Leading from the front

Brigadier Mohammad Usman Photo: The Hindu Archives  

As the country soaks in the joy of the 66th Independence Day, it is in the fitness of things to remember the sacrifices made by valiant heroes of our armed forces who fought for attaining freedom and preserving it to this day. One such hero was popularly known as “Naushera ka Sher”, who was martyred while fighting the 1947-48 India-Pakistan war in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan had declared a princely award of Rs.50,000, an astronomical amount at that time, on his head, and even indicated the possibility of his becoming Army Chief in Pakistan. But he remained steadfast in his resolve and led his soldiers from the front, repulsing a fierce attack on Naushera and Jhangar. He came referred to as the “Saviour of Jhangar”. He was Brigadier Mohammad Usman, martyred in action on July 3, 1948, while fighting the Pakistan Army and tribal raiders in Jammu and Kashmir.

Born in Bibipur in Mau district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh on July 15, 1912, Mohammad Usman would have made it to the top post in the Indian Army had he not achieved martyrdom.

At the time of Independence, the heroic paratrooper refused to opt for Pakistan, forsaking the lure of promotion, and continued to serve the nation. He was posted as the Brigade Commander of the 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade at the Jammu and Kashmir front in the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war.

Several military historians over the past six decades have acknowledged that the nation was so overwhelmed by the sacrifice of Brigadier Mohammad Usman that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Cabinet colleagues attended the funeral of the hero — “the highest ranking military commander till date” to lay down his life in the battlefield. He was laid to rest with full State honours on the premises of Jamia Millia Islamia in the Capital.

On the evening of July 3, 1948, at Jhangar near Naushera in Jammu sector, the brigadier had offered his prayers and was holding the routine, daily meeting with his staff officers at his command post when a sudden burst of shelling sent them all scurrying for cover behind a rock formation.

“The brigadier sized up the situation and saw the enemy’s field guns to be too well-entrenched. Spotting an enemy observation post sited on an elevation, he shouted instructions for his field guns to engage the fortification while he himself attempted a dash, presumably in an effort to alert others. But as he stepped out, a shell from a 25-pounder landed almost next to him — its splinters killing him on the spot. Brigadier Usman died 12 days short of his 36th birthday,” a recent write-up recalled. Several other stories about him say that at the tender age of 12 he had jumped into a well to rescue a drowning child. He had a stammering problem in childhood, but overcame the handicap by sheer willpower. He had steel in his spine.

He was one of the 10 Indian boys to get admission to the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Sandhurst, England, in 1932 — the last batch of Indians to do so. He was commissioned in the Baluch Regiment at the age of 23 and saw action in Afghanistan and Burma. He quickly made it to the rank of Brigadier and during the split of the army in the aftermath of Partition he was promised the top post in the Pakistani Army. It was expected that he would take up the offer, but Brigadier Usman opted to remain with India. Neither Mohammed Ali Jinnah nor Liaquat Ali Khan could convince him to change his stance.

In the words of former vice-chief of the Army staff, Lieutenant General S.K. Sinha, then General Staff Officer to General Cariappa: “I accompanied General Cariappa to Naushera. He went around the defences and then told Brigadier Usman that Kot overlooked our defences and must be secured. Two days later, Usman mounted a successful attack against that feature. He named it Operation Kipper, the General’s nickname. A week later, over 10,000 infiltrators attacked Naushera. With Kot held by us, our boys inflicted a crushing defeat on the enemy, who retreated leaving over 900 dead. This was the biggest battle of the Kashmir war. Usman became a national hero.”

On March 15, 1948, the brigadier signed an order to the “Comrades of 50 (I) Para Brigade” to capture Jhangar. Three days later, his troops recaptured it.

Had Brigadier Usman survived the July of 1948, he could have touched dizzying heights in his career.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 6:40:19 PM |

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