Attack by infiltration is not a new technique in war fighting. There are numerous examples in Indian history where this technique has resulted in disproportionate gains to the attacker. During the 1971 War in East Pakistan, one such infiltration was led by the author, then a Major, the narration of which is contained in the succeeding paras. By July-August 1971, war clouds between India and Pakistan had been built up significantly. 5/11 GR joined 340 (I) Infantry Brigade at Kishanganj in West Bengal on relief instead of proceeding to its peace station. What followed thereafter was reorientation training which consisted of attack by infiltration, infantry-tank co-operation, watermanship and advance and attack operations of war. Cross-border firing and violations of IB commenced from November 22, while war was declared by Pakistan on December 04, 1971.
Attack by infiltration is not a new technique in war fighting. There are numerous examples in Indian history where this technique has resulted in disproportionate gains to the attacker. During the 1971 War in East Pakistan, one such infiltration was led by the author, then a Major, the narration of which is contained in the succeeding paras. By July-August 1971, the war clouds between India and Pakistan had been built up significantly. 5/11 GR joined 340 (I) Infantry Brigade at Kishanganj in West Bengal on relief instead of proceeding to its peace station. What followed thereafter was reorientation training which consisted of attack by infiltration, infantry-tank co-operation, waterman-ship and advance and attack operations of war. Cross-border firing and violations of IB commenced from November 22, while war was declared by Pakistan on December 04, 1971.
The Pakistan Army held the North West Sector opposite Kishanganj-Siliguri corridor with 16 Infantry Division. It consisted of three sub-sectors. The Northern Sub-Sector was held by 23 Infantry Brigade to deny axis from Dinajpur/Rangpur to Bogra from the North. The Central Sub-Sector consisted of axes Hilli-Gaibanda–Bogra and Hilli-Jaipurhat-Khetlal-Bogra. It was also called the waistline and the shortest direct route to Bogra. It was the most important Sub-Sector that held the key to defense of Bogra – an important town and communication centre. 205 Infantry Brigade was deployed in this Sub-Sector with their Headquarters at Bogra. 32 Baluch ex-34 Infantry Brigade was allotted to defend the Gaibanda-Bogra axis. In the event they prepared defenses at Gaibanda, Gora Ghat, Govindganj and Ichamati Nala. The Southern Sub-Sector consisted of Nawabganj, Naogaon, Rajshahi, Nator and Pabna. 34 Infantry Brigade was located at Rajshahi to defend this Sub-Sector. HQ 16 Infantry Division was located at Nator. One Regiment for armoured, adequate artillery and supporting arms were available to them.
On the Indian side, 33 Corps was responsible for operations against this Sector. 20 Mountain Division with four brigades, two armoured regiments, an Engineer Brigade and normal complements of supporting arms were detailed to execute offensive operations. 71 Mountain Brigade and 9 Mountain Brigade were also allotted to the Corps for defence of the Siliguri Corridor and for operations against Pakistani 23 Infantry Brigade.
On December 06, 304 (I) Infantry Brigade took over from 66 Mountain Brigade and moved rapidly through the Hilli-Dianjpur gap. They successfully fought the enemy at Pirganj, Goraghat and Govindganj between December 07 and 12. The Brigade poised itself behind the enemy and turned its flank. It was now ordered to advance and capture Bogra at the earliest. It was imperative that the enemy was not allowed to reinforce Bogra by withdrawing troops of 205 or 34 Infantry Brigade. After quick regrouping and replenishment, the advance commenced at midday with Squadron 63 CAV (T-55) as vanguard. “A” and “D” Companies of 5/11 GR mounted on PT-76 Tanks of 69 Armoured Regiment were part of the main guard. Contact with the enemy was established at about 1700h when enemy RRs knocked out one tank of 63 CAV and heavy MMG and automatic fire was encountered from across the Ichamati Nala, a tributary of River Karotya. Any move by tanks and infantry to close in onto the enemy, drew very heavy and accurate fire from the defender. Their response was quick, effective and violent. It appeared that we had hit well prepared and coordinated defensive positions. The enemy meant business this time and was determined to give a tough fight. Perhaps this was his last ditch stand before the main battle at Bogra. “A” and “D” Companies 5/11 GR were given the task of securing the North bank of the Nala, West and East of the road respectively. In the process, my Company suffered a few fatalities. However by 1900h, we were able to fix the extent of defenses and location of the enemy. We had also succeeded in securing a foothold astride the road on North bank of the Nala. Our patrolling and probing indicated that the enemy was holding the South bank of the Nala with two companies covering the road axis at Malahar and Saulakhandi with a gap of about 200 to 300 yards. The inter-company gaps and flanks were covered with RR and MMG fire. We had no knowledge of the enemy’s depth companies but it was appreciated that he could be holding Nimarpara extending up to Mahasthan Bridge. There was no more information available about the enemy.
After a brief operational discussion between the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Joginder Singh Bakshi and the Commanding Officer, Lt Col FT Dias, it was decided that advance to Bogra must be resumed as early as possible. Since the tanks did not have night-fighting capability they could be used only at first light. It was therefore decided to infiltrate at least one Company behind the enemy defenses at night to cut him off and opposition blocking the advance removed by attack with infantry and tanks at first light. This would ensure that the enemy could not reinforce Ichamati (Mahasthan) defenses and gain time for fight at Bogra. The Commanding Officer called his Order Group at 2100h under a tree on the roadside, just out of the range of enemy small arms fire. He briefed us about the situation and his discussions with the Brigade Commander. Just then a shell landed nearby throwing up lots of dust and debris, but there were no injuries. He gave out his orders very succinctly. There were no doubts or questions as everyone understood the tasks allotted, their implications and the gravity of the situation. We dispersed as quickly and silently as we had assembled. “A” Company under my command was to infiltrate the gap between the two forward enemy companies as I was best poised and knew the extent of the gap and layout of the ground. I was to establish a roadblock approximately three to four kilometres in depth of enemy positions on the road axis by 0300h. “D” Company under Major AS Mamik and “B” Company under Major TB Rai, were to attack the enemy at Saulakhandhi and Malahar at first light or immediately after the roadblock had been in position. “C” Company under Capt MS Pathania was reserve for both companies. Orders for subsequent phases would be given later. The Battalion would establish a firm base for a brigade attack if it could not clear enemy opposition.
The Commanding Officer gave me a free hand in planning of infiltration, selection of route, RVs, bounds and even the final site of the roadblock. He asked me to only inform him of the start time and the time when I was in position at the roadblock. I was allotted all artillery in range and an FOO from 64 Mountain Regiment. By 2300h I was ready and the infiltration commenced silently and stealthily. My plan was very simple but bold. The key to my success was the element of complete surprise. I had to do something that the enemy least expected under the circumstances. In the middle of the gap there was a wooden bridge on the Nala. The road was the only geographical feature that could be used as a reliable navigational aid in the absence of accurate maps. I decided to infiltrate right under the nose of the enemy astride the road, keeping the wooden bridge on my right. It was an audacious and highly risky plan fraught with danger and the possibility of failure.
Good or bad, it was my plan and I was convinced that it would succeed (Refer to Sketch). 2/Lt Teja Singh Bedi, an intelligent, brave, innovative and ingenious office who had joined the Battalion recently from IMA, led the infiltration with No 1 Platoon. While we waited anxiously some 200 yards from the Nala, Teja Bedi along with a small reconnoiter party consisting of Nk Bal Bahadur Rai, his Section Commander and two Other Ranks found a footpath through tall undergrowth that led to a crossing. This was some distance away, East of the wooden bridge over the Nala.
Perhaps the crossing place was not known to the enemy and thus unguarded. It was pitch dark and we crossed the Nala in Section groups, each man holding the other so that there was no noise or no one fell by slipping or drowning. The water channel, about 30 to 40 yards wide, was three to five feet deep with a very soft bed. While we were fording the Nala, the enemy was engaged on the flanks by small arms fire and movement. Artillery and mortar fire was brought down on his defensive positions continuously to keep his head down and divert his attention from infiltration. Crossing the water obstacle with full battle load was not as simple as we had imagined. Three feet of water is enough trouble for a short statured Gurkha. Many of them slipped and fell down in chest deep water. Fortunately, no one was washed away or drowned. It took us more than an hour to cross the 40-yard obstacle. We were drenched and all our clothing and equipment was wet in the severe cold of December. The anxiety and tension about us being detected was palpable on every face. The enemy would mow us down when we were most vulnerable while fording the water obstacle. Every section after crossing the Nala moved to the RV that was about 200 yards from the bank. After the head-count, we regrouped in platoons and headed toward the road which was just about visible in the dim glow of the moonlight.
The roads in East Pakistan were elevated and higher than the ground level. This created a ditch running parallel to the road on both sides which was five to six feet deep and could easily conceal a man walking in it. This ditch had ankle-to-knee deep water and slush that drained in the Nala. I decided to move inside the ditch in platoon groups with a gap of 30 to 40 yards between each so that we were not visible and our movement was not detected. The enemy would have never imagined that we would walk in the ditch along the main road, a direct route, right through his defenses. We had walked for about two hours and now it was around 0200h. I was amazed at the silence and stealth with which we moved, halting listening and inching forward. Perhaps the darkness also aided us. As we moved away from the Nala, the depth of the ditch reduced and now our heads were level with the road. So far, we had been lucky as our movements had not been detected and we were almost two kilometres behind the enemy frontline.
In the dim light of the waning moon, the leading Section Commander spotted two jeeps on the road and some men standing with maps spread on the bonnet. They were not clearly visible or audible; but appeared to be discussing something in the glow of a torch. Some other people were standing in the rear of the jeeps. Every one froze leaning on the right bank of the ditch while I moved up to assess the situation. I could make out that these men were officers on a visit to the defenders. They were barely 30 to 40 yards from us and an easy target for an LMG. I decided to act before they noticed our presence. I ordered the LMG Commander who was in laying position beside me, to fire at them.
Alas! At that crucial juncture, the moving parts of the LMG were jammed and it would not fire in spite of repeated attempts. The slush and water had made it non-functional. The sound of repeated cocking and misfire alerted the enemy of our presence. They mounted their jeeps and fled towards Bogra. A few bursts by replacement LMG were fired on the fleeing enemy, but with no effect. After the ceasefire, we learnt from Brigadier Tajummal Hussain Mallick, Commander 205 Infantry Brigade, that it was he along with Lt Colonel Tariq Anees, Commanding Officer 80 Field Regiment that we missed killing or capturing on that occasion. They had come to 32 Baluch to discuss the operational situation and were trying to find their way to the Battalion Headquarters. In hindsight, we missed a high-value target and a great opportunity that would have averted much bloodshed and delay in the capture of Bogra later. Brig. Tajummal Hussain was a fanatic who hated India. He had urged his men to fight like Ghazis till the very end. He refused to surrender on December 16 even when his Brigade had ceased to exist as a cohesive formation due to repeated defeats. He felt that this was dishonorable for a Pakistani Commander. He had attempted to flee to Pakistan in disguise and was spotted by the locals at the outskirts of Bogra. He was captured and thrashed by a Mukti Bahini patrol and handed over to the IA as a POW. Later in 1980, as GOC 23 Infantry Division, he was tried by court martial by the Pakistan Army for an attempted coup.