A comparison of the relative strength of India and Pakistan worked out at a ratio of 7:4, and this did not appear to the planners as such a preponderant superiority in numbers as to go for the stereo-typed British-style step-by-step operations relying more on attrition rather than superior generalship.
To achieve quick success, as dictated by political compulsions, the planners had to search for an audacious plan which brought into play superiority of manoeuvre and psychological methods.
Accordingly, the following strategy for liberating Bangladesh was projected to the Chief, and he accepted it as a framework for detailed working :
To achieve quick success, as dictated by political compulsions, the planners had to search for an audacious plan which brought into play superiority of manoeuvre and psychological methods.
- The capture or effective blockading of the two major ports of entry to stop further buildup in the region after the outbreak of war as well as to create a psychology of isolation among the Pakistani troops and the fear of being cut off from West Pakistan. The blockade was expected to prevent a third party from evacuating the retreating Pakistani forces by sea, although such intervention seemed farfetched.
- Securing such objectives forbade inter-sector movement. In the eastern sector, the bridge at Feni connected the Chittagong area with the rest of the sector. Certain ferry sites along the rivers which facilitated transsector movement along the inland waterways were to be rendered unserviceable. Airfields were to be secured and rendered unfit for use to prevent lifting of troops and equipment.
This aimed at separating the Pakistani formations in snch a manner that they would not be able to put up a united stand at any stage of the battle. It would also ensure that the formations deployed forward would be unable to withdraw to depth positions, especially those prepared for the defence of Dacca. The utmost speed was visualised in reaching these vital objectives, and in this context bypassing the opposition encountered en route was to be accepted.
It would also ensure that the formations deployed forward would be unable to withdraw to depth positions, especially those prepared for the defence of Dacca.
- To further split and disorganise the Pakistani formations into penny packets, such communication centres were to be secured within the sectors which, if in Indian hands, would further incapacitate the Pakistani Army’s capability to fight in strength. Thus widely dispersed units and sub-units and detachments would be an easy target for piecemeal destruction.
- Once the enemy was defeated in detail by this manoeuvre, the race for Dacca would be started by any formation in a position to do so. It was fully appreciated that without the capture of Dacca the campaign could not be concluded successfully.
On the basis of this broad strategy, the planners proceeded to examine the objectives sectorwise in depth. In the northwestern sector, Bogra was the main communication centre, and its occupation would completely unbalance the Pakistani forces operating in this sector. The best way to reach Bogra was to advance along the Hilli-Gaibanda axis as this would ensure that the forces in the north would be cut off from the rest of East Pakistan, for a thrust along this axis would pinch the waist as it were. The Pakistani forces in the Dinajpur-Panch Garh-Rangpur area were to be pinned down by subsidiary actions while the main thrust in this sector would be aimed at Bogra via Ghoraghat-Gobind Ganj. The thrust to Ghoraghat would be two-pronged, one via Milli and the other via Pirganj.
In the northwestern sector, Bogra was the main communication centre, and its occupation would completely unbalance the Pakistani forces operating in this sector.
The main objective in the southwestern sector was Khulna, and the direct route towards it lay along the Barisal -Satkhira-Khulna axis. This axis however ran against the grain of the country and involved crossing numerous river obstacles. It was therefore preferred to tackle Jessore first. The main communication centre, it was connected to Dacca through Jhenida-Magura-Faridpur. The communication centres of Jhenida and Magura were therefore of vital importance as their capture would split and disorganise the Pakistani forces operating in this sector.
Once Jessore, Jhenida and Magura were captured, Kushtia, Hardinge Bridge and Khulna could be reached. This visualised two sizable thrusts developing from Jessore or near it, one to the north and the other to the south, reaching towards Hardinge Bridge and Khulna respectively. Although this mode of advance reached the priority objectives last, the size of the initial entry and then its splitting north and south offered better opportunities of disorganising the Pakistani forces and thereby achieving the overall objectives quicker.
The Pakistani forces in the Dinajpur-Panch Garh-Rangpur area were to be pinned down by subsidiary actions while the main thrust in this sector would be aimed at Bogra via Ghoraghat-Gobind Ganj.
In the eastern sector, control of Meghna Bridge, between Chandpur and Ashuganj, was of prime importance as its capture would isolate Dacca from Chittagong, Comilla and Sylhet. It would further facilitate the operations to capture Dacca. The three key points along the river line were Ashuganj, Daud Kandi and Chandpur. The main objectives in the northern part of this sector were the airfield at Shamsher Nagar, the communication centre of Maulvi Bazaar and the town of Sylhet.
Since this part could be easily cut off by blocking the Agartala Ashuganj waistline, the objectives in the Sylhet complex were of lower priority than those of the Meghna bulge and could be dealt with at a later stage. The capture of Chittagong seaport was of vital importance, but its overall effect would be considerably lessened if the port could be cut off from the rest of East Pakistan by securing the Meghna bulge objectives.
In view of the strategic importance of Chittagong, its capture by developing a thrust along the Feni-Chittagong axis was considered in depth, but because of being costlier in resources and time this approach was abandoned in favour of a sea assault involving combined operations. Having taken part in combined operations in Southeast Asia Command in the Second World War, Manekshaw was sold on the idea. A feasibility study revealed that although the Indian Navy could, with the aid of the merchant marine, carry a brigade group worth on the high seas its capability to maintain the requisite rate of buildup on a beachhead by landing craft was a constraining factor, especially in unloading facilities from cargo carriers to such craft at sea.
While the planners were toying with the idea of combined operations and were finding it hard to make any headway, the Naval Chief of Staff, Admiral S.M. Nanda, offered to blockade both Chittagong and Khulna. He gave an assurance that access to these ports from the sea would be denied to the Pakistanis, and this was gratefully accepted. As a result the capture of these ports by land forces was relegated to a lower priority.
Dacca, the geopolitical heart of East Pakistan, was the prime objective of the campaign. A thrust from the north had to be aimed at capturing Jamalpur and Tangail and then working its way to Dacca. Mymensingh, though a communication centre of some importance, could by virtue of its distance from the main thrust line be bypassed and dealt with at a later stage.
The communication centres of Jhenida and Magura were therefore of vital importance as their capture would split and disorganise the Pakistani forces operating in this sector.
An overall assessment of resources needed for these tasks was also made. It was felt that the northwestern sector would require one division to develop the main thrust towards Bogra, while one or two brigades would be required to contain the Pakistani troops deployed in the Dinajpur-Rangpur area. It was considered feasible for Headquarters XXXIII Corps, located at Siliguri, to control these operations. 20 Mountain Division, already under their command, was chosen for executing the plan. This division’s responsibilities were handed over to 6 Mountain Division, less one brigade moved from the UP-Tibet border. In addition, two brigades, 340 Mountain from Southern Command and 71 Mountain Brigade from Nagaland, were earmarked for the Bangladesh operations in the sector.
The requirement of two independent thrusts north and south in the southwestern sector was two divisions. 9 Infantry Division, already detailed for the East Pakistan contingency plan, and 4 Mountain Division, employed for internal security duties in West Bengal, were nominated for the sector. But there were no controlling headquarters to coordinate the operations of these divisions. Initially, it was proposed to place this sector directly under Headquarters Eastern Command, but later, on consideration of the heavy preoccupations of command headquarters, the Chief accepted the necessity of raising new corps headquarters for controlling these operations. Government sanction was obtained in a few days and Headquarters II Corps came into being.
The task in the eastern sector was assessed to require three divisions, one for the thrust towards Sylhet, another for the Ashuganj complex operations, and the third for the Chandpur-Daudkandi thrust. To control these operations, Headquarters IV Corps at Tezpur was split in two, the bigger portion moving to the Agartala area for operations while the smaller one remained behind for holding actions against the Chinese.
Headquarters 101 Communication Zone Area was nominated to control operations in this sector. A para drop of about a battalion was visualised in the general area of Tangail, where the friendly Siddiqi guerilla group was operating with considerable success. It was hoped that the reserve brigade facing the Chinese near Rangiya would be released for the drive against Dacca once it became clear the Chinese would not intervene.
It was hoped that the reserve brigade facing the Chinese near Rangiya would be released for the drive against Dacca once it became clear the Chinese would not intervene.
Although the risk involved in employing the troops deployed against the Chinese in the central sector was accepted, this did not apply to the same extent in Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA. Two divisions therefore remained in Sikkim, two more in NEFA, one brigade near eastern Bhutan, and a truncated division west of Bhutan.
Throughout consideration of the plan, K.K. remained sceptical of the feasibility of capturing Dacca within the time frame of a short war, which the planners had envisaged to last no more than 21 days. He felt rather strongly that the Indian Army, with its inherent inhibitions against anything unorthodox and a more speedy type of manoeuvre, and very short of the bridging equipment required to span the mighty rivers, lacked the capability to reach Dacca before the ceasefire likely to be brought about by international pressures. At his insistence, the task was limited to occupying the major portion of Bangladesh instead of the entire country. But the capture of Dacca had to be the main target in its implementation.
This plan was ready about early July 1971, when Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Command, was brought into the picture and, apart from the existing commitments against the Chinese, was given the task of destroying the Pakistani forces in the eastern theatre and of occupying the major portion of East Bengal, including the ports of Chittagong, Chalna and Khulna.2
The northern sector afforded the most direct, though longer, route to Dacca and did not appear to be so heavily defended.
Manekshaw personally briefed Aurora, covering the political background, our aims, his forecast of the shape of things to come, the outline operational plan, with reasoning of the choice and strength of thrust lines, and emphasis on the vigour and determination required for its execution. Written operational instructions were later handed to Aurora, and the machinery started moving for preparations for the war to liberate Bangladesh.
The monsoon rains were beating down hard, and this gave both sides time for preparation. It was felt that although the Pakistani troops would be essentially oriented towards retaining a firm hold on the population and the territory, they might well undertake one or more of the following offensive actions in order of priority:
He felt rather strongly that the Indian Army, with its inherent inhibitions against anything unorthodox and a more speedy type of manoeuvre, and very short of the bridging equipment required to span the mighty rivers, lacked the capability to reach Dacca before the ceasefire likely to be brought about by international pressures.
- An offensive against the Siliguri corridor, provided the Chinese coalition was forthcoming.
- A limited offensive against Calcutta astride the Jessore Bongaon and Satkhire-Basirhat axes with a view to causing largescale panic by threatening the metropolis.
- An offensive against the Indian lines of communication from Silchar-Agartala to threaten and occupy a thinly held area of Tripura and some portions of Cachar district.
It became imperative to take steps to adopt such a defensive posture on the periphery of Bangladesh to dissuade Pakistan from gaining ground in these areas. These measures were scheduled for completion before the end of the monsoon, and definitely by the first week of October. Accordingly, Headquarters 1 Corps was raised in the beginning of October under Lt Gen T.N. Raina with 4 and 9 Divisions, and this corps was to take over the responsibility of preventing ingress astride various roads and tracks leading into West Bengal from the Jessore sector. The two divisions were already concentrated in the area when this corps was formed.
Farther north, 20 Mountain Division was moved into the Balurghat bulge from the Siliguri corridor. It was felt that with this division poised to cut the waist of the Pakistani northwest sector along the Hilli-Gaibanda axis no meaningful offensive was feasible in the direction of the Siliguri corridor. 303 Infantry Brigade from Nagaland was moved to look after such an eventuality. To regain the strategic balance against the Chinese, 6 Mountain Division less one brigade group took over operational responsibilities in place of 20 Mountain Division, already concentrated in the Balurghat area. To cloak these moves, all formations moving in wore the already familiar emblem of the 20 Mountain Division formation. This confused the Pakistanis for a while.
This force was placed under Headquarters XXXIII Corps, the commander of which was Lt Gen M.L. Thapan. 93 Mountain Brigade from Nagaland and one infantry battalion were concentrated at Tura in the Garo Hills and at Dawki in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills respectively astride the Tura–Barengura and Shillong-Dawki axes. This force was placed under Maj Gen Gurbux Singh, General Officer Commanding 101 Communication Zone Area, located at Shillong. Lt Gen Sagat Singh moved his main IV Corps Headquarters to the vicinity of Agartala in Tripura State.
Our troops on the Indo-Tibet border as well as our intelligence had not so far reported any appreciable Chinese buildup in areas close to the border to reveal their aggressive intentions, if any.
23 and 57 Mountain Divisions were concentrated in the area to look after ingress astride the numerous routes between Karimganj and Dharamnagar leading into Tripura and Cachar district. 8 Mountain Division was still operating in Nagaland and was to join only later in liberating Bangladesh. By the first week of October, the Indian defence posture was strong enough to withstand preemptive Pakistani efforts in the region.
Our troops on the Indo-Tibet border as well as our intelligence had not so far reported any appreciable Chinese buildup in areas close to the border to reveal their aggressive intentions, if any. The post-monsoon period was still ahead, but in view of the long lead period required for such a buildup it was felt that Chinese participation might be confined, as in the conflict of 1965, merely to making “threatening noises.” Small border incidents might be envisaged here and there, but the Chinese potential did not appear to be of a scale to cause serious concern or need special attention. But a careful watch was to be kept along the border as intervention could not be ruled out altogether.
In Nagaland and Manipur, there was a likelihood of the underground taking advantage of the Army’s preoccupation elsewhere. But the shortfall caused by pulling out troops from these states was proposed to be redressed by beefing up the Assam Rifles and narrowing the objectives of the counter-insurgency operations during the period. An infantry brigade group was to stay behind to back the Assam Rifles and the objectives were scaled down to control of the main centres of communication and to generally containing the insurgency. The divisional second-in-command, Brig Jagjit Singh, was elevated to the rank of local major general and made responsible for the counter-insurgency operations.
As regards the Mizo Hills, the bulk of the insurgents were operating from sanctuaries in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in East Pakistan. It was feared that they might aid the Pakistani Army during the operations. In Mizoram, as in Nagaland, two infantry battalions of regular troops were located in the state to back up the Assam Rifles and BSF units deployed in the area. The need was also felt for an independent thrust along the Chittagong Hill Tracts so as to contain the Mizo hostiles and the Pakistani paramilitary forces operating in the area.
- The Indian Armed Forces were cast in a unique role in the eastern sector in the sense that they were called upon to join hands with the Mukti Bahini, which was already operating thcre. Notwithstanding the lack of previous experience in this regard, comradeship was established within the framework of extraordinary political rapport, which cme to be known as a joint command set up under the leadership of India’s GoC-in-C Eastern Command.
- Adequate procedural innovations were introduced to expedite action through the normal appointed channels such as the Directorate General of Supplie and Disposals.
Artillery, engineer and signal resources were generally in short supply, and there was a critical shortage of weapons and equipment. Solutions were found by rationalisation and judicious denuding of formations and units of lower priority. Some new units/sub-units, especially of signals, had to be created on an ad hoc basis by milking other formations for both equipment and manpower. This was necessary as the new units being formed took time to materialise.
The whole theatre of operations was served by metre-gauge rail tracks, and this necessitated transhipment of stores corming from the hinterland on broad gauge, thus causing bottlenecks at points of transhipment. The problem was acute in the eastern region of Tripura, which was served by a single metre-gauge line with a capacity of 30 to 40 wagons a day running from Gauhati to the ailhead at Dharampur, 160 to 240 km from the dependent formations. From there a narrow road ran to Agartala and beyond, crossing numerous rivers and rivulets. The rail line and road, running close to the international border with Pakistan, were vulnerable to interruption by saboteurs.
Artillery, engineer and signal resources were generally in short supply, and there was a critical shortage of weapons and equipment.
These difficulties were further compounded by abnormally prolonged rains and resultant floods. In addition, the mass exodus of refugees from East Pakistan clogged the transport facilities and absorbed most of the local resources. As a result, load carriers had to be requisitioned from states as distant as Madhya Pradesh. At the peak period of operations, some 2,000 trucks were plying on the road, which had been improved for the induction of formations. But despite the many constraints the buildup continued. The area being devoid of local resources, even items in common use had to be brought from outside, thus adding to administrative difficulties. But all these problems were solved with grit and determination.
The Army Plan was presented to the Air Force and the Navy towards the end of July to enable them to formulate their plans of support and thus evolve an integrated plan for the three services. In any war fought on the land frontiers of India, the Air Force and the Navy had perforce to be utilised essentially to further the aims of the master plan, singly or in combination. Since the Indian seas were far from the points of decision, the Navy’s contribution had to be indirect, in the form of blockading enemy seaports so as to interrupt shipping bringing in war material. On the other hand, the role of the Air Force was more intimate and direct.
The whole theatre of operations was served by metre-gauge rail tracks, and this necessitated transhipment of stores corming from the hinterland on broad gauge, thus causing bottlenecks at points of transhipment.
It was felt that the IAF had not acquitted itself well in the 1965 conflict as it had followed outmoded ideas. It was still taking on strategic targets in depth to cripple Pakistan’s war machine and striving to achieve air superiority when the war ended. Like the Army, the Air Force had also not studied the implications of a short war. As a result, the troops fighting the battle on land seldom saw much of their own aircraft in the air. On the other hand, they were so harassed constantly by the Pakistani Air Force that it became difficult for them to operate by day.
The priorities were planned to be reversed in 1971.1 The highest priority was accorded to close air support to the land battle by way of short interdiction and taking on targets directly interfering with our ground operations. In addition, such air operations were to be undertaken as helped in achieving an air situation which was locally favourable in the tactical area. For this, integration of air defence, artillery, civil defence and Air Force effort was essential, and their plans accordingly provided for it.
Left out of battle in 1965, the Indian Navy was determined to come in this time in a big way.2 Blockading the ports of Chittagong, Chalna and Khulna and of the Bay of Bengal were enthusiastically accepted by it as tasks.
- The specific mission of the Indian Air Force in the 1971 total war was the air defence of Indian air space and of the air space over the tactical area; meeting the demands of the Army for close support; counter air operations to reduce the capability of the Pakistani Air Force; interdiction of enemy communications and supplies; and maritime reconnaissance to keep an eye on enemy naval and merchant shipping.
- Except for a very minor commitment during the “police action” against the Portuguese in Goa and later in the war of 1965, the Indian Navy had no operational experience of any major commitment on the high seas. The Pakistani buildup prior to the outbreak of hostilities this time, and the persistent rumours that some other navies might help Pakistan, brought the Indian Navy in 1971 to the highest level of alert, operational efficiency and effectiveness.