Harbaksh Singh

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Harbaksh Singh

Born(1913-10-01)1 October 1913 but some say 1912
Badrukhan, Jind State, British India
Died14 November 1999(1999-11-14) (aged 86)
New Delhi, India
Allegiance India
Service/branch Indian Army
Years of service1935–1969
RankLieutenant General of the Indian Army.svg Lieutenant General
Unit5 Sikh
Commands heldWestern Command
IV Corps
5 Infantry Division
27 Infantry Division
163 Infantry Brigade
Sri Garrison
1 Sikh
Battles/warsMalaya Campaign, World War II
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947
Sino-Indian War
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
AwardsPadma Vibhushan
Padma Bhushan
Vir Chakra

Lieutenant General Harbaksh Singh, VrC was a senior General Officer in the Indian Army. As the Western Army Commander, Singh commanded the Indian Army forces and played a key role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. For his role in the war, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1966.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Harbaksh Singh was born on 1 October 1913 in a wealthy peasant family, the youngest of seven siblings, in Badrukhan village near Sangrur, the capital of the Jind State.[2] His father, Dr Harnam Singh, was the first person from the village to become a Doctor. Dr Singh joined the Jind Infantry and participated in the Tirah campaign in 1897-98. He later served in the East African campaign during World War I. The Jind Infantry later was amalgamated into the Indian Army in 1952, into the Punjab Regiment.[3] Harbaksh attended the Ranbir High School in Sangrur before joining the Government College Lahore. Always good at sports, Singh was a part of the College Hockey team. As someone who belonged to a Princely state, he had to take the permission of the Governor of Punjab, Sir Geoffrey Montmorency. He then sat for the entrance examinations to enrol into the Indian Military Academy (IMA), which had been set up the previous year. In March 1933, Singh arrived at Dehradun and joined the IMA.[4]

Military career[edit]

Singh was commissioned on 15 July 1935 and started his career with a year's post-commission attachment with the 2nd battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, then stationed at Rawalpindi.[5] It was standard practice for newly commissioned Indian officers to be initially attached to a British regiment before being sent to an Indian unit. He saw service on the North West Frontier during the Mohmand campaign of 1935.[6] After a year's attachment with the Highlanders, Singh joined the joined 5th battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment (previously 47th Sikhs) at Aurangabad, on 19 August 1936.[7][8] By 1937, Singh was commanding the Signal platoon, in the headquarters company of the battalion. In September 1938, the battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ford moved to Razmak in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Singh took over command of Alpha company of the battalion at Razmak.[9]

World War II[edit]

In April 1939, the battalion received orders to move out of Razmak and prepare to move abroad, the final destination was not known. Moving to Quetta by road, via Bannu, the battalion made its way to Madras on a special troops train. Embarking on passenger ship, they made their way to British Malaya, reaching Singapore after a few days. They then moved to the town of Ipoh, which was their interim station, before reaching Kuantan.

During the withdrawal from Kuantan on 5 January 1942, Singh drove into a Japanese ambush and was seriously injured. He was evacuated to Alexandra Hospital in Singapore where he remained until the Fall of Singapore.[10]

Prisoner of war[edit]

Singh was taken Prisoner of war (POW) on 15 February 1942. He was among the POWs in attendance at the Farrer Park address by Gen Mohan Singh of the First Indian National Army. Singh was to be moved to the Island of Rabaul, but the ship never turned up. He was subsequently slated to be sent to the Death Railway but was sent to the Kluang airfield and handed over to the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service instead. His brother, Lt Col Gurbaksh Singh and his battalion of the Jind Infantry was with him in the same camp. Singh spent the remaining years of the war as a POW in the Kluang camp. he suffered from a bad bout of Typhoid as well as a bad case of Beriberi, a disease he carried all his life. He was repatriated only in September 1945 after cessation of hostilities.[11] He then recuperated at the Military Hospital in Ambala.[12]

By the end of year, Singh joined the Unit's Commanders' Course in Dehradun and in April 1945, was posted as the Second-in-command of the 4th battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment (4/11 Sikh) at Campbellpur (now Attock). In February 1947, he was selected to join the first long course at Staff College, Quetta.[13]


After completing the Staff Course at the Staff College, he was posted as GSO-1 (operations and training), Eastern Command.[14] In October 1947, when Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai, the Commanding Officer of 1st battalion, Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh) was killed during the Kashmir operations in 1948, he volunteered to command the battalion. However, he was posted as Deputy Commander of the 161 Infantry Brigade. He conducted the main battle against the raiders at Shelatang Bridge on 7 November 1947. This decisive battle, involving 1st battalion Sikh Regiment and 4th battalion Kumaon Regiment, proved to be a turning point in the war.

On 12 December 1947, on hearing about the heavy casualties suffered by 1st battalion Sikh, he proceeded to Uri and took over the command of the battalion voluntarily, dropping a star from his rank. He brought back the battalion to Srinagar and began to rehabilitate it. However, even before the rehabilitation was complete, the battalion was called out to fight the enemy who had crossed the snow-clad Pharikian ki Gali and had occupied Handwara.

He led the truncated battalion, in a daring operations in which, after a series of battles, the battalion drove out the enemy from the valley.

In 1948, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and took over the command of 163 Infantry Brigade and began to advance to Tithwal. The movement forward started on 12 May 1948, and after six days, Tithwal was captured. Brigadier Harbaksh Singh was awarded a Vir Chakra for his bravery.[15]

The citation for the Vir Chakra reads as follows:[16][17]

Gazette Notification: 10 Pres 52,26-1-52

Operation: - Date of Award: 1948




In May 1948, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh, Commander 163 Brigade, was ordered to advance and capture Tithwal with a view to capturing the enemy's base from where he operated towards the Handwara valley and to cut his advance from Muzzaffarabad to Gurais. The tribesmen were then adopting guerilla warfare to infiltrate the Kashmir Valley.

On the night of 16 May, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh, leading his troops on foot, made a rapid advance through a very difficult terrain, including the crossing of the 11,000-ft. Nastachur Pass, and completely surprised the enemy who broke and withdrew in confusion and panic in all directions. Tithwal was thus captured on 23 May. The success of the operations was to a very great extent due to his personal leadership.

During the subsequent consolidation at Tithwal, when the enemy concentrated a stronger force and brought heavy fire to bear with numerous counter-attacks, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh visited every position placing troops on the ground and was frequently under enemy fire. To keep himself in touch with Divisional HQ he made frequent trips on foot unmindful of the danger of being ambushed as the line of communication was still exposed to enemy infiltration.

During these operations, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh showed gallantry and courage of a very high order and his personal appearance in forward posts, without regard for personal safety, considerably cheered the defenders.

After the Kashmir operations, he went on to serve as the Deputy Commandant of the Indian Military Academy, at the western command headquarters, director of infantry at the Army headquarters, and in 1957 attended a course at the Imperial Defence College (now Royal College of Defence Studies) in the United Kingdom. In January 1959, he became the first foreign officer to go on attachment with German Army's first division to be raised after their disbandment at the end of World War II.

He returned to India to take over as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 27 Infantry Division, and later as the GOC 5 Infantry Division. From July 1961 to October 1962, he was the Chief of Staff at the Western Command headquarters.

When the Chinese invaded NEFA and Ladakh, he was moved from Shimla to take over the command of IV Corps. He later he moved as the GOC XXXIII Corps.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965[edit]

GOC-in-C, Western Command, Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh with Brigade Commander, Vijey Kumar Ghai inspecting Kargil sector 1965

In 1964, he was promoted to Army Commander and took over as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Western Command whose area of responsibility spanned from Ladakh to Punjab. He led the Western Command successfully against the Pakistan Army along the entire border in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

Around May 12, 1965, Brigade Commander, Vijey Ghai in Kargil convened a conference at HQ. The agenda was not revealed but it started with him reading out the contents of Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh GOC-in-C Western Command, DO (demi official note) to the forces. The Army Commander had reviewed recent skirmishes in Rann of Kutch and commented that the Pakis were continuing with their belligerent attitude and spoke about cultivating a more aggressive spirit in out troops. He also remarked pointedly “has the martial blood in the veins of the Indian Army soldiers dried up” or words to the similar effect.[18] The operations that followed including the Taking of Point 13620 and Black Rocks was a major boost for the Indian forces. Per the official account of the War,[19] this was the first counter-offensive undertaken by Indian troops in years. Its success had a good effect on the morale of the troops in J&K and the Army as a whole. Politically it bolstered the image of the country. The outstanding leadership of Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh had played a key role in boosting the morale of a defeated army turning it into a striking force within just three years of the Chinese encounter.

After serving as the General-Officer-Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Army Command from 1964 to 1969, the General retired in September 1969. Captain Amarinder Singh (later Chief Minister of Punjab) of Patiala served him as his ADC.

Later life and Death[edit]

Singh died on 14 November 1999.

Awards and Decorations[edit]

Padma Vibhushan
Padma Bhushan
Vir Chakra
30 Years Long Service Medal
20 Years Long Service Medal
9 Years Long Service Medal

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Official Website of Sangrur". Archived from the original on 24 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  3. ^ "The Official Home Page of the Indian Army". www.indianarmy.nic.in.
  4. ^ Singh, Lt Gen Harbakhsh. In the line of duty : a soldier remembers. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170621065.
  5. ^ January 1936 Indian Army List
  6. ^ War services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian army 1941
  7. ^ October 1937 Indian Army List
  8. ^ "Lt General Harbaksh Singh: An officer and a gentleman". Rediff On The Net. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  9. ^ Singh, Lt Gen Harbakhsh. In the line of duty : a soldier remembers. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170621065.
  10. ^ Singh, Lt Gen Harbakhsh. In the line of duty : a soldier remembers. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170621065.
  11. ^ Singh, Lt Gen Harbakhsh. In the line of duty : a soldier remembers. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170621065.
  12. ^ "Rediff On The NeT:Lt General Harbaksh Singh: An officer and a gentleman". www.rediff.com.
  13. ^ Singh, Lt Gen Harbakhsh. In the line of duty : a soldier remembers. Lancer Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 978-8170621065.
  14. ^ "Rediff On The NeT:Lt General Harbaksh Singh: An officer and a gentleman". www.rediff.com.
  15. ^ "Extraordinary Gazette" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 26 January 1952. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  16. ^ "HARBAKSH SINGH | Gallantry Awards". gallantryawards.gov.in.
  17. ^ "Vir Chakra (VrC), Awardee: Capt Harbaksh Singh, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, VrC @ TWDI". twdi.in.
  18. ^ Gokhale, Nitin A (2015). 1965 Turning the Tide How India won the war. Bloomsbury publishing India Pvt Ltd. p. 44. ISBN 978-93-85436-84-0.
  19. ^ Indian Army. "Official History 1965 War Archives , 1965" (PDF).

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sam Manekshaw
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Command
1964 - 1969
Succeeded by
Kunhiraman Palat Candeth