1971 Indo-Pak War : Debunking Myths
There were definite political overtones in the 1971 Indo-Pak war which decided its broader contours
“History at close quarters and that its actual process is very different from what is presented to posterity” stated Sir B H Liddell Hart in his reflections compiled in “Thoughts on War” after World War 1. How apt or true it is the official version of India’s Pakistan War of 1971 recorded history?
Many in India claim “Historian Emeritus” status and find fault with the past Indian historians for failure to record “India’s Dark Age”, but a majority of them have failed to carry out an in-depth research to record accurately events of 1971 War.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, When I am talking to young officers and young soldiers, I should place emphasis on physical courage. But since I am talking to this
Year after year, the media has been blaring that the war began with preemptive aerial strikes on December 3, 1971, on 11 Indian air stations in the Western Sector. It became casus belli for launching Indian offensive into East Pakistan in support of Bangladeshi nationalist forces.
Thus media reiteration that the liberation war in East Pakistan was a 14-day war (from 3 December 1971 to the fall of Dacca (Dhaka) on 16 December 1971).
By field visits, historians can reconfirm sacrifices made by officers and soldiers prior to December 3, 1971, from the civilians residing astride the international border.
Ironically, many gallant actions that had forced Pakistan to launch pre-emptive airstrike barely get mentioned.
However, the timeline of operations is available from other sources. The Time Magazine of November 1971 reported “an embarrassing victory at Boyra” in November 1971.
By not declassifying the operational reports, successive regimes have
rendered a disservice to the departed souls and their families. Surely, families should be extended all benefits.
As a Brigade Major, 350 Infantry Brigade (9 Infantry Division), let me highlight the timeline of key battles in outline. The initial operational plan, in fact, included securing a lodgment area inside East Pakistan to include 1 JAKRIF battalion to capture MASLIA Pakistan BOP; 4 SIKH battalion to secure area MAKAPUR (4 kms inside East Pakistan); and 26 MADRAS
battalion to relieve 1 JAKRIF in Boyra Enclave to act as a firm base and secure area South up to DOSATINA for further offensive operations towards JHINGERGACHA the Road Axis leading to JESSORE.
On November 11-12 night, 1971, 1 JAKRIF crossed the border to capture the Pakistan’s MASLI BOP – EAST of Boyra salient in Jessore sector. At the last moment, orders were received to ‘invest’ the BOP instead of capture to prevent Pakistan from capturing Indian Army prisoners (political directive) and using them to launch propaganda against Indian involvement. 45 CAV less one Squadron was deployed in support of 1 JAKRIF.
Meanwhile, on the night November 15, 1971, one company of 4 SIKH deployed NORTH of Boyra salient to provide flank security to 1 JAKRIF and to invest BARNI BOP in the North. By November 17, 1971, remaining battalion of 4 SIKH was also deployed in area MAKAPUR to exploit and expand the lodgment area. By November 19, 1971, Squadron 63 CAV was deployed in the area held by 4 SIKH for subsequent offensive operations.
Also, one company each of 26 MADRAS was deployed in area GARIBPUR and Muhammadpur to provide flank security from the Southern flank and one company to exploit and expand lodgment area up to DOSATINA.
The Pakistan army launched probing patrols against the lodgments secured opposite the BOPs. An extract of the debriefing of Brigadier Hayat Khan in the POW Camp in Ranchi says: “As there were no crossing places on River Kabadak opposite Chaugacha, I did not visualize a major threat. However, I did not rule out the possibility of infantry forces operating in that sector. Therefore, I reinforced the BOPs with regulars. During the course of
operations, I decided to counter-attack lodgment areas astride the river with one battalion which failed to evict
Meanwhile, orders to enlarge the bridgehead across River Kabadak were received with a view to building up armour and artillery deployment
to support attacks on “JESSORE FORTRESS” occupied by107 Pakistan Brigade.
On night 18/19 November 1971, 102 Engineer Regiment constructed the “Krupman Bridge” over River Kabadak. Pakistan destroyed one pontoon of the bridge at 10.50 AM on 19 November 1971 with 4 x F86 Sabre fighters.
Flying Officer Imarti, as the Forward Air Controller, called for counter air support, but the Gnats based at Kalaikonda appeared overhead after the F-86s were on their return. Since the IAF was forbidden to cross the border, they did not pursue and engage enemy fighters over the airspace inside East Pakistan. Subsequently, one flight of Gnats was deployed in the forward air base at Dum Dum to reduce the response time to the bare minimum.
On receipt of intelligence of
withdrawal of Pak troops from BARNI post area, 4 SIKH advanced and secured all areas West of CHAUGACHA on the main road leading to Jessore from North West held by Pakistan’s 38 Frontier Force Rifles. However, the battalion was directed to halt further offensive and not to cross the River Kabadak.
Meanwhile, 14 Punjab battalion (Ex 42 Infantry Brigade) was deployed in area GARIBPUR by 3 A.M on 21 November with C Squadron 45 CAV (PT 76s) wading through the River Kabadak in support of 14 PUNJAB firm base.
On the morning of 21 November 1971, the famous tank battle of Garibpur—“Grave Yard of Tanks”—was fought. Pakistan’s 107 Infantry Brigade launched a counter-attack with 3rd Independent Armored Squadron after dawn. Pakistani armour rushed headlong into armour lying in wait. Major D.S. Narang, Squadron Commander, known as Chiefy, led the engagement personally standing with his half body outside the cupola. He was hit by enemy MMG fire and died.
After a fierce engagement, 11 enemy tanks were destroyed and three abandoned in condition. The destroyed Pakistani tanks were recovered and moved inside
Boyra Bulge. Jagjivan Ram, Defense Minister, addressed troops congratulating them for their valour (picture was featured in media).
A second Pakistani air strike was launched at 14.50 PM on 22 November 1971 with four Pakistan fighters engaging forces deployed in lodgment areas across the border. The flight of Gnats at Dum Dum appeared on the tail of hostile aircraft as they were strafing and destroyed them. Flight Lieutenant Parvez Qureshi Mehdi, who bailed out (served as the PAF Chief of Air Staff from 1997 to 2000—during the 1999 Kargil War) was captured by 4 SIKH.
On 22 November 1971, on receipt of information of withdrawal of Pakistan troops from BOPs, troops advanced and secured all areas including Chaugacha on the road to Jessore by early morning 23 November 1971.
Finally, 350 Infantry Brigade was redeployed West and South of Jessore and 42 Infantry Brigade deployed North West astride road Chaugacha-Jessore for executing
further offensive operations against “Jessore Fortress” on the outbreak of war.
Thus, the true facts of the battles of 1971 Liberation War, particularly the Battle of Boyra, on the Eastern Front have been obfuscated in the Official History due to an excessive obsession with “secrecy”.
Pakistani troops withdrew towards Khulna and put up a last-ditch stand based on built-up areas. Following the unsuccessful attempt by 32 Infantry Brigade to break through Pakistani defences in built-up area KHULNA, 350 Infantry Brigade was redeployed by 12 December 1971. The first attempt by 26 MADRAS failed which was followed by successful attacks by 1 JAKRIF and 4 SIKH that achieved a significant breakthrough after fierce fighting on night 15/16 December 1971. And, the Pakistani brigade
formally surrendered on 17 December 1971; not on 16 December 1971.
The foregoing narrative clearly
exposes two key myths or mystery surrounding 1971 war. For the formations and troops of II Corps, 9 Infantry Division and 350 Infantry Brigade, it was a 36-day war and not a 14-day war.
Next, it is also a myth that armed forces were given a free hand to conduct operations in the Eastern Front from day one. Political directions dictated plans and course of battle from time to time. The original plan of a “Rapid Thrust (Deep Penetration Thrust)” from Byra Bulge bypassing JESSORE to secure GOLONDO Ghats was changed to suit political needs.
Despite last-minute political directions, units and troops responded with remarkable abilities to adjust, adapt and execute crushing blow on opposing forces. And, their valour, courage and sacrifices that gained crowning victories prior to December 3, 1971 also duly recognised and awarded.
Yet, unfortunately, the recorded
history remains distorted even after 46 years.
(The writer is a former Army officer)