Lt Col Sultan Mahmood, Commanding Officer 31 Baluch Battalion, who was responsible for the area, explained when questioned after surrender that he withdrew his troops from Bakhshiganj to build up sufficient strength to give battle mainly on the Brahmaputra obstacle at Jamalpur. Although Bakhshiganj was captured in the early hours of 5 December, Kler was not able to resume his advance till the next day, thus allowing the withdrawing Pakistanis to fall behind the river unhindered. The delay in resuming the advance was caused by the time taken to move the logistic columns forward with the opening of the maintenance axis after the capture of Kamalpur, the change in command of the sector and Kler’s accident.
Kler’s plan envisaged that 13 Rajputana Rifles Battalion Group would pursue the withdrawing Pakistani force along the main Bakhshiganj-Panchargarh-Jamalpur axis and secure the river line on the northern bank to allow the deployment of the supporting artillery following the group. 13 Guards, by now relieved from Kamalpur, were to advance along the Bakhshiganj-Kurna-Sherpur-Jamalpur axis to protect the flank of 13 Rajputana Rifles as well as to facilitate the advance along the main axis by dividing the Pakistani troops in delaying positions. The third battalion of 1 Maratha Light Infantry was to move cross-country on a manpack and bullock cart basis to the Shyampur area, about six miles west of Jamalpur, where country craft mustered by the Mukti Bahini were to ferry them across the Brahmaputra.
“¦Kler was not able to resume his advance till the next day, thus allowing the withdrawing Pakistanis to fall behind the river unhindered.
The battalion was to use more bullock carts gathered by the Mukti Bahini workers on the far bank to advance and establish roadblocks on the Jamalpur garrison’s escape routes. The battalion was required to traverse about 22 kilometres up to the river bank at Shyampur, and then another 12 kilometres south of the river to its objectives. After 1 Maratha Light Infantry Battalion had established the blocks, 13 Guards were to be brought up after release from the Sherpur axis to attack the defended locality of Jamalpur. Nagra, the new sector commander, approved this plan although it suffered from an initial lack of adequate strength south of the river line. In any event, the rate of build-up the plan envisaged was much too slow to administer the coup de grace to the enemy.
13 Rajputana Rifles group resumed the advance at 0400 hours on 6 December along the main axis and encountered the first delaying position on the bridge north of Panchar Dhar about 1000 hours the same day. It was cleared by plastering it with air strikes, but at the cost of some 13 dead the withdrawing Pakistani force destroyed the bridge. While our engineers erected a Bailey bridge to overcome the obstacle, the advance was resumed and Panchnar was captured by last light. The bridge was ready by 0600 hours on 7 December, when the guns and the column of vehicle joined the marching troops. The pace of advance was painfully slow.
The roadblocks around the Jamalpur defended locality were by then in position, and there was an opportunity to destroy or capture the garrison so as not to fight the same troops over and over again.
On 6 December, Kler ordered 13 Rajputana Rifles to send out a company block to Kamarer Chak to entrap the withdrawing column. But the company did not move fast enough, and when it got into position at 0400 hours on 7 December the enemy had pulled out an hour before. Kler had to push the battalion personally to contact the river line by 1900 hours the same day, but it was not till about 0800 hours the next day that the battalion was in a position to dominate the line from the northern bank effectively. The battalion had taken more than 48 hours to traverse some 20 kilometres after fighting no more than one platoon action en route.
Under its energetic commanding officer, Lt Col D. S. Brar, 1 Maratha Light Infantry set off from Bakshiganj about 1300 hours on 6 December and reached the crossing over the river near Shyampur by 1700 hours. It covered 22 kilometres in six hours. Good going indeed. But the battalion had to wait for the bullock cart column till the next morning and was not able to cross the river till 1730 hours the same day. Having reorganised his battalion on the south bank, Brar planned and executed a brilliant night approach to his objective so silently that by 0200hours on 8 December it was established in its roadblock position—the Bhapki area two miles southwest of Jamalpur—completely unnoticed by the Jamalpur garrison.
At 1500 hours on 9 December, Kler sent a note through a Mukti Bahini courier to the Officer Commanding 31 Baluch at Jamalpur to surrender as his routes had been cut and he would get an even heavier pounding if he continued to resist.
According to plan, 13 Guards, who had by now reached Kurna against negligible opposition, were directed to follow 1 Maratha Light Infantry to the south of the river. Leaving one company on the Sherpur axis, it used the same facilities as 1 Maratha Light Infantry and eventually concentrated behind the roadblocks on the Jamalpur-Mymensingh road by 0600 hours on 9 December. The roadblocks around the Jamalpur defended locality were by then in position, and there was an opportunity to destroy or capture the garrison so as not to fight the same troops over and over again. At 1400 hours on 9 December, while the helicopter carrying Kler’s party was hovering over the area to land, he noticed signs of fighting in it. Some red Very lights were also fired, warning him off. He however ordered the pilot to land.
On landing, he was told that about a company of the enemy had tried to outflank one of our companies in an attempt to clear the roadblock. The enemy however suffered heavy casualties, and leaving behind two prisoners of war and 13 weapons, including two machine guns, pulled back at the cost of one havildar of 1 Maratha Light Infantry killed. The enemy also attacked 13 Guards’ bullockcart column carrying three-inch mortars and ammunition under the command of Maj S. R. Singh. He fought resolutely and threw the enemy back. In this action, one JCO of 13 Guards was killed, shot through his helmet. The casualties were loaded in the returning helicopter for proper cremation.
Kler commanded the operation from his command post alongside 1 Maratha Battalion HQ. His problem was that although the cordon was complete both north and south of the river he had no troops left to attack. He had no option but a stalemate of a siege in which he hoped to squeeze the enemy gradually. This was a time-consuming process. At 1500 hours on 9 December, Kler sent a note through a Mukti Bahini courier to the Officer Commanding 31 Baluch at Jamalpur to surrender as his routes had been cut and he would get an even heavier pounding if he continued to resist. In the evening, Lt Col Sultan Mahmood replied rejecting the offer. A Chinese bullet accompanied the reply. “Hope this finds you in high spirits. Thanks for the letter. We here in Jamalpur are waiting for the fight to commence. It has not started yet. So let us not talk but start it. Forty sorties, I point out, are inadequate. Please ask for many more… Hoping to find you with a sten in your hand next time instead of the pen you seem to have so much mastery over. I am most sincerely, Commander, Jamalpur fortress.”
Patrol clashes occurred between the roadblocks and Jamalpur on the night of 8/9 December, but Mahmood learnt of the strength of the Indian forces behind him only when a Toyota car carrying a commando officer, Capt Jamsher Ahmed, on a visit to Jamalpur was ambushed by the Marathas at about 1000 hours on 9 December. The car was captured but the Captain escaped to tell the story.
Pakistanis captured in patrol clashes had revealed that Mahmood was holding Jamalpur with a garrison strenth of some 1,500 rank and file, including the major portion of 31 Baluch, with a battery of 120-mm mortars and some six-pounder anti-tank guns and a large number of medium machine guns.
Meanwhile, artillery and air activity was concentrated on the north bank to stimulate an attack from that direction, but it did not appear that Col Mahmood was deceived on that account. He set about breaking out of the siege before Kler could master sufficient strength to attack. He felt that since the Indian columns progressing towards Mymensingh were far off he had a chance to break out as he had done at Bakhshiganj, before the Indian columns joined up for his destruction. He had not taken into account the Indian capability to build-up nearly brigade strength across such a formidable river obstacle without clearing Jamalpur, but this had happened.
Pakistanis captured in patrol clashes had revealed that Mahmood was holding Jamalpur with a garrison strenth of some 1,500 rank and file, including the major portion of 31 Baluch, with a battery of 120-mm mortars and some six-pounder anti-tank guns and a large number of medium machine guns. The garrison fortifications were mainly sited along the north bank of the river, covering the approaches from the north, and the railway embankment on the south. The maximum use had been made of built-up areas. The weapons were sited in strong bunkers with enough stockpiling to last him weeks. The position had a great defence potential and was a difficult nut to crack.
The Indian light guns carried by Kler’s affiliated artillery had practically no effect on the Pakistani fortfications, and so reliance had to be placed increasingly on air strikes. The Jamalpur defences could not be bypassed if any meaningful advance was to be carried out beyond. And yet how was this position to be tackled? That was Kler’s dilemma. To ensure that no enemy element escaped, the cordon of two battalions committed to the roadblocks could not be lifted.
The third battalion was holding the northern bank and was keeping the garrison engaged frontally, and there were no more infantry troops close at hand to assault the position. Nagra had asked for more resources from Headquarters Eastern Command but did not place much hope in getting his request acceded to. The request was made only to put the record right.
Klers critics failed to realise that the troops across the Brahmaputra, a major obstacle, had moved on a manpack basis, carrying only two three-inch mortars and a minimum of ammunition.
He was toying with the idea of diverting 6 Bihar, the only other infantry battalion under his command, from the Mymensingh axis to Jamalpur. At that time, quite unexpectedly, the Army Commander released 167 Infantry Brigade to Nagra and ordered it to move from Rangiya and concentrate at Tura as fast as possible. Welcoming this gesture, Nagra ordered its leading battalion, 6 Sikh Light Infantry, to move south of the river to tackle the defences swiftly. Two companies of the battalion arrived west and southwest of Jamalpur by the first light of 11 December.
- A battalion of an Indian parachute brigade together with its supporting arms was however dropped in the Tangail area in the afternoon of 11 December.
- Effectiveness of operations depends on intelligence, speed, accuracy and completeness of knowledge of the enemy target.
On the night of 9/10 December, Kler ordered the two battalions to close into within 1,000 yards of the Jamalpur defences to carry out detailed reconnaissance. Systematic air and artillery bombardment was kept up on the enemy defences and battalion headquarters in daytime on 10 December. To unnerve his troops completely, the last air sorties were asked to drop napalm bombs. Although these were dropped far from the target, they had the desired effect. The will to withstand a similar attack the next day began to break down.
As the same time, Mahmood was asked by Brig Qadr, Commander Pakistan Ad Hoc 93 Infantry Brigade Group, whether he could get his force to Dacca. He had appreciated the total Indian strength across the river as a weak battalion spread over 8,000 square yards and did not expect to encounter more than two companies along the road to Tangail. He told the commander confidently that he saw no problem and would break through the roadblock and take his troops back to Dacca. In discussing the battle with Kler later in Dacca, he said that being a staff college graduate he could not comprehend how the Indians could put across anything more than one weak battalion with no bridging or rafting equipment to do so. Kler told him that the only snag he did not take into consideration was that he had been only a student whereas Kler had taught at staff college. The second mistake Mahmood made was to try to soften up the likely roadblock localities with artillery fire, but this gave away his intentions of breaking out that night.
Throughout the night the Pakistanis reportedly came in wave after wave shouting warcries and the battle raged till 0430 hours on 11 December.
About 2350 hours on 10 December some Pakistani movement was heard along the Tangail road coming towards the forward company localities of I Maratha Light Infantry. The battalion held its fire till the Pakistani troops came within 20 yards of the depth company locality. Then a hail of machine-gun fire mowed down those who tried to escape. Throughout the night the Pakistanis reportedly came in wave after wave shouting warcries and the battle raged till 0430 hours on 11 December. To release pressure on 1 Maratha Light Infantry, Kler ordered 13 Guards and companies of 6 Sikh Light Infantry to close in on the fortress from the flanks and 13 Rajputana Rifles to cross the river. Throughout the battle, the affiliated artillery 66 Mountain Regiment gave close support by bringing down concentrations near the roadblocks and was a great help in beating off the attacks. Brar displayed good leadership by the cool and calm manner in which he conducted the battle.
With sunrise, fog lifted from the battleground, which was seen littered with bodies and discarded weapons. About 235 bodies, 23 wounded and 61 prisoners and assorted weapons were collected by Kler’s search parties. A wireless intercept picked up an appeal from a Pakistani officer for acceptance of surrender. At 0630 hours on 11 December Kler, accompanied by Brar, drove in triumph to accept the surrender.
A wireless intercept picked up an appeal from a Pakistani officer for acceptance of surrender. At 0630 hours on 11 December Kler, accompanied by Brar, drove in triumph to accept the surrender.
But by then the valiant Mahmood had escaped with some 200 men to fight in defence of Dacca. His second in command offered the surrender of 376 all ranks, of whom two officers, nine JCOs and 209 other ranks belonged to 31 Baluch, nine other ranks to artillery, and the remainder to paramilitary forces, including a doctor. A large booty of small arms, three 120-mm mortars, one 106-mm and three 57-mm guns with 2,500 tons of assorted ammuntion and 1,500 tons of rations fell into Indian hands. The Indian casualties were ten killed and eight wounded, all belonging to 1 Maratha Light Infantry, and 1 JCO of 13 Guards killed.
Interrogation of prisoners later revealed that Mahmood’s brigade commander had ordered him to pull out on the night of 10/11 December and occupy the rear defences near Tangail. Although Mahmood had persistently refused to withdraw, he was obliged to obey the order. He personally led the breakout attacks the same night and managed to get away with some strength to meet the advance of 95 Mountain Brigade Group at Jaydebpur defences along the Turag river. Qadir’s decision to withdraw was lucky for Kier as it saved many Indian lives. Attacking such a fortified locality as Jamalpur fortress would have proved very costly in casualties.
It was pitch dark and difficult to make out who the marching troops were. Kler however concluded that it could not be our troops marching in three columns. So he ordered the machine gun next to him to open up.
A comparison of casualties on both sides reveals the miscalculation on the part of Mahmood. He sent out jitter patrols along the Jamalpur-Tangail road around midnight of 10/11 December and asked them to fire at random, but the discipline of 1 Maratha Light Infantry was so good that this fire was not returned. Mahmood there upon deduced that the Indians had vacated these positions. He marched his troops through the roadblock defences and lined up his transport. The leading troops, marching in three columns, were allowed to go through unmolested till they got to just about 20 yards from the trench where Kler had taken position.
It was pitch dark and difficult to make out who the marching troops were. Kler however concluded that it could not be our troops marching in three columns. So he ordered the machine gun next to him to open up. At that signal the other gunners also let loose. The first confirmation that the troops in the open were enemy came when the let out a shout of “Hai Allah.” The battle was now on. Caught in the open, they tried to organise themselves into the semblance of a fighting unit and started assaulting what they thought were our position in the dark. They kept shouting “Pakistan Zindabad,” “Niazi tadbir, Allah ho Akbar.” The Marathas held their fire till the enemy came within 20 to 25 yards and then opened up. Similarly, the artillery observer directed fire towards the areas from where they heard the sound of warcries. This continued about four hours. As the early morning fog lifted around 0500 hours on 11 December, the battle ended.
The Pakistani JCOs told Kler next morning at Jamalpur that they had advised Mahmood to accept any terms for surrender and prevent useless bloodshed. The taste of bombing had unnerved them. But Mahmood told them that the note was only a hoax and that he was quite capable of breaking through the roadblock and taking the battalion to Dacca.
The Pakistani JCOs told Kler next morning at Jamalpur that they had advised Mahmood to accept any terms for surrender and prevent useless bloodshed.
Along with the 95 Mountain Brigade group’s main thrust on the Kamalpur-Bakhshiganj-Jamalpur axis it was planned to develop two subsidiary thrusts along the Haluaghat-Sarchapur-Mymensingh and Baghmara-Jaira Jhangail-Shyamganj-Mymensingh road axes to contain the Pakistani troops deployed in the area. 6 Bihar, supported by Mukti Bahini elements of some two to four company strength, was to advance along the Haluaghat-Sarchapur-Mymensingh axis, while two or three companies formed from the BSF battalion holding border outposts were to work their way along the Baghmara Jaria Jhangail-Shyamnagar-Mymensingh axis. Both subsidiary thrusts were placed under Brig Sant Singh and named FJ Sector.
Qadir was holding the sector with 33 Punjab Battalion suitably beefed up with paramilitary forces and Razakars. He had planned to give the main battle at Mymensingh while causing delay and attrition ahead of this position by occupying a series of delaying positions along the river obstacles. Qadir was expected to hold such delaying positions at Haluaghat, Sarchapur, Phulpur and Taka-Kando with approximately one company strength each along the Haluaghat-Sarchapur axis.
On the night of 4/5 December, Sant Singh infiltrated 6 Bihar near Dalu, and having overcome a defended locality at Charbangli, some 3,000 yards southeast of Haluaghat, was leaning on the Haluaghat defended locality by the last light of 5 December. At night, when 6 Bihar was closing with its defences, the other two Bihari companies were sent to tackle the Sarchapur defences by outflanking the Haluaghat locality. The fire fight between the Biharis and the Pakistani defenders at Haluaghat continued on 6 December. Two air strikes, including napalm bombing, were employed to soften the locality. The Pakistanis vacated Haluaghat the next day without interference from Mukti Bahini stops established in the rear. They left behind large quantities of ammunition and rations. On 7 December, the advance was resumed along the axis and Sarchapur defences were contacted by the same evening.
The withdrawing Pakistani troops had demolished three big bridges between Sarchapur and Phulpur, and it took some 36 hours to restore the broken communications with local help.
While these defences were tackled, two companies were sent to capture Phulpur in depth. After extensive reconnaissance during the day, and leaving a minimum force to contain the axis along the road, Sant Singh crossed the Bughat river east of Sarchapur unopposed and contacted the defences from the flank. Menawhile, the other two companies posed a potent threat to the Phulpur defences. This unnerved the Sarchapur garrison, which vacated its positions on the night of 8/9 December. Once again, the withdrawing Pakistanis got away intact. Sarchapur was occupied the next day and the advance resumed.
The withdrawing Pakistani troops had demolished three big bridges between Sarchapur and Phulpur, and it took some 36 hours to restore the broken communications with local help. The bridge at Phulpur over the Kharia river, with a 100-foot span over water eight feet deep, proved beyond repair, but the enthusiastic inhabitants of the neighbouring villages voluntarily built a causeway with stones and bricks in about 20 hours. The advance south Phulpur could only be resumed on 10 December. The Pakistani layback position was contacted at Paschim Taldigha. It was held by about a company or so. The position was vacated by the defenders after sunset.
The Pakistani troops managed to impose a holdup of more than 24 hours at every delaying position they occupied. At no time were they attacked or trapped, and they managed to get away intact each time.
Some wireless intercepts had indicated that Qadir planned to vacate both Jamalpur and Mymensingh on the night of 10/11 December. While Kler was already besieging Jamalpur, Sant was still about 11 miles north of Mymensingh. He was ordered to push forward with speed. Marching all night, he reached Mymensingh the next morning, only to find it vacated. Qadir seemed to have left in a hurry as the pursuers found cooked food in warm pots, and a large dump of ammunition and rations. 6 Bihar was now overstretched because of lack of transport and did not fetch up as a body till the last light of 11 December. The BSF companies working along Baghmara-Shyamganj also joined up about the same time. Except for an initial fight at Durgapur they did not meet opposition.
Nagra later boasted about this thrust as having duped the Pakistanis regarding its strength. According to him, Qadir felt it was a division less a brigade. He felt this impression was based on the physical presence of Sant Singh with the forward troops at two places at almost the same time while shuttling between the two columns.
Nagra’s performance belies his boasts. The Pakistani troops managed to impose a holdup of more than 24 hours at every delaying position they occupied. At no time were they attacked or trapped, and they managed to get away intact each time.
In fact, Sant Singh, having split his battalion in two, had taken a great risk, as he was nowhere capable of tackling a delaying position of company strength had the Pakistanis decided to fight on. The Bihari columns lacked both manpower and fire support to simulate brigade strength each. Nagra was just kidding himself. In the overall context of sector operations, the progress of the main thrust at Jamalpur was jeopardising the holding of Mymensingh. Qadir feared that once Jamalpur was gone there would be no depth position in the rear to cover the withdrawal of the Mymensingh garrison. His decision to withdraw from Mymensingh was therefore based on sound military logic to take a defensive position somewhere near Tangail and not due to any threat Nagra posed.