Air Defence Artillery during the First Kashmir War 1947-48

Soon after the independence and partition of India, Pakistan invaded Kashmir in October 1947  in an attempt to annex it by force. Tribesmen led by her Pakistan Army officers in civilian garb crossed over into Kashmir on 22 October 1947. The tribesmen were well armed with automatic weapons, mortars and flame-throwers. The Maharaja of Kashmir, on 24 October 1947, requested the Indian Government for military aid. Indian Government conveyed to the Maharaja that it would be legitimate to send the Indian troops to Kashmir only after Kashmir was formally acceded to India. By 26th October, Kashmir looked indefensible and Pakistani militiamen were knocking at the doors of Srinagar and were just 50 km away. At this late stage, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir signed the Instrument of Accession and J & K acceded to India on 27 October 1947 with a largely unprepared Indian military getting sucked into a war.

Within hours of the signing of the instrument of accession, the first three Dakotas of No 12 Squadron, Royal India Air Force (RIAF) took off from Willingdon (Safdarjung) airfield in Delhi at 0500h on 27 October 1947 with troops of the 1st SIKH ex-Gurgaon. The first aircraft touched down at 0830h, just in time to save the Srinagar airstrip and the city from being overrun by the militiamen. This was followed by air lifting of an infantry brigade to Srinagar.  The Tempests of the No 7 Squadron, RIAF were soon providing close support to the Army in checking the advance of Pakistani militiamen, and carrying out reconnaissance missions.1

The first Kashmir war was largely fought by the two armies with the air forces supporting the ground operations. The RIAF not only provided logistic support to the Army but was actively involved in close support and regularly faced hostile ground fire during such missions. The role played and the attrition caused by Pakistan Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) during the war is often glossed over and does not find mention in most of the accounts of the war. Even the official history of Pakistan Artillery makes no mention of the AAA while describing the 1947-48 operations. A more detailed look at the air operations makes an interesting read as the AAA (Pakistani only) played an important role during the war and also scalped more than a few ‘kills’. As Pakistan had only a couple of AA Regiments, the AA troops and sections were not very widely deployed but the small arms more than made up for their absence and proved themselves to be more than a nuisance as RIAF aircraft repeatedly came under hostile ground fire with the aircraft getting hit at times but no casualties were suffered till 1 December 947 when a Harvard flown by Flt Lt UA D’Cruz was shot down by ground fire. D’Cruz was accompanied by Mr PN Sharma of Blitz, a tabloid, on a reconnaissance-cum-photographic mission over the Akhnur-Bhimber area when he noticed that the raiders had surrounded a village and set it ablaze. He strafed them managed to disperse them. Thereafter he flew to another location where he observed the raiders carrying stores and ammunition on donkeys and camels. As D’Cruz dived to strafe them, his aircraft was shot at by the Pathan tribesmen and was damaged. D’Cruz crash-landed at Bhimbar and was captured by the tribesmen along with Sharma.2

Pakistan deployed detachments of its 5th and 6th AA Regiments along with its field and mountain guns to be used in ground role. Four Anti -Aircraft guns were deployed in Pandu and Chota Kazi Nag Sector while two Heavy and four Light AA guns were deployed in the Uri and Akhnur Sectors. 3.7-inch Heavy AA guns ex 5 Heavy AA Regiment and 40 mm AA guns of 6 Light AA Regiment were also employed in ground role in the Jhelum valley. In an effort to offer some resistance to the RIAF, Pakistani artillery even used its mountain guns for firing air burst shells notably in Poonch area. The available records also mention that one AA gun was deployed near Poonch to take on IAF aircraft.3

Notwithstanding the paucity of AA guns, the RIAF aircraft regularly faced hostile fire though it was more from small arms than from AA guns. But such hostile fire also proved fatal at times. On 16 March 1948, Flying officer Balwant Singh flying a Tempest was carrying out close support mission in Naushera-Jhangar areas when he was fired at and was ‘apparently hit by the ground fire’. Balwant was hit and incapacitated as a result of which, he could not pull out of the dive. His Tempest crashed into a hill, killing Balwant instanteously.4

In another incident, the RIAF aircraft came under heavy flak while carrying out strikes against the Kishanganga bridge in April 1948. One of the AA gun posts near the bridge was neutralized by the striking aircraft but another gun, deployed west of the international border, managed to hit the leading Tempest. Thankfully, Wing Commander Ranjan Dutt ‘managed to limp back to base in his damaged aircraft’.5

Pakistan had by now deployed AA guns all along the western border, especially in the  Tithwal region. They managed to hit the RIAF aircraft on many an occasion      but failed to shoot down any aircraft. The pilots’ luck however did not hold for long as Flying Officer KL Mathur’s Tempest was severely damaged by the AA fire and the controls got shot up. He managed to reach back and line himself with the runway but as he touched down, one of the wheels collapsed. The aircraft swung and hit a building on the side. Mathur was only slightly injured though the Tempest burnt away.6 A total of seventeen RIAF were lost during the war of which eight were either shot down by the Pak AAA or damaged severely, leading to their loss while landing.7 One of the few aircraft shot down by Pak AAA was a Tempest that was lost in the Tithwal area on 7 October 1948. The pilot, Flying Officer U.G. Wright baled out and had a harrowing experience during his parachute descent. He was shot at by rifles, light-machine guns and even 3 inch mortars but he made it back to own lines.8

Pakistan Air Force stayed away for most part during the war and was primarily involved with logistic support operations. The Pak C-47 Dakotas flew 347 sorties dropping 500 tons of supplies at Bunji, Skardu, Gilgit and Chilas without losing any aircraft. The first Sitara-i-Jurat of the PAF was awarded to Sqn Leader MA Dagar who successfully dodged an Indian Tempest while on a mission in Kashmir.9

Even as no missions were undertaken against Indian forces by the PAF, Indian ADA was deployed for protection of the air bases. Earlier, in the meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet(DCC), an all-out war with Pakistan was not envisaged and the Service Chiefs did not point out any air threat from Pakistan.10  26 LAA Regiment then at Uruli had been placed under command 1 Armoured Division at Jhansi and  was earmarked to move to Hyderabad with the formation. In June 1948, one LAA Battery of the Regiment was moved to Jammu & Kashmir and its troops placed under 19 and 26 Divisions. The Battery less one Troop was deployed at Srinagar airfield while the Troop was deployed at Jammu airfield. This followed the directive issued by the DCC to the service chiefs to take immediate steps to protect the two airfields.11

Regimental Headquarters of 26 LAA Regiment along with the remaining two Batteries moved to Hyderabad with1 Armoured Division for the likely operations against the Nizam. 27 LAA Regiment at Ambala was ordered to be prepared for operations  in Amritsar-Ferozepur area with 4 Infantry Division as a contingency. In April 1948, the first post-independence raising had been completed as 19 HAA Regiment was raised with 3.7in HAA guns at Khadakvasla. One Battery of the Regiment was moved and deployed at Pathankot airfield. In September 1948, 45 LAA and 46 LAA Regiments were raised at Jhansi under 11 Army Group Artillery and were meant for  AD of infantry divisions. These regiments were however not employed during the first Kashmir War.

In June 1948, Pakistan inducted four 40mm Bofors and two 20mm Oerlikons for air defence of its forces in Mirpur sector. The guns were deployed in an open area and did not have much camouflage. In one of the air raids by IAF over the area, a Pakistani 40mm AA gun was damaged.12

With the cease fire coming in effect from 1 January 1949, the war had ended but the troops of both sides remained dug in facing each other along the Cease Fire Line (CFL). The subunits of 19 HAA and 26 LAA regiments remained deployed at their operational tasks till August 1951. 

The AAA played a minor supporting role during the 1947-48 war but it was responsible for almost half the losses suffered by RIAF during the operations. Its presence did  influence the conduct of air operations and therein lies its relevance.

Notes

1. 1947-48 Kashmir Operations, An Air Force Perspective, IAF accessed at https://indianairforce.nic.in/content/1948-ops

2. He remained a prisoner with the tribes-men and later with the Pakistan Army, until December, 1948, when he was returned to India under a scheme for the exchange of prisoners of war. Flt lt UA D’Cruz’s was later awarded a Kirti Chakra – a first for the Indian Air Force. 

Kumar, Bharat, An Incredible War: Indian Air Force in Kashmir War 1947-48, KW Publishers, New Delhi, 2007, p 221

3. The RIAF records show an extensive AA deployment by Pakistan during the war but there are no mentions of the same in publicly available Pakistani narratives. The history of Pakistan Artillery only mentions about the use of AAA in ground role with one mention of its employment in AA role near Poonch. [Riza, Shaukat, Izzat-o-Iqbal, History of Pakistan Artillery, School of Artillery, Nowshera, 1980, p 55]

4. Kumar, Bharat, op cit., p 202

5. Kumar, op cit., p 205

6. Kumar, op cit., pp 207-208

7. Pillaiserati, Jagan, Aircraft Losses in 47-48 Operations, Bharat Rakshak, accessed at http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/1948war/1049-losses.html#gsc.tab=0

8. Pakistan does not claim this loss and there is no mention of this in its official history. The Tempest is more likely to have been shot down by small arms fire and not by AA guns.  Jagan Mohan, An Overview of the RIAF in the Kashmir Ops, Bharat Rakshak, 19 July 2009 accessed at http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/1948war/1000-overview.html#gsc.tab=0

9. “How PAF fought in the Wars”, The News, Lahore, 6 February 2018, accessed at https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/364500-how-paf-fought-in-wars

10. Kumar, op cit., p 300

11. ibid.

12. Riza, op cit., pp 62-63