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.