Battles that Made History

Sub Title : Battle Honours of the Indian Army - 25 (1971 war) Raiders from the sky: Shock and awe at Tangail

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 2 May – Jun 2021

Author : Maj Gen Harvijay Singh, SM (Retd)

Page No. : 70

Category : Regular Features

: July 1, 2021

Battle honours are awarded as recognition and to record a unit’s active participation in battle against a formed and armed enemy. Units eligible to be awarded such honours are those who close in with and defeat, neutralize, or destroy the enemy.

They were Indian Air Force transport planes, AN-12, C-119, and CD-3. The planes descended in waves. As they approached their lowest point of descent, they came to a slow hover. It was as if they were floating in the air. Suddenly their bellies opened and parachutes began dropping. The south-eastern sky, as far as we could see, was covered with what looked like big balloons. On a sunny and breezy afternoon, the blue sky of Tangail was brilliantly recomposed with a spectacular view created by the paratroopers. For those who were lucky enough to watch, it was an unforgettable moment. -Dr Nuran Nabi, Bangladeshi Freedom Fighter and Scientist

The Central Sector

The crucial Indian offensive in East Pakistan was to unfold in the Central and Eastern Sectors. The going here was better than in the other sectors which were flush with water obstacles and poor infrastructure.

Operations in the Central Sector were conducted by 101 Communications Zone (CZ), comprising of only one brigade, 95 Infantry Brigade. It faced Pakistani 93 Infantry Brigade. Initially deployed for administrative tasks, 101 CZ was given an additional ad-hoc brigade sized force, code-named ‘FJ Force’, made up of a nucleus of regular troops and bulk of defected East Pakistani forces. A

two-pronged advance towards Jamalpur and Mymensingh with 95 Brigade and FJ Force respectively was planned. They were to capture Jamalpur, Mymensingh and subsequently Tangail near Dacca. This would open the axis to Dacca and provided a more direct approach

With Jamalpur and Mymensingh captured, a paradrop was by 2nd Battalion, the PARACHUTE Regiment on 11 Dec aimed to capture the Poongli Bridge on road Jamalpur-Tangail-Dacca intact; it was crucial for the progress of operations further. 1st Battalion, the Maratha Light Infantry as vanguard of 95 Infantry Brigade would link up and 95 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier HS Kler would progress the operations further.

2 PARA Battalion Group included a battery from 17 Para Field Artillery Regiment, an Engineers detachment and logistics elements. The objective was to cut off 93 Pak Brigade, which was retreating from the north to defend Dacca and its approaches. This sensational vertical envelopment would set the climax for the capture of Dacca.

Captain Prashanta Kumar Ghosh a Corps of Signals Officer, (later Brig), Vir Chakra was already clandestinely operating behind enemy lines with the MuktiBahini, a dangerous mission. He had crossed the border on foot, all by himself, with only a local lad of 14 years to help him with local dialects in mid Nov.

I was given codename ‘Peter’, dressed up in a ‘lungi, a half-torn shirt with a ‘jhola’ and a sheet to cover myself. I was also given Rs.10,000/- in Pak currency and an unmarked Sten Machine Carbine with two magazines of unmarked ammunition.………….Captain Prashanta Ghosh.

Ghosh soon established contact with Mukti Bahini and set about preparing for the drop.  He meticulously selected the dropping zone and coordinated liaison and guides. He also made arrangements for the recovery and movement of the ‘heavy drop’, i.e light vehicles, guns, ammunition and logistics. Mukti Bahini, established roadblocks north and south of Poongli Bridge to prevent pressure building up on 2 PARA before they were fully deployed, and guns were in place. The battalion had to reach the bridge real quick to prevent its demolition by the Pakistanis. The para-drop, the biggest since WW II took place on 11 Dec.

The Tangail Airdrop operation involved AN-12, C-119s, Caribous and Dakotas from 11 and 48 Sqns of the Indian Airforce which had complete Air Supremacy over the Eastern Skies. The IAF also carried out feint drops using dummies to hide the true location and extent of the operation.

Brigadier HS Kler was leading his brigade on the ground, while his son Davinder Jeet “Deejay” Singh Kler was Flight Lieutenant during the war. “The paratroopers arrived here by IAF aircraft. I was escorting them to the dropping zone in Tangail, my father was on the ground to receive them.” – Deejay

The drop was dispersed over a large area due to heavy winds, but 2 PARA regrouped quickly and attacked the Poongli Bridge and Ferry site with Battalion less a company and captured it after a brief fight at 2000h on 11 Dec.

49 Parachute Field Battery of 17 Para Field Regiment was dropped with 2 PARA Battalion Group. Unfortunately, some guns and ammunition landing into ponds. Notwithstanding the problems, four guns were made operational quickly and the enemy was engaged.

Paratrooper Mahadeo Gurav of the battalion had a parachute malfunction and landed far away from the designated DZ. He landed alone and fought a battle of his own, rallying the Mukti Bahini against Pakistani regulars. He later linked up with the battalion on 2 Jan 1972.

“The dropping zone was in an area surrounded by villages. At the commencement of the drop, mistaking it to be Pakistani reinforcement, civilians ran in panic, trying to get away from the area. One of our soldiers instantly shouted ‘Joy Bangla’ and a couple of other soldiers repeated the chant. A remarkable transformation took place. The civilians ran back to the dropping zone. That one call gained for the group several helping hands, eager to carry their load, act as guides and fetch water. Their presence later became a hindrance as they would not leave, even when actual fighting commenced.” Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma (Retd), 2 PARA, he participated in the operation.

The Battalion Group was soon Counter Attacked by the withdrawing elements of 93 Pak Brigade which was repulsed. Two more Battalion size attacks were repulsed during the night with heavy casualties to the enemy. Two more attacks came on 12 Dec during the forenoon and met the same consequences. Later during the day, Indian Air Force planes joined the hunt and killed many Pakistanis on the ground. Others were ambushed or hunted down by Indian patrols. By the evening of 12 Dec, the Pak 93 Brigade had been decimated and it ceased to exist. The Pakistanis suffered heavy losses and a large cache arms and ammunition fell into Indian hands.

BBC misreported that 5,000 paratroopers (instead of 700) were para-dropped at Tangail causing a scare among the Pakistanis; they had no other means of communications/information sharing available to them.

Either the correspondent made a genuine mistake – thankfully – or it was planted on him by India’s external intelligence agency, RAW, which played a great role in the war. – Gulshan Luthra, Editorial Director at India Strategic

The fear was further accentuated by the accurate bombing of the Governor’s residence in Dacca and other targets.

The march of the Indian paratroopers from Tangail towards Dacca unnerved the Pakistan Army and hastened the end of the war preventing many more casualties. Tangail Airdrop along with the capture of the Poongli Bridge, gave the Indian Army, space to take the undefended Manikganj- Dhaka route, sidestepping the more strongly defended Tongi – Dhaka route. This took the Indian Army all the way up to Mirpur Bridge right at gates of Dhaka.

Poongli Bridge was awarded as Battle Honour to the participating units. Brigadier HS Kler, Commander 95 Mountain Brigade and Lt Col KS Pannu, Commanding Officer 2 PARA Regiment were awarded India’s second highest gallantry award the MahaVir Chakra.