, requested him to forward his name for the award.
The VC was the highest gallantry award, and given only for exceptional acts of valour. Bogey Sen had taken over that very day, and was not sure if it was right for him to send a recommendation for the VC. He felt that the Brigade Commander may not like it, and so sent a recommendation for the Indian Order of Merit (IOM), instead of the VC. Usman was very upset, and felt it was an injustice to Bhandari Ram. He argued that since he was in command on the day the action took place, his opinion must be given due weightage. But Sen did not relent, and refused to change his recommendation.
Usman was not one to take things lying down. He walked up to the Brigade Commander, and apprised him of the situation. The Commander, Brigadier R.A. Hutton, agreed with Usman. He sent back the recommendation to the Battalion HQ, with the remarks that on going through the citation, he felt that the action merited a VC, instead of the IOM. After this, Sen had no hesitation in sending a fresh recommendation, and Bhandari Ram was awarded the VC, which he deserved. Had it not been for the stand taken by Usman, this would not have come about.
Incidentally, 51 Infantry Brigade, later became famous as the 'All Indian Brigade', since all three battalions were being commanded by Indians. Lieut Colonel S.P.P. Thorat was commanding 2/2 Punjab, Lieut Colonel K.S. Thimayya was in command of 8/19 Hyderabad, and Lieut Colonel L.P. Sen was CO 16/10 Baluch. In the battle of Kangaw, in January 1945, all three were awarded DSOs. After the War, 25 Indian Division had been disbanded, and had not been re-raised when Usman fought and died in Jhangar, many years later. Today, it is the same division which is responsible for the defence of the sector.
Soon after the action in which Zoru had captured the hill, there was another attack, led by another officer who was the senior subaltern. This officer had not had the chance to lead an attack, and Usman had felt that he must be given the chance. But during the action, this officer went to pieces, and made a sorry spectacle in front of the men. Usman was extremely angry, and wanted the officer to be court martialled, but the CO did not agree. Usman then vowed to get rid of him, as soon as possible.
After the operations ceased in Burma, the battalion was sent back to India, for rest and refit, and was located at Pollachi, near Madras. Most of the officers and men were sent on leave. Usman, Zoru, and the senior subaltern were the only three officers left. One day a message was received, asking for volunteers for parachute duties. Usman told Zoru to advise the officer, to volunteer, but the latter refused. Usman then had him marched up in his office, and told him that if he did not sign on the dotted line, he would have him court martialled, for cowardice in the face of the enemy. The officer signed, and was soon packed off for parachute training. Usman thought he would never have to see him again. Little did he know that very soon, he would himself join the paratroopers.
The battalion did not stay in India for long, and was soon moved to Malaysia, with the rest of the division. However, as soon as they landed, the Japanese surrendered, after the atom bombs were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Usman was promoted Lieut Colonel, and given command of 14/10 Baluch, which was in the same division. Since the war was over, there was little to do, though the troops remained there for almost a year, before being repatriated to India. Towards the end of 1946, Usman was posted as GSO 1, to the 2 Airborne Division, which was being Indianised. After World War II ended, pressure on the British to accelerate the pace of Indianisation increased. After the eight unit scheme had been introduced in 1922, one division (4th Indian Division) and one cavalry brigade had also been Indianised. After World War II ended, it was decided to Indianise 2 Airborne Division, which was then located at Karachi. Earlier known as the 44th Airborne, the Division had three parachute brigades - the 50th, located at Quetta; the 77th, located at Malir; and the 14th, also at Malir. Each brigade had one British, one Gurkha, and one Indian para battalion. After reorganisation, all British and Gurkha troops were withdrawn, and replaced by Indians. The Indian Parachute Regiment, raised in December 1944, was disbanded, and the para battalions were to be regular units, from certain nominated regiments of the Indian Army.
Major General S.C. Sinha, who was then serving in 3 Para Battalion The Mahratta (now Maratha) Light Infantry as a Captain, recalls the that Usman's posting came as a surprise to everyone. A few months earlier, Major General Downes, GOC 2 Airborne Division, had been posted out, being a British Army officer. In his farewell speech to the officers of the division, he tried to reassure the British officers, who formed the overwhelming majority of the audience, that they need have no worry about losing their jobs to Indians, since it would take many years for them to come up to the required standards. To reinforce his point, he mentioned that he had interviewed several Indian officers for the appointment of GSO 1, and found only one who could foot the bill. And this officer, he gloated, was not a volunteer for parachute duties. General Downes had obviously not heard about Usman, who was subsequently selected for the job. Fortunately, the new GOC, Major General C.H. Boucher, was from the Gurkhas, and did not have any bias against Indian officers. He had himself not been a paratrooper, and did the basic para course and his jumps at Chaklala, before assuming command of the division on 31 March 1946.
The process of reorganisation continued for several months. The British and Gurkha battalions left, to be replaced by Indian units. By January 1947, 14 Para Brigade comprised 4 Para Battalion 6 Rajputana Rifles (Outram's), 1 Para Battalion The Frontier Force Regiment, and 3 Para Battalion 16 Punjab Regiment; 50 Para Brigade had 3 Para Battalion 1 Punjab Regiment, 3 Para Battalion The Baluch Regiment, and 2 Para Battalion The Madras Regiment; while 77 Para Brigade had 1 Para Battalion 2 Punjab Regiment, 3 Para Battalion The Mahratta Light Infantry, and 3 Para Battalion The Rajput Regiment. These units were spread over the whole country, and it was a colossal job to get them together. They belonged to some of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, and continued to wear their regimental insignia and embellishments. However, to distinguish them as paratroopers, they began wearing maroon berets or turbans, and the coveted 'wings' on the right arm.
In February 1947, the British Government announced that India would become independent by June 1948. The announcement was followed by large scale communal violence in the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, which could not be controlled by the civil administration, and the Army was called in. 2 Airborne Division played a major part in quelling the disturbances, and Usman had his hands full, rushing troops to various places where the situation became critical. This included Multan, Jacobabad, Lahore, Ambala, Rawalpindi and several others in Punjab. It became one of the biggest air transported deployments of troops in India, after the War. Para units carried out their assigned tasks in an exemplary manner, and their conduct was appreciated by political leaders, such as Nehru, who toured the affected areas, to reassure the people. Edwina Mountbatten, the Viceroy's wife, also visited the refugee camps and hospitals, and praised the work done by the troops. Gradually, the situation improved, and the riots ceased. However, the scale and ferocity of the violence convinced Mountbatten that the communal divide was too deep rooted to remain
dormant for long, and he took the momentous decision to advance the date of transfer of power to 15 August 1947. He also persuaded the Indian National Congress to accept partition of the country.
As part of the partition settlement, 2 Airborne Division was also divided. The divisional HQ and 50 and 77 Para Brigades were allotted to India, while 14 Para Brigade went to Pakistan. The para battalions did not go with their respective brigade HQ, but with their parent regiments. Thus, para battalions of the 1st and 15th Punjab, the Baluch, and the Frontier Force regiments went to Pakistan, while the rest came to India. Alongwith the units, all officers, VCOs and other ranks were also given the option to choose between the Indian or Pakistani Army. Usman was then in England, and had been posted as Commander 77 Parachute Brigade which had been moved from Quetta to Multan, for internal security duties. He was one of the senior Muslim officers in the Army, and it was expected that he would opt for Pakistan. But he surprised everyone by opting for India. A large number of officers from the Baluch Regiment, to which he belonged, questioned his decision, and asked him to reconsider, on the grounds of regimental loyalty, since the Baluch Regiment was going to Pakistan. Both Mohd. Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan tried to make him change his mind, with allurements of quick promotions, but Usman stood firm. He returned to his homeland, and moved with 77 Parachute Brigade to Amritsar.
After Partition, HQ 2 Airborne Division had moved to Dehradun, where it was placed in suspended animation. The two para brigades were placed under the joint Boundary Force, under the command of Major General T.W. Rees, and employed for evacuation of refugees. After the Boundary Force was wound up on 1 September 1947, responsibility for the security of refugees was taken over by the respective Governments. Major General K.S. Thimayya, who had been an advisor to Rees as a brigadier, was promoted and appointed GOC 4 Indian Division. He became responsible for the evacuation of refugees, as the Force Commander, in place of Rees. Usman was then commanding 77 Para Brigade, in Amritsar, while 50 Para Brigade, under Brigadier Y.S. Paranjpe, was in Gurdaspur. 77 Para Brigade was on the route of the mass exodus of refugees, in both directions. Though a Muslim, Usman was free of religious prejudice, and his impartiality, fairness and secular outlook was a fine example to the troops under his command. In those days, communal passions had flared up to unprecedented heights, and even seasoned soldiers sometimes found it difficult to avoid falling prey to the hysteria. Not very far from Amritsar, there had been a case 3 Para Baluch firing 3 inch mortars on a refugee camp of Hindus and Sikhs.
In October 1947, the trouble in Kashmir started. The 4th Battalion, Jammu and Kashmir Infantry was located at Muzaffarabad. It had two companies of Muslims, and two of Dogras. On 22 October, the Muslims fell on the Dogras, and murdered them, opening the way for the raiders from Pakistan to enter Kashmir. By 26 October, the tribesmen had reached the outskirts of Srinagar, and next day, Indian troops were flown into Kashmir. The first battalion to be flown to Srinagar on 27 October was 1 Sikh, followed by 1 Para Kumaon (now 3 Para) on 29 October. At the same time 50 Para Brigade, which was in Gurdaspur, was ordered to move to Jammu. The brigade had only two battalions, 1 Para Punjab (now 1 Para) and 3 Para Rajput. Both units had recently shed their Muslim companies, and were deployed on internal security duties. Thimayya had foreseen the need for deployment of the brigade, and had sent Paranjpe to carry out a reconnaissance of the area as soon as he came to know of the situation in Kashmir. 50 Para Brigade began to move on 28 October, and by 4 November, had concentrated at Jammu. It was given the task of protecting the road from Jammu to Srinagar, and also to assist in maintenance of law and order. Soon after it reached Jammu, 1 Para Punjab was flown to Srinagar, where the situation had become critical. By mid November, after the battle at Shalateng had restored the situation in the Valley, the battalion returned to Jammu.
At this time, the borders of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State were manned by elements of the State Forces. There was a brigade each at Mirpur, Jammu and Punch. The HQ of the Mirpur Brigade was at Jhangar, with a battalion at Kotli, two companies at Naushera, and a company at Mirpur. These troops had no artillery, and the battalion had 400 men, while the company had 100. By the beginning of November, Pakistani raiders had invaded the sector in strength. Mirpur, being very close to the border, had been encircled, Jhangar was besieged, and Kotli was threatened. On 7 November, Rajauri was captured by the raiders, and 30,000 Hindus were killed, wounded or abducted. Over 1500 refugees were slaughtered at Chingas. There were fervent appeals from the Military Adviser, Jammu and Kashmir, to the Defence Minister, and from Mehr Chand Mahajan, the State's Prime Minister, to Jawahar Lal Nehru, to relieve Kotli and Mirpur, and save the lives of the State troops, as well as the thousands of civilians from being massacred. Due to paucity of troops, and the operations in progress in Kashmir, little succour could be given, till after the capture of Uri, by Indian forces, on 13 November 1947.
Major General Kalwant Singh was GOC Jammu and Kashmir (JAK) Division. 50 Para Brigade had reached Akhnur on 13 November. Kalwant issued orders for the relief of Naushera, Jhangar, Mirpur, Kotli and Punch on 16 November. According to his plan, 50 Para Brigade was to relieve Naushera by 16th, Jhangar by 17th, Kotli by 18th, and Mirpur by 20th November. Another column from Uri, consisting of two battalions of 161 Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier LP 'Bogey' Sen, was to move on the Uri Punch axis on 16 November, reaching Punch the same day. The task of protection of the line of communication was to be taken over by 268 Infantry Brigade.
Kalwant's plan was ambitious, and had several flaws. This was pointed out by the officiating C-in-C, Lieut General F.R.R. Bucher, who felt that the advance of two columns was 'positively dangerous', and the despatch of a column from Uri to Punch, with the enemy still in position, was 'almost foolhardy'. Brigadier Y.S. Paranjpe, who was commanding 50 Para Brigade, also had several objections. Apart from the dates being unrealistic, he felt that after establishing a firm base at Jhangar, Mirpur should be relieved first, so that the advance to Kotli was not interfered with by the raiders. Both his battalions, 1 Para Punjab and 3 Para Rajput were below strength, with 350 to 400 men in each. However, he was over ruled by Kalwant, who got his plan approved by Lieut General Dudley Russell, GOC-in-C Delhi and East Punjab (DEP) Command, and the operations commenced on 16 November 1947.
Naushera was occupied on 18 November, after a brief engagement. Paranjpe had just three companies with him, and wanted to wait till the rest of the column fetched up. However, Kalwant seemed to be in a tearing hurry to reach Kotli, and ordered him to continue. Paranjpe, must against his wishes, resumed advance on 19 November, and occupied Jhangar the same day. From Jhangar, two roads forked out, one leading to Mirpur, and the other to Kotli. Paranjpe was in favour of relieving Mirpur before going for Kotli, so that his flank was secure. However, Kalwant did not agree, and ordered him to head for Kotli. Paranjpe set out from Jhangar on 20 November, but after about 15 miles, the advance was held up, due to enemy snipers, and road blocks set up by the raiders. Armoured cars and field guns had to be brought up at some places to clear the blocks, and Kotli was relieved only on 26 November, after negotiating forty seven road blocks. Two companies of demoralised Kashmir State troops, and about 9,000 civilians were found at Kotli. However, by this time the fate of Mirpur had been sealed. It could not be relieved, and was torched by the raiders the same day, after being evacuated. About 400 soldiers and 10,000 refugees managed to escape, and reached Jhangar. The Pathans killed several hundred soldiers and civilians, and captured hundreds of women. The abducted women were taken away to the Frontier, as war booty. En route, many of them were sold, for 150 rupees, after being paraded naked through the streets of Jhelum, by the exultant Pathan tribesmen.
On 27 November, the day after it had been relieved, Kalwant decided that Kotli could not be held, due to the vulnerability of the long line of communication, and ordered the troops to fall back on Jhangar. This was accomplished on 28 November. Soon after this, Brigadier Paranjpe was hospitalised, and Usman ordered to take over command of 50 Para Brigade. If Kalwant's decision to rush to Kotli, without securing his open flank by securing Mirpur was surprising, even stranger was his decision to fall back to Jhangar, immediately after its capture. In the event, Mirpur was lost. And thereby hangs a tale. The wife of one of Maharaja Hari Singh's ADCs lived in Kotli. She was also reportedly one of the Maharaja's many mistresses. It was said that a large treasure, belonging to the State, was kept in Kotli. Kalwant Singh's haste to relieve Kotli was probably attributable to these two factors, rather than tactical reasons. The lady and the treasure were probably saved. However, the lives of several hundred men, and the honour of several thousand women were lost. Of course, Kalwant blamed the delay in capture of Kotli for the misfortune which befell Mirpur, and felt that a more energetic commander than Paranjpe would have succeeded in saving both.
After falling back from Kotli, 50 Para Brigade occupied the townships of Jhangar and Naushera. 1 Para Punjab was asked to hold Jhangar, while the Brigade HQ and the second battalion was at Naushera. Soon after returning to Naushera, Brigadier Paranjpe was hospitalised, and had to be replaced. He had been in indifferent health for some time, due to an injury sustained while he was in Gurdaspur. Brigadier Mohd. Usman, who was commanding 77 Para Brigade, was transferred, to relieve Paranjpe as Commander 50 Para Brigade.
Though 50 Para Brigade was holding Naushera, the enemy was occupying several positions around it, particularly in the North. Usman realised the inherent danger of enemy presence in close vicinity of Naushera, and made several attempts to remove them, and clear the road towards Chingas. But the troops available to him were inadequate for the task, and he did not succeed. The situation in Jhangar was also causing concern. Besides 1 para Punjab, which had just 450 men, the garrison comprised a troop of 7 Cavalry and a platoon of Mahar medium machine gunners, in addition to some personnel from Signals and the Field Ambulance.
The enemy could advance to Jhangar from Kotli as well as Mirpur, and the defender had to cover these two approaches, in addition to the road to Naushera. A line of hills ran along the route from Kotli to Jhangar, and continued to Naushera. The road towards Mirpur was dominated by the Pir Matalsi ridge, and its occupation was essential for the defence of Jhangar. Lieut Colonel G.I.S. Kullar, who was commanding 1 Para Punjab, had sited his battalion to defend the two approaches from Mirpur and Kotli, with the Battalion HQ in the middle, at the cross roads. Due to the large gap between the companies, the positions did not have mutual support. This proved to be critical, during the enemy attack on Jhangar.
Since the beginning of December, the enemy had been harassing the garrison at Jhangar with fire from mortars and small arms, but it was difficult to estimate his strength. To get a clearer picture, Kullar sent a company down the Mirpur road on 9 December, and ordered the company occupying Pir Matalsi to cover their move. The company had advanced only about 750 metres when it came under effective fire, and one man was killed. The company was ordered to return, and soon afterwards, the enemy launched an attack. The attacking troops reached within 50 metres of the defences on Pir Matalsi, before they were beaten back, leaving 40 dead. During the attack, Kullar was at Pir Matalsi, with Lieut Colonel Rawind Singh Grewal, MC, standing beside him. Grewal was commanding 3 Para Mahratta Light Infantry (MLI), which was part of 77 Para Brigade. As soon as Usman had moved from 77 to 50 Para Brigade, Grewal had warned his officers that they should be prepared to join 50 Para Brigade, as he had a hunch that their erstwhile Commander would ask for them. He had come over to Jhangar to have look at the shape of things, on the quiet. What he saw was not very encouraging, and on his return, he ran into Major General Kalwant Singh, in the officers mess at Jammu. The divisional commander was in a happy frame of mind, and asked Grewal about the chances of 1 Para Punjab holding out at Jhangar. Kalwant was visibly annoyed when Grewal told him that the chances were dim, considering their depleted strength.
Apart from lack of troops, the defenders were severely handicapped by lack of intelligence about the enemy. Their main source of information were refugees, who were prone to exaggeration, and could not be relied upon. The local Muslim population had been alienated, due to years of neglect by the Dogra rulers, and their loyalties were subverted by Pakistani propaganda, which made them believe that the raiders would liberate them. Apart from the Kashmir valley, Hyderabad was also proving to be a trouble spot, and required troops, leaving almost none in the kitty, which could be spared for the defence of the Jammu sector. It was therefore, not surprising that repeated requests for reinforcements, made by local commanders had been turned down at Delhi. The fate of Jhangar was sealed, even before it came under attack.
The enemy strength in the area opposite Jhangar at this time was about 1500. The attack came at dawn on 24 December, a day before Christmas, which was also the birth day of Mohd. Ali Jinnah. Jhangar was planned to be a birthday present for the Qaid-e-Azam (Supreme Leader), the title Jinnah had assumed, after becoming President of Pakistan. A day before the attack, Usman had decided to reinforce Jhangar with a company of 1 Rajput, which had joined the brigade. He had asked for 3 Para MLI, as predicted by Grewal, but this battalion had still not reached Naushera. The column of the company of 1 Rajput, left Naushera on the morning of 23 December, escorted by two armoured cars of 7 Cavalry. Four miles outside Naushera, the column was ambushed, and had to stop. Two armoured cars which had set out from Jhangar, to meet the column half way, and escort them, met the same fate, and were ambushed just a kilometre from the first ambush. To ensure that the columns could neither advance nor retreat, the enemy blew up bridges on both sides of the ambush sites.
To extricate the ambushed company, Usman sent the remainder of 1 Rajput, which succeeded in its mission, at the cost seven casualties. However, when the enemy attack came on Jhangar, the 1 Rajput company was not there. The first objective to be attacked was Pir Matalsi, which was over-run in an hour, in spite of a gallant defence by the company which was holding it. The second company guarding the Mirpur approach fell soon afterwards, and Kullar readjusted his defences, by occupying small features around the road junction. After a few hours, the enemy launched another attack, from the North West. With the road to Naushera being blocked, reinforcement was not possible. The weather being bad, even the Air force could not provide any succour to the beleaguered troops defending Jhangar. Wisely, Kullar decided to withdraw to Naushera, and sent back all available transport. He did not know that the road was blocked, since wireless communications with Naushera had broken down, after the second assault, at 7.30 a.m.
As soon as Usman came to know of the attack on Jhangar, he decided to send reinforcements, in spite of the road blocks. He despatched 1 Rajput, less a company, with a section each of mountain artillery and medium machine guns, to Naushera, via a diversion. However, it was too late, since the defences of Jhangar had been over run, and the enemy was knocking at the gates of Naushera itself. The relief column came up against a road block after advancing just three kilometres, and had to halt. Attempts by the Rajputs to force their way were foiled by the enemy, who had occupied Kothi Dhar, which overlooked the road blocks. By the afternoon, troops who had withdrawn from Jhangar reached the road blocks, and fought their way to Naushera with the help of the relief column. Stragglers continued to stream into Naushera for the next two or three days.
The loss of Jhangar was a big blow to the Indian Army. It was the first major reverse of the operations in Jammu and Kashmir. 1 Para Punjab suffered 101 casualties - 55 killed and 46 wounded. Enemy casualties were estimated to be 1,000, but that was little consolation. But the debacle did have a positive result. It brought home to the top leadership the dangers of neglecting the defence of strategic positions. Soon afterwards, JAK Division was allotted an additional brigade; the administrative set up was improved; steps were taken to establish an intelligence organisation; and it was decided to institute gallantry awards.
After the capture of Jhangar, it was obvious that the enemy's next objective would be Naushera, since it would provide him with a firm base to progress operations towards Jammu. As a prelude to its capture, the enemy began to encircle the town. By the first week of January, all four roads leading out of Naushera were dominated by the enemy. 3 Para MLI had started arriving on 27 December, and by 3 January, the entire battalion had moved in. It was still in the process of settling down when it had an unfortunate incident. Usman had given the battalion the task of clearing the enemy from Bhajnoa, on the Jhangar road, on 4 January 1948. The enemy was well dug-in, and the attack was launched without artillery support. Not surprisingly, the attack was beaten back, with the battalion suffering seven casualties, including the CO, Lieut Colonel Rawind Singh Grewal, who was wounded and had to be evacuated. He was replaced by Lieut Colonel Harbans Singh Virk, DSO, who took over on 7 January 1948.
The failure of the attack by 3 Para MLI on 4 January had raised the enemy's spirits, and he mounted an assault on Naushera the same evening, from the South West. However, it was not pressed home, and with the help of artillery and mortars, the defenders were able to fend it off. Two days later, another daylight attack came from the North West. This too was repulsed. Then, a force of about 5,000 was launched by the enemy the same afternoon, supported by artillery. After a bitter fight, which drained all the resources of the garrison, this too was beaten back.
At this time, the situation of 50 Para Brigade was precarious, with many places around Naushera being in enemy hands, and the threat of a major assault ever present. The morale of the garrison was at rock bottom. After the bitter communal frenzy of Partition, some of the troops were not really sure of the loyalty of a Muslim commander. The situation was not improved by the exaggerated accounts of the enemy, given by men of 1 Para Punjab, which made them appear ten feet tall. Usman was faced with a daunting task. He had not only to frustrate the designs of the enemy, but win the confidence of his own troops. He set about it in real earnest, and his forceful personality, good man management, and professional acumen soon changed the situation. He introduced the greeting 'Jai Hind' in the brigade, and directed that all orders and briefings would be in Hindi, at all levels of command. 1 Para Punjab was sent to Beripattan, so that the other units in Naushera were not demoralised by their tall stories. It also did the unit good to be trusted with an independent task, after their defeat at the hands of the enemy.
The defence of Naushera was given due attention. Apart from the perimeter, troops were deployed to man picquets on all important features overlooking and dominating the approaches to the town. The line of communication to Beripattan was often cut off by the enemy, and this interfered with movement of supplies and reinforcements. To clear the road, road opening parties had to be sent from both directions. Usman was not one to sit and wait for the enemy, in passive defence. He started 'reconnaissance in force', which entailed hitting the enemy, whenever he could. To free the infantry for such limited offensive tasks, he used administrative elements, such as drivers, to man the perimeter, by day. It was by one such offensive action that he captured Kot and Pathradi, thus clearing the enemy from the immediate vicinity of Naushera defences, and reducing the threat to the line of communication back to Beripattan. The story of how, or why Kot was captured is interesting.
In January, 1948, Lieut General K.M. Cariappa had taken over Delhi and East Punjab Command (later Western Command) from Lieut General Sir Dudley Russell. Soon after taking over, he visited Naushera. Accompanied by Major (later Lieut General) S.K. Sinha, who was on his staff, he landed at the airstrip in Naushera, in an two seater Auster. Usman received the Army Commander and took him around the brigade. Before he left, Cariappa turned to Usman, and said that he wanted a present from him. He went on to say that he wanted Usman to capture Kot, which was the highest feature in the range of hills overlooking the Naushera valley. The enemy was building up for an attack on Naushera, and it was vital to wrest Kot from him before this happened. Usman assured Cariappa that he would capture the feature in the next few days.
Kot lay about 9 kilometres North East of Naushera, and overlooked the Naushera Tawi valley to the North, South and South West for about 10 km. It acted as a transit camp for the enemy, and lay on his route from Rajauri to Siot. The enemy strength was estimated to be a battalion, of about 500 men, who were mostly deserters from the State Forces and ex-servicemen of the Indian Army. They were reported to have two or three 3-inch mortars and one or two medium machine guns, in addition to four light machine guns and about four hundred rifles. The defences at Kot had mutual support with the enemy position at Pathradi.
The operation for the capture of Kot was code named 'Kipper', the name by which Cariappa was affectionately known in the Army. Usman planned the operation meticulously, as he wanted to ensure its success. He decided to attack both features simultaneously, with a battalion each. 3 Para MLI was to advance on the right and capture Pathradi and Uparla Dandesar, while 2/2 Punjab, which had been given to him for the operation, was to attack from the left, and capture Kot. The attack was to be supported by a Squadron of 7 cavalry, a company less a platoon of Mahar machine gunners, and two batteries of filed artillery. The Air Force was asked to provide some air support, if required, from their base at Jammu. A deception plan was also made, to make the enemy believe that an advance to Jhangar was in the offing. Mules and ponies were hired, and it was given out that they would be required to go to Jhangar.
To achieve surprise, Usman had decided on a silent attack. Moving off at last light on 31 January, the troops were near their objectives before first light next morning. 3 Para MLI was almost on the objective when a dog in the village of Pathradi began to bark, and alerted the enemy, who opened up with everything he had. The assaulting troops rushed forward, and charged the enemy, with the famous war cry of the Marathas 'Bol Shri Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai'. There was hand-to-hand fighting, and the bayonet was used with effect. The enemy withdrew, leaving several dead and wounded. After consolidating the defences at Pathradi, a company was sent to Uparla Dandesar, which was captured by mid day.
The attack on Kot was launched at at 06.30 a.m. on 1 February 1948. By 07.00 a.m., it appeared that the feature had been captured, and 2/2 Punjab sent a success signal, at 07.10 a.m. However, it later transpired that the battalion had gone through the village without searching it thoroughly, and missed the defenders, who were sleeping. They soon launched a fierce counter attack, and at 07.15 a.m., recaptured the feature. Usman had catered for this contingency, and kept two companies as the brigade reserve. These were now ordered to move up, and after a heavy artillery and air bombardment, the feature was recaptured at 10.10 a.m. The enemy losses were 156 dead and 200 wounded. 2/2 Punjab had eleven casualties - seven dead, and four wounded. In the attack on Pathradi and Uparla Dandesar, 3 Para MLI had 13 casualties - three dead and ten wounded - after killing 50 of the enemy. This was the first major reverse inflicted on the enemy, in prepared defences, and proved costly for him. Since it cut off the supply route to Naushera, its loss was a critical factor, during the battle, which took place after six days.
On 6 February 1948, one of the most important battles of the Jammu and Kashmir operations was fought at Naushera. Intoxicated by his success at Jhangar, the enemy tried to capture Naushera several times, but failed, due to the strength of the garrison, and the clever positioning of troops, by Usman. The loss of Kot and Pathradi was big blow the enemy, and infuriated by the defeat, he put everything he had in the battle at Naushera. At that time, there were five battalions, under Usman, namely 3 Para Rajput, 3 Para MLI, 1 Rajput, 2/2 Punjab and 1 Patiala. In addition, he had a squadron of 7 Cavalry, and a battery each of field and mountain guns. So the strength at his disposal was considerably more than what he had at Jhangar, which the enemy had captured earlier.
On 6 February, Usman had planned an attack on Kalal, at 06.00 a.m. From intelligence reports, he came to know that the enemy also planned to attack Naushera the same day. Usman immediately alerted all the picquets, and this timely warning was responsible for prevention of a major catastrophe. At 06.40 a.m. on 6 February, the enemy launched a determined attack, in which about 11,000 troops were used. After a mortar bombardment lasting 20 minutes, about 3,000 Pathans attacked Tain Dhar, and an equal number hurled themselves at Kot. In addition, about 5,000 tribesmen were used to attack the surrounding picquets, such as Kangota and Redian.
Tain Dhar feature, which overlooked Naushera and was the key to the Naushera valley, was held by 1 Rajput, under the command of Lieut Colonel Guman Singh. Though Usman had anticipated the attack, the exact timing, and quantum of force surprised him. He had foreseen the possibility of an attack on Tain Dhar, and catered for reinforcements. The Gujar company of 3 Para Rajput under Major Gurdial Singh, had been pre positioned half way up the Tain Dhar slopes, with the task of re-inforcing the main position on orders from him. Starting at first light, wave after wave of hostiles hurled themselves against defences. The brunt of the attack was borne by picquet number 2, of 1 Rajput, which had 27 men, of whom 24 lost their lives, or were severely wounded. The three surviving soldiers continued to fight, in hand to hand fighting, till another two were fatally wounded, and there was a lone survivor. It was at this critical moment that reinforcements arrived, and the situation was saved.
At about 07.15 a.m., Usman ordered Gurdial to move forward, and reinforce the picquet. The company reached the Tain Dhar picquet just when it was about to be annihilated, and two of the three survivors of picquet No. 2 had fallen. This was the turning point of the battle. If the company had reached even a few minutes later, Tain Dhar would have been lost, and the defence of Naushera become untenable. While the attacks on Tain Dhar and Kot were going on, a horde of about 5,000 Pathans attacked the positions from the West and South West. The tribesmen were engaged by artillery, mortars and machine guns, all of which combined to bring down deadly fire on the attackers. However, there appeared to be innumerable, and the attack continued for almost four hours, before the enemy called it a day.
In the event, the attacks failed, and the enemy was beaten back, leaving 2000 dead. Own casualties were 33 dead and 102 wounded. The dauntless Rajputs put up a gallant fight, and suffered most of the casualties. The valour displayed by the Rajputs was in keeping with the highest traditions of the regiment. It was in this action that Naik Jadunath Singh won a posthumous PVC. In addition, the battalion won two MVCs, including that of the company commander, Lieut Kishen Singh Rathore, and four VrCs. Apart from the heroism of the Rajputs, it was the artillery which played a decisive role in the action, and Naushera is often called a 'gunners battle'. After this failure, the enemy withdrew, and the tide turned. The tribesmen lost the will to fight, and were replaced by regular troops.
It was not only the combatant soldiers who displayed gallantry in the action. A non combatant sweeper of 1 Rajput showed tremendous courage during the attack on Tain Dhar. Seeing the never ending swarms of tribesmen attacking the picquet, and the depleted strength of the defenders, he picked up a rifle from a wounded comrade, and began firing at the enemy. When he ran out of ammunition, he snatched a sword from a tribesman, and killed three of the enemy. Another unique feature of the operation was the creditable role played the 'Balak Sena' (Boys Army). This had been raised by Usman, and comprised the orphaned children of Naushera. Between 6 and 12 years old, these children could be found thronging the men's kitchen, for left-overs. Usman formed them into a boys company, and arranged for their education and training. They were given a place to live, and regular meals. Some of them were employed as apprentices in workshops. During the battle of Naushera, they acted as messengers, carrying messages, often under fire. After the operation, three of these boys were presented with gold watches by the Prime Minister, for their bravery during the battle.
The Battle of Naushera brought Usman into the limelight, and made him famous. Overnight, his name was on everyone's lips, and he became a national hero. The Pakistanis announced a prize of 50,000 rupees for his head. However, Usman did not claim the entire credit for the success. Soon after the operation, Major General Kalwant Singh, GOC JAK Division, held a press conference, and said that credit for the success at Naushera went to Brigadier Mohd. Usman, Commander 50 Para Brigade. When Usman came to know of it, he wrote a letter to Kalwant, protesting that the soldiers who fought so valiantly and laid down their lives deserved the credit, and not he, as the brigade commander. He requested Kalwant to hold another press conference, and give a correction.
After this, plans were made to recapture Jhangar. This was planned to be done in three stages. Initially, several probing actions were to be carried out, to assess the enemy strength. This was to last till the end of February, and was to be followed by the capture of Ambli Dhar and Kaman Gosha Gala, between 1-4 March. The third phase, code named operation 'Vijay', involved the recapture of Jhangar, between 5-18 March. As a prelude to the recapture of Jhangar, 19 Infantry Brigade was inducted into the area. Commanded by Brigadier (later Major General) Yadunath Singh,
the brigade comprised 4 Dogra, 1 Rajputana Rifles and 1 Kumaon Rifles. In addition, 2 Jat was moved from Beri Pattan to reinforce 50 Para Brigade. Major General Kalwant Singh moved his Tactical HQ to Naushera to direct the operations.
By end of February, the first phase of the operation had been completed. In the second phase, which commenced on 1 March, 50 Para was given the task of capturing Ambli Dhar. Ever since he had known about the plans for recapture of Jhangar, Usman was in high spirits. The loss of Jhangar, by his brigade, had been rankling, and he wanted to avenge the defeat. His battalion commanders were affected by his enthusiasm, and the operation for capture of Ambli Dhar was completed without any hitch by 2 Jat, assisted by 1 Rajput. 19 Infantry Brigade was able to dislodge the enemy from Kaman Gosha Gala by 5 March, and by 9 March, it was firmly established astride the Handan ridge, after capturing Orange Hill and Kataria Choti. By this time 50 Para Brigade had also taken Point 3030, West of Shan Da Mohra. Both brigades were now poised for the final thrust, and on 10 March, Major General Kalwant Singh issued orders for the recapture of Jhangar.
It was at this time that Usman issued his famous order of the day, quoting the famous lines from Horatious, which read as follows:
"Comrades of 50 Parachute Brigade Group,
Time has come when our planning and preparation for the recapture of JHANGAR has to be put to test. It is not an easy task but I am confident of success - because our plan is sound and our preparations have been good. More so, because I have complete confidence in you all to do your best to recapture the ground we lost on 24 December and to retrieve the honour of our arms.
The eyes of the World are on us. The hopes and aspirations of our countrymen are based upon our efforts. We must not falter - we must not fail them.
To every man upon this Earth
Death cometh soon or late
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his Gods.
So forward friends, fearless we go to JHANGAR.
India expects everyone to do his duty."
The operation for the capture of Jhangar, code named 'VIJAY' was to commence on 12 March, but had to be delayed by two days, due to heavy rain. 50 Para Brigade advanced on the South of the valley, and 19 Infantry Brigade on the North, with a squadron of 7 Cavalry moving along the road in the middle. 50 Para Brigade had under command 3 Para MLI, 3 Para Rajput, 1 Patiala, and a company of 3/1 Punjab. 19 Infantry Brigade had 1 Rajput less a company, 4 Dogra and 1 Kumaon Rifles. The heavy rain and slush had turned the roads into a quagmire, which made movement difficult and slow. Field artillery could not move, but Kalwant decided to go ahead with the operation. By night fall, 3 Para MLI, which was in the van of the advance of 50 Para Brigade, reached Kothi Dhar, and bivouacked there for the night.
Ahead of Kothi Dhar lay the formidable obstacle, of Phir Thal Naka, where the enemy had his main line of defences. From Kothi Dhar, the route lay through a deep saddle, before going on to Phir Thal Naka, which had a sharp cliff on the North East face, but a more gradual slope towards the South West. The peak in the North East dominated the rest of the ridge, while the whole ridge overlooked the saddle in the South east, through which the advance of 50 Para Brigade had to pass. The saddle ran North to South; it was narrow at the Northern end, where it was blocked by a col joining Kothi Dhar to Phir Thal Naka. Towards the South, it widened to about 2,500 metres, where the advancing troops had to cross. About one third of the way across was a hillock, with a village named Kea on its Northern edge. The hillock was surrounded by open terraced field, strewn with boulders.
Soon after reaching Kothi Dhar, the battalion commander had sent patrols to Chahi village, and towards Phir Thal Naka. The patrol to the village did see an enemy patrol of a platoon strength on the move, but the one which had gone towards Phir Thal Naka only saw what they thought was a group of peasants, carrying baskets on their heads. Next morning, 3 Para MLI commenced their advance at 08.30 a.m., and had started to climb the hillock at Kea at 10.00. As soon as the leading company had gone over the top, and were beginning to go down the slope on the opposite side, the enemy suddenly opened fire with automatic weapons from Phir Thal Naka. Among the first casualties was the company commander, Major S.P. Chopra, who was shot through the head even as he was trying to pass a message to the battalion HQ. With the advance held up, and wireless communications breaking down, there was some confusion, Lieut Colonel Virk sent Captain (later Major General) S.C. Sinha, the battalion signal officer, to find out what had happened. Within a few hours, 3 Para MLI had suffered 18 casualties, which included two officers killed. Three lives were lost in trying to recover the body of Major Chopra, under heavy enemy fire, but the task was accomplished.
Usman wanted to pull back 3 Para MLI, and make another attempt after some preparation, including artillery support, which was totally absent. But Virk insisted that he would be able to hold on, and Usman gave his consent. However, it was obvious that the advance would have little chance of success unless some artillery was brought up, and this was done on priority. By the end of the day, some field guns were brought up. The company of 3 Para MLI which had been pinned down was extricated after last light, and its command given to Sinha. Usman spent the next day preparing for the attack on Phir Thal Naka. He decided to attack with two battalions, supported by artillery and air. 3 Para MLI was to attack from the right, while 1 Patiala was to go in from the left. A company of 3/1 Punjab was to divert the enemy's attention by engaging the feature from the South, while 3 Para Rajput was to be kept in reserve. The Air Force was requested to soften up the objective before the assault went in, and the light tanks were to operate along the road to Jhangar. The route to the objective was reconnoitered during the day by junior leaders, and also by moonlight during the night.
The attack on Phir Thal Naka commenced at 07.30 a.m. on 17 March 1948. For this operation, Usman had managed to muster considerable amount of artillery - 24 field guns, and the mortars of all three battalions, which had been brigaded. He arranged to put down an intense 15 minute barrage, to cover the move of the assaulting troops. The fire lifted just as the troops reached the forward trenches of the enemy, who was taken by surprise, and fled without offering any resistance. When the assaulting troops reached the bunkers, they found food being cooked, and kettles on the boil. 3 Para MLI did not suffer a single casualty in the attack. One of the major factors which contributed to the success of the operation was the intelligent use of artillery. Usman concentrated all his artillery on a very limited front, covering the highest point of the feature, which was attacked first. He had also brigaded all the mortars, of the infantry battalions, and placed them under the CO of his artillery regiment. As a result, the fire was concentrated, and proved to be very effective. During this operation, Lieut Colonel Virk and Major Chopra were awarded the MVC, while Captain Sucha Singh, who led the final successful assault, got the VrC.
3 Para MLI did not rest after capturing Phir Thal Naka. Taking a company of 3 Para Rajput along, the battalion set off towards Susloti Dhar, which was captured at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, the advance of 19 Infantry Brigade had also progressed well, and by 17 March, they had cleared Gaikot forest. The way was now clear for the attack on Jhangar, and both brigades prepared for the final dash next day. At 8.30 a.m. on 18 March, 3 Para Rajput took Uparli Karhali, and by 10.00, Usman had reached there with his HQ. The brigade now advanced on a two battalion front, with 1 Patiala on the right, and 3 Para MLI on the left. At 1 p.m., when 3 Para MLI reached Point 3399, word came through that 19 Infantry Brigade had already entered Jhangar. Operation 'Vijay' was over.
After the loss of Jhangar in December 1947, Usman had taken a vow, like Rana Pratap, that he would not sleep on a cot, till he had avenged the loss. For the last three months, he had kept his promise, and slept on the floor, even though it was bitterly cold. Now that he had redeemed his pledge, he asked for a cot to be brought. Since none was available in the brigade HQ, a cot was borrowed from the village, and Usman slept on it.
After the capture of Jhangar, 50 Para Brigade remained to defend the town, while 19 Infantry Brigade was withdrawn to Naushera. The next three months were spent in consolidating the defences, and beating back enemy attacks, which continued. Two major attacks were launched against Jhangar, on 16 April, and 10 May 1948. Both were beaten back, with heavy casualties to the enemy. After this, Usman decided to clear the enemy from the area of Sabzkot, which was an advance base, being used to protect the line of communication from Mirpur. The enemy strength was estimated to be about two companies. One of the forward positions, called MG Hill, was just 1800 metres from the Indian positions. Usman gave the task of clearing MG Hill, which was expected to be held by a company, to 3 Para MLI, while 2 Rajputana Rifles, which had been loaned to 50 Para Brigade from 19 Infantry Brigade, was asked to put in a flanking attack, behind the feature, along Keri, and take Point 3150. Thereafter, 3 Para MLI was to capture Point 3900, with the other battalion mopping up the area. After accomplishment of this task, both battalions were to encircle Sabz Kot and destroy it. It was a well conceived plan; unfortunately, it was based on imprecise intelligence.
The attack on MG Hill by 3 Para MLI was launched at first light on 21 May 1948, and progressed well till the assaulting troops were about 150 metres from the enemy's forward defences. Then the enemy opened up with automatics, and men began to fall. Some managed to reach the top of the hill, but were pushed back, by enemy counter attacks. It then became clear that the enemy strength was almost a battalion, and not a company, as Usman had estimated, based on the intelligence available to him when he planned the operation. The enemy had kept the major portion of his force on the reverse slopes, and only a few bunkers had been sited on the forward slope, leading to the incorrect estimate. Usman ordered the battalion to break contact and withdraw, with the support of tanks and artillery. This was achieved shortly after mid day. 3 Para MLI suffered 37 casualties, including eight dead. 2 Rajputana Rifles also ran into rough weather in their attack, and had to fall back, after suffering casualties. It was decided to give up attempts to capture MG Hill, till additional troops were available.
By this time, 50 Para Brigade had been in Jhangar for three months. Except the forward troops, who lived in properly fortified bunkers, those in the Brigade HQ and administrative units in the rear lived as in cantonments, with open trenches dug around the camp, for perimeter defence, if the need arose. This was because the enemy had no artillery in the sector, and his small arms fire could reach only the forward troops. In the middle of June, an Indian aircraft flying over the enemy positions to the South of Jhangar saw some gun pits. Another sortie a few days later reported that the guns were now manned. Some air attacks were mounted, but these had limited effect. At the same time, orders were passed that HQ and units in the rear should improve their defences, and construct bunkers with proper overhead protection. Very few people took these orders seriously, especially in the Brigade HQ, which had its office and mess in the two roomed inspection bungalow at the cross road, in Jhangar. One person who did follow the instructions was Captain Brij Lall, who was commanding the signal section in the Brigade HQ. He made sure that his bunkers were strong enough to withstand enemy shells.
Captain S.C. Sinha, of 3 Para MLI had been moved by Usman to the Brigade HQ as the Brigade Intelligence Officer (BIO), at this time. When Usman had taken over 50 Para Brigade, after the fall of Kotli, its morale was low, and had fallen still further after the loss of Jhangar. In a few months, Usman had managed to motivate the men under his command, and the battles of Naushera and Phir Thal Naka bear testimony to his leadership. He was a charismatic commander, who was very popular with both officers and men. he had a delightful sense of humour, and could remain cheerful even in the most trying circumstances. Sinha was deeply impressed by Usman's devotion to duty, sense of humour, and boundless energy. His courage and selflessness were obvious, and did wonders for the morale of the troops. He inspired confidence in his subordinates, and commanded by personal example. Above all, he was fair. While he was quick to reward the deserving, and give credit where due, he rarely condemned anyone without first giving him a fair hearing. He was a hard task master, who demanded the best from every one, and did not hesitate to take to task those who did not pull their weight. He showed by example that loyalty was a two way street, and always stood up for his subordinates.
One day, a very strongly worded signal was received from HQ JAK Force. It demanded an explanation from the BIO, for sending in clear, a six figure map reference of one of our own picquets which had been shelled by the enemy. This had been included in the Situation Report (SITREP), which is sent every day to higher HQ. The BIO had committed the error, and it appeared that the Divisional HQ wanted his head, served to them on a platter. A very scared Sinha took the signal to Usman, expecting a blast, which he thought he had earned. Usman looked at the signal, and without raising an eye brow, asked for a message pad. He drafted a reply; "A six figure map reference of our own position in question may have been news to the JAK Force HQ but I assure you it was no news to the enemy." This was the last that was heard of it.
Usman lost his life on 3 July 1948. The circumstances of his death were described by S.C. Sinha, who was present. Every evening at 5.30 p.m., Usman held a conference in the sand model room, which was nothing more than a couple of tents rigged together. That day, the time of the conference had been advanced by half an hour, and it finished earlier than usual. At 5.45 p.m., the enemy started shelling the Brigade HQ. But for the change in time, Usman and his staff would have been inside the tents, when four 25 pounder shells landed about 500 metres North of the cross roads. These were ranging shots, since the next salvo fell nearer. Everyone scrambled for cover, with the medical officer diving under his charpoy (stringed bed, used in Indian villages) and the cooks clinging to the tent walls, in the mistaken belief that this would give them adequate protection.
Usman and a few of his staff officers had been going round the HQ, after the conference ended. When the shelling began, they found shelter under a large overhanging rock in a terraced field, just above the signallers' bunker. With Usman were his artillery battery commander, Major Bhagwan Singh, and the Brigade Intelligence Officer, Captain S.C. Sinha. In an effort to silence the enemy guns, our own field battery began to return the fire. Realising the futility of firing at the enemy guns, which were well dug in, Usman ordered Bhagwan Singh to turn his guns to the West, and engage Point 3150. Bhagwan was surprised, since the enemy guns were firing from the South. But Usman repeated his orders, and only then did Bhagwan realise that Point 3150 was the obvious place for the enemy artillery observation post (OP). He ordered his eight guns to engage the target indicated by Usman. This brought the desired result, and the enemy guns ceased firing.
During the shelling, the wireless aerials on top of the command post, which was located a few metres away, had been damaged. Once the shelling stopped, a few signallers, led by Lieut Ram Singh, of the brigade signal company, came out and started repairing the aerials. Seeing them come out, Usman also decided to move to the brigade command Post. He started off alone, while Major Bhagwan Singh and Captain S.C. Sinha, stayed back, for a few seconds. As they were about to follow him, Bhagwan Singh heard a sound, which he immediately recognised as the one caused by an artillery gun firing. Instinctively, he caught Sinha by the arm, and pulled him back. By now, Usman had reached the entrance to the command post. He stopped, to have a word with the signallers, and encourage them. Just then, a 25 pounder shell landed on the rock nearby, and the splinters killed him on the spot, at the entrance of the bunker. Two of the signallers working outside, as well as Lieut Ram Singh were wounded. The shelling continued throughout the night, and about 800 shells were dropped on Jhangar. Fortunately, it was not followed by an infantry attack, except for two abortive attempts at infiltration by a company. Besides Brigadier Usman, four men lost their lives during the shelling, while eight were wounded, including three officers.
Usman's untimely death cast a gloom on the entire garrison. His body was taken in the brand new caravan, which had just arrived, and which he had not had the chance to use, for his last journey. There was not a single person with dry eyes, when the troops lined up on the road to bid him farewell, and veteran soldiers cried unashamedly, for a man who had endeared himself to them all, in so short a time. From Jammu, his body was flown to Delhi, where a large multitude of people had gathered, to pay homage to a brave son, who had laid down his life for his Motherland. The Government decided to honour him with a State Funeral, which was held at Mehrauli, and was attended by the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, and the Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Soon afterwards, the Government announced that Usman had been posthumously awarded the MVC, the second highest award for gallantry in India.
When Usman died, he was still 12 days short of his 36th birthday. If he had lived, there is no doubt that he would have risen to the top, in the profession. He had all the qualities of a military leader. A man of simple tastes, he was teetotaller, and after serving with Dogras, had become a vegetarian. He remained a bachelor, and a large part of his salary went to support poor children, and pay for their education. After his death, several letters were received by the Brigade HQ, from such indigent children, who felt that they had become orphans. He was kind and humane, and totally impartial. After the fall of Jhangar, a large number of civilians sought refuge in Naushera. There was a shortage of food, and Usman ordered that the troops would observe a fast on Tuesdays, so that the saved rations could be given to civilians.
Though a devout Muslim, Usman was a staunch Nationalist, and apparently had no problem in remaining loyal to his religion as well as his country. During the enemy attack on Naushera, he was told that the raiders were hiding behind a mosque, and our gunners were reluctant to fire at a place of worship. Usman said that the place was no longer holy, if it was being used in this manner, and ordered that it should be blown up. Little wonder that the enemy had no love lost for him, and declared a reward of fifty thousand rupees for his head. This was reported in the Hindustan Times, of 5 July 1948. Pakistan also spread rumours about his death, to demoralise the Indian troops, for whom Usman had already become a hero. In late June 1948, one such report was published by a Pakistani newspaper. On hearing about this, Usman's brother made anxious enquiries from the Army authorities. Brigadier Sarda Nand Singh, the Brigadier in charge administration at HQ Western Command, sent a signal to Usman, enquiring about his welfare. Usman replied "I am fit and flourishing - still in the World of the living." Ironically, he was killed just a few hours after this message reached HQ Western Command.
Mohd Usman was the senior most Indian officer to have lost his life during the Jammu and Kashmir operations, in 1947-48. Even today, he is venerated by the people of Jammu and the surrounding region. Memorials have been built at Naushera, and at Jhangar, where veterans gather on the anniversary of his death, to honour his memory. The memorial at Jhangar is built on the same rock, on which the shell which took his life had landed. Usman was a true soldier and a patriot, who was unflinching in the face of adversity. He was humane and just, and was very popular with the troops. Though he was a bit of a showman, he was not immodest, and gave credit to others, when due. As a war hero, his place in the Roll of Honour of the Indian Army is secure. As he had exhorted his men to do before the Battle of Jhangar, he died, 'for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods'. Can a soldier die better, or a Nation ask for more, of its sons ?