1971 Indo Pak War: Opportunities and Achievements
Sub Title : Glimpses of some important actions during operations both on the eastern and western fronts
Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 5 Nov – Dec 2021
Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)
Page No. : 20
Category : Military Affairs
: December 2, 2021
The 1971 Indo- Pakistan War was the Moment in the Sun for the Indian Armed Forces. They covered themselves with glory and helped create a new nation. The article gives glimpses of some of the important actions during operations both on the eastern and western fronts. A testimony to the valour and courage of our soldiers.
Pakistan was not defeated; it was humiliated –Pakistani General Staff, on the debacle in East Pakistan
Liberation Of Bangladesh
The war for Liberation of Bangladesh was officially fought from 3 to 16 Dec 1971. However, intense battles fought earlier than 03 Dec 1971 had set the tempo. Here is a kaleidoscope of tactical opportunities and achievements that drove the war. Liberation of Bangladesh, in 1971, was achieved in style with over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendering; largest ever since World War II.
Pakistan had adopted a fortress form of defence occupying important communication centres in strength. Theatre fortresses were created at Jessore, Jhendia, Bogra, Rangpur, Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Bhairab Bazar, Comilla and Chittagong. No deliberate defences were planned for Dacca, apparently no one imagined an offensive into the heartland. Indian strategy was to act quickly to defeat Pakistani forces. A quick decision in East would ensure an independent nation before international pressure brought an end the war.
The article recounts key actions which enabled decimating Pakistan in the east and some important ones in the western sector.
Battle of Garibpur. The battle at Garibpur in the South Western Sector of East Pakistan (2 Corps) on 21 Nov marked the beginning of the end of East Pakistan. Garibpur lies across Bayra Salient astride the highway from India to Jessore. Indian and Pakistani Armies were already involved in artillery duels and raids. To reduce pressure in the Salient, 14 PUNJAB Regiment supported by ‘C’ Squadron of 45 CAVALRY was ordered to occupy Garibpur. The regiment moved rapidly and captured Garibpur, surprising the enemy. Determined to remove the incursion, their 107 Infantry Brigade launched a massive counter attack on night 21/22. With aggressive patrolling, the Pak plot was uncovered and the direction and thrust of his attack discerned. 14 PUNJAB was ready, when Pakistani Tanks and Infantry attacked, both failed. Simultaneously a tank to tank battle was developing. Indian Squadron Commander, Major DS Narang undeterred by enemy fire, directed his squadron standing on the turret outside the safety of the steel hull. When a tank of his squadron was hit he rushed to help. His courage and fearlessness fired up his command and they decimated the enemy. Unfortunately, he was fatally hit by machine gun fire. Narang was awarded MahaVir Chakra for exceptional bravery; the first of the war. Enemy momentum petered out by 8:30 AM. The winter sun, revealed 11 enemy tanks destroyed and three abandoned in good condition. The first punch hit Pakistan Army hard, a nice beginning to the Liberation War.
Change in Operational Plans. A tough and intense battle was fought at Hilli and Bogra in the North Western Sector (33 Corps) between 23 Nov and 11 Dec. This battle lasted so long because the attacking forces went into a direct conflict with the well defended strong points. With hard lessons learnt, Eastern Command strategy was refined and operations progressed with lightning speed bypassing enemy fortresses. Dacca became the terminal objective. These bold manoeuvres ensured victory at a lightening speed despite a small numerical superiority of 1.5:1.
Battle of Gangasagar. The Eastern Sector (4 Corps) witnessed an intense battle at Gangasagar during which a Param Veer Chakra was awarded. 57 Mountain Division was tasked to launch an offensive to isolate Pak 14 Division. Accordingly, an operation was planned by 73 Mountain Brigade consisting of 14 GUARDS, 19 PUNJAB and 19 RAJPUTANA RIFLES to capture Karnel Bazar, Gangasagar and Akhaura ‘outposts’. 14 GUARDS established roadblocks south and west of Gangasagar, while 19 PUNJAB with a troop of tanks captured Karnel Bazar.
Two companies of 14 GUARDS launched an assault on Gangasagar Railway Station, and the other two took on the rest of the town. During the battle, Lance Naik Albert Ekka, noticed a Pakistani Machine Gun inflicting serious damage. With complete disregard for his safety, he charged the enemy bunker, bayoneted two and silenced the gun. Though seriously wounded, Ekka continued to fight on.
Further ahead, another machine gun opened up from the second storey of a well-fortified building inflicting heavy casualties. Once again, Ekka, despite serious injuries and heavy volume of enemy fire, crawled to the building and lobbed a grenade, killing one and injuring another enemy soldier. The machine gun, however, continued to fire. Ekka scaled a side wall, bayoneted the enemy and silenced the machine gun, saving further casualties and ensuring success of the attack.
He was martyred on the objective and awarded Param Vir Chakra (Posthumous).
♦ Indian commanders appreciated that the enemy would be using the wide rivers as natural defence and would prepare most bridges for demolition. Airborne forces were innovatively used to overcome this difficulty.
The first operation was by 2 PARA in the Central Secor (101 Communication Zone) to capture Poongli Bridge on road Jamalpur-Tangail-Dacca intact. The objective was to cut off 93 Pak Brigade, retreating from the north to defend Dacca. The drop was dispersed due to heavy winds. 2 PARA regrouped quickly and attacked Poongli Bridge capturing it by 8 PM on 11 Dec. They were immediately counter attacked by elements of 93 Brigade, the counter attack was repulsed. Two more battalion size attacks were repulsed during the night with heavy enemy casualties. Two more came on 12th forenoon and met the same fate. Later during the day, Indian Air Force planes joined the hunt and killed many Pakistanis on ground. Others were ambushed or hunted down by Indian patrols. By evening 12 Dec, 93 Brigade was decimated.
♦ Sylhet. Helicopters soon joined the show to heli-lift troops in the 4 Corps Sector across many rivers adding momentum to the race for Dacca. 4/5 GORKHAS was helidropped close to Sylhet on 7 Dec to prevent a suspected withdrawal of 27 Pak Infantry Brigade to Sylhet. Sylhet was occupied by 202 Infantry Brigade and later joined by 313 Infantry Brigade. BBC News channel announced that ‘a Brigade of Gorkhas’ has landed at Sylhet . This caused panic in the Sylhet Garrison which closed itself into a fortress. The GORKHAS continued aggressive patrolling and offensive actions tiill the Cease Fire. When they surrendered, the Pakistanis were surprised that they had been held only by a battalion. The Gorkhas were surprised too, what they thought was only one brigade turned out to be two, which literally sat out the war.
Race to Dacca
♦ By 8 Dec it was known from radio intercepts that Gen Niazi had ordered Pakistani 14 Division to withdraw 313 and 27 Brigades to Dacca. Indian Army operations foiled this. An impromptu heliborne operation was planned to bypass the Division. Brilliant in conception, the idea was fraught with risks. On 9 Dec, troops of 57 Mountain Division were helilifted to South of Meghna River Bridge. Around six hundred troops were landed through the night. The MI-4, which normally carries 14 troops, carried as many as 23. The enemy would have been at his wits end and scared to death by the continuous noise of helicopters throughout the night. In the final count, there were 409 sorties without a single mishap. A total of 5000 troops and 51 tonnes of equipment was heli-lifted.
♦ Meghna Helibridge and Tangail Airdrop ensured that major Pakistani strong points were by-passed and Dacca exposed. The first Indian troops to enter Dacca was 101 Communication Zone led by Major General GS Nagra. On 15 Dec, 2 PARA of 95 Infantry Brigade was at the Mirpur bridge in the northern suburb of Dacca, and miraculously left intact.
Yahaya Khan sought to strike a balance in the West by capturing territory to trade off with that lost in East. “The defense of East Pakistan lies in the West”. – Ayub Khan
♦ Pakistan launched a major armoured thrust into the Longewala Salient in Rajasthan on 4 Dec with an ‘aim’ to capture Ramgarh and march to Jaisalmer. They crossed the border and sped along a track to encounter the first resistance at Longewala defended by a company of 23 PUNJAB under Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri.
♦ “INSHA ALLAH we will have breakfast at Longewala, lunch at Ramgarh and dinner at Jaisalmer.” – Brig Tariq Mir, Commander Pak 51 Brigade, boasted in his briefing. The overconfident Pak Commander failed to carry out worthwhile reconnaissance, and, he chose a frontal assault on the post.
♦ In contrast, Chandpuri displayed shrewd tactical acumen to separate enemy infantry from armour and destroy them piecemeal. He was assured of close air support at dawn. Enemy contacted Longewala at 12:30 AM with a column of 65 tanks. Working to a plan, Chandpuri ordered his troops to hold fire till the end. The wait was worth it, from their vantage point, the RCL guns were able to target the weak top of the tanks. The targets by now were mostly stationary, bogged down in soft sand. Spare fuel drums caught fire and day lighted the enemy; the grand offensive halted in its tracks. At this stage, Pakistani Infantry stepped in, they halted at a barbed wire which they mistook for a minefield. Dense smoke from burning tanks added to the confusion. Two precious hours were lost and it was getting close to dawn. Chandpuri was also effectively directing artillery fire at the baffled and disoriented enemy.
♦ With the break of dawn, the Pakistani tanks were sitting ducks for the IAF. By noon, the assault halted completely, having cost Pakistan 22 tanks to aircraft fire, 12 to ground fire, and some abandoned, with 100s other vehicles destroyed. The Battle of Longewala is a classic case of human resolve and motivation in face of heavy odds. Major Chandpuri was awarded the MahaVir Chakra.
Shakargarh Bulge. Another intense action was fought in the strategically located Shakargarh bulge in Punjab. The bulge extends into India between Chenab and Ravi Rivers. Amritsar, Batala and Gurdaspur towns lie within easy striking distance across Ravi. Also, India’s vital road and rail links to Jammu and Kashmir run close to the IB. The battle pitched 1 Corps of both armies against one another with numerous battles fought from 4-16 Dec. The odds were weighed in favour of Pakistan with nine Tank Regiments against six Indian.
Battle of Basantar
♦ A significant and decisive battle was fought between 15-17 Dec when Indian 54 Infantry Division was establishing a bridgehead South West of Basantar River. Pakistani armour was located west of Basantar and launched successive counter attacks. 17 POONA HORSE was assigned to support the bridgehead. By 9 PM on 15 Dec, the task was completed.
♦ The Pakistanis reacted violently and counter attacked in strength. Heavily outnumbered, the leading Squadron Commander of POONA HORSE called for reinforcements. 2nd Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal located close by with his troop responded and pounced on the Pakistanis. Khetarpal aware that he had to link up with the leading Squadron at the earliest threw caution to the winds and charged the enemy. Enemy tanks were soon pulling back after their initial probing attack. Retaining his momentum, he started chasing them and destroyed one. The enemy soon regrouped with a squadron for a second attack, this time they chose the sector held by Khetarpal and two other tanks. As many as ten enemy tanks were destroyed and of these Khetarpal alone destroyed four.
♦ Khetarpal’s tank received a direct hit severely wounding him. He was asked to abandon his tank but he realized that the enemy was continuing to advance and they would break through. His response was: “No Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My gun is still working and I will get these bastards.” He gallantly fought on and destroyed another enemy tank – a mere 100 mtrs from his position. His tank received a second hit that was fatal. Khetarpal had denied the enemy a vital breakthrough.
♦ In the same battle, Major Hoshiar Singh of 3 GRENADIERS commanding a forward company was ordered to capture the well-fortified enemy locality of Jarpal. During the assault, his company came under intense shelling and effective fire from machine guns. Undeterred, he captured the objective after fierce hand-to hand combat. The enemy reacted and put in three counter attacks on 16 Dec, two supported by armour. All were repulsed. Again, on 17 Dec the enemy launched another battalion size counter-attack. Though seriously wounded by enemy shelling, Hoshiar Singh continued with his task. When an enemy shell landed near one of his machine gun post injuring the crew, he took charge of the gun and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The enemy retreated leaving behind 85 dead including their Commanding Officer. Though seriously wounded, Major Hoshiar Singh refused to be evacuated till the Cease Fire.
♦ India gained control of more than a thousand square kms including 500 villages in the Shakargarh Bulge and Major Hoshiar Singh and Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal (Posthumous) were awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
♦ Another big chunk of land was captured In the Barmer Sector, 11 Infantry Division was tasked to capture Naya Chor by advancing along axis Gadra Road-Munabao. Subsidiary attacks were to be made on Khinsar and Chachro.
♦ 10 SIKH LI spearheaded the advance along the railway line. Major opposition was faced at Border Outposts of Gazi Camp and Kaljor. Medium artillery guns were staged forward and their bunkers blasted. By midnight on 4 Dec, the outposts had been captured. By midday on 5 Dec, Khokropar Railway station was captured and the axis to Nayachor lay open.
♦ The advance continued despite heavy fire and contact was soon established with enemy positions called Apex and Parbat Ali, high dunes deep inside Pakistan, dominating the approach to NayaChor.
♦ Apex was attacked on night 10/11 Dec and captured on 11 Dec. Parbat Ali was a tougher nut to crack. 10 SIKH and 2 MAHAR were chosen to assault Parbat Ali. 2 RAJPUTANA RIFLES and 10 SIKH LI were to launch a Feint Attack on the flank. A troop of tanks from 3 Independent Armoured Squadron carried out an outflanking maneuver to further confuse the enemy.
♦ Just before 3 AM on 12/13 December Indian Artillery softened the target. 2 MAHAR and 10 SIKH commenced their assault from the knuckle end; difficult and most unexpected approach. The enemy was caught off guard and took off. All objectives were secured by 4 AM. There were numerous counter attacks, all beaten back with serious casualties to the enemy. Parbat Ali was finally secured at 10 AM on 13 Dec. Further progress was prevented due to the Cease Fire on 16 Dec.
♦ 11 Infantry Division earned the distinction of capturing over 9000 square KMs of Pak territory.
The 1971 war was a historic event indeed, the Indian Forces once again proved that they are amongst the best in the world. The military leadership of the country made bold and audacious plans and the gallant Indian soldiers fought valiantly to bring honour to the country and succour to the hapless millions in East Pakistan by helping them attain independence. It is well neigh impossible to cover all actions in a short article.