DEFENCE NOTES

THE POONA HORSE IN THE BATTLE OF BUTUR DOGRANDI SEPTEMBER 1965

DJ received an E. Mail from Mr ASHOK NATH that gives
an opportunity to our readers to look at the battle described
for DJ by Maj SHAMSHAD from the enemy point of view

 

The war of 1965 has now passed and forms a small chapter in the tragic and sad history of the subcontinent. (I consider it sad especially since what was one army, and at one time the largest Volunteer Army known to the history of mankind. Here stood Rajputs, Pathans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others fighting side by side as brothers in arms now faced each other as foes. Former comrades and ethnic brothers had now become enemies, call it fate if you like and thanks of course to the politicians who made this possible!)

Anyway to get on with the interesting first hand account related by Maj Shamshad Ali Khan which I read in the earlier issue of Defence Journal. Obviously tanks of his regiment were directly opposing those of The Poona Horse in area Butur Dograndi. The account I give below is not a first hand account, it is based on the published regimental histories. Like the two sides of a coin, it is only by looking at the different sides that a whole picture will start emerging. This article below is also not to analyse or question policies or throw mud on anyone. It is simply to narrate events of what ordinary soldiers were ordered to do and what they did!

First of all allow me to tell you very briefly about The Poona Horse since this Regiment has an interesting history and its history prior to 1947 is a joint legacy of our Subcontinent and the bravery of its people!

The Poona Horse was raised on the 15th of July 1817. Amongst many of its earlier exploits was that at Koregaun ( near Poona) where 300 of its men along with a small detachment of infantry were surrounded by 28,000 troops of the Peshwa’s army under command of the Peshwa himself. After a day’s desperate hand to hand fighting in which the medical officer led the sepoy’s in a bayonet charge, the small force so successfully resisted the enemy’s attack that the Peshwa withdrew his forces in disgust.

In 1857 the regiment was ordered to Persia. The Shah of Persia had invaded Afghanistan in 1856 and captured Herat. This was contrary to the treaties and he was called upon to retire which he did not, so war was declared). In the battle of Kooshab they charged headlong into the square formed by the Persian 1st Khusgai Regiment of Fars whom they practically annihilated. In this charge a standard of great antiquity was captured from the Persian Regiment. The captured standard was surmounted by a silver hand, the palm of which is inscribed YAD ULLAL FAUK IDAHEEM which roughly translates THE HAND OF GOD IS ABOVE ALL THINGS. Two VC’s were won in this action and a number of other awards. This hand was later to become the central device of the badge of Poona Horse. (note: The Commandants ie Colonel Tarapore’s tank was named Kooshab, from this campaign)

In the first great war the regiment again distinguished itself and another VC was won.

In 1921-22 a reorganisation of the Indian Cavalry took place and 34th Prince Albert Victors Own Poona Horse and 33rd Queen Victoria’s Own Cavalry were merged to form the 17th Queen Victoria’s own Poona Horse, Five years later the title changed to The Poona Horse (17th QVO Cavalry).

This title continued till 1950 after which shed of its royal titles it simply became The Poona Horse. Major Donavan Jackson writing in his book India’s Army which was published in 1940 states that The Poona Horse has more battle honours than any other cavalry regiment in the King’s service. And this being a unique honour for the undivided Indian Army was certainly correct upto 1940.

At the time of the Great Divide in 1947 the ethnic composition of the Poona Horse was a squadron each of Rajputs (chiefly Rathor’s from Rajasthan), Kaim Khanis ( also Rajput Muslims from Rajasthan) and Jats. The Kaim Khanis are Muslims and also proud of their Rajput identity, moreover their villages were in Rajasthan so they opted to stay in India and with the regiment they loved. But this first opt changed later when the holocaust of partition took place and the barbaric scenes they witnessed in the train journey from Risalpur to Jhansi.

The Kaim Khani Sqn was later posted to 13th Lancers and the Sikh Squadron from 13th Lancers replaced them in Poona Horse. Gen Iskander Mirza who had served in The Poona Horse helped the Kaim Khani Sqn and their families to later rehabilitate themselves around Hyderabad, Sind.

In 1965 the Poona Horse had Centurions their gun was lower in calibre and inferior to that of the M47-48 Pattons The tank was not equipped either with an automatic range finder or having a fire control system. This was the Main Battle Tank of the Indian Armoured Corps in 1965.

We now set our watches back, and move to 16 September 1965:

C Squadron of The Poona Horse under Major Ajai Singh (later Lt Gen) was asked to capture Butur Dograndi along with 8th Garhwal Rifles. The A sqn of Poona Horse was to continue to hold the pivot at Wazirwali. While B Sqn of the Poona Horse with a company of 9th Dogras assaulted across the railway line at first light on 16 September. By 0930 hrs B Company of 9th Dogras had cleared Jassoran. B Sqn Poona Horse and B Coy 9th Dogras now established the pivot around Jassoran.

BUTUR DOGRANDI - FIRST ATTACK. While the pivot at Jassoran was being secured, C Sqn moved to the rendezvous with 8th Garhwal Rifles for the attack on Butur Dograndi. As the Garhwalis were moving forward towards the rendezvous, they came under heavy and sustained artillery fire. Caught in the open and under the direct observation from the minarets of Chawinda 3000 meters away, the Garhwalis suffered heavy casualties. The CO of 8 Garhwal, Lt Col JE Jhirad was mortally wounded by shelling, this gallant officer died the next morning. .His last action was to encourage his men to keep on fighting and he died kissing the red lanyard which the Garhwal Rifles cherish and proudly wear on their right shoulder.

Command passed on to the 2IC of 8th Garhwalis Major Abdul Rafi Khan. Control had been temporarily lost due to a failure of signals communication, the two Garhwali companies reached wrong locations. Notwithstanding the drawback this brave officer managed to collect 30 men and attacked, supported by 7 tanks of the Poona Horse. Three patton tanks were destroyed and Butur Dograndi was secured by 1030 hrs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashok Nath, MA, FRGS is a military historian with roots from the Indian Sub- continent and lives in Sweden. He was commissioned in 1972 in Hodson’s Horse but was later posted to 73 armoured regiment. He retired in 1976. When not indulging in his favourite hobby Military history of South Asia he heads Himalayaresor a company specialising in study travel to Asia. he has been to Pakistan recently in connection with his book on military badges of South Asia.

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