Brig Usman: the Lion of Naushera

By Saquib Salim

Think of an Indian soldier who vowed not to sleep on a bed till he would not take back Jhangar, in Jammu and Kashmir, from the Pakistani army. He slept on the floor when the temperature was much below zero degree Celsius.

Think of an Indian soldier on whose head a ‘reward’ of Rs. 50,000 was declared by Pakistan.

Think of an Indian soldier who ordered his battalion to fast on Tuesdays, so that civilians could get uninterrupted food supply.

Think of an Indian soldier who had chosen India over Pakistan, even when Jinnah had promised him an early appointment as Chief of Army Staff.

Think of an Indian soldier who became a popular Indian Hero much before his death on this day in 1948.

Think of an Indian soldier who was accorded with a state funeral attended by the Prime Minister, Governor General, Defence Minister, Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, and funeral prayers were led by the education minister.

This is not about a fictitious character from a J.P Dutta Film. I am talking about Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) awardee Naushera ka Sher Brigadier Mohammad Usman.

Born to a police officer from Azamgarh (U.P), Usman was the last officer to be commissioned in the Indian Army from Sandhurst. He proved his mettle as a valorous soldier as well as an exceptional military leader during the Second World War. At the time of the independence Usman was with Baluch Regiment of 2nd Airborne Division. People believed that as a senior Muslim officer he would choose Pakistan. However, Usman went against the norm and joined Indian Army to command 77 Para Brigade at Amritsar.

During the communal disturbances of 1947, Usman played an important role in securing safe eviction of Hindu and Sikh population from West Punjab. Usman was untouched by the communal frenzy of those times and find no contradiction in being a Muslim as well as an Indian Army officer.

On 22 October, 1947, Pakistan invaded Jammu and Kashmir. Indian army flew into the valley five days later. Initially, Usman and his 77 Para Brigade were not sent to the action and 50 Para Brigade under Brigadier Paranjpe were stationed at Naushera. On 28 November, 1947, after Paranjpe was wounded during a battle Usman was sent to command the troops.

After the fall of Jhangar on 25 December, 1947, Usman vowed that he would not sleep on a bed till Jhangar was won back. It was chilling winters and Usman started sleeping on the floor. In the coming days Usman gathered the troops together and boosted their morale to defend against repeated assaults at Naushera. Not only was he defending soon he inflicted major reverses on the enemy at Kot. But, the best has yet to come. What happened at Naushera on 6 February, 1948, was written with Golden Words in the annals of military history.

After the loss of Kot on 1 February the attack on Naushera, from Pakistan, was imminent. Usman had five battalions under him: 3 Para Rajput, 3 Para MLI, 1 Rajput, 2/2 Punjab and 1 Patiala. On 6 February at 6:40 am, the enemy attacked Naushera from two sides with 11,000 soldiers. Indian soldiers were outnumbered but high on morale. Picket 2, of 1 Rajput in a rare display of courage held on to a post at Tain Dhar till the reinforcement could reach. Out of the 27 soldiers at the post 26 laid their lives. Naik Jadunath Singh was awarded a posthumous Param Vir Chakra for leading this defence.

At the end of the day Indians killed 2,000 enemy soldiers while losing only 33 of their own. This was a decisive victory and made Usman a public hero in India. Pakistan declared a prize money of Rs. 50,000 over his head. Usman was hailed as Naushera ka Sher (Lion of Naushera).

Major General Kalwant held a press conference soon after and credited the victory to the leadership of Usman. As a true leader of men, Usman wrote a letter to Kalwant protesting the credit given to him. He wrote that each man of his battalion was equally responsible for this victory.

In the second week of March, Usman launched an offensive to take back Jhangar. In his famous address to the soldiers Usman said:

“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.”

On 19 March, Jhangar was recaptured and a cot was borrowed from a nearby village and Usman slept over it after almost three months.

Usman asked his soldiers to fast on Tuesdays so that civilians could get enough food in a war torn region. The children of Naushera were trained by him to assist the army and three of them won gallantry awards for their bravery during the battle of Naushera.

On 3 July, this great son of India fell to enemy shelling at Jhangar. He was twelve days short of his 36th birthday and the senior most Indian officer to fall during the war. The Government awarded him with a Maha Vir Chakra and state funeral, a rarity for military leaders in India, was accorded to him.

Courtesy: Awaz The Voice

(Saquib Salim is a historian and a writer)

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