Gallant officer (1920-2015)

Col. Harwant Singh was born on 15 September 1920, and was commissioned into 2 Sikh on 30 September 1940. He served with 2 Sikh in World War 2 in the Middle East, Africa and Italy. He was wounded thrice in the Battle of Poggio on the Gothic Line against the German forces in Italy, but carried on to capture the objective. He was honoured with a Military Cross (MC). He was then posted to 1 Sikh in Malaya and participated in the Victory Parade there on 12 June 1946. The unit was then moved to New Delhi. As the seniormost Indian officer in 1 Sikh, he had the honour of being in charge of the flag hoisting ceremony by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the Red Fort on 15 August 1947.

A large number of raiders had infiltrated into Kashmir in October 1947 and 1 Sikh was the first unit to be airlifted to Srinagar on 27 October. The landing went off well except for the plane carrying the communication equipment, which had to force land in Jammu. The equipment reached Srinagar after three days during which period, the unit had no signal communications. Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai, the Commanding Officer, rushed with the available troops to Baramula to hold the raiders well away from Srinagar. They had to withdraw due to the large strength of the enemy. He died at 1730 hours on 28 October while fighting a rear guard action, and was awarded MVC (posthumous). Harwant Singh took over the command of the unit. Col. Rai had given instructions to hold a position at Shalateng Spill Channel, about five miles from Srinagar. Harwant Singh realised that the Shalateng position could be by-passed and instead boldly moved up to Mile 17 on Srinagar-Baramula Road. They came under repeated attacks while they were still preparing the defences. They held the position and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The 48 hours delay imposed on the raiders saved Srinagar. Harwant Singh earned the reputation of being a saviour of Srinagar.

Troops build-up continued and Uri was captured on 13 November 1947, and the unit was deployed to hold firm base at Uri as part of 161 Infantry Brigade. Capture of Uri ensured the security of Srinagar. The unit made a lightening advance to deal with the enemy who had infiltrated into the Handwara Valley via the Nastachhun Pass. On 16/17 May, the enemy HQ at Dogarpur was surrounded. Harwant Singh took part in the capture of Chowkiwal, Nastachun Pass and entry into Tithwal on 23 May 1948. This operation was carried out in difficult mountainous snow covered terrain against an enemy skilled in hilly terrain. The unit held on to the vital part of Tithwal which was constantly under pressure. The enemy made constant efforts to drive 1 Sikh from their position and on 13 October, made a desperate attempt to take over Richhmar Gali bypassing Tithwal. The attack commenced with heavy artillery and mortar fire which destroyed most of the bunkers. 1 Sikh held on and the enemy was beaten back. The enemy casualties were 1206 killed, 1215 wounded, and 15 missing. During this period, the men took the opportunity of befriending the local population, which helped towards building political stability in the state.

He was station commander Srinagar, before taking over the command of 4 Sikh in Kashmir in December 1948. In 1951, he was transferred to Rajputana Rifles when the state forces were merged into the Indian Army, and he commanded 18 Raj Rif, 6 Raj Rif and Raj Rif Centre. After retirement, he joined BSF (Border Security Force) and commanded 57 BSF Battalion in Akhnur Sector in the 1971 War.

The gallant officer passed away on 4 August 2015, at the age of 95. It is incomprehensible, that despite the gallant role played by this brave soldier in the 1947-48 war, fate denied him the honour of being decorated for gallantry. His role and contributions have well been recognised by the Regiment which he served with dedication. He left behind one son and two daughters. His grandson is a fourth generation officer in the Army.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)