Archival records from The Hindu, gallantry citations, and records at the National Archives reveal the unfolding of the military operation known as 'Operation Polo.' Havaldar Bachittar Singh, Havaldar Amar Singh, and Naik Narbahadur Thapa emerged as true heroes during the 109-hour conflict that led to the annexation of Hyderabad on September 17, 1948.
While the names of the Generals who led the Indian forces and the Hyderabad forces are widely recognized, the valiant soldiers who displayed remarkable bravery have largely remained in the shadows. One key reason for this is that the conflict was not officially classified as a war. Interestingly, all three of these soldiers were honored with awards typically bestowed during peacetime — namely, the Ashoka Chakra, awarded in Grades 1, 2, and 3.
Among the first casualties in the battle was Havaldar Bachittar Singh of the 2nd Sikh Regiment, who was struck down while attempting to capture a gun post. Naldurg in present-day Maharashtra played a pivotal role in the attack from the western front. As he moved towards a protected position held by Hyderabad forces in Naldurg, he sustained a gunshot wound from a Light Machine Gun (LMG) when he was just 30 meters away.
"Despite his severe injuries, he courageously crawled forward and hurled two grenades at the LMG post, effectively silencing it. Havaldar Bachittar Singh, even in his mortally wounded state, steadfastly refused assistance with dressing his wounds," states the citation for the first Ashoka Chakra awardee. In the days following this courageous act, Lt. Gen. Rajendra Sinhji, G.O.C.-in-Chief of the Southern Command and the overall commander of Indian forces, provided an assessment of the event.
"The initial resistance from the Razakars occurred at Naldurg, located 23 miles from Sholapur. They later made several futile attempts to halt the advance of our armored columns," the general informed journalists in Secunderabad.
Simultaneously, on the southern front, Naik Narbahadur Thapa demonstrated his valor. His platoon found itself pinned down on the left bank of the Tungabhadra river, subjected to sniper fire and automatic gunfire. In response, his Section, consisting of 10 soldiers, delivered covering fire. With the enemy unable to raise their heads above the gun nest to take aim, Narbahadur Thapa sprinted approximately 100 meters and, armed with his khukri, subdued the Bren gun crew.
"Through this exceptionally brave effort, he enabled his platoon to advance and secure the vital bridge," reads his Ashoka Chakra gallantry citation. Both Ashoka Chakra Class I awards, which are equivalent to the peacetime Param Vir Chakra, were among the first honors conferred shortly after India's Independence.
The following day, the PIB (Press Information Bureau) briefed the nation: "Bridgeheads at Kurnool and Tungabhadra railway stations have been consolidated, and patrolling carried out by our troops. At Hospet, our troops faced two counter-attacks by the regular forces of the Hyderabad Army, but both were repelled, and the area was cleared."
The bridges spanning the Krishna and Godavari rivers and their tributaries were crucial to the Indian Army's rapid movement as they swiftly covered a vast expanse of 2,14,187 square kilometers within a mere 109 hours. However, luck played its part, as evidenced by the capture of British mercenary Lieutenant T.T. Moore with a jeep loaded with dynamite en route to Naldurg on the western front.
"He had been dispatched in great haste by the Hyderabad Army Headquarters with orders to destroy the Naldurg and other bridges. He had been informed that the Indian Army's advance was scheduled for September 15. If the Indian Army had arrived on the 15th rather than the 13th, they would have encountered all the critical bridges blown up," recounts V.P. Menon, underscoring the pivotal role played by Bachittar Singh in the Indian Army's march.
One of the most dramatic bridge captures was executed by Havaldar Amar Singh of the Punjab Regiment. While suicide missions were unfamiliar territory, Amar Singh volunteered for one when asked to seize the 300-meter bridge over the River Penganga near Ballarshah. He was among the 18 soldiers concealed within a sandbagged goods wagon known as a flat or platform, which was pushed by a railway engine.
"The flat was propelled forward at high speed, and as soon as it reached the final span, the brakes were applied. Amar Singh, spotting the sentry poised to blow up the bridge, leaped out and eliminated him. He then single-handedly neutralized the Light Machine Gun (LMG) post, which was firing at the supporting troops," states the citation for the soldier who was subsequently honored with Ashoka Chakra Class II, now recognized as the Kirti Chakra.