Briefing - Operation Polo: India Conquers Hyderabad
Hyderabad was the largest, richest, and most populous of the Indian “Princely States” during the British Raj. Established in the eighteenth century by Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah, Hyderabad came under British “protection” in 1798. When British decided to grant India independence in 1947, the Nizam, Mir Usman Ali, decided that he wanted nothing to do with the new Union of India.
On August 15, 1947, the Nizam declared independence from India. Apparently with some encouragement from the Nizam, bands of Hyderabadi nationalists started raiding Indian territory. This was a period of considerable turmoil, as widespread rioting attended the division of British India into the states of India and Pakistan, which would eventually lead to open war between the two in October. Indian politicians attempts to resolve the secessionist movement by negotiation, but failed. On September 12, 1948, implementing contingency plans that had been hastily prepared over the previous few weeks, the headquarters of the Indian Army alerted its Southern Command to undertake the occupation of Hyderabad. This launched Operation Polo. Considering the problems them confronting India, at war with Pakistan, this operation went remarkably smoothly. Within five days Hyderabad had been overcome. Aside form the superior training and resources of the Indian Army, the Nizam’s geographical situation hardly played in his favor, for Hyderabad was completely surrounded by Indian territory.
Operation Polo involved Indian troops, ably supported by their air force, which provided considerable close air support, advancing on four fronts, involving a main thrust and several subsidiary and diversionary ones.
The Western Thrust
This was the main thrust of Operation Polo. It was executed by the 1st Armoured Division (composed of the 1st Armoured Brigade, the 7th Infantry Brigade, and the 9th Infantry Brigade) along the Sholapur-Hyderabad axis. The 7th Infantry Brigade, called the “Kill Force,” moved out first, out to attack Naldurg from the south, the “Smash Force” (1st Armoured Brigade) thrust past around the flank directly against Naldurg. By 0900 on September 13, Naldurg and Jalkot had fallen, as the advancing Indian troops overcome the resistance of the Hyderabad Army and many irregulars.
While the two brigades were concentrating on the main axis, “Vir Force” (9th Infantry Brigade) pushed north toward Tuljapur and Osmanabad, and then north and north-east to Latur, to destroy these Hyderabadi strong points. :”Vir Force” then divided into several columns to mop up the stragglers. The Hyderabadi had gone to ground in well-established positions around Tuljapur and it took some time to clear them. But at Osmanabad, serious opposition was encountered. The town was not cleared until September 15, in an action in which over 250 irregulars were killed or captured.
Marching eastward, “Smash Force” met stiff resistance on September 16 at Zahirabad, around 150 km from Hyderabad, where it was held up by two companies of the Hyderabad Infantry and large bodies of volunteers and Irregulars. It took the Indian tankers some time to finish them. The Hyderabad garrison at Bidar, to the north of Zahirabad, was strong, and it was believed would put up stout resistance. As a result, “Strike Force” was diverted to Bidar, which was occupied on September 17 with surprisingly little opposition.
The Eastern Thrust
This was one of three secondary operations. It was made on the Vijaywada-Hyderabad axis by the Eastern Striking Force. The Force made a quick advance until it met resistance near Suriapet, at 0830 on September 14. This position was held by the 5th Hyderabad Infantry and 1st Hyderabad Lancers, who held out for nearly eight hours, falling back only at about 1600, having lost nearly 100killed or captured. Suriapet was attacked next morning after an air strike.
In a fierce attack on Narkatpalli on September 16, about 45 irregulars were killed. Chityal, the major objective of this Force was captured by 0900 on the 17th. The Eastern Strike Forces was now only 63 km short of Hyderabad. While the main body of the force moved on the main road, the 3rd Sikh Light Infantry, with a tank squadron in support, branched off in the direction of Khammamett to the north. No major resistance was encountered in this area.
The Southern Thrust
The thrust from the south was conducted by several columns
The Mycol Force (5/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles, the Mysore Lancers, and the 1st Mysore Infantry) advanced into Hyderabad from the south. The task of this Force was to protect the railway bridges at Kurnool, Tungabhadra, and Hospet. Kurnool was captured with ease whereas Tungabhadra was occupied after minor opposition on the morning of September 13.
But Hyderabadi resistance was stiff at Hospet and the battle went on until the evening of the 17th, when the Gadag Column (4th Rajput Rifles) threatened the defenders from the rear and forced them to surrender. In this operation the Mycol Force suffered 16 killed and 54 wounded. Loses to the Hyderabadi forces were much heavier, possibly with hundreds killed.
Jaiforce (3/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles, two companies of the 17th Sikhs, a tank squadron., and more) launched a two-pronged attack on Aurangabad on September 13. The column moved on the Nandgaon-Aurangabad axis while a small force advanced on the Chalisgoan-Aurangabad axis. The main column moved with little opposition until it reached Yerul Hill, which was occupied by about a company of Hyderabadi troops. Before they were dislodged, the Hyderabadi troops suffered at least 60 killed.
A diversionary column did encountered no opposition and it met the main column at Daulatabad on September 14. On the 15th, the Indian troops entered Aurangabad and then fanned out to eliminate the irregulars
The Northern Thrust
In the northern sector, operations were undertaken by the “Jabalpur Independent Sub-Area” in the Jalna area to support of Jaiforce of the Southern Column. This thrust also involved two minor movements on Hingoli and Chanda to eliminate small Hyderabadi forces. Some minor operations were also conducted in different parts of Hyderabad to end put down irregulars.
At 1700 hours on September 17, as “Smash Force” was still rather far from the capitol, Hyderabad Radio announced the surrender of the State Army. It took Indian troops another 24 hours to reach Hyderabad. At 1600 hours on September 18, Indian Army Major General J.N. Chaudhari accepted the surrender of Major General S.A. El Edroos, the Commander of the Hyderabad State Forces, and the secessionist movement was over.
The swift conclusion of the Hyderabad secessionist crisis was critically important to the ability of India to deal effectively with the even greater problem of war with Pakistan, which broke out over Kashmir little more than a month later.