The 1971 Liberation War of East Pakistan continues to be celebrated as a 14-day war (from December 3, 1971, to the fall of Dacca (Dhaka) on December 16, 1971) even after 50 years. Visual media goes blaring out that the 1971 War began with pre-emptive Pakistani aerial strikes on December 3, 1971, on eleven Indian air stations in the Western sector and glorifying the battles fought in the Western Sector. It is portrayed casus belli for launching the Indian offensive into East Pakistan in support of Bangladeshi nationalist forces.
How long will the truth be obfuscated? Why deny credit to those who sacrificed their lives and units.
Irrefutably, it was a 36/37-day war for the 350 Infantry Brigade (9 Infantry Division)—the war started on 11/12 November and ended only on December 17, 1971 with the surrender of Pakistan’s 107 Infantry Brigade at Khulna. Ipso facto, there were many gallant actions fought well before December 3, 1971, that forced Pakistan to launch pre-emptive airstrikes as a precursor to a full-blown out war in both the Western and Eastern theaters.
Why are the Indian authorities still not declassifying the real historical account of battles even after 50-years? In particular, when did the Defence Minister in June 2021 specify a 25-years’ timeline for declassifying classified material?
Exhaustive coverage are available – over thirty four books–in the public domain. The books include Unfinished Memoirs by Mujibur Rahman Sheikh; Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation and An Odyssey in War and Peace: An Autobiography by Lt. Gen. JFR Jacob; The Indian Sword Strikes in East Pakistan by Maj Gen Lachman Singh; Myths and Facts Bangladesh Liberation War by BZ Khasru; and by former Pakistan Army officers who took part in the battles of East Pakistan–The Vanquished Generals & The Liberation War of Bangladesh by Muntassir Mamoon; and A stranger in my country East Pakistan 1969-71 by Maj Gen Khuddam Hussain Raja, 14 Inf Div”. Detailed accounts are also available in the war diaries of the Indian formations/units that participated in the Liberation of Bangladesh.
Surely, current “historian emeritus’s” are available to carry out research, pay visits and interview those still surviving to retrace detailed accounts of battles and record them for posterity.
Irrefutable political compulsion was the need to show the international powers that the Provisional Government of Bangladesh, formed on April 17, 1971, and operating from Calcutta as “Government in Exile”, functioned from inside East Pakistan. So, the initiative to secure a lodgment area inside Bangladesh so that the Bangladesh Government would request international diplomatic recognition and intervention. When the attacks in the Hilli-Bogra area failed to make a dent, 350 Infantry Brigade (9 Infantry Division) was tasked to capture Maslia Bop opposite Boyra Bulge and establish a lodgement area opposite Chaugacha. So, many gallant actions were fought before December 3, 1971, in East Pakistan that forced Pakistan to launch airstrikes in the Western sector.
As Brigade Major of 350 Infantry Brigade, responsible for the operational conduct of battles in Jessore-Khulna sectors, let me highlight those actual operations that were launched on November 11-12, 1971 with 1 JAK rif crossing the border to capture 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 prisoners and using them to launch propaganda against Indian involvement. 45 CAV less one Squadron was deployed in support of 1 JAK RIF.
Meanwhile, by November 15, 1971, a company of 4 Sikh (Not 2 Sikh as covered in IDS) was deployed in area Makapur, North of Boyra salient to provide flank security to 1 Jakrif and to invest Barni Bop in the North. By November 17 1971, the remaining battalion of 4 Sikh was also deployed in area Makapur, Naodapara, Nayrapara and Hijuli to exploit and expand the lodgement area.
Also, one company each of 26 Madras 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 two key myths or mysteries surrounding the 1971 war are:
- For the formations and troops of II Corps, 9 Infantry Division and 350 Infantry Brigade, it was a 36/37-day war, but not a 14-day war. Many bold and gallant actions were fought, and large numbers martyred.
- The armed forces were given a free hand to conduct operations in the Eastern Front from day one. Political directions dictated plans and course of the battle from time to time. The original plan of a “Rapid Thrust (Deep Penetration Thrust)” from Boyra Bulge bypassing JESSORE to secure GOLONDO Ghats was changed to suit political needs for demonstrating that Mukhti Bahani (Bangladesh Government in exile) is operating from within East Pakistan
Meanwhile, orders to enlarge the bridgehead across River Kabadak were received with a view to build up armour and artillery deployment to support the attack on “Jessore Forrress”. On the night 18/19 November 1971, 102 Engineer Regiment constructed the “Krupman Bridge” over River Kabadak.
The first Pakistani airstrike by 4 x F86 Saber fighters took place at 10.50 AM on November 19 1971. They destroyed one pontoon of the bridge before Gnats from Kalalkonda airbase could appear on the scene. Subsequently, one flight of Gnats was deployed in the forward airbase at Dum Dum.
By 20.30 pm, November 19, 1971, B Squadron, 63 CAV was deployed under 4 Sikh.
The Pakistan Army launched probing patrols against the lodgments secured opposite the BOP. Extract of the debriefing of Brigadier Hayat Khan in the POW Camp in Ranchi are reproduced: “As there were no crossing places on River Kabadak opposite Chaugacha, I did not visualise a major threat. However, I reinforced the BOP with regulars. During the course of operations, I decided to counter attack lodgment areas astride the river with one battalion which failed to evict your forces.”
On receiving intelligence of withdrawal of Pak troops from Barni post area, on November 20, 1971, 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 FF. On orders, 4 SIKH was directed to halt the further offensive and not cross the river Kabadak.
Next, by 3 AM on November 21, 1971, 14 Punjab battalion (Ex 42 Infantry Brigade) was deployed in area Garibpur with C Squadron 45 CAV (PT 76s) wading through the River Kabadak in support of 14 Punjab firm base.
On the morning of November 21, 1971, the famous tank battle of Garibpur was fought. Pakistan’s 107 Infantry Brigade launched a counter-attack with the 3rd Independent Armoured Squadron after dawn. Pakistani armour rushed headlong into armour lying in wait. Major DS Narang, Squadron Commander, led the engagement standing with his half body outside the cupola. He was hit by enemy’s MMG fire and died (Awarded Maha Vir Chakra).
After a fierce engagement, 11 enemy tanks were destroyed. The destroyed Pakistani tanks were recovered and moved inside Boyra Bulge. Jagjivan Ram, Defence Minister,while addressing troops congratulated them for their valour (picture was featured in media).
A second Pakistani airstrike was launched at 14.50 pm on November 22, 1971, with three Pakistan fighters engaging forces deployed in lodgement 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 battalien.
On November 22, 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 of November 23, 1971. The Time Magazine of November 1971 reported “an embarrassing victory at Boyra” in November 1971.
Finally, 350 Infantry Brigade was redeployed west of Jessore, and 42 Infantry Brigades deployed North West astride road Chaugacha-Jessore to execute further offensive operations against “Jessore Fortress” on the outbreak of war. 350 Infantry Brigade was given the task of expanding the bridgehead to facilitate the deployment of artillery for the main battle against Fortress Jessore.
One JAK Rifles attacked Burinda on 28/29 November with one company supported by one troop of Tanks. The attack was repulsed. One JAK Rifles suffered heavy casualties: Killed—three JCOs and sixteen OR; and injured over fifty personnel.
Subsequently, four Sikhs was redeployed and tasked to capture 8 R-Burinda on 3/4 December 1971. Eight R-Burinda was captured after a fierce battle fought over 5/6 December 2017. The battalion suffered casualties: killed—one JCO and fifteen OR; and injured – one officer, three JCOs and fifty OR.
It is never too late after 50-years to reconcile different versions of the “Battle of Garibpur”. Similarly, the Air Force version of scrambling of aircraft in the second instance from Kalaikonda needs to be rectified to read Gnats were scrambled from Dum Dum. No classic dog fight took place. As the Pak Sabres were diving to hit the ground targets, the Gnats shot them down.
Battle of Khulna in Brief
Pakistani troops withdrew towards Khulna and put up a last-ditch stand based on the built-up area. Followed the unsuccessful attempts by 13 Dogra of 32 Infantry Brigade to clear Siramani on December 12, 1971. Even the attempts to outflank Siramani enemy positions by the 19 Maratha Light Infantry from the East and 8 Madras From the West failed.
The 350 Infantry Brigade was moved from Jessore outskirts and tasked to break through the Siramani positions and clear Khulna. 26 Madras attacks on December 13, 1971, was also repulsed with heavy casualties. Anticipating fierce resistance, the attack by 1 JAK Rif was postponed to make a beaten road through the jungle to forming Up Place (FUP). On December 14, 1971, 1 JAK Rif captured Syamganj West of Bhairab River. By 1630 hours, 4 Sikh battalion was deployed through 1 JAK Rif firm base to capture and establish a roadblock astride the main Jessore-Khulna Road, which was successfully accomplished by 0700 hours on December 16 1971. And, the Pakistani brigade formally surrendered on December 17 1971, not on December 16, 1971.
By the count of casualties suffered by the three units of 350 Infantry Brigade, one can easily discern the fierceness of battles waged, and gallantry displayed:
- 1 JAK–50 and wounded 145.
- 4 Sikh–Killed 36 and wounded 169.
- 26 Madras suffered 6 officers, 4 JCOs and 68 killed/wounded.
Ironic that the actions of units of supporting arms – artillery, engineers and signals–in facilitating successful conduct of operations by infantry units remain unrecognised, particularly in the award of at least “Theater Honours”.
To sum up, the foregoing narrative exposes two key myths or mysteries surrounding the 1971 war. For the formations and troops of II Corps, 9 Infantry Division and 350 Infantry Brigade, it was a 36/37-day war, but not a 14-day war. Many bold and gallant actions were fought, and large numbers martyred.
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 the battle from time to time. The original plan of a “Rapid Thrust (Deep Penetration Thrust)” from Boyra Bulge bypassing Jessore to secure Golondo Ghats was changed to suit political needs for demonstrating that Mukhti Bahani (Bangladesh Government in exile) is operating from within East Pakistan.
Thus, the facts of the battles of the 1971 Liberation War, particularly the Battles of Boyra and Khulna, have been obfuscated. By not declassifying the operational reports, successive regimes have rendered a disservice to the departed souls and their families. Indeed, families should be extended all the benefits on par with battle casualties these days. Just as posthumous awards are given in civilian cases, at least Theatre Honours may be awarded to engineers, artillery, and signal units that contributed handsomely to Bangladesh’s successful Liberation.